The Biden administration announced it will use Obama-era calculations of the "social cost" of three greenhouse gas pollutants while an interagency working group calculates a more complete estimate, the White House announced Friday.
Often described as "the most important number you've never heard of," the "social cost" of greenhouse gases estimates the harms to society caused by each ton of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emitted into the atmosphere.
Those estimates are used across government in calculating the costs and benefits of proposed actions.
Though the administration did not specify the exact costs, multiple outlets report the interim estimate of the social cost of carbon will be approximately $51 per ton.
The interagency working group also set the social cost of methane, a far more potent heat trapping gas, at $1,500 per ton and at $18,000 for nitrous oxide, Politico reported.
The Trump administration had slashed those estimates to as low as $1 per ton for carbon dioxide and $55 per ton for methane.
The final estimate for the social cost of carbon produced by the interagency working group could reach as high as $125 after accounting for scientific advances and climatic damage over the past four years but the Obama-era estimates were subject to extensive scientific and agency review and public comment, making them more likely to withstand legal challenges.
For a deeper dive:
Growing Cannabis Indoors Produces a Lot of Greenhouse Gases – Just How Much Depends on Where It’s Grown
By Jason Quinn and Hailey Summers
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The Big Idea
The lights used to grow weed indoors use a lot of electricity, but facilities require a lot of energy to maintain a comfortable environment for the plants. That means air conditioners or heaters to maintain proper temperatures. Producers also pump carbon dioxide inside to increase plant growth. This accounts for 11% to 25% of facilities' greenhouse gas emissions.
But the biggest energy use comes from the need to constantly bring fresh air into growing facilities. All of this outside air needs to be treated so that it is the correct temperature and humidity. This is a very energy-intensive process since the air exchange rate is typically so high.
All of these inputs contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, a lot more in some regions than others.
Using Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and industry data, we found that growing pot indoors leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions in the Mountain West, Midwest, Alaska and Hawaii than compared to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. This is because climates are milder on the coasts, so you need less heating or air conditioning and because the electric grids use more clean energy.
Cannabis grown in Southern California has the lowest emissions, at 143 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per ounce of dried cannabis. Meanwhile, eastern O'ahu in Hawaii has the highest emissions, at 324 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per ounce. That's roughly equivalent to burning 16 gallons of gasoline.
Places with more extreme temperatures and fewer renewable energy sources had the highest greenhouse gas emissions. Jason Quinn / CC BY-ND
Why It Matters
Policymakers and consumers aren't paying much attention to environmental impacts of the cannabis industry. In Colorado, the weed industry accounts for 1.3% of the state's total annual emissions. This is similar to emissions from coal mining and trash collection for the entire state.
Currently, there is little to no regulation on emissions for growing cannabis indoors. Consumers aren't thinking about the environmental effect either. As a whole, this industry is developing and expanding very quickly without consideration for the environment.
What Still Isn't Known
The cannabis industry is so new that researchers don't even know how much is grown indoors. Additionally, every indoor operation is unique. Some are old warehouses using outdated equipment, while others are much more energy-efficient.
Growing cannabis outdoors or in greenhouses could be one way to remove the need for lights and environmental controls. However, researchers don't know the greenhouse gas emissions associated with these growth methods either. All these unknowns make it hard to develop polices or best management practices.
Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND. Source: Jason Quinn. Get the data
Our team's goal is to better quantify and communicate the environmental impact of cannabis production so that those who want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be better informed.
We aim to show greenhouse gas emissions per serving of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that produces the "high." Our preliminary results show that one serving of THC – roughly 10 mg of dried flower – is likely to have higher greenhouse gas emissions than a serving of beer, wine, spirits, coffee or cigarettes, regardless of the location the weed was grown.
Our team is also interested in understanding where weed could be grown if federal legalization happens. Legalization might allow policymakers and producers to grow weed in places and in ways that are much more environmentally friendly, but they need the knowledge to do so.
Jason Quinn is an associate professor in mechanical engineering and director of the Sustainability Research Laboratory, Colorado State University.
Hailey Summers is a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering and sustainability, Colorado State University.
Disclosure statements: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Paul Brown
It may come as a surprise to realize that a plant struggling for survival in a harsh environment is also doing its bit to save the planet from the threats of the rapidly changing climate. But that's what Mexico's cactuses are managing to do.
