The month of February saw several major developments pertaining to the environment. They included the following:
The European Parliament voted to rebuild Europe's fish stocks by 2020 by an overwhelming majority, 502 vs. 137. The European Parliament voted to set a date for ending overfishing. They also supported a proposal to reward fishermen who use environmentally responsible ways to catch fish.
The research Bloomberg New Energy Finance completed a study in Australia showing that electricity from unsubsidized renewable energy costs less than electricity from coal or gas. The BNEF team in Sydney found that new wind farms could supply electricity for $80/MWh, compared to $143/MWh for coal and $116/MWh for gas. ("MWh" stands for "megawatt hour," and describes the number of megawatts produced in an hour.) Solar power in Australia costs between $120 and $150/MWh.
All of the stated costs refer to new facilities, making a new wind farm far cheaper than any of the alternatives. Solar power is still expensive, but its prices are falling, and it will be cheaper than gas or oil by 2020.
Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Climate Protection Act of 2013 It would impose a price for carbon and methane emissions on the largest fossil fuel producers and end the fossil fuel subsidies. It would also require fracking operations to disclose the chemicals they use and to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Act would also invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.
A study in the February Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans links the acceleration of sea level rise in the U.S. East Coast to a simultaneous slowdown of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream brings warm surface water up along the U.S. coast to the North Atlantic, where it cools and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The cold bottom water then flows south to the tropics, where it warms and begins the cycle again. The process has sometimes been compared to a conveyor belt.
Climate change has caused two things to happen that gum up the works. First, melting ice, mostly from Greenland, dilutes the northernmost waters of the Gulf Stream. The melted ice is fresh water, which is less dense that salt water, and therefore the North Atlantic water sinks to the bottom more slowly than normal. The oceans themselves are warmer than they used to be, and warm water is less denser than cold water, thus exacerbating the problem.
Scientists at CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, have created a "solar sponge" that soaks up carbon emissions and then releases them upon being exposed to sunlight. The sponge provides a new way to recycle carbon dioxide with renewable energy. The traditional process for recycling carbon dioxide has been to use liquid absorbants to remove flue gases at a coal plant before they escaped into the atmosphere. The liquids are then heated to release the carbon dioxide, which is then stored. The process can use up as much as 30% of a power plant's production capacity.
The solar sponge, which is made of a new smart material called MOF or metal organic framework, absorbs carbon dioxide and instantly releases up to 64% of it when exposed to concentrated UV light.
Shell decided to not drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic seas this year. This was not a wholly unexpected decision, given all the setbacks the company had experienced the previous year, ranging from problems with equipment to the grounding of the Kulluk drill ship in a storm. Shell plans to spend this year preparing their drill ships, equipment, and people for a possible future effort.
Over 35,000 protestors demonstrated against the Keystone XL pipeline at the Forward on Climate rally, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. The protestors, who came from over 30 states, gathered in the National Mall to listen to talks given by Bill McKibben of 350.org and others and later marched past the White House.