Climate Decade in Review - Post 33: Phoenix Records Highest Overnight Temperature Ever

July 26, 2006 - Phoenix, Arizona recorded the highest low temperature ever recorded in its history. The low temperature overnight only dropped to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, which would be a record high temperature in many parts of the country.

One of the indicators that warming temperatures are caused by excess greenhouse gases rather than increased solar radiation is that winter and nighttime temperatures increase more rapidly than summer and daytime temperatures. This has, indeed, been the case over the last few decades. Although this record set in Phoenix cannot be directly attributed to climate change, the likelihood that higher nighttime temperatures in Phoenix and anywhere else increases as more greenhouse gases are added to our atmosphere.

This is one in the series of "Decade in Review" posts on this blog that began in January 2010. These posts present climate-change-related events that occurred during the 00's, the warmest decade in recorded history.

Freight Rail Is a Transformative Solution, But Not Necessarily a Job Creator

Today's Washington Post contained an op-ed penned by the Governors of five states in the Mid-Atlantic and the South. In it, they recommend investing in a 2,500 mile rail corridor termed the Crescent Corridor that will replace much of the truck traffic between the South and the Northeast. This is a great idea, and it has already received some stimulus funding. As pointed out in the article, as much as 40% of the traffic on I-81 is truck traffic. There is not much room to expand road capacity, and even if there were, the space required to move the same amount of freight via rail will be much, much smaller.

In addition, shipping freight by rail is far more environmentally sustainable, with reductions in fuel consumption of 2/3rds or more to transport the same amount of goods. "It's an idea that will not only create jobs but also reduce highway congestion, improve safety and take more than 1 million long-haul trucks off the road each year," the article states.

Transforming our transportation systems is an imperative objective as we continue to move into a world of rapidly changing climate, unsustainable land-use patterns and increasing traffic congestion. Shifting significant portions of our freight transportation from truck to rail is a no brainer, even taking into account the significant infrastructure costs involved.

So I am totally on board with these governors and the overall idea of shifting freight to rail. My only quibble is that they are throwing out the job creation rubric as a key reason for doing this. You can see the contradiction in their statement above: removing 1 million trucks from the road will also remove the truck drivers and the support systems for those trucks. That's part of the reason it's so efficient--you only need one really big vehicle with a staff of two or three people to move the goods that would have taken hundreds. Yes, some jobs will be created in the construction part of the initiative, but in the long run, shifting to rail will be much less labor intensive than trucking.

So, yes, let's invest in rail (passenger rail, too, for that matter) Let's transform our transportation systems to more sustainable models. But let's not couch it in false terms of job creation.

Scientists Are Corrupt (Say the Climate Change Deniers)

The blogosphere is filled to the brim with constant arguments about climate change. Some of these dabates are more civil than others. An amazingly common sentiment one reads is that climate scientists are perpetuating an enormous hoax on almost everyone on the entire planet in order to make sure they continue to receive funding for their studies. One can find examples in the posts following almost any article in the press about global warming (here's an example from USAToday, one from the Guardian).

I have enormous difficulty believing that scientists are likely to jeopardize their careers and their integrity in this way. I can accept that some scientists may be unethical, but to have the entirety of climatologists smeared this way is ridiculous.

I personally have known three scientists who work full time in their respective fields. None is a climatologist. One, whom I have known for thirty years, is a physicist/astronomer/cosmologist/gamma-ray scientist (I'm not sure exactly what he would call himself). His team's scientific work is funded entirely from NASA's budget. The other two work in medical research, one studying lipids and the other studying things that I now forget related to pharmaceuticals. Both receive their funding from public monies: NIH in one case and University grants in the other.

I imagine that any of these three could "adjust" the results from their work to make the projects they work on more attractive to additional funding. Being inside the system, they would know what "adjustments" would lend themselves to being fund-able. Knowing these three scientists personally, I know that there is no possible way they would ever consider compromising the integrity of their work in order to obtain more funding. All of them know full well that, in the long run, whatever they do will be scrutinized. Should any less-than-honest behavior be discovered, their careers would be essentially over.

However, the reason that these friends of mine would never consider compromising the integrity of their work has nothing to do with the deterrent effect of being found out. No, the reason is that, as scientists, they are seeking truth--they are driven by the science itself, the excitement of discovery. It would never cross their mind that they might present anything other than the results they find, because that is their quest--seeking scientific knowledge--not just getting another paycheck.

