Gas is cheap, right? Last year the national average at the pump was a paltry $2.25/gallon. That means if you had a 12-gallon gas tank, you could fill up for less than $30. Gas this “inexpensive” should bring huge benefits to American families. Read more
There were pockets of pure hotness in the United States in 2014. California, for instance, endured an unprecedented drought, worsened by the warmest year in the state since 1934.
Although the United States, overall, had just its 34th-warmest year on record, the rest of the world suffered much more: As climate scientists had been predicting for much of the year, 2014 was the hottest year around the globe since records began being kept in 1880.
As USA Today reported:
The global temperature from 2014 broke the previous record warmest years of 2005 and 2010 …
Two separate data sets of global temperature — from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — confirmed the record. Another data set released last week by the Japan Meteorological Agency also found 2014 was the planet’s warmest.
The average temperature for 2014 was 58.24 degrees globally, 1.24 degrees above the 20th-century average, NOAA said.
(California’s average was 61.5 degrees. Alaska, Nevada and Arizona also had their warmest years on record. Earlier this month, it was announced that Anchorage had exactly zero days of below-zero weather in 2014.)
More USA Today:
“It just shows that human emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, are taking over the Earth’s climate system,” [University of Arizona atmospheric scientist Jonathan] Overpeck said. “The data are clear: The Earth is warming, and humans are causing the bulk of this warming.”
Nine of the 10 warmest years on Earth have now occurred in the 21st century, the data show.
The warming trend was driven by ocean temperatures moreso than land temperatures, which alarms scientists, since there wasn’t even a heat-producing El Nino event.
As The Washington Post reported:
Ocean temperatures were more than 1 F above average, NOAA said. They warmed to a new record even in the absence of an El Niño event, a naturally occurring cycle of ocean heating in the tropical Pacific.
“This is the first year since 1997 that the record warmest year was not an El Niño year at the beginning of the year, because the last three have been,” Gavin Schmidt, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the Post’s Chris Mooney.
Ahead of the U.N. climate conference in Paris later this year, there will be a lot of talk about how nations should apportion the burden of reducing carbon emissions. The richer, more industrialized nations have a lot of ideas about what poorer, still-developing nations should do to grow their economies without polluting the atmosphere too much.
Invariably, we might hear the term “carbon diet” come up, with its emphasis on personal sacrifice and willpower.
It’s a counterproductive metaphor, writes Lisa Margonelli, author of Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank.
In a post for Slate, as part of its “Future Tense” initiative, Margonelli writes that the “dieting” analogy is unfair to those developing countries, particularly when the richer ones are dictating the terms:
Most of the world does not need a carbon diet. Three-quarters of the global population uses just 10 percent of the world’s energy, 1 billion people lack access to electricity, and 3 billion cook their food over dung, wood, and charcoal, leading to millions of early deaths. These people are energy starved—and they need a feast, not a diet. People in Angola, Bangladesh, and Cameroon, for example, use about 250 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, while people in the U.S. use 12,246.
She goes on to argue that people in developing countries deserve the chance at economic prosperity, so rich nations should promote innovations to serve the surging energy needs in a cleaner way.
Consider air conditioning. The world uses a trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity for AC right now, and with urbanization, greater wealth, and warming, it’s projected that amount will increase tenfold by 2050, far outpacing zero-carbon electricity generation. The issue is not whether people in developing countries “should” have air conditioning—what virtue is there in dying in your apartment during a heat wave? It’s how to get it to them. AC is a crucial part of building the knowledge economy employment that will eventually bring down carbon emissions because it increases the productivity of people and computers. Without AC there would be no grand economies in Hong Kong, Atlanta, or Bangalore.
The main reason the “diet” metaphor fails is that it suggests that the world’s problems can be solved by individual willpower.
The real issue with the carbon diet is that it suggests that we can deal with climate change as easily as we might switch to gluten-free pasta and beer, via willpower and careful substitution, when what we’ll really need is some kind of revolution in our thinking and technology.
On top of all that, most diets don’t work in the long term anyway. Which some people, sadly, are about to find out, a few weeks into their well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions.
(Photo: Yao ethnic minority women cook dinner on a smoke-spewing stove in Longji, China, in 2010. Credit: CHEN WS, for Shutterstock.com)
Climate experts are worried about a strange trend in the largest U.S. state: During all of 2014, the city of Anchorage, Alaska, did not see a day when the temperature fell below zero degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the first time in recorded history that’s happened.
As The Washington Post notes, the last time the mercury fell into negative digits was Dec. 26, 2013. Since then, the low has been above zero every day except one, Feb. 11, 2014, when it was exactly zero.
