Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/29/2017

The big news this week about Hurricane Maria is that aid has been incredibly slow getting to people on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  The devastation in both territories, in combination with their ongoing financial crises, has caused speculation about increased migration to the U.S., and what its effects might be, both for the islands and for U.S. cities receiving the migrants.  An article in Vox looked at how the large amount of rain associated with this season’s hurricanes is a sign of climate change.  Conversely, an article in The Atlantic explains why it is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion about long-term changes in hurricane activity.  On a related note, a new study from the Universal Ecological Fund concluded that the costs to the U.S. of stronger hurricanes, hotter heat waves, more frequent wildfires, and more severe public-health issues will reach almost $1 billion a day within a decade.  On a more positive note, some see the destruction of the power grids on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as an opportunity to redo them with less reliance on imported fuel oil and diesel.

In a chapter released ahead of the publication of next month’s World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund has told rich countries they must do more to help poor nations cope with climate change or suffer from the weaker global growth and higher migration flows that will inevitably result.  Meanwhile, suggestions that the U.S. might reduce its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement have sparked outrage from developing countries.  In other international news, Ontario has joined California’s cap-and-trade program limiting CO2 emissions.  Quebec joined the program earlier.

The Trump administration is expected to release its plans for replacing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan ahead of an Oct. 7 court deadline.  The announcement is expected to have several key parts: a legal analysis detailing why they think the rule wasn’t justified; an economic analysis showing why they think it overestimated benefits and downplayed costs; and a signal about what the administration is planning to put in place of the Clean Power Plan.  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivered a string of comments this week that caused conservation groups and public lands advocates to conclude that the Trump administration does not view renewable energy development as a priority.  He also is unhappy with the failure of Department of Interior employees to buy into the Trump administration plans to expand fossil fuel production from public lands.

Climate

Last week I devoted a paragraph to a new paper in Nature Geoscience that examined the possibility of limiting global warming this century to 1.5°C.  I indicated in that paragraph that several articles in the popular press misinterpreted some of the results in the paper and provided links to fact-checks of those articles.  Now, in a guest post at Carbon Brief, the authors of the original paper respond and “explain what the article did, and did not, do”.

A new study, published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management, found that global methane emissions from agriculture are 11% larger than previous estimates have suggested.  However, when Carbon Brief asked about the impact of this finding on the chances of holding global warming to 1.5°C, they were told that it would be marginal.

The Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica has calved another large iceberg, its fifth since 2000, increasing concern among scientists for the stability of the glacier.  Also, a new article in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters reported that four glaciers that feed into Marguerite Bay, on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, have speeded up because water temperatures in the bay have increased, accelerating melting.

A new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society provided additional evidence concerning the “warm Arctic, cold continents” hypothesis, although the continent is this case is Eurasia, not North America.

An article in the journal Science reported that forest areas in South America, Africa, and Asia, which have historically played a key role in absorbing greenhouse gases, are now releasing 0.425 Gt carbon annually, which is more than all the traffic in the U.S.  This story of the Paiter-Suruí tribe, who live in the Amazon forest on the border between the Brazilian states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso, is a tragic case study of why preservation of forests is so difficult.

A new analysis by the World Weather Attribution group found that the scorching temperatures across Europe’s Mediterranean nations this summer were made at least 10 times more likely by climate change.  They also analyzed the heatwave that struck southeast France, Italy and Croatia in early August and found it was made at least four times more likely.

Energy

Last week I included an article about the decision of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in the Suniva/SolarWorld America solar panel trade case.  The hearing for potential remedies is set for Oct. 3, after which the ITC will make a recommendation to the president.  SolarWorld America is not waiting for Trump’s decision, however.  On the basis of the ITC ruling, it announced that it will immediately increase production and hire more workers.  Nevertheless, most of the solar industry is opposed to the decision and predicts dire consequences if tariffs are imposed.  Utility Dive presented a summary of the positions being taken in the case, while GreenTech Media offered six ways to boost U.S. solar panel manufacturing without imposing a tariff.

Global emissions of CO2 remained static in 2016, due to less coal burning and increasing renewable energy, according to data published on Thursday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.  The Washington state Department of Ecology has denied a water quality permit to a company that wants to build a coal export terminal near the city of Longview.

The Indian government has pledged to provide solar power and battery storage by the end of 2018 to the 300 million people without power in rural and remote towns and villages.  And speaking of renewable energy, many people still think it is too expensive, particularly for developing countries.  Well, in her newest video, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe tackles that misconception.  A new study in Environmental Research Letters found that the benefits of renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) substantially outweigh their costs.

Two articles about H2-fuel cell vehicles appeared this week, one in The Economist and the other in Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN).  The Economist article concentrated on comparing fuel cells to battery-powered and traditional internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, whereas the C&EN article focused more on how fuel cells operate.  Neither article, however, addressed the issue of how the production method for the H2 impacts the carbon footprint of the vehicle, which is a shame.  Speaking of battery-powered cars, British inventor Sir James Dyson, the billionaire who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner, announced plans to build an electric car that will be “radically different” from current models and go on sale in 2020.  Traditional auto manufacturers appear to see 48V mild hybrids as a bridge to more efficient vehicles, because such systems can easily be added to conventional power trains.  Finally, Rocky Mountain Institute announced that based on the experience of seven participating trucks that drove a combined 50,107 miles during a 17-day event, it is possible for long-haul trucks to achieve 10 mpg using technologies available on the market today.

In an effort to spur an industry that has flourished in Europe but sputtered in the U.S., a bipartisan team of senators is proposing a 30% investment tax credit for the next 3 GW of offshore wind built in U.S. waters.  So, what are the issues surrounding offshore wind energy?  Last week, a panel at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, convened as part of Climate Week NYC, addressed that question.  Sarah Fecht summarized the discussion.

Remarks by a Dominion Energy executive suggest that the developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline plan to extend it into South Carolina.  The pipeline will deliver natural gas, composed primarily of methane.  On the topic of methane, ExxonMobil said on Monday that it will take a series of steps to cut methane emissions from its U.S. onshore oil and gas production.

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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