Research published in the journal The Science of Nature shows that desert soils supporting a high density of cactus contain large quantities of stored bio-minerals (minerals produced by living organisms), formed by the action of the plants in extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Not only that. Cactuses can also be harvested, processed and turned into a form of leather used to make fashion accessories like purses and wallets.
These two attributes have been turned into a successful business by a Mexican/American company, CACTO. It claims to be the first "carbon negative fashion company in the Americas" − in other words, its activities remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it creates in making and marketing its products.
No Animals Involved
This is a bold claim in an industry struggling with its poor environmental record. According to McKinsey and Co. the worldwide fashion industry emits about the same amount of greenhouse gases as France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. But CACTO gives Mexico's cactuses special treatment.
CACTO's products are vegan and so allow a growing class of consumers to buy leather objects that are made without any animal products.
The research into the ability of cactus to extract carbon from the atmosphere and store it was carried out on one cactus species, the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), which can grow to 40 feet.
It is native to the Sonoran desert in Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, and shares with all other cactus varieties the same abilities for dealing with carbon. This has proved a bonus for CACTO because cactuses are the most numerous plants in Mexico.
CACTO's plantations are organic, fed by rainwater, free of herbicides and pesticides, and renewable, and after the ears, or leaves; of the cactus are harvested, the plant grows a replacement in six to eight months. This regeneration allows repeat harvesting. The leaves are then sun-dried to avoid using any electricity. The company's products (available only in green or black) are on sale in more than 100 countries.
CACTO was founded by Jesus Chavez, a climate campaigner, and was designed to have sustainability as a guiding principle at the core of its operation. The entire production cycle is closely monitored by its staff, from the sourcing of materials to production, packaging, distribution and shipping.
Through a partnership with a Swiss non-profit organisation, On a Mission, CACTO says its staff have measured and offset 150% of its CO2 emissions through sustainable reforestation worldwide.
The measurement and offsetting process will take place every six months for the next 10 years. Through several emergent partnerships, the company says it aims to offset at least 1000% of the emissions it generates by the end of 2021.
Jesus Chavez said: "If we want to succeed in reaching net zero carbon emissions well before 2050 and avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we must all work in concert in whatever capacity we are able to.
"Industries across the board need to benefit from existing technology and offsetting programs to become carbon-negative, and to invest in new research and innovation to reach that goal faster. The decisions we make this decade will determine the fate of humanity for centuries to come. It is up to us now."
He said customers around the world wanted alternatives to materials that increased pollution and to unethical manufacturing processes.
CACTO hopes to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to make clear what has been evident to specialists for decades, that decoupling emissions from economic growth is not only feasible, but is the smartest, fastest and most responsible way to grow. Mexico's cactuses bear a heavy responsibility on their ears − or leaves − or branches.
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
By Ermias Kebreab and Breanna Roque
Methane is a short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas and the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. And the majority of human-induced methane emissions comes from livestock.
About 70% of agricultural methane comes from enteric fermentation – chemical reactions in the stomachs of cows and other grazing animals as they break down plants. The animals burp out most of this methane and pass the rest as flatulence.
There are roughly 1 billion cattle around the world, so reducing enteric methane is an effective way to reduce overall methane emissions. But most options for doing so, such as changing cows' diets to more digestible feed or adding more fat, are not cost-effective. A 2015 study suggested that using seaweed as an additive to cattle's normal feed could reduce methane production, but this research was done in a laboratory, not in live animals.
We study sustainable agriculture, focusing on livestock. In a newly published study, we show that using red seaweed (Asparagopsis) as a feed supplement can reduce both methane emissions and feed costs without affecting meat quality. If these findings can be scaled up and commercialized, they could transform cattle production into a more economically and environmentally sustainable industry.
Ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep and goats, can digest plant material that is indigestible for humans and animals with simple stomachs, such as pigs and chickens. This unique ability stems from ruminants' four-compartment stomachs – particularly the rumen compartment, which contains a host of different microbes that ferment feed and break it down into nutrients.
This process also generates byproducts that the cow's body does not take up, such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Methane-producing microbes, called methanogens, use these compounds to form methane, which the cow's body expels.
We first analyzed this problem in a 2019 study, the first such research that was conducted in cattle rather than in a laboratory. In that work, we showed that supplementing dairy cows' feed with about 10 ounces of seaweed a day reduced methane emissions by up to 67%. However, the cattle that ate this relatively large quantity of seaweed consumed less feed. This reduced their milk production – a clear drawback for dairy farmers.
