Climate Context for COP21: The case for realistic hope

In early 2015 the IEA announced that in 2014 global emissions of greenhouse gases “stalled”, while global economic growth continued apace. If emissions growth has finally decoupled from economic growth, humanity has passed a critical watershed many years earlier than anyone had dared hope. Two factors appear to account for this historic shift: the rise of wind and solar power, and greater energy efficiency.

[Excerpt from “Climate Crisis: seaweed, coffee and cement could save the planet” by Tim Flannery, The Guardian. Read more here.]

Today, wind and solar power can offer electricity at a cost close to or equal to that of fossil fuels. As a result, investment in renewables has outpaced investments in fossil fuels for three years running. Renewables are self-evidently the future of electricity generation. The only question is how long it will take for them to replace fossil fuels. But the second factor, energy efficiency, has been equally important. For more than a decade now many of us have been changing light bulbs, insulating houses, cycling to work, and much more – all too often with little hope that it makes very little difference. But the IEA figures tell us that our billions of collective actions have added up to something massive. They have seen many developed nations pass peak oil and coal demand as our cities and farms become ever cleaner and more efficient. That this has occurred six years before the actions to be agreed in Paris is a cause for celebration.

Having said that, the decade of lost opportunity has made it all but impossible, using emissions reductions alone, for humanity to avoid breaching the 2C safety barrier. That lost decade established an emissions trajectory that has us aiming at 4C of warming by 2100. The actions committed to in Paris will probably put us on course for around 3C by 2100. That would be a welcome shift. But because energy systems take time to change, and greenhouse gases warm the Earth for decades or centuries after they’re released, we’re headed for 2C of warming pretty much no matter what we achieve in Paris, or in the two decades afterwards.

Read more to learn about how coffee, seaweed, cement, and other innovative carbon sequestering techniques can help save the planet:

Social Cost of Carbon should be 6 Times Higher

The economic damage caused by a ton of CO2 emissions-often referred to as the “social cost of carbon-could actually be six times higher than the value that the United States uses to guide current energy regulations, and possibly future mitigation policies, Stanford scientists say.

A recent U.S. government study concluded, based on the results of three widely used economic impact models, that an additional ton of CO2 emitted in 2015 would cause US$37 worth of economic damages. These damages are expected to take various forms, including decreased agricultural yields and harm to human health related to .

But according to a new study, published online this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, the actual cost could be much higher. “We estimate that the social cost of carbon is not $37, as previously estimated, but $220,” said study coauthor Frances Moore, a PhD candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources in Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences.

Based on the findings, countries may want to increase their efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, said study coauthor Delavane Diaz, a PhD candidate in the Department of Management Science and Engineering. “If the social cost of carbon is higher, many more mitigation measures will pass a cost-benefit analysis,” Diaz said. “Because carbon emissions are so harmful to society, even costly means of reducing emissions would be worthwhile.”

Read more at:

Paper:  Moore et al., 2015.  Temperature impacts on economic growth warrant stringent mitigation policy,Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2481

Tim Lenton: Our Common Future Under Climate Change 2015, Paris


Early Warning for Thresholds and Tipping Points in the Earth System

Tim Lenton, University of Exeter (1st speaker, Session L-2.4)

Conference website at

(Scientific prelude to COP21 meeting this December in Paris)


Implication:  70% emission reductions are needed now, e.g., shutting down fossil fuels by 2040 is needed to stabilize at 1.5 C increase above pre industrial level


Expert elicitation on chance of at least 1 in 5 of earth systems reaching a tipping point by 2100

Questioned 5 experts (Kriegler et al.); used models and observational data

moderate warming scenario, 2-4 C increase:  16% chance of tipping, lower bound

business as usual > 4C increase:  50-60% chance of tipping, lower bound

much higher than economists have been assuming

Slides at

Slide 3:  estimates above are shown

Slide 9:  tipping occurs about 200 years after early warning system is triggered, but 500 years of data  maybe needed; better methods needed

Slides 10-11: N. Pacific surface temp slowing down, Pacific Decadal Oscillaiton index is slowing: is the mixing layer deepening?

Slide 12: marine ecoysystem more variable, more likely to hit tipping point; marine animals are already moving

Slide 14:  social cost models with tipping points included — impact would be ~ 10% of world GDP estimates

Slide 17: Social cost of carbon:  Nordhouse $37 / ton, they estimate it is up to 592 $/ton; 

Risk preferences for uncertainty of future impacts account for about 1/2 of social cost.

Implication:  70% emission reductions are needed now, e.g., shutting down fossil fuels by 2040 is needed to stabilize at 1.5 C increase above pre industrial level

Slide 18:  the interactions of tipping points are also important

Thank you to Thomas Phillips for sharing.



Visit the ALCOSAN Open House this Saturday, 9/19

2015 ALCOSAN Open House

Saturday, September 19, 2015 marks the return of ALCOSAN’s annual award-winning Open House event, FREE and open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., rain or shine!

