Global warming is increasing rainfall rates
A new study looks at the complex relationship between global warming and increased precipitation
Wednesday 22 March 2017 10.00 GMT
The world is warming because humans are emitting heat-trapping greenhouse gases. We know this for certain; the science on this question is settled. Humans emit greenhouse gases, those gases should warm the planet, and we know the planet is warming. All of those statements are settled science.
Okay so what? Well, we would like to know what the implications are. Should we do something about it or not? How should we respond? How fast will changes occur? What are the costs of action compared to inaction? These are all areas of active research.
Part of answering these questions requires knowing how weather will change as the Earth warms. One weather phenomenon that directly affects humans is the pattern, amount, and intensity of rainfall and the availability of water. Water is essential wherever humans live, for agriculture, drinking, industry, etc. Too little water and drought increases risk of wild fires and can debilitate societies. Too much water and flooding can occur, washing away infrastructure and lives.
It’s a well-known scientific principle that warmer air holds more water vapor. In fact, the amount of moisture that can be held in air grows very rapidly as temperatures increase. So, it’s expected that in general, air will get moister as the Earth warms – provided there is a moisture source. This may cause more intense rainfalls and snow events, which lead to increased risk of flooding.
But warmer air can also more quickly evaporate water from surfaces. This means that areas where it’s not precipitating dry out more quickly. In fact, it’s likely that some regions will experience both more drought and more flooding in the future (just not at the same time!). The dry spells are longer and with faster evaporation causing dryness in soils. But, when the rains fall, they come in heavy downpours potentially leading to more floods. The recent flooding in California – which followed a very intense and prolonged drought – provides a great example.
Okay so what have we observed? It turns out our expectations were correct. Observations reveal more intense rainfalls and flooding in some areas. But in other regions there’s more evaporation and drying with increased drought. Some areas experience both.
Some questions remain. When temperatures get too high, there’s no continued increase in intense rain events. In fact, heavy precipitation events decrease at the highest temperatures. There are some clear reasons for this but for brevity, regardless of where measurements are made on Earth, there appears to be an increase of precipitation with temperature up until a peak and thereafter, more warming coincides with decreased precipitation.
A new clever study by Dr. Guiling Wang from the University of Connecticut and her colleagues has looked into this and they’ve made a surprising discovery. Their work was just published in Nature Climate Change. They report that the peak temperature (the temperature where maximum precipitation occurs) is not fixed in space or time. It is increasing in a warming world.
The idea is shown in the sketch below. Details vary with location but, as the world warms, there is a shift from one curve to the next, from left to right. The result is a shift such that more intense precipitation occurs at higher temperatures in future, while the drop-off moves to even higher temperatures.
The authors also looked at how we characterize the temperature/precipitation relationship. Traditionally, we have related precipitation events to the local average temperature. However, it’s clear that there’s a strong relationship between the peak temperature and the precipitation rates. In fact, relations reveal that precipitation rates are increasing between 5 and 10% for every degree C increase. The expected rate of increase, just based on thermodynamics is 7%.
The authors find that in some parts of the globe, the relationship is even stronger. For instance, in the tropics, there’s more than a 10% increase in precipitation for a degree Celsius increase in temperature. This is not unexpected because precipitation releases latent heat, which can in turn invigorate storms.
From a practical standpoint, this helps us plan for climate change (it is already occurring) including planning resiliency. In the United States, there has been a marked increase in the most intense rainfall events across the country. This has resulted in more severe flooding throughout the country.
In my state, we have had four 1000-year floods since the year 2000! Two years ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota had such flooding that people were literally fishing in the streets as lakes and streams overflowed and fish escaped the banks. No joke, I actually observed fish swimming past me as I waded up a street. This occurrence is being observed elsewhere in my country and around the world.
It falls upon city planners and engineers to design infrastructure that is more able to accommodate heavy rains and manage water. This means designing river containment areas or flood plains, reinforcing buildings and houses, and increasing the capacity of storm drainage in urban areas, just to name a few. These modifications present costs but not preparing for increased flooding poses even greater financial and social costs. Moreover, storing water from times when there is too much for the inevitable times when we have too little (drought), results in better water management and multiple benefits.
This shows why climate science is so important. The US government is in the process of decimating our climate science infrastructure. The current US congress and our president have lost the battle of science – they have no reputable scientists to hide behind in their climate change denial. But, what they are doing instead is decapitating our ability to predict and plan for the future. By defunding organizations like NASA, the EPA, and NOAA, they are making us fly blind into a future.
For comparison, the proposed increase in the Department of Defense budget would enable our military to buy more expensive weapons like the US Navy Joint Strike Fighter. At approximately $335 million per plane, giving up just six of those planes would be enough to maintain the climate budget of NASA.
I worked on the Joint Strike Fighter as a consultant. I understand the need to have a national military. But giving up our understanding of a changing climate for six jet fighters is actually decreasing our security, is, in plain English, dumb. It seems that our elected officials have a strange values system – a values system that will end up presenting us with much higher social and economic costs.
I hope we remember these values next time we have fish swimming in our streets or droughts shriveling our crops.
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:36 AM
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on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:33 AM
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Coal in 'freefall' as new power plants dive by two-thirds
Green groups’ report says move to cleaner energy in China and India is discouraging the building of coal-fired units
Wednesday 22 March 2017 08.25
The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.
The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.
The report said the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62% in 2016 on the year before, and work was frozen at more than a hundred sites in China and India. In January, China’s energy regulator halted work on a further 100 new coal-fired projects, suggesting the trend was not going away.
Researchers for the groups said a record amount of coal power station capacity was also retired globally last year, mostly in the US and EU, including Scotland closing its last one.
One of the reasons for the fall in new plants was that too much capacity had been built in recent years, particularly in China.
Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the IEEFA, a pro-green energy thinktank, said the falling demand for coal power in China and India and plans to curtail new power stations shows that the world has overestimated the need for the fossil fuel.
The report, which tracked power stations through publicly available information, company reports and satellite imagery, said 65GW of new coal-fired units had started construction between January 2016 and January 2017, down 62% on the 170GW the year before. Most coal power stations are around 1GW or greater in capacity.
Lauri Myllyvirta, a Beijing-based energy analyst at Greenpeace and author of the report, said the fall in China was largely down to government policy to clean up air pollution and encourage clean energy. That policy shows no sign of stopping – at the weekend, Beijing ordered its last coal-fired power plant to close in a bid to improve the capital’s air quality.
