2010 Articles for Climate Change Chapter 9:
What Are Governments Doing About Climate Change

2010 August 19. Worldwide Slowdown in Plant Carbon Uptake. Excerpt: Deep and extended droughts are responsible for a recent slowdown in the amount of carbon dioxide that land plants pulled from the atmosphere as they grew, a new study suggests...
…Satellite data suggest that between 1982 and 1999, the world’s net primary production — the amount of carbon pulled from the air as CO2 and stored in living plants each year — rose about 6 percent, says Maosheng Zhao, an ecologist at the University of Montana in Missoula...
…Previous studies have hinted that drought is a major contributor to declines in plant productivity, says Inez Fung, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. But, she adds, “what’s really cool about this paper is the global time series of satellite observations” — a set of data that can’t be reproduced by simply extrapolating from occasional studies of widely scattered plots of forest.
…The new study also indicates that the CO2 fertilization effect on vegetation, thought by a few scientists to be a possible solution to the ever-increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, isn’t automatic, Fung says. “Water is a major, major thing,” she notes...

2010 July 20. NASA RELEASE: 10-173: First Map of Global Forest Heights Created From NASA Data. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- Scientists have produced a first-of-its kind map of the height of the world's forests by combining data from three NASA satellites. The map will help scientists build an inventory of how much carbon the world's forests store and how fast that carbon cycles through ecosystems and back into the atmosphere.
…The primary data… used was from a laser technology called lidar on the ICESat. Lidar can capture vertical slices of forest canopy height by shooting pulses of light at the ground and observing how much longer it takes for light to bounce back from the surface than from the top of the forest canopy. Since lidar can penetrate the top layer of forest canopy, it provides a detailed snapshot of the vertical structure of a forest.
…Measuring canopy height has implications for efforts to estimate the amount of carbon tied up in Earth's forests and for explaining what absorbs 2 billion tons of "missing" carbon each year. Humans release about 7 billion tons of carbon annually, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide. Of that, 3 billion tons end up in the atmosphere and 2 billion tons in the ocean. It's unclear where the remaining 2 billion tons of carbon go, although scientists suspect forests capture and store much of it as biomass through photosynthesis.
…Sassan Saatchi, senior scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., already has started combining the height data with forest inventories to create biomass maps for tropical forests. Global biomass inventories will eventually be used to improve climate models and guide policymakers on carbon management strategies.

July 2010. Touring the Atmosphere Aboard the A-Train. By Tristan S. L'Ecuyer and Jonathan H. Jiang, Physics Today. Excerpt: To better understand the climate system, climate scientists need to quantify the complex relationships that connect water in all three phases to heat exchanges between the surface, atmosphere, and space; to aerosols; and to trace gases. That is a daunting task, given the sheer number and diversity of measurements and parameters involved, but a one-of-a-kind constellation of satellites collectively known as the A-Train is helping scientists to meet the challenge
…Together the satellites view Earth from the UV to the microwave—a wavelength span of four orders of magnitude. That wavelength diversity, coupled with the distinct viewing geometries and scanning patterns of the instruments aboard the A-Train, provides composite information about a wide variety of climate parameters
…The data from the four satellites yield new information about the three-dimensional structure of clouds and aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere. Armed with those data, scientists can quantitatively determine how clouds and aerosols influence global energy balance.
...The A-Train carries tools for evaluating how well climate models represent several aspects of present-day energy and water cycles, atmospheric composition and transports, and surface–atmosphere exchanges. Such tests are critical because accurate prediction of climate variability on decadal and longer time scales requires that models be capable of simulating current climate and short-term variations such as the diurnal and annual solar cycles and the year-to-year variations associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation.

2010 June 29. White House Energy Session Changes No Minds. By John M. Broder, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Democrats continued to insist on putting some sort of price on greenhouse gas emissions; Republicans continued to insist that to do so would be to impose a tax that would smother the economy.
…This battle has divided the Senate for a year and must be somehow resolved in the coming weeks if the Senate is to produce a comprehensive energy bill that also addresses the gases contributing to climate change.
…Among the ideas circulating in Washington are a so-called energy-only bill that would encourage conservation and greater efficiency in buildings and vehicles; more government incentives for alternative fuels; a plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants while delaying regulation of other major sources of pollution for years; and a measure to rapidly build nuclear power plants and electrify the American vehicle fleet.
…The House Energy and Commerce Committee will take up a bill called the Blowout Prevention Act that will require oil companies digging high-risk wells in deep water to use more sophisticated emergency equipment with backup systems to ensure they work in the case of a blowout. The bill also sets strict new rules for how wells are designed, cemented and encased and requires that a relief well be started within 15 days of an accident.

