Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/2/2017

The big political news this week was that President Trump decided to begin the process of pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a decision based on an economic analysis many consider to be flawed.  As Michael Shear of The New York Times wrote: “…Mr. Trump’s decision is a remarkable rebuke to fellow heads-of-state, climate activists, corporate executives and members of the president’s own staff, all of whom failed this week to change Mr. Trump’s mind with an intense, last minute lobbying blitz.”  In response to Trump’s decision, both China and India pledged to honor their own commitments and encouraged other countries to do the same.  Furthermore, dozens of U.S. states and cities promised to keep working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while three states, 30 cities, and numerous business and academic institutions were working to submit a plan to the U.N. pledging to meet the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement.  The journal Nature published the responses of several scientists to the announcement while the news staff at the journal Science compiled the reactions from a variety of sources.  In addition, David Brooks had a very insightful column in The New York Times while Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute, had a particularly appropriate response to Trump’s decision.  Finally, PolitiFact fact-checked Trump’s announcement and Carbon Brief provided an interactive grid that looked at reactions from a number of sources.

The U.N. Ocean Conference is scheduled for June 5-9 in New York City, but the Trump administration is resisting plans to highlight how climate change is disrupting life in the oceans.  On Wednesday, EPA said it has placed a three-month suspension on parts of Obama administration efforts to curb methane gas emissions, following failure of Congress to rescind the rules under the Congressional Review Act.  Juliet Eilperin and Dennis Brady of The Washington Post published a profile of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that helps explain some of his actions.

A paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters documented the embedded greenhouse gas emissions associated with the consumption of products by an average citizen across 177 regions in 27 EU countries.  Such consumption-based data are important for getting citizens to examine their personal actions in relation to global impacts.  A while back I provided a link to an article about material the Heartland Institute was sending to K-12 teachers with a cover letter suggesting that students would be “better served” if they are taught about the “vibrant debate among scientists on how big the human impact is, and whether or not we should be worried about it” [italics in original].  Well, Yale Climate Connections reported that many teachers have pushed back via social media and other outlets.

Climate

The growing crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf has taken a sharp right turn and in headed toward the Southern Ocean, which is only 8 miles away.  Because the crack grew by 11 miles in the week between May 25 and May 31, scientists expect an iceberg roughly the size of Delaware to be released soon.  Carbon Brief presented a guest post by two Australian scientists discussing whether the eventual collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is already unstoppable.

Last week I linked to an article that stated that the goal of improving the natural heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef is no longer attainable.  Now this week, a paper in the journal Nature argues that reef conservation must no longer attempt to restore reefs of the past, but rather identify the parts of reefs that are essential to their continued existence, and protect them.  On the subject of the Great Barrier Reef, the damage last year due to elevated water temperatures was greater than originally thought.  Similarly, in the U.S., NOAA scientists have found that strict conservation measures in Hawaii have not spared corals from a warming ocean and have warned that U.S. reefs could largely disappear within just a few decades because of global warming.

Earlier this week, NOAA announced that its greenhouse gas index, which indicates the heating effect of all combined greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, increased by 2.5% in 2016.  In addition, they reported that 2016 recorded the second-biggest annual jump in atmospheric CO2 on record.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that melting permafrost can release more nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than CO2, than had previously been thought.

Widespread flooding and devastating mudslides have hit Sri Lanka following torrential rains over the weekend.  At least 150 people were killed and almost a half a million were displaced.

Energy

On Monday, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition released a report by a group of economists, chaired by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Lord Nicholas Stern.  The key conclusion of the report is that meeting the world’s agreed upon climate goals in the most cost-effective way, while fostering growth, requires countries to set a strong carbon price.  Suggested target prices were $40-$80 per metric ton of CO2 by 2020 and $50-100 per metric ton by 2030.

Sixty-two percent of ExxonMobil shareholders voted for the company to begin producing an annual report that explains how it will be affected by global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.  This is just the latest in a growing trend among shareholders in the U.S.

Although it is small and the CO2 captured will not be stored, the carbon capture system that has just started up in Zurich, Switzerland, is significant because it is the first to operate at commercial scale to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

The last big coal-fired power plant in New England shut down permanently on Wednesday, and on Thursday the largest energy provider in New Jersey closed its final two coal-fired power plants, all as a result of cheap natural gas.  Further south, TVA said on Thursday that it expects to continue cutting carbon emissions and reducing energy costs by producing more power with natural gas, while shutting old coal plants.  But coal-fired power plants aren’t the only ones succumbing to cheap natural gas, as another nuclear power plant plans to shut down.  Another impact of cheap natural gas is that 35 states already comply with the 2022 interim requirements of the Clean Power Plan.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal power accounted for 19.35% of total electricity generation in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017.  In addition, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, 777,000 Americans are now employed in the renewable energy sector.

Overall, oil producers say their industry will enjoy decades of growth as they feed the energy needs of the world’s expanding middle classes.  Bloomberg asks, “But what if they’re wrong?” and sets about examining some of the assumptions that go into that rosy assessment.

There were two blog posts this week related to Dominion Virginia Power.  One, by Jim Pierobon, focused on the company’s slow embrace of solar energy, particularly in Virginia.  The other, by Ivy Main, examined the implications of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of a Combined Operating License for Dominion’s third nuclear power plant planned for the North Anna site in Surry County.

40 MW floating solar farm has gone online in Huainan, China.  To date, it is the world’s largest floating solar farm.

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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