Climate News Roundup 5/13/2016

Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading (UK), has come up with absolutely the best animated graphic ever to illustrate Earth’s warming since 1850.  It’s a must-see.  Speaking of communication about climate change, a new study published in Journal of Environmental Psychology suggests that our perception of what those around us think about climate change influences our willingness to talk about it.

Doug Hendren has added another song to his website.  The subject this time is the social cost of carbon.  Enjoy and share.  Also on a Virginia note, Ivy Main has a new blog post, this one about the legislators who have been named to the new subcommittee of the House and Senate Commerce and Labor Committees that will review the energy legislation carried over from the 2016 General Assembly.  She has a second post about Appalachian Power.  As part of the WBEZ, Chicago, “Heat of the Moment” series, a young environmental activist comes to terms with her upbringing in coal country.

Marlene Cimons has a good guest column in Climate Progress about the particular difficulties low-income families face with electric utility bills and some things that can be done about it.  Unfortunately, some of the solutions, such as community solar, are not available in Virginia.  What is available is weatherization through a federal program administered by Community Housing Partners, the contractor for our area.  CAAV (led by Joni Grady) has been working to make low- and moderate-income families aware of the program, but getting the word out is difficult.  So if you have connections with a local church or community organization that can help spread the word, send an email to and volunteer.  Contrary to what the article says, renters of houses or duplexes can apply with the permission of their landlord.  The landlord need not initiate the application.  On the subject of energy efficiency, Rocky Mountain Institute’s 15,610 square foot new office building and convening center in Basalt, Colorado, has no traditional central heating and cooling system in spite of being located in the coldest climate zone in the continental U.S.  They achieved this with passive, integrative design.

Speaking with a Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA) reporter after an event at the Whitewater Preserve in California on Thursday, May 5, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said “I think that to keep it in the ground is naive.”  As far as coal is concerned, a look at the new charts from Carbon Brief shows that just keeping U.S. coal in the ground won’t have a big impact on global CO2 emissions.  It is going to require a global effort.  Nevertheless, it is significant that the Lummi Nation has prevailed in its fight to block the largest coal port ever proposed in North America, at Cherry Point, WA.

Frustrated with the snail’s pace of action on getting humanity off of fossil fuels, many people feel that the only course of action left is civil disobedience, as articulated in an opinion piece by Kara Moses.  Toward that end, activists are gathering at two oil refineries in the state of Washington this weekend.  The “Keep it in the ground” campaign is having an impact on the way the Bureau of Land Management conducts auctions for leases of federal lands for oil and gas exploration.  Activists are also getting under ExxonMobil’s skin (so to speak) with their campaign centered on ExxonMobil’s early knowledge about the causes of climate change.  Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, ConocoPhillips and other companies have given up their leases for drilling rights on 2.2 million acres in the Chukchi Sea; leases they had paid $2.5 billion for in 2008.

I try to minimize political news in the Weekly Roundup but have decided to include this item because it is directly related to climate and energy policy.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post explains “why this could finally be the election in which climate change matters.”

Speaking Friday, May 6, at a Stanford University conference on “Setting the Climate Agenda for the Next U.S. President”, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, said that if elected she plans to have a situation room just for climate change in the White House.  Climate Wire has a more detailed look at what was discussed at the conference.

Although the eastern U.S. has been cool and rainy, the western U.S. has had a hot spring.  So hot, in fact, that the contiguous 48 states have recorded the second hottest year to date.  The west was warm enough to melt much of the snowpack so that “Most areas saw major decreases in snowpack during April and are now below normal,” according to the final “Western Snowpack and Water Supply Conditions” report of the season issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.  Further north and east, spring has been so hot in the Arctic that fractures are already evident in the sea ice north of Greenland.

The fire in the boreal forest near Fort McMurray in Canada is just the latest around the world.  Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain, writing in the New York Times, examine the impacts of climate change on forests and wildfires.

Although it is fairly long (and contains a lot of arguments directed at other authors), this post by Joe Romm makes some important points about the wide-spread acceptance of the 1.5 C limit and the ability to achieve it with existing technology.  Part 2 is here.  Meanwhile, Shell has issued a supplement to its New Lens scenarios that lays out its vision of what it will take to meet the goals of the Paris accord.

Apex Clean Energy has filed its application with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to build a wind farm with 25 turbines on top of North Mountain in Botetourt County.  As part of the application, Apex has outlined steps it will take to minimize deaths of bats and other wildlife.

The Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba could well be serving as a renewable energy laboratory for the rest of the world.  Since they have their own isolated power grid they must deal with the problems of integrating solar and wind energy into their grid as they install significant quantities.  How they manage things may influence what happens in larger countries.  Germany seems to have figured out how to manage renewable energy because, on average, 30% of its energy comes from renewables.  What is really interesting, though, is that on May 8 at 11:00 am, 90% of Germany’s electric demand was being met by renewables.  Between midnight and 4 am on May 10 no electricity was being generated with coal in England for the first time ever.  In Denmark, as a result of some unique circumstances, 42% of the electricity is provided by wind.  Phil McKenna of Inside Climate News interviews author Justin Gerdes concerning his new book about Denmark’s experience.

U.S. energy sector CO2 emissions fell in 2015, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported on Monday, pushing emissions 12% below 2005.  Because the economy is 15% larger than it was in 2005, the U.S. produced 23% fewer emissions per unit of GDP.  The EIA has also released its International Energy Outlook 2016, which examines a number of scenarios for future energy use.  Unfortunately, none of them considers the national pledges toward the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The EPA announced new rules on Thursday to reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas facilities, as well as those undergoing modifications.  The rules will require oil and gas companies to monitor and limit the release of methane into the atmosphere at production, processing and transmission facilities.  No regulations exist yet for existing facilities, although they are being worked on.  An example of the need is that the Bakken oil field leaks approximately 275,000 tons annually.

One way that people are seeking to decrease the carbon footprint of transportation is to make liquid transportation fuels using the CO2 captured from power plants that burn fossil fuels.  This has always seemed like a poor idea to me because the objective is to quit emitting fossil carbon to the atmosphere, not just delay its journey there.  Still, I have not seen much from the scientific community about this flaw in thinking until this post to RealClimate.  One requirement for the reuse of CO2 is its capture in association with the combustion of fossil fuels.  Thus, it is interesting that DOE appears to be ready to pull the plug on a large carbon capture and storage demonstration project in Texas.

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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