Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Moss spray could restore moors and tackle global warming

The Times
April 13, 2009
Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter

The arduous process of restoring fragile moorland by hand could be revolutionised with a new spray-on technique.
Regeneration is essential to cut greenhouse gas emissions because moorlands trap large quantities of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
The new technique means that instead of putting every new plant in the ground individually, conservationists will spray deteriorating moors with fragmented moss from a helicopter.
A trial will take place in the Peak District, where several square miles of moors have lost the bog plants that protect the peat underneath from eroding. Tests conducted already this year on a smaller scale, using fragmented sphagnum moss, have proved so encouraging that they are to be expanded to a landscape scale.

Sphagnum moss, which can hold up to 20 times its own weight in water, was one of the main plants keeping the layer of vegetation on upland moors in place but vast swaths of it were killed by pollution and by agricultural drainage schemes.
Horticultural specialists have now worked out a way of propagating large quantities of the moss, which can still grow when cut into fragments.
“You only need a few cells to get it growing,” said Chris Dean, of Moors for the Future. “This could revolutionise restoration work throughout the country if we can make it work. We need to think big.”
Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, which is working with Moors for the Future, said: “Our upland peatlands are the UK’s biggest natural carbon store. Incredibly, this wild habitat holds around 3 billion tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 20 years of the country’s current carbon emissions.
“It’s imperative we ensure the peatlands are conserved and protected so this legacy of industral CO2 emissions stays locked up rather than escaping into the air and adding to our greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we urgently need to reduce them.”

U.S. Takes a Gamble With Test of Carbon Caps on Car Makers

The Obama administration is preparing to test whether capping greenhouse gas emissions will push the economy into higher gear, or deeper into a rut. The likely subject of the experiment is the ailing auto industry.
Later this month, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson is expected to declare that carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles endanger health and welfare because of their impact on the climate.
That finding will be a trigger for the EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act -- independent of any congressional action on broader climate-change measures. A senior administration official familiar with the EPA's plans says the agency will likely confine its rule-making efforts on greenhouse gases this year to autos.

Business groups are sounding the alarm over the prospect of expanded EPA power. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned that more than one million businesses involved in manufacturing, operating buildings and services, and farming could eventually become subject to costly new emissions regulations.
Ms. Jackson, in a recent speech, said it is "a myth...that right now we are at this horrible fork in the road...and EPA will regulate cows, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Huts, your lawnmower and baby bottles."
Still, what the EPA wants to do with the auto industry is ambitious -- and risky given the industry's weakened condition amid the worst sales slump since the Great Depression. Chrysler LLC has fewer than 30 days to conclude a deal with its creditors, unions and prospective partner Fiat SpA or it could be forced to seek bankruptcy protection. General Motors Corp. has fewer than 60 days to satisfy the Obama administration that it can be viable without a trip through bankruptcy court.
The EPA is trying to craft new federal emissions standards that would match California's still-to-be-implemented state-level greenhouse-gas standards for vehicles and federal automobile fuel economy regulations now being developed by the Transportation Department. Figuring out how to do this won't be easy, or cheap.
The Obama administration inherited a congressional mandate for auto makers to boost the average fuel economy of their vehicle fleets to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40% increase from the roughly 25 mpg standard for the current fleet. California estimates its standards would require auto makers to achieve 35 mpg by 2017. And unlike the federal government, which gives auto makers compliance credits for churning out "flex-fuel" vehicles capable of running on high levels of ethanol, California requires auto makers to prove motorists are actually filling up on those high-level blends in order to claim credit.
Just meeting the federal standards will require huge investments by auto makers. Last summer, the Transportation Department estimated its proposal to require auto makers to achieve 31.6 mpg by 2015 would cost them $46.7 billion, a sum the agency said would make it among the most expensive rule makings in U.S. history.
How the EPA handles automotive greenhouse gases could influence the broader debate in Congress over climate change.
Some Democrats are betting that fears of the EPA's growing regulatory reach will galvanize Congress to pass Mr. Obama's preferred approach to tackling climate change: legislation that set an overall limit on greenhouse-gas emissions and allows companies to buy and sell the right to pollute within that limit.
EPA regulation "wasn't a threat that existed during the Bush administration," says Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.). Now that the EPA is poised to act, he says, "I think that will become a realization that drives the political process."
A less welcome scenario for businesses is that environmentalists and ordinary citizens will use the EPA's endangerment finding to go to court to force the administration to widen the scope of its rule making.
Under one portion of the Clean Air Act, facilities that could be major sources of air pollution can be built or significantly modified only if they are equipped with "the best available control technology." The law generally applies to power plants, refineries, steel mills or other facilities if they emit at least 100 tons per year of any regulated air pollutant.
But the law also covers "any building, structure, facility or installation" that emits at least 250 tons per year of any regulated air pollutant -- a threshold low enough to cover roughly one million midsize to large commercial-sector sources, including restaurants, hospitals, schools and office buildings, based on estimates by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"There may be some fringe thinkers out there, but not one of the major environmental groups has any desire" to go after facilities that emit less than 10,000 tons of CO2 a year, says David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club.
Opponents of EPA-crafted regulation say those assurances aren't good enough. "Our neighbors would challenge Costco [under the Clean Air Act] if they had the chance," says Roger Martella, who was the EPA's general counsel under President George W. Bush and now represents utilities, manufacturers, and other groups worried about EPA regulation. "The Sierra Club can't stop them."
Mr. Obama declared in his inaugural address that "the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply." The response to the EPA's first steps toward attacking climate change will test whether he spoke too soon.
Write to Stephen Power at stephen.power@wsj.com

