Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/27/2017

Policy and Politics

A new report by the Government Accountability Office says that the extreme weather events of the last decade that scientists say were exacerbated by climate change added more than $350 billion in costs to taxpayers.  Furthermore, those costs threaten to increase by $12 billion to $35 billion each year by the middle of the century.  The Trump administration said Tuesday that next March it will sell leases for some 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, the largest sale of offshore leases in U.S. history.  Monday was the deadline for filing opening comments with FERC on Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to boost coal and nuclear power, and the Commission was swamped with negative comments.  According to a new study published by Yale scientists in Environmental Research Letters, Americans are willing to pay a carbon tax that would increase their household energy bills by $15 per month.  Surprisingly, they would prefer that the money be spent to support the development of solar and wind energy or to fund infrastructure improvements, rather than having it returned to taxpayers.

A conference entitled “State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed” began Monday in Providence, RI.  It was newsworthy in part because at the 11th hour EPA prohibited two of its scientists (one the keynote speaker) and one contractor from speaking at the conference.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has claimed that the U.S. leads the world in the reductions of its CO2 footprint.  The Washington Post Fact Checker has given him three Pinocchios for that claim.  You may recall that Pruitt wants to subject climate science to a “red team/blue team” debate.  Well, the Heartland Institute has submitted a list of over 200 people they consider qualified to serve on the red team.  Nineteen Democratic senators issued a letter to Pruitt on Thursday, questioning his methodology and logic for repealing the Clean Power Plan.  Meanwhile, on Monday Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that her country is set to join the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving the U.S. and Syria as the only nations outside the pact.

Climate

Three new research articles were published this week dealing with the melting of ice sheets and their impacts on sea level rise.  Writing in The Washington Post, Chris Mooney summarized them this way: “So in sum — new research is affirming that seas have risen quite rapidly in the planet’s past, and that major glaciers have retreated quickly because their enormous size makes them potentially unstable. Meanwhile, additional modeling projects these kinds of observations forward and suggests that the century in which we are now living could — could — see similar changes, at least in more severe global warming scenarios in which the world continues to burn high volumes of fossil fuels.”  On the subject of sea level rise, Climate Central has ranked the U.S. cities most vulnerable to major coastal floods using three different metrics.  No matter which metric is used, at least 20 of the top 25 cities are in Florida.  Naval Station Norfolk is particularly susceptible to “sunny day flooding”, but according to reporting by Inside Climate News, little is being done about itRolling Stone published an excerpt from Jeff Goodell’s new book, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, which was released on Tuesday.  The excerpt deals with Lagos, Nigeria, which is a delta city on the forefront of sea level rise.

A study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used computer modeling to examine the possible future impacts of hurricanes on New York City.  One conclusion was that flood height return periods that were ∼500 years during the preindustrial era have fallen to ∼25 years at present and are projected to fall to ∼5 years within the next three decades.  Brian Resnick had some questions about the 2017 hurricane season, such as was it normal to have so many strong storms in a row and what was the impact of climate change.  So, he called several climate and hurricane experts.  The answers he got were complicated.  Because of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, reinsurer Munich Re will report a fourth quarter loss of $1.7 billion and only a “small profit” for the year.

Calling droughts “misery in slow motion”, the World Bank said in a new report that droughts have “shockingly large and often hidden” consequences.  Furthermore, they annually destroy enough food to feed more than 80 million people every day for a year.  Sadly, droughts and hotter temperatures in India have been linked to suicides by farmers.  In a photo essay for The New York Times, Geeta Anand and Vikram Singh presented the stories of two Indian families.

According to the National Weather Service office in Los Angeles, Southern California has been scorched by an unseasonable heat wave, with temperatures in some areas breaking records by double-digit margins.  On Tuesday, a report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council said that daily summertime high temperatures in the decade from 2007 through 2016 were hotter than the decades of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

New research, published in Nature Communications, has found that eradicating extreme poverty globally (by moving the 770 million people in extreme poverty up into “poor”) would add only 0.05°C to global temperatures by 2100.  However, moving them and the current poor into a “global middle class” income group, which earns a modest $2.97-8.44 a day, could add 0.6°C.

A team of international scientists has studied the impact that 20 “natural climate solutions” (NCS) could have on meeting the goal of keeping warming below 2°C.  As reported in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found that NCS can provide over one-third of the climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to meet that goal.

An eight-year study, carried out by the Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification group, a German network of researchers, has found that many organisms that could withstand a certain amount of acidification are at risk of losing this adaptive ability because of pollution from plastics and the extra stress from global warming.

Energy

An analysis published Thursday by the nonprofit ShareAction argued that BP and Shell continue to put both their businesses and shareholder capital at risk by failing to grasp the pace of change as the world moves towards a low carbon economy.  Nevertheless, the world’s major oil companies more than doubled the number of acquisitions, project investments, and venture capital stakes in renewable energy, to 44 in 2016 from 21 the year before, according to research published Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Full lifecycle analyses by Belgium’s VUB University have revealed that electric vehicles (EVs) have significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel-powered cars, even when the EVs are charged with the most carbon intensive electricity.

A new paper in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health, written by scientists at the non-profit Center for Environmental Health who reviewed studies on chemicals found at fracking sites, said that the presence of pollutants ranging from airborne particulates to heavy metals could affect the neurodevelopment of babies and children in the area.  However, researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a comparative analysis of the harmful health effects of electricity produced by both shale gas and coal and found that the lifetime toxic chemical releases were 10 to 100 times greater from coal than shale gas.

In a commentary released Monday, the International Energy Agency concluded that about 40% to 50% of current methane emissions from the oil and gas sector worldwide could be avoided at no net cost.

The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia has just launched RVA Solar Fund to provide grants of $20,000 to $100,000 to local governments and K-12 public school districts that install solar energy systems at their facilities.  Valley Elementary in Bath County is the first school in Virginia to get 100% of its electricity from roof-top solar panels.

According to projections released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top-growing job classification over the next nine years will be solar photovoltaic installers.  Wind turbine service technicians came in at No. 2.  The median worker employed installing solar panels made $39,340 last year, while the median salary for a wind turbine technician was $52,260.

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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