Climate News Roundup 4/8/2016

There was an important decision this week in the children’s lawsuit against the federal government over the government’s failure to protect them from the impacts of climate change.  Lawyers from the government and the fossil fuel industry had asked to have the lawsuit dismissed, but the judge refused, noting that the go-nowhere political debate about climate change “necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government.”  The judge’s ruling is here.

There were a couple of articles this week about sea level rise that weren’t all doom and gloom.  One deals with how Norfolk is responding in a positive way, seeing opportunities for developing the city to be more resilient and becoming a case study for others to emulate.  The other describes how the UNC Institute of Marine Science in Morehead City, North Carolina is working with NOAA on a citizens’ science project to document where flooding occurs during King Tides as a way of anticipating what the future may bring.  While neither will stop the inevitable rise of the sea, they both demonstrate a willingness to tackle the problem in a positive way.  We can also learn from what others are doing all over the U.S. and the rest of the world to adapt to higher seas, as outlined in an article in Smithsonian.  Speaking of sea level rise, NASA unveiled a new site this week that allows you track what’s going on around the world.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies caused by airborne pollen, then climate change brings bad news.  Climate change is causing longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures are increasing the rate of plant growth.  In addition, CO2 is a plant “food” because it provides the carbon needed in photosynthesis.  Combined, these factors mean more pollen and as a result, doctors are seeing an increase in the number of people with allergies and in their responses.  Other health related impacts of climate change are documented in a massive new report issued by the Obama administration on Monday.  The White House issued a fact sheet and Rebecca Leber does a good job of summarizing the key findings on Grist.

Growing rice the traditional way in flooded fields results in significant methane emissions.  Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it would be great if growing techniques could be modified to reduce those emissions.  Well, U.S. rice farmers and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have done that and EDF is working with rice farmers in India and Vietnam to see if the technique will work there as well.  EDF has also been working with utilities to apply a new sensor that allows detection of methane leaks from natural gas distribution systems in cities.  The work has shown that cities with old distribution systems can have a much larger number of significant leaks than cities with newer systems.  The good news is that the sensor allows the utilities to pinpoint exactly where in their distribution system the worst leaks are occurring, allowing them to be repaired on a priority basis.

When Saudi Arabia starts moving out of oil, is that an indication of a major shift in the oil industry?  Thirty-year-old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has revealed that the country will begin selling shares in its oil company and transfer the assets to the Public Investment Fund, creating over a 20 year period the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.

Strip mining and mountain top removal for coal have left a legacy of destroyed landscapes across the U.S.  Coal companies are supposed to remediate their damage and must post a bond to cover the costs in case they go out of business and the government has to do the job.  A provision in the law allows larger companies to self-bond.  Unfortunately, as coal declines, several of those companies are in bankruptcy and others may also declare.  This raises the question as to who will pay for the restoration of the land?  Also, what will happen to the laid-off coal miners?

Another economic article of interest concerns a modeling study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.  It found that climate change could cut the value of the world’s financial assets by $2.5 trillion, but if action was taken to limit warming to 2 C the losses would be reduced $1.7 trillion, even after the cost of limiting warming was accounted for.  Another account of the study can be found here.

A group of current and former lawmakers, as well as several tech companies, has filed a brief supporting the EPA in the lawsuit challenging its authority to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.  And, wonder of wonders, so has Dominion Power.  Several other friendly filings were made this week ahead of an impending deadline.

In a run-up to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Conference in New York this week, Joe Ryan surveys the major players in renewable energy and asks whether one will become dominant, much like John D. Rockefeller did in the emerging oil market of the late 19th century.  Speaking of renewable energy, it is worth noting that it grew at the fastest rate on record in 2015.  Still new ideas are in the pipeline; columnist David Ignatius writes about some of the innovative ideas coming out of the ARPA-E program at the Department of Energy.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) of CO2 emitted by power plants is a technology that has been difficult to make effective and economic at large scale.  Nevertheless, a new study in Nature Climate Change has found that it will be essential if we are to keep atmospheric levels of CO2 low enough to limit warming to 2 C.  Perhaps Net Power has the answer on how to make CCS economic (both in dollars and energy efficiency).

Also in the good news category this week is an analysis that shows that 21 countries have reduced their CO2 emissions while also managing to grow their economies.  Carbon Brief extended the analysis to a greater number of countries, finding an additional 14 that have cut the tie between economic growth and CO2 emissions.  On a similar note, the University of Notre Dame has released the latest rankings in its Global Adaptation Index, indicating which countries are doing the best and worst in preparing for climate change.

And then there are the good news/bad news items, such as the impacts of retreating sea ice.  Some whales are evidently prospering right now (long-term prospects are unknown), in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, whereas polar bears in the Arctic are hurting, having lost significant weight because of reduced opportunity to hunt seals on ice.  If you want to know more about sea ice Roz Pidcock at Carbon Brief has an analysis of ice behavior this year.

A new study published this week in Science examines the role of mixed-phase clouds (i.e., those containing both ice and liquid water) in the reflection of sunlight and the absorption of infra-red radiation from Earth, factors that contribute to the global energy balance.  Although the press release from Yale, where the study was done, emphasized that the results from the study show that climate models underestimate the amount of warming associated with increased CO2 in the atmosphere, Chris Mooney quotes NASA’s Gavin Schmidt as saying such a conclusion is premature.  Like many things in climate science, it’s complicated.

The World Bank, the world’s biggest provider of public finance to developing countries, said it would spend 28% of its investments directly on climate change projects, and that all of its future spending would account for global warming.

There was more information about food waste and its impact in the news this week.  A new study by the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that up to 14 percent of emissions from agriculture in 2050 could be avoided by managing food use and distribution better.

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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