Greenstar cleans up as war on waste escalates

By Chris Tighe
Published: April 13 2009 03:00

The rising tide of plastic packaging makes many consumers uneasy as they fill their supermarket trolleys with goods mounted on plastic trays and liquids stored in plastic bottles.
But the innovative efforts of Teesside plastics recycling pioneer Greenstar WES, the world's first commercial producer of food grade recycled plastic, should go some way to tackle concerns about environmental pollution and waste.
Each month, Greenstar WES's plant at the Wilton International site near Redcar, North Yorkshire, receives up to 2,000 tonnes of baled plastics, much of it domestic waste collected from households. The company was the first in the world to develop and apply the technology to convert plastic milk bottles from consumers' bins into clean, food-grade, high-density polyethylene (r-HDPE) flakes.
It was also the first UK processor capable of recycling metallised crisp packets; it now handles 2,000 tonnes of them annually, turning them into multicoloured plastic pellets for making paint trays and plant pots.
Its r-HDPE flakes are supplied to packaging manufacturers, including Nampak, Sharp Interpack and Linpac Packaging for use in applications including bottles and food trays for chickens and mushrooms. In 2009 it expects to supply 8,000 tonnes of food-grade recycled plastic to British, Belgian, Italian, French and Dutch manufacturers. About 60 per cent goes to Nampak, which has been keen to source more r-HDPE from within the UK.
Consumers may not realise when they buy Marks and Spencer's organic milk that one 10th of the plastic used for bottles has been on a shop shelf before. Nampak, which describes Greenstar WES as a vital piece of the jigsaw in getting bottles including r-HDPE accepted and on retailers' shelves, eventually hopes to use 30 per cent recycled content in its bottles.
Sharp Interpack uses the r-HDPE flakes for its food trays. Andrew Copson, managing director, says: "Environmental responsibilities won't go away and so initiatives like food-grade recycled plastics are a fundamental game-changer."
Having started out during the early 1990s as Waste Exchange Services, WES's management in 2007 sold 75 per cent to Greenstar UK, one of the country's biggest recycling-led waste management companies.
Greenstar WES innovations include the processing of heavily printed plastic film, the conversion of waste plastics from car scrap and specialist pipes and of low-grade plastics like dirty polystyrene. Its total annual processing capacity is 25,000 tonnes of plastics, but it intends to increase volumes.
"We're always playing with plastic and soon hope to have some new products to [test]," says James Donaldson, founder and managing director. "Plastic is fantastic, especially when it's recycled."
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