The Los Angeles Times says that in 2012, Anchorage had 32 days when the low temperature was below zero. In 2013 there were 14 such days.
Seven other cities in Alaska had record-warm years as well.
That doesn’t mean it was hot, per se. The average temperature in Anchorage during 2014 was 40.6 degrees, which to Southern Californians would feel like the next Ice Age. But that threshold was far above last year’s average temperature of 37 degrees.
The Times reported:
“These are definitely red flags that are very consistent with climate change,” said Chris Krenz, senior scientist at Oceana, an international conservation group. “These are anomalies … that show our climate system is off-kilter.”
During the late 1980s, I had the good fortune, thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, to lead and facilitate an Aspen Global Forum between Russian and U.S. leaders in Sochi; the site of the present Olympics. The subject was economic development in the then already fragmenting, Soviet Union.
Sochi was beautiful but back then was a relatively small resort city for vacationing Russian nomenklatura. I have three memorable funny stories (at least for me) related to Sochi. I will try linking them, for better or worse, with the need for alternative fuels.
Getting to Sochi at the time provided a unique experience. The U.S. delegation which included a former U.S. Senator, several Wall Street titans, the editor of a major national newspaper, leading members of the Denver business community and myself (I was a Dean at the University of Colorado at the time) were told when we arrived at the Moscow airport in a snowstorm, we had to fly out of Moscow’s second smaller airport. We all dutifully were taken by shuttle, very slowly given the snow, to what seemed like an old, a very old facility. We quickly boarded what appeared to be a jet plane on its last legs. It was late at night and the snow was still blowing strong. The plane’s seats were broken and the bathrooms didn’t work. The cabin crew was nice but spoke only in difficult to understand broken English. Not an auspicious start to the trip. Two members of our delegation asked the pilot for 10 minutes to go into the terminal (an exaggeration of the term) to buy two or three bottles of vodka to give us courage and calm our nerves. They did get permission. It turned into a fun flight.
After we checked into the Intourist Hotel in Sochi, we all went to bed. One of the members of our delegation was a smart, tough, but very funny reporter and op-ed writer for the Rocky Mountain News. She came down the next morning and indicated most of her winter clothes were stolen from the room, while she was sleeping. I went up to the Manager of the hotel and told him what had happened. He was dutifully contrite. Every day while we were there, the reporter received a nice gift of new winter clothing to wear in the snow. At the end of the week, I thanked him and said, next time, have them take my clothes! He laughed. I was serious!
The Russian delegation hosted us in the summer home of an apparently famous Russian oligarch, whose name I forget, about 100 or so miles from Sochi. They took us there in big Army helicopters. We flew over and between the mountains and valleys of the Caucasus. The mountains were covered with much snow and looked gorgeous. One of the Russian guides opened the door so we could get a closer view. A big mistake! A member of the U.S. delegation, a well-known war experienced woman journalist, based I believe at the time in D.C, shouted close the f….n door. “I have covered many wars and been shot at. I survived. I don’t want to go down in a helicopter. We can look at the snow through a window.” She was right. At that point the helicopter seemed tilted at a significant angle to please us. We all were a bit scared but didn’t want to hurt our Russian hosts. She had no such fear. The door was closed.
If anything, except fuzzy memories, ties these stories together, it’s the snow and the mountains and a thought about building a coalition around alternative and renewable fuels to save the beauty of both and to the jobs they provide both up and down stream.
Based on the over 50 degree temperatures in Sochi during the current Olympics and the lack of abundant snow, The New York Times indicated that Daniel Scott, a professor of global change and tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, was stimulated to project the future of winter sports. He noted that with a rise of global temperature possible by 2100 of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, there might not be many snowy regions left to hold the Winter Olympics. He concluded “that of the 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics, as few as 10 might be cold enough by midcentury to host them again. By 2100 the number will shrink to six.”
Of the 960,000 winter sports industry jobs are supported by winter sports in the U.S. 27,000 have already been lost because of lack of snow, according to a recent NRDC report. More will be gone next season if snow fall totals continue to decline.
If we can easily check the box on one or more of the following: concern for the health of the economy, concern for the environment, concern for the quality of our water supply and the availability of water, concern for the future of the ski industry and winter sports off and on mountains, then even if we don’t ski, and even if greenhouse gas is not a top priority for some , we should be able to foster a strong coalition between environmentalists, business, nonprofits, natural gas and renewable fuel advocates. Its mandate would be to work on speeding up use of alternative natural gas based transitional fuels and helping place electric cars on a faster and cleaner track to market acceptance. The strategy is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it will at least get the country started on a path that will reduce harmful environmental impacts of gasoline including significant GHG emissions and other pollutants. It may also help slow down the browning of our mountain areas and the closure of winter resorts and the manufacturing and retail sectors that serve them.