3300 Preble Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15233
(412) 766-4810

Join them for the region’s largest watershed and environmental festival, featuring hands-on environmental exhibits, treatment plant and laboratory tours, microbiology and watershed life demonstrations, and educational activities for all ages!

NEW for 2015: Save time in line by completing visitor registration ONLINE!

For more information, use the following links:
For a printable event flyer, click here.
For a current list of Open House exhibitors and activities, click here.
For information about our Open House Educators’ Workshop, click here.

READ: PA DEP Secretary John Quigley on Climate Impacts in Pennsylvania

To read the assessment update, visit

The Pennsylvania we know today is being fundamentally altered by the impacts of climate change, according to scientists and economists from Pennsylvania State University.

Their Climate Impacts Assessment Update, prepared for the Department of Environmental Protection at the direction of the General Assembly, finds that Pennsylvania has warmed 1.8 degrees in the past 110 years, and the warming will increase at an accelerated rate. By 2050, Pennsylvania will be 5.4 degrees warmer than it was in the year 2000. By 2050, Philadelphia’s climate will be similar to current-day Richmond, Va. Pittsburgh will be similar to current-day Washington, D.C., or Baltimore.

This report is profoundly disturbing. Science is showing us that not only are the changes and disruptions to our state’s climate significant, but they are also occurring alarmingly fast, in ways that will affect key sectors of the economy, our health, and our quality of life.

Climate change could worsen air quality – increasing pollen and mold concentration, and ground-level ozone – causing longer allergy seasons, aggravating asthma, and increasing mortality among at-risk populations. Vector-borne diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease could increase due to more favorable conditions for mosquitoes and deer ticks

Some changes will be positive. Longer growing seasons and more tolerable temperatures for crops not currently grown in Pennsylvania offer new opportunities for farmers. But warmer temperatures will bring more favorable conditions for agricultural pests like weeds and insects

Severe storms – strengthened by warmer temperatures – could affect reliable electric service and threaten our current electric infrastructure.

As the former mayor of Hazleton, I know the stressors that climate change puts on communities. Extreme precipitation events that are even now punctuating the lives of Pennsylvanians will increase in frequency. And that means communities will face stormwater management problems and threats to safe drinking water. Our cities will see vulnerable segments of their populations – the elderly, the infirm, and low-income individuals – be put at significantly greater risk of death from heat waves.

As a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, I worry about the fundamental changes to Penn’s Woods. The composition of our forests and their ecosystems are already changing, facing increased stress. Those impacts will have unquestionable effects – on our water quality, on the way we use and enjoy our forests and parks, and on significant industries like our forest-products sector and our outdoor recreation and tourism economies.

As secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, I recognize the sources of the emissions that are causing climate change: our homes, businesses, vehicles, power plants, and our energy economy.

And as a father, I see that the Pennsylvania that my son and his children will inherit is a different one than the one I have known.

The findings of this assessment are stark. It shows that climate change changes everything. So, I encourage all Pennsylvanians to take some time to read this study, and learn about the effects to you, your families, and the state we all love.

Read the report here.

Mark Dixon Breaks Down the Climate Challenge Numbers for COP21


Mark Dixon is an award-winning filmmaker, activist, and public speaker exploring the frontiers of social change on a finite planet.

Mark represented Mayor Bill Peduto and the City of Pittsburgh at an official COP21 precursor event: the World Summit Climate & Territories [in Lyon, France on July 1 & 2].

Recently Mark gave a presentation to the Mayor and the Sustainability Team with some galvanizing statistics, summarized in this graphic*:

In December 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will convene representatives of its 195 members at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris.

The goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference is to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, the the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”

However, as Mark discovered, climate scientist James Hansen warns that global warming over 1°C may trigger feedback loops that could raise planetary temperatures to 3 to 4°C above pre-Industrial temperatures, a severe departure from Holocene climate that would result in major disruption. We are currently experiencing an elevated global temperature of 0.85°C, with corresponding unprecedented storms, wildfires and oceanic acidification.

UNFCCC Parties are submitting Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ahead of COP21 to indicate what degree of carbon mitigation they will commit to, but these cumulative INDCs come in at the low end of the Business As Usual scenario which could take the planet to over 3°C of global warming.

Thus, Mark concludes:”We need to stop emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere as soon as humanly possible and then update our global agricultural and forestry practices to remove CO2 from the atmosphere ASAP.”** 

Read a more thorough explanation from Mark here at his blog:

* Mark’s caveat: the information is approximate and under constant review and revision as helpful scientists and experts emerge to correct assessments.

**Mark is also compiling a spreadsheet of carbon sequestration options, and notes that this field is currently receiving a great deal of attention which can lead to exciting new developments.

Register Now for Duquesne University’s Presidential Conference on Climate Change

Integrity of Creation Web Banner FINAL 2015

Wednesday September 20 – Friday October 2, 2015

Presidential Conference on the Integrity of Creation: Climate Change
This interdisciplinary, academic conference will occur each year to provide a scholarly forum for exploring a topic related to the general theme of the Integrity of Creation. The topic of this year’s inaugural conference is climate change.

