Sea Level Suit Returns to San Francisco Courtroom

The village of about 400 residents sits exposed on a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea. In 2008, local officials filed a federal lawsuit against about two dozen corporate entities, including ExxonMobil, BP and San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., claiming that coastal erosion was forcing the town to relocate.

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Kivalina, Alaska. Credit: US Army Corps. of Engineers

The original case was dismissed — but on Monday, the case lands in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the town’s lawyers will again argue that major oil and power companies are responsible for the threatening rise in sea level, as the result of their collective greenhouse gas emissions. The appearance is timely, as only a week ago a major Arctic storm reportedly caused some damage to the settlement. (See Climate Central’s coverage of the Alaskan storm).

The current body of case law doesn’t offer the Kivalina elders much encouragement. Apart from their own suit’s dismissal, the US Supreme Court recently tossed a similar suit filed by California and other states, seeking carbon emissions caps on power companies’ coal-fired plants. The town’s lawsuit is supported by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which recently took California air officials to court over implementation of the state’s developing cap & trade program to reduce carbon emissions. Read more

Tidal Energy Tests the Waters

For eons, powerful tides have raged through Puget Sound, ripping along at 11 feet per second at their peak, predictable as the phases of the moon. 

Three years from now, a local utility hopes to begin converting a portion of that raw energy to electricity, part of a growing effort to harness the tides to power homes and businesses miles from the smell of salt air.

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What does it take to harness the power of the tides? Something like this marine turbine, pictured above, of which there are two currently installed in a narrow tidal passage of Admiralty Inlet in Wash. Credit: Snohomish County PUD.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District’s pilot project is small — two turbines with 500 kilowatts of total capacity and an average output of 50 kilowatts — hardly a panacea for all that ails the United States’ energy portfolio. But tidal power is garnering increasing attention as a niche supplier of renewable alternative energy in Washington, Maine and Alaska. The tides, some say, have the potential to light five percent of the nation’s homes — nearly nine gigawatts of generating power.

And with wind and solar increasingly seen as viable commercial energy alternatives in the United States, investors and public utilities also seem more willing to literally test tidal energy’s waters.  Read more

Self-healing bioplastic – just add water

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A sample of the self-healing polymer

Imagine if things like undersea cables or medical implants could simply heal themselves back together if severed – it would certainly be easier than having to go in and fix them. Well, scientists at Pennsylvania State University are bringing such a possibility closer to reality. They’ve created a moldable polymer that heals itself when exposed to water – and it’s based on squid sucker ring teeth.

Led by Prof. Melik Demirel, the researchers started by studying sucker ring teeth collected from squid in various locations around the world. Although the exact composition of the teeth varied between species, it was found that the same proteins which allow them to self-heal were always present. Read more

Thames Water building Europe’s largest floating solar array

Europe’s biggest-ever floating solar panel array is to be installed on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir in London. The array will have a peak capacity of 6.3 MW and is expected to generate 5.8 million kWh in its first year, which is enough to power around 1,800 homes.

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The array will comprise over 23,000 photovoltaic panels, and its floating platform will incorporate over 61,000 floats and 177 anchors.

Along with the announcement that Norway is to build Europe’s largest onshore wind power project, the news reflects the ongoing move towards renewable energy. Despite this, the array is not actually being built to contribute towards the UK’s energy demand, but instead towards that of water company Thames Water. Read more

A Climate Analyst Clarifies the Science Behind California’s Water Woes

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A secret service agent in Los Banos, Calif., as President Obama spoke on February 14. Mr. Obama suggested climate change as an explanation for the area’s drought.

There’s no question that residents of California and much of the West face a collision between high water demands driven by growth and outdated policies and a limited and highly variable water supply.

But that reality hasn’t stopped heated arguments from springing up in recent days over the cause or causes of California’s continuing epic drought. Is one of the drivers the growing human influence on the climate? Or is this drought something we’ve seen before, the result of natural variability? Read more