GE Invests in Car-Battery Maker

A123 to Expand Production of Energy Systems for Hybrid, Electric Vehicles


Car-battery maker A123 Systems Inc. is expected to announce Monday that it has raised $69 million as part of its most recent capital campaign, and that primary backer General Electric Co. will gain a seat on the company's board in exchange for its investment.
The infusion will advance the Watertown, Mass., company's plans to build new factories in Michigan to manufacture the lithium-ion batteries, packs and modules it has been developing for the auto industry in recent years.
The boost for A123's plans is good news for Michigan, whose economy has been racked by the crisis in the auto industry, including the government-orchestrated restructuring of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Michigan has been bleeding traditional manufacturing jobs in recent years, and the state's governor has been promoting alternative-energy industries as a potential salve.
Getty Images
Chrysler plans to use A123 batteries in its prospective line of electric vehicles. Above, Chrysler executives introduce the 200C EV electric concept car in January at the Detroit auto show.
The funding news follows an announcement that Chrysler has selected A123 to develop batteries for the car maker's prospective line of electric vehicles.
Dave Vieau, president and chief executive of A123, said the success of the capital campaign indicates that even in the current economic climate, there is private-sector investor interest in alternative-energy technologies that show promise.
GE's Energy Financial Services and Capital Equity units provided $15 million in the latest round of financing. That brings GE's total investments in the battery maker to $70 million, representing an ownership stake of more than 10%.
Mr. Vieau said the new capital will help move the company closer to profitability by allowing it to scale up its manufacturing efforts. The added scale could also promote wider adoption of alternative-energy technologies, because it lowers the unit cost of battery packs and could bring down the cost of hybrid and electric vehicles. The company says its planned production facilities would be capable of supplying systems for five million hybrid electric vehicles or a half-million plug-in electric vehicles per year by 2013.
Questions remain, however, about how solid the market is for this new generation of car batteries. After a spike last summer, sales of hybrid vehicles have sunk along with the rest of the car market. And A123's partnership with Chrysler could be in jeopardy if the company is forced into bankruptcy.
Chrysler's battery-powered versions of the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Patriot and Chrysler Town & Country minivan will all use A123 technology, if they make it to the market by 2013 as proposed.
Another client of A123 is SAIC Motor Corp., one of China's biggest state-owned auto makers.
Meanwhile, GM's highly anticipated Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid car is scheduled to hit the market next year, using batteries from a different manufacturer.
Mark Little, senior vice president and director of global research at GE, said he believes battery-powered vehicles are only a year away from being available to the average American consumer. "Even a 5% penetration in the auto industry is a huge market, and I see that happening quite rapidly," said Mr. Little, who will represent GE on the A123 board.
GE was an early investor in the battery maker, which said it has now raised more than $300 million since it was founded in 2001. A123 also makes batteries for power tools and for utility companies.
Write to Alex P. Kellogg at alex.kellogg@wsj.com

Scientists fear worst on global warming

• Poll admission that official targets are unrealistic• Public doesn't realise 'how serious climate change is'

