Book Review – The Chilling Stars

Chilling_StarsYesterday, in the post Countdown to Copenhagen, I mentioned that there are still quite a few scientists around the world who agree that climate change exists, but don’t agree about the cause. To kick off my three views in seven days series, is a review of the book, “The Chilling Stars A New Theory of Climate Change.” The authors are climate physicist Henrik Svensmark and award winning science writer Nigel Calder.

Let me start off by acknowledging that the majority of scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions, primarily CO2, are causing global climate change. However, here is what Svensmark and Calder say about carbon dioxide. “To correct apparent over-estimates of the effects of carbon dioxide is not to recommend a careless bonfire of the fossil fuels that produce the gas. A commonplace libel is that anyone skeptical about the impending global-warming disaster is probably in the pay of the oil companies.”

They continue, “In fact, there are compelling reasons to economize in the use of fossil fuels, which have nothing to do with the climate–to minimize unhealthy smog, to conserve the planet’s limited stocks of fuel, and to keep energy prices down for the benefit of the poorer nations.”

So if climate change is not driven in part by CO2, as argued by the authors, then what is the primary driver of climate change?

The premise of Svensmark’s climate change theory is that the interplay between clouds, the sun and cosmic rays, have a greater effect on climate than man-made carbon dioxide. For those who don’t remember much of any science from high school or college a cosmic ray is comprised of sub-atomic particles from exploded stars. Continue reading

Countdown to Copenhagen

Polar_Ice_Cap_DFThe countdown to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference is on as the talks begin in six days. The conference, December 7-18, 2009 is a meeting of the UN to hash out a successor to the Kyoto protocol that is set to expire in 2012. The aim is to prevent global warming, and similar talks date back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

While we haven’t focused much on Copenhagen on this site, alternative energy will play one of the biggest roles during the summit for its potential to curb worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. According to an article in the Guardian, “Climate scientists are convinced the world must stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions and start making them fall very soon. To have a chance of keeping warming under the dangerous 2C mark, cuts of 25%-40% relative to 1990 levels are needed, rising to 80%-95% by 2050. So far, the offers on the table are way below these targets.”

What I find most interesting is that while there appears to be a scientific consensus on the existence of global warming and that it is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, mainly CO2, there are still many scientists who don’t agree. As such, the question must be asked, should we be moving forward so quickly both in the U.S. and around the world, on climate policies based on greenhouse gas emission reductions?

Now, before you shoot me and accuse me of being indifferent to the environment and human health issues, less pollution is always good and many economists predict that the next “Green Revolution” (the first one was in the 70s) will help our country rise above the recession. That said, I do believe we need to do something, I’m just not convinced the options on the table are the right ones.

Therefore, over the next week, I’m going to be offering three views on climate change as laid out in three books focusing on global warming. From there, it’s up to you to decide what direction worldwide leaders should be taking.

Novozymes Responds to Science, Indirect Land Use Debate

37707026braz_20010627_17060.jpgThe Science magazine article that was published last week and co-authored by Tim Searchinger, a lawyer, has added another level of controversy to the indirect land use change (ILUC) debate. The article suggested the land use effects of fuel produced from various forms of biomass were miscalculated, in part, because they cause deforestation around the world as land is cleared to grow so called “energy crops”. EPA has yet to rule on RFS2 (they are unsure of how to incorporate ILUC) and discussion on how to regulate bio-electricity has barely begun.

Novozymes is one of the dozens of companies speaking out against the article and its conclusions. Suggestions that the increased use of fuel produced from biomass will automatically lead to increased deforestation globally ignores existing science, continued technological advances, and numerous international policies and principles under development to regulate biofuels, say experts at Novozymes.

“We need to make smart energy choices that support a low-carbon energy future,” said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “Jumping to quick conclusions about deforestation may ruin one of our best chances for addressing climate change and establishing a sustainable, secure energy supply.”

Because of the potential value that biofuels have as part of a low-carbon society, dozens of scientists have challenged the credibility of economic models used to estimate the values of GHG emissions projected from ILUC.

