Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/17/2017

Dr. Will Happer, an emeritus professor of physics at Princeton University, is being considered for the position of science adviser or director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Trump Administration.  Andrew Revkin has an interesting and enlightening interview with him at ProPublica.  On Friday, the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as Administrator of EPA by a vote of 52 to 46.  According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, a complicated legal battle would await the Trump administration if it tried to withdraw from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the treaty under which the Paris Climate Agreement lies.  Finally, let’s hope Jason Samenow (and the rest of us) doesn’t regret his article in The Washington Post entitled “NASA is defiantly communicating climate change science despite Trump’s doubts.”


Preliminary data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center have shown that sea ice around Antarctica has shrunk to the smallest annual extent on record.  The smallest annual extent is typically reached in mid to late February during summer in the southern hemisphere.  This year, sea ice extent contracted to 883,015 square miles on Feb. 13, which is slightly smaller than the previous low of 884,173 square miles recorded on Feb. 27, 1997.  Satellite records date back to 1979.  In 2005 ice loss from the glaciers on the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Canada was almost equally split between calving glaciers and surface melt.  By 2015, however, 90% was due to surface melting.  In fact, according to a study just published in Environmental Research Letters, surface melt increased from 3 gigatons a year to 30 gigatons a year over that period because of warming air temperatures.

A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature by scientists from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany, found a decline of more than 2% in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010.  Because oxygen is not evenly distributed in Earth’s oceans, the 2% overall decline means there is a much larger decline in some regions than in others.  The study attributes less than 15% of the oxygen loss to warmer ocean temperatures, which create lower solubility.  The rest was attributed to other factors, such as a lack of mixing.

At the end of last week, a powerful low-pressure storm system in the northern Atlantic helped carry warm air up to the Arctic, sending temperatures at the North Pole more than 36°F above the 1979-2000 average.  It was the third such warming event this winter, whereas 50 to 60 years ago, such events only occurred once or twice a decade.  In addition, record warmth was being recorded in the central U.S. and Australia.

Peter Sinclair has released an interesting new video in which he examines the ability of models to forecast what will happen as the climate changes.  It was featured by Yale Climate Connections on Wednesday.  Also, if you missed his video “Standing Up for Science” you can see it hereSinclair recently received a Friend of the Planet award from the National Center for Science Education, as did the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Geoff Summerhayes, from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), Australia’s financial regulator, has warned that climate change poses a material risk to the entire financial system, and has urged companies to start adapting.  Summerhayes said “Some climate risks are distinctly ‘financial’ in nature. Many of these risks are foreseeable, material and actionable now.”  Meanwhile, managers of 16 funds with assets totaling more than $2.8 trillion called for the G20 economies to phase out fossil fuel subsidies within the next three years to avert a catastrophe.  On the other hand, writing on Yale Environment 360, Mark Gunther examines the question “Why Won’t American Business Push for Action on Climate?”.

At the single-day Climate and Health Meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, the main theme was that climate change is poised to unleash an unprecedented, global public health crisis, although the participants left a little room for hope.  You can watch a recording of the meeting here.

In a meta-analysis of 130 studies reported between 1990 and 2015, scientists found that 47% of mammals and 24.4% of birds on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species are negatively impacted by climate change – a total of about 700 species.  The analysis was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.


The members of the EU Parliament narrowly approved an overhaul of the EU emissions trading scheme in hopes of balancing greater cuts in greenhouse gases with protection for energy-intensive industries.  Environmental organizations denounced the legislation for not going far enough in strengthening the cuts.  The legislation will now enter negotiations between the European parliament, commission, and council, which represents member states.  Here in the U.S., Charles Komanoff of the Carbon Tax Center had an essay in The Nation about the carbon tax proposal put forth last week by the Climate Leadership Council.  Central to any carbon tax is the social cost of carbon.  Carbon Brief walks you through what it is, how it is calculated, and why it is so important.  Meanwhile, a coalition of conservative groups, including American Energy Alliance, Heritage Action for America, and Americans for Tax Reform, is asking for a meeting with high-level White House officials to rebut last week’s meeting and presentation by members of the Climate Leadership Council.  It appears, however, that members of the coalition are out of step with almost half of Trump voters.

In advance of their upcoming U.S. Solar Market Insight 2016 Year in Review report, set to be released on March 9, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) announced that the U.S. solar industry installed 14,626 MW of solar photovoltaics in 2016.  This is a 95% increase over the amount installed in 2015.  Nevertheless, U.S. renewable energy capacity still lags way behind that of the EU and China.  For example, of the 24,500 MW of new electrical generating capacity built across the EU in 2016, 21,100 MW – or 86% – was from wind, solar, biomass and hydro.  Here in Virginia, Dominion is investing more than $800 million in solar power, with some 398 MW of solar generation either completed or under development.

On Monday, the utilities that own the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona decided to decommission the plant at the end of their lease agreement with the Navajo Nation in December 2019.  This is decades earlier than expected and is the result of low natural gas prices.  On the subject of coal, President Trump on Thursday signed legislation ending the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation to protect waterways from coal mining waste.  Federal regulators said the rule would have protected about 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over two decades.  Warren Cornwall presented an analysis of what the rule’s demise will mean.

Thanks to generous tax incentives, plug-in electric vehicle sales reached 37% of market share in Norway during January 2017.  In the U.S., automakers played the jobs card in appealing to President Trump to reconsider greenhouse gas standards for vehicles instituted during the Obama administration.

Calling the decision “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law,” the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes filed a motion on Tuesday asking the court to reverse an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline that the Army Corps of Engineers granted.  That easement lifted the final hurdle for the project’s completion.  According to Patrick A. Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, “The strongest possible argument is that the Trump administration, with no change in facts, no change in conditions, reversed the government’s position.”  Still, legal experts considered the motion to be a longshot.  Meanwhile, TransCanada Corp filed an application with Nebraska authorities on Thursday to route its Keystone XL pipeline through the state.

As required by an agreement with the UN, on Tuesday the EPA issued its draft report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2015.  It will be available for public comment until March 17, allowing the final report to be released April 15, 2017.  In 2015, greenhouse gas emissions were the lowest they have been since 1992.  Unfortunately, emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases, are rising.  Since much of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the oil and gas industry, understanding where the wells are in the U.S. is instructive.  Luckily, Tim Meko and Laris Karklis have presented maps showing where it all comes from.

Wind power was in the news this week.  On Sunday, the Southwest Power Pool (which coordinates the flow of electricity on the high voltage power lines from Montana and North Dakota to New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana) met more than 50% of its electrical demand from wind for a brief period.  This was the first time on any North American power grid.  On the other side of the world, in an effort to save its oil reserves for sale, Saudi Arabia plans to install almost 10 GW of wind and solar energy by 2023.

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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