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Submission + - FEMA Will Require States to Examine Climate Risks in Disaster Planning (theenergycollective.com)

mdsolar writes: The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced yesterday afternoon a change in its requirements for State Hazard Mitigation Plans that NRDC has been advocating for nearly three years. These plans, which states develop in order to prepare for future natural disasters, must now consider the projected effects of climate change on hazard risks.

Back in 2012, NRDC petitioned the agency to adopt this requirement because most states' plans did not account for climate change when assessing their future vulnerability to natural hazards. Yet as FEMA recognized yesterday, "the challenges posed by climate change, such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels, could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards impacting states in the future." It's critical that states begin to plan ahead for these changes and develop strategies to reduce the risk of harm to people and infrastructure.

Over a year ago, FEMA told us that it would be revising its guidance for State Hazard Mitigation Plans to require consideration of climate change, as we had asked. President Obama officially confirmed the change last summer, and in the fall FEMA published a document summarizing the revisions....

The new guidance is clear that in order for a state's plan to be approved by FEMA, thereby making the state eligible to receive federal funding for pre-disaster mitigation projects designed to build resilience, it must "include considerations of changing future conditions, including the effects of long-term changes in weather patterns and climate on the identified hazards...."

The new requirements will apply to plans that are submitted in March 2016 and beyond. This phase-in period allows states some time to begin integrating climate change information into their plans, if they haven't done so already.

Submission + - The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse. (washingtonpost.com)

mdsolar writes: A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.

The findings about East Antarctica emerge from a new paper just out in Nature Geoscience by an international team of scientists representing the United States, Britain, France and Australia. They flew a number of research flights over the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica — the fastest-thinning sector of the world’s largest ice sheet — and took a variety of measurements to try to figure out the reasons behind its retreat. And the news wasn’t good: It appears that Totten, too, is losing ice because warm ocean water is getting underneath it....

That’s alarming, because the glacier holds back a much more vast catchment of ice that, were its vulnerable parts to flow into the ocean, could produce a sea level rise of more than 11 feet — which is comparable to the impact from a loss of the West Antarctica ice sheet. And that’s “a conservative lower limit,” says lead study author Jamin Greenbaum, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.

Submission + - Guardian petition for fossil fuel divestment receives 60,000 signatures (theguardian.com)

mdsolar writes: In less than 24 hours, more than 60,000 readers have joined a campaign on the Guardian’s website asking the world’s largest charitable foundations – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust – to divest their endowments from fossil fuels.

It was, in the words of one reader, “a big day in civic journalism”. The Guardian’s website and front page have never looked quite like it, as oil dripped down where the news would normally be.

Submission + - Japan utilities set to scrap five aging nuclear reactors (reuters.com)

mdsolar writes: Three aging nuclear reactors in Japan will be decommissioned due to the high cost of upgrading them in line with tougher safety standards set after the Fukushima disaster, their operators said on Tuesday.

Another two reactors were also likely to be scrapped, local media reports said, with announcements expected later in the week.

The moves are the first concrete sign that Japan's nuclear industry is heeding a government request to shut down older reactors that are considered more vulnerable to natural disasters in the hope that it will ease public concerns about a restart of other reactors.

All 48 of Japan's nuclear reactors were taken offline after an earthquake and tsunami set off meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

As many as two-thirds of the country's reactors may never return to operation because of high costs, local opposition or seismic risks, a Reuters analysis showed last year.

Submission + - Helping poor countries tackle climate change is affordable (businessgreen.com)

mdsolar writes: Rich countries would not need to spend more than two per cent of their GDP by 2050 to help developing nations cut their carbon emissions, new analysis from London's Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change has suggested.

Developed countries have already agreed to provide an additional $100bn a year by 2020 to help poorer countries reduce their carbon emissions and adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

However, the new study warns significantly more funding will be needed over the coming decades to help poorer nations cope with climate impacts. The report, which has been submitted for peer review to the Climate Policy journal, uses a number of sophisticated economic models to conclude that rich countries would need to give at least $400bn, and as much as $2tr, to the 'global south' each year to help them cope with the demands of tackling climate change.

But it argues that even this massive commitment would not equate to more than one to two per cent of rich countries' GDP.

"The cost to high-income countries, while substantial, is not likely to be prohibitive," the document states.

Submission + - UN backs fossil fuel divestment campaign (theguardian.com)

mdsolar writes: The UN organisation in charge of global climate change negotiations is backing the fast-growing campaign persuading investors to sell off their fossil fuel assets. It said it was lending its “moral authority” to the divestment campaign because it shared the ambition to get a strong deal to tackle global warming at a crunch UN summit in Paris in December.

“We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).

The move is likely to be controversial as the economies of many nations at the negotiating table heavily rely on coal, oil and gas. In 2013, coal-reliant Poland hosted the UNFCCC summit and was castigated for arranging a global coal industry summit alongside. Now, the World Coal Association has criticised the UNFCCC’s decision to back divestment, saying it threatened investment in cleaner coal technologies.