America needs a good dose of pragmatism and probability curves to guide its fuel policies. Advocates of natural gas based fuels and renewables should be able to coalesce around the President’s agenda with respect to weaning the nation off gasoline (one of the biggest carbon emitters) and gasoline only vehicles.
Assuming electric utilities continue to switch from coal to cleaner natural gas; scholars suggest that electric cars will be of help in reducing total carbon emissions. But EV’s are not yet ready for prime time for most low, moderate and middle class households, in light of the relatively low mileage secured on a single battery charge, the absence of retail distributers, the small vehicle size and price. When they are, let the competition begin, remembering all the while that real change in emissions and reduction of pollutants, will come after the conversion of large numbers of existing cars to flex fuel vehicles and their ability to use natural gas based fuels. Back to Sochi and indeed to the mountains throughout America, when we are asked every Christmas whether there is a Santa Claus, lets us be able to look up at magnificent snow-capped mountains and collectively say, yes there is a Santa Claus and then sing loudly, Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow.
Recently I wrote about how oil companies are flaring off $100 million worth of gas a month in the Bakken formation and what a huge waste or resources that represents.
Well, it didn’t take long for something to happen. A group of five law firms representing Bakken property owners sued 10 oil companies to end the practice. Their logic? It doesn’t involve environmental pollution or global warming. Instead, they’re arguing that the oil companies are depriving them of hundreds of millions in royalties by flaring off all that gas.
The case makes perfect sense. Gas is a valuable resource and the property owners are being deprived of huge amounts of money by wasting it. The case also avoids the complications that would come if the suit had been brought by the Sierra Club or Natural Resources Defense Council on environmental grounds. That would have involved all kinds of testimony about whether the flaring is really having an impact on the weather and what the level of damages might be. Instead, this is a straightforward case of dollars and cents. The property owners are being deprived of huge royalties. The oil companies have to compensate.
But beyond that, the lawsuit also offers a glittering opportunity to put methanol and its potential role in the transportation economy in the spotlight. So far, nobody’s talking about it much, but the conversion of natural gas into methanol could play a huge part in resolving this case.
The Bakken has developed so fast that the producers have not even been able to build oil pipelines into the area yet. Instead, the oil is being shipped by truck and rail. Burlington Northern has extended its lines into the region and most of the oil is now finding its way into major pipelines. As a result, Bakken production has leaped to 850,000 barrels a day, catapulting North Dakota into the number two position as an oil-producing state, behind Texas.
But the gas is a different thing. It can’t be stored in large quantities and pipelines are a long way from being extended and probably not worth it. Oil is now give times more valuable than gas at the wellhead, which gives drillers an enormous incentive to go after the oil and forget about the gas, hence the flaring. Thanks largely to North Dakota, we have moved into fifth place for flaring, behind Russia, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq, and ahead of Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The amount of gas flared around the world equals 20% of U.S. consumption. When we’ve moved ahead of Hugo Chavez, it’s time to do something about it.
So far, the proposed solutions have involved compressing natural gas or synthesizing it into more complex liquids. “The industry is considering and adopting various plans to flare less gas, including using the gas as fuel for their rigs and compressing gas into tanks that can be transported by truck,” reports The New York Times. “A longer-range possibility would be the development of projects that could produce diesel out of gas at or near well sites.” Hess, which already has a network of pipelines in the area, is rushing to complete a processing plant at Tioga that will turn gas into diesel and other more complex fluids.
But a better solution would be portable, on-site processing plants that can convert methane to liquid methanol, a far simpler process. Gas Technologies, a Michigan company, has just developed a conversion device that sits on the back of a trailer and can be hauled from well to well. “We have a patented process that reduces capital costs up to 70%,” said CEO Walter Breidenstein. “If we’re using free flare gas, we can reduce the cost of producing methanol another 40-5%.” Other companies are working on similar technologies for converting natural gas to methanol on-site.
All this would help bring attention to the role that methanol could play in replacing oil in our transportation economy. California had 15,000 methanol cars on the road in 2000 and found drivers were extremely happy with them. Methanol also fits easily into our current infrastructure for gasoline. But California gave up on the project because gas supplies seemed to be dwindling and the price was too high. Now we are flaring off 25% of the nation’s consumption in one state and methanol could easily be produced for $1.50 a gallon. It’s time to re-evaluate.
Of course, Walter Breidenstein will probably find that flared gas will not be offered for free. Those Bakken property owners still want their royalties. But the North Dakota lawsuit proves a spur for on-site methanol conversion and great opportunity to highlight the role methanol could play in our transportation economy.