2010 June 24. Defense Experts Want More Explicit Climate Models. By Lauren Morello, The NY Times. Excerpt: …While political leaders on Capitol Hill seek definitive answers about how quickly the world's climate will change, military and national security experts say they're used to making decisions with limited information.
…But as they turn their attention to the geopolitical implications of climate change, they're pressing scientists to help them understand the risk and uncertainty inherent in forecasts of future environmental shifts.
…"We had to use a low-resolution [climate] model," she said. "We were constrained by the computer model we had. And what that doesn't do is give you the outliers" -- extreme, but low probability, events.
…Still, climate scientists said their models have improved greatly since the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released in 2007. At the Hadley Center, they're running a new model -- for the next IPCC report -- that covers changes in the atmosphere, the ocean, the carbon cycle, chemistry and land use.
…Observations of key aspects of climate change are also improving. Scripps glaciologist Helen Fricker noted that scientists now understand how melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and glaciers on land contribute to sea level rise -- something that was an open question just a few years ago.
…According to Titley, the Navy and Air Force are in talks with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop next-generation climate models that will incorporate knowledge of the social sciences, agriculture, and marine ecosystems -- "not just understanding that temperature is going up 'X' degrees."

2010 June 8. Release 10-135: NASA Icebreaker Voyage to Probe Climate Change Impact on Arctic. Excerpt: ...The "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment" mission, or ICESCAPE, will investigate the impacts of climate change on the ecology and biogeochemistry of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. A key focus is how changes in the Arctic may be altering the ocean's ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is a leading cause of global warming. 
…The Arctic Ocean, unlike other oceans, is almost completely landlocked, making it an ideal location to study ongoing climate changes in a marine ecosystem already heavily impacted by declining sea ice cover, ocean acidification, and an increase in incoming solar radiation. These changes are likely to modify the physics, biogeochemistry, and ecology of this environment in ways that are not well understood. Satellite remote sensing has provided some insight into these changes which ICESCAPE is designed to advance. 
…"The ocean ecosystem in the Arctic has changed dramatically in recent years, and it's changing much faster and much more than any other ocean in the world," said ICESCAPE chief scientist Kevin Arrigo of Stanford University. "Declining sea ice in the Arctic is certainly one reason for the change, but that's not the whole story. We need to find out, for example, where the nutrients are coming from that feed this growth if we are going to be able to predict what the future holds for this region."

2010 April 15. Release 10-059: "Missing" Heat May Affect Future Climate Change. NSF. Excerpt: Current observational tools cannot account for roughly half of the heat that is believed to have built up on Earth in recent years, according to a "Perspectives" article in this week's issue of the journal Science.
Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., warn that satellite sensors, ocean floats, and other instruments are inadequate to track this "missing" heat, which may be building up in the deep oceans or elsewhere in the climate system....
The authors suggest that last year's rapid onset of El Niño, the periodic event in which upper ocean waters across much of the tropical Pacific Ocean become significantly warmer, may be one way in which the solar energy has reappeared.
..."The flow of energy through the climate system is a key issue in understanding climate change," says Eric DeWeaver, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funds NCAR. "It poses a major challenge to our observing systems."...

2010 April 1. U.S. Issues Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Cars. By John M. Broder, NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — The federal government took its first formal step to regulate global warming pollution on Thursday by issuing final rules for greenhouse gas emissions for automobiles and light trucks.
The move ends a 30-year battle between regulators and automakers but sets the stage for what may be a bigger fight over climate-altering emissions from stationary sources like power plants, steel mills and refineries.
The new tailpipe rules, jointly written by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, set emissions and mileage standards that would translate to a combined fuel economy average for new vehicles of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Most drivers will see lower mileage figures in actual driving.
The rules are expected to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases about 30 percent from 2012 to 2016.
Officials said the program would save the owner of an average 2016 car about $3,000 in fuel over the life of the vehicle and eliminate emissions of nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gases over the lives of all regulated vehicles....

