Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The new challenge: To make every day Earth Day.



  • Thanksgiving Thursday-Fast Fun Facts About Thanksgiving
  • Thanksgiving Thursday-A Lesser Known Bit Of Thanksgiving History
  • Thanksgiving Thursday-A Funky History Of Thanksgiving

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  • Weekend Video: Much More Inhofe Now
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart Talks Keystone, Politics, And Jobs
  • Weekend Video: Jon Stewart On How Keystone Opponents May Be Caught In Their Own Trap

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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge


    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here ( Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns


    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart



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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.


    Pay a visit to the HARRY BOYKOFF page at Basketball Reference, sponsored by NewEnergyNews and Oil In Their Blood.

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  • Tuesday, February 19, 2013


    Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States; Effects and Adaptation

    Walthall, Hatfield, et. al., February 2013 (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

    Executive Summary

    Key Messages

    Increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), rising temperatures, and altered precipitation patterns will affect agricultural productivity.

    Increases in temperature coupled with more variable precipitation will reduce productivity of crops, and these effects will outweigh the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide. Effects will vary among annual and perennial crops, and regions of the United States; however, all production systems will be affected to some degree by climate change. Agricultural systems depend upon reliable water sources, and the pattern and potential magnitude of precipitation changes is not well understood, thus adding considerable uncertainty to assessment efforts.

    Livestock production systems are vulnerable to temperature stresses.

    An animal’s ability to adjust its metabolic rate to cope with temperature extremes can lead to reduced productivity and in extreme cases death. Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures will also further increase production costs and productivity losses associated with all animal products, e.g., meat, eggs, and milk.

    Projections for crops and livestock production systems reveal that climate change effects over the next 25 years will be mixed.

    The continued degree of change in the climate by midcentury and beyond is expected to have overall detrimental effects on most crops and livestock.

    Climate change will exacerbate current biotic stresses on agricultural plants and animals.

    Changing pressures associated with weeds, diseases, and insect pests, together with potential changes in timing and coincidence of pollinator lifecycles, will affect growth and yields. The potential magnitude of these effects is not yet well understood. For example, while some pest insects will thrive under increasing air temperatures, warming temperatures may force others out of their current geographical ranges. Several weeds have shown a greater response to carbon dioxide relative to crops; understanding these physiological and genetic responses may help guide future enhancements to weed management.

    Agriculture is dependent on a wide range of ecosystem processes that support productivity including maintenance of soil quality and regulation of water quality and quantity.

    Multiple stressors, including climate change, increasingly compromise the ability of ecosystems to provide these services. Key near-term climate change effects on agricultural soil and water resources include the potential for increased soil erosion through extreme precipitation events, as well as regional and seasonal changes in the availability of water resources for both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture.

    The predicted higher incidence of extreme weather events will have an increasing influence on agricultural productivity.

    Extremes matter because agricultural productivity is driven largely by environmental conditions during critical threshold periods of crop and livestock development. Improved assessment of climate change effects on agricultural productivity requires greater integration of extreme events into crop and economic models.

    The vulnerability of agriculture to climatic change is strongly dependent on the responses taken by humans to moderate the effects of climate change.

    Adaptive actions within agricultural sectors are driven by perceptions of risk, direct productivity effects of climate change, and by complex changes in domestic and international markets, policies, and other institutions as they respond to those effects within the United States and worldwide. Opportunities for adaptation are shaped by the operating context within which decision-making occurs, access to effective adaptation options, and the capacity of individuals and institutions to take adaptive action as climate conditions change. Effective adaptive action across the multiple dimensions of the U.S. agricultural system offers potential to capitalize on emerging opportunities and minimize the costs associated with climate change. A climate-ready U.S. agriculture will depend on the development of geographically specific, agriculturally relevant, climate projections for the near and medium term; effective adaptation planning and assessment strategies; and soil, crop and livestock management practices that enhance agricultural production system resilience to climatic variability and extremes. Anticipated adaptation to climate change in production agriculture includes adjustments to production system inputs, tillage, crop species, crop rotations, and harvest strategies. New research and development in new crop varieties that are more resistant to drought, disease, and heat stress will increase the resilience of agronomic systems to climate change and will enable exploitation of opportunities that may arise.

    Over the last 150 years, U.S. agriculture has exhibited a remarkable capacity to adapt to a wide diversity of growing conditions amid dynamic social and economic changes.

