The Weekly Roundup of Climate News for the week ending Jan. 8, 2016, is below. Please forward it to anyone you think might be interested, or I’ll be happy to add them to our distribution list. Just have them send an email to contactcaav [at] gmail [dot] com.
- In a series entitled “In Theory”, each week The Washington Post “takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives.” This week the subject was the ethics of global warming and a primer was provided by Christine Emba. Essays were provided by Daniel Farber, Robert Brulle, John Nagle, Thomas Kostigen, and Eric Posner.
- If you would like a review of the top climate stories from 2015 check out Carbon Brief’s top 15.
- In case you missed the broadcast, BBC World Service had an excellent panel discussion entitled “The End of Oil.” It is both interesting and disturbing. Should be a must listen because it provides a picture of the difficulty of the task the world faces in keeping oil in the ground.
- We have been living in the geological epoch of the Holocene since the end of the last ice age. However, for the past several years scientists have proposed that we are in a new epoch, the Anthropocene, so named because of the impacts of humans on the planet. Later this year the question of whether to designate a new epoch will be considered by the geological organization that formally approves such time divisions. Meanwhile, a new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, provides one of the strongest cases yet that Earth has entered a new epoch.
- Given the warm December that we in the Valley experienced last year, it would be easy to expect that 2015 was the hottest year on record in the U.S. However, this was not the case, according to NOAA. Rather, 2015 was second to 2012. Nevertheless, high temperature records were broken all over the eastern U.S. Meanwhile, in the U.K., not only were high temperature records broken, but rainfall records as well, leading to massive flooding. In fact, December was the wettest month ever recorded in the U.K. (Note, 25.4 mm = 1.0 inch.) The flooding has been linked to climate change by some scientists.
- In spite of increasing global temperatures, denial of climate change and humans’ role in it is strong and well, at least in the U.S., according to two studies recently published in scientific journals. One examined the role of conservative think tanks in generating and perpetuating denial, while the other looked at the diffusion of doubt through social media.
- India has been planning to increase its use of coal as its economy develops. Now the low prices associated with two big solar projects are calling those plans into question, with many thinking that coal imports will cease by 2017. Also, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency China will not approve any new coal mines for the next three years. Finally, two large Oregon utilities have agreed to support legislation that would phase out coal-fired power in Oregon by 2030. This is all great news. On the other hand, Zimbabwe has gotten up to 50% of its electricity from hydro-power, but two years of severe droughts have dropped water levels so low that the country is having to turn to diesel, natural gas, and coal for electricity production. This is bad news.
- Water is very important to electricity production by thermal generation (coal, natural gas, and nuclear) in addition to hydroelectric generation. Water availability is of main concern for the latter, whereas both availability and suitable temperature are crucial to the former. Climate change will impact both the temperature and availability of surface water; hence a new study has examined how it will affect the productivity of electric generation facilities. Carbon Brief provides maps showing where the major impacts will occur.
- When melting occurs in a place like Greenland much of the melt water is trapped by the firn (the porous layer of built-up snow that has not yet been compressed into ice) and does not run off into the ocean, where it would contribute to sea level rise. A new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that in West Greenland dense ice layers are forming above the firn, making it impossible for melt water to reach it, causing it to immediately run off instead. This also changes the surface characteristics of the ice sheet, making it absorb more solar heat and melt faster.
- Aircraft contribute around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and that number is expected to grow by 3 to 4% a year due to increased air travel. To counteract those contributions to emissions, NASA has been conducting research on ways to increase the fuel efficiency of aircraft. If all of their recommendation were implemented, fuel consumption would be reduced by more than 80 billion gallons over the next 25 years.
- Statoil has received a contract from the Norwegian government to study the storage of carbon dioxide in the Norwegian continental shelf. The study will be carried out at three locations in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.
- Later this year Chevrolet will have a new entry in the electric car market, the Chevy Bolt. It will have a range of around 200 miles and can be charged to 80% capacity in 30 minutes. The main competitor to electric cars as the clean energy car of the future is a fuel cell powered car. The current drawback of fuel cell cars is the production of hydrogen, which is their fuel. According to a recent paper in Nature Chemistry scientists at Indiana University have developed a biological catalyst that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen, providing a more rapid and cleaner technology for hydrogen production than is currently available.
- TransCanada Corp, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline has announced two legal challenges to President Obama’s rejection of the pipeline. One of those challenges, based on provisions in free trade agreements, constitutes a significant threat to our environmental regulations. The potential impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is discussed in a blog by Ben Beachy, a senior policy adviser for the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program. Ayehsa Rasco of Reuters has analyzed the hurdles that the challenges face.
- On Wednesday the Agriculture Department announced that wildfires in the U.S. burned a record 10.1 million acres in 2015 and required the Forest Service to spend 52% of its budget fighting them. Both scientists and forest agency officials saw a link between climate change and the costly fire season.
- As one might expect, droughts and heatwaves affect grain production negatively. Now scientists have been able to quantify the impacts for both developed and developing nations. According to a paper in the journal Nature the overall average loss in annual crop yields was 10% compared to the three years preceding an event.
These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.