Green Energy Solves Dual Crises of Poverty and Climate

native-windmill-art1Dirty fossil fuel energy leads to 350,000 premature deaths in Europe

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 25 2013 (IPS)

Green energy is the only way to bring billions of people out of energy poverty and prevent a climate disaster, a new study reveals.

Conservative institutions like the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) all warn humanity is on a path to climate catastrophe unless fossil fuel energy is replaced by green energy.

The U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative intends to bring universal access to modern energy, doubling the share of renewable energy globally, and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.

If those targets are met and similar efforts undertaken to reduce deforestation, then climate disaster can be avoided, said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich  who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Poverty eradication, sustainable development and the transition away from fossil fuel energy go hand in hand,” Rogelj told IPS. Continue reading

Wild and Weird Weather Getting Worse

New York City flooding
New York City flooding
It doesn’t have to be this way – typical family could reduce their energy use 60 to 75 percent

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 29 2013 (IPS)

Weird is the only way to describe January temperatures whipsawing between record warm and arctic cold over a span of a few days. Experts say that is what climate change looks like: weird, record-shattering weather.

Here’s a fact that goes beyond weird to astonishing. Anyone who is 27 years old or younger has never lived through a month that was colder than the global 20th century average. In other words, we’ve had 334 consecutive months with above average temperatures, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Arctic sea ice extent. Area of ocean with at least 15 percent sea ice as of Sept 12, 2012. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Arctic sea ice extent. Area of ocean with at least 15 percent sea ice as of Sept 12, 2012. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Last summer, the Arctic sea ice shrunk to half of what it used to be during summers only three decades ago. Our planet’s weather is driven largely by the two cold polar regions and the warm tropics. With the Arctic defrosting, it should be no surprise our weather is getting weird. And that it’s not going to get better.

Our planet is heating up because we each year put thousands of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. CO2 acts as heating blanket keeping the planet warm by trapping some of the sun’s heat.

The amount of extra heat-energy being trapped is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, calculates James Hansen, a climate scientist who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Cautious scientists like Hansen are terrified of what’s coming. Conservative institutions like the World Bank and accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) have warned we’re on a path to heating the entire surface of the planet by an average of four or five degrees C before 2100. That translates into eight to 12 degrees C hotter in places like Canada.

Continue reading

Majority of Oil, Gas and Coal Reserves Too Dangerous To Use – International Energy Agency (IEA)

ttfiscal carbon cliff

Industry spent more than $600 billion on new exploration and production in 2012 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 15 2012 (IPS)

Two-thirds of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves cannot be used without risking dangerous climate change, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned this week.

Preventing the consumption of those two-thirds will be the primary task of the annual U.N. climate negotiations that resume at the end of this month.

Late Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama surprised many by saying climate change will be a personal mission in his second term.

“The re-election of President Obama guarantees continuity of the U.S. pledge of reducing emissions 17 percent below its carbon emissions in 2005 by 2020,” said Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“The U.S. is fully aware of the need to increase its ambition in terms of mitigation (emissions reduction) and finance to help developing countries adapt,” Figueres told IPS.

The U.S. emission reduction target is equivalent to a three-percent reduction compared to 1990 levels – a baseline most countries use. Global emissions need to be 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels in the year 2020 to keep temperatures from rising beyond two degrees C, climate scientists have said.

By contrast, the United Kingdom is already 18 percent below its 1990s level and plans to be 34 percent below in 2020.

In 2010, there was a binding agreement to limit global warming to two degrees C at the U.N. climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based NGO.

“We are nowhere near to getting there. The situation is urgent. Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem, it is today’s problem. Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call to the people of the United States,” Steer said at a press conference. Continue reading

Plankton Death To Come with Acid Oceans and Sunlight

A number of marine diatom cells (Pleurosigma), which are an important group of phytoplankton in the oceans.
Credit: Michael Stringer

Global Warming has made oceans 30% more acidic already

“It’s clear we are conducting a giant experiment on the planet and we don’t know what we are doing.”

[This is a repost from my May 8 2012 article – see here for more on acid ocean impacts — Stephen]

 By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8, 2012 (IPS)

Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, sunlight will kill an unknown number of ocean phytoplankton, the planet’s most important organism, a new study reports this week.