    These adaptations were made during a period of relative climatic stability and abundant technical, financial and natural resources. Future agricultural adaptation will be undertaken in a decision environment characterized by high complexity and uncertainty driven by the sensitivity of agricultural system response to climatic variability, the complexity of interactions between the agricultural systems, non-climate stressors and the global climate system, and the increasing pace and intensity of climatic change. New approaches to managing the uncertainty associated with climate change, such as integrated assessment of climate change effects and adaptation options, the use of adaptive management and robust decision-support strategies, the integration of climate knowledge into decision making by producers, technical advisors, and agricultural research and development planning efforts, and the development of resilient agricultural production systems will help to sustain agricultural production during the 21st century.


    Agriculture in the United States produces approximately $300 billion a year in commodities with livestock accounting for roughly half the value. Production of these commodities is vulnerable to climate change through the direct (i.e., abiotic) effects of changing climate conditions on crop and livestock development and yield (e.g., changes in temperature or precipitation), as well as through the indirect (i.e., biotic) effects arising from changes in the severity of pest pressures, availability of pollination services, and performance of other ecosystem services that affect agricultural productivity. Thus, U.S. agriculture exists as a complex web of interactions between agricultural productivity, ecosystem services, and climate change.

    Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to U.S. agriculture because of the sensitivity of agricultural productivity and costs to changing climate conditions. Adaptive action offers the potential to manage the effects of climate change by altering patterns of agricultural activity to capitalize on emerging opportunities while minimizing the costs associated with negative effects. The aggregate effects of climate change will ultimately depend on a complex web of adaptive responses to local climate stressors. These adaptive responses may range from farmers adjusting planting patterns and soil management practices in response to more variable weather patterns, to seed producers investing in the development of drought-tolerant varieties, to increased demand for Federal risk management programs, to adjustments in international trade as nations respond to food security concerns. Potential adaptive behavior can occur at multiple levels in a highly diverse international agricultural system including production, consumption, education, research, services, and governance. Understanding the complexity of such interactions is critical for developing effective adaptive strategies.

    The U.S. agricultural system is expected to be fairly resilient to climate change in the short term due to the system’s flexibility to engage in adaptive behaviors such as expansion of irrigated acreage, regional shifts in acreage for specific crops, crop rotations, changes to management decisions such as choice and timing of inputs and cultivation practices, and altered trade patterns compensating for yield changes caused by changing climate patterns. By midcentury, when temperature increases are expected to exceed 1°C to 3°C and precipitation extremes intensify, yields of major U.S. crops and farm returns are projected to decline. However, the simulation studies underlying such projections often fail to incorporate production constraints caused by changes of pest pressures, ecosystem services and conditions that limit adaptation that can significantly increase production costs and yield losses…

    Extreme Events

    Climate change projections into the future suggest an increased variability of temperature and precipitation. Extreme climate conditions, such as dry spells, sustained drought, and heat waves can have large effects on crops and livestock. Although climate models are limited in their ability to accurately project the occurrence and timing of individual extreme events, emerging patterns project increased incidence of areas experiencing droughts and periods of more intense precipitation. The occurrence of very hot nights and the duration of very low (agriculturally insignificant) rainfall events are projected to increase by the end of the 21st century. The timing of extreme events relative to sensitive phenological stages could affect growth and productivity.

    Crops and livestock production will be affected by increased exposure to extreme temperature events and increased risk of exceeding the maximum temperature thresholds, potentially leading to catastrophic losses. Ruminants, including, goats, sheep, beef cattle and dairy cattle tend to be managed in more extensive outdoor facilities. Within limits, these animals can adapt to and cope with gradual thermal changes, though shifts in thermoregulation may result in a loss of productivity. Lack of prior conditioning to rapidly changing or adverse weather events, however, often results in catastrophic deaths of domestic livestock and losses of productivity by surviving animals.


    U.S. agriculture has demonstrated a remarkable adaptive capacity over the last 150 years. Crop and livestock production systems expanded across a diversity of growing conditions, responded to variations in climate and other natural resources, and to dynamic changes in agricultural knowledge, technology, markets, and, most recently, public demands for sustainable production of agricultural products. This adaptive capacity has been driven largely by public sector investment in agricultural research, development, and extension activities made during a period of climatic stability and abundant technical, financial, and natural resource availability.