Our new study sought to answer several questions that would be important to farmers considering whether to use seaweed supplements in their cattle. We wanted to know whether the seaweed was stable when stored for up to three years; whether microbes that produce methane in cows' stomachs could adapt to the seaweed, making it ineffective; and whether the type of diet that the cows ate changed the seaweed's effectiveness in reducing methane emissions. And we used less seaweed than in our 2019 study.
A steer eats alfalfa pellets as equipment measures his gas emissions, including methane. Breanna Roque / CC BY-ND
Better Growth With Less Feed
For the study, we added 1.5 to 3 ounces of seaweed per animal daily to 21 beef cows' food for 21 weeks. As with most new ingredients in cattle diets, it took some time for the animals to get used to the taste of seaweed, but they became accustomed to it within a few weeks.
Cattle in the study adjusted quickly to seaweed supplements in their food. Breanna Roque / CC BY-ND
As we expected, the steers released a lot more hydrogen – up to 750% more, mostly from their mouths – as their systems produced less methane. Hydrogen has minimal impact on the environment. Seaweed supplements did not affect the animals' carbon dioxide emissions.
We also found that seaweed that had been stored in a freezer for three years maintained its effectiveness, and that microbes in the cows' digestive systems did not adapt to the seaweed in ways that neutralized its effects.
We fed each of the animals three different diets during the experiment. These rations contained varying amounts of dried grasses, such as alfalfa and wheat hay, which are referred to as forage. Cattle may also consume fresh grass, grains, molasses and byproducts such as almond hull and cotton seed.
Methane production in the rumen increases with rising levels of forage in cows' diet, so we wanted to see whether forage levels also affected how well seaweed reduced overall methane formation. Methane emissions from cattle on high-forage diets decreased by 33% to 52%, depending on how much seaweed they consumed. Emissions from cattle fed low-forage diets fell by 70% to 80%. This difference may reflect lower levels of an enzyme that is involved in producing methane in the guts of cattle-fed low-fiber diets.
One important finding was that the steers in our study converted feed to body weight up to 20% more efficiently than cattle on a conventional diet. This benefit could reduce production costs for farmers, since they would need to buy less feed. For example, we calculate that a producer finishing 1,000 head of beef cattle – that is, feeding them a high-energy diet to grow and add muscle – could reduce feed costs by US$40,320 to $87,320 depending on how much seaweed the cattle consumed.
Global methane sources include fossil fuel and biomass combustion, agriculture (mainly livestock), the breakdown of waste in landfills and natural decomposition in wetlands. Jackson et al., 2020, CC BY
We don't know for certain why feeding cattle seaweed supplements helped them convert more of their diet to weight gain. However, previous research has suggested that some rumen microorganisms can use hydrogen that is no longer going into methane production to generate energy-dense nutrients that the cow can then use for added growth.
When a panel of consumers sampled meat from cattle raised in our study, they did not detect any difference in tenderness, juiciness or flavor between meat from cattle that consumed seaweed and others that did not.
Commercializing seaweed as a cattle feed additive would involve many steps. First, scientists would need to develop aquaculture techniques for producing seaweed on a large scale, either in the ocean or in tanks on land. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have to approve using seaweed as a feed supplement for commercial cattle.
Farmers and ranchers could also earn money for reducing their cattle's emissions. Climate scientists would have to provide guidance on quantifying, monitoring and verifying methane emission reductions from cattle. Such rules could allow cattle farmers to earn credits from carbon offset programs around the world.
Ermias Kebreab is an Associate Dean and Professor of Animal Science. Director, World Food Center, University of California, Davis.
Breanna Roque is a Ph.D. Student in Animal Biology, University of California, Davis.
Disclosure statement: Ermias Kebreab receives funding from the Foundation for Agricultural Research, Elm Innovations, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Grantham Foundation. He advises feed additive companies such as Blue Ocean Barns and Mootral. Breanna Roque does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Brett Wilkins
As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%.
"In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.
The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."
The report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:
- Implement frequent flyer levies;
- Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
- Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
- Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.
"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC.
"These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."
Newell said that wealthy people "simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV, that's still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place."
"Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air," Newell added. "But these schemes are highly contentious and they're not proven over time."
The report concludes that "we are all on a journey and the final destination is as yet unclear. There are many contradictory road maps about where we might want to get to and how, based on different theories of value and premised on diverse values."
"Promisingly, we have brought about positive change before, and there are at least some positive signs that there is an appetite to do what is necessary to live differently but well on the planet we call home," it states.
