Month: October 2015

The rise of new power. #Auspol 

In the 30 years since I was born, a number of technologies have transformed our lives. The Granddaddy revolution of them all was the Internet. This changed everything. It brought us Google, Facebook, eBay, Wikipedia, YouTube and AirBnB, among others and well as millions of smaller sites, businesses and marketplaces. What is common in all of these examples?

Old Power versus New Power
They all see incumbents which are characterised by centralised control and profits – i.e. OLD POWER – being replaced by NEW POWER. New Power is small, distributed and nimble. Consumers can become actors in New Power. We have flexibility, control and can economically participate.
Think AirBnB for accomodation. eBay for commerce. The Internet for information. New Power is distributed, participatory, peer2peer, technological, empowering. New Power enhances democracy, personal liberty and really gives power to the people.

Depending on the market, New Power may partially or fully replace Old Power. Old power may change colours and try and look like New Power. It’s a tug -of-war. But New Power usually always wins because they give people what they want!
Why Energy is next in line for disruption
The Energy System is ripe for disruption. With energy, everyone feels ‘powerless’. Everybody hates utilities. People are sick of inaction on climate change. Power bills keep rising and there is little one can do.
Old Power comprises of the generators, networks operators, energy retailers and governments. All these parties have a deep-vested interest in us continuing on the same path, consuming more and more dirty energy. Government royalties and shareholder returns depend on it. The loser in this system is the customer. We simply consume and pay for dirty energy which heats up the planet. We have very little say where it comes from or who gets our money.
Until now.
Social and technological developments in the last 10 years have laid the framework for disruption. Technologies such as solar power, batteries and electric vehicles have the potential to transform our entire energy system. People have begun organising themselves in social-cultural movements, such as energy co-operatives and investing in the future they want. Innovative energy retailers are beginning to sell the people the services that they actually want. Thousands of entrepreneurs are searching for technological and business model breakthroughs. Silicon Valley is shifting from Info Tech to Clean Tech, and preparing itself for scale up. Who will be the AirBnB of energy? Who will cash in on this trillion-dollar opportunity?
Over the next 8 weeks, I plan to meet these visionaries, movements and companies around the world. Those with the ideas which could build a new energy economy which actually delivers people what they want – a clean, resilient, affordable and participatory energy system.
The Energy Revolution
Bob Metcalfe, an internet pioneer and co-inventor of the ethernet, believes that energy will follow the same path as the internet. The internet created an abundance of free information. Is energy next? Will we one day have an abundance of cheap limitless energy? I hope so.

Bob seems wildly futuristic in his thinking. But if you invented the internet, you would be wouldn’t you? Back in 1975, who would have ever thought than bandwidth would have increase millionfold the world over, or that we’d have distributed server storage all over the world storing our ‘bits’ of information, or that YouTube, PayPal, or Facebook would exist. Even Bob couldn’t foresee all these things happening, or that it would pervade every aspect of our lives.
Like the internet revolution, the energy revolution will not be a swift one [Bob quotes the internet revolution at 69 years old]. It will be a slow protracted tug-of-war between Old Power and New Power. But one thing is for sure. If we are to succeed in complete transformation to a clean energy system – masses and masses of people will need to be willing and active participants in this shift. My journey hopes to uncover some of the seeds of this transformation – seeds which may grow into movements – movements which may become mainstream – and ultimately change the world.
Chris Cooper writes a blog at Citizen Power. He will be filing regularly for us in coming weeks.

Press link for more: Chris Cooper |

Stern Warns Humanity Is at Climate Crossroads, Radical Action Needed in Paris #Auspol

The lead author of the 2006 Stern Review on the economics of climate change says that although there will be an agreement at the UN climate conference in Paris, COP21, in December, it’s what happens afterwards that is crucial.
Professor Nicholas Stern warns: “Whatever way we look at it, the action we need to take is immense.”
If governments delay taking decisive measures to halt greenhouse gas emissions, he is convinced that a tipping point on climate will be reached. “In Paris, we need recognition of what we need to do—and how radical that change will be.”

