Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/14/2016

It has been said that no problem or movement will ever be recognized by the bulk of the population until the artists get involved.  The musical expression of climate change was expanded by the composition of Concert Climat by jazz pianist and composer Joseph Makholm, which premiered in part during the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) late last year. You can learn more about it here.  And on the subject of art and climate change, tech guru and programming analyst Andy Lee Robinson has produced an animated graphic of Arctic sea ice loss, accompanied by a piano composition of his own.

Climate

Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases were developed as refrigerants to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), refrigerants that were destroying the ozone layer.  While HFCs have little impact on the ozone layer, it turns out that they are very powerful greenhouse gases, being as much as 10,000 times more powerful than CO2.  Consequently, there is now a need to replace them.  Toward that end, nearly 200 nations have agreed to a legally-binding pact, built on the 1987 Montreal Protocol, to eliminate HFCs in a stepwise manner over the next several years.  Sophie Yeo at Carbon Brief explains why this matters.

There are two types of data sets used to assess whether and how much Earth is warming: instrumental surface measurements and mid-troposphere measurements made by satellite.  Those two types of data sets have not been in close agreement for the past 20 years, with satellite data showing less warming, and this has been capitalized on by those who argue against the existence human-caused climate change.  Now, a new paper in the Journal of Climate has found that after necessary corrections are made to the satellite data sets, the two types of temperature records are in much better agreement.

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, links an increase in forest fire damage in the western U.S. to man-made climate change.  According to the authors, “···human-caused climate change contributed to an additional 4.2 million ha of forest fire area during 1984–2015, nearly doubling the forest fire area expected in its absence.”

A couple of weeks ago I provided a link to climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe’s videos called Global Weirding, which illustrate why she is considered to be such a good communicator with the public about climate change.  Well this week, following her appearance at the White House with President Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, John Schwartz of The New York Times profiles her.  He provides a few insights into good climate communication that we could all benefit from.  And speaking of good communication, John Abraham gives a shout-out to the new book, Caring for Creation, by Paul Douglas and Mitch Hescox, the latter of whom many of you will recognize because of his tireless work as leader of the Evangelical Environmental Network.  Finally, if you have been struggling with what to do, perhaps Bill McKibben’s advice will be helpful.

On Oct. 23 of last year, Hurricane Patricia, south of Mexico, briefly attained a wind speed intensity of 213 miles per hour, making it the strongest hurricane since 1960, when wind speed estimates were not as accurate.  Now a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters examines the factors that likely contributed to the extreme intensity.  Last week I included articles about Hurricane Matthew, but the rains from it have caused extensive flooding in North and South Carolina this week.  That flooding has resulted in additional deaths, as well as extensive property damage and untold human and animal sufferingMatthew’s devastation of Haiti is an example of what climate experts see as the disproportionate burden that global warming can have on poor, unprepared communities.  Finally, speaking of flooding caused by tropical storms and hurricanes, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science has found that under a moderate emissions scenario, rising sea levels and changing tropical storms mean that Sandy-like floods could occur as often as every 23 years.  Of course, we’re currently on a path of much higher emissions than this scenario.

South Florida is on the front lines of sea level change and is being forced to adapt.  Many people there “get it” and are working on adaptation.  Maybe the things they are doing will lead the way for other coastal communities in their adaptation efforts.

Two recent studies in Geophysical Research Letters examine the linkage between surface melting, which forms supraglacial lakes, and the drainage of those lakes, which forms underwater plumes.  An author of one of the papers had this to say about the linkage: “I think this is a potential feedback.  The more melt we have on the Greenland ice sheet, the more water drains down to the bed, the plumes are more vigorous, and they’re going to draw in more ocean water and transport heat to the ice. This is a direct ocean feedback that’s really going to amplify as there’s more melting on the ice sheet.”

Energy

The total energy consumed by industrialized nations peaked in 2007, and has completely decoupled from their economic growth, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported Monday.  This is due to improvements in energy efficiency, which are now providing $540 billion a year in energy cost savings for IEA-tracked countries.  Also according to the IEA, energy intensity, which measures the amount of fuel consumed per unit of GDP, fell 1.8% last year, triple the average rate over the past decade and more than the 1.5% reduction in 2014.  Meanwhile, the World Energy Council has predicted that global demand for energy per capita will peak in 2030, thanks to new technology and stricter government policies.

Oil company BP is not worried about electric cars decreasing the demand for oil.  The clean-energy research unit of Bloomberg LP estimates that electric cars will displace 13 million barrels of oil a day by 2040.  However, BP projects oil demand will increase by about 20 million barrels a day over the next 20 years, with about a quarter of supply going to passenger cars.  BP thinks electric cars will have a bigger impact from 30 to 50 years into the future.  On the other hand, the number of electric cars on the world’s roads is set to pass the 2 million mark by the end of 2016, with China leading the way, followed by Europe and the U.S.  Finally, every new or refurbished house in Europe will need to be equipped with an electric vehicle recharging point, under a draft EU directive expected to come into effect by 2019.

Carbon capture received a boost this week with the announcement by Anglo-Indian firm Carbon Clean Solutions Limited (CCSL) that they have been operating their system at 97% efficiency on a 10 MW power plant in India at a cost of $27 per ton of carbon captured.  Other systems have achieved lower efficiencies at costs 2 to 3 times higher.  The secret lies in a new solvent developed by CCSL.  The World Coal Association said the news was “genuinely very exciting.”  True.  We should all hope that it works out as claimed because scientists are concerned that current carbon capture technologies are insufficient to allow negative emission technologies to be employed to remove CO2 from the atmosphere after we overshoot the 2°C goal.

Major investors have warned automobile manufacturers that they must put climate change specialists on their boards, engage better with policy-makers, and invest more heavily in low-emission cars if they wish to retain the investors’ support.  The demands come in a new report published this week by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.  In a similar vein, the Union of Concerned Scientists has released a methodical review of the world’s major fossil fuel producers that documents their poor performance in taking responsibility for their emissions of greenhouse gases and moving effectively to confront climate change.

Global wind capacity is set to hit 500GW by the end of 2016, accounting for around 5% of global power demand, according to the World Wind Energy Association.  On the other hand, global investment in clean energy fell to the lowest level in more than 3 years, according to a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Third-quarter spending in 2016 totaled about $42.4 billion, down 43% from the same period last year.

According to a filing on Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to undertake a “proper” analysis of climate change in its final environmental impact statement for the 160-mile Leach Xpress natural gas pipeline

Buildings consume more energy than industry and transportation, even though the public seldom thinks about them as a source of greenhouse gases.  However, lots of folk in Colorado have thought about buildings’ connection to climate change and are acting to lower buildings’ contribution.  This blog post from Rocky Mountain Institute gives several examples of low-energy-use buildings.

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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