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Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Agent of the Pro-Russia Party of Regions, Charged With Conspiracy Against the United States

In digressing somewhat from the usual climate change related coverage I perform here to explore a matter of extraordinary importance to us all — I’m going to provide you with a closer look at the attempted corruption of U.S. Democracy by a foreign petro-state (Russia) and its agents. This expose is related, tangentially, to climate change in that it hints at the degree to which petro-state and related corporate actors are presently able to influence, circumvent, or corrupt the U.S. political, electoral and lawmaking system. The lengths to which such entities will go to peddle that influence. And, in the case of Manafort and Russia, an expansive effort both to hide such activities and to circumvent or undermine U.S. law and order.

Manafort, Lobbyist for Dictators, Insurgents, and Tyrants, Pushes Russian Interests in U.S. Congress

Paul Manafort has represented, consulted and lobbied for a long list of nefarious persons throughout his career. The names include Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, dictator of the former Democratic Republic of the Congo Mobutu Sese Seko, and Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi. His primary role was to peddle the influence of these various bad actors to U.S. based corporations and U.S. government. But as shady as his earlier career may appear, Manafort’s activities hit a new low during the 2000s and 2010s as Manafort worked with pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders and with agents in Moscow itself to advance Russian interests in the Ukraine and in Europe through secret attempts to shape U.S. policy.

The activities with which Manafort is now charged by the FBI in an investigation led by former FBI Director and highly decorated U.S. Veteran Robert Mueller, were specifically aimed at expanding the influence of Russia in the Ukraine and creating resistance within the top levels of American government to U.S. responses against pro-Russian activities and related aggression in that state. That Manafort is charged with secretly representing Russian interests in Ukraine through its proxy the Party of Regions, of receiving payment for those services by Ukrainian and Russian agents, by hiding those payments from the U.S. government through money laundering, and by lying and failing to report his activities as a foreign agent in the U.S.

Collusion and Conspiracy with Russia

These alleged activities, given assistance by co-conspirator Gates, occurred from 2006 to 2014 in direct support of pro-Russian political activities in Ukraine and lobbying in the U.S. to support or to block intervention against such action by Russia and its Russian sympathizers in Ukraine. False reporting to the FBI and contacts between Manafort and Russian agents extended into the period encompassing the Trump Campaign in 2016 and the Trump Presidency in 2017.

But what’s even more disturbing is there appears to have been an active attempt by Manafort to enable Russia to directly influence the Trump Campaign, to use the Trump Campaign as a funnel for Russia-sourced weaponized information against Hillary Clinton, and to otherwise enable an active campaign aimed at disrupting the U.S. election in a similar manner to Russia’s disruption of Ukrainian democracy during recent years.

From Michelle Goldberg at the New York Times:

So here’s where we are. Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.

Newly released court filings also found that while acting as Trump’s Presidential Campaign manager, Manafort asked his employee Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen, to offer a Russian Billionaire with close associations to Vladimir Putin — Oleg Deripaska — “private briefings” about the Trump campaign. Exactly the kind of Russian collusion by top Trump Campaign people that Trump himself has repeatedly denied.

Manafort and Gates, according to charges, also acted secretly within Washington as lobbyists for Yanokovich and the Party of Regions prior to Manafort chairing the Trump Campaign. During this time, they attempted to promote pro-Ukrainian policy in Congress, lobbied in opposition to sanctions against the Yanokovich and Party of Regions Government, lobbied that the elections in which Yanokovich achieved power, which were reportedly highly irregular and were disrupted by pro-Russian agents, were valid, and lobbied in support of the imprisonment of Yanokovich’s political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko.

The charges against Manafort are therefore related to the Trump Campaign in that Manafort continued to deceive U.S. investigators, hide foreign agent income, contacts, provide information about the Trump Campaign to Russian agents, seek out Russia-sourced information about Hillary Clinton, and otherwise enable a broader information warfare campaign by Russia against the U.S. while operating as a key member of that Campaign. Contacts communication, information sharing, and other forms of collusion that were still ongoing at the time and that appear to have generated a coordinated effort by Trump campaign staff and the larger Russian information warfare effort against the U.S. election.

In addition, it was widely known at the time that Manafort had represented Russia’s interests in Ukraine, though the extent was not as clear as it is today. All as Trump’s own election-based communications amplified and were amplified by the activity of Russian linked bots, accounts, and media within the U.S. A pro-Trump fomentation of internal U.S. divisions information warfare campaign by Russia that continues within the U.S. to this day.

Trump Campaign Aide George Papadopoulos Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI About Attempts to Gain Russian Dirt on Hillary Clinton

The charges against Manafort and his assistant Gates come in conjunction with a guilty plea to charges of lying to the FBI by Trump Foreign Policy aide George Papadopoulos. From NYMag:

According to a newly unsealed affidavit, in late April 2016 George Papadopoulos met an unnamed professor in London, who told the Trump campaign adviser that he had “just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials” — and learned that “the Russians had emails of Clinton … thousands of emails…”

Weeks after Papadopoulos’s rendez-vous in London, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner took a meeting with Russian lobbyists on the understanding that the Kremlin wished to provide the Trump campaign with “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” — as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor and oil consultant named by Trump as one of his key advisors during the campaign, has been accused of lying about his activities in seeking Russia-sourced information about Hillary Clinton’s emails from a Putin-linked professor during the Campaign. He has pleaded guilty to those charges and is reportedly working with the FBI on the case of Trump Campaign collusion with Russia. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to the numerous charges filed against them.

Many experts expect today’s announced indictments to be the first of many against members of the Trump Campaign for collusion with Russia. And the heaviest charges have now risen to the level of conspiracy against the United States.

Never Before Has a Campaign Manager of a Sitting President Faced Such Charges

This event is unprecedented in that a former campaign chair of a sitting U.S. President has never been charged with conspiring with a hostile power against the government of the U.S. A historic event that will add to the already dark infamy of the Republican Party. To be very clear, adding Manafort as campaign chair, at the very least, represents a massive failure of judgement on the part of Trump himself. But, it is more than possible, given Trump’s efforts to actively distract from, sabotage, and obstruct the Mueller Investigation and related Congressional investigations, that the Manafort apple here doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

(UPDATED)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Hat tip to Wili

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Whitefish Puerto Rico Contract Cancelled, Now How About Letting Renewable Industry Leaders Step in?

At this blog I often cover how climate change is worsening the global weather situation. How fossil fuel burning is the primary cause of climate change. How renewable energy adoption is the primary means for removing global carbon emissions. And how bad, on our present track, climate change outcomes could become.

What I often do not talk about in main posts (though we see quite a bit in the comments section) is how underlying factors such as political corruption and the ideologies supportiing that corruption can harm effective responses to climate change.

Witness Puerto Rico. A U.S. territory that has suffered a very severe blow from one of the worst hurricanes ever to make landfall in the Caribbean. A storm fed by the warming waters of human caused climate change which were, in turn, fed by a rampant and harmful climate change denial afflicting a number of our powerful political leaders.

There, electricity has now been largely knocked out for more than a month. U.S. Citizens have been forced to go without water, power, and basic life-saving medical services. The Trump Administration’s response to the disaster could best be described as incompetent. More incompetent than the Bush Administration during Katrina. And that’s being generous.

Though people died during the storm, a far more substantial death toll is emerging due to the Administration’s lagging response. With 900 people now estimated to have perished as a result of life-threatening conditions due to a loss of infrastructure and due to Trump’s larger failure to rapidly deploy a necessary massive relief and restoration effort.

If this spiraling situation wasn’t bad enough, Trump Administration incompetence has been followed on by allegations of corruption. The most glaring example comes in the form of a recently cancelled 300 million dollar contract with Whitefish to restore power on Puerto Rico — a small contracting firm reported to have only two permanent employees, links to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and whose larger investors are known Trump donors.

Due to the fact that this contract appeared to contain a number of conflicts of interest that looked like a ‘pay for play’ arrangement, and due to concerns over a privatized grab for control of Puerto Rico’s energy grid, both Republican and Democratic leaders have called for an investigation into the power repair contract. FEMA had also flagged the contract for potential problems. Meanwhile, review of the contract has found a number of cases that could best be construed as over-charging. According to NPR:

Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor. The contract shows those labor rates are pricey indeed: $240 an hour for a general foreman and $227 for a lineman. The per diems are also expensive: almost $80 a day for meals, and $332 a day for lodging. Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way. For subcontractors, the bulk of Whitefish’s workforce, the prices go even higher. A general foreman costs $336 an hour and a lineman, $319.

The combined allegations of corruption, overcharging, and various links to the Trump Administration are all hallmarks of vulture disaster capitalism — where private firms exploit government contracts following disasters or military conflict to bilk exorbitant sums from the government (and by extension the taxpayer) while providing only standard or substandard service. Such exploitation comes along with a policy push for privatization of previously provided government services. And there was serious concern that the Whitefish contract would result in just such a privatized electrical grid in Puerto Rico following over-charging and possible shoddy work.

