Climate News Roundup 4/15/2016

Talking about climate change is difficult for a whole host of reasons.  This article in Grist by Amelia Urry has lots of good sound advice about how to do it.  On the other hand, a recent study published in Nature Climate Change found that focusing on risk reduction is a worthwhile strategy for convincing people of the need for action.  Perhaps Apple’s new initiative, called “Apps for Earth”, will increase the public’s conversations about climate change and other environmental issues.  It is pretty hard to summarize it in a sentence so you’ll have to read about it if you’re an Apple user.

In a recent Weekly Roundup I included an item about Dominion Power filing a brief supporting the Clean Power Plan.  In a post on her blog, Ivy Main presents her take on why they did this.  One possible reason is that Dominion’s parent company transmits and sells natural gas.  However, there are real questions about whether the shift to natural gas from coal for electricity generation will have the desired effect of slowing climate change because of the leakage of methane (the main component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.  Chris Mooney ofThe Washington Post had a good retrospective this week on the methane issue.  Finally, climate scientist James Hansen offers his opinion on how fracking and methane impact the presidential election.

Over 130 nations, including the U.S. and China, have announced that they plan to be present at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on April 22 to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.  The strong interest in signing now has arisen because if 55 countries accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions sign the agreement before the end of President Obama’s term of office, the next president would have a difficult time pulling out of the agreement should he/she want to.

Sammy Roth had an interesting essay in USA Today about the “Keep it in the ground” movement.  He writes about Kaitlin Butler, a Salt Lake City-based researcher with the Science and Environmental Health Network and “Keep it in the ground” supporter, who thinks climate advocates can win that battle if they promote an “empowering” message.  Her message of choice: “that if we make good decisions today, we can improve the lives of our children, grandchildren and thousands more generations.”  Isn’t that what we all want?

Recognizing that limiting warming to 2 C may not provide adequate protection to vulnerable areas of Earth, the Paris Climate Agreement included an aspirational goal of limiting warming to 1.5 C.  Given the fact that 85% of the world’s energy use is from fossil fuels and that time will be required to wean us from them, it is likely that meeting the agreed-upon 2 C limit, let alone the aspirational goal, will require the use of “negative emission technologies.”  In other words, we will have to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  This week Carbon Brief presented a series of articles on negative emission technologies: 1, Ten negative emission technologies; 2, feasibility of negative emissions; 3, History of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS); 4, Do we need BECCS to avoid catastrophic climate change?; and 5, Analysis, is the UK relying on negative emissions to meet its climate targets?

One proposed pathway to a clean energy future is to rely on hydrogen gas for many uses, with the hydrogen being produced by electrolysis of water using electricity generated from solar or wind facilities, or by steam reforming of methane, with the resulting CO2 being captured and stored.  Now it looks as if the city of Leeds in the UK will be the first to try this on large scale, with complete conversion by 2025-2030.

Peabody Energy, the largest U.S. coal company, announced early Wednesday that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Concerning the cause, Benjamin Hulac of E&E News wrote: “Cheap and plentiful natural gas, as well as an oversupplied market of inexpensive coal — not environmental regulations — are the primary forces behind Peabody Energy Corp.’s bankruptcy and others in the U.S. coal industry, a wide range of financial experts said.”  Meanwhile, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund sold its shares in 52 coal-dependent companies, thereby divesting from coal.

In addition to the melting of glaciers due to global warming, there are several natural phenomena that contribute to sea level rise.  Now a new paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, has found that over the period 1970 to 2005, two-thirds of sea level rise was due to human influences.  In addition, subsidence, both natural and human-caused, is making a significant contribution to “recurrent flooding” in a region from Delaware to northern North Carolina, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  Finally, another new paper in Nature Climate Change has found that many more small island will become arid in the face of climate change than had been thought previously.  Now it is thought that 73% are at risk of aridity, rather than 50%.

An analysis by the World Resources Institute has found that dedicating just a small percentage of a carbon tax to the redevelopment of communities in West Virginia’s coal country would have a major impact on preventing economic collapse in the region.  That information was presented at a national energy conference in Morgantown focusing on the future of West Virginia.  A more detailed accounting of the conference can be found here.

For the first time in three years, U.S. solar panel manufacturer First Solar Inc. is producing panels for less than China’s largest supplier, Trina Solar, Ltd., thereby justifying more than $3 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. government.

A new meta-analysis of the various papers estimating the percent of climate scientists that agree that humans are causing climate change by emitting long-lived greenhouse gases to the atmosphere has confirmed that the value is between 90% and 100%.

The start of the melt season in Greenland is defined as the day the percent of the ice sheet undergoing melting equals or exceeds 10%.  The record earliest start date was May 5, 2010.  Well, on Monday (April 11, 2016) 12% of the Greenland ice sheet was melting, setting a new record for earliest start.  Perhaps that was because January through March was the hottest three month start to any year on record, according to NASA.  Also, March 2016 was the hottest March on record according to both NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Although wind turbines kill far fewer birds than do buildings and domestic cats, bird mortality, particularly for eagles and other raptors, is still a concern.  At a recent American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) conference in Charleston, SC two new technologies were showcased that help detect birds and bats flying near wind farms.  Also AWEA announced in Denver this week that wind produced 4.7% of the nation’s electricity in 2015.

Information continues to come to light concerning what and when the oil and gas industry knew about the link between CO2 emissions and climate change.  This time the focus is on the American Petroleum Institute (API), the trade organization for oil and gas.  The Center for International Environmental Law has revealed that the Stanford Research Institute presented a report to API in 1968 that warned the release of CO2 from burning fossil fuels could carry an array of harmful consequences for the planet.  Meanwhile, ExxonMobil has sued to block a subpoena issued by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands seeking more of its documents on climate change.

More bad news about coral this week.  A new paper in the journal Science has found that there has been a mechanism operating in the Great Barrier Reef that protects the coral from death when it experiences a bleaching event due to elevated temperature.  Unfortunately, in the future as temperatures continue to warm that mechanism will no longer happen.

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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