Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/3/2016

A special thanks to Joy Loving for handling the Weekly Roundup for me while I was away.  I greatly appreciate her help.

Need some inspiration?  Read this blog post by David Rivka at Citizens’ Climate Lobby about the efforts of Jim Probst in West Virginia.  On the other hand, if you want to be brought back to Earth you might consider Richard Heinberg’s comments at the Post Carbon Institute.  Or you can read the rather long essay by Naomi Klein in The London Review of Books on how our tendency for “othering” influences how we respond to the human tragedies of climate change.

The big news locally was that Dominion Virginia Power lost the $40 million grant from DOE that it had been given to help finance the off-shore wind demonstration project.  This puts the entire project in jeopardy.  In other Virginia news, the Department of Environmental Quality has imposed precedent-setting protections against greenhouse gases and other air pollutants from Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed gas power plant in Greensville County.  Finally Ivy Main has a new blog post about Dominion and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The G7 nations (U.S., UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the EU) have pledged to stop most fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.  The rub comes from how they define “most.”

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication have released a new report entitled Climate Change in the American Mind: March 2016.  Since spring 2015 the proportion of Americans who think global warming is happening has increased by 7 percentage points, to 70%.  Furthermore 58% now say that they are “somewhat” or “very” worried about the issue.

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the current El Nino has ended.  It still remains uncertain, however, whether it will be followed by La Nina.  The Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1.  There is a 45% chance that it will be near-normal, with 10 to 16 named storms, of which 4 to 8 will be hurricanes with 1 to 4 category 3 or higher.

According to a report from the US Geological Survey, Alaska may be a net sink for carbon throughout the 21st century, rather than a source as many had feared.  It should be noted, however, that this conclusion is controversial because of some potential sources or sinks not considered due to insufficient knowledge.  What is clear, however, is that wildfires must now be recognized as a significant driver of climate change.

More than one-third of the coral reefs in the central and northern regions of the Great Barrier Reef died in the huge bleaching event that occurred earlier this year.  In some regions mortality exceeded 50%.  Interestingly, the Australian government scrubbed all reference to Australia from a draft UNESCO report on the danger that climate change poses for World Heritage sites, of which the Great Barrier Reef is one.  This was done out of fear of the impacts of the report on tourism.  Graham Readfearn of The Guardian has a commentary on the affair and Amy Davidson summarizes what made it into the report in The New Yorker.

In a recent paper in Nature Geoscience lead author Dr. Kyle Armour stated: “When we talk about ‘global warming’, there is a tendency to imagine that the warming will occur everywhere at the same rate. Yet, we’ve seen very rapid warming in the Arctic and very slow warming over the ocean around Antarctica over the last 50 years.”  His paper reports on studies of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica and why its warming rate is low.  Robert McSweeney of CarbonBrief reports on the major findings from the paper as does Alister Doyle of Christian Science Monitor.  Meanwhile, a new study raises concern about the stability of another large glacier in West Antarctica, although it is currently stable, but retreating.

Hydroelectric power does not produce greenhouse gases, but it has other environmental and social impacts.  Thus, it is disturbing that the Democratic Republic of Congo is moving forward with construction of the Inga 3 dam on the Congo River even though environmental and social impact studies have not been completed.  Nevertheless, when done properly, hydroelectric power can serve an important role in a grid with a large percentage of solar and wind power.  On a similar note, the easing of the California drought has increased its springtime hydroelectric generation to the highest level since 2011.

Proponents of nuclear energy as part of the mix of generation systems for carbon-free electricity are counting on fourth-generation reactors.  One of the most promising is molten salt reactor (MSR) technology, which Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working on with China, as well as with others.  Meanwhile, in spite of arguments within the scientific community about the best direction to take, efforts are underway to keep existing second-generation nuclear reactors running in the U.S. as a source of carbon-free electricity.

A new meta-study published Monday by researchers from the Brookings Institution suggests that rooftop solar actually benefits all consumers — regardless of whether they have solar panels.  The findings from the study should be considered by all regulatory and legislative agencies considering actions regarding rooftop solar.  If you are buying a new home and wish to install solar panels Fannie Mae will allow you to roll their cost into your mortgage through their HomeStyle Energy Mortgage.  Also this week, California power companies cancelled $192 million worth of transmission upgrades because they are no longer necessary, thanks to improved energy efficiency and increased rooftop solar.

An analysis of China’s energy strategy by Greenpeace suggests that its coal use and carbon emissions could be 10% lower than expected by the end of the decade.  Furthermore, the Renewables Global Status Report by REN21 found that investments in renewables worldwide in 2015 were more than twice the amount spent on coal- and gas-fired power plants.  With China leading the way, developing nations spent more than developed nations on renewable power for the first time.  This is very important because as the world heats up and developing nations become more affluent, the demand for air conditioning will increase markedly, driving up electricity usage.

Sierra Club presented its electric vehicle buyer’s guide.  One of those vehicles is a Volkswagen, which is  targeting sales of one million electric vehicles by 2026 and is also considering building its own battery plant.  The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report Energy Technology Perspectives 2016 indicates that the electric vehicles sector is the only one on track to meet a 2C scenario.

As the developing world becomes more affluent, millions of buildings will be built for offices and residences.  Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told The Guardian that the number one priority in tackling climate change must be to ensure that those buildings meet higher standards of energy efficiency or they will commit the world to high greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.

On Wednesday, environmental groups said they would not comply with a sweeping request for information about climate change and ExxonMobil from the House Committee on Space, Science and Technology led by Chairman Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex).

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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