Are my friends exceptions of some kind? Are climatologists different than lab researchers and astronomers? I don't know that for certain, but I just find it impossible to believe that virtually every climatologist on the planet is taking part in an enormous, elaborate hoax in order to possibly obtain additional funding. Shoot, many of these scientists likely have skills that could be used in closely related fields or even in climatology unrelated to climate change, so they could find funding elsewhere (and not have to lie). I just cannot accept the argument that the scientists are in it for the money, based on my personal experience.

For those of you who also know scientists personally, in whatever field, ask yourself (or ask them!) how likely they are to compromise their data and findings for financial reasons. I suspect few if any of them would do it. Neither would the scientists I don't happen to know personally and who are working in the field of climate science.

Coal for South Africa Now? No.

March 22nd's Washington Post contained an op-ed article by South Africa's Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan. In it, he argues that South Africa needs World Bank funding to build 4800 Megawatts of coal-powered electricity generation to serve the development needs of the country and surrounding countries.

The article is a plea to the World Bank to support a $3.75 billion loan to help them make large capital investments in energy projects. He states that most of the money will fund the coal powered generation with about $750 million going to fund renewables and efficiency. Although the exact values are not stated in the article, it appears that well over 90% of the new generation that would be built from this money will be coal-fired. And any coal-fired plant is likely to remain in operation for decades--even as the climate continues to destabilize.

From the article: "A strong body of opinion holds that multilateral development banks should be discouraged from funding coal-burning power projects with carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. We share this concern but, after careful consideration, have concluded that the course we have chosen is the only responsible way forward. "

The World Bank should not acquiesce to this plea for several reasons:

1) Why does Minister Gordhan believe that South Africa is somehow more entitled to stray from the goal of eliminating coal-fired generation--or at least not fund it with international development funds--than any other country. One would doubt that he would suggest that the same exception be made for any country that could state, "If there were any other way to meet our power needs as quickly or as affordably as our present circumstances demand, or on the required scale, we would obviously prefer technologies -- wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear -- that leave little or no carbon footprint." "Affordably" being the key word. Coal is cheap almost everywhere, so any country could claim the same point of view as South Africa, and the developing world would just continue down an unsustainable path. I would ask Minister Gordhan which countries should be denied the type of funding he is requesting if they were to make a similar argument.

2) There is nothing in this opinion article that might be argued in another just like it ten years from now. If now is the wrong time for South Africa to start moving in a different direction, what assurance is there that a few years from now similar economic or energy-related pressures will not create an identical op-ed? If weaning off of fossil fuels is the right thing to do, then now is the time to start--not some undefined point in the future.

In February, the Minister gave his budget speech, in which he said, "Climate change and concerns over global energy supply present both challenges and opportunities for South Africa. Industries must be helped to manage scarce resources more efficiently and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through appropriate pricing of energy. This is necessary to enable investment in sustainable technologies. Green economy initiatives will create new opportunities for enterprise development, job creation and the renewal of commercial and residential environments. This must play a part in our new growth path."

This op-ed seemingly ignores that sentiment, pleading that the World Bank fund this project, in which over 90% of the energy resulting from the project is devoted not just to fossil fuels, but the dirtiest fossil fuel of all--coal.

"(We) have concluded that the course we have chosen is the only responsible way forward. " he writes in today's op-ed. He is wrong. In fact, the only responsible way forward is to embrace the low carbon future instead of relying on the unsustainable technologies of the past.

Last Mile Discussion on Greater Greater Washington

Following up my blog post here discussing the last mile problem in Tysons Corner and the proposal to use PRT as a potential solution, Greater Greater Washington has run a 4-part series on this issue.

Feel free to join the discussion. Here are links to the posts:
The Last Mile in Tysons Corner Part 1: The Problem
The Last Mile in Tysons Corner Part 2: Busways
The Last Mile in Tysons Corner Part 3: PRT?
The Last Mile in Tysons Corner Part 4: PRT's Obstacles

I think the discussion has been excellent, with a diversity of viewpoints and some good ideas. I don't agree with some and I agree with others. That's what it should be all about, don't you think?

Climate Decade in Review - Post 32: US Wind Capacity Increases by 14 Times

From 1999 to 2009, US installed wind capacity increased 14 times. It stood at approximately 2500 Megawatts (MW) in 1999 and had grown to more than 35,000 MW by 2009. A megawatt is 1000 kilowatts or 1,000,000 watts. A typical large coal-powered generator generates about 1000 MW. Wind is the fastest growing electricity generation technology and is rapidly coming down in price. In some locations it is as cheap or cheaper than coal.

