Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The language of climate change

Journalists and readers alike are learning some lingo formerly used primarily by climatologists. Many people’s vocabularies are expanding (mine included) while following news coverage and commentaries about climate change and global warming.

One example is dangerous anthropogenic interference (DAI). I learned the phrase while reading a book by Elizabeth Kolbert entitled “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.”

Kolbert explains that DAI does not refer to any specific disaster but rather it involves a range of climate change scenarios that could result in mass extinction.

“The disintegration of one of the planet’s remaining ice sheets is often held up as the exemplary catastrophe,” Kolbert wrote. “DAI is therefore understood to refer not to the end of the process, but to the beginning of it-–the point at which its arrival becomes unavoidable.”

So far, scientists have yet to determine what carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere would represent DAI. Scientific debate about global warming involves countless technical questions. Sometimes, it seems to me that constructive debate gets sidetracked by semantics.

I can see this happening easily with DAI because many people disagree about whether humans are the dominant force triggering climate change. Of all the people who attended the recent Copenhagen meeting, I wonder how many participants would describe global warming as “a natural process.”

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ExxonMobil: Industry committed to cutting GHG emissions

ExxonMobil ran an advertisement in the Dec. 21 Wall Street Journal about the oil industry's commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Entitled "Fuel for thought," the ad states that the oil and gas industry invested more than $58 billion in low-emissions technologies from 2000-08.

"That's 44% of the total spent by all US industries and the federal government combined," the ad stated.

In a recent speech in Qatar, ExxonMobil Production Co. Pres. Rich Kruger noted that the oil and gas industry "must commit to taking on the dual challenge of meeting the world’s growing energy needs while reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions."

The International Energy Agency and many others predict that the world’s total energy demand will increase by as much as 30-40% in 2030 compared with 2007.

"Growing populations and developing economies will require more of the energy we produce today and the energy we will be expected to produce tomorrow," Kruger said. "But our industry has faced significant challenges before. And each time we have shown that the key in times like these is to maintain a long-term view and focus on the fundamentals."

"Within ExxonMobil, we are demonstrating our commitment and endurance by pursuing plans to invest $25 billion to $30 billion annually over the next 5 years on energy projects," Kruger said. "These are record investment levels for us. We are able to confidently pursue these plans based on our long-term view of industry fundamentals, and financial discipline, in good times and bad."

He believes the world needs to develop all sources of energy, hydrocarbon and other, when and where they are economically competitive.

"With this perspective, the best way for us to meet future demand and help curb greenhouse gas emissions is to continue to invest in new technologies," Kruger said, calling the energy industry "one of the most technologically advanced industries in the world."

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Court cites Endangered Species Act, puts limits on wind project

A US District Court for the District of Maryland found a partially constructed wind project to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the ruling, wind farm developer Invenergy of Chicago can finish construction of the wind turbines already under construction. The turbines only can be operated during winter months when bats are hiberating.

The decision stemmed from expert testimony saying that the Beech Ridge Project on an Appalachian ridge in Greenbriar County, W. Vir., would kill and injure endangered Indiana bats.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) said the case highlights the need to balance the construction of renewable energy along with protecting endangered wildlife species under the ESA. AWI filed the suit along with Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy and caving enthusiast Dave Cowan.

The ESA provides for the issuance of permits that authorize projects in endangered species habitat but only when the US Fish and Wildlife Service attaches strict, enforceable conditions designed to minimize the impact on imperiled species.

In finding a violation of the ESA, the court held that defendants must apply for a permit under the ESA.

Bat biologist Thomas Kunz of Boston University testified that the project would not only kill endangered Indiana bats, but might kill more than 250,000 bats overall, including species already being decimated by threats such as the devastating fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome.

The court enjoined the construction of the any additional wind turbines and prohibited operation of all existing turbines during Apr. 1 through Nov. 15 until an Incidental Take Permit is obtained. About 40 of the 122 planned wind turbines have been erected.

"We do not oppose responsible development of renewable energy projects be they wind farms, solar farms, or tidal energy projects but there must be independent federal regulation of these project to avoid unintentional consequences to protected species," said John Stroud, spokesman for Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy.

Cowan has explored many caves in the area. He said, "This court has made clear to Beech Ridge and its parent company, Invenergy, that the ESA has teeth, that the Indiana bat will be harmed by this project, and that these companies don't get a free pass to violate the ESA."

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Natural gas to get a voice at Copenhagen climate meeting

Some participants at the Copenhagen climate meeting will get a chance to hear about the potential for natural gas to play a role in the move to a low-carbon economy.

American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF), the UN Foundation, and the Worldwatch Institute are staging a Dec. 12 event: "Natural Gas, Renewables, and Efficiency: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy."

Confirmed speakers include Aubrey K. McClendon, ACSF chairman and chief executive officer of Cheasapeake Energy Corp.

Compared with coal, gas allows a 50-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, depending on the application, event organizers said. The discussion, to be held at the Danish Society of Engineers building, will focus on actions to replace high-emitting fuels with gas, increase energy efficiency, and increase the use of renewable energy.

Since its founding in 2007 the not-for-profit ACSF has worked toward advancing US energy independence and a cleaner, low-carbon environment through expanded use of gas and renewables.

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