Myllyvirta said that in India the decline was down to slower-than-expected growth in energy demand, and renewable energy projects being installed rapidly.
Paul Massara, the former chief executive of RWE Npower and now head of a green energy company, North Star Solar, said: “The decline in new coal plants in Asian countries is truly dramatic, and shows how a perfect storm of factors are simply making coal a bad investment.”
In total, 64GW of coal capacity was retired last year, mainly in the US and EU. Despite US President Donald Trump saying on Monday that he is preparing a new executive order to help America’s ailing coal industry, campaigners echoed analysts who have said he is unlikely to be able to significantly stop its decline.
“Markets are demanding clean energy, and no amount of rhetoric from Donald Trump will be able to stop the fall of coal in the US and across the globe,” said Nicole Ghio, senior campaigner at the Sierra Club, a US-based NGO which has managed to force many US coal plants to close over the last decade.
However, the report showed there were still around 570 new coal-fired plants in pre-construction around the world, prompting the industry to reject the notion it was struggling.
Benjamin Sporton, chief executive of the World Coal Association, said: “Yes, China, is reducing the number of coal-stations but not because it’s transitioning away from coal, instead the new dynamics is a signal of a more developed economy. Contrary to the picture being portrayed by certain quarters, China’s climate pledge suggests that coal will continue to be central to its energy solutions albeit through efficiencies including the use of new coal technologies.”
For India and countries in south-east Asia, he argued, “excluding coal from the energy mix is not an option – it is essential for economic growth and critical in securing energy access”.
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:30 AM
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'Better de-horned than dead' – zoo chops rhino horns to foil poachers
Czech zoo takes saw to the horns of its 21 rhinoceroses in response to deadly attack at Paris wildlife park this month
Associated Press in Prague
Wednesday 22 March 2017 01.25 GMT
A Czech zoo has started to remove the horns from its 21 rhinos as a precaution after the recent killing of a rhinoceros at a wildlife park in France by assailants who stole the animal’s horn.
With rhino horns considered a wonder cure in Asia – for everything from cancer, colds and fevers to high blood pressure, hangovers, impotence and other ailments – poachers have killed thousands of the animals in Africa and elsewhere.
It is estimated that 6,000 individuals from the world’s five species of rhinos have been killed in the last nine years, leaving a global wild population of about 30,000.
But the attack at the Thoiry zoo near Paris earlier this month was a warning sign for zookeepers around the globe that poaching could be spreading beyond the killing fields of Africa and Asia.
The Dvur Kralove zoo, 70 miles north-east of Prague, has four southern white rhinos and 17 black ones, the largest group of its kind in Europe.
Director Přemysl Rabas said on Tuesday that it was a tough decision to saw off the animals’ horns.
But, he added: “The risk that the rhinos currently face, not only in the wild but even in zoos, is too high.
“The safety of the animals is our first concern. A de-horned rhino is definitely a better option than a dead rhino.”
The zoo said the procedure is painless for the animals and has been used before for safety reasons, especially when the rhinos are moved to other locations. The severed horns will gradually grow back again.
“There is no live tissue [in the horn],” said Jan Stejskal, director of communications and international projects at Dvur Kralove.
“It’s just compact matter, similar to nails or to hair. If you cut it, it’s like cutting your hair or your nails. So it has no impact on the life of the animal.”
“Pamir was anaesthetised. The intervention took less than one hour and it was performed without any complications,” said Jiri Hruby, a rhino curator.
The horns will be initially stored in a “safe place” outside the park.
The Czech zoo is not the only one to take such measures. It said its experts helped the Bandia reserve in Senegal do the same with their rhinos last week and says the Pairi Daiza zoo in Belgium plans to follow suit.
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:28 AM
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The snow bunting’s drift takes them much further than Somerset
‘I have been spotting snow buntings all across the Alps for over 40 years,’ writes Jim Freeman.
Tuesday 21 March 2017 18.38 GMT
Anent the admirable Stephen Moss’s remark (Birdwatch, 20 March) that his snow bunting on the Somerset coast was “probably the furthest south they ever get”, I have been spotting snow buntings all across the Alps for more than 40 years. In winter they are common, often seen in flocks around picnic spots, in all the high ski resorts.
My last sighting was in January. While photographing Alpine choughs on the summit of the Marmolada, the Queen of the Dolomites at just under 11,000ft, joining the choughs was a pair of snow buntings. Back at our hotel, a small flock of fieldfares, also breeders in Arctic latitudes, were feeding on berries. I suspect that both species were drifting northwards from even further south.
Croftamie, Loch Lomondside
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:23 AM
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EPA Sued for Approving Dow's Deadly Pesticide Combo
Center for Food Safety
Farmers, conservation groups and food and farm justice organizations stood up today to protest against the contamination of rural communities, our food supply and the environment by filing a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration.
The groups are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under new administrator Scott Pruitt for approving Dow AgroScience's Enlist Duo, a mixture of the weed-killing chemicals glyphosate and 2,4-D—both of which are known to be highly toxic. The novel combo pesticide is sprayed directly on corn, soybean and cotton plants that are genetically engineered by Dow specifically to survive exposure to the pesticide. The EPA approved the use of the pesticide in 34 states.
Farmers will be hit hard by the human health damages of Enlist Duo and are put at risk financially by 2,4-D's known tendency to volatilize, drift and damage neighboring crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that Enlist Duo's approval will lead to as much as a seven-fold increase in agricultural use of 2,4-D—a component of the infamous Vietnam-era defoliant "Agent Orange," which has been linked to Parkinson's disease, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other reproductive problems. The other component of Enlist Duo is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's flagship pesticide Roundup. Glyphosate was classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015.
"Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration are endangering farmers and the environment by caving to Big Ag and approving this highly toxic pesticide combo," said Sylvia Wu, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety and legal counsel in the case. "Fortunately, we have laws written to protect farmers and the environment, and we intend to have the Court enforce them."
This is the second lawsuit the groups have had to bring over the product. After the groups challenged its initial approval in 2014, the Obama Administration agreed to reanalyze some of its impacts. Unfortunately, the EPA then reaffirmed its original approval and dramatically expanded it, allowing Enlist Duo to be sprayed in more than twice as many states and on cotton in addition to corn and soybeans.
"EPA knows that spraying a hundred thousand tons of this pesticide on millions of acres every year will threaten the survival and recovery of some of our most iconic endangered species, but it refuses to follow the law that protects them," Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. "We will hold EPA accountable."
