Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/23/2016

“On September 20, 2016, 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences, including 30 Nobel laureates, published an open letter to draw attention to the serious risks of climate change. The letter warns that the consequences of opting out of the Paris agreement would be severe and long-lasting for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.”

Oral arguments on the legality of the Clean Power Plan will be heard on Tuesday, September 27 before the Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit.  Judge Nina Pillard, who was appointed by President Obama, has been added to the list of judges hearing the case, bringing the number of judges appointed by Democrats to six.  Four justices have been appointed by Republicans.  Bloomberg has a summary of what you need to know about the case.  The Environmental Defense Fund’s Martha Roberts summarizes the health implications of the plan.

Climate

I mentioned last week that NASA had declared August to be tied with July as the hottest month since record-keeping began in 1880.  Now NOAA has declared that not only was August a record breaker, it extended the streak of record-breaking hottest months to 16.  In addition, the summer period (June through August) was also the warmest on record, 0.07°C warmer than the summer of 2015, the previous record holder.  Of course, a major question is what will happen in the future.  NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt had an interesting post entitled “Why We Don’t Know If It Will Be Sunny Next Month but We Know It’ll Be Hot All Year.”

Thirty-one additional countries joined the Paris climate agreement on Wednesday, bringing the total to 60, thereby exceeding one of the thresholds for the agreement to go into effect.  The other threshold is that the countries joining have cumulative CO2 emissions exceeding 55% of the global total.  The 60 countries that have joined so far have cumulative emissions just below 48%, but U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed confidence that the 55% threshold would be passed before the end of the year.  On Thursday, EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said that the EU is on course to join the agreement during October, thereby bringing cumulative emissions above the required 55%.

A new study, published in Science Advances, has found that ice melt on Greenland has been underestimated by around 8%.  It turns out that Greenland has been rebounding faster than had been thought in response to glacial melting.  Consequently, past estimates of the impacts of post-glacial rebound led to inaccurate estimates of the amount of ice loss.  The study also suggests that the rapid ice loss recorded by satellite measurements over the last 20 years is not likely to be an anomaly, but part of a long-term trend influenced by climate change.

A new modeling study in the journal Nature Communications suggests that during the mid-Pliocene warm period, when the CO2 content of the atmosphere was around 400 ppm (like today) and the temperature was 1-2°C warmer than today, the entire West Antarctic ice sheet had melted, driving some 10 ft of sea level rise.  In addition, the multi-kilometer thick ice that currently fills the extremely deep Aurora and Wilkes basins of the eastern ice sheet had retreated inland for hundreds of miles, driving sea level even higher.  This raises the question of whether we are in for similar events.

Complex Earth system models are used to make projections of future climate as CO2 continues to be discharged to the atmosphere.  In those models, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are determined by the balance between the sources and sinks of the gas.  One sink is the soil.  A new study published in the journal Science suggests that scientists have overestimated the rate at which Earth’s soils take up CO2.  As a consequence, soil’s carbon sequestration potential this century may be only half of what we thought it was, suggesting that reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will be harder than we had thought.

President Obama signed a directive on Wednesday telling 20 federal offices to develop a “federal climate and national security working group” to “identify the U.S. national security priorities related to climate change and national security, and develop methods to share climate science and intelligence information to inform national security policies and plans.”  Also on Wednesday, the National Intelligence Council released a report that states “Over 20 years, the net effects of climate change on the patterns of global human movement and statelessness could be dramatic, perhaps unprecedented.  If unanticipated, they could overwhelm government infrastructure and resources, and threaten the social fabric of communities.”

The Montreal Protocol of 1987 outlawed chlorofluorocarbons because of their negative impact on the ozone layer.  The major replacements for them as refrigerants were hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which subsequently were found to have global warming potentials of up to almost 15,000 CO2 equivalents.  Now a loose coalition of more than 100 countries is working toward an early phase-out of HFCs.

Last week I included a study on the effects of increased temperature on wheat production.  This week a new study on the effects of both temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentrations on the types of plants that grow in California grasslands was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  It found that CO2 levels above 400 ppm (the concentration today) had no effect, while higher temperatures had a negative effect.  In other words, CO2 fertilization did not offset the negative effects of higher temperatures.  In addition, a study published in Nature Communications, used a new approach combining standard climate change models with maximum land productivity data to predict how the potential productivity of cropland is likely to change over the next 50-100 years as a result of climate change.

Energy

A new study by think tank Oil Change International (OCI) shows that burning the known fossil fuels in all coal mines or oil and gas fields currently existing or under construction would release sufficient CO2 to push global average temperatures above the 2°C limit agreed upon in Paris.  Bill McKibben’s thoughts on this new study are in the New Republic.  On Thursday presidential candidate Donald Trump gave the keynote address at Shale Insights, an annual conference sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based pro-drilling group.  In his speech Trump reiterated his policy proposals that would open up vast regions of the United States to fossil fuel production.

Chevrolet this week confirmed the price of the all-electric Bolt at $37,495 and Brian Fung of The Washington Post had a chance to drive it.  His impressions are here.  Speaking of cars, the Rocky Mountain Institute issued a “truly sweeping report” on their future this week that forecasts that “peak car ownership in the United States will occur around 2020 and will drop quickly after that.”  This forecast depends on how rapidly autonomous vehicles are developed and electrification occurs, things that are likely to occur faster in urban areas than in the rest of the country.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC has signed Spring Ridge Constructors as lead construction contractor for the proposed 600-mile project to transport natural gas from West Virginia to eastern North Carolina.  Meanwhile, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the 2004 survey law by Hazel F. Palmer, whose property in Augusta County lies in the path of the proposed pipeline, where it would tunnel beneath the Appalachian Trail into Nelson County.  On Thursday, Governor Terry McAuliffe was met by protestors unhappy about his support for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines as he arrived in Roanoke for a Clean Energy Business Roundtable.  Finally, a poll of 732 registered Virginia voters found that 55% disagreed with Governor McAuliffe’s support for the pipelines.

How low can it go?  According to the Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority, six development teams competing for a 350-megawatt solar PV project offered preliminary bids below 4 cents per kilowatt-hour.  One coalition – Jinko Solar and Marubeni – offered a bid of 2.4 cents.  This is a new record low.

On Tuesday, Sustainable Development Technology Canada announced a project to link three widely dispersed microgrids in Toronto, Nova Scotia, and upstate Maine into a “transactive energy” framework.  Transactive energy is “the use of technical and economic signals to manage the exchange of electricity” and is one example of how systems with a large amount of distributed energy can be managed.  Perhaps if China had such a system it would be able to get more of its electricity from the many wind turbines it has installed.

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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