2010 March 18. RELEASE 10-067: NASA IceBridge Mission Prepares for Study of Arctic Glaciers. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- NASA's Operation IceBridge mission, the largest airborne survey ever flown of Earth's polar ice, kicks off its second year of study when NASA aircraft arrive in Greenland March 22.
The IceBridge mission allows scientists to track changes in the extent and thickness of polar ice, which is important for understanding ice dynamics. IceBridge began in March 2009 as a means to fill the gap in polar observations between the loss of NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, and the launch of ICESat-2, planned for 2015. Annual missions fly over the Arctic in March and April and over Antarctica in October and November.
"NASA's IceBridge mission is characterizing the changes occurring in the world's polar ice sheets," said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The mission's goal is to collect the most important data for improving predictive models of sea level rise and global climate change."
Researchers plan to resurvey previous flight lines and former ground tracks of ICESat while adding new areas of interest. Scientists also will target some areas that have been undergoing mysterious changes. The major glaciers in southeast Greenland once thinned simultaneously, but some of those glaciers have been thinning at an accelerated rate -- as much as 40 feet per year -- while others have thickened. And glaciers in northwest Greenland, once a stable region, have mostly begun to thin....

2010 Feb 23. New NASA Web Page Sheds Light on Science of a Warming World. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- Will 2010 be the warmest year on record? How do the recent U.S. "Snowmageddon" winter storms and record low temperatures in Europe fit into the bigger picture of long-term global warming? NASA has launched a new web page to help people better understand the causes and effects of Earth's changing climate. 
The new "A Warming World" page hosts a series of new articles, videos, data visualizations, space-based imagery and interactive visuals that provide unique NASA perspectives on this topic of global importance. 
...The new web page is available on NASA's Global Climate Change Web site at: http://climate.nasa.gov/warmingworld

2010 February 18. Road Transportation Emerges As Key Driver of Warming. Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Excerpt: For decades, climatologists have studied the gases and particles that have potential to alter Earth's climate. They have discovered and described certain airborne chemicals that can trap incoming sunlight and warm the climate, while others cool the planet by blocking the Sun's rays.
Now a new study led by Nadine Unger of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City offers a more intuitive way to understand what's changing the Earth's climate. Rather than analyzing impacts by chemical species, scientists have analyzed the climate impacts by different economic sectors.
Each part of the economy, such as ground transportation or agriculture, emits a unique portfolio of gases and aerosols that affect the climate in different ways and on different timescales 
…The new analysis offers policy makers and the public a far more detailed and comprehensive understanding of how to mitigate climate change most effectively, Unger and colleagues assert. "Targeting on-road transportation is a win-win-win," she said. "It's good for the climate in the short term and long term, and it's good for our health."

2010 Feb 18. U.N. Climate Chief Resigns. By Neil MacFarquhar and John M. Broder, NY Times. Excerpt: UNITED NATIONS — The sense of disarray in the global effort to address climate change deepened Thursday with the resignation of Yvo de Boer, the stolid Dutch bureaucrat who led the international climate change negotiations over four tumultuous years.
His departure, which takes effect on July 1, comes after a largely unsuccessful meeting in Copenhagen in December that was supposed to produce a binding international treaty but instead generated mostly acrimony and a series of unenforceable pledges by nations to reduce their global warming emissions.
Mr. de Boer did not directly link his decision to step down to the chaos at Copenhagen. But he was known to be frustrated and exhausted by the meeting’s failures. His resignation was seen by some as a further sign that the United Nations framework, which for almost two decades has been viewed as the best approach to tackling global warming, may have outlived its usefulness. And it raised questions about whether any significant progress toward a global treaty would be made by December, when the next United Nations climate talks are to be held in Cancún, Mexico....

2010 Feb 1. Panel Suggests 100 Ways Buildings Can Be Greener. By Mireya Navarro, The NY Times. Excerpt: A panel of experts convened by the mayor and City Council issued more than 100 recommendations Monday on how to make New York City’s building codes more environmentally sound by imposing energy-saving requirements on construction and renovation work.
The measures, presented to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Council’s speaker, Christine C. Quinn, include rules for insulating glass skyscrapers and a plan that would place temperature controls in individual apartments, eliminating the winter ritual of opening windows to vent excess heat....
The recommendations are the city’s latest attempt to reduce the greenhouse gases produced by its buildings, which are estimated to be the source of about 75 percent of the city’s emissions over all. In December, the City Council passed legislation requiring owners of New York’s largest buildings to pay for energy audits, upgrade lighting and take other steps to reduce energy consumption....

2010 Feb 1. Countries Submit Emission Goals. By John M. Broder, The NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — The climate change accord reached at Copenhagen in December passed its first test on Monday after countries responsible for the bulk of climate-altering pollution formally submitted their emission reduction plans, meeting the agreement’s Jan. 31 deadline.
Most major nations — including the United States, the 27 nations of the European Union, China, India, Japan and Brazil — restated earlier pledges to curb emissions by 2020, some by promising absolute cuts, others by reducing the rate of increase from a business-as-usual curve.
In all, 55 developed and developing countries submitted emission reduction plans to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body overseeing global negotiations. Two major nations — Mexico and Russia — had not submitted plans as of Monday evening.
United Nations officials said that the countries that have already filed plans account for 78 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally....