Enlist crops and Enlist Duo are part of a disturbing, industry-wide trend where crops are genetically engineered to withstand multiple pesticides, allowing pesticide companies like Dow and Monsanto to sell both expensive GE seeds and large quantities of the pesticide cocktails that are sprayed on them. While these GE crop systems initially provide a quick-fix way to kill weeds, the intensive spraying triggers rapid evolution of weed resistance to the chemicals. Just as overuse of antibiotics breeds resistant bugs and more antibiotics to kill them, so these GE crop systems drive a toxic spiral of increasing weed resistance and pesticide use.
In addition to health risks, significant crop damage from pesticide drift and increases in both weed resistance and pesticide use, spraying Enlist Duo on millions of acres will contaminate waterways and important wildlife habitat. EPA's own assessments found that Enlist Duo is highly toxic to numerous plants and animals, including endangered and threatened species found in or near agricultural fields.
"In reissuing an expanded approval for this toxic chemical cocktail, the EPA has shown an utter disregard for human health, our drinking water and endangered species like the iconic whooping crane," Stephanie Parent, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said.
The petitioners bringing the lawsuit are National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, represented jointly by legal counsel from Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety.
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:21 AM
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Shitstain Trump climate change research a ‘waste.’ Actually, it’s required by law
By Chris Mooney
March 21 at 5:24 PM
Floodwaters surround several houses in Rocky Mount, N.C., near the Tar River in October 2016. (Thomas Babb/News & Observer via AP)
RALEIGH, N.C. — The day that President Trump’s climate science-slashing budget landed last week, his government held a public meeting here to prepare the nation’s Southeast region for rising seas, wildfires, extreme downpours and other impacts of climate change.
Despite White House budget director Mick Mulvaney’s assertion Friday that studying climate change is a “waste of your money,” federal scientists are required, by a 1990 law, to do just that — and are carrying on for now, even under the cloud of budgetary uncertainty created by the Trump administration.
It’s no easy task. Trump’s “skinny” budget proposes to slash many climate-related programs at agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but often doesn’t go into specifics — raising doubts about the implications for climate science programs across 13 government agencies and the production of an exhaustive report about the impact of climate change in the U.S. that is required by law.
“For each of these programs, real people live on the other side of the budget line item,” said Ali Zaidi, a Stanford energy researcher who previously served in a key role in Obama’s Office of Management and Budget overseeing funding for climate and environmental programs. “Students, small business, and sources of economic growth for communities count on this data. Now you’ve got folks waiting by the phone to learn whether they’ll be going to work tomorrow or whether the data that informs their livelihoods will still be available.”
“For agencies, this means they will be less creative and more conservative,” Zaidi continued. “They will plan to the lowest possible funding level. And that will hurt both the programs and the supply chains.”
Regarding the future of the $ 2.6 billion U.S. Global Change Research Program, a White House Office of Management and Budget official said it would be “premature to speak to final funding levels prior to the full budget in mid-May.” Requests for comment to the federal climate program were not returned.
The program produces a sweeping report on how climate change is wracking different regions of the U.S. that is mandated every four years under the Global Change Research Act, signed into existence in 1990 by Republican president George H.W. Bush. The last installment of the report, released in 2014, ran over 800 pages. The next is due in 2018.
Last week’s event at North Carolina State University, aimed at drafting just one of the document’s many chapters, brought together around 50 federal researchers, university scientists, local activists, and students, among others — all working on different pieces of the climate problem in the U.S. Southeast.
U.S. regions are already preparing for climate change. The Southeast in particular faces severe threats from rising seas.
The town of Nags Head, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, has had to grapple with the question of how and whether to close a beachside road, Seagull Drive, that has been damaged by several coastal storms.
Some residents still want to use the road and are looking at ways to protect the community from future sea level rise, said Jessica Whitehead, a geographer who works for the North Carolina Sea Grant program at North Carolina State University and is working with Nags Head on adaptation.
But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program would lose its funding under the proposed Trump budget. “From my point of view, we keep going until we’re told to stop,” Whitehead said.
Another threat to the U.S. Southeast was underscored in tragic fashion last fall in Gatlinburg, Tenn., when the resort town was engulfed by a deadly wildfire driven by a combination of strong winds and drought conditions.
“Without a doubt, the managers I talk to, say more and more, they’re seeing fire behavior that they’ve never seen before in their careers,” Kevin Hiers, a former Air Force wildfire manager turned fire researcher with the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy in Tallahassee, said. “And that change in fire behavior definitely corresponds with weather parameters that we have not typically had on average here in the Southeast.”
Hiers, who is drafting the climate assessment’s section on Southeastern fires, acknowledged concern about climate policy and budget cuts among federal scientists.
“I think that there is a general unease in government about the future of global change research,” Hiers said. But communities in the Southeast are going to have to prepare themselves for change. “There’s such a commitment across such a broad range of public and private entities to simply prepare for contingencies. That’s all just part of strategic planning.”
The scientists at the Raleigh meeting don’t just write their reports behind closed doors. They hold public meetings around the country, bare the guts of their drafting process, hear feedback about what’s happening in communities and go back to the drawing board to make it better.
They ask communities to provide them with particular case studies of places that are being harmed by climate change or places that are innovating in their way of adapting to it.
“They’re trying to be really constructive at a time when you’ve got the administration saying it’s a waste of money, literally,” says Anthony Janetos, a climate scientist at Boston University who served on advisory committees for the last three national assessments.
There’s a protracted process for releasing such a massive and influential document — raising fears that, if it so desires, a hostile Trump administration could derail or slow things down at many steps along the way.
First, there’s a review process in which scientists must answer not only critiques from the National Academy of Sciences, which vets the document, but also comments submitted by the public. “We are required to respond to every single comment,” explained Lynn Carter, a researcher at Louisiana State University who co-chaired the event in Raleigh and will be one of the chapter’s lead authors.
To be formally adopted as a government report, the 2014 version of the document also had to go through a review process at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget — currently leading the blueprint for slashing the federal government — which sent it out to all 13 federal agencies in the Global Change Research Program for critical review and further changes.
Any of those agencies or the White House could, presumably, balk at the report’s content and delay its formal release to Congress.
“Does that clearance process become one more fact check, or does that become a process that is more problematic?” Janetos asked. “And I just think we don’t know.”