The new report follows a September 2020 Oxfam International study that revealed the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50% of humanity combined.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By James Shulmeister
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to [email protected]
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?
The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around four million years ago during a geological period known as the Pliocene Era (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.
We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain samples of the atmosphere at the time. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.
Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is related to atmospheric carbon dioxide, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.
Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.
The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then.
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica
During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least 120 meters lower than they are today.
Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, research shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was significantly smaller and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.
This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong polar amplification of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia
In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.
One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big temperature contrast between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.
It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that West Antarctica is already melting.
Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters. Even smaller increases raise the risk of flooding in low-lying cities including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
James Shulmeister is a professor at the University of Canterbury.
Disclosure statement: James Shulmeister receives funding from the Australian Research Council and is part of a National Science Foundation grant from the US. As well as being Professor and Head of School at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, he is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland, Australia and an associate investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH).
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Human activity has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide to higher levels today than they have been at any other point in the last 23-million-years, potentially posing unprecedented disruptions in ecosystems across the planet, new research suggests.
Understanding atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is "vital for understanding Earth's climate system" because it "imparts a controlling effect on global temperatures," said scientists in a study published in Geology.
Climate change is largely driven by a disproportionate increase of CO2 in the atmosphere largely resulting from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas as well as cutting down or burning forests that serve as carbon stores, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. A 2013 study published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that climate change from CO2 and greenhouse gas emission is not only caused by humans but has had "widespread impacts on human and natural systems."
Previous measurements have turned to ice cores to determine CO2 levels present in the atmosphere throughout Earth's history, but have only pieced together the last 800,000 years. To expand upon this record, researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette used fossilized remains of ancient plant tissue to produce a record of atmospheric CO2 dating back 31 million years of "uninterrupted Earth history."
As plants grow, the amount of two stable carbon isotopes, carbon-12 and carbon-13, change in response to CO2 levels in the atmosphere. With this in mind, the research team measured the relative amount of these carbon isotopes in fossil plant materials from 700 measurements, published in 12 studies, characterizing ancient plants and their lipids in order to calculate concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere during the timeframe that the plants grew.
This atmospheric "timeline" did not show fluctuations in CO2 that are comparable to increases seen in the last century. In fact, the highest concentrations of CO2 were found during the Miocene, between 5 and 23 million years ago, but were still determined to have been below present-day levels.
"These data suggest present-day CO2 exceeds the highest levels that Earth experienced at least since the Miocene, further highlighting the present-day disruption of long-established CO2 trends within Earth's atmosphere," write the study authors in Geology.
The abrupt increase of greenhouse gas distribution today is unprecedented in Earth's 23-million-year history, indicating that ecosystems and global temperatures may be more sensitive to smaller changes in CO2 levels than previously thought. Though CO2 levels have varied widely throughout Earth's history, researchers believe that they have never fluctuated nor been as high as in recent years.
"One of the most pressing messages that climate scientists attempt to convey to the public is that current CO2 is elevated compared to the geological past," write the study authors, adding that the results also indirectly imply that major changes in plant and early humans were not driven by large changes in CO2 but rather "relatively small-amplitude changes."
Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than one-third since the Industrial Revolution began, according to NASA. Though the BBC reports "worst-case scenario" for emissions of CO2 in the 21st century is considered unlikely by researchers, scientists still expect a rise of around 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, according to The Guardian — 1.5 degrees Celsius above goals set forth by the Paris agreement. A report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this year corroborates the findings, confirming that CO2 levels in 2018 were higher than at any other point in the past 800,000 years. The last time amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, when global temperatures were between 3.6 and 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today.
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Deforested peat forest in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
Overall, forests remain a carbon sink, stashing away 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change. But in the last 20 years alone, forests in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, have turned into net emitters of carbon, thanks to the spread of plantations, raging fires, and loss of peatlands.
Human activities are producing record-breaking emissions — atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a 4-million-year high last year — and they are hacking into the planet's sturdiest defenses.
Spread across 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) in nine countries in South America, the Amazon is still sucking out carbon from the air — but only just.
Most of the Amazon lies in Brazil, and between 2001 and 2019 the Brazilian Amazon acted as a net emitter of carbon, the study found.
Since Jair Bolsonaro became president at the start of 2019, Brazil has seen increased deforestation through clearing land for cattle pastures and through fires. The 2019 fire season raised concerns across the world about the health of the forests in Brazil, but deforestation has been steadily eating away into its green cover for years.