Today, amid rising scandal, both Puerto Rico’s governor and the mayor of San Juan called for the cancellation of the Whitefish contract. Work already started by Whitefish will be completed — this includes refurbishing two major power lines. But the contract is expected to be awarded to a less shady agency going forward. San Juan’s mayor, on AM Joy today called for work to be led by companies like Tesla or Southern California Edison — both of which have substantial experience with both grids and renewables.

Tesla, for its own part, restored power for a children’s hospital by providing solar + power packs without any incentive. The renewable energy company has become increasingly involved in building power systems for islands and helping to stabilize grids through its renewables based energy storage. Tesla played a pivotal role in providing solar+battery based power for the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It has also worked with Australia to provide batteries to assist in grid stabilization activities.

Given Tesla’s long track record and due to the fact that Tesla workers were already on the ground helping Puerto Ricans, it was a no-brainer add this company to a mixed list of experienced corps in assisting the power restoration effort. In addition, renewable energy systems like those provided by Tesla help to mitigate the root causes of the climate change related extreme weather that has so terribly damaged Puerto Rico — putting of the U.S. citizens there in danger. A fact that was obviously missing in the decision to hire Whitefish — a company with practically zero renewable energy chops.

And it is here that we need to return to the basic problem that arises from having climate change deniers as leaders in government. First, such politicians tend to favor contracts by fossil fuel companies, or worse, by shady firms like Whitefish. They also tend to be ideologically opposed to actual functional government — which leads to harmful privatization, related over-charging, and exploitation following disasters. In other words, such ideologues on the right leave wide open the door to corruption by establishing links with shady corporations. Finally, they tend to block more upstanding corporate players like Southern California Edison and Tesla who have a track record for building public utilities up by establishing solid renewable energy systems rather than by tearing them down by seeking to ram through fossil fuel linked privatization.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Wili

 

A Bit More Like a Perfect Storm — Hurricane Force Wind Gusts, Record Low Pressure, Potential Record Rainfall on Tap for Northern New England

An area of disturbed weather in the Caribbean has now organized into tropical storm Philippe and is likely to continue to intensify as it moves north and east over Cuba to skirt Southern Florida this afternoon. The storm is then expected to race northward off the Eastern Seaboard — rapidly intensifying as it transitions to extra-tropical by Monday.

This rapid intensification will be fueled by a combination of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures off the U.S. East Coast and by the tropical system’s collision with a colder and very deep trough sweeping down from the north. The interaction of trough, storm, and warmer than normal surface water is predicted to generate some record-breaking extreme weather for the U.S. Northeast by Sunday through Monday.

Record-Breaking Nor’Easter on Tap

Present weather model forecasts now call for a stronger storm than was predicted yesterday. The primary low pressure cell associated with the storm is now expected to hit pressures in the range of 975 to 965 mb as it cartwheels off New Jersey and New York and makes landfall somewhere between Rhode Island and Coastal Maine. Such pressures would substantially break past records for lowest pressure in a Northern New England storm during late October. Sandy featured lower pressures as it roared into New York. But the present storm track brings a record intensity storm further north than Sandy.

(A 968 mb storm making landfall in Northern New England on Monday would be a record event for October. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

As this hybrid storm rockets in from the much warmer than normal ocean, it is expected to bring with it hurricane force wind gusts and extreme one day rainfall amounts for the region. Weather models now show that sustained winds may exceed 60 mph for the New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine coasts. Meanwhile some models are indicating hurricane force gusts of up to 92 mph or higher for the region. Rainfall totals over a rather short time period are also expected to exceed 4 inches over a broad area stretching deep into New York state. It’s worth noting that the system will inject unseasonably warm air into Northern New England. So most of the precipitation associated with the storm is presently expected to fall as rain.

The storm’s associated powerful winds will likely drive a stronger than usual storm surge for a Nor’Easter into coastal areas — with flooding more reminiscent of that of a moderate hurricane. We could also see electricity knocked out for more than a million residents as this potentially record-breaking system moves in.

(Model predictions show the possiblity for wind gusts of up to 92 mph in extreme developing Nor’Easter expected to impact New England on Sunday and Monday. Winds more typical of a hurricane than your usual coastal storm. It’s worth noting that the Euro Model has come up with some quite extraordinary wind gust conditions ranging from 111 mph to 129 mph in the highest range models. Consensus models appear to be indicating a somewhat milder, but still very strong, storm.)

Climate Change Related Influences Results in Unusual Storm

We should also note that the moisture feed bleeding into this particular storm is quite intense. And as with other recent events we could see projected rainfall totals exceeded. This due to a heavier atmospheric moisture load and related intense convection associated with atmospheric temperatures that are now, on average, 1 to 1.2 C warmer than late 19th Century temperatures. And such warmer temperatures, set off primarily by human fossil fuel burning, are now increasing the peak intensity of extreme rainfall events.

As noted in yesterday’s post, the factors involved in the present Nor’Easter are rather odd when considering past contexts. For one, winds will tend to blow from the south. This is indicative of a somewhat off-kilter track when compared to a typical Nor’Easter. In addition, various climate change associated elements like the high amplitude trough related to polar warming, the joining of tropical weather with Arctic-originating weather to generate an overall more intense storm, an enhanced overall convection and related increased winds and rainfall rates, and the fuel provided by warmer than normal sea surface temperatures are all factors related to human-caused climate change.

(UPDATED)

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Tropical Tidbits

NOAA

Weather Underground

Model Data

Sandy-Like Situation Developing? Tropical System to Merge With Potential Record-Breaking Nor’Easter by Sunday.

It’s not yet predicted to be a so-called perfect storm. But a Sandy-like situation appears to be on tap for the U.S. Northeast this weekend. For the forecast weather coming down the pipe bears a distinctly odd combination of features similar to the climate change related hybrid hyperstorms we’ve seen during recent years. To be clear, the presently predicted hybrid storm is not expected to be as intensely ‘perfect’ as Sandy. But it could still be a record-breaker for parts of the Northeast with regards to October rainfall and minimum central pressure come Sunday.

Tropical System Predicted to Combine with a Nor’Easter

93 L isn’t even a tropical depression yet. But this stormy collection of clouds southeast of the Yucatan continues to gather and organize over warmer than normal waters. At this time, development into a tropical system appears more likely — with the National Hurricane Center predicting a 60 percent chance of storm development over the next 24 hours.

(93 L becomes more organized Southeast of the Yucatan on Friday. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

To the north, a very deep trough is poised to plunge down over the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Another one of those high amplitude Jet Stream waves born of conditions related to a warming Arctic. And all across the storm’s projected path sea surface temperatures range between 1 and 4 degrees Celsius above the climatological average.

By Sunday, 93 L is predicted to be funneling into the southern section of this trough just east of Florida. Present model runs show the tropical storm transferring its warm energy northward into a low along the Arctic-originating frontal system over these warmer than normal waters — with potentially extreme results.

(Northern New England doesn’t have a record of a storm with pressures lower than 980 mb during late October. The present storm could intensify to pressures lower than 980 mb as it crosses over this region late Sunday — setting a new record. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Forecasts are presently calling for one day rainfall amounts that could break records for New England. A swath from New Jersey through Eastern New York and western Maine could see between 2 and 8 inches of rainfall in a very short period. Meanwhile, atmospheric pressures could drop to near or below 980 mb as the storm moves north — a measure below 980 would be a new record for Southern New England in October (Sandy hit lower pressures during its Oct 29 New York landfall in 2012).

This is a climate change related movie that we’ve seen before. One that is, thankfully, predicted to be a bit less intense than Sandy this time. That said, those along the U.S. East Coast should keep a keen weather eye out as Arctic air moves over these warmer than normal waters and wraps in an energetic tropical system when the trough plunges south. Moist tropical air colliding with this Arctic mass over these warm, wet waters will create the potential to generate a powerful temperature and moisture dipole in a lifting atmosphere that could well cause this predicted storm to swiftly explode to record-shattering intensity.

RELATED STATEMENTS, UPDATES, AND INFORMATION:

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

New England May Get Record-Setting October Storm

Tropical Tidbits

Earth Nullschool

Hundreds of Billions of Dollars in Damages, ‘Toasted, Roasted, and Grilled’ — That’s What Trump’s Refusal to Support the Paris Climate Agreement Gets Us

So far, in the past three months, we’ve had four major U.S. disasters whose impacts we can certainly say were made worse by human caused climate change.

The costs from these disasters to U.S. society and, in the end, to citizens and taxpayers is tremendous. Thousands of people have lost their homes. Irreplaceable lives were forever stripped from us. Many have lost access to work and livelihoods. And in the case of Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people have been thrust back into what amounts to a modern rendition of the dark ages.

(A satellite image of the burn scar left following the North Bay fires. Human-caused climate change is a primary enabler for these kinds of disasters. Image source: NASA.)