Not only are phytoplankton, also known as marine algae, a vital component in the ocean’s food chain, they generate at least half of the oxygen we breathe.

In the not so distant future, sunlight, the very source of life for phytoplankton, will likely begin to kill them because of the ocean’s increasing acidity, researchers from China and Germany have learned.

“There’s a synergistic effect between increased ocean acidity and natural light,” says Ulf Riebesell of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.

Riebesell added that it was also possible “phytoplankton could adapt”.

Researchers were surprised to discover that diatoms, one of the most important and abundant types of phytoplankton, fared very badly during shipboard experiments conducted by co-author Kunshan Gao, from the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University, Xiamen China.

Previous experiments in labs like Riebesell’s found that diatoms actually did better in high-acid seawater, unlike most other shell- forming plankton. Burning fossil fuels has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic researchers discovered less than 10 years ago. Oceans absorb one third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from using fossil fuels.

The good news is this has slowed the rate of global warming. The bad news is oceans are now more acidic and it will get worse as more CO2 is emitted. This is basic, well-understood ocean chemistry.  Continue reading

My recent articles only touch on some of the significant problems with fracking. There’s more to come. (And check out trailer for the new fracking movie starring Matt Damon http://bit.ly/TC8qNB) —  Stephen

Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

UPDATE Jan 2013:

Yet another study reveals fracking has a huge problem of gas leaks. Up to  9% of the gas pumped out of the ground leaks into the atmosphere according to a study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published in Nature this week. Natural gas (methane) is a powerful greenhouse gas. If these leaks are widespread, fracking is worse than burning coal, accelerating global warming.

In Jan 2012 I detailed new research in the article below showing that replacing coal with natural gas from fracking does little to fight climate change (see below). Now two studies published that since then make an even stronger case that fracking for natural gas is a HUGE MISTAKE:

From Nature: Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field. Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.

From Environmental Research Letters: New study demonstrates switching to natural…

View original post 1,145 more words

“Fracking” for Shale Gas: The Bridge to Global Warming Disaster

Switching from coal to gas can increase global warming – NCAR

[UPDATE JAN 20 2012: New study published in journal Climatic Change shows large volumes of methane released during fracking]

By Stephen Leahy 

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 5, 2011 (Tierramérica)

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is being used to tap the last remaining natural gas deposits across large areas of the United States and western Canada, fueling continued dependence on hydrocarbons instead of a shift to genuinely clean energy sources to cool the planet.

Called shale gas, these deposits represent a new and enormous source of fossil fuel.

“Fracking is driving exploration and drilling all over the United States,” said Gwen Lachelt of the non-governmental organisation Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project.

“The oil and gas industry is marching across America from Texas to North Dakota and from the east coast to California,” Lachelt told Tierramérica.

There may be as much as 23,427 billion cubic metres (bcm) in recoverable gas from U.S. shale formations, according to the Annual Energy Outlook 2011, released in April by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The United States will consume 650 bcm of natural gas this year, the EIA projected. Globally, it estimates reserves of “unconventional gas” – the oil and gas industry term for shale gas and coal bed methane – at 915,000 bcm, with 100,000 bcm in Latin America.

However, that estimate is already out of date due to developments in fracking technology and exploration. The EIA estimate of shale gas in the United States in 2009 was less than half the 2011 estimate.

Fracking uses horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing with high pressure water and chemicals to fracture gas-bearing shale rock.

Holes are drilled vertically as little as 100 metres and as much as 3,000 metres into the shale, and then horizontally 1,000 metres along the shale formation. Chemicals and large amounts of water are pumped underground at high enough pressure to fracture the shale, releasing the gas into the pipeline.

The “dash for gas” as the industry pundits like to say is being driven by potential exports to Asia and the mistaken belief that natural gas is the “transition fuel” from coal to a low-carbon economy.

It is true that natural gas is “cleaner” in that it releases about 40 to 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal does to produce the same amount of energy.
However, gas from fracking has a higher carbon footprint because more energy is needed to get the gas and because methane leaks out.

Methane has 25 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide.

Switching from coal to gas as an energy source could result in increased global warming, not less, according to the study “Coal to Gas: The Influence of Methane Leakage”, released in September by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

This is mainly due to the methane leakage problem, which is common but unregulated.

[UPDATE JAN 20 2012: New study published in journal Climatic Change shows large volumes of methane released during fracking]