Of the three great swaths of tropical rainforest left on Earth, only those of the Congo Basin still stand strong.
Tropical forests grow quickly and absorb the most carbon of any type of forest. During photosynthesis, they use carbon dioxide to produce energy and biomass. Because trees lock away carbon dioxide, when forests are destroyed, not only is this vital function lost, but the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
Forests are considered a carbon sink when they absorb more carbon dioxide than is released through land-use changes and forest destruction.
A 2020 study predicted the Amazon would turn into a carbon source in the next 15 years.
What is especially worrying is the loss of pristine swaths of forests that have kept carbon out of the atmosphere for decades, if not centuries. Madagascar, the world's oldest island, has lost nearly 90% of its natural forests in four decades. Since the turn of the century, unlike many African countries, it has turned into a carbon source, according to the analysis.
"Unlike secondary forests or fast-rotation pine or eucalyptus plantations, harvesting in old-growth forests releases CO2 that has taken centuries to accumulate — carbon that, once lost, is irrecoverable in our lifetime," the paper's authors write.
Forests lapsing into net producers of carbon emissions is terrible news for the planet, but it is also bad news for the forests themselves. Climate change is known to contribute to intense fire seasons and prolonged droughts that can prove fatal to trees.
One bright spot in the analysis is that more than a quarter of greenhouse gas removal occurred in forests in protected areas. The authors cite the example of the Menkragnotí Indigenous Territory in Brazil, where forests continue to absorb emissions equal to those from 2 million cars every year — even though surrounding forests have turned into net carbon sources. The researchers say mining activities, cattle ranching, and soy cultivation are to blame.
The research also represents an advancement in carbon accounting. The conventional method is to rely on data from individual countries. The new approach combines satellite data with ground measurements and presents a more refined picture. It evens out calculations on different scales, making it possible to estimate emissions and removals for small forest patches as well as countries and continents.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Brett Wilkins
Texas oil refineries released hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants including benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide into the air as they scrambled to shut down during last week's deadly winter storm, Reuters reported Sunday.
Winter storm Uri, which killed dozens of people and cut off power to over four million Texans at its peak, also disrupted supplies needed to keep the state's refineries and petrochemical plants operating. As they shut down, refineries flared — or burned off — gases in order to prevent damage to their processing units.
According to the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, the five largest refiners emitted nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants in this manner.
ExxonMobil's Baytown Olefins plant in Baytown released 68,000 tons of carbon monoxide and nearly a ton of benzene in what it called a "safe utilization of the flare system."
Critics noted, however, that benzene is harmful to bone marrow, red blood cells, and the immune system.
"There is no safe amount of benzene for human exposure," Sharon Wilson, a researcher at the advocacy group Earthworks, told Reuters.
The five largest U.S. oil refiners emitted tons of pollutants into the skies over Texas this week, including benzen… https://t.co/yZtlbByZ6U— Reuters (@Reuters)1613915765.0
Motiva's Port Arthur refinery released 118,100 pounds of pollutants into the air between Feb. 15 and Feb. 18. This was triple the amount of excess emissions the plant reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the entire year of 2019.
Valero's refinery in Port Arthur flared 78,000 pounds of pollutants over 24 hours beginning Feb. 15, while Marathon Petroleum's Galveston Bay refinery released 14,255 pounds in less than five hours that same day.
Hilton Kelly, who lives in Port Arthur, told Reuters that there were "six or seven flares going at one time."
Wilson said that the flaring "could have been prevented" by winterizing the refineries.
"We need someone in the Texas legislature to file a bill requiring the oil and gas industry to thoroughly winterize all their equipment," Wilson told Earther. "The bill probably won't pass in Texas, but that will create some more scrutiny about it."
“If [the industry] had winterized their equipment, this wouldn’t be happening." ICYMI: oil & gas "pollution event"… https://t.co/5jHzhVhW2d— Earthworks (@Earthworks)1613925540.0
Earther reports that between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18, there were 174 so-called "emissions events" from fossil fuel facilities in Texas, compared to between 37 and 46 such events in weeks before the storm.
In addition to the previously mentioned pollutants, chemicals released from Texas facilities include over 6,500 pounds of the carcinogen isoprene from a Shell plant in Deer Park near Houston, as well as an indeterminate amount of methane, which is 84 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the short term.