As a measure of money alone and leaving aside the untold human misery, hurricane Harvey may ultimately cost the U.S. $180 billion, Irma may cost the U.S. $65 billion, and Maria may ultimately cost the U.S. as much as $100 billion. Adding in the $85 billion dollar damage estimate for the devastating California wildfires which were also made worse by climate change, and the total cost to U.S. society from these four disasters alone may top $430 billion.

Sitting at 1 to 1.2 C warming and staring down the barrel of 2-4 C or greater warming this Century, we can definitely say that these kinds of disasters are going to get worse. That we need to be both aware and prepared. And that we need to do our best to limit future damages to more manageable levels by working as hard as we can to reduce the climate disaster enabling greenhouse gas emissions. The world agreed to such limits at Paris. And yet it is a mark of consequential irrationality amounting to massive and indiscriminate inflicted harm that the Trump Administration has forced us to withdraw from this noble and moral compact.

A basic fact that hasn’t been lost on Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund, who wrote today in The Guardian that if the world fails to take steps to reduce climate change, we will be ‘toasted, roasted, and grilled.’ Lagarde warned of a dark, dystopian future if major nations fail in their moral responsibility to address climate change — citing the fact that the Trump Administration in the U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Summit. A global commitment to more rapidly reduce greenhouse gasses that Nicaragua recently joined leaving the U.S. only accompanied by Syria as inauspicious non-signatories.

A federal U.S. policy blind to the impacts of climate change under Trump is far from immune to its slings and arrows, as we’ve found so tragically this summer and fall. And underlying this fact is that an unaffiliated Government Accounting Office (GAO) report from Trump’s own government recently found that climate change related extreme weather and other related damages have topped $350 billion over the past decade. A number likely to significantly increase once recent events are also tallied. A number that will be dwarfed by future events if fossil fuel burning related carbon emissions continue to hit the atmosphere at their geologically unprecedented rate of more than ten billion tons each year.

The report took two years to compile at the bipartisan requests of Susan Collins of Maine (R) and Maria Cantwell of Washington (D). Ms Cantwell noted to the New York Times that the report is:

“basically telling us that this is costing us a lot of money...We need to understand that as stewards of the taxpayer that climate is a fiscal issue, and the fact that it’s having this big a fiscal impact on our federal budget needs to be dealt with.”

The report identified wide-ranging climate change related impacts coming from hurricanes, wildfires, sea level rise and damages to crops. Impacts that do not discriminate between political affiliation or level of income. However, it is notable that the U.S. Southeast, a traditional republican stronghold, is one of the regions the report identifies as likely to experience the some of the most severe and damaging impacts related to climate change.

Failure to provide significant national and international policy to address climate change, in Trump, is not only a failure to recognize basic scientific fact. It is not only putting the U.S. in a less competitive position economically with regards to renewables. And it is not only making the U.S. more vulnerable to the powerful storms and severe weather events such failures contribute to. It is also a dramatic failure of basic fiscal responsibility that will have an equally dramatic and long-last impact on deficits, budgets, taxes and ultimately incomes for years and decades to come.

Links:

New York Times — Climate Change Costs

Climate Change is Already Costing the U.S. Taxpayer Billions of Dollars

We Will Be Toasted and Roasted and Grilled

NASA

Hat tip to Abel

Hat tip to Suzanne

Watts Up With Renewables? According to IEA, About a Thousand Billion More in Capacity by 2022

The big word around the block is that solar is presently changing the global energy game — and rapidly.

The major driver of this global sea change is presently China. But it appears that India is also about to play a substantial role. The U.S., depending on the policy choices of the Trump Administration, can remain a renewable energy leader or turn into a laggard. It all just depends on the whims of a man who has shown a quixotic propensity for pushing terrible policies and then, somehow, self-sabotaging at least half of them.

(Many locations around the world are rapidly transitioning to renewable energy. The destructive impacts of human caused climate change may well serve to speed that process as we see here with Tesla providing solar power generation to Puerto Rico hospitals following the terrible impacts of Hurricane Maria.)

Back to China, the country now holds about 110 billion watts (gigawatts) of annual practical solar panel manufacturing capacity. This is about 66 percent of the world total. From this capacity, it appears that China will itself add around 50 gigawatts of installed solar this year alone — pushing the cumulative to around 125 to 130 gigawatts by year end. China had already, as of September, added 34 gigawatts during 2017 with an overall installed generation capacity at 111 Gigawatts as of about a month ago.

Such a massive add by China will likely drive global new solar capacity in 2017 to around 80 to 100 gigawatts. Add in wind and hydro and that high number probably hits close to 150 billion watts in just one year.

The massive new solar additions are now helping renewables to swamp dirty energy sources like coal and somewhat less dirty though still very carbon intensive sources like gas. This remarkable achievement is primarily due to the fact that solar is now presently cost competitive with these older, more traditional energy sources. And the price of solar energy worldwide is expected to continue to fall over the coming years. According to a recent report — by a further 60 percent within the next decade.

Major energy think tanks are starting to take notice. And it is on the basis of solar, wind, and hydro’s relative economic strengths due to growing price advantages (particularly for solar), that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted a 1,000 gigawatt addition of new renewable energy sources through 2022. Such an addition, in just five years, according to IEA’s Dr Fatih Birol, would amount to “half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build.” The agency also notes that renewable capacity additions will effectively double additions from sources like gas and coal.

(New study shows the cost of solar will fall by another 60 percent over the next ten years.)

IEA recognizes that China, the U.S. and India will be primary drivers of this large renewable energy gain. Though the agency points out that detrimental U.S. policy choices could put a damper on renewable energy additions in that key market. However, IEA also notes that more positive policy choices by China, India, the U.S. and others could result in a more than doubling of the new capacity add for renewables to 2,155 GW. Such policies not only result in major renewable energy growth. They would also produce wholesale replacement of fossil fuel and carbon emissions based power sources. A considerable boon to the global climate.

Even IEA’s base five year scenario shows renewable electrical power generation growing to compose 30 percent of the global market. This up from 26 percent during 2016. Though still not as high a percentage as coal, IEA predicts that renewables will make up half the difference with that dirtiest of power sources by 2022.

(With atmospheric CO2 levels likely to hit between 411 and 412 parts per million by May of 2018, global carbon emissions cuts due to fossil fuel energy replacement by renewables couldn’t come sooner. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

IEA also predicts that power consumption from electrical vehicles will double from now to 2022. A somewhat conservative estimate considering the fact that the number of EVs on the road will likely double by 2019 to 2020 and that battery sizes for EVs are rapidly growing. IEA’s more conservative base scenario projection continues in that it sees renewables’ contribution to transportation energy sources only growing from 4 to 5 percent by 2022.

Taking this analysis a step further and applying it to the potential for global carbon emissions reductions we should point out that renewables taking up a larger portion of both power generation and transportation through 2022 will present an opportunity to start bending the carbon curve downward. The adoption range in which renewables begin to replace fossil fuels at a rapid enough pace to strongly impact global carbon emissions is 150 to 250 GW added per year + a net replacement of the fossil fuel based transportation fleets with EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles. Given IEA’s forecast, it appears that there’s a decent likelihood that this will happen over then next five years — barring any major numb-skullery by the present U.S. President and his sometimes-enabling fellow republicans in the U.S. Congress.

Fire Danger Again Rises Across California; Number of Structures Lost in Northern Blazes Increases to 8,400

A California still reeling from the devastating impact of wildfires worsened by human-caused climate change just can’t get a break.

An army of 5,000 firefighters presently remain engaged in attempting to contain the large wildfires that are now unarguably the most destructive in California history. As with the recently very extreme hurricanes, we are still tallying the damage estimates.  And the results are pretty stark. 100,000 of our fellow Americans have been displaced. The loss of souls has risen to 42. In total, 8,400 structures including thousands of homes, have been burned to the ground.

Already, this disaster is yet another in the billion-dollar-class of climate incidents. Now numbering 4 in just the past three months with total estimated losses from the fires ranging from 1 to 3 billion dollars. Unfortunately, this devastating toll is likely to climb as further tallies come in.

(Hottest World Series on record amid severe fire risk.)

Presently, the remaining fires still burning are between 79 and 97 percent contained — according to the most recent report from the National Interagency Fire Center. However, temperatures rising into the upper 90s and lower to middle 100s across the state coupled with strong Santa Ana winds are again increasing fire risk. An elevated fire hazard that expected to persist through Wednesday.

In Los Angeles, red flag parking restrictions have been put in place to enable emergency vehicles to rapidly navigate narrow streets in the event of a new fire start requiring rapid attention. And in the south, numerous small brush fires have already been reported. Thankfully, these have not risen to the rapidly expanding extent or intensity of the northern fires over the past couple of weeks. But concerns, given recent events, remain very high.

