Climate News Roundup 4/22/2016

I recently got around to reading the April 4 issue of Chemical and Engineering News, the weekly magazine of the American Chemical Society, and read an article I thought I should share with you.  It is an opinion piece by Jack N. Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.  I am including it this week just so you can read what the other side thinks.  Along those same lines, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is seen by some as a way for the fossil fuel industry to continue, although as this article shows, CCS faces significant financial hurdles.  The battle to leave fossil fuels in the ground will indeed be long and difficult.

Eduardo Porter had a thought-provoking column in the Economy section of The New York Times entitled “Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change“.

The current issue of Yes! magazine is devoted to “Life after Oil”, with articles by Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, and more.

On Wednesday the Senate passed a bipartisan energy bill that has some good clean energy provisions but also some things that groups concerned about climate change find disturbing.  Among the latter is a provision that declares the burning of biomass “carbon neutral.”  The Senate bill must be reconciled with the bill passed earlier by the House.  Closer to home, the Virginia General Assembly failed to override Governor McAuliffe’s veto of a bill that would have extended tax credits associated with coal.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) has issued a new paper entitled “Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future.”  The concepts presented in the paper have been summarized in 12 charts by the authors and Chelsea Harvey has a summary in The Washington Post.  Meanwhile, a new paper in Nature Communications reports on a thought experiment that investigated scenarios for meeting the world’s food needs in 2050 within the constraint of no more deforestation.  Finally, another interesting article from WRI summarizes six climate milestones that have occurred since Paris.

It is only April, yet many places in India are experiencing temperatures in excess of 40 C (104 F).  On the other hand, a new study published in Nature has found that over the past 40 years Americans have experienced warmer (i.e., more pleasant) weather in January, while July temperatures have not increased sufficiently to be uncomfortable.  Thus, Americans’ experience with the weather has not served as a motivation for climate action.

Houston, Texas experienced record rainfall Sunday night and Monday, with one unofficial weather station reporting 20 inches.  Houston is 50 miles inland and has an elevation of 50 ft, so things are pretty flat there.  Consequently, there was lots of flooding.  This is the second time in a year that Houston has experienced severe flooding.  So what do they mean by a 100 year flood?

On Monday faith leaders signed an Interfaith Statement on Climate Change, which urges “all Heads of State to promptly sign and ratify the Paris Agreement.”  More than 80 groups and 3,600 individuals of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim faith signed on.  Some, however, question just how soon ratification should occurCarbon Brief explains the difference between adoption, signing, and ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The World Resources Institute unveiled its interactive Paris Agreement Tracker this week to help us keep track of progress toward ratification and The New York Times presented a status report on where the major players lie in meeting their pledges.

The Paris Climate Agreement pledged to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C.”  This raises the question of how much less the impacts of a 1.5 C world will be.  To try and answer that question researchers at Climate Analytics in Germany ran simulations with the models used in the 2013 IPCC report and the results were published Thursday in the journal Earth Systems Dynamics.  Roz Pidcock of Carbon Brief summarizes their results and provides a graphic for easy comparison of the impacts at the two temperatures.

There was still more bad news this week about coral in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.  Scientists have finished a survey of the entire reef and have found extensive bleaching in all three regions, with more than 99% in the north, 90% in the central, and 75% in the south.  Interestingly, scientists say that Queensland’s largest newspaper, the Courier Mail, is not adequately covering the coral bleaching event and consequently, they have taken out a full page ad in the paper to inform the public about what is happening.  Later in the week bleaching was also reported in western Australia.

In a paper published Monday, Canadian scientists report on the effect of declining sea ice on polar bear populations in the Beaufort Sea and Hudson Bay. The scientists worked with data from GPS collars that detailed the bears’ movements and compared them with satellite imagery detailing the extent of sea ice.  They found that only one-quarter of the bears had to swim more than 30 miles in 2004, whereas the number had risen to two-thirds by 2012.  Scientists at the meeting of the European Geophysical Union in Vienna have told Robert McSweeney of Carbon Brief that several signs suggest that the extent of Arctic sea ice could shrink to a new record low this summer.

A recent essay in Nature Energy argues that solar still has some hard economic obstacles to overcome before it can become a major energy source.  As adoption of solar expands, a significant problem will be “value deflation”, in which the electricity generated by solar panels gets less and less valuable as more panels come online.  Writing for Vox, Brad Plummer discusses this problem and explains how the solar industry might overcome it.  Joe Romm has an extensive article in Climate Progress debunking once again the idea that we need a miracle to get off of fossil fuels.  We can do it with existing technologies.

Apex Clean Energy has initiated the process for approval of their proposal to site 25 wind turbines atop North Mountain in Botetourt County.  Globally, though, China dominates the wind energy market with more capacity installed than anyone else.

In an earlier Weekly Roundup I provided a link to an article about Wrightspeed, a company that has been converting garbage trucks and other heavy vehicles to electric motors.  Now New Zealand’s biggest urban bus company has signed a contract with them to convert their fleet of over 1000 buses.

There were a couple of articles this week dealing with trees.  One reported on a new report from Woods Hole Research Center about the state of tropical forests, which are still being lost at significant rates.  Part of that article was devoted to the role of indigenous people in maintaining intact forests.  The other article deals with the threat of climate change to the coastal redwoods of the North American west coast.  These are such magnificent trees of such unimaginable age that it is particularly sad to think that we are still threatening their existence.

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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