Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/22/2016

Last September, the 193 member states of the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  Now, the first scorecard on those goals has been released, and the U.S. doesn’t rank very well, coming in 25th among the 150 countries evaluated.

Climate

Once again, a new monthly temperature record has been set, with both NOAA and NASA declaring that June 2016 was the hottest June on record, making it the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking temperatures.  This prompted Deke Arndt, the head of the climate monitoring division at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, to state in an email to Climate Central: “It’s important to keep perspective here. Even if we aren’t setting records, we are in a neighborhood beyond anything we had seen before early 2015.  We’ve left the 20th century far behind. This is a big deal.”  Looking to the future, according to United Nations research, higher temperatures caused by climate change may cost global economies more than $2 trillion by 2030 due to lost worker productivity.

If you’ve been paying attention to the weather you know that parts of the U.S. are experiencing a severe heat wave.  This raises the obvious question: is the heat wave related to climate change?  Chris Mooney examines this question in light of a new report on attribution of extreme weather events from the National Academy of Sciences.  John Abraham has good advice in The Guardian on how to cool someone who has hyperthermia or is otherwise over heated.

Over the four year period from January 2011 through December 2014 Greenland lost around one trillion tons of ice and the rate of ice loss is increasing.  On the other side of the globe, the Antarctic peninsula has been known to be warming since measurements were started in 1951, but now a new study has found that it started cooling slightly around 1998.  Chris Mooney explains that this doesn’t refute global warming, while Roz Pidcock takes a deeper dive into the study.  At The Conversation Australian scientists explain the differences between land ice and sea ice, as well as the impacts of changes in each.  Finally, scientists have started a 3 year study of how the summer growth of red, green, and brown colored algae on the ice in Greenland is affecting the absorption of the sun’s heat, thereby increasing the melt rate.

Climate Central has released an updated version of its Surging Seas Risk Finder that clearly illustrates the impacts of rising sea level.  The original version was really good and the new one looks even better.  This video provides a short tutorial.

Last Friday the EPA issued updated regulations that will reduce methane emissions from landfills containing municipal solid waste.

According to Justin Marshall, of the University of Queensland and the chief investigator of the citizen science program Coral Watch, complete ecosystem collapse has occurred in parts of the Great Barrier Reef following the wide-scale bleaching that occurred due to high water temperatures during the recent summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Diplomats are in Vienna negotiating a modification to the Montreal protocol to phase out HFC refrigerants, which are much more potent greenhouse gases than CO2.  With 1.6 billion air conditioners expected to be installed worldwide by 2050 as the world warms up, it is important that the refrigerants in them neither damage the ozone layer or exacerbate global warming.  The negotiators are optimistic about reaching a tentative agreement by Saturday, which will be formally adopted in October.

Although the devastating El Niño of 2015 to 2016 has now subsided, in many parts of Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia rains and harvests are not expected to recover until 2017, causing an extreme humanitarian crisis on those regions of the world.

Energy

As they say, the devil is in the details, but if the Hazer Group’s technology for producing hydrogen from methane pans out it will provide a way to economically produce large quantities of hydrogen without also producing CO2.  In fact, it ties up the carbon as graphite.  This provides a reason to be hopeful about our future energy supply.

A new study by the Environment Virginia Research and Policy Center has found that Virginia ranks 39th among the 50 states in installed solar capacity per capita, whereas North Carolina ranks 5th and Maryland 14th.

Eduardo Porter, who writes the “Economic Scene” column for The New York Times, has some interesting thoughts about the rapid increase in renewables and its impact on the total energy mix.  He is concerned that it will throw efforts to combat climate change off course.  One concern Porter expresses is that nuclear power will be priced out of the market, causing its carbon-free power to be replaced by natural gas power plants with their associated CO2 emissions.  The state of New York is considering subsidies to its nuclear power plants to prevent this from happening.

John Wihbey, writing at Yale Climate Connection, looks at the pros and cons of a carbon tax as a way of combating climate change.  Ruth Greenspan Bell, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a research associate at the Columbia Business School, examines the factors that must be considered when deciding whether to enact a carbon tax.  In spite of the questions raised in the preceding two articles, Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has stated that Canada will have a national price on carbon by the end of this year.

Shell’s answer to the question of what strategy oil companies should follow to stay viable in a carbon-constrained world is to focus more on natural gas and less on oil.  Consequently, it now has a 20% share of the global liquefied natural gas market, scores of giant gas tankers prowling the seas, and double the production capacity of its closest competitor, ExxonMobil.  Still, some question the strategy.  Meanwhile, Oil Change International and 11 other environmental organizations have issued a report that finds that if the U.S. builds all 19 natural gas pipelines that have been proposed in the eastern part of the country, it will be unable to meet its emission-reduction targets under the Paris climate agreement.

A review of auto and light truck fuel efficiency standards by EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has revealed significant progress in the auto industry in improving fuel efficiency to meet the standard set for 2025.  The only impediment to meeting the standard is that the public is buying more trucks and larger autos as a result of low gasoline prices.  One way to increase the average fuel efficiency in the U.S. is to replace cars powered by gasoline and diesel engines with plug-in electric cars.  Two impediments to doing that are a lack of charging stations and the time required to charge.  Consequently, the Obama administration has announced an array of new initiatives to address both impediments.

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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