The first test of how the thinly staffed Trump administration will handle the ongoing national assessment process could come later this year — when it will have to make decisions about the publication of a separate, more than 500 page report designed to serve as the National Climate Assessment’s scientific foundation. That fundamental climate science document recently received a largely positive peer review from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and, if it stays on schedule, would come out in the fall of 2017, with the broader regionally focused report to follow a year later.
National Assessments have been delayed extensively in the past. After the Clinton administration produced the first one in 2000, it took until 2009 to publish the second — the very early Obama years.
So as the process continues, university scientists and communities and activists around the country will be watching closely — just as they were at the meeting in Raleigh.
“With the current administration, is [the report] really going to be reviewed and are they going to have the staff to review it?” asked Karen Bearden, a volunteer with the Research Triangle branch of the climate advocacy group 350.org, during a question-and-answer session at the meeting.
“What I can tell you, this report, and the actions that are being taken to write it are being required by law,” answered Chris Avery, a contractor with the Global Change Research Program. “This is an obligatory thing.”
Did Scott Pruitt Lie to Congress While Under Oath?
Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos filed a formal ethics complaint today with the Oklahoma Bar Association against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, seeking an investigation into whether Pruitt lied to Congress while under oath.
The investigation would target possible ethical violations stemming from Pruitt's misrepresentation to senators of his use of a personal email address, during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general, for official business and speeches he gave to right-wing organizations against environmental protection.
Today's complaint asserts that Pruitt violated Oklahoma's rules of professional conduct when he told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during his confirmation hearing that he did not use a personal "me.com" email address for official state business while attorney general of Oklahoma. Records released in the course of an Oklahoma public records lawsuit show that Pruitt received at least one email message and possibly more, at a "me.com" email address. Additional records are still being reviewed by Oklahoma courts for possible public release.
"Pruitt's friends in the fossil fuel industry clearly knew how to reach him best: at his personal email address," said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Lawyers and public servants must adhere to the strictest ethical standards and the Oklahoma Bar should investigate Pruitt's apparent carelessness with the truth."
One released email shows a message from a vice president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association to Pruitt's me.com address, asking him to use his position as Oklahoma attorney general to help roll back renewable fuel standards that were set under the Obama administration. Other released emails show use of a redacted email address for Pruitt that may be personal, showing correspondence with representatives of the American Legislative Exchange Council. The American Legislative Exchange Council is widely viewed as a right-wing organization that has worked to weaken some of the nation's most important environmental laws, including laws Pruitt administers at the EPA, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
Use of a personal email address for official state business can lead to the loss of government records and to hacking. Misrepresenting facts is a matter that the Oklahoma Bar Association takes seriously.
In addition, Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works noted in a March 17 letter to Pruitt that he failed to mention several public speeches or presentations that he has made related to energy or the environment, including to the Federalist Society.
"It seems that Mr. Pruitt may not have been candid at his confirmation hearing," said Kristen van de Biezenbos, the University of Oklahoma law professor who signed the complaint in her personal capacity. "It raises questions about why he hid the fact of his use of personal email for official state business, what else he misrepresented to Congress and what else his personal emails may show us about our EPA administrator's deference to the fossil fuel industry and organizations that support the rollback of environmental regulations."
The Reclusive Climate-Denying Puppet Master Behind Shitstain Trump
Oil Change International
By Andy Rowell
When President Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, many of his supporters hoped he would take on the political and media establishment and radically shake them both up.
In that process they might have assumed he was going to clean up politics by removing the Beltway insiders and the corporate lobbyists who have often pulled strings in Washington.
While the former has happened, the latter has not.
It is increasingly becoming clear that the swamp is being refilled by an oligarchy, where the ultra-rich who fund Trump control what is going on.
Two recent exposés—a brilliant one by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker and one in the Washington Post—focus on Robert Mercer, the reclusive brilliant computer programmer and hedge fund manager and how his money helped propel Trump into power.
Mercer, who is famous for being shy and reclusive, lives on Long Island and made his millions as co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, seen as one of the most profitable hedge funds in the U.S.
But for years now, Mercer has been shaping the political and public arena in the U.S. by pouring tens of millions into causes that resonate with his libertarian views, which include climate denial.
He is one of the main stakeholders and funders of Breitbart news, the standard bearer of alt-right conspiratorial news on the Internet of which Trump's chief of staff, Steve Bannon, was executive chairman, before joining Trump's team. Mercer has poured more than 10 million dollars into the venture. Bannon and Mercer are close. For the last five years, Bannon has acted at Mercer's de facto advisor.
But Breitbart is just the tip of the iceberg of Mercer's hidden influence.
Between 2008 and 2016, the Mercer family foundation pumped at least $77 million in political donations and gifts into what the Washington Post called "a vast universe of causes across the conservative landscape."
Mercer's millions have completely skewed the political debate in the U.S. and he is one of a number of key puppet masters now pulling Trump's strings. Indeed, as the Post noted, the Mercers "are now arguably the most influential financiers of the Trump era."
Not everyone is happy about Mercer's growing influence, including some of his colleagues. Earlier this year a colleague at Renaissance, David Magerman, published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
He outlined the close connection between Mercer and Trump's closest advisors Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway: "Stephen Bannon came from Breitbart News, of which Mercer owns a significant percentage and Kellyanne Conway came from Mercer's circle of political foundations. And, of course, Mercer's daughter Rebekah represents his interests and his worldview with her presence on the transition committee and her close relationship with Bannon and Conway."
Magerman also asked, "What did Mercer's investment in Trump amount to? He was effectively buying shares in the candidate and Robert Mercer now owns a sizable share of the United States Presidency."
Others are outraged too. Nick Patterson, a former senior Renaissance employee, told the New Yorker: "Bob has used his money very effectively. He's not the first person in history to use money in politics, but in my view Trump wouldn't be President if not for Bob. It doesn't get much more effective than that."
Rebekah Mercer, one Robert's daughters and an ex-Wall Street trader, has become central to Breitbart and then later to Trump, with her sitting on Trump's transition team.
"She is the First Lady of the alt-right," Christopher Ruddy, the owner of the conservative outlet Newsmax Media, told Jane Mayer at the New Yorker. "She's respected in conservative circles and clearly Trump has embraced her in a big way." Rebekah Mercer is now leading a group called Making America Great to support Trump's agenda.
There are even those that believe that the Mercer funding of Trump may have broken the law. The New Yorker quoted Brendan Fischer, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, who said that the Mercers' financial entanglement with the Trump campaign was "bizarre" and potentially "illegal." The Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint at the Federal Election Commission.