(Very hot fall temperatures, Santa Ana winds are again predicted across southern and western sections of California today. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Warming global temperatures in the range of 1 to 1.2 C above 1880s averages are now starting to have a profound impact on the hydrological cycle, storms, and related rates of precipitation and evaporation. In California, increasingly extreme weather in the form of more intense and rapidly forming heatwaves and droughts, and precipitation coming more as heavy rainfall events increases fire risk. This, together with the general impact of warming which moves climate zones faster than trees can follow or adapt and that increases the prevalence of invasive species harmful to trees, has increased the incidence of large fires throughout the U.S. West.

We are now in a situation where fires can threaten entire cities (the devastating fire that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray in Canada was finally declared extinguished during September of 2017 after burning for a year and three months) and where the total number of structures lost can rival the size of a town. This is a terrible impact and hazard for those living in the western and northwestern region. One that did not exist at the level or frequency we see today. And though other factors also contribute — such as increasing encroachment of settlements on wooded areas — the primary factor increasing fire intensity, size, and expanding the length of fire season is human-caused climate change.

The only way we can get a handle on this rising risk is to mitigate and remove the causes of climate change. And that involves working together as a nation to switch the kinds of energy we use to non carbon emitting sources like solar and wind and reducing other harmful practices that emit carbon into our atmosphere.

Links:

Red Flag Parking Restrictions in Effect in LA

Fire Loss Surges to 8,400 Structures in Northern California

California Wildfire Damage Estimates Top $3 Billion

National Interagency Fire Center

Red Flag Warning: Southland Brush Fires

GISS Temperature Data

Devastating Fort McMurray Wildfire Declared out 15 Months Later

Earth Nullschool

Narragansett Bay is Being Impacted by Climate Change; Scott Pruitt’s EPA Says Scientists Can’t Talk About it

Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier who was tapped to head the EPA by a similarly myopic Trump Administration now appears to be wielding the powers of that government agency to suppress the voices of climate scientists.

A report out of the New York Times yesterday found that three scientists scheduled to discuss the impacts of human-caused climate change on the sensitive environment of Narragansett Bay were barred from speaking in a panel discussion today. The scientists are employees of the EPA and contributors to a 400 page report on the health of Narragansett Bay. The study found numerous climate change related impacts to the Bay region — which is a vital economic resource and home to more than 2 million people.

The study found that:

“Climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and fish in the Narragansett Bay region.”

The EPA, presently headed by Scott Pruitt, gave no reason why the scientists were barred from sharing their climate change related findings at the panel. An agency charged with protecting the clean air and water of the United States, the EPA has likely never housed an administrator so at odds with its institutional mission. Pruitt has opposed numerous agency actions and has worked throughout his career to undermine both the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Laws that aim to protect American citizens and wildlife from the harmful health impacts of polluted water and damaging particulates in the air.

Pruitt has also received criticism recently for spending $25,000 for a sound proof booth to mask his communications with who knows who, using considerable government funds to pay for round-the-clock personal security, and individually spending more than $58,000 for private charter jet flights.

(Scott Pruitt’s numerous ties to climate change denial and fossil fuel industries. Image source: Desmogblog.)

Pruitt was also one of a number of lawyers who directly challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses in an effort to protect the U.S. from the harmful impacts of climate change during the Obama Administration. Pruitt has received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and is the direct beneficiary of strong political support from climate change denial promoting agencies like the Heartland Institute.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) stated his opposition to this week’s nonsensical censoring of EPA funded scientists stating:

“Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets and the EPA won’t let its scientists talk with local leaders to plan for its future. Whatever you think about climate change, this kind of collaboration should be a no-brainer. Muzzling our leading scientists benefits no one.”

Links:

EPA Cancels Talk on Climate Change by Agency Scientists

Furor Erupts over EPA Decision to Pull Scientists From Panel Discussion

Desmogblog

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Tesla Under Fire as Renewables Rise: China, Consumer Reports, and the Ailing ICE Industry

With major renewable energy and automotive media now obsessed with the success or failure of Tesla’s zero emissions Model 3, it’s helpful to understand the larger context in which a monumental conflict between an old, mostly dirty industry and new clean energy players is occurring. To this particular point, we should take the opportunity to step back for a moment from the day-to-day minutiae of business activities and related media campaigns to ask this single essential question:

In the present day’s ever-worsening and warming climate, what does a wise, forward-looking national energy policy look like?

Such a question may seem out of context until one considers the fact that the object of so much media and industry drama — Tesla — operates in what can best be described as a conflicted policy environment. In the U.S., Tesla enjoys a dwindling subsidy in the form of tax breaks going to purchasers of zero highway emissions electric vehicles (EVs). This subsidy was intended to incentivize zero emission vehicle adoption and thus enable the numerous health and environmental benefits that would result from taking more polluting automobiles off the road.

(One of Tesla’s main advantages has always been aspirational vision. Part of that vision involves a systemic approach to clean energy production. In one example, Tesla not only produces electrical vehicles, it owns a large and expanding global EV charging infrastructure. The future is electric and Tesla is vertically integrated.)

Such a subsidy also pushes for the replacement, ultimately en-masse, of dirtier vehicles upon which an old and thus more easy to profit from industry presently relies. And in Western democracies, this looming replacement has resulted in a number of political and media firestorms as the old industry tries to delay or deny the pathway for new energy leaders like Tesla. These old industry players — ranging from traditional automakers to fossil fuel behemoths — have managed to place barriers to electrical vehicle adoption in many regions. The upshot is a kind of energy policy (and related media) gridlock where the old industry attempts to hamstring the new, aspirational, more helpful industry at every possible turn.

In this very serious game with ultimately extraordinary consequences for everyone living on the planet, this increasingly polarized policy posture results in serious delays of an essential energy transition. It also leaves wide open the door for outside competitors to take advantage of what can well be described as western balking and intransigence at a critical moment in global history.

China’s Drive for Global Energy Leadership

For a China observing a West consumed by in-fighting and division over energy and climate futures, wise policy involves a rapid move to cut coal burning and shift to becoming a global renewable energy leader. To do this, China has funneled billions of dollars of aid and incentives to solar production, to battery production, and to electrical vehicle manufacturing. It has protected these markets, which it invests heavily in, by both tariffs and trade laws. Some of these laws encourage the transfer of technical knowledge to local companies by requiring foreign companies wishing to produce EVs on Chinese soil to partner with indigenous industry and share information.

For China, these policies are not simply altruistic. Though they will result in considerably less greenhouse gas emissions on net and help to drive the world to reduce harms from both air pollution and climate change, they are also aimed at global energy leadership and, perhaps, dominance. They grant China both moral authority and economic might that leverages the powerful economies of scale a massive manufacturing base provides. Such clear-focused policies aimed directly at both moral and strategic energy goals are largely lacking in the polarized West. And this consistent organization and follow-through produces a growing moral and economic advantage for China. For the prize of renewable energy leadership or dominance is huge — ranging in the trillions of dollars.

(China leaving the U.S. behind on green energy. This is largely and ironically due to increasingly backward climate policy promoted by the Trump Administration.)

In the global solar industry, such renewable energy focused polices have resulted in the majority of world solar manufacturing being housed in China. This development, in turn, has produced a considerable price advantage for solar panels manufactured by large Chinese facilities that can leverage expanding economies of scale.

In the U.S., this advantage has produced a flood of cheap solar panels coming from foreign shores. Such a flood helped to enable the building of a massive industry that now directly employs more than 370,000 people — which is about seven times the number of people employed by the coal industry and about double those employed in the oil, gas, and coal based electricity generation industry combined. But cheap Chinese imports have also put a big dent in direct solar manufacturing in the states. In reaction, we are now seeing a trade case that will have far-reaching impacts on the U.S. solar industry presented to the unwise and irrational Trump Administration. And it is, perhaps, the irony of all ironies that a Chinese solar manufacturer operating on American shores was one of the key plaintiffs in a case that could dramatically undercut solar adoption rates while also removing thousands of renewable energy related jobs if handled poorly.

Though China’s solar industry is well ahead, its related electrical vehicle industry is rapidly catching up. Last month (September of 2017), fully 59,000 electrical vehicles sold in China. This represents about half of all electrical vehicles sold across the world during that month. It is 80 percent more EVs than were sold in China during September of 2016. So far in 2017, 338,000 EVs have sold in China, which is a 48 percent growth year-on-year. Globally, due in part to these considerable advancements by China, it is likely that total EV sales will well exceed the 1 million mark for the first time with growth into 2018 easily likely to exceed 50 percent.

Tesla as Global Gadfly vs Ailing ICE Industry

And here we return, at last, to Tesla and its imminently controversial Model 3. For what China is doing on a massive national scale, Tesla is attempting to do through business and related capital investment alone. Tesla is a renewable energy only company — offering battery storage for clean power systems, electrical vehicles, and solar panels. And it is presently the only large western automobile and energy company to operate under an all-renewable products banner.

