Climate News Roundup 3/25/2015

In a new essay in The Nation, entitled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry,” Bill McKibben summarizes recent research on methane emissions and the impact of the fracking “revolution” on global warming.

Another new essay this week, also appearing in The Nation, is by Madeline Ostrander, a freelance writer and contributing editor to Yes! Magazine.  It introduces readers to the Conceivable Future project, an organization cofounded by Meghan Kallman (partner of climate activist Tim DeChristopher) and Josephine Ferorelli (former Occupy activist) to help people deal with the difficult question of whether to have children.  I found this essay to be very moving and thought-provoking.

A significant event this week was the publication of a paper entitled “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2°C global warming could be dangerous” in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.  The paper was written by former NASA scientist James Hansen and 20 other scientists.  I point this paper out to you for two reasons.  First, is its content.  If Hansen and his coauthors are correct (note that some disagree), the impact of global warming will be quicker and more catastrophic than heretofore thought.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post summarizes the major findings, as does Dr. Hansen in a video.  If you prefer to read a transcript of the video, it can be found here.  Second, it provides a window into peer review.  Peer review is the process that journal papers must go through before being accepted for publication.  This journal makes all of the peer review information public, which is unusual.  So, if you are interested you can go to the journal’s website, click on the “peer review” tab, and scroll down to the section “Peer review completion.”  There you will see the reviews by the referees, the author responses, and the editor’s decisions.  This journal is also unique in having an open “interactive discussion” during the review process and in revealing the referees names.

Hydroelectric dams have been the power generation method of choice in the Amazon basin, with 191 dams already present and almost 250 more being planned.  While such dams provide carbon-free electricity, a new paper in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation suggests that construction of the planned dams can significantly negatively impact the area in three ways.

Last week I provided a link to an article about coral bleaching resulting from warmer oceans.  Now for some good news about coral.  Researchers at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography have reported that coral around remote islands is much healthier than coral around inhabited islands.  This suggests that efforts to reduce pollution around coral reefs is indeed worthwhile to the survival of coral as oceans warm.

After negotiators in Paris agreed on a goal of limiting global temperature increases, climate activist Bill McKibben said: “We’re damn well going to hold them to it. Every pipeline, every mine.”  His promise is playing out all over the country and around the world as activists challenge new fossil fuel infrastructure projects.  In fact, consulting engineering firm Black and Veatch recently reported that the most significant barrier to building new pipeline capacity was “delay from opposition groups.”  As an example, more than 300 climate activists protested in New Orleans on Wednesday morning at a federal auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

If people in developed countries were to eat less red meat and move steadily toward a vegetarian or vegan diet, they could live longer and lower medical costs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food production by 29 to 70% by 2050, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  (Note: At least one news source incorrectly reported that total greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 29 to 70%.)

Two related news items this week painted a pretty dim picture for life on Earth.  First, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) was uncharacteristically blunt in its Status of the Global Climate report.  In releasing the report, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas stated “The future is happening now…The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emission is unprecedented in modern records.”  Second, a new paper in Nature Geoscience reports that humans are currently releasing CO2 to the atmosphere 10 times faster than at any time in the past 66 million years, including during the PETM, which caused a warming event that lasted 100,000 years and had major impacts on biodiversity.  There is some good news about meteorologists in the U.S., however: more than 95% now think climate change is happening and more than 80% estimate human activities are at least half-responsible (more than 66% “mostly” responsible).

Yale Climate Connections has an interesting post about the history of sea level rise in North Carolina and the techniques that have been used to estimate it.  In addition, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that about 70% of the shoreline from Virginia to Maine could evolve naturally to meet rising sea levels, slowing the loss of land that has been projected by other research.  The resilient shoreline comprises mostly natural ecosystems, which is what allows it to adapt.

China plans to increase its total wind power capacity by 22% in 2016.  After adding 33 GW in 2015, it plans to add an additional 31 GW, the National Energy Administration announced on Monday.  China is having to limit some local authorities’ planning of new wind projects because of the inability of the grid to handle new power flows, suggesting that once that problem is solved they will expand wind power even more rapidly.  On a similar front, Germany is working on a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 95% from 1990 levels by 2050.  The last coal-fired power plant in Scotland closed on Thursday.  A new report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016, released Thursday by the United Nations Environment Programme, contains both good and bad news about the global energy outlook.  The good news: the world spent more money setting up new wind, solar and other renewable installations than it spent on all new coal, gas, and nuclear plants.  The bad news: “the outlook for power sector emissions remains alarming — despite the agreement at COP21 in Paris, and despite the growth of renewables detailed in this report.”

Twelve Representatives, including Virginian Barbara Comstock, have formed the House Republican Energy, Innovation and Environmental Working Group, which will pursue market-based solutions to our energy and climate problems.  They join a similar group formed in the Senate in the fall.  Unfortunately, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination insists “I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.

The Securities and Exchange Commission told ExxonMobil that it must allow its shareholders to vote on a proposal that would require the company to outline the way climate change and energy legislation impact its ability to operate profitably.  Meanwhile the Rockefeller Family Fund plans to divest from all fossil fuel stocks, singling out ExxonMobil for “morally reprehensible conduct.”

Although the adoption of electric cars has been hindered by high prices, limited range, a lack of charging stations, and competition from cheap gasoline, heavier-duty systems are undergoing rapid innovation for applications like battery-powered city buses, delivery trucks, freight loaders, and ferries.

The best winds for land-based wind energy are in the southwestern and midwestern U.S., but the major needs are in the east and far west.  Thus new transmission lines are required to move electric power from source to point of use, but such lines are running into increased opposition.  Approval is also complicated by the fact that it must be obtained in each state that must be passed through and each state has its own unique regulations.

A paper published Thursday in the journal Science holds out the promise for solar cells that are both less expensive and more efficient.  And on the subject of solar, a new report from Rocky Mountain Institute argues that the potential for community solar to expand is vast.

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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