The global challenge of climate change poses a perfect moral storm — by failing to take action to rein in carbon emissions, the current generation is spreading the costs of its behavior far into the future.
Professor and author Stephen Gardinier in his e360 article, 'The Ethical Dimension of Tackling Climate Change'

From the Toronto Star:

Climate change will cost Canada and its people about $5 billion a year by 2020, a groundbreaking analysis for the federal government warns.

Costs will continue to climb steeply, to between $21 billion and $43 billion a year by the 2050s — depending on how much action is taken on reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions and how fast the economy and population grow, the analysis says.

“Climate change will be expensive for Canada and Canadians,” says the report from the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, issued Thursday.

“Increasing greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide will exert a growing economic impact on our own country, exacting a rising price from Canadians as climate change impacts occur here at home.”

The roundtable is a group of business leaders, academics and researchers chosen by the federal government to advise Ottawa on how to deal simultaneously with challenges in the economy and the environment.

The group models several different economic and environmental scenarios to come up with its costs, but generally assumes that the world will be able to contain global warming to about two degrees by 2050, as promised.

The report is among the first thorough attempts to put a price tag on global warming specifically in Canada. It builds on previous research that mapped out the physical effects of climate change in regions across the country.

The study also looked at the cost effectiveness of a range of adaptation strategies. It found that most strategies were well worthwhile — efforts such as improving forest-fire protection, planting resilient trees, controlling pests, banning new buildings in areas at risk of flooding and limiting pollution.

Since adaptation can generally be quite effective, the roundtable recommends the federal government invest in programs that help Canadians adapt and also boost the country’s paltry expertise and research in that area.

At the same time, Canada should do what it can to reduce emissions here and around the world, the report urges. Canada’s contributions to global warming are not large, but the effects of other countries’ emissions on Canada are astronomical, it points out.

Check out the rest of the article here and access the report here.

(Graphic credit: NRTEE)

From Our Amazing Planet via MNN:

Records broken:
  • Texas’ current drought is the most severe one-year drought on record, according to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon of Texas A&M University.
  • Texas had the warmest summer for any state going back to 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The state’s average temperature was 86.8 degrees Fahrenheit (30.4 degrees Celsius). Its neighbors Oklahoma and Louisiana had the second- and fourth-warmest summers of any state, respectively.
  • August 2011 was the hottest month in Texas history, according to the NCDC. The average temperature was 88.1 F (31.2 C), breaking the previous record of 87.1 F (30.6 C) set last month.
  • In San Angelo, Texas, the record for warmest month was set three times in three months from June to August, according to the National Weather Service.
  • June to August was the driest summer on record, with only 2.44 inches of precipitation.
  Putting it in perspective:
  • January through August 2011 has seen only 7.47 inches (6.2 centimeters) of precipitation, also a new record to that stretch.
  • The most severe Texas drought overall is still the 1950-1957 drought. During the most intense year of that drought, 1956, Texas set its all-time record for lowest 12-month precipitation, 13.69 inches (34.8 cm) ending in September.
  • Levels of extreme (81 percent) and exceptional (14 percent) drought in Texas totaled 95 percent of the state’s area, according to the Drought Monitor.
  • The drought isn’t confined to Texas. Nearly one-fifth of the contiguous United States is in the grip of extreme drought.
  Wildfire woes:
  • The hot and dry weather has created dangerous fire conditions. Nearly 18,612 wildfires have burned 3.5 million acres of Texas so far this year, according to the Texas Forest Service. That’s about the size of Connecticut.
  • Wildfires have destroyed more than 1,000 homes statewide.
  • Six of the 10 largest wildfires in Texas history occurred in 2011.
  • Texas has been fighting wildfires since Nov. 15, 2010.
  • The damages from this year’s wildfires are estimated at more that $5 billion, according to news reports.

Check out the rest of the article here.

(Map credit: US Drought Monitor)

From Reuters:

More Americans than last year believe the world is warming and the change is likely influenced by the Republican presidential debates, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Thursday.

The percentage of Americans who believe the Earth has been warming rose to 83 percent from 75 percent last year in the poll conducted Sept 8-12.

Republican presidential candidates, aside from Jon Huntsman, have mostly blasted the idea that emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human actions are warming the planet.

The current front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry, has accused scientists of manipulating climate data while Michele Bachmann has said climate change is a hoax.

As Americans watch Republicans debate the issue, they are forced to mull over what they think about global warming, said Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University.

And what they think is also influenced by reports this year that global temperatures in 2010 were tied with 2005 to be the warmest year since the 1880s.

This year has been a record year for the kind of costly weather disasters — including Hurricane Irene, which raked the East Coast — that scientists have warned would be more frequent with climate change.