Tesla’s mission from jump was to attempt to spur widespread electrical vehicle production and a related renewable energy revolution. To disrupt the automobile market enough to spur the entry of serious competitors and to, through such competitive incentive, drive a global industry sea change. And the Model 3 was at the center of Tesla’s plans.

Tesla’s successful Model S and X were intended, in other words, to enable Tesla to mass produce a high-quality, lower cost, long-range electrical vehicle that, by itself, would be capable of selling 200,000 to 500,000 units or more per year. This vehicle, in turn, was meant to help Tesla produce an even lower cost, high quality EV that would be capable of selling even more.

Looking at numbers alone, it is difficult to conceptualize what such sales would mean for the global automobile industry. But digging a bit further, we find that the Model 3 represents a serious threat to a large lower-end luxury and sport vehicle market presently dominated by major ICE automakers such as GM, Audi, Porsche, Volvo, Mercedes, Jaguar, Toyota, and BMW. IF the Model 3 achieves its sales goals, well-selling vehicles like BMW’s 3 series or the Audi A3 or A4 could be decimated. Such automakers would be largely forced to react by producing high quality EVs to compete with the Model 3 and hopefully blunt some of its impact on traditional auto industry profits. Which is exactly what is now happening as we see Chevy’s Bolt, an up-ranged Nissan Leaf, and numerous other higher-quality, longer-range, lower-priced EVs on the way or already on the market.

ICE Industry Critics 

So even without large Model 3 production, Tesla has already played a major role in forcing traditional fossil fuel based automakers to react. However, the success of the Model 3 is of key importance to the speed of market transition. A less successful Model 3, for example, would take the pressure off traditional automakers — perhaps allowing room for backsliding and ICE market retrenchment. A more successful Model 3 would force more rapid responses — goading automakers not just to produce compliance EVs, but high-quality EVs capable of competing with what is likely to be an amazing vehicle on all counts.

Considering these very high stakes, it is easy to understand the present media hyper-focus on the Model 3 production ramp. And it is also easier to comprehend the cause of an emerging public war of words between major traditional auto industry stake holders and Tesla. For in the past six months we have seen CEOs from GM, Volkswagen, and others decry, mis-characterize, or otherwise seek to blunt support for Tesla’s rise.

Conflicts with Workers

Tesla, like any other company, is staffed by human beings possessed of various human limitations. And in its Herculean push for rapid expansion, Tesla is also likely driving these employees rather hard. So we would be remiss not to illuminate the sacrifices, conflicts, and casualties that are often produced in the quest to achieve lofty goals.

Musk himself operates under a puritan work ethic in which his observed or reported work encompasses 60-100 hours per week. An example which he appears to expect his employees to emulate. Given his company’s aspirational aims and the stakes involved, this serious drive is understandable. However, such an extreme work ethic has clashed with the values of U.S. unions who attempt to protect employees from over-work and all the risks of injury such a higher stress work environment entails.

This is one reason for the growing friction between Tesla and some of its employees. It is also worth noting that the UAW, which is attempting to organize workers at Tesla plants, is a political organization with deep-seated ties to the traditional ICE manufacturing structure in the U.S. So it’s also possible that motivations for union opposition to Tesla may exceed those of a traditional workplace conflict with management. One would hope, in an ideal world, that UAW workers would share the aspirational goals aimed at speeding advancement of clean energy and transportation systems while differing with Tesla management workplace practices. However, institutional knowledge of workers is presently more largely tied to the fossil fuel based vehicle production chain. And such ties represent a higher likelihood of producing traditional industry biases that are difficult to overcome.

In the absence of government leadership and communication addressing both fair workplace practices and a larger recognition of the need to re-train workers steeped in a systemic ICE production tradition, such an interests-based-conflict is probably unavoidable. And it appears that we are seeing it emerge now with the hard-charging Tesla. Such a systemic conflict with traditional institutions within the U.S. may well be just one more reason why Tesla is now planning to build a large manufacturing facility in more institutionally EV-friendly Shanghai, despite facing high tariff barriers on vehicles built there for the Chinese market.

Consumer Reports

Assaulted by traditional automakers, a large and vocal subset of institutionally biased fossil fuel based investors, and embroiled in an escalating conflict with factory workers in the U.S. while attempting to achieve aspirational and ultimately helpful goals, it is understandable why Tesla executives might feel emotionally raw when reading daily news and market reports. To these executives and to company leader Elon Musk, it is, indeed, understandable that they would feel at least some of the cards have been stacked unfairly against Tesla’s needed success.

So when Consumer Reports last week issued an expected ‘average’ reliability rating for the otherwise fantastically reviewed Model 3, it is also understandable why Tesla executives reacted with criticism of the major consumer watch-dog agency.

Overall, Consumer Reports ratings of Tesla vehicles have been mixed. The Model S, for example, received glowing ratings. The Model X, troubled at times by the complexity of its falcon wing doors, has received somewhat more qualified ratings. It is worth noting that both vehicles maintain the advantages of a drive train that is basically an order of magnitude more reliable than a traditional ICE and first in class Tesla acceleration and top-notch handling. So Model X critiques are primarily due to body design elements as reported by Consumer Reports.

That said, some EV owners have criticized Consumer Reports for what they perceive as reviews of the Model X and other EVs that do not take into account inherent EV benefits. Consumer Reports, for example, had reportedly issued a somewhat negative review of the low-cost Mitsubishi MiEV. But it is worth noting that Consumer Reports has also provided a glowing review of the Chevy Bolt EV which the agency has given top reliability ratings. So it’s unreasonable to say that Consumer Reports trashes all EVs.

Returning to the Model 3, the Consumer watchdog agency, which has yet to actually get its hands on a Model 3 for an actual review, has noted that it issued its forecast in the understanding that first model year vehicles tend to be somewhat less reliable as production kinks are addressed. Such a forecast can be chalked up to informed speculation by an expert agency that, though authoritative, is not infallible. But given the massive barrage by traditional fossil fuel industry and ICE supporters against Tesla in the Model 3 production ramp up, it is understandable why Tesla execs might be miffed by a less than stellar, if speculative, Consumer Reports announcement.

The Model 3 Tsunami is Still Coming

Despite Tesla taking so much fire and sometimes apparently over-reacting, every indication points toward a tsunami of high quality Model 3s still coming — if, perhaps, a bit slower than many of us had hoped. Production has continued to ramp up through September, though on a slower ramp than initially targeted. Meanwhile, Tesla has presently filed for VIN numbers up to 2,136 as of last week.

As we learned a couple of weeks ago, VIN numbers are not a reliable indicator of present Tesla production. However, it is still an indicator of expected production. So it appears that Musk’s Tesla is continuing to navigate Model 3 production difficulties in a highly challenging environment for the new company. Speculative reports have indicated that Tesla may be having difficulty with both parts suppliers and high speed welds for its new production of a steel-based vehicle (past vehicles were made from aluminum or other materials).

That said, even on a slower ramp, Tesla appears likely to produce at least 3,000 Model 3s by year end and in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 or more of the highly-sought-after vehicle during 2018. This expected 2018 production is still 4-8 times the likely sales of Chevy’s Bolt which entered the market nearly a year ago and has slowly ramped up to selling in the range of 2,500 vehicles per month. It also rivals, for a single model vehicle, the entire EV sales of a very EV ambitious China during 2016.

Given both the need for a rapid energy transition and for strong renewable industry leadership to be held by a western auto-maker vs a rising wave of competition aimed at new energy dominance coming from China, this is still good news for those of us who support renewable energy as a necessary solution to the problem of human-forced climate change and for those promoting American innovation and leadership alike. But we should be very clear that the global energy game is rapidly changing and increasingly complex. So, as ever, watch this space…

(UPDATED)

Links:

7 Million Deaths Annually Linked to Air Pollution

Widespread Adoption of Electrical Vehicles Would Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improve Air Quality

Solar Employs More People in U.S. Electrical Generation Than Oil, Coal and Gas Combined

China is Crushing the U.S. in Renewable Energy

Solar Power in China

China-Owned U.S. Solar Maker Seeks Tariffs on China Imports

Tesla Could Have Millions of Cars on the Road by 2023

Model 3 Production Bottlenecks are Due to Suppliers Says Oppenheimer

Another Historic Storm: Surreal Ophelia Strikes Ireland with Hurricane Force

“Ophelia is breaking new ground for a major hurricane. Typically those waters [are] much too cool for anything this strong. I really can’t believe I’m seeing a major just south of the Azores.” — National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake on Twitter.

*****

Warmer than normal ocean temperatures due to human-forced climate change are now enabling major hurricanes to threaten Northern Europe. A region that was traditionally considered primarily out of the range of past powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricanes under 20th Century climatology. One that, in a warmer world, is increasingly under the gun.

