Climate News Roundup 2/19/2016

The big news this week was the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  Andrew Revkin reviews his dissent in the 2007 case in which the Court ruled that EPA had the authority to regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  Brad Plummer at Vox discusses how Justice Scalia’s death might influence the fate of the Clean Power Plan while Elizabeth Harball and Emily Holden document the variety of opinions and approaches among state regulatory agencies re the CPP.  In addition, Chris Mooney argues that electric power companies are likely to keep transitioning to renewable energy sources and natural gas at the expense of coal, regardless of what happens with the CPP.

As some states continue to work on their plans for complying with the CPP one option that they are considering is cap-and-trade, such as in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast.  However, activists in the environmental justice movement argue that cap-and-trade will allow coal-fired power plants, with their associated health impacts, to continue to operate, thereby impacting people of color, a disproportionate number of whom live within 3 miles of such plants.

Grist has an interesting essay entitled “How Obama went from coal’s top cheerleader to its No. 1 enemy.”  It traces the history of the Clean Power Plan, arguing that it was an inevitable outcome of 50 years of Clean Air Act regulations.  Meanwhile, the Virginia Senate voted on Monday to extend the coal tax credit until 2020.  The credit had been scheduled to sunset at the end of this year.

In the wake of last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to delay implementation of the Clean Power Plan until the Appeals Court rules on it, many commentators conjectured that a ruling against the Plan would be the end of the Paris Agreement.  Ed King of Climate Home disagrees and argues that local conditions in many developing countries will lead them to reduce their emissions regardless of what we do.  In addition, the diplomatic consequences of the U.S. pulling out of the Paris agreement would be very serious.

Even though some prominent Florida politicians deny or downplay climate change, local communities in the state are working to minimize the impacts of sea level rise and determine the most effective strategies for adapting to it.  One Florida Republican politician who takes climate change seriously is Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who started the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with Rep. Theodore Deutch, a Democrat.  Marcia Yerman has an interesting interview with Rep. Curbelo.

On Tuesday Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe joined governors from 16 other states in signing The Governor’s Accord for a New Energy Future.  In doing so the governors pledged to accelerate their efforts to create a green economy in the US by boosting renewables, building better electricity grids and cutting emissions from transport.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has just released its analysis of Earth’s surface temperature data for January 2016.  They found that the global average temperature for January was 1.13 degrees C above the 1951-1980 average, setting a new record.  The previous record for January, set in 2007, was 0.95 C above the average.  El Nino hit its peak in January, which doubtless contributed to the new record. NOAA and the Japan Meteorological Agency also found January 2016 to be the hottest January on record.  The warming in the Arctic has been particularly acute, although perhaps not record setting.  Finally, The New York Times has published an interactive graphic showing the 2015 daily temperature and rainfall data for 3,116 cities provided by AccuWeather.  Record highs and lows are marked so you can easily see how your city (i.e., local airport weather station) fared.

​A new study published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles has found that the North Atlantic Ocean has absorbed 50% more CO2 in the last decade than in the previous decade, thereby accelerating ocean acidification.  Another study, published in Scientific Reports, found that while mussels make more brittle shells in an acidic ocean they develop a better repair mechanism, allowing them to more rapidly repair cracks when they occur.

Warming waters in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have caused increased mortality of sea stars and lobsters.

According to a new study algae-produced neurotoxins that are deadly in high doses ​have been found​ in 13 marine mammal species across Alaska, including as far north as the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.​  The study​,​ from ​NOAA’s Northwest fisheries center​, document​s​ a major expansion of the areas along the Pacific Coast of North America where harmful algal blooms are known to occur​.​  This expansion is thought to be associated with the warming of Pacific coastal waters.

​Scientists have developed a new “vegetation sensitivity index”, which indicates to what extent plant growth is affected by fluctuations in the climate​, and used a mapping system to illustrate that sensitivity.  The index includes three variables, temperature, water availability and cloud cover.​  The maps allow easy visualization of Earth’s ecosystems that are most sensitive to climate change.​

A new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has found that the United States could be responsible for between 30 and 60​%​ of the global growth in human-caused methane emissions since 2002​.​  Joe Romm has a very interesting commentary on the study, with a particularly valuable bibliography at the end.

Germany has a reputation as a leader in renewable energy.  Now it is hoping to move into a leadership role in bicycle commuting by adding biking highways that are removed from automobile traffic and dedicated to bicycles.

Author and activist Terry Tempest Williams bid on an oil and gas lease for 800 acres of BLM land in Utah in an effort to call attention to fossil fuel extraction on public lands.  N
early 100 protesters were escorted peacefully out of the auction when they refused to stop singing​ “I hear the voice of my great granddaughters saying, keep it in the ground.”​Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of the protest may be to drive the BLM to hold auctions on-line.​

Want to plant a tree each time you do an on-line search?  Well, this search engine will help you do that.  Katie Valentine at Climate Progress describes it for you.

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.

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