The New Yorker recalls how one of the issues that Nick Patterson clashed with Mercer is over climate change.
When Patterson tried to engage Mercer over climate, the later responded by sending Patterson an article by Arthur Robinson, a biochemist and climate denier. Mercer has long been a supporter of Robinson and the Mercer foundation has donated at least $1.6 million to Robinson's Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. According to the New Yorker, Robinson's Institute dismisses climate change as a "false religion."
Robinson's article was a classic climate skeptic's argument that climate change would lead to "far more plant and animal life," Patterson told the New Yorker: "It looked like a scientific paper, but it was completely loaded with selective and biased information."
Robinson has been working on climate denial for years. The New Yorker noted: "A petition that he organized in 1998 to oppose the Kyoto Protocol, claiming to represent thirty thousand scientists skeptical of global warming, has been criticized as deceptive."
Despite this, the petition is still widely circulated on Facebook.
Patterson believes that climate change is a threat to Mercer's libertarian ideals. "I think if you studied Bob's views of what the ideal state would look like, you'd find that, basically, he wants a system where the state just gets out of the way," Patterson told the New Yorker. "Climate change poses a problem for that world view, because markets can't solve it on their own."
After Trump won the election, Rebekah nominated the climate denier, Arthur Robinson, to be national science adviser, although this recommendation has not been taken up.
The Mercers' link to climate deniers goes deeper, too. According to a 2013 study by Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations, the Mercer Foundation spent nearly $4 million directly funding groups funding climate denial between 2003 and 2010. Others have the figure much higher. Earlier this year, DeSmog estimated that the Mercers had pumped at least $22 million into climate denial organizations.
Take two quick examples:
By 2011, the Mercers were working with the notorious Koch brothers, who have poured tens of millions into think tanks who fund climate denial and over the next few years, the Mercers donated more than $25 million to the Koch brothers to fund to try to oust Barack Obama. Mercer was out-funding the Kochs on the Koch campaign. In 2014, Bloomberg News ran the headline: The Man Who Out-Koched the Kochs.
The Mercer Foundation, which is run by Rebekah, has also donated $5 million to the leading skeptic think tank, the Heartland Institute. In three days time, Heartland will hold its 12th climate denier conference. Many of the usual climate skeptic suspects will be there.
Heartland bragged: "The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States already is having a profound effect on U.S. climate policy. Meet the scientists, economists, engineers and policy experts who persuaded Trump that man-made global warming is not a crisis."
Aside from Heartland, the sponsors are the Media Research Center, which received $13.8 million from the Mercer Foundation from 2008-2014 and the Heritage Foundation, which has received $1 million over the same period.
As the Washington Post noted: "What sets the Mercers apart is their interest in finding new ways to shape the environment in which policy issues are debated" and that is exactly what the Mercers are doing on climate and the wider pro-Trump campaign.
Climate denial has long been synonymous with Exxon and the Koch-brothers, but now we have a new name on the list:
Robert Mercer, the man who swung the election for Trump.
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:13 AM
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Shed a Tear for the Reefs
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
MARCH 21, 2017
Reports that the Great Barrier Reef is dying come ever more frequently, ever more urgently. There is no mystery about the reason — it’s global warming, caused by the fossil fuels we burn. If we stopped heating the oceans, parts of the great reef off Australia’s north coast and other spectacular coral reefs around the world could still recover. The alternative is to weep at the loss of one of the most spectacular sights on earth, as the author of the latest report and his students did on examining charts of the damage.
The death of coral reefs is a tragedy on many levels. There is the sheer beauty of the forests of brightly colored corals and the equally kaleidoscopic fish they harbor, a panorama that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. There’s their extraordinary variety and value: Coral reefs are found in shallow waters in only 0.2 percent of the oceans, yet they support a quarter of all marine life and provide protein for millions of people. Finally, there is the role of the coral reefs as the alarm system of the oceans: Highly sensitive to the temperature of water, the reefs can die from an increase of only two or three degrees Fahrenheit. The vast stretches of bleached coral speak to oceans in deep trouble.
Last year was particularly disastrous for the Great Barrier Reef. The periodic heating of the Pacific Ocean known as El Niño, combined with the continuing warming of the seas from climate change, caused mass bleaching along vast stretches of the 1,400-mile-long reef. In theory, the return of cooler waters could restore them, but that’s not what’s happening.
Researchers led by Prof. Terry Hughes of James Cook University in Australia, the lead author of a report on the reef in the current issue of the journal Nature, were surprised at the extent of the damage. “We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” he told The Times. In the north, he said, two-thirds of the reefs are dead. And Australian government efforts to curtail dredging and pollution were not helping. “The reefs in dirty water were just as fried as those in pristine water,” he said.
To the scientists, there is no mystery as to what needs to be done. There never was. Decades ago they warned that with global warming, coral reefs would not be able to survive natural temperature spikes, like the one brought on by El Niño. Surveys of the Great Barrier Reef conducted by Professor Hughes from low-flying aircraft showed that extensive patches of reef may be beyond saving. These are the surveys that brought him and his students to tears.
There is really only one way to save coral reefs, and by extension the oceans and the world, and that is to fight climate change. At this juncture, that means defending the 2015 Paris agreement to limit the increase in global temperatures. The Obama administration played a major role in fashioning the agreement, which 194 countries have signed. Backsliding now would guarantee more bleached reefs, and worse.
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:08 AM
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Ganges and Yamuna rivers granted same legal rights as human beings
Indian court cites the Whanganui in New Zealand as example for according status to two rivers considered sacred
Michael Safi and agencies
Tuesday 21 March 2017 11.44 GMT
The Ganges river, considered sacred by more than 1 billion Indians, has become the first non-human entity in India to be granted the same legal rights as people.
A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ordered on Monday that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, be accorded the status of living human entities.
The decision, which was welcomed by environmentalists, means that polluting or damaging the rivers will be legally equivalent to harming a person.
The judges cited the example of the Whanganui river, revered by the indigenous Māori people, which was declared a living entity with full legal rights by the New Zealand government last week.
Judges Rajeev Sharma and Alok Singh said the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries would be “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities”.
The court in the Himalayan resort town of Nainital appointed three officials to act as legal custodians responsible for conserving and protecting the rivers and their tributaries. It ordered that a management board be established within three months.
New Zealand river granted same legal rights as human being
The case arose after officials complained that the state governments of Uttarakhand and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh were not cooperating with federal government efforts to set up a panel to protect the Ganges.
Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said the practical implications of the decision were not clear.
“There are already 1.5bn litres of untreated sewage entering the river each day, and 500m litres of industrial waste,” he said.
“All of this will become illegal with immediate effect, but you can’t stop the discharge immediately. So how this decision pans out in terms of practical reality is very unclear.”
Indian courts have been critical of three decades of government efforts to clean up the Ganges, a 2,500km waterway named after the Hindu goddess Ganga. The latest cleanup initiative has set 2018 as its deadline, one that water ministry officials have reportedly conceded is unlikely to be met.
Thakkar said Monday’s decision could be an effort by courts to broaden their scope for intervention in the river’s management. “The government has been trying to clean up the river by spending a lot of money, putting in a lot of infrastructure and technology, but they aren’t looking at the governance of the river,” he said.
He gave the example of the Yamuna, which is monitored by 22 sewage treatment plants in Delhi. “But none of them are functioning according to their design in terms of quantity and quality, and we don’t know the reason,” he said.
“You need a simple management system for each of the plants and give independent people the mandate to inspect them, question the officials and have them write daily and quarterly reports so that lessons are actually learned.”
Environmental activists say many rivers in India have become dirtier as the economy has developed, with city sewage, farming pesticides and industrial effluents freely flowing into waterways despite laws against polluting.
The Yamuna is the main tributary of the Ganges that officials say is tainted with sewage and industrial pollution. In some places, the river has stagnated to the point that it no longer supports life. Water from the Yamuna is treated chemically before being supplied to Delhi’s nearly 19 million residents as drinking water.
In New Zealand, the local Māori iwi, or tribe, of Whanganui in the North Island had fought for the recognition of their river – the third largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years.
Last Wednesday, hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy when their attempt to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity was passed into law.
“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that, from our perspective, treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the iwi.
on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:03 AM
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This is why Americans vote for Repiglicans..pigs that they are
Repiglican Senate votes to lift limits on hunting Alaska grizzlies and wolves on federal land
By Juliet Eilperin March 21 at 9:29 PM
These two grizzly bear cubs in Anchorage, Alaska, and their sibling (not shown) were orphaned when their mother was shot in 2011. They were later moved to the Detroit Zoo.
The Senate voted Tuesday to abolish a rule restricting specific hunting practices on national wildlife refuges in Alaska — including trapping, baiting and aerial shooting — on the grounds that state officials should be able to set the terms for wildlife conservation on public land within their own borders.
The 52-to-47 vote, which was almost entirely along party lines, represented the latest instance of Republicans using a powerful legislative tool — the Congressional Review Act — to eliminate regulations that Barack Obama’s administration finalized before he left office in January. Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) joined Republicans in backing the measure, and the measure only needs President Trump’s signature to become law.
With Trump’s support, congressional Republicans are working systematically to undo several environmental, labor and financial safeguards the previous administration put in place toward the end of Obama’s term. Under the 1996 law, any rule wiped off the books cannot be reinstated in a “substantially similar form.”
While a disproportionate number of the regulations that have come under fire address energy and the environment, the larger debate has focused on whether the federal government has the right to establish sweeping rules Americans must live by or whether power should be devolved to the states.
During a sometimes-emotional debate Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats sparred over how best to define sportsmanship as well as state sovereignty.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) noted that the issue of managing wildlife “is something in Alaska that we take very, very seriously.” Recalling how she watched her grandparents and parents lobby for Alaska to become a state, she added, “It was all about fish, it was all about salmon. That’s one of the reasons we fought for statehood.”
But Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who spoke just before Murkowski, said the idea of allowing the killing mother bears and cubs as well as denning wolves and pups, would be putting “the federal stamp of approval on methods of take that the public views as unethical.”
“I don’t think that’s standing up for hunters,” he said. “I fear that it is endangering something that is critical to our culture and a way of life.”
Heinrich added that he had recently taken his 13-year-old son Carter on his first elk hunt, where “he soon learned that the hard work comes after you pull the trigger. As his son painstakingly stripped the meat of the elk they had shot, the senator said, “Anything less would be unethical, and disrespectful to that magnificent wild animal.”
The National Rifle Association backed overturning the rule, as did several Alaska-based groups. Environmental and animal welfare groups, by contrast, lobbied against the measure.
For years the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had negotiated on an annual basis how to establish hunting and fishing regulations for national wildlife refuges in the state, which encompass tens of millions of acres. But in 2013 the Alaska Board of Game, which is made up of political appointees, rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rules and instructed the state fish and game agency to write the regulations on their own.
“It was the state of Alaska that broke with this tradition,” former Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe said in an interview, noting that under federal law the agency is supposed to manage “for wildlife first” on its refuges. “We did everything we could to try to resolve the controversy, but the basic issue is what’s your basic philosophy with regard to the management of predators. And these are national wildlife refuges.”
In a statement after Tuesday’s vote, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said that in his state, “many hunt for survival, both personal and cultural. Alaskans have been able to maintain these strong and life-sustaining traditions through a rigorous scientific process that allows for public participation and ensures we manage our fish and game for sustainability, as required by the Alaska Constitution.”
But Ashe and other defenders of the rule said some of the changes envisioned by state officials, such as allowing people to fly into a place where grizzlies or caribou had gathered and begin hunting that same day, could disrupt the natural predator-prey balance in the wild.
“If they believe the Fish and Wildlife Service has overstepped its authority, there’s a way to deal with that. Then take the Fish and Wildlife Service to court, Alaska does that very well,” Ashe said. “But the reason they’re not pursuing that route is because they know they’ll lose.”
on: Mar 22, 2017, 04:59 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
The biggest energy challenges facing humanity
Getting power to people where and when it’s needed could rewrite the geopolitical rulebook
By Richard Gray
21 March 2017
Every day, our species chews its way through more than a million terajoules of energy. That’s roughly equivalent to what we would use if all 7.5 billion of us boiled 70 kettles of water an hour around the clock. Or 3,000 times the daily output of Palo Verde nuclear power station in Arizona – one of the world’s largest – running at full capacity.
Future Now asked 50 experts – scientists, technologists, business leaders and entrepreneurs – to name what they saw as the most important issues of the 21st Century.
Inspired by these responses, over the next month we will be publishing a series of feature articles and videos that take an in-depth look at the biggest challenges we face today.
