Climate change heats up this summer

Climate change heats up this summer – the issue as well as the air temperature – and what takes place this spring and summer will determine what we as a nation will do – or not do – to mitigate climate change.

No surprise, no action on climate is coming out of a deadlocked Congress . This month there were anti-climate amendments to a very good – now dead – energy efficiency bill, one of them sponsored by our own Dean Heller. And in the lack of action, the thirty-eight members of the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus continue to fight the “conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change” by standing up and talking about it at any opportunity. Their grandchildren will thank them.

Nevada’s Congressional Representatives Dina Titus, Joe Heck, Mark Amodei, and Steven Horsford are not part of the cCongressional Safe Climate Caucus. Maybe their constituents should ask that they join. Their grandchildren will thank them.

Executive action

It’s clear that the Obama Administration has settled on executive action to do what Congress will not. Here’s a rundown of how all this climate activity relates to Nevada.

EPA carbon standards for existing power plants due June 2

The EPA will issue draft standards for carbon pollution from existing electrical generation on June 2. The standards will apply to all existing electrical generation facilities, and they are the subject of much speculation: How much leeway will states have to draft standards to fit their own circumstances? Will utilities be allowed to use energy efficiency and renewable energy to offset their carbon emissions? Will the standards direct an actual reduction in the total amount of carbon emitted, or only a reduction in the carbon intensity? And finally, who will sue the EPA first?

What will Nevada do?

Nevada is in a good position to comply with new carbon standards. With the closure of three units of the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant this year, the closure of the forth unit next year, and withdrawal from its share in the Navajo Plant in Arizona, NV Energy’s only remaining coal-fired generation facility will be the Valmy Generating Station in northern Nevada. Natural gas has become the fuel of choice for NV Energy, and while some carbon pollution results from the burning of natural gas to generate electricity it is much less than coal. (Though methane pollution from mining, transporting and incompletely burning natural gas does occur – and methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.)

NV Energy also plans to replace a portion of the coal generation with renewable energy. If NV Energy established a firm commitment to move to renewable energy for most or all of its generation capacity, with the state’s abundant renewable resources, the state could be a leader in a clean energy economy.

Nevada’s Dean Heller joins in Republican resistance derailing Portman Shaheen energy efficiency bill

Republican resistance to EPA’s upcoming carbon standards helped derail a bipartisan energy efficiency bill this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow Republican amendments supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline and opposing the pending carbon regulations. Neither side backed down, and the bill died. Heller’s proposed amendment would have required the EPA to go through an exhaustive list of potential economic impacts before establishing any pollution standards for the production, use or supply of energy.

National Climate Assessment released last week – Nevada fact sheet

Last week the Obama administration released the third U.S. National Climate Assessment—the most comprehensive scientific assessment ever generated of climate change and its impacts across every region of America and major sectors of the U.S. economy. Here’s the climate change bottom line for our region:

“Increased heat and changes to rain and snowpack will send ripple effects throughout the region, affecting 56 million people – a population expected to increase to 94 million by 2050 … Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and ecosystems for the region’s most precious resource.”

Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks, all caused by or linked to climate
change, have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the Southwest.
Fire models project more wildfire and increased risks to communities across extensive
areas. ”

Maybe Dean Heller should start proposing amendments directing the EPA to evaluate the costs of drought and wildfire in the lack of significant action on climate change. This is, after all, the region he represents – as climate change heats up.

New readings in climate change

Paleoclimate of the American West, and what we know right now

I just finished reading two very good new readings in climate change. One tells you  what you might want to know about the past, present and future – and it turns out, very wild –  climate of the American West. The other is the perfect place to go for a general overview of what we know right now about anthropogenic climate change – something you might want to have handy  when you go to Thanksgiving dinner with that climate-skeptic uncle or to a town meeting with your climate-change-denying congressman.

First, the past: The West Without Water

This ambitious book, written for a general audience, sets out to tell us the state of what we know about the past, present, and future climate of the American West, and the influence of that climate on the region’s environment and society.

It’s a big job, but authors B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of Earth and Planetary Science at U.C. Berkeley and Frances Malamud-Roam, Environmental Planner and Biologist with the California Department of TransportationNCARE New readings in climate change manage it pretty well. The first section, “Floods and Droughts in Living Memory” reads almost like a thriller: did you know that in 1861-62 the city of Sacramento was under six feet of water for six months?

The meat of the book is the central section: “A Climate History of the American West,” in which we learn not only what paloeclimatologists have pieced together about the climate history of our region, we learn about the natural “archives”  that have allowed them to do it, from ocean sediments in the Santa Barbara basin, to wetland sediments in Suisun Marsh, to bristlecone pine growth rings, to analysis of the tree stumps rooted on the floors of Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake and Mono Lake.

The take-away: We live in a region with a wild climate that alternates between drought and floods, a climate that could well become even wilder with the addition of human-caused climate change. And is a region where millions of people now live in towns and cities that are entirely dependent upon a regionwide plumbing system for their water, a plumbing system that was developed during a short period of relatively benign climate conditions.

Ingram writes, “The American West faces a climatic future that is predicted to become generally warmer and drier, with deeper droughts interspersed with larger and more frequent floods.  The American West appears to be facing a potential climatic double-whammy: a cyclical return of drier conditions and new greenhouse-gas-induced warming.”

What we know now

NCARE New readings in climate change: Climate Change Evidence and Causes Climate Change Evidence and Causes is also written for a general audience. A joint publication of the National Academy of Sciences and Great Britain’s Royal Society, the aim of the publication is to serve as “a key reference document for decision makers, policy makers, educators, and other individuals seeking authoritative answers about the current state of climate-change science.”

Most of the 24-page booklet consists of questions and answers about climate change, from the most basic – Is the climate warming?  –  to the more complex – What is ocean acidification and why does it matter? There is also an eight-page booklet summing up the basics of climate change that would be useful for a high school science teacher – or to give to that skeptical relative.