Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/2/2016

A new study has found that climate change continues to become a more partisan issue as time goes on.  I find that to be so sad because you would think that we could at least agree on something as important as the future of humans on Earth.  A detailed report of the study was published in the journal Environment, but you can read a synopsis at Desmog.

As the world’s focus moved toward the G20 summit Sept. 4-5 and possible action by the U.S. and China on climate change, on Thursday (World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation) the Pope once again spoke out about climate change and the environment.  The Guardian had a particularly strong and appropriate editorial about the Pope’s words.  Meanwhile, three insurers with a combined $1.2 trillion under management called upon the G20 nations to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020.  In addition, 30 mayors from cities including London, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, New York, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro urged national leaders to work with them to “build a low carbon, climate safe world”.

Climate

In 2000 Nobel-prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen and colleague Eugene Stoermer proposed that Earth had entered a new geological epoch because of human’s influence, bringing to an end the Holocene epoch.  They suggested the name Anthropocene for the new epoch.  Now, the Working Group on the Anthropocene of the International Union of Geological Sciences has voted in favor of Crutzen’s and Stoermer’s proposal, bringing it one step closer to formal adoption.

Ed Hawkins, the climate scientist who came up with the temperature spiral earlier this year, has developed a graphic that illustrates where the planet has warmed since 1850.  It contains 167 tiny maps of the world color-coded to show changes in temperature compared to 1850.  Even though it appeared last week, I just learned about this piece by Heidi Cullen showing projected maximum temperatures in the U.S. if we keep emitting CO2 at the rate we are now.  The figures are shocking.  How will we adapt to that?

Although the area covered by Arctic sea ice started out the year very low, this year’s minimum extent is not likely to set a new record, thanks to lots of cloudy weather that slowed down the melt rate.  Rather, scientists anticipate that this year’s minimum extent will rank somewhere between 2nd and 5th.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the ocean around Antarctica has become less salty over the past couple of decades.  Writing in The Washington Post, Chelsea Harvey explains why that has been happening and what it could mean for the rest of the world.

Reconstructions of temperature data over the past 1,000 years by NASA and NOAA have revealed that Earth is warming at a rate 20 times faster than the historical average, prompting climate scientist Gavin Schmidt to declare that it is “highly unlikely” that humankind can keep warming below 1.5 C.

What do Vermont, West Virginia, and Maryland have in common?  They have all been impacted by heavy rainfall and topography that channeled the resultant runoff into raging rivers that caused significant damage to life and property.  Vermont’s floods were five years ago (remember hurricane Irene?) and now Vermonters are working to make their state more resilient.  Perhaps there are lessons there that we can use to make us less susceptible if (when?) we get a heavy storm here in the Valley.  One thing is certain, however, based on an analysis of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): NFIP needs to shift its focus from a rebuilding program to a risk mitigation program.  For example, more than 2,100 properties have been rebuilt more than 10 times since 1978.

A new report by the Climate Institute finds that climate change will reduce the world-wide area suitable for growing coffee trees by half by 2050 under a business-as-usual scenario.  Considering forests of the future, a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that more diverse forests are better at adapting to a changing climate.  This suggests that protecting the biodiversity present in the Amazon (i.e., trying to preserve as many different species as possible) is a key tool that conservationists can use to help the ecosystem survive climate change.

When plants grow in an atmosphere with higher CO2 levels they lose less water through their pores, and thus don’t need to draw as much water from the soil, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  This suggests that the impacts of climate change-induced droughts may not be as severe as current modeling suggests.  Let’s hope so.

Energy

According to Phil McKenna at Inside Climate News, “Senior officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two other federal agencies raised serious environmental and safety objections to the North Dakota section of the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline, the same objections being voiced in a large protest by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that has so far succeeded in halting construction.”  Meanwhile, members of more than 150 Native American tribes have joined with the Standing Rock Sioux in their protest.

Although we tend to focus on the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan (CPP), it is important to remember that the EPA regulation limiting CO2 emissions from new coal- and gas-fired power plants is also under attack in the courts.  The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit published a briefing schedule Tuesday for that lawsuit.  The final briefs are not due until Feb. 6, which means that the new president’s Justice Department attorneys will be responsible for the final briefs and for oral arguments in front of the judges.  In a new lawsuit filed last week at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility asked the Court to require the federal government to consider the impacts of climate change when issuing oil and gas leases on public land.

The Federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that DOE was correct in using the Social Cost of Carbon when doing cost/benefit analyses.   This is an important decision and will have impacts on other upcoming court cases dealing with climate change mitigation, such as the CPP.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has completed a study of the ability of the Eastern Interconnection power grid to accept renewable energy.  The bottom line is that the grid could accept up to 30% “variable generation” in basically its present configuration, although changes would be required in how the grid and its power supplies would have to operate.  Geoffrey Heal, an economist at Columbia Business School, recently published a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that asks what it would cost to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from power generation to 80% below their 2005 level by 2050.  Eric Roston discusses his findings on Bloomberg.  Finally, the operator of the largest U.S. power market said it can meet the goals of the CPP while limiting the impact on power prices to a less than 3% rise, thereby challenging claims by CPP opponents that meeting the mandates will have a variety of dire effects, including price spikes.

Although it has only five turbines, the nation’s first off-shore wind farm has been completed and is ready to start generating electricity this fall.  Meanwhile, on land, Iowa Utilities Board has approved a 2 GW wind energy project in Iowa.  When placed into service, it will be the largest wind energy project in the nation, employing 1,000 2 MW Vestas turbines.

Richard Martin, senior editor for energy at MIT Technology Review, has an interesting and sobering piece entitled “Why We Still Don’t Have Better Batteries.”

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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