Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/13/2017

During the Christmas break Jeff Goodell had an interview in Rolling Stone with climate scientist James Hansen, but I missed it.  Even though it didn’t come out this week, I thought you might find it of interest.

Last week I provided a link to an article about the eco-right and how they are working to combat climate change.  On Tuesday Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI) had an opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled “Republicans want to fight climate change, but fossil-fuel bullies won’t let them.”  Of course, as indicated by last week’s link, not all businesses are opposed to action to combat climate change.  For example, more than 530 companies and 100 investors are calling on the Trump administration and the new Congress to support policies to accelerate a low-carbon future.  Furthermore, on Monday, President Obama had an article published in Science in which he asserted that the clean-energy revolution is irreversible and highlighted the economic benefits of cutting carbon emissions and investing in renewable energy.

On Tuesday the National Academy of Sciences issued a report entitled “Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide.”  The social cost of carbon dioxide is an important metric used in doing cost/benefit analyses required when promulgating federal regulations.  It also will be central to any discussion of a carbon tax.  Andrew Revkin examines this important parameter and its possible future during the Trump administration.  Chelsea Harvey also has an excellent discussion of the metric.

Climate

In a report released Thursday, the World Economic Forum summarized the opinions of 750 experts on what the most likely and most impactful risks facing humanity are in 2017.  Extreme weather ranked as the most likely and the second-most impactful risk.  Several other factors also influenced by climate change ranked high on the risk matrix.

Late in the day last Friday (Jan. 6), climate reporter Eric Holthaus took to Twitter to share his despair about climate change and how he is dealing with it.  Then on Wednesday of this week, Andrew Freedman, a climate reporter to whom I frequently link, devoted his column on Mashable to the emotional toll of covering climate change.  Members of the Education and Events committee of CAAV are currently developing plans for providing a space where people in the Harrisonburg area can have open discussions about climate change, including how it is making them feel.  Look for an announcement soon about the first meeting.

The extent of sea ice globally took major hits during 2016, according to an analysis released January 6 by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.  At both poles, “new record lows were set for both daily and monthly extent,” according to the analysis.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a plan to save the threatened polar bear.  Unfortunately, it identified the rapid decline of sea ice as “the primary threat to polar bears” and said “the single most important achievement for polar bear conservation is decisive action to address Arctic warming,” something it has no control over.

A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has reported that short-lived greenhouse gases (such as methane) contribute to sea level rise due to thermal expansion of the ocean over much longer time scales than their atmospheric lifetimes.  In addition, the paper reported that the longer the world waits to reduce methane emissions, the longer seas will stay elevated.

A report from the Japanese environment ministry said that around 90% of the coral in Okinawa Prefecture’s Sekisei lagoon had suffered bleaching because of high water temperatures and that 70% had died.  The lagoon covers an area of approximately 150 square miles and had been a popular dive destination.

A week of powerful storms has significantly eased California’s water shortage, pulling nearly all of Northern California out of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.  However, much of Central and Southern California, are still locked in what officials classify as “extreme drought” — or worse.

A new report updating the plan for climate-related research at 13 federal agencies until 2021 was submitted to Congress this week by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.  For the first time it calls for research into geoengineering, specifically CO2 removal from the atmosphere and reflection of infrared energy from the sun.

Energy

Ivy Main has a new blog post in which she summarizes the energy-related bills before the Virginia General Assembly this session.

The Department of the Interior released a report on Wednesday calling for major changes to the federal program by which the U.S. manages the leasing of publicly-owned land to companies for exploration and production of coal.  The report proposes a series of changes to the current program, including charging a higher royalty rate, factoring in the climate impact of the coal by imposing an additional charge, and setting an overall carbon budget for the nation’s coal leasing program.  Speaking of coal, NRG Energy Inc said on Tuesday it had begun operations at a $1.04 billion carbon capture facility at a Texas coal-fired power plant.  This is the largest carbon capture project of its kind in the world.

New investment in clean energy worldwide fell to $287.5 billion in 2016, down 18% from a record high of $348.5 billion in 2015, according to new research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  The primary cause of the investment drop was a slowdown in China and Japan.  In spite of that, clean energy investment in China is outpacing investment in the U.S., causing Joel Jaeger and coauthors at the World Resources Institute to state: “China is poised to leap ahead of the United States on clean energy to become the most important player in the global market.”  Still, questions remain about China’s CO2 emissions.  In a “Memo from China” to The New York Times, Edward Wong examines the factors influencing China’s ability to accurately measure and report those emissions.

A new study by Abt Associates finds that the nine member states of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) (the six New England states plus New York, Delaware, and Maryland) have cut emissions two and a half times more than non-RGGI states while reaping $5.7 billion in benefits due to savings in health care costs and restored productivity.  On a related note, a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined states’ renewable energy goals and found that, while renewables add costs, they more than make up for it in the health and environmental benefits they provide.

Automakers, both here and abroad, are working to bring to market a new generation of fuel-saving vehicles.  Those efforts are summarized by Jason Mathers of the Environmental Defense Fund.  Despite that, most of automakers’ advertising is for cars with traditional internal combustion engines.  Ariel Wittenberg looks at this practice on E&E News.  Finally, the EPA has rejected a request from the auto industry to weaken fuel efficiency standards for model years 2022 through 2025.

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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