The United States suffered 10 natural disasters in 2011 with economic losses of $1 billion or more, according to the National Weather Service.

Check out the rest of the article here.

(Image credit: NOAA)

From Yale e360:

From the first quarter of 2010 to the fourth quarter, installations of U.S. residential solar systems rose from 62 megawatts to 74 megawatts (enough to power about 15,000 homes), and the Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the first quarter of 2011 saw similar gains over the same period in 2010. Considering that the total installed solar capacity in the U.S. — residential, commercial, and industrial-scale of all types included — still hasn’t cracked 3,000 megawatts (enough to power roughly 600,000 homes), this feels like progress.

Yet if you look at residential solar’s share of the total U.S. solar market, the picture is less bright. In 2009, 36 percent of all installed solar systems were on homes; this dropped to 30 percent in 2010, and some experts think that will continue to fall. 

In some European countries — most notably Germany — generous government incentive programs and ambitious renewable energy targets have created a far more robust solar sector, including residential solar. In 2010 alone, Germany installed 7,400 megawatts of photovoltaic systems — more than double the entire existing solar capacity in the U.S. About 700 megawatts came from 100,000 small, residential-sized systems. Shiao said that Germany’s and Italy’s solar markets have traditionally been driven by residential and small commercial installations.

The primary issue stopping most U.S. homeowners from putting solar panels on their roofs is cost. Solar systems are expensive — on the order of $20,000 to $25,000 or more, depending on the system’s size and other factors. And even though these systems can end up paying for themselves in the long run with lower electricity bills, most families cannot find tens of thousands of dollars for the upfront costs. Prices of solar panels are steadily coming down, but are still not low enough to prompt a mass movement to solar, especially at a time of economic stagnation.

Check out the rest of the article here.

(Photo credit: Ballard News Tribune)

From Reuters:

As catastrophic weather events continue to become more common and more severe due to climate change, the insurance industry will be sorely tested. 2010 insured losses were estimated at between $18 billion and $37 billion - and indicated "a probable link" to climate change, according to insurance giant, Munich Re. In fact, the industry has named climate change its biggest challenge.

But how will the industry respond? The most immediate response we are already seeing are soaring premiums to homeowners and businesses. One 2009 study predicted a doubling of insurance rates due to climate change - and that was before severe weather events doubled in 2010 from 2009 totals. 

…  

Insurance may well become unaffordable for millions in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world as premiums skyrocket. But the problem in the developing world is that many of the world’s most vulnerable victims of climate change are not insured at all. According to Swiss Re, another insurance giant, "the economic effects of current climate impacts can amount to between 2-12 percent of GDP annually. These impacts threaten to undermine national budgets of vulnerable countries for years to come.” They will also undermine the ability of those societies to pay for clean, sustainable development.

… 

In both developed countries and emerging economies, the insurance industry can play a vital role by correctly pricing climate risks, providing quantitative estimates of risk - and, last but not least, investing in adaptation and mitigation strategies. A climate conscious insurance industry is critical to driving policies that lessen the ultimate price tag of climate change - not just the insurance costs, but the costs to economies and ecosystems as a whole.

Check out the rest of the article here. If you want to read more on the intersection of climate and insurance, take a look at Scientific American’s 'Are Insurance Companies the New Climate Ally? and the New Zealand Herald’s 'Insurance industry facing a climate of fear'.

(Image credit: Maplecroft)

3D map shows the huge solar potential of New York City rooftops

From Sustainable CUNY:

The NYC Solar Map is an interactive online tool that allows users to estimate the solar energy potential for every building in New York City’s five boroughs by inputting an address. The map also highlights existing solar installations, displays real-time solar energy production citywide, and allows users to estimate the costs, incentives, and payback period for investing in solar.

Check out the solar map here.

(Video credit: Reuters

The Arctic is the planet’s air conditioner and it’s starting to break down.

~ Eban Goodstein, resource economist at New York state’s Bard College and co-author of the report, ‘Arctic Treasure, Global Assets Melting Away.’

A recent Reuters article looking at the report points out that:

"Arctic ice melting could cost global agriculture, real estate and insurance anywhere from $2.4 trillion to $24 trillion by 2050 in damage from rising sea levels, floods and heat waves."

(Photo credit: the amazing Yann Arthus Bertrand

As we stand now, we’re only a few meters away from saying goodbye to the 2-degree target. The later we move, the more difficult it will be, especially in the United States. There is a lot of infrastructure being built, lots of power plants. The later we move, the more expensive it will be.
Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, was recently quoted in the New York Times explaining that “unless the United States, Europe, China, India and the other emerging economies get on a crash course to slash greenhouse gases… world leaders can simply forget about one of their oft-talked-about goals: stabilizing the average global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius.”