Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/18/2017

Les Grady was out of town this week.  Thanks to CAAV member Dave Pruett, who compiled this week’s Roundup.

Climate

“Too much love?” Glacier National Park has seen a tremendous uptick in annual number of visitors. Last year more than one million tourists visited the remote park, an increase of 23 percent over the previous year.  Some surmise that the increase is due to a desire to see firsthand the effects of climate change. Campground hosts report: “People tell us that they want to see the glaciers before they are gone.” I confess, our family will visit Glacier NP in September for that reason among others.

South Florida is among the most vulnerable US localities to rising sea levels, with 2.5 million people at risk to hurricane storm surges of four feet or less. With sea levels expected to rise at least another 10 inches by 2050, Miami estimates that it will need to raise $900 million to upgrade flood protection and drainage systems with the next few decades. In November, the city will ask voters to approve a bond for $400 million to begin the massive effort.

Some good news.  US carbon emissions are down 14 percent since their peak in 2005.  The reasons are manifold and the subject of new analysis by Carbon Brief. The economic crisis of 2008, the rise of wind energy, and the switch from coal to gas for power generation were all major factors. But gas is no panacea: see Energy below.

Economics

India’s government estimates that climate change is costing the country $10 billion annually, primarily through the destructive effects of extreme weather events.

By 2050, aviation emissions are projected to consume one-quarter of the world’s remaining carbon budget. (Indeed I read recently, but can’t put a finger on the source, that one cross-country flight undoes the good of 20 years of recycling.) The good news is that 60 nations have committed to an agreement by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that puts a price on aviation carbon.

Speaking of sustainable aviation, Dutch Airports are to be powered by renewable energy beginning in 2018.

On August 11, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released its latest report: Reversing Inequality, which can be downloaded for free in its 74-page entirety. If you don’t know, IPS, founded in 1963, is Washington’s first progressive, multi-issue think tank. The subtitle of this enlightened report is Unleashing the Transformative Potential of an Equitable Economy. Chapter VI, Game-Changing Campaigns, advocates forcefully for “Taxing Excessive Carbon Pollution and Investing in Green Infrastructure and a Just Transition to Renewables.”

Health

Renewables aren’t just good for planetary health, they’re good for human health as well. According to a recent study published in Nature Energy, US wind and solar energy may have helped prevent 12,700 premature deaths in the past nine years, primarily through improved air quality.

Policy

“As the United States reverses its climate policies, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter is in the midst of setting up a national carbon-trading system. Chinese officials are preparing to launch an emissions market later this year that will cover roughly a quarter of the country’s industrial CO2. Officials and nonprofit groups from the European Union, Australia and California have been advising the Chinese on their program design.”

If California were a country, it would have the sixth largest economy in the world. With the Trump Administration rolling back on climate science and policy, California has decided to take matters into its own hands.  On August 16, the leading scientific journal Nature reported on a collaborative initiative by California’s flagship universities to establish a massive institute to research the impacts of climate change and to recommend practical climate solutions for the state—and the world.

Energy

Americans eagerly await the lower-48’s first total solar eclipse since 1979. However, with solar power installations going like gangbusters, the eclipse has the potential to disrupt 9 gigawatts of electrical power generation. While no major power outages or problems are anticipated, the eclipse does provide opportunity to glean experience in managing the grid during disruptions, anticipated and otherwise.

This week’s (Aug. 21) Time features an article titled “A small-scale power solution could pay big dividends across the US.” So-called “microgrids” offer communities the technology to generate (typically via solar arrays), store, and use their own energy, independent of the main grid. The concept is particularly attractive in rural areas because it doesn’t require new main-grid infrastructure.  And in an age of blackouts and cyberattacks, independent microgrids offer energy resiliency. The U.S. military is particularly interested in microgrids as an alternative to diesel backup technology.

On Monday, August 14, a federal judge blocked a proposed 176-million-ton expansion of a coal mine in central Montana.  The ruling “criticized U.S. officials for downplaying the climate change impacts of the project and inflating its economic benefits.” Sound familiar?

Natural gas is often touted as a “clean fuel” and/or as a “bridge fuel.” Not so fast says a Dutch watchdog agency, which is censuring Shell and Exxon for their misleading claims that natural gas is the “cleanest fossil fuel.” Methane (natural gas), far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, is superior to coal for power generation only if leak rates are less than three percent. A recent study in the US found that gas plants leaked at levels up to 120 times higher than reported to US regulators.

Last April, a Trump Administration executive order reversed the previous administration’s moratorium on off-shore drilling along the Atlantic Coast. Now North Carolina coastal residents are gearing up for a fight similar to that Virginia residents are mounting to oppose natural gas pipelines. Although just over 20 percent of North Carolina’s residents live near the coast, seven in ten are concerned about potential negative effects of proposed off-shore drilling. “Tourism, commercial fishing, and recreational fishing are just so important to our economy,” said Tom Kies, president of the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce in Morehead City. The first of three hastily-called public hearings in one week was hosted in Wilmington on August 7 by NC governor Roy Cooper.

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