Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/1/2017

I’d like to give a big thank you to Erik Bahnson, Bishop Dansby, Dave Pruett, and Doug Hendren, each of whom prepared a Roundup while Joni and I were in New York and Canada.  It was really nice to turn off climate news for four weeks and just enjoy ourselves.  We particularly enjoyed Tadoussac, Quebec, where we saw Beluga, Minke, Fin, and Blue whales.  I’d also like to give a shout out to our Toyota Prius, which averaged over 60 mpg during the trip.

Of course, the big news this week was hurricane Harvey and its impact on the Texas Gulf Coast.  I’m sure you are fully aware of Harvey, so I won’t link to the numerous news articles about it.  Rather, I’ll provide a few articles about the impacts of climate change on Harvey.  Carbon Brief summarized media reaction to possible links between Harvey and climate change, Climate Signals had a good summary of the climate impacts on Harvey, The Washington Post looked at the debate over the effect of climate change on hurricanes, and David Leonhardt of The New York Times presented a thoughtful Op-Ed piece entitled, “Harvey, the Storm That Humans Helped Cause.”  At Vox, David Roberts reported nine things you can say about Harvey and climate change.  One good that could come from Harvey is that politicians and planners will give more attention to where and how people build.  Bloomberg had a couple of good articles on the subject, one looking at building codes and the other about the National Flood Insurance Program.  Amazingly, on Tuesday the EPA rejected a contention by scientists that the historic rainfall from Harvey was linked to climate change, calling it “an attempt to politicize an ongoing tragedy.”  As to the question of just who is politicizing climate change, I suggest you read this item.  Finally, we should bear in mind that the U.S. Gulf Coast isn’t the only area experiencing devastating flooding.

Climate

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to eliminate the positions of the special envoys for climate change and the Arctic.  Their duties will be shifted to other programs within the State Department.

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists has found that chronic inundation (defined as flooding events that cover at least 10% of the community and happen at least twice a month) will occur in about a dozen North Carolina towns and cities within the next 20 years.  If you would like to read a longer article about the report, go here.

The water level in the Caspian Sea has dropped 5 feet since 1996.  Now, a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters has reported that the drop was caused by increased evaporation rates associated with warmer air temperatures.

Yale Climate Connections provided a review of Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel.

A new study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, suggests that rising temperatures at the Antarctic sea-floor will have a much greater impact on biodiversity than thought previously.  Certain species responded much more to increased temperature than others, causing them to dominate, thereby decreasing biodiversity.

I will admit that I had never thought about climate change causing landslides, but that is what is happening in Switzerland.  Once one has been exposed to the idea, it is entirely logical.  It turns out that many of the steep mountain faces that are iconic of Switzerland have been stabilized by permafrost, which is now melting as the climate warms.

The southern pine beetle kills pitch, red, and jack pine trees by laying its eggs under the bark, in much the same way that the mountain pine beetle killed trees in the Rocky Mountains.  The northern limit of the southern pine beetle is where tree bark temperatures drop to 14°F.  Now, as temperatures increase due global warming, the latitude at which that occurs is moving northward, and so are the beetles, according to a new paper in Nature Climate Change.

Energy

Writing at Yale Environment 360, Jacques Leslie analyzed the changing relationship between electric utilities and the solar industry.  He found that it is more complex than typically portrayed in the typical us vs. them scenario.

Southern Co. and other utilities building the Vogtle nuclear expansion project in Georgia are prepared to finish the reactors, but laid out a set of assurances that must be met in a filing with state utility regulators on Thursday.  If the Georgia Public Service Commission approves the project, Plant Vogtle will be the only set of nuclear reactors under construction in the United States, since Duke Energy just cancelled plans to build reactors in Florida and South Carolina.  Duke Energy also said it won’t help restart construction on the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina.  Desmog examined why construction of the Vogtle plant ran into difficulties.

China Civil Engineering Corp. will build a $5.8 billion hydro-power station in Nigeria’s eastern Mambila region with a capacity to generate 3,050 MW.  The project requires the construction of four dams and includes 435 miles of transmission lines.

While I was away, DOE released the results of its grid study.  PV Magazine interviewed Mark Dyson, a manager at Rocky Mountain Institute’s electricity practice, about the content of the report and the disconnect between the recommendations and the evidence presented.  Also, Dr. Susan Tierney expressed her opinion of the report.

One Houston-area facility which appears to have survived Harvey intact is Net Power’s $140 million, 50-MW natural gas power plant, which will capture effectively all of the CO2 it produces, without significantly higher costs.  The plant is expected to be fired up for the first time later this year, and if all works as planned, it could be a real game-changer for carbon capture technology.

Over the past several years, the International Energy Agency and similar organizations have consistently underestimated the growth in solar energy globally.  A new paper in the journal Nature Energy examined why that has occurred and the lead author of the paper prepared a commentary on it.

The latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s Electric Power Monthly revealed that renewable energy sources and nuclear power each are providing roughly 20% of the U.S. electricity supply.  However, coal again supplied the greatest amount of electricity, displacing gas.

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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