“Clearly, the direct and indirect environmental impacts of the world’s energy supply need further study, but there needs to be a level playing field to ensure that biofuels, bioelectricity and, most importantly, fossil fuels are all judged by the same criteria when measuring emissions. There should be a full accounting of the carbon emissions of all fuels, not just biofuels,” said Monroe.

Industrial Biotech To Save 2.5 Billion Tons of CO2?

wwf_logoA new WWF report, “Industrial biotechnology – more than green fuel in a dirty economy,” has concluded that industrial biotechnology could generate between 1 and 2.5 billion tons of greenhouse gas reductions per year by 2030, as well as build a new green economy that works with nature to meet human needs. As such, the WWF is calling for increased political backing for the industry to leverage the positive environmental effects. The findings were peer-reviewed by Novozymes as well as WWF experts.

“In a few years sugar will be the new oil. Already today close to 200 biorefineries are operating in the U.S. and yet we have only seen the beginning. Industrial biotechnology today is a sector with a number of pioneers who are demonstrating that this is technically feasible,” says Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes. “However, to make the biobased economy into reality, they will require political backing. Novozymes is dedicated to helping ensure a radical shift in the way our societies work, and to reduce our dependency on oil.”

In 2008, the use of Novozymes’ technologies across industries resulted in the reduced CO2 emissions totaling more than 28 nzlogomillion tons – the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road.

“WWF sees industrial biotech as an industry that can play a very significant role in the development of a new, green economy if developed in the right way. The world can’t afford to ignore this opportunity,” says John Kornerup Bang, Head of Globalization Programme for WWF.

Click here to read the full press release. Click here to download the full report.

Renewable Energy One of Obama’s Pillars in UN Speech

ObamaUNRenewable energy was part of Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations today, as the American president outlined his vision for the future before the world body.

Obama told delegates that the U.S. has spent $80 billion in clean energy. But the overall efforts of using renewable energy to save the climate are for the entire world:

We will move forward with investments to transform our energy economy, while providing incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy. We will press ahead with deep cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for 2020, and eventually 2050. We will continue to promote renewable energy and efficiency, and share new technologies with countries around the world. And we will seize every opportunity for progress to address this threat in a cooperative effort with the entire world.

Another world leader made a more personal appeal for the world to address climate change. President Mohamed Nasheed of Maldives, an Indian Ocean island nation that could simply disappear if rising oceans were not checked, told the U.N. that more than speehes are needed to save his country from a watery fate.

Florida Vetrans Denounce Big Oil Front Group

Big Oil is out astroturfing once again, this time under the guise of the group “Energy Citizens,” a front group set up by their Washington lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute. The goal of this effort is to stage rallies across the country in an attempt to kill the clean energy and climate plan now being considered by Congress.

temp-splashIt’s not only the biofuels industry that has had enough. Operation Free, a coalition of leading Veterans and national security organizations is fighting back and has denounced the claims of Energy Citizens and its ‘Oil Dependence Tour’ and cites that the groups efforts threaten our national security. Spokespersons for Operation Free note that they strongly support immediate Congressional action on clean energy and a climate plan that breaks the country’s addiction to oil, tackles global warming and enhances national security.

During a press conference held by the Florida Veterans, participants noted that you, “don’t often see veterans coming together to talk about national security,” as well as said that, “for us, there’s not a huge jump between energy and national security”.

Jason Whitaker, a 10 year Army veteran with multiple deployments, has seen first hand the devastation caused by climate change. He said, “There are few challenges facing America that are more urgent than climate change. Denial is no longer an acceptance response. The stakes are too high and the consequences are too serious.”

Is There a Link Between Climate Change and Poverty?

3659752199_8831062b10Oxfam International released an interesting report yesterday called, “Suffering the Science: Climate Change, People and Poverty”. The crutch of the report is to demonstrate how the effects of climate change are impacting people in poor communities much harder then in developed regions. Issues that are linked to poverty and development include access to food and water as well as health and security. The report warns, “without immediate action 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost.”

