“Climate change is here, action needed now, says new White House report” – CNN, 6 May 2014

The White House released a new climate change report in early May, as part of President Obama’s attempt to ready the US for the effects of climate change. Obama has made climate change awareness a cornerstone of his second-term, primarily by taking it upon himself by using executive action to implement his Climate Action Plan. The White House report details reasons why Obama wants the US to take precautionary measures against our growing sea levels and progressively unpredictable weather.

However, Obama has been butting heads with conservatives, the fossil fuel industry, and their allies over the debate of whether or not climate change is indeed real, and if carbon emissions from power plants, factories, and cars—or human activity—are the biggest culprits. Conservatives view the report as a means for Obama to push his own agenda, which they believe would damage the economy, and place the burden on middle-income families.

While polling shows that Americans believe that climate change is a result of human activities, they are less concerned about environmental issues than they are about the economy, for instance.

A Gallup poll from March produced interesting results: 34% of those surveyed believe climate change is a “serious threat” to the earth, while 64% didn’t believe that. Over 60% believed climate change is currently happening or going to happen.

The report clarifies the approach of counteracting climate change into two strategies: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation calls for curbing the effects of climate change by reducing the cause; adaptation calls for preparing for the consequences that are currently or likely to occur. The report also analyzes the US by region, pinpointing specific impacts to each region.

The report identifies three major concerns: rising sea levels, increased droughts, and a longer fire season. The report foresees sea levels growing by one to four feet by the end of the century. Those living on tropical islands and on the coast will be the hardest hit. Miami, for example, is spending hundred of millions of dollars to prevent massive flooding. The Great Plains, too, will suffer from prolonged droughts and heat waves, which is likely to cause more wildfires and endanger agricultural and residential areas.

The report upholds regulations that limit carbon emissions, and encourages investing in programs that stop climate change in its tracks.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 24, 2014

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“Coal: The fuel of the future, unfortunately” – The Economist, 19 April 2014

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The Economist

While natural gas has been waging a war on coal, coal will likely persist as a serious player in the energy market. Coal is inexpensive, plentiful, and easy to mine, ship, and burn. It is a cheap energy source for developing countries, and a great way for these countries to become rich.

Still, the issue remains that coal is not a clean energy source. Mining, transporting, storing and burning coal is a dirty job; underground mining can cause health issues for miners. Transporting coal has negative environmental impacts; opencast mining, a surface mining technique, destroys topsoil and devours water supplies. Coal is the biggest single source of pollution in the world, expending one-third of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The US is experiencing a large shift away from coal and towards natural gas. Many big US coal companies, like American Electric Power and Duke Energy, are closing coal-fired plants. Yet, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that coal will still be producing 22% of the US’s energy by 2040. Coal currently produces 26% of the US’s energy. China, the world’s biggest pollutant, is trying to restrict its coal consumption, but developing countries like Africa and India are picking up where China has left off. In Germany, coal is the cheapest it’s ever been. Japan, too, has recently authorized a new energy plan that has solidified coal’s role as the country’s main energy source.

Besides these boons for coal, international coal companies should still be worried for two reasons: one, that governments will place restrictions on coal; and two, the global oversupply of coal, which has pushed prices down and caused some coal companies to lose profits.

Still, coal remains a worthy adversary to oil and gas. Coal mining doesn’t necessitate expensive equipment, like drills, platforms and pipes, and when prices drop, companies can stop manufacturing and wait until prices pick back up.

Technological advances for producing clean coal—pulverizing coal, separating the gas from coal, scrubbing emissions and capturing carbon dioxide—look promising, though the methods are costly. A $5.2 billion clean-coal plant is being built in Mississippi, which was entirely funded by taxpayers. This will be the most expensive power plant ever completed, so we can probably safely assume that clean-coal plants won’t be the norm any time soon.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 20, 2014

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“Imagining Coal Without Air Pollution” – Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2014

While many countries have been working together to reach global environmental goals—such as reducing emissions and increasing use of renewable energies—it often seems like China hasn’t gotten the memo. Due to a growing population, and thus a growing demand for energy, China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions. Over the last few months, many of China’s major cities have had issues with smog—a product of coal-burning power plants—and citizens have been forced to wear face masks.

The US faced similar problems with smog in the late 1960′s and 1970′s, which inspired the formation of the EPA and passed the Clean Air Act. Since then, US electricity utilities reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by over 80% and nitrogen oxides by over 75%, using lower-sulfur coal found in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Now that the government and utilities have successfully kept those emission levels down, they are tackling mercury and greenhouse gas emissions, which means new environmental regulations. As a result, many of the US’s coal-burning power plants will close, since upgrading the plants’ equipment isn’t profitable. Moreover, natural gas releases half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, and natural gas costs have plunged since 2009.

New regulations on mercury has the potential to reduce emissions by almost 90% and cause more power plants to shut their doors. The EPA is handling greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, by introducing regulations that will more or less disallow utilities to build new coal-burning power plants. The EPA is set to propose new standards for existing power plants and guidelines on greenhouse gas emission levels.

Scientists are trying to find a way to prevent carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, as well as studying the method of cleaning coal prior to combustion. Both have proved costly, though countries with more access to coal and less to natural gas—like China, Pakistan, Indonesia and Australia—have expressed interest in these technologies.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 21, 2014

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“EU Climate Targets to Stop Short of Ambitions” – Wall Street Journal, 16 January 2014

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Wall Street Journal

The European Union’s economic downturn actually helped its 28 member states reduce their carbon emissions; however, the EU is still lagging behind on its proposed climate goals. Following a global climate change agreement, the EU’s main goals were to cut carbon dioxide emissions and increase renewable energy use, like wind and solar power. These targets were set to help the EU reach its pledge to curb its CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

There is more concern for the downturn rather than the EU’s environmental goals. The union’s 28 governments have also constantly butted heads on the proposed climate policy targets.

The European Commission presented the EU’s climate change targets. While some of the member states were hoping the commission would relent on some of the proposed regulations, the commission maintained that the EU must reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030; and that clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power, compose 27% of the EU’s entire energy use by 2030. Though there is disagreement on the subject of shale gas between the member states, the commission also outlined regulations for tapping into shale rock reserves.

The proposed regulations and guidelines require support from the 28 member states and the European Parliament before they are fully enacted, so we can be sure that it will take some time for the laws to go into effect.

The EU’s 20-20-20 targets are still being enforced. The EU governments pledged to curb CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, use 20% more renewable energy sources by 2020, and increase energy efficiency by 20% by 2020.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 21, 2014

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