Awareness of Urgency
Stern, chair of the UK’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and a former chief economist at the World Bank, will be involved in the Paris negotiations.
He told a packed audience at Oxford University that, on the plus side, there is now a much greater willingness to work towards a meaningful agreement on climate change.
Generally, there is far more awareness of the urgency of the issue. China and the U.S. are not—as in the past—“dancing around each other,” but co-operating on how to bring down emissions.
Stern said that during talks coinciding with the state visit to the UK by China’s President, Xi Jinping, Chinese officials said the country’s emissions would peak by 2025 and then start declining. Previously, China said it would not reach peak emissions till 2030.
“I’m very optimistic about what we can do,” Stern said. “That’s not the same as saying I’m optimistic about what we will do.”
According to calculations on greenhouse gas emissions made by countries around the world in the run-up to the talks in Paris, billions more tonnes of climate-changing CO2 would be pumped into the atmosphere up to the year 2030.
After that, if climate change is to be tackled, there will have to be dramatic emission cutbacks—ultimately to zero.
“The cost of inaction is far more than the cost of action,” Stern said.
Zero Emissions
Infrastructure that will shape the rest of the century needs to be built—and such projects have to be in tune with the goal of a zero emissions future. As more people move to cities, urban areas being built need to be climate-friendly and energy-efficient.
With current interest rates on the floor, and likely to be so for some time to come, Stern asked: “If this is not the time to invest, when is?”
Stern said that, in the past, some had questioned the fight against climate change, saying that overcoming poverty was more important.
But he argued that the challenges of overcoming poverty and climate change are interlinked. “If we fail on one, we fail on the other.”

Press link for more: Kieran Cooke |

California Wildfires Are Abrupt Climate Change, Ecological Collapse #Auspol

It’s OK America, pop pills and watch TV. Don’t worry about abrupt climate change, environmental collapse, or perma-war blowback from your oil addiction.
“California is a nice place to visit, but soon no one may be able to live there.” – Dr. Glen Barry

