May 23, 2013 12:26 pm
Next month, China will begin its first carbon-trading pilot program in Shenzhen, a major Chinese city just north of Hong Kong, the Guardian reports. The program will begin modestly, targeting only certain Shenzhen companies, but will soon expand to other sectors and cities. Environmentalists hope these initial trials will help the country determine how to best go about setting caps on emissions, the Guardian writes.
China ranks as the world’s number one carbon dioxide emitter, thanks in part to the massive amounts of coal the country burns. China currently builds a new coal-fired power plant at a rate of about one every week to ten days. The country’s coal burning levels are nearly on par with the rest of the world combined.
Politicians around the world have focused on carbon trading as the market-based strategy of choice for regulating greenhouse gas emissions. HowStuffWorks explains the basic concept:
Cap-and-trade schemes are the most popular way to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions. The scheme’s governing body begins by setting a cap on allowable emissions. It then distributes or auctions off emissions allowances that total the cap. Member firms that do not have enough allowances to cover their emissions must either make reductions or buy another firm’s spare credits. Members with extra allowances can sell them or bank them for future use. Cap-and-trade schemes can be either mandatory or voluntary.
But in the European Union, this system has not worked so well. The Royal Society of Chemistry explains the problem:
In theory, the cost of buying the allowances, either directly from other companies or on the open market, is supposed to provide financial incentives for companies to invest in carbon reducing technology or shift to less carbon intensive energy sources. But after reaching a peak of nearly €30 (£25) per tonne in the summer of 2008, prices have steadily fallen. By January they had crashed to under €5, providing little, if any, financial incentive for companies to reduce emissions.
This initial effort in China will extent to just 638 companies, the Guardian reports, though those businesses are responsible for 68 percent of Shenzhen’s total greenhouse gas emissions. While any efforts China undertakes to reduce its emissions will help ward off global climate change and reduce greenhouse gas build up in the planet’s atmosphere, China’s leaders say the decision primarily stems from it’s escalating in-country problems with air pollution, the Guardian reports.
If things go well, the scheme will further incorporate transportation, manufacturing and construction companies as well. China plans to enroll seven cities in the experiment by 2014. By 2020, China hopes to have implemented a nation-wide carbon control program—just in time for the country’s estimated emissions peak in 2025.
More from Smithsonian.com:
May 22, 2013 3:27 pm
Climate change is making the world warmer and, in many places, dryer, setting the stage for increased forest fire activity across the country. In a new study, scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service say that the amount of land affected by forest fires in the U.S. is expected to increase by at least 50 percent but maybe as much as 100 percent by 2050—a doubling of burned area within less than 40 years.
In the study, led by meteorologist Yongqianq Liu, the researchers say that, more than just responding to a warming world, forest fires actually stoke themselves over the long term. By releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, forest fires increase the likelihood of future fires. According to earlier research forest fires account for about a third of global carbon dioxide emissions. Some of this carbon dioxide will eventually get pulled back out of the atmosphere by plants regrowing in the burned region. But in the short term, say the scientists, the carbon dioxide is an important part of the amplified greenhouse effect.
According to the study, smoke streaming from fires can actually make the area under the cloud colder, because smoke in the air reflects sunlight. That might seem like a silver lining to the ash cloud. But the smoke also suppresses rain, increasing the potential for drought. So, really, it’s not much of a silver lining after all.
In the end, the scientists say that climate change is going to make forest fires worse, and it seems that the fires themselves will encourage this trend.
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May 16, 2013 3:39 pm
There’s an interesting relationship, borne out in polling numbers, between the “general public’s” belief in global climate change and the weather. When it’s hot out, people believe in climate change. When it’s cold, they don’t. When summer heat and drought and wildfires tore through the U.S. last summer, 74 percent of Americans believed that climate change was affecting the weather. Only 46 percent of Americans think that this climate change is caused by human activities – most directly the burning of fossil fuels.
The numbers are a little different when it is climate scientists, and the scientific research conducted on climate change, that are polled.
Writing in the Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli and John Abraham describe a new study that polled the recent research to see what scientists thought of climate change. (Nuccitelli is one of the voices behind the website Skeptical Science and one of the authors of the new scientific study.) They found that the vast, overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.
