Climate News Roundup 4/29/2016

Representatives from 175 nations gathered at the U.N. headquarters in New York City last Friday, Earth Day, to sign the Paris Climate Agreement.  According to Mark Trumbull of the Christian Science Monitor, the signing is evidence of the changed mind-set that made the accord possible.  On the other hand, writing in The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg reminds us that we have a long way to go to put the promises of Paris into action.

This next item comes under the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?”.  It is widely recognized that for intermittent generators like wind and solar to become major sources of electricity, large scale energy storage will be required.  One technique currently in use at nuclear power plants (which work best with constant output) is pumped storage.  Unfortunately, building reservoirs has large environmental impacts and can only be done where there is adequate water.  So, how about moving something else up and down hill, such as electric trains carrying heavy loads that use electricity to get up the hill and generate it coming down?  That is what a company called ARES is doing.

Peter Sinclair has a new video entitled “Surveilling the Scientists” in his Climate Denial Crock of the Week series.  Meanwhile a new poll by Yale and George Mason Universities finds that the Republican electorate is showing increased acceptance of the threat posed by climate change.

Leaders of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other major global institutions say cutting CO2 emissions enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change will not be possible unless all fossil fuel polluters are forced to pay for the CO2 they emit.  Toward that end, the first High Level Assembly of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC) was held at the World Bank recently.  The mission of the CPLC is to identify and advance ways to build effective, transparent, and equitable carbon pricing into the national climate action plans of the parties to the Paris Accord.

The count of oil and gas rigs in the U.S. has dropped by 78% from its high in October 2014 to the lowest number since Baker Hughes began compiling data in 1944.  On Monday, The Hill published a special magazine on energy and environment policy, “The Future of Energy in the United States.”  On Wednesday, the Institute for Energy Economics issued a report questioning the necessity for building both the Atlantic Coast pipeline and Mountain Valley pipeline.  Speaking of energy, infrastructure is indeed important.  Blocking pipeline projects is an important tool in the effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground, but what about blocking transmission lines carrying wind power from the mid-west to the east or west?

China has issued new energy guidelines halting construction of new coal-fired power plants in many parts of the country until at least 2018.  Meanwhile, here in Virginia our legislature and governor continued their battles over coal in the one-day veto session.  Ivy Main provides her thoughts on the outcome.  The use of coal in the U.S. has declined 29% since 2007.

Research by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the World Resources Institute has found that while micro-grids have brought light to poor families in India and Nepal, they have not provided sufficient electricity to help business or spur industry.

In partnership with Geostellar, a national solar installer, Etsy will help its sellers install solar panels on their home studios or businesses as a way to reduce Etsy’s carbon footprint.  Meanwhile, according to a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity, 10 states account for more than 35% of the total rooftop-solar technical potential in the contiguous U.S., but less than 3% of total installed capacity, thanks to weak or nonexistent policies. Virginia is among them.

The Internet offers us a wealth of information.  Unfortunately, much is of unknown credibility.  This is particularly true of articles about climate change.  Now a new resource is available to us to help us assess the credibility of articles about climate: Climate Feedback.  An article in The Guardian by the founder and an editor explains what they do and how they do it.

In prior Weekly Roundups I have linked to articles about the importance of framing issues to the values of the target audience.  Now a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has shown that when climate issues were re-framed in terms of patriotism, loyalty, authority and purity, values important to conservatives, conservatives were more likely to adopt favorable attitudes.

Tracking the extent of Arctic sea ice is very important for a number of reasons, not least of which is its value as an indicator of global warming.  Tracking is done by satellite using an instrument that detects microwaves emitted from Earth.  The value of this type of sensor is that it can collect data in the presence of clouds and the absence of sunlight.  Unfortunately, the major satellite that scientists have been relying on experienced operational failures that compromise its data, other satellites are getting old, and currently there are no plans to launch a new one.  Satellites have proved useful for tracking climate change in other ways.  For example, using data from satellite sensors collected over the past 30 years, an international team of scientists has been able to document a greening of Earth’s vegetation due to fertilization by the added CO2 in the atmosphere.  Their results have been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Although satellites have proven to be useful for tracking climate change, the record available from them is relatively short.  For longer term records, scientists must turn to surrogate measurements or direct observations kept over long periods.  Perhaps the longest continuous record of observations is that made by Shinto priests in the Kino Mountains of central Japan, who have recorded the date of appearance of an ice ridge on Lake Suwa each year since 1443.  Or, consider the glaciers in the Austrian Alps, which have been measured by a variety of groups since the 1800’s.  Both of these provide important records against which to compare surrogate measurements.

Berkshire Hathaway will hold its annual shareholder meeting on April 30 and investors everywhere will pay attention to every word uttered by Warren Buffett.  Once again consideration will be given to a shareholder resolution requiring the company to disclose climate risks facing its insurance business.  James Hansen will speak, urging Buffett to consider the future of young people in his investment strategy.  Writing in Inside Climate News, Nicholas Kusnet describes the extensive fossil fuel holdings of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett’s response to climate change, and investor’s attempts to change it.  However, as pointed out by Mindy Lubber in Forbes, not all business is standing on the sidelines of the climate change fight.

Only a handful of states have enacted a price on carbon and all of them use cap-and-trade.  A ballot initiative in Washington seeks to make that state the first to adopt a revenue neutral carbon tax.  John Upton at Climate Central describes the arguments going on over the initiative.  Closer to home, in an editorial posted late on Tuesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has come out in favor of a carbon tax.

New research published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles has found that as the world warms more low oxygen zones will develop in the oceans, impacting life there.

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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