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 April 2009

Politicians insist that urgent and widespread action can yet prevent the worst of global warming but the cracks in that argument have been showing for some time.
Officially, UK efforts on climate change are in line with a global ambition to limit the temperature rise above pre-industrial levels to below 2C - a threshold the EU has defined as dangerous. But in 2006 David King, then the government's chief scientist, said a 3C rise was likely. Last summer, Bob Watson, the chief scientist to the environment department (Defra), told the Guardian the world needed to prepare for the possibility of a 4C rise. This autumn, Oxford University will hold a conference to discuss life in a 4C warmer world.
Hit with a double whammy of spiralling carbon emissions from the coal-fired boom in developing countries such as China and political stalemate, many climate scientists have become noticeably nervous in recent years. While technical papers in academic journals have tracked increasingly desperate predictions, most have put on a brave face in public. Likely failure to meet the 2C target, and the certainty of dreadful consequences, has been the worst-kept secret in climate science.
No longer. Today's Guardian poll of attendees at a climate conference last month in Copenhagen exposes the gulf between political rhetoric and scientific thinking. Of more than 250 experts surveyed, more than half said the 2C target could still be achieved but only 18 thought that it would be. By the end of the century, most thought average temperatures would rise by some 4C.
The figure is not plucked from their imaginations. The authoritative report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 laid it out in simple terms. If carbon emissions continue to rise at present rates, then the IPCC's best guess is a 4C rise by 2100. The Guardian poll merely highlights a belief that the warning has simply failed to penetrate. As one said: "I think a full understanding of what must be done quickly, and the consequences of insufficient action, is lacking among the policy makers and the public." Another said: "Current government actions are playing into the hands of ... an electorate that doesn't quite understand how serious climate change is."
Survey respondents were promised anonymity. Many scientists are reluctant to admit publicly that the 2C target is unrealistic, and several warned that simply raising the subject was sensitive. One said: "Telling people that x% people think it can't be done would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Great things can only be achieved by everyone believing it can be done ... Churchill didn't stand around saying most people think we will lose the war. He said we will fight it on the beaches."
Several scientists said the G20 summit in London, where climate change was barely considered, had convinced them the action required would not be taken. Simon Lewis, a climate researcher at the University of Leeds, said: "The summit shows that political leaders do not regard climate change as an urgent issue. They were tasked to re-configure the global economy and they chose to re-affirm the old model, and not move to a low-carbon economy as scientists have urged. The summit was more of an end-of-the-world order than a new world order."
Bob Doppelt, director of the climate leadership initiative at the University of Oregon, said: "One of the problems is that the issue is still being framed as a scientific and environmental issue. This is a major mistake. Climate change is just a symptom of dysfunctional social and economic practices and policies. It is a social and economic issue. The emphasis needs to shift away from the biophysical sciences now to the social sciences if we have any hope of solving this problem."
Others said it could take a series of extreme weather events similar to Hurricane Katrina and the 2003 European heatwave to force political action. One said a "9/11-type event" that could be traced to increased greenhouse gas emissions might break the political deadlock.