Its big advantage is its obvious one: tapping the wind requires no burning of fossil fuels and thus no greenhouse gas emissions. Wind is expected to continue growing rapidly through the next several decades and will become more and more a significant solution to reducing the carbon intensity of our electricity generation sector.

This is one in the series of "Decade in Review" posts on this blog that began in January 2010. These posts present climate-change-related events that occurred during the 00's, the warmest decade in recorded history.

The Fox/News Corp Disconnection

Fox News is (in)famous for its pundits' anti-global warming stance. In particular, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have attacked scientists, politicians, institutions and others who have advocated for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the risks of climate change. Here are some recent examples:
Glenn Beck:
- Global Warming Takes More Heat
- Climate-Gate

Sean Hannity
- Snowpacolypse
- Debate's Over

I wonder if they are aware that back in 2007, News Corp, which Fox News is part of, made a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2010? They have an entire web microsite devoted to it. Presumably, Rupert Murdoch, who owns News Corp had a reason for making this proclamation

Here is an excerpt from their press release announcing their initiative:

NEW YORK, NY, May 9, 2007 – News Corporation today announced its strategy to address its use of energy and impact on the climate. The company’s goals are to reduce its operations’ carbon emissions significantly and to engage its 47,000 employees and its millions of readers, viewers and web users around the world on this issue.
All News Corporation business units will become carbon neutral by 2010 – through energy efficiency, buying renewable power and offsetting otherwise unavoidable emissions. Becoming carbon neutral is only the beginning of the company’s permanent commitment to c
hange the way it uses energy and to reach its audiences on this issue.
Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said in an address to employees in New York today, “If we are to connect with our audiences on this issue, we must first get our own house in order. We have just begun this effort, and we have a long way to go. Our global reach gives us an unprecedented opportunity to inspire action from all corners of the world. The climate problem will not be solved without mass participation by the general public everywhere.”

In addition, Peter Chernin, President & Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation has stated, "We really want this to impact every single part of this corporation."

Evidently it has not impacted at least one part of the organization.

Tony Vinciquerra, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fox Networks Group said, "It has been absolutely mind-boggling to me, the level of commitment from the number of people who contacted me directly to do this. And it's been quite rewarding to know that so many of our employees are just so dedicated and just so interested and want to get involved in such an exciting project."

One has to wonder why Mr. Murdoch put this initiative in place but still allows mouthpieces like Hannity and Beck to influence millions of people incorrectly and continue to sow doubt and delay taking action to battle climate change. There appears to be an enormous disconnection here. Does Rupert sleep well at night?

The Last Mile in Tysons Corner

My recent post regarding solutions to the "last mile" problem in Tysons has been cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington and has been picking up some good comments. Take a look. It will be followed by additional posts with some different viewpoints.

Climate Decade in Review - Post 31: Mumbai Receives Record Rainfall

July 26, 2005 - Mumbai received 37 inches of rain in 24 hours (and parts of the city even more).

This is difficult to imagine. Most places don't receive 37 inches of rain in a year. The term "26 July" is now commonly used in Mumbai, and is universally understood to refer to this event and the standstill it brought to the city. More than 1000 people died. This was the 8th heaviest rainfall event ever recorded. The IWRS Newsletter had this description:

"Never before perhaps had the metropolis experienced anything like it. Suburban trains normally running at intervals of 3 minutes, came to a grinding halt and 150,000 commuters including schoolchildren got instantly stranded at railway stations. Buses were unable to ply and the roads were bursting to capacity with stagnant northbound traffic. Land lines, mobile phone services and power supply went dead in many areas. Highways connecting the city got blocked and the airport had to be closed. The island city was really marooned."

Weather analyses of the event did not implicate global warming as a factor, and it is generally difficult to attribute any particular weather event directly to global warming. However, the incidence of extreme weather events like this has been growing over the last couple of decades, because warmer global temperatures tend to increase the likelihood of extreme weather. Events of greater rainfall are particularly more likely due to the ability of the atmosphere to hold more water vapor at higher temperatures.
This is one in the series of "Decade in Review" posts on this blog that began in January 2010. These posts present climate-change-related events that occurred during the 00's, the warmest decade in recorded history.