Category Archives: Environment

Rep. Smith Expands His Climate Change Inquisition

Melting Glacier

There was an article in the New York Times on May 23 about developments in a story I’ve been following and writing about here. To recap: There are allegations that Exxon Mobile deliberately misled the public about the impact of fossil fuel burning on the climate, and New York’s Attorney General opened an investigation to determine what Exxon Mobile was telling the public, and whether that was consistent with what the company’s own scientists were reporting from their research. If Exxon Mobile knew that the burning of fossil fuels was contributing to a warming climate, but was telling the public that science was inconclusive on the mater, they were deceiving not only the public, but shareholders.

In April, I noted that more states were joining in the investigation.

Now, The New York Times reports that shareholders are beginning to question whether Exxon Mobil is being realistic in assessing the growth in demand for oil. Shareholders want the company to consider the impact of policy changes that may be enacted to slow the pace of climate change. These concerns are being expressed not just by small activist investors, but by large institutions such as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, New York City’s pension fund, and the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, according to The Times. These shareholders have demanded a vote at the company’s annual meeting on a resolution calling for Exxon Mobile to publish an annual assessment of the impact of various climate change policies.

Continue reading Rep. Smith Expands His Climate Change Inquisition

Update: More States Join Lawsuit on Climate Deception

Back in November, I wrote a commentary contrasting two political inquiries on climate change. In Congress, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, who chairs the Science, Space and Technology Committee and who has received generous support from oil and gas industries, is conducting an inquisition of researchers and administrators of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He is trying to find information to support his claim that a study by Thomas Karl of NOAA was politically motivated. The Karl study found that there has been no hiatus in global warming in the first part of this century as climate change deniers have claimed.

Smith has continued with his inquisition, and in a recent hearing, he claimed that a new paper published in the journal Nature “confirms the halt in global warming.”

Actually, the paper did no such thing, at least according to John Fyfe, the lead author of the paper in an email to FactCheck.org. Michael Mann of Penn State University, another author on the Nature paper, said in an open letter to Representative Smith that the Nature paper “does NOT support the notion of a ‘pause’ in global warming, only a *temporary slowdown*, which was due to natural factors, and has now ended.” (In fact, last year was the warmest year on record, beating the record set just a year earlier by a considerable margin.)

These days, though, Congressional hearings are not meant to gather the best information to inform policies that will help our country solve its challenges. Committees invite witnesses who will support the political views of the committee chairman. These types of hearings have little shelf life beyond a news cycle.

While Representative Smith takes quotes out of context to support his climate change denial, New York State’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman continues with his investigation into the energy giant Exxon. That investigation began after a series of articles published in the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News revealed that Exxon’s own scientists were aware of the impact of the burning of fossil fuels on the earth’s climate, but the company spent years sowing doubt about climate science. As I said in November, Schneiderman’s investigation might have more of an impact on the climate change debate than Mr. Smith’s little inquisition, especially if other states joined the effort. That collective effort appears to be underway.

Continue reading Update: More States Join Lawsuit on Climate Deception

Climate Change: No (Political) Consensus

Exxon Capitol

There may be a scientific consensus on the science of climate change, but the political battle over the subject rages on.

Currently, Congressional supporters of the climate change deniers control the committees, and so are in a good position to attack the federal agencies that conduct research into climate change. That is exactly what is happening.

Over in the House of Representatives, Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has been conducting an inquisition of researchers and administrators at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Smith wants copies of documents and internal communications at NOAA that have to do with a study it released in June, which determined that a so-called “hiatus” in global warming since 1998 has not taken place. The study examines a huge amount of surface temperature data to update global temperature data sets.

Smith claims that NOAA “changed” the data for political convenience.

Global Warming Hiatus and Cherry-Picking Data

For several years now, climate change deniers, cherry picking the unusually warm year of 1998 as their starting point, have claimed that, since temperatures have not continued to rise after that year at the pace of prior years, there is no global warming. Smith claims that satellite data shows there is no global warming. (In any event, Smith is working off of old talking points, as 2014 now ranks as the warmest year on record, and 2015 may top last year’s record.)

Actually, there are three sets of satellite data from different sources. Only one, from a research group at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, has shown a lack of warming. The other two sets do indicate continuous global warming. In any event, the very large surface temperature data sets used in the NOAA study are considered more reliable. The analysis of the surface temperature data has concluded that there has been no global warming “hiatus.” Other studies have come to similar conclusions. Those studies are publicly available, with explanations of their methodology. Continue reading Climate Change: No (Political) Consensus

Clean Power to Your Home: Cost and Benefits (Part III)

WindEmissionsReport

In two previous posts, I talked about how easy it is to purchase electricity generated from renewable sources if your state offers consumer choice in electricity. The first post told you how to find out if your state offers consumer choice, and how to get started in choosing your electricity. The second post in this series walked you through the process of switching.

Here I will review the cost compared to what I would pay if I let Pepco choose my electric supply for me, and what would be my power mix if I did not switch.

My electric supplier is WGL Energy—formerly Washington Gas Energy Services. They were an early supplier of green energy options, and I learned about them several years ago at the Washington Green Festival.