Climate change explained - the impact of temperature rises

Mark Lynas
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 April 2009

Less than 2C
Arctic sea icecap disappears, leaving polar bears homeless and changing the Earth's energy balance dramatically as reflective ice is replaced during summer months by darker sea surface. Now expected by 2030 or even earlier.
Tropical coral reefs suffer severe and repeated bleaching episodes due to hotter ocean waters, killing off most coral and delivering a hammer blow to marine biodiversity.
Droughts spread through the sub-tropics, accompanied by heatwaves and intense wildfires. Worst-hit are the Mediterranean, the south-west United States, southern Africa and Australia.
Summer heatwaves such as that in Europe in 2003, which killed 30,000 people, become annual events. Extreme heat sees temperatures reaching the low 40s Celsius in southern England.
Amazon rainforest crosses a "tipping point" where extreme heat and lower rainfall makes the forest unviable - much of it burns and is replaced by desert and savannah.
Dissolved CO2 turns the oceans increasingly acidic, destroying remaining coral reefs and wiping out many species of plankton which are the basis of the marine food chain. Several metres of sea level rise is now inevitable as the Greenland ice sheet disappears.
Glacier and snow-melt in the world's mountain chains depletes freshwater flows to downstream cities and agricultural land. Most affected are California, Peru, Pakistan and China. Global food production is under threat as key breadbaskets in Europe, Asia and the United States suffer drought, and heatwaves outstrip the tolerance of crops.
The Gulf Stream current declines significantly. Cooling in Europe is unlikely due to global warming, but oceanic changes alter weather patterns and lead to higher than average sea level rise in the eastern US and UK.
Another tipping point sees massive amounts of methane - a potent greenhouse gas - released by melting Siberian permafrost, further boosting global warming. Much human habitation in southern Europe, north Africa, the Middle East and other sub-tropical areas is rendered unviable due to excessive heat and drought. The focus of civilisation moves towards the poles, where temperatures remain cool enough for crops, and rainfall - albeit with severe floods - persists. All sea ice is gone from both poles; mountain glaciers are gone from the Andes, Alps and Rockies.
Global average temperatures are now hotter than for 50m years. The Arctic region sees temperatures rise much higher than average - up to 20C - meaning the entire Arctic is now ice-free all year round. Most of the topics, sub-tropics and even lower mid-latitudes are too hot to be inhabitable. Sea level rise is now sufficiently rapid that coastal cities across the world are largely abandoned.
6C and above
Danger of "runaway warming", perhaps spurred by release of oceanic methane hydrates. Could the surface of the Earth become like Venus, entirely uninhabitable? Most sea life is dead. Human refuges now confined entirely to highland areas and the polar regions. Human population is drastically reduced. Perhaps 90% of species become extinct, rivalling the worst mass extinctions in the Earth's 4.5 billion-year history.
• Mark Lynas is the author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet

World will not meet 2C warming target, climate change experts agree

David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 April 2009

Almost nine out of 10 climate scientists do not believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2C will succeed, a Guardian poll reveals today. An average rise of 4-5C by the end of this century is more likely, they say, given soaring carbon emissions and political constraints.
Such a change would disrupt food and water supplies, exterminate thousands of species of plants and animals and trigger massive sea level rises that would swamp the homes of hundreds of millions of people.
The poll of those who follow global warming most closely exposes a widening gulf between political rhetoric and scientific opinions on climate change. While policymakers and campaigners focus on the 2C target, 86% of the experts told the survey they did not think it would be achieved. A continued focus on an unrealistic 2C rise, which the EU defines as dangerous, could even undermine essential efforts to adapt to inevitable higher temperature rises in the coming decades, they warned.
The survey follows a scientific conference last month in Copenhagen, where a series of studies were presented that suggested global warming could strike harder and faster than realised.
The Guardian contacted all 1,756 people who registered to attend the conference and asked for their opinions on the likely course of global warming. Of 261 experts who responded, 200 were researchers in climate science and related fields. The rest were drawn from industry or worked in areas such as economics and social and political science.
The 261 respondents represented 26 countries and included dozens of senior figures, including laboratory directors, heads of university departments and authors of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The poll asked the experts whether the 2C target could still be achieved, and whether they thought that it would be met: 60% of respondents argued that, in theory, it was still technically and economically possible to meet the target, which represents an average global warming of 2C since the industrial revolution. The world has already warmed by about 0.8C since then, and another 0.5C or so is inevitable over coming decades given past greenhouse gas emissions. But 39% said the 2C target was impossible.
The poll comes as UN negotiations to agree a new global treaty to regulate carbon pollution gather pace in advance of a key meeting in Copenhagen in December. Officials will try to agree a successor to the Kyoto protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012. The 2C target is unlikely to feature in a new treaty, but most of the carbon cuts proposed for rich countries are based on it. Bob Watson, chief scientist to Defra, told the Guardian last year that the world needed to focus on the 2C target, but should also prepare for a possible 4C rise.
Asked what temperature rise was most likely, 84 of the 182 specialists (46%) who answered the question said it would reach 3-4C by the end of the century; 47 (26%) suggested a rise of 2-3C, while a handful said 6C or more. While 24 experts predicted a catastrophic rise of 4-5C, just 18 thought it would stay at 2C or under.
Some of those surveyed who said the 2C target would be met confessed they did so more out of hope rather than belief. "As a mother of young children I choose to believe this, and work hard toward it," one said.
"This optimism is not primarily due to scientific facts, but to hope," said another. Some said they thought geoengineering measures, such as seeding the ocean with iron to encourage plankton growth, would help meet the target.
Many of the experts stressed that an inability to hit the 2C target did not mean that efforts to tackle global warming should be abandoned, but that the emphasis is now on damage limitation.