California was mostly covered in lush naturally evolving ecosystems that surrounded and provided ecological habitat for relatively small settlements of Native Americans. Grizzly bears roamed and redwood forests towered. Now the heavily industrialized state is an over-populated ecologically collapsing mess. Remaining tawdry natural ecosystems are surrounded by an endless sprawl of human filth, and the very climate is abruptly changing.
California’s recent drought and wildfire outbreak is an exemplar of what surpassing a bioregion’s carrying capacity and resultant ecological collapse looks like. For centuries naturally evolved ecosystems which make California habitable have been treated as resources to be devoured for industrial development. California’s fragmented and no longer connected natural ecosystems have been further destabilized by abrupt climate change and are no longer able to stably provide human habitat.
Everywhere one looks in California one sees over-populated over-consumption, over-development’s destruction of natural ecosystems, and resultant ecological collapse further worsened by industrial emissions. For four years California has been ravaged by a climate change intensified epic drought. In the worst impacted communities, hundreds of households have no access to running water.
California’s drought, a state of emergency since January 2014, has reached unprecedented levels, the worst in recorded history. The state’s mountain snowpack – which provides 30% of California’s water – is at the lowest level in at least 500 years, 5% of its usual water content. Parts of the state have a four-year precipitation deficit of more than 70 inches. 2015 is expected to be the warmest ever recorded.
Ecologists strongly agree that climate change is linked to California’s wildfires. Human-caused warming is clearly contributing to drier conditions, which makes forests more susceptible to burning. One estimate is that 20% of the California’s forest trees are sick or have died from the drought. Record heat has increased evaporation and dried out the soil and tinder dry vegetation has become literally explosive. This has caused harsh wildfires as fragmented and sick forest ecosystems are ablaze.
In recent months, two of the most destructive wildfires in state history have raged across Northern California, and over 1 million acres have burned. Forest ecosystems are a mess after a century of terrible land uses including suppressing fire, allowing sheep and cattle to graze forest understories, and endless sprawl fragmenting natural forest ecosystems. Today’s forests are more dense and filled with combustible materials, allowing fires to spread more easily from the ground to the forest canopy, more often killing trees. Since 1970 climate change has extended the California fire season by 78 days.
California’s ecological tragedy only shows signs of worsening as warm ocean temperatures are 5 degrees above normal and the El Niño weather phenomena show signs of unleashing dramatic flooding upon the heat hardened Earth. Two weeks ago a record 1.81 inches of rain fell in Southern California in 30 minutes, a once every 1,000-year rain event. Extreme weather events threaten California’s existence.
It is no wonder that California is ablaze as forest ecosystems collapse. Grizzly bears are long gone, and redwood forests tiny remnants.
Recently the California state legislature passed a new climate bill which requires greater use of renewables by 2030. But far more must be done if state-wide ecological collapse is to be averted. There must be an immediate end to building in forests. Forests must be allowed to age and recover, and in most cases forests allowed to burn naturally to renew ecosystems. Emissions must be cut far more and faster than currently proposed – in order to end the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. And people are going to have to have fewer children and live less-consumptive lifestyles.
Worldwide our last great forests that support the biosphere are crashing as a result of climate change. Hotter droughts that are associated with climate change are causing stress and death for trees, and these increasingly unnatural forest conditions are leading to apocalyptic forest fires like have never before been seen.
The world continues to be in a state of perma-war as distant societies and ecosystems are plundered for oil. As more ecosystems collapse, the entire biosphere is threatened by death.
The situation in California, similar in so many other locales, is a direct result of ecocidal industrial growth destroying natural ecosystems, and our addiction to fossil fuels. The impacts of California’s collapse will be felt far beyond, as over half of America’s fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California.
California is a nice place to visit, but soon no one may be able to live there.
Large and connected natural ecosystems surrounding human communities are a prerequisite for sustainability and well-being. In California and throughout the world we must allow forests to regenerate, age, and become large and reconnected, surrounding human communities. Old-growth forest logging must end. Large and intact natural ecosystems are required as the context for humanity in order to continue providing the ecological services which make Earth habitable. Otherwise we all face the sort of ecological collapse occurring in California.
Americans don’t know or appreciate what is being lost as California collapses, as we self-medicate and watch TV. And we are all going to needlessly die as a result.
Entire bioregions like California are collapsing and will become uninhabitable and have to be abandoned. It is absolutely stunning that with ecological collapse so far progressed in California, many continue to deny the problem, and we do not yet have a coherent policy in place that is ecologically sufficient to ensure bioregional and global ecological sustainability.

Press link for more: Dr Glen Barry |

Climate change slams global economy, study from Stanford and Berkeley shows #Auspol

Climate change could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output by as much as 23 per cent by the end of the century, a new research paper from US universities Stanford and Berkeley finds.

Looking at 166 countries between 1960 and 2010, the researchers identified an optimal average annual temperature that coincides with peak productivity. It’s 13 degrees celsius, or approximately the climate of San Francisco’s bay area (Sydney’s mean temperature last year was 19.3 degrees). 

Countries in the tropics, already hotter than this optimal temperature, are likely to face the most dramatic economic pain from warming, found the study, published in the latest issue of Nature. Countries at or just past the 13-degree annual average, like the US, China, and Japan, may be increasingly vulnerable to losses as the temperature warms. Northern countries well below the ideal average may see benefits as opportunities open up for agriculture and industry.

But this was the least robust finding. And even if the warming improves the lot of Scandinavia and Canada, such nations may not have many healthy trading partners left as others suffer. Also, higher temperatures in northern countries don’t take into account changes in precipitation, more extreme weather, and the many other risks in a warming world.

The authors made a clever end run around the biggest problem at the core of climate science: There’s only one Earth. Scientists usually like to run “controls,” situations that have identical conditions to the experiment except for the one thing being studied. Unfortunately for climate scientists, there’s no second Earth, filled with identical people doing identical things, where greenhouse gas emissions aren’t a problem.

So the study looks at national temperature records through time. Instead of studying a warming Nigeria and a control Nigeria, the scientists compared Nigerian economic output in average years with that in warming years.

