Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/23/2016

The CAAV Steering Committee and I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  The next Roundup will come out on January 7, 2017, covering the climate and energy news for the week ending January 6.

At the end of a year it is typical for news organizations to have retrospectives, and the same is true for those focusing on science and climate.  Brady Dennis provides an “exit interview” with outgoing EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in The Washington PostCarbon Brief looks back at 2016 through 16 numbers.  While some are specific to the EU or the UK, I think you’ll find it interesting.

Inside Climate News, which has devoted considerable effort in the past few years to investigating ExxonMobil’s position on climate change, examines Rex Tillerson’s record on climate change and climate science.  At Climate Unplugged, the blog of the conservative Niskanen Center, Dennis McConaghy argues that now is the time for the oil and gas industry to come forward with specific proposals for a carbon tax.  And, Charles Komanoff of the Carbon Tax Center examines just what might result from adoption of a carbon tax of the size proposed by ExxonMobil.

Climate

Last week there were several news items about the Arctic in response to the extreme warming it is experiencing and the Arctic Report Card from NOAA.  This week the World Weather Attribution project released a report about the extreme temperatures in the Arctic, and it triggered articles in Carbon Brief and The New York Times, as well as in others.  The report attributed the extreme warmth to human activities and stated that what had once been a 1 in 1000-year event, is now a 1 in 50-year event.  The temperature at a buoy 80 miles south of the North Pole climbed to 32°F on Thursday, putting it about 40°F above normal for this time of year.  In addition, some indicators suggest that unseasonable warmth at the pole is becoming more frequent due to global warming and melting sea ice.  The impacts of this warmth on weather in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere is still a matter of debate among climate scientists.

Studies from the Earth Institute at Columbia University published recently in the journal Nature suggest that Greenland was essentially ice free at least once in the past 1.4 million years.  This requires some of the basic assumptions about Greenland to be reevaluated and calls into question the assertion that Greenland’s glaciers are very stable.  Rather, it suggests that they may be subject to collapse.  Speaking of Greenland, Patrick Barkham had an interesting article in The Guardian about the changes being brought there by climate change and how Greenlanders are adapting to them.

The DC Court of Appeals has ruled that climate scientist Michael Mann can proceed with defamation claims against two writers who accused him of fraud and academic misconduct.  Mann brought the case against Rand Simberg, writing for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Mark Steyn, writing for the National Review.  Climate scientist/astronaut Piers Sellers died this week at age 61.  Harrison Smith paid tribute to him in The Washington Post.

Climate change can cause a wide variety of damages to society, including natural disasters, harm to human health, reduced agricultural output, and lower economic productivity.  The combined cost of such damages associated with the emission of one ton of CO2 is called the “social cost of carbon” and it is central to an assessment of the benefits associated with regulation of fossil fuel use.  The value assigned to the social cost of carbon is likely to be reviewed by the incoming Trump administration.

A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that U.S. attitudes towards climate change are influenced by local weather, with Americans living in places with recent record high temperatures more likely to believe in climate change and people living in areas with record low temperatures more likely to express skepticism.  The authors suggest that the public’s mistaken equating of weather with climate, as well as the idea that “global warming” simply means warmer temperatures, may be responsible for the results.  No matter what the general public thinks, Damian Carrington of The Guardian interviewed several climate scientists and learned that they think that the dramatic melting of Arctic ice is already driving extreme weather that affects hundreds of millions of people across North America, Europe and Asia.

Like their counterparts in Oregon, children in the state of Washington have been granted the right to have their day in court concerning the alleged failure of the state to adequately protect them from climate change.  King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill on Monday allowed the young petitioners to move ahead in their case against the state.

Two papers looked at events associated with El Niño episodes.  One, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the combination of climate change and a strong El Niño event created conditions for the recent outbreak of the Zika virus in South America.  Another finding from the paper was that the summer climates of the southeastern U.S., southern China, and some of Mediterranean Europe are warm enough for the Zika virus.  The other paper, in Nature Climate Change, found that small Pacific island nations could be hit by more tropical cyclones during El Niño events as a result of climate change.

Energy

On Tuesday President Obama used a little-known law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to withdraw hundreds of millions of acres of federally owned land in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas drilling.  The action was coordinated with similar steps by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to protect large areas of that nation’s Arctic waters from drilling.  However, there is strong disappointment in the Carolinas and Georgia that the U.S. ban did not extend south of Norfolk, VA.

Rocky Mountain Institute has released the first of four posts examining how the future might unfold through the widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies.  Their thesis is optimistic in nature and is based on the premise that renewable energy systems are disruptive technologies that are in the accelerating phases of their adoption curves.  Their advantages almost ensure their wide-spread adoption.  RMI’s essays should make interesting reading.  In case you have been considering sustainable investing you might be interested in this post at the World Resources Institute website that debunks four myths about the subject.

A draft 10-year energy blueprint published this week by the Indian government predicts that 57% of the country’s total electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027.  India’s Paris climate accord target was 40% by 2030.  The plan also indicates that no new coal-fired power plants are likely to be required to meet India’s energy needs until at least 2027.  This analysis is consistent with an article in Bloomberg Markets explaining why Indian electricity demand has undershot government forecasts.

A new paper in Nature Climate Change examined the climate policies of the signatories to the Paris Climate Accord in an effort to determine whether their programs to cut carbon emissions are equitable.  Because there is no single definition of “equitable”, the paper looked at different ways to define equity and how countries are measuring up to each of those definitions.  Although the paper is controversial, it concluded that the U.S. is working harder to reduce its emissions than China, while India is making more effort than both.

Arizona has been a battleground over net metering for the past couple of years.  That came to an end on Tuesday when the Arizona Corporation Commission voted to end net metering, whereby homeowners with solar panels get retail credits for power they send to the grid, and instead reduce the amount utilities pay homeowners for rooftop solar power.  Next door, in December 2015 the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) phased out retail-rate net metering, almost shutting down the rooftop solar industry overnight.  Now PUCN has voted to restore favorable rates for residential solar customers in NV Energy’s Sierra Pacific Power Company’s service territory.

Low carbon power accounted for 50% of electricity generation in the UK in the third quarter, up from 45.3% last year.  The rise was largely due to new windfarms and solar farms being connected to the grid, as well as to several major coal-fired power plants closing.  Low carbon power also accounted for two-thirds of the new capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2016.

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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