About the Conference

The conference, commissioned by Duquesne President Dr. Charles J. Dougherty, is an endowed academic event that celebrates the Spiritan mission of Duquesne University. The conference is interdisciplinary in the sense that presenters and participants from different disciplines are invited to engage each other in civil discourse on the conference topic.
The interdisciplinary committee of University faculty that plans the conference has chosen climate change as the inaugural topic. Climate change will be discussed as a substantive and worrying change of patterns in the weather and related phenomena over recent decades which negatively impact the entire planet. This academic conference explores the implications of climate change from a variety of scholarly perspectives to consider ways to improve our planet’s future – safeguarding the Integrity of Creation around us.
The conference has three goals:

  1. To provide a scholarly opportunity to engage established and emerging research on the conference topic
  2. To foster interdisciplinary discourse on each topic, such as among science, health, philosophy, religion and policy
  3. To enlighten public awareness and discussion of the conference topic.

Attendance is free, but registration is required:—climate-change/register

!! Business leaders/managers: Dr. Robert Sroufe is sponsoring a table each day of the conference so you can participate and join the discussion. Please register (it is free)

Climate Initiative Discussed at Business Leaders Breakfast


Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Post Gazette

PCI Partner, Green Building Alliance, was represented by Vice President of Innovation, Aurora Sharrard, at an Earth Day breakfast meeting of business leaders held downtown April 22nd. Dr. Sharrard’s comments, which were printed in a Pittsburgh Post Gazette story about the event, made sure climate  change and the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan were a part of the conversation.

Read the full story from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette here.

Op-Ed: Our Health, Native Plants, Wildlife Compromised By Climate Change

Reprinted from

By Ed Perry, PA NWF Global Warming Outreach Coordinator

Slowly but surely, Lyme disease has reached near epidemic proportions in Pennsylvania. Twenty years ago, most of us never heard of Lyme disease. Now, most of us know someone who has had it and many of us have had it as well. Ticks not only are more abundant in Pennsylvania, but they also have migrated into Canada.

It’s no coincidence that warmer winters have facilitated the spread of ticks to the North.

Another noxious insect pest, the wooly adelgid, is decimating our state tree, the hemlock. This species originated in southern Virginia, but has steadily moved north as winters have warmed. As of 2007, the adelgid has impacted over 50 percent of the geographic range of the hemlock.

Hemlocks are what scientists call a “keystone species.” That is, one which many other species depend on for food, cover and nesting habitat. Brook trout, our state fish, is so closely allied with hemlocks that at one time they were called hemlock trout.

Scientists predict that global warming will enable the adelgid to eventually eliminate our state tree from the eastern United States, thereby speeding the demise of our state fish.

Global warming isn’t just blindsiding native species with habitat changes — it’s giving a leg up to many harmful and invasive species. In essence, climate change puts a thumb on the competitive scale, helping not the species that are most beneficial or most economically valuable, but the ones that can take the heat.

Ordinarily, one would think global warming would have only minor effects on mobile species. However, a recent report by the National Audubon Society found that, of the 588 North American bird species, “more than half are likely to be in trouble. Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate-endangered.”

So, if mobile species like birds are unable to cope with the rapid increased temperature change, how do you suppose less mobile creatures will fare?

Conservation biologists believe we already are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event and are on the path to losing half of all species on Earth.

Climate scientists warn that unless we reduce carbon pollution, temperatures will rise by seven to 11 degrees within the lifetime of a child born today. By the year 2100, Pennsylvania will have the climate of Alabama, with roughly 60 to 80 days over 90 degrees (depending on location) and at least 24 days over 100 degrees. This is the legacy we will leave for our kids and grandkids.

We Americans want our government to take action to reduce the threat of climate change. A recent poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that over 60 percent of Pennsylvanians support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants, 82 percent believe Pennsylvania should work with the EPA to reduce carbon emissions, and 97 percent support increased energy efficiency as the way to meet future energy needs.

This public support for clean energy and the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming drives home why the president has developed a Clean Power Plan, the first real energy policy we have ever had.

His plan proposes the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants, but also mandates higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, more efficient appliances and increased energy-efficiency standards for new construction.

If we are going to combat climate change and reduce emissions of climate-disrupting carbon pollution, as scientists tell us we must to avoid increasingly costly and devastating impacts, curbing pollution from our power sector is key, and the president’s Clean Power Plan will help us get there.

The staunch denial of climate change by many lawmakers in Washington is dangerous and does not reflect the true thinking of people across the country who not only recognize the reality of climate change, but also support action to curb its impacts.

The stakes are too high to play politics with the health and safety of our communities. It’s time to end the obstruction and take action.

The least that we Pennsylvanians can do is contact our legislators in hopes of preserving some semblance of our beautiful state’s natural heritage.

Ed Perry is the PA National Wildlife Federation Global Warming Outreach Coordinator and can be contacted by sending email to:

Climate Music Video

Singer and songwriter Katie Costello recently shared a new song with PCI. Its video focuses on the challenge of climate change, with a hopeful tone. We hope you enjoy it!