    Climate change presents an unprecedented challenge to the adaptive capacity of U.S. agriculture. Current climate change effects are increasing the complexity and uncertainty of agricultural management. Projected climate changes over the next century may require major adjustments to production practices, particularly for production systems operating at their marginal limits of climate. Because agricultural systems are human-dominated ecosystems, the vulnerability of agriculture to climatic change is strongly dependent not just on the biophysical effects of climate change, but also on the responses taken by humans to moderate those effects within the United States and worldwide. Effective adaptive action undertaken by the multiple dimensions of the U.S. agricultural system offers potential for capitalizing on the opportunities presented by climate change, and minimizing the costs via avoidance or reduction of the severity of detrimental effects from changing climate.

    Vulnerability and adaptive capacity are characteristics of human and natural systems, are dynamic and multi-dimensional, and are influenced by complex interactions among social, economic, and environmental factors. Adaptive decisions are shaped by the operating context within which decision are made (for example, existing natural resource quality and non-climate stressors, government policy and programs), access to effective adaptation options, and the individual capability to take adaptive action. Adaptation strategies in use today by U.S. farmers coping with current changes in weather variability include changing cultivar selection or timing of field operations, and increased use of pesticides to control higher pest pressures. In California’s Central Valley, an adaptation plan consisting of integrated changes in crop mix, irrigation methods, fertilization practices, tillage practices, and land management was found to be the most effective approach to managing climate risk. Adaptation options for managing novel crop pest management challenges may involve increased use of pesticides, new strategies for preventing rapid evolution of pest resistance to chemical control agents, the development of new pesticide products and improved pest and disease forecasting. Adaptation options that increase the resilience of agricultural systems to increased pest pressures include crop diversification and the management of biodiversity at both field and landscape scale to suppress pest outbreaks and pathogen transmission. Given the projected effects of climate change, some U.S. agricultural systems will have to undergo more transformative changes to remain productive and profitable.

    Adaptation measures such as developing drought, pest, and heat stress resistance in crops and animals, diversifying crop rotations, integrating livestock with crop production systems, improving soil quality, minimizing off-farm flow of nutrients and pesticides, and other practices typically associated with sustainable agriculture are actions that may increase the capacity of the agricultural system to minimize the effects of climate change on productivity. For example, developing drought and heat stress resistant crops will improve the ability of farmers to cope with increasing frequencies of temperature and precipitation variability. Similarly, production practices that enhance the ability of healthy soils to regulate water resource dynamics at the farm and watershed scales will be particularly critical for the maintenance of crop and livestock productivity under conditions of variable and extreme weather events. Enhancing the resilience of agriculture to climate change through adaptation strategies that promote the development of sustainable agriculture is a common multiplebenefit recommendation for agricultural adaptation planning.

    National agricultural adaptation planning has only recently begun in the United States and elsewhere. Broad policy measures that may enhance the adaptive capacity of agriculture include strengthening climate-sensitive assets, integrating adaptation into all relevant government policies, and addressing non-climate stressors that degrade adaptive capacity. Because of the uncertainties associated with climate change effects on agriculture and the complexity of adaptation processes, adaptive management strategies that facilitate implementation and the continual evaluation and revision of adaptation strategies as climate learning proceeds will be necessary to ensure agricultural systems remain viable with climate change. Synergies between mitigation and adaptation planning are also possible through the use of coherent climate policy frameworks that link issues such as carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions, land-use change, regional water management, and the long-term sustainability of production systems.

    High adaptive capacity does not guarantee successful adaptation to climate change. Adaptation assessment and planning efforts routinely encounter conditions that limit adaptive action regardless of the adaptive capacity of the system under study. Potential constraints to adaptation can arise from ecological, social and economic conditions that are dynamic and vary greatly within and across economic sectors, communities, regions, and countries.

    Adapting agricultural systems to dramatic changes in the physical environment may be limited by social factors such as values, beliefs, or world views. Those factors can be affected by access to finance, political norms and values, and culture and religious ideologies.

    Other limits to adaptation include the availability of critical inputs such as land and water, and constraints to farm financing and credit availability. These constraints may be substantial, especially for agricultural enterprises with little available capital or those without the financial capacity to withstand increasing variability of production and returns, including catastrophic loss. Differential capacity for adaptation, together with the variable effects of climate change on yield, creates significant concerns about agricultural productivity and food security…


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