Wilson told Earther that "in Texas we don't count methane" in pollution reports.
The release of large amounts of dangerous pollutants during Uri stands in stark contrast with claims by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that alternative energy sources such as solar and wind are responsible for Uri's deadly power outages and that the Green New Deal would be a "deadly deal" for the United States.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Beverly Law and William Moomaw
Protecting forests is an essential strategy in the fight against climate change that has not received the attention it deserves. Trees capture and store massive amounts of carbon. And unlike some strategies for cooling the climate, they don't require costly and complicated technology.
Yet although tree-planting initiatives are popular, protecting and restoring existing forests rarely attracts the same level of support. As an example, forest protection was notably missing from the $447 million Energy Act of 2020, which the U.S. Congress passed in December 2020 to jump-start technological carbon capture and storage.
In our work as forest carbon cycle and climate change scientists, we track carbon emissions from forests to wood products and all the way to landfills – and from forest fires. Our research shows that protecting carbon in forests is essential for meeting global climate goals.
Ironically, we see the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a model. This program, which was created after the 1973 oil crisis to guard against future supply disruptions, stores nearly 800 million gallons of oil in huge underground salt caverns along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We propose creating strategic forest carbon reserves to store carbon as a way of stabilizing the climate, much as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve helps to stabilize oil markets.
The U.S. has more than 800 million acres of natural and planted forests and woodlands, of which nearly 60% are privately owned. USDA / USFS
Carbon Stockpiles That Grow
Forests pull about one-third of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere each year. Researchers have calculated that ending deforestation and allowing mature forests to keep growing could enable forests to take up twice as much carbon.
Half of a tree's stems, branches and roots are composed of carbon. Live and dead trees, along with forest soil, hold the equivalent of 80% of all the carbon currently in Earth's atmosphere.
Trees accumulate carbon over extremely long periods of time. For example, redwoods, Douglas firs and western red cedars in the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest can live for 800 years or more. When they die and decompose, much of that carbon ends up in soil, where it is stored for centuries or millennia.
Mature trees that have reached full root, bark and canopy development deal with climate variability better than young trees. Older trees also store more carbon. Old-growth trees, which usually are hundreds of years old, store enormous quantities of carbon in their wood, and accumulate more carbon annually.
There are many fallacies about forest carbon storage, such as the concern that wildfires in the American West are releasing huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. In fact, fires are a relatively small carbon source. For example, the massive Biscuit Fire, which burned 772 square miles in southwest Oregon in 2002, emitted less than 10% of Oregon's total emissions that year.
Another false claim is that it's OK from a climate perspective to cut trees and turn them into furniture, plywood and other items because wood products can store substantial amounts of carbon. These assertions fail to count cradle-to-grave emissions from logging and manufacturing, which can be substantial.
The wood products industry releases carbon in many ways, from manufacturing products and burning mill waste to the breakdown of short-lived items like paper towels. It takes decades to centuries for newly planted forests to accumulate the carbon storage levels of mature and old forests, and many planted forests are repeatedly harvested.
In a review that we conducted with colleagues in 2019, we found that overall, U.S. state and federal reporting underestimated wood product-related carbon dioxide emissions by 25% to 55%. We analyzed Oregon carbon emissions from wood that had been harvested over the past century and discovered that 65% of the original carbon returned to the atmosphere as CO2. Landfills retained 16%, while just 19% remained in wood products.
In contrast, protecting high carbon-density western U.S. forests that have low vulnerability to mortality from drought or fire would sequester the equivalent of about six years of fossil fuel emissions from the entire western U.S., from the Rocky Mountain states to the Pacific coast.
Focus on Big Trees
In a recently published analysis of carbon storage in six national forests in Oregon, we showed why a strategic forest carbon reserve program should focus on mature and old forests. Big trees, with trunks more than 21 inches in diameter, make up just 3% of these forests but store 42% of the above-ground carbon. Globally, a 2018 study found that the largest-diameter 1% of trees hold half of all the carbon stored in the world's forests.
Findings like these are spurring interest in the idea of proforestation – keeping existing forests intact and letting them grow to their full potential. Advocates see proforestation as an effective, immediate and low-cost strategy to store carbon. Older forests are more resilient to climate change than young tree plantations, which are more susceptible to drought and severe wildfires. Like the 2,000-year-old redwoods in California that have survived recent wildfires, many tree species in old forests have lived through past climate extremes.
