State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Climate News Roundup — Week of 6/14

Bill Gates funds cloud-whitening effort to reduce global warming.  USA Today

Bill Gates is funding research into whether or not it is effective and feasible to increase the albedo of atmospheric clouds by spray sea mist high into the atmosphere. The plan, spearheaded by Silicon Valley inventor Armand Neukermans, is a relatively benign method of geoengineering whereby a spray mechanism would be mounted onto a fleet of ships to effectively make clouds whiter. The plan is not without controversy, though, and Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth has stated that “the assumption is we can play God with the Earth’s ecosystem. The solution to global warming is to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide production. Everything else is just a distraction.”

New Zealand plans to burn coal underground. The New Zealand Herald

New Zealand energy company Solid Energy seeks to develop a pilot program in which coal is burned underground to produce electricity. The method, called underground coal gasification (UCG) produces a synthetic gas that can be used to generate electricity, methanol, synthetic transport fuel, fertilizers, plastics, and other products. Typically used to produce energy from coal that is unreachable with conventional mining methods, UCG involves pressurizing underground seams with oxidants, igniting them, and capturing the escaping “syngas” through steel-cased wells. The method reduces the escape of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, while there are potential plans to carbon CO2 and re-inject it into the emptied seam. The technology has already been implemented in Queensland, Australia and Uzbekistan.

Climate bill heads into choppy waters with new cargo, a price tag.  Associated Press

The American Power Act – the energy and climate bill co-sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) – has been evaluated by the EPA as costing the average American household roughly $146 per year. The bill aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in 2050 in part by affixing a cost to carbon of about $17 per metric ton in 2013, to $24 per ton in 2020. The higher cost of energy would presumably be passed on to the consumer, which posits a significant political hurdle to the passage of the bill. Kerry and Lieberman – as well as the Obama administration – have been quick to point out, however, that $146 per year translates to roughly 40 cents per day – less than the cost of a first-class postage stamp. In Lieberman’s own words, “Is the American household willing to pay less than $1 so we don’t have to buy oil from foreign countries, so we can create millions of new jobs, so we can clean up our environment? I think the answer is going to be yes.” For an explanation of the various bills under discussion, you can click through to our upcoming series on the policy buffet.

Cutting greenhouse gases will be no quick fix for our weather, scientists say. The Guardian

Scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre in the UK have issued a report on the long-term consequences of climate change on the planet’s water cycle. Their research indicates that increased droughts and floods could continue on for decades even if rising temperatures are brought under control. This is due primarily to accumulated heat in the oceans, which dissipates at a much slower rate than from the land or atmosphere. While regional modeling of the results are significantly more complicated than the global assessment, but the model did suggest significant drying in South America, Southern Africa, and Australia.

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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