Heat grows on US Congress over climate

By Andrew Ward and Sarah O’Connor in Washington
Published: April 13 2009 00:07

President Barack Obama’s administration is preparing to ratchet up pressure on Congress to pass climate change legislation this year by declaring its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA has been considering its approach to global warming since a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 found it was entitled to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under existing air pollution laws.

George W. Bush’s administration declined to take up the authority but Mr Obama has given the EPA the green light to declare CO2 emissions a danger to public health and welfare.
An announcement could be made this week, according to several environmental groups briefed about the plans. The EPA did not respond to calls.
Regulations would not come into force at once but the declaration would intensify pressure on Congress to pre-empt EPA action by passing its own legislation to curb industrial emissions.
The Obama administration is pressing Congress to set up a cap-and-trade system to regulate emissions and wants progress before United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen in December to signal US commitment and encourage other countries, particularly China and India, to make concessions.
Draft legislation was unveiled in the House of Representatives this month but the proposals face intensifying resistance from Republicans and some Democrats, amid concern about the economic cost of fighting climate change when the US is haemorrhaging jobs.
The White House originally wanted to push legislation through the fast-track budget process – action that would have made the bill easier to pass – but the Senate voted to block that avenue this month.
As a result, any climate change legislation will need at least 60 votes – including some Republican support – to clear the Senate, rather than the simple 51-vote majority required for budget measures.
Perhaps most alarming for green activists was the sight of 26 Senate Democrats joining Republicans in opposition to the budget route. John Boehner, Republican House leader, said the proposed cap-and-trade system was the “wrong thing to do and the worst possible time to do it”.
Critics have described the plan as a “light-switch tax” that would undermine economic recovery by increasing energy costs for businesses and consumers.
Cap-and-trade, which imposes a monetary cost on carbon dioxide emissions for industrial polluters, is central to Mr Obama’s plan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to promote “green technology”.
With projected revenues of $629bn (€477bn, £429bn) during the next decade, cap-and-trade was also important to the president’s $3,600bn budget plan.
Peter Orszag, White House budget director, acknowledges the budget route is now shut off, forcing the administration to seek alternative funding for its signature middle-class tax cuts. But he insists cap-and-trade is “nowhere near dead”.
Democratic leaders in Congress say they remain committed to push for legislation this year, with the House energy committee planning to pass its final blueprint by June, clearing the way for a full House debate during the summer.
The draft bill aims to cut US carbon emissions by 20 per cent from 2005 levels during the next decade – exceeding Mr Obama’s target for a 14 per cent cut – and would require utilities to produce a quarter of energy from renewable sources by 2025.
But Democrats are split between east and west coast liberals, who view climate change as a priority, and those from the blue-collar Midwest who fear cap-and-trade would further weaken the struggling manufacturing sector.
Some recent opinion polls show public sentiment shifting against “green” policies as economic fears mount. For the first time in 25 years of asking the question, a Gallup survey last week found a majority of Americans believe economic growth should be given priority over the environment.
Against this backdrop, political analysts are increasingly sceptical about the chances of legislation this year. “I think, frankly, you can only pass so many large pieces of legislation in any Congress, and when you get too ambitious you start turning away the public,” says Brandon Arnold, director of government affairs at the Cato Institute, a free-market think-tank. “In terms of the politics, it’s probably easier to get a healthcare bill across the finishing line than a cap-and-trade bill.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009