(Ophelia roars over Ireland. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

On October 14, Ophelia hit major hurricane status as it moved swiftly toward Europe. Packing 115 mph maximum sustained winds over a region of ocean where we’ve never recorded this kind of powerful storm before, Ophelia set its sights on Ireland. Crossing over warmer than normal North Atlantic Ocean waters, the storm maintained hurricane status up to 12 hours before barreling into Ireland. At that time, cooler waters caused the storm to transition to extra-tropical. But this transition was not enough to prevent Ireland from being struck by hurricane-force gusts up to 119 mph, storm surge flooding, and seeing structural damage reminiscent to a category one storm.

360,000 power outages and two deaths were attributed to a storm that should have not maintained such high intensity so far north and east. Yet another historic storm that forced the National Hurricane Center to shift its tracking map east of the 0 degree longitude line (Greenwich) since they had not planned for a hurricane or its tropical remnants to move so far out of the typical zone for North Atlantic hurricanes (see image at bottom of page).

(Human-caused climate change produces angrier seas off Ireland as amped-up Ophelia rages.)

As with many of the recently powerful storms, 1 to 2 degree Celsius above average sea surface temperatures were a prime enabler allowing Ophelia to maintain such high intensity so far north. And under the present trend, it appears that the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland and England are now all more likely to see tropical storm and hurricane impacts in the future as sea surface temperatures continue to rise. In the past, strikes by tropical cyclones to places like Ireland were considered to be rare — with the last Hurricane to impact Ireland being Debbie in 1961. But recent climate science studies indicate that global warming is likely to increase the frequency of hurricane and tropical storm impacts to Northern Europe:

In a paper published in April 2013, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute predicted that by the year 2100, global warming would greatly increase the threat of hurricane-force winds to western Europe from former tropical cyclones and hybrid storms, the latter similar to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. One model predicted an increase from 2 to 13 in the number of cyclones with hurricane-force winds in the waters offshore western Europe. The study suggested that conditions favorable for tropical cyclones would expand 1,100 km (700 mi) to the east. A separate study based out of University of Castile-La Mancha predicted that hurricanes would develop in the Mediterranean Sea in Septembers by the year 2100, which would threaten countries in southern Europe.

The present Atlantic hurricane season can now only be described as a surreal caricature of what we feared climate change could produce. Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and a dozen or more Caribbean islands are now devastated disaster areas. Some locations may feel the effects of the off-the-charts powerful storms enabled by a warmer than normal ocean for decades to come. Puerto Rico, unless it receives far more significant aid from the mainland than the Trump Administration appears to be willing to provide, may never fully recover.  And now Ophelia has maintained hurricane status until just twelve hours before striking Europe’s Ireland as a powerful extra-tropical storm.

2017 has also been an extraordinary year basin-wide by measure of storm energy. Total accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) for the North Atlantic as of October 15 was 222.5. So far, according to this measure, 2017 is the 7th strongest hurricane season ever recorded since records began in 1851. The most intense season, 1933, may see its own record of 259 ACE exceeded over the coming days and weeks. For storms still appear to be forming over record warm waters. According to the National Hurricane Center, a disturbance off the East Coast of the United States now has a 40 percent chance of developing into the season’s 16th named storm over the next 48 hours. Meanwhile, during recent years, powerful late October storms like Matthew and Sandy have tended to crop up over warmer than normal ocean waters even as late season storms ranging into November and December appear to be more common. In other words, we’re not out of the woods yet and 2017 may be a year to exceed all other years for total measured storm intensity as well as overall damage.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia Batters Ireland Under Orange Skies

The National Hurricane Center

Colorado State: Accumulated Cyclone Energy

NASA Worldview

Tropical Cyclone Effects in Europe

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Jeremy in Wales

Significant Monsters: Climate Change Enhanced Wildfires Tear Widening Swath Through California

“We are facing some pretty significant monsters,” — Cal Fire incident commander Bret Couvea to a room of about 200 firefighters and law enforcement officials at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning.

“Think of the climate change issue as a closet, and behind the door are lurking all kinds of monsters — and there’s a long list of them,” — Steve Pacala.

*****

As of Wednesday, the massive fires blazing across California and concentrated in the north had consumed over 141,000 acres, resulted in the loss of 17 lives, and destroyed more than 2,000 structures. Approximately 50,000 people are now evacuated from the fire zones. And about 500 individuals are reported missing. A grim tally that is unfortunately likely to worsen as the hours and days progress.

This outbreak is now one of the worst fire disasters ever to strike California. One which may break all previous records for tragic loss of life and property when this terrible event finally winds down many days from now and all losses are counted.

Significant Monsters…

In total, eight major fires are still burning across the state. As all but one fire remains uncontained, the area consumed continues to expand. The seven large out of control fires presently range in size from 7,500 to 37,000 acres each and have burned approximately 40,000 additional acres in just the past 24 hours alone. Lighter winds and cooler weather have aided firefighting efforts. But the sudden large scale of the fires erupting Sunday through Tuesday and very dry and occasionally gusty conditions with no rain in sight have produced serious challenges for firefighters.

(The skies of northern California blanketed by smoke from massive blazes streaming like ‘liquid fire’ across Northern California on Tuesday, October 10. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

As of yet, no direct initial cause for the fires has been identified. But the co-location of some fires with downed power lines due to wind gusts up to hurricane force late Sunday night have provided one potential ignition source. Human error or malicious activity have not yet been ruled out.

… Fed by Climate Change …

Regardless of direct cause of ignition, the fires lit in vegetative growth that sprang up after an abnormally wet winter and spring. This growth has flash-dried over summer in a region that received 10-20 percent of its typical moisture allotment over that period. Northern California over recent years has experienced severe drought, extreme rains, and during summer of 2017 flash drying of new vegetative growth. This is a cycle of extremes consistent with human caused climate change. So as with the major hurricanes blowing up over the ocean this year we can definitely say that climate change has played a role in setting conditions that enabled this event to hit a much more fierce than usual intensity.

… Caused by Bad Energy and Environmental Policy Choices

Bad choices — primarily involved with continued policies promoting fossil fuel burning (#1), harmful agricultural practices (#2), and deforestation (#3) have brought us to this pass. Failure to rapidly enable a renewable energy transition and to produce policies that promote less harmful consumption and more sustainable land use will result in an ever-increasing tempo of extreme events.

We see this high tempo now in events that bear the names Harvey, Irma, Maria, California fires and so, so many more over the past few years. Let us hope and pray that it relents enough to give us the space to make the right choices for ourselves, the life supports of our planet, and our children.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

A recent climate study found that warming oceans have weakened the southwestern monsoon generating a prevalence for droughts and wildfires in the region. This is a direct result of human-caused climate change:

Links:

The National Interagency Fire Center

NASA Worldview

Some Pretty Significant Monsters

Pure Devastation

California Fires: Before and After Photos

How Did the California Fires Become so Devastating?

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Genomik

 

Led By Tesla, September U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales Surge

The month of September was another big one for U.S. electrical vehicle sales. And, once again, despite a growing barrage from its increasingly irrational detractors, Tesla just keeps crushing it as a U.S. and global clean energy leader.

Tesla Leads Record September EV Sales

In total, 21,325 plug-in vehicles were sold in the U.S. during September. This sales rate represented a 24 percent growth over September of 2016 and amounted to the second highest number of electrical vehicles sold in the U.S. during any month on record. Total annual sales are now 142,514 and appear ready to approach or exceed the 200,000 mark by year-end.

(Strong electrical vehicle sales growth in the U.S. continued during September — with Tesla remaining ahead of the pack. Image source: Inside EVs.)

Tesla again showed itself as a strong market leader with combined Model S and X sales of 7,980. These models, respectively, held the top two sales spots for the month — followed closely by the long-range Chevy Bolt EV at 2,632 sales after nearly a year on the market. The Toyota Prius Prime and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids rounded out the top five spots at 1,899 and 1,453 sales, respectively.

The main story of these best-sellers appears to be range — with all of these vehicles boasting long range electric or plug-in-hybrid capability. But Tesla’s high quality luxury offerings still hold an edge due to better technology, better charging infrastructure support, and superior overall capabilities. What’s even more ironic is that Tesla’s vehicles — that often sell for upwards of 100,000 dollars each — are still moving at greater volumes than the 35,000 dollar Chevy Bolt.

Chevy Bolt and Model 3 — Place-Holder vs Industry-Mover

The Bolt has a 238 mile range, which is a bit shorter than the higher-end Teslas which now can travel for between around 250 and 315 miles on a single charge. The Bolt’s quality is also considerably lower than the higher-priced Teslas — with slower acceleration, economy body styling, inferior handling and less features. As noted above, the Bolt also does not enjoy the support of Tesla’s large and expanding charging infrastructure. All that said, the Bolt remains an excellent EV for the price. It’s just that one wonders if GM’s heart is really in it to go all-in to sell the vehicle. Or is GM just placing a necessary high-quality competitor in a strategic attempt to stymie enthusiasm for the upcoming, trend-setting, Tesla Model 3?

