Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/19/2016

Bill McKibben has a new article, entitled “A World at War” in The New Republic.  Then, on Vox Dave Roberts asks “Is It Useful to Think of Climate Change as a ‘World War’?”.


The big news this week has been the terrible flooding in Louisiana as a result of over 2 ft of rain in just a couple of days.  I’m sure you’ve read about it, so I won’t link to the news articles.  Rather, Chris Mooney had a good piece in The Washington Post about the relationship between the flooding and climate change.  He also has in interesting analysis entitled “‘A changing climate is and will continue to put people out of their homes’”  In addition, Angela Fritz of the Capital Weather Gang explained the meteorology of the event.

Both NASA and NOAA have analysed the global temperature record and declared July 2016 as the hottest month ever recorded.  The Japan Meteorological Agency agreed.  The record high temperatures are having impacts all over the world.  And, as Dana Nuccitelli explains, we have already locked in a lot more warming, just from the CO2 we’ve already emitted.

As if we didn’t have enough to be concerned about, a new study has found meltwater lakes on the surface of the coastal Langhovde Glacier in East Antarctica.  Such lakes can have a number of negative impacts on glacier stability.  While it is too early to say just how important these lakes will prove to be, their presence has scientists concerned.  Another new concern that is just becoming evident is the formation of marine heatwaves, often referred to as blobs, that persist and cause extensive damage to marine ecosystems.  Michael Slezak provides a primer on them at The Guardian.

The Amazon rain forest is considered to be a major sink for the CO2 we emit into the atmosphere.  Because of the increased incidence of drought and fire in the forest, there is concern that its nature may be changing, as explained in this piece from Yale Climate Connections.

And now for some good news: TV meteorologists are finally getting it and starting to explain to their audiences the links between what is happening in the weather and climate change.  This is a huge change because TV meteorologists are typically the only scientists most people ever encounter.  Be sure and watch the first video at the link, but be prepared for some chilling footage from the Ellicott City, MD flooding on July 30.

Japan and New Zealand have announced that they will ratify the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, but they are being criticized for the weakness of their commitments.  Meanwhile, China’s lawmakers will consider ratification at a meeting at the end of this month.  The agreement will go into force when 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions have ratified it.  With the announcement of Japan and New Zealand, 57 countries have now indicated they will ratify or have already ratified the agreement by year’s end.  They account for 57.88% of global emissions, according to Climate Analytics.

According to new studies, insurance companies are lagging in their adaptation to climate change.  One bad practice by states is the capping of insurance premiums for houses in vulnerable areas, such as coastal regions.  This passes costs on to policy holders in other areas and removes incentives for those in the vulnerable areas to take protective action.  On a related topic, Chelsea Leu takes a look at floodplain maps and their impacts on who must be insured.


One of the most interesting articles I read this week on energy has to do with power company NRG Energy and its efforts to integrate clean energy sources into its portfolio.  It is a cautionary tale, but perhaps one that the executives at Dominion have taken too much to heart, making them too cautious.  Similarly, the French oil company Total SA is following a very different path from most major oil companies, and investing heavily in renewables and batteries.  David Ferris and Saqib Rahim of EnergyWire examine Total’s strategy and what it may mean for their future.

A growing segment of the solar market is community solar.  Under community solar, consumers who buy into a project don’t directly use the energy produced.  That’s sold to a local utility.  Instead, participants continue to buy power from their local providers, but their electric bills are reduced, based on how much the utility buys from the project.  Also, community projects use the grid to deliver power, and help pay for maintaining the utilities’ infrastructure.  That makes them less of a threat to traditional power companies.  Is there a place for this in Virginia?  Perhaps so, if VA SUN is successful in swaying the VA legislature with its “solar rights” petition drive.

I provided links last week to blog posts about the new fuel economy standards for large trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles.  Well, on Tuesday, the Obama administration issued the final version of those standards.  These Phase 2 standards will impacts trucks in the 2021 to 2027 model years.  Phase 1 standards are currently in effect through model year 2020.  Here is another blog post from EDF about the new standards.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency has projected that CO2 emissions from natural gas will exceed those from coal in 2016.  However, emissions from petroleum still exceed either of the other two fuels.  As far as emissions of natural gas (methane) itself, a new study has found that aircraft-based sensors are capable of identifying super-emitters, allowing the focus of mitigation efforts to be placed on them.

Generating electricity by burning biomass is not as benign as one might think, and that is putting some politicians at odds with EPA as it tries to come up with meaningful regulations for the industry at a time it is having difficulty competing with cheap natural gas.

Is an electric car right for you?  A new MIT study has found that “Roughly 90 percent of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight,” according to the study’s senior author.  Simon Evans has an analysis of the study on Carbon Brief and Chris Mooney has a commentary in The Washington Post.

Native American and environmental activists from all over the country have gathered in a remote part of North Dakota to take a stand against the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which tribal members say threatens to pollute drinking water and damage sacred sites.  More recent news indicates that the developers of the pipeline have agreed to stop construction until a federal court hearing next week in Washington, DC.  Meanwhile, just as property rights issues have been used to fight against natural gas pipelines, they are also being used to fight electric power transmission lines planned to carry wind energy from the Oklahoma panhandle to Southeastern states.

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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