Several analyses have shown that there are more fossil fuels in proven reserves than can be burned if catastrophic global warming is to be avoided, as world leaders have pledged. Divestment campaigners argue that the trillions of dollars companies continue to spend on exploration for even more fossil fuels is a danger to both the climate and investors’ capital.

Submission + - Cost of 2 new SC reactors up to $11 billion because of construction delays (thestate.com)

mdsolar writes: SCANA Corp. on Thursday filed a petition for a hearing before the S.C. Public Service Commission for it to approve higher costs and later completion dates for two reactors under construction at the V.C. Summer plant.

In the petition, SCE&G, the corporation’s electric utility, said the cost for completing the new nuclear units at the Jenkinsville plant are likely to rise by $1.2 billion from its initial $9.8 billion price tag – to $11 billion. Completion of the Unit 2 reactor will be pushed back three years from 2016 to 2019.

The Unit 3 reactor at the plant north of Columbia is not expected to be finished until June 2020, after an initial projected completion date of 2019, the company said.

Submission + - In Historic Turn, CO2 Emissions Flatline in 2014, Even as Global Economy Grows (forbes.com)

mdsolar writes: A key stumbling block in the effort to combat global warming has been the intimate link between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth. When times are good and industries are thriving, global energy use traditionally increases and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions also go up. Only when economies stumble and businesses shutter — as during the most recent financial crisis — does energy use typically decline, in turn bringing down planet-warming emissions.

But for the first time in nearly half a century, that synchrony between economic growth and energy-related emissions seems to have been broken, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, prompting its chief economist to wonder if an important new pivot point has been reached — one that decouples economic vigor and carbon pollution.

The IEA pegged carbon dioxide emissions for 2014 at 32.3 billion metric tons — essentially the same volume as 2013, even as the global economy grew at a rate of about 3 percent.

“This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today,” the IEA’s lead economist, Fatih Birol, said in a statement accompanying the findings.

Whether the disconnect is a mere fluke or a true harbinger of a paradigm shift is impossible to know. The IEA suggested that decreasing use of coal in China — and upticks in renewable electricity generation there using solar, wind and hydropower — could have contributed to the reversal. The agency also cited the ongoing deployment of energy-efficiency and renewable power policies in Europe, the U.S. and other developed economies as additional factors.

Submission + - California's hot, dry winters tied to climate change (arstechnica.com) 1

mdsolar writes: Climate change is one of the most prominent public health issues currently on the CDC’s radar. The organization's Climate and Health Program attempts to help state and city health departments to prepare for the health impacts of climate change, which can come in the form of things like temperature extremes, air pollution, allergens, and changes in disease patterns; they can also be felt indirectly through issues like food security.

Are we seeing some of these effects already? Since 2012, California has been in the midst of a record-setting drought, with extremely warm and dry conditions characterizing the last three years in that state. A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that warming caused by humans is responsible for the conditions that have led to this California drought.

This study, published by scientists affiliated with the Department of Environmental Earth System Science and the Woods Institute for Environment at Stanford University, used historical statewide data for observed temperature, precipitation, and drought in California. The investigators used the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) and the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), collected by the National Climatic Data Center, as measures of the severity of wet/dry anomalies. They also used global climate model simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) to compare historical predictions for anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic historical climates.

The authors performed their analysis using an approach called bootstrapping. Bootstrapping techniques allow statisticians to utilize the same sample repeatedly to improve their estimates of specific effects. In this analysis, bootstrapping was used to compare the climate data with measures of populations from different time periods to allow for analysis of how changes in population are associated with different climate conditions.

This analysis found that the statewide warming in California occurs in climate models that include both natural and human factors, but not in simulations that only include natural factors. It's a difference with a very high (0.001) level of statistical significance.

Submission + - Nuclear waste, arsenic at SC coal plant raise concern (thestate.com)

mdsolar writes: Just a few hundred yards from Lake Robinson lies an old waste pond that, until this year, was among the least of Duke Energy’s worries in the Carolinas.

The pond had virtually dried up and, as coal ash basins go, didn’t appear to present the same threat to groundwater, rivers or lakes that other ash basins do, environmentalists say.

But documents that have surfaced recently show the unlined 55-acre basin has leaked arsenic – and it has the unusual legacy of being a dump site for low-level nuclear waste. Both findings are producing new questions about how to cleanse the mess at Duke Energy’s H.B. Robinson power station.

Pollution test results from last year show that the Hartsville plant’s coal waste pond has released higher levels of arsenic into groundwater than state regulators ever had recorded there. In some cases, the arsenic levels rival those at other power plant sites in South Carolina that already are undergoing cleanup.

And in the 1980s, at least 69,000 cubic meters of radiation-tinged sediment wound up in the coal ash pond from the nuclear plant, a rare occurrence because most power plants don’t include both coal-and nuclear-fired units.

State regulators in South Carolina said they knew of no other power plant site where atomic waste wound up in a coal ash pond. A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Atlanta said the practice is rare.