2010 January 21. NASA RELEASE 10-017. NASA Research Finds Last Decade was Warmest on Record, 2009 One of Warmest Years.Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- A new analysis of global surface temperatures by NASA scientists finds the past year was tied for the second warmest since 1880. In the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year on record.
Although 2008 was the coolest year of the decade because of a strong La Nina that cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2009 saw a return to a near-record global temperatures as the La Nina diminished, according to the new analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York....
"There's always interest in the annual temperature numbers and a given year's ranking, but the ranking often misses the point," said James Hansen, GISS director. "There's substantial year-to-year variability of global temperature caused by the tropical El Nino-La Nina cycle. When we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find global warming is continuing unabated."
January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Looking back to 1880, when modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, although there was a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s.
In the past three decades, the GISS surface temperature record shows an upward trend of about 0.36 degrees F (0.2 degrees C) per decade. In total, average global temperatures have increased by about 1.5 degrees F (0.8 degrees C) since 1880....

2010 January. Carbon Markets - An Approach to Mitigate Climate Change. Maine Bureau of Air Quality.

2009 Dec. 18. NASA RELEASE : 09-291. NASA and Maryland Researcher Recognized for Data that Provides Clues to Earth's Changing Climate, Forests, and Crops. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- A NASA-led team has been recognized with a prestigious award for helping scientists better understand our home planet. NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior presented the William T. Pecora Award to the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System, or CERES, team and to Forrest Hall, senior research scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
...presented Dec. 17 in San Francisco during the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. ...Led from Langley, the CERES team has compiled a critical data set for monitoring and predicting climate change. The data set, which comes from five instruments on three spacecraft, is being used to improve our understanding of the natural and human-induced changes in the climate through accurate measurements of the Earth's radiative energy balance. This balance is the amount of energy Earth receives from the sun and keeps in the atmosphere or radiates back into space. Along with measurements of oceans, land, snow, ice, clouds, aerosols and meteorology, CERES data products provide a scientific basis for developing global environmental policies.
"CERES is a major NASA success story," said Freilich. "The team has made an exceptional contribution to understanding the Earth system. This interagency, academic, international effort has resulted in critical data that, among other benefits, has supported the conclusions of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."....

Winter 2010. Why Cap and Trade is a Bad Idea. By Rep. Peter DeFazio. Forest Magazine, Winter 2010. Excerpt: Less than three months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. If signed into law, the bill would implement a cap-and-trade program in the United States intended to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
I agree that addressing climate change is the most serious environmental challenge of our time, but this bill is fatally flawed.
A cap-and-trade program works by setting pollution limits (the "cap") and distributing allowances to regulated entities that can be bought and sold in a market to meet emission targets (the "trade"). Theoretically, emissions would be reduced as the number of available allowances is ratcheted down over time.
A cap-and-trade program has been in place in Europe since 2005 and has largely been a failure. In 2007, the last year for which numbers are available, greenhouse gas emissions in Europe rose 1.1 percent; that is three consecutive years of higher emissions in Europe under a cap-and-trade program.
Why has the European cap-and-trade system failed? I see at least three reasons.
First, Europe deregulated its carbon market and allowed unregulated entities to buy, trade and sell allowances. As a result, the European carbon market has been prone to market manipulation, speculation and profiteering that have brought higher costs to consumers without benefits.
Second, Europe gave away allowances to industry for free based on historical emission levels. In some cases, this allowed industry to generate windfall profits to the tune of $10 billion by selling unused allowances.
Third, Europe allowed regulated entities to use international offsets to meet their emission targets. Offsets allow industry, governments and private business to invest in promised pollution reduction projects-such as overseas forestry projects-to meet emission targets. These projects can be highly questionable and forestall meaningful emission reductions.
Unfortunately, when the House of Representatives passed the Clean Energy and Security bill in June 2009, it incorporated the fatal flaws of Europe's cap-and-trade program. Like Europe, a cap-and-trade program in the United States would create a carbon market open to speculators. Wall Street will have enormous opportunities to game the system with new exotic financial products, new derivative markets and volatile prices for allowances.
The bill gives away most allowances to industry free of charge. Total giveaways to industry are estimated to be $821 billion over the first seven years of the cap-and-trade program alone. ...Finally, but perhaps most fatally, the bill relies on questionable international offsets to meet emission targets. International offsets are one of the keys to my opposition to the bill in its current form.
...Peter DeFazio has represented Oregon's Fourth Congressional District since 1984. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, among others.