“If you have a lot of data on a lot of countries in a lot of years, that allows you to start to distinguish the particular role of temperature in economic performance,” said Stanford’s Marshall Burke, the co-lead author.

Once they calibrated this analysis, the researchers took the second step, applying it to the mostly widely accepted climate change scenarios. They found that if the economies continue to respond to heat the way they have in the past, most of the world is in for a rough ride.

What they are not doing, Burke said, is making an argument that temperature is necessarily the most important factor driving national economies. 

“Climate is not fate,” he said. “Countries can do a lot, and there many other factors beyond temperature that matter,” such as geography, culture, and governance institutions.

Data from the study may challenge some assumptions made in computer models of climate change and economics. So-called integrated assessment models include calculations of a “damage function,” which informs how bad, or benign, various changes might turn out. The damage function suggested by the new data is five to 10 times as high as in commonly used models.

William Nordhaus of Yale is the creator of the Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy, probably the most commonly used of the three major models. He has seen the new Nature paper but said he would withhold judgment until the statistical analysis of the data has been tested.

“Their findings are startling,” said Trevor Houser, an energy climate expert at the Rhodium Group, a research firm. “In their base-case estimate, the global economic price tag is more than 20 per cent of GDP, several times higher than previous estimates.” 

This graph projects the economic impact of climate change on the world economy through 2100. There is a 63 per cent likelihood that GDP will fall more than 10 per cent, a 51 per cent chance it will fall more than 20 per cent, and 12 percent odds it will fall by more than half, according to the study. Illustration:Burke, Hsiang, Miguel; Nature

If the study holds up, it has the potential to influence policy in a couple of ways.

Rational policymakers typically weigh the costs of climate policy to the economy-carbon taxes, fuel efficiency standards, subsidies-against the projected costs of doing nothing, informed assumptions in the damage function of the climate-economic models. A dramatically higher damage function changes the cost/benefit analysis and makes potential policies that looked expensive yesterday much cheaper by comparison.

Another takeaway from the study is that over the last six decades, economies haven’t adapted well to hotter temperatures. “We’re optimistic on adaptation and its long-run potential,” Burke said. “Looking historically, we don’t see a lot of evidence that we’re good at that.”

A cliché repeated in some scientific circles suggests that there are three possible responses to climate change: mitigation (the word wonks like to use instead of prevention), adaptation, and suffering. 

If the new study means our mitigation efforts are even weaker than previously thought, and we don’t have a proven track record of adaptation, are we setting ourselves up for suffering?

“That’s exactly right,” Burke said. “That’s exactly right.”