Creating forest carbon reserves would also conserve critical habitat for many types of wildlife that are threatened by human activities. Connecting these reserves to other parks and refuges could help species that need to migrate in response to climate change.
Using Forests to Meet Climate Goals
More than half of U.S. forested lands are privately owned, so strategic forest carbon reserves should be established on both public and private lands. The challenge is paying for them, which will require a major shift in government and societal priorities. We believe that transferring public investment in oil and gas subsidies to pay private land owners to keep their forests growing could act as a powerful incentive for private land owners.
Many researchers and conservation advocates have called for comprehensive actions to slow climate change and reduce species losses. One prominent example is the 30x30 initiative, which seeks to conserve 30% of the world's land and oceans by 2030. In an executive order on Jan. 27, 2021, President Biden directed his administration to develop plans for conserving at least 30% of federally controlled lands and waters by 2030.
Recent projections show that to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, governments will have to increase their pledges to reduce carbon emissions by as much as 80%. We see the next 10 to 20 years as a critical window for climate action, and believe that permanent protection for mature and old forests is the greatest opportunity for near-term climate benefits.
Beverly Law is professor emeritus of global change biology and terrestrial systems science at Oregon State University.
William Moomaw is professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University.
Disclosure statements: Beverly Law receives funding from U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. She is a Fellow of the Earth Leadership Program. William Moomaw receives funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. He is affiliated with the Woodwell Climate Research Center, the Climate Group – North America, the Earthwatch Institute and the Nature Conservancy.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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In a statement on Thursday, the Netherlands-based company said that its carbon dioxide emissions had peaked in 2018 at 1.7 gigatonnes per year and its oil production had peaked in 2019.
"Our accelerated strategy will drive down carbon emissions and will deliver value for our shareholders, our customers and wider society," Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said in the statement.
Shell reiterated its commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. It also ramped up its targets for getting there, CNBC reported. Previously, the company had pledged to cut total emissions by at least three percent by 2022, 30 percent by 2035 and 65 percent by 2050, compared with 2016 levels. Its new timeline promises a net reduction of six to eight percent by 2023, 20 percent by 2030, 45 percent by 2035 and 100 percent by 2050.
Shell also said that it aims to have 25 million tonnes a year more carbon capture capacity by 2035 and would invest in nature-based solutions to offset 120 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030. Plus, there are plans to invest $2 to $3 billion a year in renewable energy, but experts questioned this amount as it fell behind the promised spending of other fossil fuel companies, The New York Times reported.
"Despite the green spin, the substance would suggest a more cautious approach to renewables," Stuart Joyner, an analyst at market research firm Redburn, told The New York Times.
Environmental groups also criticized Shell for focusing on offsetting emissions rather than fully transitioning away from fossil fuels.
"Shell will continue to invest more than 80 percent in oil and gas in the upcoming years, while investments in renewable energy are lagging far behind," Friends of the Earth Netherlands said in a statement reported by CNN.
While Shell has pledged oil production will decline from the nearly 1.9 billion barrels of oil a day it produced in 2019, the company is still expected to produce more than one million barrels of oil a day by 2050.
Shell is one of 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, a 2017 report found. There is also evidence that Shell knew about the dangers posed by the climate crisis as early as 1986, but continued to invest in oil and gas exploration and lobby against climate action.
The announcement comes as oil demand plummeted during the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and some analysts think it will never fully recover, according to CNN. European oil companies BP and Total have also pledged to reach net zero by 2050, while U.S. oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron have offered no such promises.
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Many people expect the future of transportation to be electric, and that drivers will charge their cars with solar and wind power. Recently, scientists got a window into that future and saw what it could mean for the climate and people's health.
Ronald Cohen is a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. For years, his team has been using low-cost sensors to monitor and map carbon emissions and air pollution in the Bay area.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he saw a unique opportunity. Shelter-in-place orders effectively simulated a future with fewer gas-powered cars.
"We had a brief moment, two or three weeks in every city that shut down, where passenger vehicles dropped to almost half of their normal driving miles," he says.
Cohen's team found that during the first six weeks of the shelter-in-place order in the San Francisco Bay area, carbon dioxide emissions fell by about 30%. Other air pollution improved, too.
"And that was almost entirely due to a decrease in passenger vehicles," Cohen says.
So he says the data demonstrates the benefits of moving away from gas-powered cars.
"We can reduce CO2 emissions and reduce health impacts at the same time," he says.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.