Submission + - Mars Had an Ocean, Scientists Say, Pointing to New Data (nytimes.com)

mdsolar writes: After six years of planetary observations, scientists at NASA say they have found convincing new evidence that ancient Mars had an ocean.

It was probably the size of the Arctic Ocean, larger than previously estimated, the researchers reported on Thursday. The body of water spread across the low-lying plain of the planet’s northern hemisphere for millions of years, they said.

If confirmed, the findings would add significantly to scientists’ understanding of the planet’s history and lend new weight to the view that ancient Mars had everything needed for life to emerge.

Submission + - Germany says using tax money for nuclear power 'out of the question' (reuters.com) 1

mdsolar writes: Using taxpayers' money to fund nuclear power is "absolutely out of the question", German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Thursday, in an apparent swipe at British plans to finance new atomic generation.

Gabriel was arriving for talks in Brussels on the European Commission's proposal for an energy union, which would deepen cross-border cooperation on energy across the 28-member EU.

Previous efforts to harmonize energy policy have faltered as member states have jealously guarded their right to decide on the kind of energy they use.

Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power sets it at odds with plans by Britain and France to invest in the emissions-free fuel source, which they say plays a major role in combating climate change.

Germany has instead focused on renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

"There are countries in the EU that want to support nuclear power with tax money. We think that is absolutely out of the question," Gabriel said.

"We will not agree by any means that nuclear energy be supported by public money. Nuclear energy is the most expensive kind of generation. It has now been around for 50 years, it is not new and it is dangerous."

Submission + - New Study Says Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian Civil War (slate.com)

mdsolar writes: By now, it’s pretty clear that we’re starting to see visible manifestations of climate change beyond far-off melting ice sheets. One of the most terrifying implications is the increasingly real threat of wars sparked in part by global warming. New evidence says that Syria may be one of the first such conflicts.

We know the basic story in Syria by now: From 2006-2010, an unprecedented drought forced the country from a groundwater-intensive breadbasket of the region to a net food importer. Farmers abandoned their homes—school enrollment in some areas plummeted 80 percent—and flooded Syria’s cities, which were already struggling to sustain an influx of more than 1 million refugees from the conflict in neighboring Iraq. The Syrian government largely ignored these warning signs, helping sow discontent that ultimately spawned violent protests. The link from drought to war was prominently featured in a Showtime documentary last year. A preventable drought-triggered humanitarian crisis sparked the 2011 civil war, and eventually, ISIS.

A new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science provides the clearest evidence yet that human-induced global warming made that drought more likely. The study is the first to examine the drought-to-war narrative in quantitative detail in any country, ultimately linking it to climate change.

“It’s a pretty convincing climate fingerprint,” said Retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, a meteorologist who’s now a professor at Penn State University. After decades of poor water policy, “there was no resilience left in the system.” Titley says, given that context, that the record-setting drought caused Syria to “break catastrophically.”

Submission + - French nuclear industry in turmoil as manufacturer buckles (usatoday.com)

mdsolar writes: France's nuclear industry is in turmoil after the country's main reactor manufacturer, Areva, reported a loss for 2014 of 4.8 billion euros ($5.3 billion) — more than its entire market value.

The government of France, the world's most nuclear dependent country, has a 29% stake in Areva, which is among the biggest global nuclear technology companies. The loss puts its future — and that of France as a leader in nuclear technology — at risk.

Energy and Environment Minister Segolene Royal said Wednesday she asked Areva and utility giant Electricite de France to work together on finding solutions, amid reports of a possible merger or other link-up.

The government said in a statement that it's working closely with Areva to restructure and secure financing, and would "take its responsibility as a shareholder" in future decisions about its direction.

Areva reported Wednesday 1 billion euros in losses on three major nuclear projects in Finland and France, among other hits.

Areva has lost money for years, in part linked to delays on those projects and to a global pullback from nuclear energy since the 2011 Fukushima accident.

Submission + - Science groups at odds on proble of climate deniers (washingtonpost.com)

mdsolar writes: The American Meteorological Society has spoken out against the probe of funding sources of climate deniers by members of congress but the American Geophysical Union points out that asking for disclosure of funding is sound but objects to asking for drafts of testimony and communications about testimony. http://fromtheprow.agu.org/blo...

It sounds as though some of Soon's communications about testimony were essentially invoices or receipts for deliverables. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02... Those sorts of business communications probably ought to be open to probing. So, perhaps asking for any drafts of testimony submitted to funders might be appropriate.

Here is the thing that I think ought to be transparent. A donor to a member of congress asks that a particular expert be called to give testimony. That expert prepares testimony and submits a draft to the donor as part of a financial relationship between the donor and the expert. The public should know both that the donor got a favor from the congressperson and that the donor has paid the expert for the testimony. Academic freedom is not contingent upon deceiving the public and probably suffers if that kind of thing is promoted by a misapplication of the principles of academic freedom.

Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.