Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/7/2016

The big news this week is that sufficient countries have signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement to allow it to go into force, which will happen Nov. 4CarbonBrief has an explanation of what that implies. President Obama hailed the milestone as “historic”, but House Speaker Ryan said it “would be disastrous for the American economy.”  Presidential candidate Donald Trump has promised to “cancel” the agreement if he is elected.  Writing in Fortune, David Z. Morris presents three options whereby Trump could stop U.S. participation.  Because of the threat that poses, climate scientist Michael Mann has written about “the irreparable harm that would be done by a climate change-denying, anti-science-driven Trump presidency.”


The Pew Research Center has released the results of a new poll on the views of the American public on climate change.  While some of the findings were not surprising, what really startled me was the low regard and deep distrust with which many view climate scientists.  Nevertheless, one thing the public was united on is support for more wind and solar power.  Solar Pulse, a Denver-based energy company, found that over the past five years Californians in Republican leaning areas were more likely to buy solar panels for their homes than those in Democratic areas.  In a display of bipartisanship, Representatives John Delaney (D-MD) and Chris Gibson (R-NY) have introduced the Delaney-Gibson Climate Solutions Commission Act (H.R. 6240), which would bring together the two political parties to create a 10-member commission to find agreement and create action on climate change.  Finally, if you have been struggling with what you can do help fight climate change, perhaps a letter to a loved one in the future will help clarify your thinking and move you to action.  That is the premise behind DearTomorrow, a nascent project that’s archiving letters about climate change written by people to their future children, selves, or family.

As Hurricane Matthew leaves the Caribbean and impacts the southeastern U.S. Joe Romm lays out the evidence that it has been made more severe by climate change.  However, as Chris Mooney of The Washington Post points out: “So in sum — even as people will inevitably invoke climate change to discuss Matthew, any precise attribution remains complex and the science isn’t settled on precisely what is happening with hurricanes in the Atlantic.  Still we’re living in a warming world with more moisture and higher seas, and it’s hard to dispute that that matters.”

A new report released on Thursday documents that three-quarters of 276 U.S. National Parks are experiencing an earlier onset of spring.  Half of the parks studied are experiencing “extreme” early springs.

According to a new study, published in Science Advances, without significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the likelihood that the American southwest will have a megadrought (> 35 years duration) this century is 99%.  However, keeping global temperature rise to no more than 2°C would cut this risk by half.  Meanwhile, as the drought continues in California, water conservation is declining.

James Hansen (and a group of 11 coauthors) has again published a manuscript in an open discussion journal, Earth System Dynamics Discussion, where it can be reviewed until November 15, 2016.  As with the previous paper published in this way, some have reacted critically, particularly because the manuscript was developed in support of a lawsuit by Hansen and a group of young people seeking to force more ambitious climate action.  The paper concludes that “Continued high fossil fuel emissions unarguably sentences young people to either a massive, possibly implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both···.”


A new study, published in the journal Nature, has both good news and bad news about methane emissions to the atmosphere.  The bad news is that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are 20-60% greater than had been thought.  The good news is that anthropogenic methane emissions have fallen as a fraction of production, from 8% in the mid-1980s to around 2% in the late 2000s and early 2010s.  In addition, the study found that methane emissions from fossil fuel activities accounted for less than half of the total.

While many have cheered the decline in the use of coal for power generation because of high CO2 emissions, coal is still very much in demand globally.  In fact, Reuters says that “talk of coal’s demise is proving premature, with prices soaring from 10-year lows this year and further rises on the cards into 2017 as the ‘dirty’ fuel continues to be very much in demand for power generation”. It adds that “following half a decade of steady decline, thermal coal physical and futures prices have all rallied between 50% and 80% this year, taking many in the industry by surprise.”  Nevertheless, Anders Runevad, CEO and Group President of Vestas Wind Systems A/S, thinks that the future belongs to renewables, although some question whether the European wind industry is being driven to unrealistically low prices because of intense competition.

On Monday Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced to the House of Commons that Ottawa will impose a $7.62 per metric ton minimum tax on carbon commencing in 2018, which will rise by $7.62 each year until it reaches $38.11 per metric ton in 2022.  Unsurprisingly, this announcement met with a range of reactions from the various provinces.  Across the border, in Washington State, a ballot initiative to enact a revenue neutral carbon tax is meeting opposition from a surprising quarter.  The story is a precautionary tale for those proposing carbon taxes.

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club organized a press conference on Tuesday morning where a diverse group of community leaders voiced concerns about the increase in CO2 emissions proposed in Dominion Virginia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).  The Sierra Club is participating in the State Corporation Commission’s proceedings on Dominion’s IRP.  Meanwhile, in a letter dated Wednesday (Oct. 5), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects approved construction of Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. LLC’s (Transco) Virginia Southside Expansion Project II, which would serve the needs of Dominion Virginia Power to fuel a new 1,580 MW power plant it plans to build in Greensville County, VA.

International aviation is currently responsible for about 2% of worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases.  Thus, it is significant that on Thursday governments from more than 190 countries adopted a measure that could force air carriers to take major steps to improve the fuel economy in their routes and fleets.  The accord will take effect in 2021.  It was necessary because international aviation was not covered by the Paris Climate Agreement.  Both critics and supporters of the measure noted that much work remains to be done before the agreement is put into effect.

According to a new report issued by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, “the investment choices we make even over the next two to three years will start to lock in for decades to come either a climate-smart, inclusive growth pathway, or a high-carbon, inefficient and unsustainable pathway.”  It also said that the subsidies paid to support fossil fuels, amounting to $550 billion worldwide in 2014, represent “fundamental price distortions” in the market place and must be phased out by 2025 at the latest.

The Petra Nova carbon capture system, under construction at a coal-fired power plant southwest of Houston, will go online before the end of the year.  It will be the largest post-combustion carbon capture system installed on an existing power plant in the world.  The CO2 captured will be used for enhanced oil recovery.  In addition, Norway will invest $45m in research for CO2 capture and storage technology for three industrial plants: a cement factory, an ammonia plant, and a waste incinerator.

According to EPA data released on Tuesday, CO2 emissions from power plants declined 6.2% last year relative to 2014.  In addition, emissions from large industrial sources dropped 4.9%.

A study published in the journal Energy Policy argues that when the “fuel rebound effect” is properly accounted for, 3 gallons of corn-derived ethanol must be burned to avoid burning one gallon of petroleum-derived gasoline.  The findings led the researchers to conclude that America’s renewable fuel standard “actually leads to a net increase” in greenhouse gas emissions.

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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