(Obama-era CAFE standards are a major driver for auto industry transformation away from polluting fossil fuels and toward zero-emissions electric vehicles. Industry leaders like GM have long fought a policy that incentives electrical vehicle production and ultimately produces the combined benefits of moving the country toward energy independence, renewable energy, healthier air, and a less hostile climate. This year, the Trump Administration has sided with fossil-fuel based automakers and moved to roll back Obama’s helpful CAFE standards. Image source: Alternative Energy Stocks.)

A big hint comes in the form of continued opposition by major automakers like GM to increasing CAFE standards. From Electrek earlier this week:

In a time where a surprising number of major automakers are announcing that they believe electric cars are the future of the auto industry, we are still seeing them complaining about, and in some cases lobbying against, the fuel emission standards.

Now trade groups representing virtually the entire auto industry are again putting pressure on U.S. regulators to weaken rules that would force them to produce more electric cars.

So the rational question arises — would an automaker who really believes that the future is electric, who is really dedicated to the success of vehicles like the Bolt and the Volt also be fighting to remove fuel economy standards? If this appears like hypocrisy to some, then it probably is. A duck, after all, does quack from time to time.

Moving Economic Eggs into the All-Electric Basket = No Harmful Fossil Fuel Conflict of Interest

Tesla, on the other hand, only produces electrical vehicles. So, unlike GM, it doesn’t have a gigantic fossil fuel burning vehicle production infrastructure hanging around its neck and dragging it back down into the vast ocean of structural industry contributors to worsening climate change impacts.

And while critics decry production delays for the Model 3, GM’s own ambitions for the Bolt were comparatively modest — aiming for around 50,000 sales per year vs Tesla’s ultimate goal of 400,000 to 500,000 for the Model 3. One of these cars, therefore, looks like a shot at an industry defender while the other appears to be aimed directly at transformation. And who wins out in this David and Goliath struggle will have far-reaching energy, climate, and vehicle industry repercussions.

(Total U.S. EV sales for the year of 2017. Image source: Inside EVs.)

Sales of the key vehicle in question, the Model 3, remained slow at 115 units in September. This following 30 and 75 sales respectively during July and August. Tesla admitted facing production bottlenecks in its planned massive ramp up for the Model 3 aimed at meeting the demand of an amazing 500,000 pre-orders. Tesla critics have had a field day as the all-electric automaker struggles in its attempts to get its famed ‘alien dreadnought’ production of all-electric vehicles up and running.

The slower ramp in Model 3 production, so far, is admittedly a bit of a bump in the road for Tesla. But critics’ claims of Tesla’s ‘imminent demise’ have become a common and hackneyed cry over recent years. So we can take the present brouhaha with a couple of grains of salt and view any major downward moves in Tesla stock as a panic-induced opportunity for more steady, savvy, and environmentally conscious investors.

Investing in Clean Energy Future Makes Moral and Economic Sense

To this point, Tesla uses its stock market capitalization to help fund its energy transformation efforts. So Tesla investors are helping to fund a global move away from fossil fuels. And for putting their money on the line in this way, we should express to them our thanks and gratitude.

In the larger context, electrical vehicles, and more broadly, a related ramping battery storage production chain forms one of three key pillars to the global energy transition away from fossil fuels. The other two pillars are composed of wind and solar. All of these technologies produce zero carbon emissions in use. And due to their ability to hit economies of scale in production that result in reduced costs, higher efficiency, and higher energy densities over time, they have a demonstrated capability to increasingly out-compete dirty fossil fuels and rapidly reduce carbon emissions.

So when new clean industry leaders like Tesla are forcing laggards like GM to produce electrical vehicles and market them, even as market-defenders, then those of us who support clean energy and are worried about the threat of climate change should all be cheering.

RELATED INFORMATION AND STATEMENTS:

If true, then why continue to fight CAFE standards? —

DISCLOSURE:

I presently hold Tesla stock as part of a larger renewable energy and sustainable industry investment portfolio. For me, this is part of a morally driven choice to divest from fossil fuel based energy companies and invest in clean energy companies. Though these choices incur considerable financial risk, I believe that wholesale investment by society in fossil fuels results in severe ultimate harm — which I will not be a party to. I urge others to seriously consider joining the campaign to divest/invest.

Links:

Monthly Plug-in Sales Scorecard

Automakers Claiming to be ‘All-in on Electric Cars’ are Still Lobbying Against Stricter Fuel Standards

Aggressive New CAFE Standards

Firestorm: 1,500 Structures Destroyed as Massive Wildfires Blaze Through Northern California

Heat and drought and fire. A common litany these days for California — a state that has, year after year, been wracked by a series of unprecedented climate extremes.

After a brief respite this winter, northern parts of a state reeling from woes related to human-caused climate change again settled into drought this summer. Having received near record amounts of rain during winter — enough to wreck the spillway at the Lake Oroville Dam — vegetation sprang anew. This rain-spurred growth then subsequently dried — developing widespread fuels for fires.

(Northern California near Santa Rosa saw humidity drop to as low as 10-12 percent even as strong winds raged through the region. Such dry, windy condition are key ingredients for increasing fire hazard. Widely available fuels from the abnormally wet winter carried over into a drier than normal summer to increase fire risks. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These are exactly the kinds of extreme conditions climate scientists warned about as a result of human-forced warming. And the impacts for Northern California over the past 24 hours have been terrible.

Yesterday evening, a frontal system brought with it gusts approaching hurricane force to the region. The winds — warm and dry — raked over the lands and forests. Red flag warnings were posted. For even the smallest spark could spur a very dangerous fire under such dry, windy, and warm conditions.

Multiple fires, source presently unknown, subsequently erupted. The fires rapidly grew — raging across the hills and valleys near Santa Rosa. Embers caught up in the gusts traveled for miles. Where-ever they landed, tinder-dry fuels ignited.

Thousands were forced to flee in the middle of the night late Sunday and early Monday morning as the rapidly growing fires encroached on neighborhoods, towns and cities. Many had no time to gather belongings as pristine lands exploded into hellish flares. So far, 1,500 homes and commercial buildings are counted among the lost even as a number of people have gone missing. Entire subdivisions and wineries went up in flames. Two hospitals were forced to evacuate. Cell phone coverage to the region was cut off.

Today, the fires still rage as weaker winds provide some hope that an army of scrambling firefighters can start to get a hold on the firestorm. What is known is that this particular event is one of the worst wildfire disasters in California state history.

In this context, we should be very clear that human carelessness often provides the ignition sources for fires in areas like Northern California. However, without the underlying severe climate conditions, such fires would not have become so large or spread so fast.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

California Firestorm Among Worst in State History

Earth Nullschool

Unprecedented Climate Extremes: One Year After Record Drought, Lake Oroville is Spilling Over

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

Hat tip to Genomik

 

Wounded Tropical Forests Now Emit 425 Million Tons of Carbon Each Year — Restoration, Fossil Fuel Emissions Cuts Now Urgent

In his seminal piece — Collapse — Jared Diamond documented how a number of civilizations who failed to protect their forests ultimately also experienced severe systemic decline.

Forests provide innumerable ecosystem services. They filter the air and water, provide a habitat for helpful plants and animals, prevent erosion, sequester moisture that enables healthy rainfall patterns. To keep forests safe and to nourish them is to keep the land itself safe. To keep life safe. To, ultimately, keep human civilizations safe.

In other words, a city or nation cannot healthily exist without healthy forests to support it.

Mistreated Tropical Forests become Carbon Source

From the point of view of confronting climate change, maintaining healthy forests is also essential. Healthy forests sequester more carbon — keeping that carbon locked in plants and soils. Unhealthy forests do the opposite — they release carbon stored over years and decades.

Since time immemorial, short-sighted forms of human civilization have harmed forests by cutting down too many trees, by killing off the creatures that support healthy forests, or worse, by burning the forests down. Ultimately, most of those civilizations also cut their own life-spans short. In the present day, we see this kind of harmful activity throughout the tropics. And, as a result, the tropical forests which have done us such an amazing service by drawing down a substantial portion of the fossil-fuel based carbon emission are ailing.

(In this image from Earth Nullschool, we can see high present carbon dioxide concentrations at the Earth’s surface. High CO2 concentrations show up in light colors. Low CO2 concentrations show up in dark colors. As you can see in the above image, the rainforest regions of the Amazon and Equatorial Africa are presently drawing down a considerable amount of atmospheric CO2 — which is generating a lower local concentration. That said, these forests do not draw down as much carbon as they used to. They have been disrupted by harmful human activity such as clear cutting and hunting of key species. As a result, through decay, fire, and drought, these forests are now emitting more carbon than they take in on net.)

According to a recent report out of the journal Science, about 425 million tons of carbon are being released, on net, from tropical forests around the world each year. This is equivalent to about 4 percent of global human emissions (primarily from fossil fuel burning) of around 11 billion tons of carbon each year. In other words, poor forest management is already amplifying the impact of fossil fuel based climate change.

