Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/14/2017

I would like to start this week with an article that has gotten a lot of attention in the media, both print and on-line.  I am referring to David Wallace-Wells article “The Uninhabitable Earth” that appeared in New York Magazine on July 9.  Its doomsday nature caused climate scientist Michael Mann to respond in The Washington Post.  In addition, the climate scientists at Climate Feedback, who fact-check the scientific accuracy of climate-related articles in the popular press, rated its scientific credibility as low, with a score of -0.7.  A number of non-scientist commentators also wrote about Wallace-Wells’ article, but I’ll refer you only to blogger Robert Scribbler as a thoughtful example.  In response to the criticisms, Wallace-Wells published an annotated version on Friday.  During the week, he also published interviews with scientists Wallace Smith Broecker, Peter Ward, Michael Mann, James Hansen, and Michael Oppenheimer.  You might also want to look at ideas about personal actions against climate change, such as this those in this article from The Guardian, which reported on a study published in Environmental Research Letters.  Finally, to end on a positive note, Drew Jones, co-founder of Climate Interactive, shared with members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby ten reasons to be hopeful about climate progress.

With respect to the Paris Climate Agreement, the communique released at the end of the G20 summit in Hamburg reads: “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” adding “The leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris agreement is irreversible” and “we reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris agreement”.  John Cushman of Inside Climate News analyzed the differences between the U.S. and other G20 nations on climate change.  However, during his joint news conference with French President Macron on Thursday in Paris, President Trump said, “Something could happen with respect to the Paris accords, let’s see what happens.  If it happens, that will be wonderful, and if it doesn’t, that’ll be OK too.”  A recent paper by scholars at Stanford University and the University of Michigan reported that American politicians perceive their constituents’ positions as more conservative than they actually are on a wide range of issues.  Although not covered in the paper, this applies to climate change, according to Dana NuccitelliClimate scientists are perplexed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s plans to use a “red team, blue team” approach to debate climate science, in part because they see it as a trap with no escape.

Climate

An important event this week, which may or may not be related to climate change, was the calving of the huge iceberg from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica.  Both The New York Times and The Washington Post had good articles, each from a different perspective.  Both had interesting graphics.

If you love coral reefs, prepare to have your heart broken by a new film from the director of Chasing Ice.  Premiering Friday (July 14) on Netflix, Chasing Coral is a crash course on how climate change is devastating our underwater ecosystems.  The trailer can be seen here.  Unfortunately, coral isn’t the only creature being impacted by humans.  A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found growing evidence that a sixth mass extinction is unfolding, linked in part to climate change.

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that warmer-than-usual springtime temperatures in the Arctic Ocean are followed by colder-than-usual temperatures across much of North America, as well as less precipitation in some parts of the southern U.S.  This observation challenges the idea that global warming will enhance agriculture around the globe.  NASA has reported that May 2017 was the second warmest May on record, after May 2016.

A new meta-analysis of 692 databases from 648 different locations in “all continental regions and major ocean basins” has reconstructed global temperatures over the past 2000 years.  The study was done by the PAGES2k Consortium, a group of almost 100 scientists from around the world, and was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Data.  The results confirmed the “hockey stick” shape of the temperature graph and the fact that the current global temperature is the highest during the Common Era.

An article, published Wednesday in the journal Elementa, Science of the Anthropocene, examined how many U.S. coastal communities would face chronic, disruptive flooding (defined as 10% or more of a community’s usable land flooding 26 times a year) during this century, as well as when that might occur.  Currently, more than 90 communities suffer from such flooding and the number is expected to almost double in the next 20 years.  The authors also have provided an interactive map to allow communities to plan.  Bloomberg presented a preview of a few cities and The Washington Post focused on the shores of Maryland and Virginia.  Of course, flooding isn’t limited to the east coast, as shown in this article about California.  It is not just towns that are threatened, however.  A new paper in Nature Scientific Reports examined the danger of rising sea level to threatened species on Pacific islands.  The picture isn’t pretty; many face global extinction.

New research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that improving efficiency in refrigeration and phasing out fluorinated gases used for cooling could avoid 1°C of warming by 2100.  NOAA’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index for 2016, released this week, showed that greenhouse gas emissions increased more last year than they have in nearly 30 years.

A new study, conducted for the Asian Development Bank, has concluded that with unabated greenhouse gas emissions, Asia and the Pacific are at high risk of suffering deeper poverty and disaster.  This raises the question of when human society will be willing to consider geoengineering as a stop-gap measure to reduce the impacts of our continued emission of greenhouse gases until we can stop them.  To prepare for that time, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research are using computer modeling to try to understand the consequences of such actions.

Energy

In a report published on Thursday, the International Energy Agency forecast that within five years the U.S. would become the second biggest exporter of liquified natural gas, behind Australia, but ahead of Qatar.  According to the Carbon Majors Report, just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

Energy storage received a boost this week when utility-scale zinc-iron flow battery maker VIZn Energy announced that it can deliver energy storage to pair with solar or wind at $0.04 per kilowatt-hour.

A report by Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering has concluded that large improvements are needed in biofuels if they are to meet the required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the needs of energy users requiring liquid fuels.

Carbon Brief has compiled seven charts that illustrate why the International Energy Agency has concluded that global investment in coal-fired power plants is set to decline dramatically.  In addition, Morgan Stanley has issued a report projecting that by 2020 “renewables will be the cheapest form of new-power generation across the globe.”  Royal Dutch Shell plans to spend as much as $1 billion a year by 2020 on its New Energies division as the transition toward renewable power and electric cars accelerates.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) uses an array of movable mirrors that focus the sun’s rays on a central tower to heat molten salt or another liquid to make steam to drive a generator for making electricity.  Its advantage is that it can store enough heat to operate at night.  Its disadvantage has been cost, but now a company has bid $0.0945/kWh to produce electricity in Dubai.  Some say this price is competitive with PV solar plus batteries, but others disagree.  Speaking of PV solar, growth in rooftop solar has dramatically slowed this year in the U.S., due in large part to lobbying by electric utilities.

Dominion Energy announced Monday it is partnering with a Danish energy company to build two wind turbines off the Virginia coast.

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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