With the global population swelling and industrialisation on the rise in developing nations, humanity’s hunger for energy has reached unprecedented levels. More than half of our energy comes from fossil fuels extracted from deep within the Earth’s crust. It is estimated that since commercial oil drilling began in the 1850s, we have sucked up more than 135 billion tonnes of crude oil to drive our cars, fuel our power stations and heat our homes. That figure increases every day.
But our gas guzzling over the past two centuries has taken a potentially devasting toll on the planet. Burning of coal, oil and gas has been inextricably linked to the rising levels of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere and is a leading contributor of climate change. The world’s scientists agree that we are on a path towards disaster that can only be stopped by weaning ourselves off our fossil fuel habit. But that leaves us with a problem. How do we ensure the lights stay on?
“The energy industry is facing decades of transformation,” according to a recent report by the World Energy Council. Yet the implications of the changes underway go far deeper. There are political, economic and social issues at stake, but it may also require each of us to make some fundamental shifts in our behaviour too.
There can be no doubt that implementing a shift in where we get our energy from is one of the grand challenges facing our planet today. BBC Future Now spoke to a panel of experts about what hurdles we must now overcome and where technology may provide an answer.
Perhaps the greatest issue raised by the scientists, policy experts and companies we spoke to is how to cope with the immediate hike in energy demands expected in the coming decades.
“There are still a lot of people around the world – 1.2 billion or so – who do not have access to modern energy services,” explains Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre. “There is going to be a lot of rising demand from regions like Asia, Latin America and parts of Africa.”
'There is going to be a lot of rising demand from regions like Asia, Latin America and parts of Africa' – Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre
There are still an estimated three billion people around the world who cook and heat their homes using simple stoves or open fires that burn wood, animal dung or coal. As developing nations become more industrialised, they will need access to reliable electricity supplies. In countries where development is already underway, energy use will soar as increasing wealth leads to a swelling middle class and the lifestyle trappings that brings with it.
“Globally, the greatest challenge for energy is going to be cooling,” says Martin Freer, director of the Birmingham Energy Institute at the University of Birmingham. “With the growth of the middle class in India and China, there will be an associated demand for air conditioning. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that by the middle of the present century, the demand for cooling will outstrip the demand for heating.” Indeed, it is estimated that by 2040, the world’s energy consumption will have increased by almost 50%.
'Globally, the greatest challenge for energy is going to be cooling' – Martin Freer, director of the Birmngham Energy Institute, University of Birmingham
But faced with global agreements to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, how will we meet this growing demand without dooming our ice caps and drowning low-lying regions beneath rising sea levels?
In truth, the picture may not be as bleak as it could be. Around a fifth of the world’s primary energy supply already comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal. This sector is expected to continue growing by 2.6% each year until 2040.
Until recently, the main source of renewable energy was hydroelectric power and wind has been the fastest growing. But new advances in solar panel technology, which allow them to generate power even in overcast conditions, have seen a surge in the amount of energy being produced using the sun.
In the UK, for example, more than 12GW of solar energy has been added to the electricity network in the past 12 months – the equivalent of an entire coal-fired power station. Worldwide, the amount of solar energy production grew by 50% last year. Researchers in many countries are working on new photovoltaic cells that can be printed on flexible sheets, which could reduce the costs of solar further.
Hooking up these new energy producers to existing grids won’t be straightforward, however. “One of the big challenges of deploying these intermittent renewables like wind and solar is the impact they could have on the system,” says Watson. In many Western countries, the networks that carry our electricity supply into our homes and offices are decades old, designed to deal with steady, reliable power generation. Wind and solar energy are highly dependent on the weather – and the time of day, in the case of solar – meaning they do not necessarily produce the bulk of their electricity at times when there are peaks in demand.
“It used to be that the summer was a really quiet time for the grid operator compared to the winter,” explains Watson. “Now they are having this peak in generation in summer due to solar energy when demand is low. They are having to juggle this as we cannot store electricity in large quantities yet. This is a new way of operating for them.”
Most countries are currently tackling this by keeping more reliable sources of energy production in reserve. This means having nuclear, gas and even coal fired power stations sitting idle or running at a low level, but ready to ramp up their production should the wind drop or when the sun dips beneath the horizon.
According to Robert Armstrong, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative, this puts limits on how much renewable energy you can practically use. Armstrong’s models suggest that without energy storage only about 10% of our power could come from solar. “The reason is that solar is concentrated around midday, so you need generation to match demand in the evenings and the mornings. There are issues around who builds that and who pays for that.”
'Transferring electricity from regions that need it least to those that need it most would help to enable substantial economic benefits' – Ksenia Letova, Skoltech Institute for Science and Technology in Russia
One solution to this is to make the grids that distribute the electricity bigger – create so-called “supergrids”. The basic idea is that if energy is shared over a wider area, there is more chance that the sun will be shining or the wind will be blowing in one part of a supply network, if not another.
These schemes envisage connecting the energy grids of several countries together so electricity can be shared between nations. Proposals for a European supergrid and one in the United States have been discussed for decades. More recently there have even been calls for a global energy grid – an idea that has had support from Chinese State Grid, which set up the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization.
There are already some moves in this direction. The UK is building new underwater connections to energy grids in France, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Norway, with a capacity to import or export up to 11GW of electricity. There are also moves towards building an Asian supergrid which will connect Japan, Russia, China, Mongolia and South Korea.
“Transferring electricity from regions that need it least to those that need it most would help to enable substantial economic benefits,” says Ksenia Letova, project manager of the Asian Supergrid at Skoltech Institute for Science and Technology in Russia. “In countries like Japan and South Korea, the maximum seasonal load falls on the summer because of extensive use of air conditioning. In the Russian Far East and Siberia this is the period of the lowest electricity demand.”
Using the excessive capacities of neighbouring countries may help to reduce costs of building new energy projects. For example, there are plans to develop large-scale wind and solar power stations in the Mongolian Gobi desert and in northern regions of China. These regions are sparsely populated but allowing the excess energy produced to be exported could bring in significant revenue.
“The problem is the cost of building such a grid,” says Janusz Bialek, director of the Centre for Energy Systems at Skoltech Institute of Science and Technology. Transmitting electricity over long distances can be inefficient and many countries will need to upgrade their powerlines to cope.
'Any failure of, or attack on, a global grid could have very serious consequences, threatening supply in many countries' – Janusz Bialek, Skoltech Institute of Science and Technology
“There are political considerations too,” says Bialek. “Any failure, or attack on, a global grid could have very serious consequences threatening security of supply in many countries.”
