Editorial viewpoints from Climate Central's writers and editors.

China’s Growing Coal Use Is World’s Growing Problem

China has been praised recently for its investments in renewable energy. And the credit is well deserved as China's commitment to renewables dwarfs that of the U.S. and other industrialized countries. From 2010 to 2012 alone, China’s renewable electricity growth was double that of the U.S., and it is continuing to grow.

But all the accolades are distracting us from the reality that fossil fuels dominate China’s energy landscape, as they do in virtually every other country. Today, fossil fuels account for 87 percent of all energy used in China. And the focus on renewables also hides the fact that China’s reliance upon coal is predicted to keep growing.

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Coal, the most carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels, accounts for 70 percent of energy used in China today and is responsible for about three quarters of electricity generation. 

  • In just 5 years, from 2005 through 2009, China added the equivalent of the entire U.S. fleet of coal-fired power plants, or 510 new 600-megawatt coal plants.
     
  • From 2010 through 2013, it added half the coal generation of the entire U.S. again.
     
  • At the peak, from 2005 through 2011, China added roughly two 600-megawatt coal plants a week, for 7 straight years.  
     
  • And according to U.S. government projections, China will add yet another U.S. worth of coal plants over the next 10 years, or the equivalent of a new 600-megawatt plant every 10 days for 10 years.

Helping China cut its coal emissions should be a top priority for a...

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Climate Science Community Loses Giant in Jerry Mahlman

I was deeply saddened when I learned today of Jerry Mahlman’s passing on November 28th in Buffalo Grove, Ill. Jerry was a friend, a mentor and a true giant in the climate science community. Among his many awards, Jerry received the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal from the American Meteorological Society and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award — the highest honor awarded to a federal employee. 

Jerry Mahlman
Credit: Carlye Calvin/UCAR

Jerry worked at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory here in Princeton from 1970 to 2000, and served as GFDL’s Director from 1984-2000. He was also a Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton. His research focused on modeling how our atmosphere responds to the buildup of greenhouse gases.

For me, Jerry represents everything that is good about science. As he came to understand the grim significance of climate change and what it would mean for future generations, he saw no choice but to speak out. He was one of our first, and one of our best, climate science communicators. His voice will be greatly missed.

My colleagues at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory tell me that there are plans for a formal obituary notice in science news journals and a possible AMS/AGU symposia. Details to come.


More:
Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch pays tribute to Jerry Mahlman.
Jerry Mahlman's obituary was published in the Longmont Times-Call on December 2. 

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New York Times Op-Ed: Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines

By  and 

THE oceans have risen and fallen throughout Earth’s history, following the planet’s natural temperature cycles. Twenty thousand years ago, what is now New York City was at the edge of a giant ice sheet, and the sea was roughly 400 feet lower. But as the last ice age thawed, the sea rose to where it is today.

Now we are in a new warming phase, and the oceans are rising again after thousands of years of stability. As scientists who study sea level change and storm surge, we fear that Hurricane Sandy gave only a modest preview of the dangers to come, as we continue to power our global economy by burning fuels that pollute the air with heat-trapping gases.

This past summer, a disconcerting new scientific study by the climate scientist Michiel Schaeffer and colleagues — published in the journal Nature Climate Change — suggested that no matter how quickly we cut this pollution, we are unlikely to keep the seas from climbing less than five feet.

More than six million Americans live on land less than five feet above the local high tide. (Searchable maps and analyses are available at SurgingSeas.org for every low-lying coastal community in the contiguous United States.) Worse, rising seas raise the launching pad for storm surge, the thick wall of water that the wind can drive ahead of a storm. In a world with oceans that are five feet higher, our calculations show that New York City would av...

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Cutting Short-lived Pollutant Can Halve Near-term Warming

By Michael MacCracken, The Daily Climate

Much within Amy Luers' recent Daily Climate essay on extreme weather and the climate crisis is to be commended. Indeed, cutting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) today won't eliminate a climate change-induced pattern favoring more severe storms and extreme weather. In advocating for emissions cuts, the climate change community has to avoid backlash from a public expecting otherwise. Adaptation and resilience-building are essential to limiting impacts.

A worker walks along a charcoal field in China.
Credit:  Nick McIntosh/flickr.

However, by aggressively cutting emissions of soot (black carbon), methane and air pollution (specifically tropospheric ozone), we can reduce the speed that the situation worsens. These compounds remain in the atmosphere only days to decades — versus centuries for the CO2 perturbation — so cutting their emissions can appreciably slow the rate of warming over the next several decades.

The different roles that long- and short-lived emissions play in climate change are important. So far, however, the international negotiating process has chosen to lump them into a single basket that assumes all greenhouse gases behave like CO2. This is like projecting the health of the Social Security trust fund by assuming everyone is a 40-year old male.

Halve Projected Warming

The importance of this distinction was made clear in a recent assessment led by atmospheric chemist Drew Shindell of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies [pdf]. Organized by the United Nations Env...

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Sandy & Other Disasters Could Hurt Climate Change Cause

Hurricane Sandy has proven to be a wake-up call about the potential dangers posed by climate change, and it’s even possible — though by no means certain — that we won’t just hit the snooze button and go back to sleep as the images of destruction in New York and New Jersey begin to fade.

Assuming we stay awake, however, there’s a question about what we’ll do with our new awareness (a mere 25 years or so after climate change first hit the news in a major way). Since the early 1990’s, at least, scientists, environmentalists and world leaders have called repeatedly for climate mitigation — that is, reductions in emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in order to stave off global warming. That was also the major focus of the U.N.-sponsored treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997.

Hurricane Sandy damage in Seaside, N.J.
Credit: Tim Larsen/ Governor's Office.

It makes a lot of sense: better to start eating healthy foods now rather than gorge on cheeseburgers and fries and treat your heart attack when it finally comes. But for many of us, cheeseburgers, like cheap, fossil fuel-based energy, are very seductive. That’s why the climate concerned have downplayed talk of adapting to global warming by shoring up our defenses against rising seas and other dangers. As Michael Lind wrote at thebreakthrough.org,

“Rather as peace activists during the Cold War discouraged talk about civil defense, lest it make nuclear war seem more thinkable, many Greens seem to believe that discussing adaptation would reduce support fo...

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