Day: November 15, 2012

California takes big step in limiting greenhouse gases

Read the full story at Planet Ark.

California is set to unveil a new weapon in its fight against global climate change on Wednesday when it holds its first sale of carbon emissions permits – a landmark experiment that it hopes will serve as a model for other U.S. states and the federal government.

The state’s carbon auction is a key step in the initiation of its “cap-and-trade” program, a policy where the state sets a limit, or cap, on the amount of heat-trapping gases released by manufacturers, oil refineries, electric utilities and other large emitting businesses.

Those companies can then either reduce their emissions or purchase carbon permits, also known as “allowances,” on the open market from companies that have extras – the “trade” part of cap and trade. The number of allowances in the system will decline over time.

NREL launches new alternative transportation web tools; planning, maps, data

Read the full post from Green Car Congress.

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has launched a new tool and redesigned DOE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center Web site to help fleet managers, municipalities and consumers choose from a variety of alternative fuels and energy efficiency strategies for reducing petroleum use, vehicle emissions, and operating costs.

The AFDC’s new Petroleum Reduction Planning Tool is an interactive Web application that allows fleet managers to evaluate the benefits associated with five alternative fuels—biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, natural gas and propane—along with a variety of efficiency measures, such as idle reduction and fuel economy improvements.

Word Diffusion and Climate Science

PLoS One (November 2012, v7  n11 p e47966) / by R. Alexander Bentley, Philip Garnett, Michael J. O’Brien and William A. Brock

As public and political debates often demonstrate, a substantial disjoint can exist between the findings of science and the impact it has on the public. Using climate-change science as a case example, we reconsider the role of scientists in the information-dissemination process, our hypothesis being that important keywords used in climate science follow “boom and bust” fashion cycles in public usage. Representing this public usage through extraordinary new data on word frequencies in books published up to the year 2008, we show that a classic two-parameter social-diffusion model closely fits the comings and goings of many keywords over generational or longer time scales. We suggest that the fashions of word usage contributes an empirical, possibly regular, correlate to the impact of climate science on society.

Climate Change and Existing Law: A Survey of Legal Issues Past, Present, and Future

Download the document.

This report surveys existing law for legal issues that have arisen, or may arise in the future, on account of climate change and government responses thereto.

At the threshold of many climate-change-related lawsuits are two barriers—whether the plaintiff has standing to sue and whether the claim being made presents a political question. Both barriers have forced courts to apply amorphous standards in a new and complex context.

Efforts to mitigate climate change—that is, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—have spawned a host of legal issues. The Supreme Court resolved a big one in 2007—the Clean Air Act (CAA), it said, does authorize EPA to regulate GHG emissions. Quite recently, a host of issues raised by EPA’s efforts to carry out that authority were resolved in the agency’s favor by the D.C. Circuit. Another issue is whether EPA’s “endangerment finding” for GHG emissions from new motor vehicles will compel EPA to move against GHG emissions under other CAA authorities.
Still other mitigation issues are (1) the role of the Endangered Species Act in addressing climate change; (2) how climate change must be considered under the National Environmental Policy Act; (3) liability and other questions raised by carbon capture and sequestration; (4) constitutional constraints on land use regulation and state actions against climate change; and (5) whether the public trust doctrine applies to the atmosphere. Liability for harms allegedly caused by climate change has raised another crop of legal issues.

The Supreme Court decision that the CAA bars federal judges from imposing their own limits on GHG emissions from power plants has led observers to ask: Can plaintiffs alleging climate change harms still seek monetary damages, and are state law claims still allowed? The two rulings so far say no to the former, but split on the latter. Questions of insurance policy coverage are also likely to be litigated. Finally, the applicability of international law principles to climate change has yet to be resolved.

Water shortages thought to be induced by climate change likely will lead to litigation over the nature of water rights. Shortages have already prompted several lawsuits over whether cutbacks in water delivered from federal projects effect Fifth Amendment takings or breaches of contract. Sea level rise and extreme precipitation linked to climate change raise questions as to (1) the effect of sea level rise on the beachfront owner’s property line; (2) whether public beach access
easements migrate with the landward movement of beaches; (3) design and operation of federal levees; and (4) government failure to take preventive measures against climate change harms.