My latest contract was renewed at 12.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, increasing a bit from last year’s 11.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. (You can probably do better if you are newly switching, as companies offer enticing prices for new customers.) On my last bill, covering late June/early July (a hot stretch in which our A/C got a workout), I was charged for 744 kilowatt-hours. WGL charged me 11.8 cents x 744 kilowatt-hours = $87.79. At the time, the standard issue service cost 9.14 cents per kilowatt-hour. (Standard issue service cost actually fluctuates slightly between summer and winter months.) My extra cost was $19.79 for the month.

For that, I am getting 100 percent wind-generated electricity, and the carbon emissions from electricity I am buying is zero. The fuel mix for standard offer service, as of the last time it was calculated for Pepco customers, is coal (43.5 percent), followed by nuclear power (34.7 percent) and natural gas (17.5 percent). Only 4 percent is generated from renewable sources. That $19.79 for the month is my environmental premium with WGL. The price of Standard Offer Service goes up and down, as does the price of wind power (though you are protected from price fluctuations for the length of your contract, if you have a fixed-price contract).

Continue reading Clean Power to Your Home: Cost and Benefits (Part III)

How to Have Renewable Energy Delivered to Your Home (Part II)

windkraft

In an earlier post, I began to explain how you can purchase electricity generated by renewable sources if you live in a state where consumer choice is possible. In this post, I will walk through the process, using my state of Maryland as an example.

Starting with the website I wrote about last week, the map provided by the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers, I want the information for Maryland. There is a link to the Maryland Public Service Commission, where a couple of clicks of the mouse takes me to a page on Electric Choice. (For Maryland, I could have also gone to the website, Maryland Electric Choice, an energy shopping website, but not all states have that option.)

The Electric Choice page contains links to other information designed to help you understand electric choice in Maryland, including information on the switching process and on choosing electricity from “green” sources. There, you can read about what it means to choose “green” electricity, and you can click on a link that will take you to a page where you can begin the shopping process.

Continue reading How to Have Renewable Energy Delivered to Your Home (Part II)

The Clean Power Plan—Why Wait?

WindPower Aug2015 Part1

On August 3, the Obama administration released new regulations that will lead to a significant cut in U.S. carbon emissions. The regulations require existing electrical generating plants to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. The new rule will decrease our reliance on coal as a source of fuel to produce electricity, and increase the use of cleaner sources of power, especially wind and solar. States will each come up with a plan to achieve their emission reduction goals, and those states that are unable or unwilling to come up with their own plan may rely on a plan developed by the federal government.

Full implementation is a long way off. There will be lawsuits and foot-dragging by some elements of the power industry, the president’s political opponents, and states opposed to the president’s plan.

If you live in live in a state with consumer choice in electricity, you can help give your state a head start. Electricity deregulation has brought into the market dozens of clean power providers. You can buy from one of these providers, and cut yourself off from reliance on electricity generated by sources that produce carbon emissions.

I live in Maryland, and for several years now, I have been buying electricity from a supplier that offers me 100 percent wind-generated electricity. It was surprisingly easy to switch. Yet, talking to my environmentally-conscious friends, I find that many of them are not even aware that they have a choice.

It is easy to switch. All that is involved is just a little bit of time spent researching your options and filling out a form or two on the Web—no need to invest in solar panels or doing anything more complicated than a few clicks of the mouse.

I encourage you to look in to it. Below and in the next two articles, I will tell you how to get started.

Continue reading The Clean Power Plan—Why Wait?

Don’t Believe in Global Warming? Stick with Something Safer—Like the Lottery

Slot Machine

On January 16, The New York Times reported that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released independent compilations of data confirming that 2014 was the warmest year on record, measuring average global earth surface temperatures.

Climate skeptics are now busy developing new spin to brush off this new data, but it gets harder. Skeptics like to say that global warming has essentially stopped since 1998, but 2014 displaced 2010 as the record-holder, and the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997.

The same article noted that the last time there was a month in which average global surface temperatures were below the global average was February 1985. The last year with below average temperatures was 1976. I was in college.

Not long ago, my wife and I were at a party in which we were talking about New York State wines. One of us made a joke about how many more varieties of grape will do better in New York with global warming. The woman we were talking with replied, “If you believe in global warming.” We initially thought she was joking, but we were at a party where a lot of people get their news from a source that might not put out the most accurate information on this subject.

OK, here’s a fun math exercise. Let’s say global warming is not happening. In any given month, there is an equal chance that the average global temperature will be above or below the long-term average. Odds that you will randomly get two months in a row that are above average are 1/22, or one in four. Pretty good odds. The odds that you will have four consecutive months above or below average are 1/24, or one in sixteen. Still pretty good odds.

But we’ve had 358 consecutive months of above average temperature. What are the odds? As you might have guessed by now, they are 1/2358, or (approximately) one in 587,100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000.

By contrast, your chances of winning the lottery are much greater. For example, your chances of winning the jackpot in the New York State mega millions lottery are one in 258,890,850.

So, if you don’t believe in global warming, just don’t bet on it.

 

Image thanks to Flickr member Jeff Kubina.