The team searched a database of scientific studies for the words “global climate change” or “global warming.” They found 11,944 relevant studies published between 1991 and 2012. Then, they read through the study’s summaries to figure out whether the study supported, rejected, was uncertain about or said nothing at all about our role in causing climate change. They also asked the scientists behind the papers whether their research supported or refuted the idea of man-made global warming.
Of the studies that expressed some sort of position on global warming, of which there were 4,000, the team write in their paper, “97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.” When the climate scientists themselves said whether or not their work supported the idea of anthropogenic climate change, “97.2% endorsed the consensus.”
For the papers that didn’t seem to have an opinion on whether humans were causing climate change, the reason, they write, is not that the scientists don’t know. Rather, it’s that the debate is so fully and completely settled within the scientific community that they aren’t going to use space re-hashing old fights.
Some people may mention that the scientific community is conflicted over the cause of climate change. This new survey would like to remind that that is not true.
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May 15, 2013 12:53 pm
Climate change is changing the planet. Yes, it’s doing it in all those ways that you already know about: rising seas, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, more extreme weather. But climate change is changing the planet in another dramatic way, too: It’s actually causing the entire crust of the Earth to shift. According to new research by Jianli Chen and colleagues, climate change–induced glacier melt and sea level rise have thrown the whole planet off-kilter.
The Earth is a ball that floats in space, and the Earth’s surface—the tectonic plates that make up the land—are like a shell that floats on the mantle below. Just like the hard chocolate coating can slip and slide on your soft serve ice cream, the crust of the Earth can slide over the mantle. This is different than continental drift. This is the whole surface of the planet moving as one. The rotation axis of the Earth stays steady, the land masses shift around it. The idea is known as “true polar wander,” and its occurrence is a part of the planet’s history.
The Earth is not a perfect sphere—it’s kind of fat at the middle—and changing how the mass on the surface is distributed changes how the tectonic plates sit in relation to the planet’s rotation axis. By melting Greenland and other glaciers, say the researchers, the Earth’s geographic North Pole has drifted to the east at around 2.4 inches each year since 2005. Nature:
From 1982 to 2005, the pole drifted southeast towards northern Labrador, Canada, at a rate of about 2 milliarcseconds — or roughly 6 centimetres — per year. But in 2005, the pole changed course and began galloping east towards Greenland at a rate of more than 7 milliarcseconds per year.
Seasonal shifts in how ice and water are spread around the world mean that the North Pole is always sort of wandering around. But drift triggered by climate change is new. It’s a sign that global warming isn’t just changing how we might live in the world, but the very face of the world itself.
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May 14, 2013 3:19 pm
Last year was one of the worst wildfire seasons in Colorado’s recent history. A series of destructive blazes drove tends of thousands of people from their homes and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage.
Last year’s awful fire season was spurred by a dry winter and higher-than-average temperatures. Those same conditions are back, says Climate Central, and the western U.S. is at risk once more.
Drought conditions have encompassed nearly the entire Western half of the country, with the worst of it centered in the Southwest and into California, which received only about 25 percent of its average precipitation during the year-to-date. “We’re confident we’re going to see above-normal significant fire potential,” Sullens said.
From California to Colorado, he says, the early-summer fire risk is high. Indeed, California has already seen a big blaze.
Forecasters are also concerned about a high risk of large wildfires along the Pacific Coast from California northward to Washington, and inland into Idaho and Southwest Montana, where very dry conditions exist in areas that have an abundance of vegetation, or fuel, to support potential fires.
… Vilsack said the combination of the drought, an abundance of dead or weakened trees from an epidemic of mountain bark beetles, and a likelihood of another unusually hot and dry summer is “a combination that doesn’t bode well.”
In many places the spring fire season has been off to a slow start, says Andrew Freedman, but according to the federal government this “has no bearing on where we think this fire season is going to go.”
More from Smithsonian.com:
Here’s What $110 Million in Fire Damage Looks Like
Australia is Burning, And It’s Only Going to Get Worse as the World Warms
Devastating Colorado Wildfires Most Recent in Decades-Long Surge
Fires Are Escaping Our Ability to Predict Their Behavior