Climate News Roundup 3/11/2016

Ivy Main has a new blog post that examines the stark choice facing Virginia Governor McAuliffe on the Clean Power Plan.

On Tuesday NOAA announced that the contiguous 48 U.S. states just experienced their warmest winter (Dec-Feb) on record. Alaska had its second warmest winter. In addition, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory reported this week that the atmospheric CO2 concentration at its Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii increased more from February 2015 to February 2016 than in any other 12 month period since 1959. The increase was 3.76 ppm, leaving the concentration at 404.02 ppm for February. Meanwhile, a new Australian study, published in the journal Plos One, projects that because of increased global energy use per person, the world will reach the agreed-upon limit of 2 degree C much sooner than previously expected.

We tend to think of the biosphere [all the plants, animals and microorganisms living on the surface of the Earth (excluding the oceans)] as a net “sink” for CO2, due to its uptake by plants as they photosynthesize. However, CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas associated with the biosphere. Methane, CH4, and nitrous oxide, N2O, are both strong greenhouse gases that are given off by microorganisms living in soil, pond sediments, and rice paddies. Ruminants (cows, sheep, etc.) also release CH4. Now a new study, published this week in Nature, has found that because of modern agriculture, and its associated releases of CH4 and N2O, the biosphere is now a net contributor of greenhouse gases, rather than a sink. Furthermore, atmospheric concentrations of CH4 are increasing after being stable for several years. A new paper in the journal Science attributes that increase primarily to agriculture, although others disagree.

As I have mentioned in previous Roundups there are two types of temperature records, from surface thermometers and from satellites. Peter Sinclair has a new video explaining why scientists trust the surface thermometers more.

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have agreed to new, coordinated measures to fight climate change. (The relevant part of the linked-to article starts just below the video.) They also pledged to institute new Arctic initiatives, including shipping corridors with low environmental impact and new protections on marine areas. Ed King of Climate Home focuses on one statement in the announcement and what it may mean for the decarbonization of the U.S. economy after President Obama leaves office.

On Wednesday, 21 teenagers appeared in an Oregon courtroom as part of a lawsuit against the federal government contending that it has failed to protect the children against harm from climate change. The lawsuit, brought by the organization Our Children’s Trust, asks the court to hold the government responsible for violating the children’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property and equal protection under the law. This lawsuit is the second attempt to sue the federal government under public trust doctrine. The first federal lawsuit, which was dismissed, had local ties to climate activists Garrett and Grant Serrels, who, together with their cousin, Alec Loorz (founder of Kids vs Global Warming and iMatter), were plaintiffs on the lawsuit, along with other youth from the iMatter Youth Council. You can find James Hansen’s thoughts on the suit here.

The changing climate is having a severe impact on the world’s lakes with some on the verge of disappearance due to increased evaporation, lower input from rainfall, and increased withdrawals for irrigation. This can greatly decrease the agricultural productivity of areas dependent on the lakes for irrigation. On a similar note, scientists from 14 laboratories and institutions warn in the journal Global Change Biology that climate is changing faster than tree populations can adapt. As a result, even eastern forests “are vulnerable to drought and could experience significant changes with increased severity, frequency, or duration in drought,” according to the authors.

I reported last week that China’s CO2 emissions fell in 2015. Now, some think that China’s emissions may have already peaked, although China’s climate change envoy disagrees. In addition, China just released its newest five-year plan, which calls for an 18% reduction in carbon intensity (CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) by 2020.

Germany’s second-largest energy company, E.ON, has confirmed that it is planning to launch a residential PV-plus-storage offering for the German market in April. The product will be based on Solarwatt’s MyReserve battery systems. It is refreshing to see an energy company embrace distributed storage and work to make it part of their power grid.

Solar Power Rocks is a website that advises consumers on getting solar power and they have just released their 2016 solar power rankings. Because of a variety of factors, Virginia ranks 35th in the nation, with an overall grade of D. Still, if you want to put on panels to cut your fossil fuel use you’ll get an internal rate of return (IRR) of 6.8%, giving a payback time of 14 years for a 5 kW system.

Much of sub-Saharan Africa will become unsuitable for growing key crops during this century if CO2 emissions continue as usual, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. Up to 60% of areas that currently grow beans, and up to 30% of areas that grow maize and bananas would no longer be suitable in a warmer climate. The study suggests that fundamental changes to farming may be needed to maintain food security.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, has found that severe rainfall has increased throughout the world’s wettest and driest regions, with daily rainfall extremes increasing by 1-2% per decade since 1950. The trend is expected to continue for the rest of this century.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is joining a growing list of financial institutions, including Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo & Co., that have pledged to stop or scale back support for coal projects. Meanwhile, U.S. utilities closed down over 14 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical power generation capacity in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Ever wonder why Americans aren’t concerned about climate change? Perhaps it’s because they never hear about it on television. During 2015 less time was devoted to climate change by the major news media than in 2014, even though 2015 was filled with climate related events, such as the Paris Summit and several record setting hot months.

The spring issue of Yes! magazine is entitled “Life after Oil.” It contains an explanation by Bill McKibben of why we need to keep 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

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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