Climate

Solar gaining on coal in India
January 4, 2016 06:15 AM - Chris Goodall, Ecologist

A KPMG study shows that the cost of solar power in India, revealed by public auctions, is barely half a cent above that of cheap local coal , writes Chris Goodall, with generators bids falling well below 5p (UK) / 7¢ (US) per kWh. The idea put about at COP21 that India and other poor but sunny countries need coal to develop their economies is fast running out of steam.

When the accountants have fully loaded the network and other costs PV ends up as very slightly cheaper than using lndian-mined coal. And, of course, this advantage will grow as solar gets cheaper.

Commentators eager to arrest the move towards renewable energy are facing increasing difficulties finding arguments for the continued use of fossil fuel.

Is the Pope right on climate change?
January 2, 2016 11:26 AM - Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government; Member of the Board; Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Last June, Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, which received tremendous praise from diverse quarters. The same day, Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, noted that the papal encyclical "is as much an indictment of the global economic order as it is an argument for the world to confront climate change." Ms. Davenport quoted me (accurately) as saying that elements of the encyclical were unfortunately "out of step with the thinking and the work of informed policy analysts around the world." In this column, I will elaborate.

First of all, the Pope is to be commended for taking global climate change seriously, and for drawing more world attention to the issue. There is much about the encyclical that is commendable, but where it drifts into matters of public policy, I fear that it is — unfortunately — not helpful.

The long encyclical ignores the causes of global climate change: it is an externality, an unintended negative consequence of otherwise meritorious activity by producers producing the goods and services people want, and consumers using those goods and services. That is why the problem exists in the first place. There may well be ethical dimensions of the problem, but it is much more than a simple consequence of some immoral actions by corrupt capitalists. The document also ignores the global commons nature of the problem, which is why international cooperation is necessary.

2015 Year in Review
December 31, 2015 07:10 AM - Mike Gaworecki, MONGABAY.COM

As 2015 comes to a close, Mongabay is looking back at the year that was. This year saw President Obama reject the Keystone pipeline as historic droughts and a vicious wildfire season wracked the western US and Canada. The world committed to climate action in Paris as Southeast Asia was choking on the worst Indonesian haze in years, Shell aborted its plans to drill in the Arctic for the “foreseeable” future, and ExxonMobil is being investigated for lying to the public about climate risks. Here, in no certain order, are the top 15 environmental stories of 2015.

This year's El NiƱo not giving up
December 30, 2015 05:12 AM - JPL-NASA

The current strong El Niño brewing in the Pacific Ocean shows no signs of waning, as seen in the latest satellite image from the U.S./European Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 mission. 

El Niño 2015 has already created weather chaos around the world. Over the next few months, forecasters expect the United States to feel its impacts as well. 

The latest Jason-2 image bears a striking resemblance to one from December 1997, by Jason-2's predecessor, the NASA/Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) Topex/Poseidon mission, during the last large El Niño event. Both reflect the classic pattern of a fully developed El Niño.

California drought putting many trees at risk
December 29, 2015 05:13 AM - Carnegie Institute for Science via EurekAlert

California's forests are home to the planet's oldest, tallest and most-massive trees. New research from Carnegie's Greg Asner and his team reveals that up to 58 million large trees in California experienced severe canopy water loss between 2011 and today due to the state's historic drought. Their results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to the persistently low rainfall, high temperatures and outbreaks of the destructive bark beetle increased forest mortality risk. But gaining a large-scale understanding a forest's responses to the drought, as well as to ongoing changes in climate, required more than just a picture of trees that have already died. 

Influence of Earth's tilt on climate studied
December 28, 2015 08:00 AM - LSU via ScienceDaily

LSU paleoclimatologist Kristine DeLong contributed to an international research breakthrough that sheds new light on how the tilt of the Earth affects the world's heaviest rainbelt. DeLong analyzed data from the past 282,000 years that shows, for the first time, a connection between the Earth's tilt called obliquity that shifts every 41,000 years, and the movement of a low pressure band of clouds that is the Earth's largest source of heat and moisture -- the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ.

"I took the data and put it through a mathematical prism so I could look at the patterns and that's where we see the obliquity cycle, that 41,000-year cycle. From that, we can go in and look at how it compares to other records," said DeLong, who is an associate professor in the LSU Department Geography & Anthropology.

Bird habitat changing quickly as climate change proceeds
December 28, 2015 07:06 AM - University of Wisconsin-Madison

The climatic conditions needed by 285 species of land birds in the United States have moved rapidly between 1950 and 2011 as a result of climate change, according to a recent paper published in Global Change Biology.

Study looks into past climate in Oregon's Coast Range
December 27, 2015 09:32 AM - University of Oregon via ScienceDaily

Lush greenery rich in Douglas fir and hemlock trees covers the Triangle Lake valley of the Oregon Coast Range. Today, however, geologists across the country are more focused on sediment samples dating back 50,000 years that were dug up by University of Oregon scientists.

The sediment indicates that the mountainous region, which was not covered in glaciers during the last ice age, was a frost-covered grassy landscape that endured erosion rates at least 2.5 higher than today's, an eight-member team reports in a paper in the journal Science Advances.

How sea spray affects clouds
December 23, 2015 07:11 AM - National Science Foundation

All over the planet, every day, oceans send plumes of sea spray into the atmosphere. Beyond the poetry of crashing ocean waves, this salt- and carbon-rich spray also has a dramatic effect on cloud formation and duration.

In a new paper published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Paul DeMott finds that sea spray is a unique, underappreciated source of what are called ice nucleating particles. These microscopic bits make their way into clouds and initiate the formation of ice, affecting the clouds' composition.

NASA finds much higher methane emissions in Arctic winters
December 22, 2015 05:28 AM - JPL, NASA

The amount of methane gas escaping from the ground during the long cold period in the Arctic each year and entering Earth's atmosphere is likely much higher than estimated by current carbon cycle models, concludes a major new study led by San Diego State University and including scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The study included a team comprising ecologists Walter Oechel (SDSU and Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom) and Donatella Zona (SDSU and the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom) and scientists from JPL; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado; and the University of Montana, Missoula. The team found that far more methane is escaping from Arctic tundra during the cold months when the soil surface is frozen (generally from September through May), and from upland tundra, than prevailing assumptions and carbon cycle models previously assumed. In fact, they found that at least half of the annual methane emissions occur in the cold months, and that drier, upland tundra can be a larger emitter of methane than wet tundra. The findings challenge critical assumptions in current global climate models. The results are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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