The study was released in tandem with the G8 Summit being held in Italy beginning tomorrow. Climate change and poverty issues are expected to be high on the list for discussion.

“Climate change is the central poverty issue of our times,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International Executive Director. “Climate change is happening today and the world’s poorest people, who already face a daily struggle to survive, are being hit hardest. The evidence is right in front of our eyes. The human cost of climate change is as real as any redundancy or repossession notice.”

Another issue the report focuses on is the impact of erratic weather on agriculture. Without the ability for poor farmers to rely on seasons, they are losing multiple crops due to sudden heat waves or heavy rains. The report also accusess “rich countries” of creating the climate crisis. Oxfam wants these countries to fund more aid programs as well as adopt tougher climate policies. It will be interesting to see what “calls to action” come from the G8 Summit relating to climate change and poverty.

Y-12 National Security Complex Wins Energy Award

y12The Y-12 National Security Complex was a big winner in the Dept. of Energy’s program recognizing environmental sustainability. The complex, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is a premier manufacturing facility dedicated to making our nation and the world a safer place.

Y-12 received three of the eight EStar awards presented this year. One of the awards was for use of mass transit, adding options for bikers and pedestrians, and other efforts — such as use of alternative fuels, such as E85 — to save energy on commuting and vehicle use at the Oak Ridge plant. Another award was for pollution prevention projects that eliminated more than 275,000 kilograms of waste and saved $542,000. The third award was for identifying historical railroad items and donating them to organziations for future use, rather than discarding them and creating additiional waste burdens at taxpayer expense. The project reportedly saved over $40,000 and preserved a number of historical artifacts.

More than 150 projects from the DOE complex were nominated for the awards.

GHG Worse than Thought from Foreign Crude

A press release by Growth Energy highlights a new study that shows greenhouse gas emissions of gasoline from foreign oil are at least twice what was previously thought when the indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to military operations in the Middle East are taken into account. The study is published in “Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining”.

The study comes as indirect GHG emissions has been made a major issue by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) as it prepares to approve regulations for its Low Carbon Fuel Standard. In a CARB staff report submitted to the board for adoption, biofuels are the only fuel that has indirect effects included in their carbon accounting. Despite this new study, no indirect effects are included for petroleum-based fuels. Critics of California’s regulations have argued that applying an indirect penalty to biofuels is unfair as it sets different standards for determining a fuel’s carbon intensity. California currently imports more than 45 percent of its oil from foreign sources.

“This research is the latest example of significant indirect sources of greenhouse gas emissions that the ARB has either overlooked or ignored. It is incomprehensible that ARB staff would suggest penalizing biofuels for indirect effects, when it is clear gasoline – ethanol’s primary competitor – has a whole host of indirect effects that have not been accounted for,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “In light of this important research, ARB has to delay the adoption of an indirect penalty for biofuels until the indirect effects of all other fuel pathways have been determined so that the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is fair and equitable.”

To view the entire study, click here.

Zoi Appointed to DOE as Assistant Sec. for EERE

zoiPresident Obama announced the nomination of Cathy Zoi as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Ms. Zoi has a history of working in the energy sector including: being the founding CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection; Chief of Staff in the White House Office on Environmental Policy; and manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where she pioneered the Energy Star Program.

Zoi will face the task of helping President Obama deliver on a promise that was central to his campaign: ending American dependence on foreign oil by focusing on renewable energy sources that in the bargain can help create thousands of new, “green” jobs. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama vowed to increase the emphasis on renewable, clean energy. That is a goal the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has been pursuing for years, trying to wean the country from dependence on fossil fuels and find cleaner ways to satisfy its energy needs.

EERE leads the Federal government’s R&D efforts on energy efficiency and manages what it calls “the Department of Energy’s (DOE) diverse energy efficiency and renewable energy applied science portfolio. The mission is to develop and deploy renewable energy sources and conversion technologies, as well as identify efficiency best practices, regulations and technologies that collectively strengthens our economy, protects the environment and increases national security.”