Press link for more: Eric Roston |


Being mindful of overconsumption and bad business practices will help to stem our planet’s degradation. But for the real answer, we need to look inside, writes David Rogers.
Seen from the point of view of a biologist, the success of Homo sapiens as a species is at the expense of many of the other species that share the planet. The key concepts here are “compression” and “competitive exclusion”: relative to other species, humans are omnicompetent omnivores that eat virtually every other edible animal on the planet and eliminate those animals that compete for resources in their evolutionary niche.
Seen from the point of view of an ecologist, the competitive success of humans threatens to be self-defeating. Humanity has co-evolved with a wide range of other species, and exists in a web of co- dependencies. The most vivid example of this in recent years is its reliance on insects for pollination, but in the future the area at greatest risk is probably the oceans: Lisa-ann Gershwin, an American marine ecologist, says in her book on jellyfish blooms: “We are increasingly fishing out their predators and competitors, and we are altering the physical properties of the seabed and the chemical properties of the oceans to favour jellyfish… and you don’t need a PhD to take a punt that the ideal conditions for mayhem might result in mayhem.”
Seen from the point of view of an economist, the conflict between human and non-human species is real enough, and there is a long Malthusian tradition that points out that growth is ultimately curbed by our finite biosphere, and this is borne out by the fact that animals may become victims of resource depletion, for example through overfishing, as Gershwin says, or they may suffer from the “externalities” of economic growth, through habitat depletion. However, whereas the biologist has a somewhat deterministic stance, and the ecologist a largely political one, the economist is free to argue that the technology that created the imbalance between people and animals can also end the problem of compression and competitive exclusion.
More growth, better world?
The key concept here is what is called the “economic Kuznets curve”: that is the hypothesis that the conflict between humans and other species can be resolved by more growth, not less. The argument is that as per capita income increases, societies gain the breathing room to focus their energies on ecological matters.
It must be acknowledged that a number of “pro-business” groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, have fashioned the Kuznets curve as a stick to beat ecological lobby groups with, on the grounds that it proves that any kind of economic growth will ultimately be good for the environment. Nevertheless, there is some empirical evidence to support the contention, but it has to be the right kind of growth. One obvious example is the shift to renewable energy: as Europe has become more prosperous so it has shifted to renewable energy: according to a European Commission consultation paper published last month, it will be producing half its power from wind, solar and hydro by 2030 (if member states meet their targets). And as China’s per capita wealth and its pollution have increased, so it has begun spending as much as the EU and the US together on wind and solar.
Chris Laszlo, a former Deloitte consultant, now professor of organisational behaviour at The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University, has published a number of books on how business can prosper by following the sustainability agenda. He told Salt that he has spent the past 15 years demonstrating to sceptical businesspeople that paying attention to environment and social issues would help them to lower their costs and reduce their environmental liability risks.
He said: “Reducing energy, reducing waste, reducing materials intensity cut costs all down the supply chain. That was a relatively easy argument to make, but the next step is to show them that sustainability can also drive innovation and top-line growth.”
Laszlo says that leading companies are starting to develop business models and product designs that don’t add costs but do add environmental and social ‘attributes’ to their services. “One example that’s vivid for Americans is the car company Tesla – those are expensive cars, but people buy it rather than a BMW or a Mercedes because it’s a better car [in every sense of the word]. Then there’s the reputational advantage. Unilever and Paul Polman are examples that are known worldwide for their efforts to decouple their growth from resource use. Without requiring consumers to compromise, they get a product that has the right performance, the right price, the right aesthetic and it also has environmental and social enhancements.”
As well as improving production and driving sales, Laszlo argues that the “good” company finds it easier to engage and motivate employees. “There is a huge level of disengagement in the workforce, and we argue that environmental awareness is the best way to make staff more loyal.”
Additional support for this argument can be gained by the qualitatively different nature of high-tech economic growth. Visible on the horizon is the combination of sophisticated automation with advanced in other disciplines, such as material science and 3D printing. One form this is taking is the circular economy, which uses information instead of raw materials to make physical objects, and which has become the official policy of the Chinese Communist Party.
New paradigms
The transformative effect that this can have on a conventional industry is illustrated by the plastic car created by UK designer Gordon Murray. The chassis of his T25 model can be moulded in 52 seconds in a single piece of plastic with no bolts (the average car has 1,500). Drop in an engine and it is possible to drive off five-and-a-half minutes after the vehicle entered the production process.
The complement to digitally optimised production is the sharing economy. The fact that every house in a suburban street has its own lawn mower for a tiny area of grass is a vivid illustration of just how much overcapacity is built into the system. The sharing economy is predicated on exploiting that overcapacity, and it works by simply altering the means of accessing it.
The sharing economy is most naturally suited to the digital world. Take the example of streamed media. The freeing of digital information from the physical medium of the optical disk has made movies and music available to an immensely greater number of people than was previously the case. More than 50 million people rent or stream media and 60 million stream music because the content has no marginal cost: 100 people can be supplied for the same price as one.
The marginal cost factor has created two kinds of economy, the virtual and the real, and despite the many areas of overlap, each operates according to its own laws. Or at least, they have up until the past few years. What we are now seeing in a number of industrial sectors is the gradual encroachment of the virtual on the real worlds.
One of these is hospitality: Airbnb is the big success story here. In the past seven years it has grown from a start-up in San Francisco to a US$10 billion business with more than 800,000 properties available to rent in 192 countries. Another is transportation, where the Uber application has achieved an even steeper trajectory, achieving a value of US$40 billion in five years.
What has made these sectors vulnerable to disruptive technology is the gross inefficiency of private ownership. For example, seen as a productive asset, a privately owned car offers a derisory return for the considerable investment required to buy, run, insure and tax it: on average it is used about five per cent of the time yet halves in value every three years.
On top of that, almost all rely on petrol or diesel for locomotion, and of all the things that can be done with the chemical treasure trove that is a barrel of oil, burning it to produce heat is surely the least intelligent.
The spiritual dimension
These are all powerful examples of how economic principles are changing in the “right” way, but is it enough to give us reason to believe that the Kuznets curve will come to our rescue?
Laszlo says no. He says that after making the business case for sustainability for all those years, it dawned on him that it was not enough to really make a difference.He says: “If we look at what sustainability means in practice, it’s about doing less harm. Someone said to me recently, it’s like saying I’m only going to hit my child twice instead of three times. If you look at climate change, biodiversity, the disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorous cycle, at best business is slowing the rate of unsustainability.”
Laszlo argues that this led him to a radical and deeply controversial conclusion: that business leaders have to change what they are being, not just what they are doing. Ultimately it is individuals, not systems or technological processes that have to change. What he means by this that they have to “authentically care” for issues such as biodiversity, and not just be driven by a logical return on investment type of approach. He says: “In the past environmentalists have focused on moral injunction: shaming or finger-wagging, and that doesn’t work – it pushes business in the wrong direction. I believe the only approach that is likely to be effective is if business leaders change from the inside out. They have to feel personally deeply connected to their life purpose, to nature, to others, to future generations. This is where compassion, mindfulness and reflective practices come in. It doesn’t have to be eastern meditation – it has to be anything you do outside of normal business, outside of constantly checking your smart phone. You have to pause and quiet the sensory overload so you can reconnect to what’s important for you in your life: that what’s we need more of in business.

