Climate and Energy News 3/24/2017

The House Science Committee, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) will hold a hearing next week entitled “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method.”  The Republican witnesses at the hearing will be Judith Curry, John Christy, and Roger Pielke Jr, whereas the lone Democratic witness will be Michael Mann.  Speaking at the Heartland Institute’s 12th annual International Conference on Climate Change, Smith said: “Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.” Also at the conference, speakers who had been on President Trump’s transition team emphasized the need to revoke the 2009 finding that CO2 endangers public health.  On Tuesday, a White House official said that the Trump administration is not considering a carbon tax, such as that proposed by the Climate Leadership Council six weeks ago.  However, the tax’s very proposal set off a fierce debate within the White House and has emboldened Republicans concerned about climate change.  One reason a carbon tax is not popular at the White House is that it doesn’t fit into the administrations “America First Energy Plan,” which aims to take advantage of domestic fossil fuel resources.  This week, Jeremy Proville and Jonathan Camuzeaux of the Environmental Defense Fund examined the claimed value of those resources.  Another aspect of the Trump energy plan is deregulation, yet Reuters reported that the major oil and gas companies have been telling shareholders that regulations have little impact on their business.  On Friday of last week, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney asserted that studying climate change is a “waste of your money.”  This Friday, the State Department signed and issued a presidential permit to construct the Keystone XL pipeline.

Perhaps the one good thing to come out of the anti-environmental stance of the Trump administration is that it has united the environmental movement in a major way.  For example, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said he has never seen so much collaboration and coordination among environmentalists.  A new study by Media Matters revealed that during 2016, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox spent a combined total of 50 minutes on climate change, “[a]nd none of them aired a single segment on the effect a Trump or Clinton presidency would have on the climate — until after the election.”  On the other hand, in response to the Trump administration’s anti-climate stance, both The Washington Post and The New York Times have increased their coverage of climate news.

Climate

The World Meteorological Organization issued its annual statement on the State of the Global Climate on Tuesday, noting that several records were broken, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory.”  The trend of broken records has continued this year with sea ice experiencing the smallest winter maximum extent in the Arctic and the smallest summer minimum extent in the Antarctic.  On the subject of ice, Yale Climate Connections’ “This Is Not Cool” video for this month is about the impacts of soot and algal growth on the melting of ice in Greenland.

A paper in the journal Nature Geoscience links the drop in the level of groundwater in India to the impacts of climate change on monsoons.  This drop is having significant consequences to people in rural India.  To get an idea of just how severe the problem is for southern India, look at this rainfall map prepared by NOAA that shows the deviation from the long-term average.  India is the region on the left.  To translate, 1 inch = 25.4 mm, or 500 mm = almost 20 inches of rain that some regions have lost in just a six month period.

China’s State Oceanic Administration reported on Wednesday that average coastal sea levels in 2016 were up 1.5 inches compared to the previous year, and saw record-breaking highs in the months of April, September, November, and December.  Historically, since 1980, sea level along China’s coast has risen at an average rate of 1/8 inch per year, so last year’s increase was extraordinary.  Rising sea level is of increasing concern to coastal cities everywhere.  Here in the U.S., cities are taking different approaches, as documented in these articles about Atlantic City, Miami Beach, and New Orleans.

The Gulf of Mexico has been really warm this winter, as have the towns and cities around it.  Given the right conditions, this could cause a larger number of severe thunderstorms in the southern and central parts of the U.S. this spring.  Further south, an extremely warm Pacific Ocean off the western coast of South America is contributing to severe rainfall and flooding in Peru.

In a report released Wednesday, the Natural Resources Defense Council said that U.S. per capita beef consumption fell by 19% from 2005 to 2014, equivalent to removing 39 million cars from U.S. roads.  The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association disputed the findings.

Citing climate change as a factor contributing to the decline of the rusty patch bumblebee, the Department of Interior placed the bee on the Endangered Species List, the first bee so designated.

Energy

Take a break from all the heavy news about climate and energy and read about stained glass artist Sarah Hall who incorporates solar cells into her architectural creations.  Be sure to watch the video in full screen at the end.

Frustrated with the vagueness of the Paris Climate Agreement on how to keep global warming below 2°C, a group of European researchers has prepared a concrete pathway and published it in the journal Science.  Dubbed the “carbon law”, by analogy with “Moore’s law” for transistors, it calls for a halving of CO2 emissions from energy and industry each decade, and imposes a stiff carbon tax globally.  The lead author of the study told Brad Plumer of Vox, “It’s way more than adding solar or wind.  It’s rapid decarbonization, plus a revolution in food production, plus a sustainability revolution, plus a massive engineering scale-up [for carbon removal].”  The idea was presented to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in New York on Friday.  It is interesting that this week Martin Boucher and Philip Loring argued that climate change is not, fundamentally, a technological problem.  Rather, it requires “solutions that emphasize place-based, social and behavioral innovations.”  On a more practical level, the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency issued a new report that sets out the “essential elements” needed to transition the energy sector in a manner consistent with the Paris Agreement.  However, the two agencies weren’t in total agreement, causing them to issue separate press releases.

The lead article in the business section of the print edition of The Washington Post on Sunday was on U.S. coal in the age of Trump.  The conclusion was that the prospects for jobs are weak.  UK-based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit examined coal usage in China and India.  Indeed, coal use is declining worldwide.  According to a report released by Coalswarm, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, from Jan. 2016 to Jan. 2017, the number of announced coal projects dropped from nearly 500,000 to fewer than 250,000 and the number of coal projects on hold jumped from 230,000 to more than 600,000.  Adding to the problems here at home, Moody’s Investor Services, has stated that some 56 GW of Midwest coal-fired generation are at risk because of lower-cost wind energy.

In the U.S., during the past seven years, the price of utility-scale solar has dropped 85%, fueling strong growth in the technology.  Writing on Yale Environment 360, Cheryl Katz provided an update on the status of large-scale solar technology.  An article in the journal Nature Energy revealed that Japanese scientists have developed a solar cell with the highest efficiency ever attained, although it is not yet ready for commercial application.  As further evidence for continued growth of solar in regions of the U.S. where sunlight is limited in winter, GE is developing more than 17MW in projects across six states in the northeastern U.S.

Energy efficiency mandates are under review in at least two states, Ohio and Kentucky.  It appears that regulators are concerned about declining income for energy companies and wonder why they should require them to invest in energy efficiency when energy demand is declining.  Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Trump administration plans to eliminate the Weatherization Assistance Program, a grant program in the Department of Energy that helps states improve the energy efficiency of the homes of low-income families.  The Energy Star program is also slated for elimination, but dozens of companies and organizations have come to its defense.  In spite of a negative attitude about energy efficiency in the new administration, two RMI authors argue that the federal government can significantly reduce its operating costs by focusing on the energy efficiency of its facilities.

A paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, described a collaborative effort among Colorado scientists, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Google’s Street View program to reveal leaks in urban natural gas pipelines, thereby helping utilities decrease methane leaks.

While the children’s lawsuit in the state of Oregon has gotten more press, another children’s lawsuit in Colorado just resulted in a victory for the children in that state’s Court of Appeals.  The ruling elevated protection of public health and the environment to “a condition that must be fulfilled” by the state before oil and gas drilling can be done.

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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