Other adaptation responses to climate change raising legal issues, often property rights related, are beach armoring (seawalls, bulkheads, etc.), beach renourishment, and “retreat” measures. Retreat measures seek to move existing development away from areas likely to be affected by floods and sea level rise, and to discourage new development there. Natural disasters to which climate change contributes may prompt questions as to whether response actions taken in an emergency are subject to relaxed requirements and, similarly, as to the rebuilding of structures destroyed by such disasters just as they were before.

Finally, immigration and refugee law appear not to cover persons forced to relocate because of climate change impacts such as drought or sea level rise.

Local Officials Help Bicyclists Peddle Their Cause

Read the full story in Roll Call.

Cyclists and pedestrians were among the biggest losers in the recently enacted highway law, which reduced funding for bicycle paths and walking trails and softened a requirement that states spend a portion of their federal aid on transportation “enhancements.”

Now, advocates for commuters who ride their bikes or walk to work are counterattacking with a new lobbying strategy that relies on mayors, county executives and other municipal officials to make the case for federal investments in non-motorized transportation.

Toward Active Transport in Minnesota: Insights & Ideas From a Statewide Survey

Watch the video.

Active transport incorporates physical activity into the daily routine and offers numerous health and environmental benefits. While biking for recreation is extremely common, biking for transportation is much less so. Understanding differences in participation between recreational and commuter cycling provides a foundation to increase commuter cycling and boost public and environmental health. Ingrid Schneider, Professor, Department of Forest Resources and Director, University of Minnesota Tourism Center, will explore differences in perceived bike safety and transportation attributes among three types of commuters, and suggest ways to increase and promote bicycle commuting.

Study offers new tool for incorporating water impacts into policy decisions

Read the full story from the University of Minnesota.

If you’ve eaten fish, gone for a boat ride or even taken a drink from the tap, you know clean water is a valuable commodity. But just how valuable? That’s always been a tough question for policy makers to answer as they weigh the worth of clean water against societal needs that compromise it, such as the need to grow food or produce fossil fuels. Now, however, their ability to do so has been greatly enhanced by a new policy-making framework developed by a team of scientists led by Bonnie Keeler, research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The framework, published in the Nov. 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a tool for assessing and valuing the many services clean water provides –  from recreation and beauty to navigation and hydropower – and incorporating them into policy decisions.

Full citation for the research article: Bonnie L. Keeler, Stephen Polasky, Kate A. Brauman, Kris A. Johnson, Jacques C. Finlay, Ann O’Neill, Kent Kovacs, and Brent Dalzell (2012). “Linking water quality and well-being for improved assessment and valuation of ecosystem services.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(45), 18619-18624. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1215991109.


Despite broad recognition of the value of the goods and services provided by nature, existing tools for assessing and valuing ecosystem services often fall short of the needs and expectations of decision makers. Here we address one of the most important missing components in the current ecosystem services toolbox: a comprehensive and generalizable framework for describing and valuing water quality-related services. Water quality is often misrepresented as a final ecosystem service. We argue that it is actually an important contributor to many different services, from recreation to human health. We present a valuation approach for water quality-related services that is sensitive to different actions that affect water quality, identifies aquatic endpoints where the consequences of changing water quality on human well-being are realized, and recognizes the unique groups of beneficiaries affected by those changes. We describe the multiple biophysical and economic pathways that link actions to changes in water quality-related ecosystem goods and services and provide guidance to researchers interested in valuing these changes. Finally, we present a valuation template that integrates biophysical and economic models, links actions to changes in service provision and value estimates, and considers multiple sources of water quality-related ecosystem service values without double counting.

Batteries May Fade, But Research Can Revitalize

Read the full post at

Old batteries, like old soldiers, never seem to die; they just fade away.

But why?

A team of researchers, led by Chongmin Wang at the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL), recently figured out part of that answer for one type of high-performance battery. Lithium ion batteries are used in essential everyday electronics like cell phones and laptops, and adding the element nickel to their electrodes further improves their performance. However, over time, their performance fades.

Dr. Wang and his colleagues wondered why … and knew where to go for the tools to find out. They tapped into world-class user facilities to take a closer look at what was happening at the molecular level. Specifically, they scoped out tiny particles – nanoparticles – with the same composition. The particles were so small, about 200 nanometers in size, that it would take some 300 of them together to form a particle the size of an average speck of dust. They were created by researchers at the Argonne National Lab (ANL) using a variety of different methods – see below for why.