State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Climate News Roundup – Week of 10/11

Memo Calls for Reversing Law to Phase Out German Nuclear Plants, The New York Times

German Chancellor Angela Merkel moves to reverse legislation that gradually phases out nuclear power by 2022. The proposed reversal, contained in a working document sent to Merkel’s political coalition partner, the Free Democrats, calls nuclear power the crucial “bridge” to a renewable future. Currently, Germany relies on nuclear reactors for 12% of their power while only getting 1% from wind and solar. Although public support for nuclear power is weak, German politicians from both sides view nuclear power as a necessary crutch until renewable energy can fully supplant it.

Wiser Wires, The Economist

“Smart” grids have long been the source of environmental movements and green undertakings. However, a solution might be around the corner. Recently, American venture capitalists have been pouring private equity into new technologies and start-ups – close to $1 bn over the past four years – and investors are optimistic. It’s not just small businesses though; Siemens, IBM, and Cisco have also contributed millions to developing this technology. The funding comes at a crucial time: nationwide, the US is losing 10% of total power output to grid failures and inefficiencies – this number climbs to 50% for large municipalities. A more resilient system would also allow for the deployment of more wind and solar power sources as sensitive grid technologies can handle the inherently erratic power output of wind and solar.

A Bipartisan Breakthrough on Climate, Reuters

Senator Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Graham (R-SC) have reached across partisan boundaries to co-sponsor a new “blueprint” for future climate change legislation. Their proposal has six key elements: emissions reductions, expanded nuclear power, clean coal incentives, increased domestic oil and gas production, trade barriers against countries without GHG regulations, and cost controls. The blueprint is balanced enough to attract support from both sides. Overall, the reaction has been positive. Hardliners from the right have criticized Senator Graham but many have also commended him for his role in this bi-partisan effort.

Impacts of Global Biofuel Boom Remain Murky, Scientific American

The United Nations releases a report cautioning the international community to further examine biofuels before large-scale production and deployment. The report, published by the UN Environment Programme, warns that life-cycle assessments are inconclusive and notes the considerable potential for environmental degradation associated with biofuels, such as clear-cutting rainforests for palm plantations in Indonesia. For more on how biofuels have unintended consequences for environmental degradation and food security see this earlier Climate Center blog post.

Most Arctic Sea Ice ‘Gone in a Decade’, The Independent

New data suggests that within ten years all the summer ice in the Arctic Sea will have melted, opening up the fabled sea route to travelers and commercial ships. The data, contained in the Catlin Arctic Survey conducted by explorer Pen Hadow, is an alarming indication of our changing environments. Although an open Arctic Sea route is an attractive mercantile opportunity, it is the first time that this body of water has not had an ice cover – “uncharted waters,” so to speak. Ice free conditions will represent a significant shift in Arctic ecosystems, with consequences for communities that rely on them for sustenance.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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