The tropical forest carbon release occurred between 2003 and 2014. Study authors noted in The Guardian:

“This shows that we can’t just sit back. The forest is not doing what we thought it was doing. As always, trees are removing carbon from the atmosphere, but the volume of the forest is no longer enough to compensate for the losses. The region is not a sink any more.”

These same authors attributed this turning of a net carbon sink into a net carbon source primarily to poor land management practices. Primary sources of harm and loss involved the “thinning of tree density and the culling of biodiversity below an apparently protected canopy – usually as a result of selective logging, fire, drought and hunting.” More of the forested land has been turned over to developers and hunters when the land should have been set aside for protected parks and for the use of indigenous peoples whose ways of living help to support forest ecosystems.

An Urgent Need to Rapidly Cut Carbon Emissions While Restoring Healthy Forests

While human-caused climate change is now adding pressure to tropical forests, poor land management is presently a greater source of harm. In the past, sustainability-minded scientists had assumed that tropical forests would remain mostly functional as a carbon sink until warming approached 3-4 C above late 19th Century averages. At that point, heat alone will be enough to wring carbon out of these forests on net. But harmful human activity has pushed that time forward to the first decade of the 2000s.

Ultimately, the early failure of forests as a tropical carbon sink means that there’s less of a so-called carbon budget available. At this blog, we have long asserted that the effective carbon budget for a safe Earth at this time is basically zero. What this means is that some bad climate outcomes such as worsening weather, reduction of habitability in the Equatorial and near-Equatorial region, possible disruptions to growing seasons, declining ocean health for at least the next century, and sea level rise forcing mass abandonment of coastal settlements are already possible, likely, or happening now. Any addition of carbon thus makes an already troubling situation worse. That said, rapid cuts to fossil fuel emissions can still prevent worse outcomes such as more rapid sea level rise, much worse weather, very extreme heat rendering large regions practically uninhabitable for present societies, and a potentially worst-in-class global mass extinction associated with a hothouse ocean anoxic event.

(How removal of large animals through hunting and poaching can harm a forest’s ability to sequester carbon. Image source: Carbon Brief.)

Present science pointing toward loss of Tropical forests as a carbon sink means that our window is, again, rather smaller than past scientific oracles previously identified. The urgency for rapid carbon emissions cuts, therefore, could not be greater. But we also need to protect and restore forest vitality — which will be necessary to help the natural world bounce back from the insult we’ve already produced.

From study author Wayne Walker:

“We need to be positive. Let’s turn tropical forests back into a sink. We need to restore degraded areas. As far as technology for reducing carbon is concerned, this is low-hanging fruit. We know how to protect and sustain forests. It’s relatively cost effective.”

To be very clear, without emissions cuts to zero and subsequent atmospheric carbon drawdown substantial enough to prevent 3-4 C warming, these forests will eventually be in trouble due to the very harmful impacts of rising heat alone. So we need to do both. And we need to do it now.

Links:

Tropical Forests are Now a Net Carbon Source

Alarm as Study Reveals Tropical Forests are a Huge Carbon Source

Earth Nullschool

Carbon Brief

Collapse

Hat tip to Umbrios

Tesla’s Electric Sales Explode Despite Slow Model 3 Production Ramp

Around the world, electric vehicle makers are starting to make serious inroads into the global auto market. And aspirational industry leader Tesla continues to break new ground and open new markets despite an increasing array of challenges.

Record Tesla Sales

During the third quarter of 2017, Tesla sold 26,150 all-electric vehicles. A new quarterly sales record for the company which included 14,065 super-fast luxury Model S sedans, 11,865 of the also super-fast and highly luxurious Model X SUV, and 220 of the mid-class luxury-sport Model 3. In total, during 2017, Tesla has sold more than 73,000 vehicles. Placing the all-electric vehicle and renewable energy systems manufacturer in a position to challenge the 100,000 cars sold mark by end of December.

(Tesla production and sales by Quarter shows that Q3 2017 beat Tesla’s previous record by more than 1,300 vehicles. Tesla appears on track to hit near 100,000 vehicle sales in 2017. Note that Model X production took 6 Quarters, or approximately 18 months to fully ramp to present sales rates above 10,000 per Quarter. Telsa ultimately expects to produce more than 60,000 Model 3s per Quarter by 2018. Investment analysts are more conservative — with Morgan Stanley targeting 30,000 Model 3s per Quarter. Image source: Commons.)

Surprises in Tesla’s Q3 report include greater than expected overall Model S and X sales. Pessimistic speculation about Tesla struggling to sell its higher-quality line as customers await the anticipated but less expensive and tweaked-out (but still bad-ass) Model 3 abounded throughout August and September. Those contributing to this brouhaha, however, did not appear to anticipate the excitement generated by Tesla’s Model 3 launch which appears to have spilled over to the more expensive line-up even as Tesla both offered incentives on some of its showroom vehicles and cut shorter range, lower cost versions of its Model S line-up.

Tesla Model 3 Production Ramp — A Miss, But Still in the Window

Tesla did, however, fail to meet Model 3 production ramp goals of 1,500 by the end of September. And this was one point where the Tesla pessimists ended up proving at least partly right. Citing production bottlenecks, the luxury EV manufacturer noted that it had produced only 260 Model 3s by end month — a 1,240 vehicle short-fall for the Quarter.

Overall vehicle production had still grown from July through September — hitting 30 in July, about 80 in August, and about 150 in September. This is still an exponential rate of expansion. But the more rapid anticipated ramp was not achieved. Tesla noted that most of their fast production chain was functioning as planned. But that a few bits of the complex and highly automated Model 3 manufacturing subsystems were taking “longer than expected to activate.”

(Tesla’s ground-breaking Model 3 missed company production targets by a fairly wide margin this month — triggering a big controversy among investors. Long term prospects for the Model 3 remain strong as Tesla works through what is, effectively, an employee beta testing period. Image source: Tesla.)

At first blush, this appears to be a fairly wide miss in Tesla’s planned production ramp. But if rapid production scaling is still achieved this fall, it will look like nothing more than a bit of a bump in the road. After the Q3 report, Elon Musk noted:

“I would simply urge people to not get too caught up in what exactly falls within the exact calendar boundaries of a quarter, one quarter or the next, because when you have an exponentially growing production ramp, slight changes of a few weeks here or there can appear to have dramatic changes.”

In other words, we are still in the window for rapid production scaling, even if the earlier, more rapid, ramp was missed by a few weeks.

The company previously struggled with its very complex production of the ultimately popular Model X. To address production challenges, Tesla aimed to simplify production for the Model 3. But integration of new automated equipment into large manufacturing chains as the vehicle is built and product-tested by employee-customers is proving to again pose a few challenges. Challenges that, at this time, do not appear to be anywhere near as serious as those encountered during the Model X production ramp, but are still enough to produce delays.

Tesla Model 3 Production Still About to Explode as EV Maker Enjoys Serious Structural Advantages

Keeping these facts in mind, we can take some of the overly negative reports following Tesla’s failure to hit early Model 3 production targets with a lump of salt. The company still produces amazing cars, is still going to flood the world with high-quality and much more affordable all-electric Model 3s. The company owns a massive manufacturing apparatus in the form if its Freemont plant and Nevada Gigafactory. An apparatus that is rapidly growing. Outside this expanding manufacturing chain, the company is the only major automaker to seriously invest in and rapidly expand crucial EV charging infrastructure. All of these are systemic underlying strengths that the electric automaker will continue to leverage and expand on.

(Tesla battery sales help to reduce EV battery pack costs by producing economies of scale in production. The reverse is also true. With demand for Tesla’s powerwall and powerpacks on the rise, the company possesses a number of systemic advantages that most automobile manufacturers lack. Image source: Tesla.)

Tesla is in the process of transitioning from an automaker that produces a moderate number of vehicles each year to a major automaker that produces more than half a million vehicles each year. And it’s bound to encounter a bump or two in the road from time-to-time. Ultimately, the Model 3 production ramp will hit its stride as Tesla works out the kinks. Around 500,000 reservation-holders will still get their cars.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley recently:

warned investors against “micro-analyzing the monthly ramp of the Model 3.” Most vehicle launches have hiccups, and quality and attractiveness count for far more importance than quantity “at least for now,” they said in a note.

Tesla was quick to stress that it foresaw no serious issues with the Model 3 production. That the company understood what needed to be fixed in the manufacturing chain and was working to address those issues. If this is the case, we should see Model 3 production start to ramp more swiftly over the coming weeks. But even without rapidly ramping Model 3 production — which is on the way sooner or later — Tesla is still smashing previously held all-electric sales records.

And for those of us concerned about climate change, that’s good news.

Links:

Tesla Shares Shake off Bad News of Model 3 Deliveries

Tesla

Tesla Q3 Report

 

 

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