Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/7/2017

In a bit of good news, the U.S. House Climate Solutions Caucus has increased its membership by 10, bringing the total to 34, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.  Nevertheless, many in the House view those colleagues with skepticism.  Still, there are some Republicans who doubt President Trump’s climate policies, as do three quarters of the public.  In a real “in-your-face” move, the Bureau of Land Management changed the banner on its home page from backpackers looking at the sunset in the mountains to a huge coal seam.  In the courts, environmental groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, and 17 Democratic states are fighting the Trump administration’s request that a federal appeals court put on hold its case regarding the Clean Power Plan.  Meanwhile, Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, continued to attack climate scientists, saying Wednesday that people raising red flags about climate change have ulterior motives beyond wanting to protect the environment: “It is all posturing for their own purposes, including a desire to control people’s lives or get another government grant or an academic promotion.”  In a Yale Environment 360 interview, climate scientist Kevin Trenberth talks about why scientists need to continue to speak out.  Finally, if you like out-of-the-box prognostications, you may be interested in Brad Plumer’s ideas on the climate surprises that might be in store during Trump’s presidency.

Climate

Although it didn’t come out this week, I thought you might be interested in this article about Paul Hawken’s new book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming, which will be released April 18.  Also, Chicago Review of Books Senior Editor Amy Brady interviewed Kim Stanley Robinson, author of New York 2140, a new climate fiction book mentioned recently.  On the subject of the arts and climate change, another artist who works with climate themes has been profiled.  Check out this piece about Zoria Forman’s hauntingly beautiful drawings of ice.  Also, the Geological Society of America recently published a paper featuring the work of photographer James Balog, who has documented the retreat of glaciers around the world.  Finally, Justin Nobel had a touching essay at National Geographic on changes in the snowy region of Japan.

Two scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, MD have spent the last two years studying 114 years of environmental data around the Chesapeake Bay to document the impacts of climate change on the Bay.

Carbon Brief has updated its chart showing the times remaining before the carbon budgets for 1.5°C, 2.0°C, and 3.0°C are exhausted if we continue to emit at current rates.  The allowable budget to have a 66% chance of staying below 1.5°C will be exhausted in 4.1 years.  And speaking of CO2, a new paper in the journal Nature Communications reported on studies to determine its atmospheric concentration during the past 420 million years.  The authors found that until humans started burning fossil fuels with the start of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations had been fairly stable for the past 20 million years.  Now CO2 levels are higher, causing plant growth to accelerate.  Furthermore, 50 million years ago CO2 concentrations were much higher (600 ppm or more) and a new paper in Nature has reported that Antarctic temperatures were much warmer, allowing palm trees to grow there.

Have you been uncertain about how and why the “discount rate” influences the social cost of carbon, i.e., the costs associated with the release of a ton of CO2 to the atmosphere?  If so, then this piece from the New York Times by Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, may be helpful.  When it comes to the economics of the market place, a very important component is hedging against risk.  John Sutter of CNN, among others, has said that we must view climate change from the same perspective.

Three recent studies have examined climate change impacts on ecosystems and the creatures that live in them.  Taken together they suggest that most species on Earth are being impacted by climate change, some for the good, but some for the bad.  How it all turns out will depend largely on how we respond.

A new study, published this week in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, has found that flight turbulence during transatlantic flights could increase significantly under climate change.  Furthermore, fuel and maintenance costs for air carriers could increase.  The author of the paper explained its broader significance at Carbon Brief.

In most oceans of the world, water gets colder as you go deeper.  Historically, this has not been true in the Arctic Ocean, where denser, saltier water flowing north from the Atlantic Ocean tends to sink beneath the colder, less salty water covered by ice.  That is now changing, according to a new paper in Science, which found that the warmer Atlantic-originating water is rising and melting sea ice from the bottom.

Energy

David Roberts at Vox has attempted to answer two important questions about the goal of 100% renewable energy: Is it the right goal, and is it even possible.  Which, raises another question, is an electric or hybrid electric air craft possible or desirable.  Zunam Aero thinks the answer to both questions is yes.

U.S. renewable energy production grew 7% between 2015 and 2016, but electricity from coal decreased 18%, reaching its lowest level since 1978 according to the Energy Information Administration.  Globally, 139GW of renewable capacity was installed in 2016, an 8% increase over the previous year, according to a new report from the UN Environment Program and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The Washington Post had an interesting article in their Sunday edition about the solar energy projects in Chile’s Atacama Desert.  Chile hopes to become “A Solar Saudi Arabia”.  Across the Atlantic, in Africa, the demand for electricity is growing rapidly.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the potential for wind and solar generation to meet that demand and found that it could do so, with proper siting and interconnectedness.  Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency issued a report stating that the use of renewable energy helped Europe reduce its CO2 emissions by about 10% in 2015.  In the U.S., however, some states are continuing to adopt policies to limit rooftop solar development; also see here and here.  It is interesting to note, though, that the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is adding solar panels to its roof.

During the past three weeks, E&E News posted a series of articles about energy storage.  The articles were “Energy storage is America’s industry to lose”, “Is energy storage the next jobs creator?”, and “Where the energy storage industry is happening now.”  On the subject of storage, South Australia’s desire to build a 100MW energy storage system has generated a lot of interest, and not just from battery manufacturers.  Thermal storage is also being proposed.

I’ve recently linked to articles about the new wind energy lease off the shore of North Carolina.  One thing that the leasee must consider before starting construction of a windfarm is how the electricity generated will be transmitted to shore and to market.  Another point of interest concerns the number of jobs that would be associated with a strong offshore wind energy industry in the U.S.

One of the objections to the rule requiring companies to monitor for methane leaks at oil and gas facilities is that the equipment is expensive and labor-intensive.  Now, IBM scientists and engineers, working with researchers at Harvard and Princeton universities, have devised a miniature sensor chip that continuously monitors for methane.  Will this be the key that allows continuous, autonomous monitoring at reasonable cost?  A recent study of the environmental impacts of a tar sands oil pipeline found that the carbon emissions associated with tar sands oil are around 21% larger than the emissions associated with an average U.S. refinery mix.

The leaders of two large U.S. coal companies are urging the Trump administration not to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, arguing that their interests are better served by the U.S. having a place at the bargaining table.  In addition, a Reuters survey of 32 utilities indicates that the bulk of them have no plans to alter their multi-billion dollar, years-long shift away from coal, suggesting demand for the fuel will keep falling.

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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