Press link for more: David Rogers |

How Offshore Wind Can Beat Natural Gas In The U.S. #Auspol #ClimateChange

New England is set to lose eight gigawatts of generating capacity from fossil fuels as aging power plants built in the 1950s and ‘60s retire and go offline. This will create a vacuum that could be filled by Canadian hydropower, natural gas, or offshore wind. Assuming that American utilities would rather build new sources of power in the United States than send their money to Canada, New Englanders will have two options. On the one hand, they could fill the energy gap with wind power, which has historically earned resistance from even climate-conscious NIMBYists. On the other hand, they could go with currently-cheap, cleaner-burning natural gas.The decision is less obvious than one might think.

For as much as we hear about the untapped reserves of natural gas waiting to power our cities, it’s our abundant wind resources that should drive the conversation around clean energy. Winds along the coasts of the United States could provide four times the energy needed to power the whole country. And while wind still ranks among the costlier forms of power, in Europe — the world leader in offshore wind — prices have fallen markedly. Said Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, “In the New England region, New York and even into New Jersey, building a new gas plant… is just about the same price as building a new offshore wind farm in Europe today.”

In the long term, natural gas can’t compete with offshore wind. That’s because any new investment in natural gas has to be weighed against our climate goals. If we are to keep global warming to less than 2º C, we will have to abandon fossil fuels completely, and we will have to do so sooner rather than later. That means that new gas power plants, new pipelines, and new drilling operations will likely come with an expiration date. And when gas-fired power plants are closed down before they reach the end of their operating life, consumers will foot the bill. Moreover, investing in 20th century fuels like natural gas will only slow the transition to 21st century energy, as wind and solar operators work to reach the economies of scale needed to further drive down the price of electricity.

In the short-term, natural gas still offers a more attractive option to utilities, which is why offshore wind firms are clamoring for regular tax credits and streamlined regulations to help them compete with fossil fuels. The fledgling industry has the potential to generate thousands of new jobs, both for the engineers who design wind turbines and the men and women who build them. According to the Department of Energy, erecting 54 gigawatts of capacity from offshore wind would create 43,000 permanent jobs.