It is an important point. Energy security is already the main driving force in the geopolitical landscape. Countries with large oil reserves can largely dictate global policy and nations like Saudi Arabia have won themselves powerful allies like the United States as a result of the black gold buried beneath their territory.
Russia has also used its fossil fuel resources to flex its muscles in recent years, turning off gas supplies through Ukraine, and so to several European countries, in disputes over prices and debts. Nearly a quarter of the natural gas consumed in the European Union comes from Russia.
Yet as nations become more reliant upon alternative sources of energy, it could also see these traditional power struggles changing. The largest producers of oil in the world are Saudi Arabia, the US and Russia. By contrast, currently the largest producers of solar energy are China, Germany and Japan while the US, China and Germany are the world leaders in wind energy.
“As new technology is developed it will shift the geopolitics of energy,” says Watson. “It will change relationships."
'As new technology is developed it will shift the geopolitics of energy, it will change relationships' – Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre
With countries such as Morocco building giant solar farm projects in their vast areas of desert in the hope of exporting this vast resource to other countries, it could lead to states that have previously been small fish taking a bigger role on the global stage. If Mongolia builds its huge reserves of wind and solar in the Gobi, it could transform its standing in the eyes of the world.
Yet the need for supergrids and power-sharing deals between countries would be diminished if a good way to store electricity can be found. Beyond their widespread availability and affordability, fossil fuels have one major advantage over renewable energy sources – they are very easy to store and transport.
Currently there is no easy way to store the electricity produced by wind or solar energy for appreciable periods of time. Technologies like capacitors and flywheels can provide stored energy for a few minutes or hours. But electricity grids need to be finely tuned. They only work when the amount of energy put in is the same as that drawn out. The supply must match the demand.
Many are still scratching their heads about what to do when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing yet electricity demand is low. Hydroelectric dams can provide some of the solution. In the UK, excess electricity is used to pump water to the top of these dams in Scotland and Wales, where it is stored as potential energy. When it is needed, the water is released to drive turbines.
Cables currently being laid under the North Sea will also soon allow the UK to access the large amounts of hydroelectric storage in Norway. Excess energy from wind and solar will be exported to Norway to be stored before being bought back off them when needed.
But building new hydroelectric dams is controversial and extremely damaging to local habitats. It has left researchers searching for another solution. Some are looking at building banks of batteries to store this energy, but battery technology is not yet good enough to efficiently store large amounts of energy.
“My guess is that the solution is going to come in the form of fuel,” says Armstrong. “We can make fuel out of excess solar or wind, perhaps by splitting water to produce hydrogen and possibly taking some of that excess energy and reducing carbon dioxide to combine with the hydrogen to make synthetic hydrocarbons.”
'The solution to storing energy is going to come in the form of fuel' – Robert Armstrong, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative
Currently there are a number of small scale projects around the world attempting just this. Aberdeen in Scotland, for example, is running the world’s largest demonstration project of hydrogen fuel cells in buses. Renewable energy is used to generate hydrogen, which is used to power 10 public buses around the city.
This could also solve another of the pressing problems facing many countries with colder climates – how to stay warm. “One of the big challenges that countries like the UK has is how do you make heating more sustainable,” adds Watson. “These countries are still using fossil fuels for heating. You might need storage that lasts several months. This is an area that is really ripe for innovation and we are really only at the start of deploying and testing potential solutions.”
Most countries in northern Europe, including the UK, use natural gas to heat their homes. If Britain was to abandon gas and use electricity for heating, it would require a four- or five-fold increase in the capacity of the electricity network overnight, according to Julian Leslie, head of electricity network development at the UK’s National Grid.
'Increasing the capacity of the electricity network is going to be hugely expensive' – Julian Leslie, head of electricity network development at the UK’s National Grid
“That is going to be hugely expensive,” he says. “You would struggle to get the planning consent for the wires and generation needed. There is a very strong future for gas and we can decarbonise the gas a lot by producing hydrogen or biogas to inject into the gas network. We need to explore more alternatives to how we can decarbonise gas further.”
Biogas and biofuels are often seen as one of the most viable alternatives to fossil fuels, with companies like BP investing huge sums into developing production lines. Yet burning these fuels will not halt the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And with the burgeoning extraction of shale oil and gas in many parts of the world, it seems likely we will be reliant on fossil fuels for some time to come.
“By 2050 we will still be getting 75% of our energy from fossil fuels,” says Armstrong. “A critical issue for us will be to figure out how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from those energy sources. That is going to require carbon capture storage and utilisation. Lowering the cost of capturing the carbon is probably the toughest piece of that but we also need to figure out how to store it for geological timeframes.”
'By 2050 we will still be getting 75% of our energy from fossil fuels' – Robert Armstrong, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative
Carbon capture involves scrubbing the carbon dioxide gas from the fumes leaving chimneys. Typically this involves expensive chemicals to bind the carbon dioxide and requires replumbing power plants so the mixture can be heated as part of the scrubbing process. But there are some new approaches being developed that make use of metal ions, which avoids the need to heat the chemical mixture.
Some believe the problems we face with renewable energy can be overcome in more direct ways, such as closer monitoring of individual households’ energy consumption. By 2020 the European Union is aiming to have 500 million smart meters installed in homes to monitor energy usage.
Detailed minute-by-minute information about demand should help power companies manage grids better. “Artificial intelligence will be essential in analysing the vast amounts of data generated around the power grid and taking real-time control decisions,” says Valentin Robu, a lecturer in smart grids at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It could also lead to some fundamental changes in the way we consume technology. “We are not that far away from me asking my energy company for the cheapest possible tariff they can give and them sending me some plugs that connect to my WiFi network,” says Leslie. “It will mean that you are no longer in control of your dishwasher or your washing machine.”
'It will mean that you are no longer in control of your dishwasher or your washing machine' – Julian Leslie, head of electricity network development at the UK’s National Grid
Instead, it will mean our energy companies will control when our household appliances run. They will be able to turn them on when the weather is sunny and solar energy is plentiful or when demand is otherwise low.
Such approaches would mean a fundamental move away from the “power-on-demand” way of consuming energy we have grown use to over the past century. Instead when our fridges go through cooling cycles or appliances turn on could be determined by fluctuations in the weather or the time of day. Our dishwashers, for example, may run during the day while we are at work rather than at night.
“For years we have consumed energy whenever we like and paid a flat rate for that,” says Leslie. “We will have to start shifting our use of energy to when it is there and available rather than shifting the energy production to match our use.”