“This is an industry with enormous potential,” said Grybowski. “Right now, all the really high tech work in offshore wind is being done in Europe… but as we build projects in the U.S., more and more of the supply chain will come to the U.S.”

Some lawmakers are trying to clear the way for offshore wind. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) have proposed an investment tax credit for offshore wind, which would give the industry the certainty it needs to plan ahead.

Constructing more offshore wind power will also help consumers to insulate themselves against fluctuations in the price of fossil fuels. “We know the price of oil and gas goes up and down. What goes down will eventually go up,” said Sen. Carper. “We need some other ways to generate electricity that are cost-effective and also do good things for the environment.”

Sen. Carper stands among the small number of Democrats who voted to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. When asked about his support for the project, he said, “This has been an impediment to us getting other stuff done, including investment tax credits that would pave the way to offshore wind.”

If Senators Carper and Collins succeed in passing the investment tax credit, new wind projects would flourish in the Northeast. The region’s most populous cities lie along the sea, within arm’s reach of powerful ocean gales, and already, communities are preparing to meet the demand for wind energy. Workers are outfitting old fishing ports to service construction operations. Schools like the University of Massachusetts and the University of Maine are turning out dozens of PhDs in wind engineering. And four Northeastern states — New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine — are working with the Department of Energy to create a thriving market for offshore wind. The Atlantic coast is ripe for a clean energy explosion. It’s up to lawmakers to light the fuse.

Jeremy Deaton writes about the science, policy, and politics of climate and energy for Nexus Media. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.

Press link for more: Jeremy Deaton |

Permafrost warming in parts of Alaska ‘is accelerating’ #Auspol #ClimateChange

One of the world’s leading experts on permafrost has told BBC News that the recent rate of warming of this frozen layer of earth is “unbelievable”.

Prof Vladimir Romanovsky said that he expected permafrost in parts of Alaska would start to thaw by 2070.

Researchers worry that methane frozen within the permafrost will be released, exacerbating climate change

The professor said a rise in permafrost temperatures in the past four years convinced him warming was real.

Permafrost is perennially frozen soil that has been below zero degrees C for at least two years.

It’s found underneath about 25% of the northern hemisphere, mainly around the Arctic – but also in the Antarctic and Alpine regions.

It can range in depth from one metre under the ground all the way down to 1,500m.

Scientists are concerned that in a warming world, some of this permanently frozen layer will thaw out and release methane gas contained in the icy, organic material.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and researchers estimate that the amount in permafrost equates to more than double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere.

Melting fast

Worries over the current state of permafrost have been reinforced by Prof Romanovsky.

A professor at the University of Alaska, he is also the head of the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost, the primary international monitoring programme.

He says that in the northern region of Alaska, the permafrost has been warming at about one-tenth of a degree Celsius per year since the mid 2000s.

When we started measurements it was -8C, but now it’s coming to almost -2.5 on the Arctic coast. It is unbelievable – that’s the temperature we should have here in central Alaska around Fairbanks but not there,” he told BBC News.

In Alaska, the warming of the permafrost has been linked to trees toppling, roads buckling and the development of sinkholes.

Prof Romanovsky says that the current evidence indicates that in parts of Alaska, around Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope, the permafrost will not just warm up but will thaw by about 2070-80.

“It was assumed it would be stable for this century but it seems that’s not true any more,” he told BBC News.

‘Convincing’ case

He says the current permafrost evidence has convinced him that global warming is real and not just a product of natural variation.

“Ten years ago, if you asked permafrost scientists around the globe I would say 98% would say: ‘The thawing at Prudhoe Bay won’t happen by the end of this century’,” Prof Romanovsky explained.

changed my opinion right during the last four years. I was in the 98%, but now I say it’s possible.

“About 10 years ago when I looked at our records, I said that they all show that permafrost temperatures should cool down a bit on multi-decadal timescales.

“I told myself that if it would not cool down I would 100% believe in global warming, and now I believe 100% that we have this very serious trend of warming,” he said.

While engineering can prevent the thawing of permafrost underneath important structures, there is little that can be done to prevent the general melting of the layer.

Scientists believe that the thawing will be gradual, with no major tipping point. There are many unknown factors about the rate of thawing and whether the impacts will be the same across all Arctic regions.

There are also concerns about the bubbling of methane from undersea permafrost in the shallow waters off the Russian Arctic, but researchers say they do not know yet how significant this might be.

There is also a worry about giant sinkholes, some of which appeared in Siberia last year. Experts say that melting permafrost may have unleashed enough methane to cause the ejection of material that formed the holes.

Indirect impacts

Another expert in the field acknowledged that while the problems in Alaska were serious, scientists were getting a better handle on the amounts of carbon that were likely to be released.

However, Prof Ted Schuur from Northern Arizona University recognised that, despite the scientific progress, the fact was that thawing would occur and methane would leach into the atmosphere.

“Even if we stopped all emissions today, the Arctic has momentum where there is going to be more warming, more permafrost degradation and some carbon coming out already – we have started the ball rolling in some senses.”

“It is probably not triggering a runaway climate effect but it adds to our problem. It accelerates the problem, of climate change. To me that is worrisome because it makes the problem harder.”

Prof Schuur added that indirect impacts of warming were also speeding the thaw. In Alaska in 2015, there were near-record wildfires, which he said heightens the exposure of permafrost to warmer air.

He believes that political negotiations on a new global climate deal, currently underway in Germany and set to conclude in Paris in December, are essential to the long term preservation of permafrost.

“The climate negotiators meeting in Bonn, and in Paris, won’t immediately be able to change what happens with the fire season in Alaska next year, but we can slow the process down by focussing on human emissions and in my mind that’s the best bet to have the most control.

“It’s very hard to control these landscape global processes that are occurring in the Arctic.”

Press link for more: Matt McGrath |

When global warming gets you down, come back stronger #Auspol

There are days when you just want to crawl under your desk and hide in the fetal position. I felt like that this morning. And indeed, I may feel this way for the rest of the week – or longer. Everywhere I turn, some giant challenge smacks me in the gut (ahem, global warming) and I’m supposed to bounce with glee like “NASA, NASA, rah rah roo!” all day long.
I’m sure you know what I mean. This weekend I walked past a busy café and saw single use plastic trash spilling everywhere. You can see this in café after café, day after day, everywhere. It’s a symptom of people paying lip service to caring for the environment, but being absolutely paralyzed. If the most we ask of ourselves is to buy more and more stuff and carry it a whole 2 feet to a trash bin, then how in the world are we going to tackle the big things?
The energy it takes to make honest, interesting and informative content for this climate website, the energy it takes to not let the daily deluge of Internet trolls and nasty comments get to me, all while facing the reality of GLOBAL WARMING, is exhausting.
I try to make a difference, to keep encouraging myself, to lift myself out of despair. We’re supposed to keep our noses to the do-something-meaningful-with-your-life grindstone and keep chugging endlessly uphill, just like The Little Engine That Could, while repeating some mindless positive slogans of encouragement to keep our heads up.
I try to find a way to cope with these enormous problems without turning away, without downing a pint of ice cream, without watching the stupidest reality TV show I can find. For to be so disconnected from the world as to be capable of polluting it, is to be disconnected from life. And connection is the one thing I refuse to let go of.
True, maybe you really should crawl under your desk and your little engine should pull over to the side of the road for a break. But you’re here, just like I am, pushing through because it’s somehow better to stay connected even if it hurts.
I’ve sat in countless meetings here at NASA, where scientists and engineers fight to create complex flying machines that observe particles as tiny as a molecule from miles away, or hand build a one-of-a-kind experimental instrument from scratch, out of nothing but innovation and dreams. We thrive on the incomprehensibly difficult. We welcome problems, challenges, roadblocks, obstacles that are impossibly, mind-bogglingly large. That’s why I’m here: To feed on frustration, difficulty and hindrance until I grow stronger and more ferocious.

Press link for more: Laura Faye |