Policy and Politics
During Senate hearings on Wednesday, Kathleen Hartnett White, President Trump’s nominee to head the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, when asked about the link between human activity and climate change, acknowledged that there was probably some human contribution, but said “the extent to which I think is very uncertain.” On Thursday, the Senate confirmed William Wehrum on a 49-47 vote to head the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Also on Thursday, the EPA proposed a rule to repeal tighter emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks with older engines that had been put into place by the Obama administration. Moving in the opposite direction, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will begin presenting its draft greenhouse gas reduction program next week to the state’s Air Pollution Control Board for approval to create the state’s first cap-and-trade program, possibly by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to become the 11th member of the multi-state cap-and-trade system. When Robert Litterman, chairman of the Risk Committee at Kepos Capital, decided to apply the basic tenets of Wall Street risk management to climate change, he came to the conclusion that carbon taxes should be higher than anything proposed or enacted almost anywhere in the world. He also decided that a carbon tax would be a great way to eliminate the deficit in the current Republican tax reform plans.
In a very interesting essay on disaster planning in an age of climate change, Brad Plumer of The New York Times quoted Dr. David Titley, who heads a climate center at Pennsylvania State University: “If climate adaptation is a marathon, we’ve run about the first 50 yards so far. Grudgingly.” Part of our adaptation should be to fix the National Flood Insurance Program. Bob Henson of Weather Underground took a deep dive into why that has been so difficult. With respect to planning, New Zealand’s climate change minister hopes to create an experimental humanitarian visa for climate refugees. Planning requires that we know what is happening with the climate. Consequently, 26 scientists published a paper in the journal Earth’s Future, which was released Thursday, that calls for a coordinated and expanded measurement network focused on answering key scientific questions about Earth’s climate.
At COP 23 in Bonn, Syria announced it plans to join the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving the U.S. as the only country not on board. Because of his plans to remove the U.S. from the Agreement, President Trump is, “for the time being,” not invited to a climate change summit to be held in Paris in December, according to an official in French President Macron’s office. “We Are Still In”, the organization established in response to President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Agreement, has opened the U.S. Climate Action Center, a pavilion and forum where dozens of American leaders will convene throughout the negotiations. China under President Xi Jinping is moving to shape the consensus on how to rein in greenhouse gases after President Donald Trump decided to scale back U.S. involvement. The head of the Africa group of climate negotiators said on Thursday that the wealthiest countries on earth are failing to take seriously the need to speed up the money they have promised to help the poor cope with climate change. One example of the need is Fiji, a small island nation that is facing climate adaptation costs over ten years that exceed its GDP. Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, announced a $50 million commitment to partners worldwide to catalyze a global effort to move nations away from coal dependence. The New York Times has an interesting infographic showing how far we have to go to keep warming below 2°C.
Let’s start off with a little hope! Damian Carrington, environment editor at The Guardian wrote on Wednesday about “the seven mega-trends that could beat global warming.” And in an opinion piece at MacLean’s, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe wrote: “It’s not the science of climate change that we must emphasize to prevent ‘dangerous human interference with the climate system.’ It’s the immediacy of its impacts, and the hope its solutions offer for a better future for us all.” On the other hand, while David Roberts at Vox agrees that it is futile to emphasize the science to conservative elites, he argues that the way to win the climate warsis to do “everything possible to publicize their intransigence and make it core to their identity” so they end up crying “‘Hey, We Like Clean Energy Too!’”
In a statement released on Thursday, NOAA formally declared that La Niña conditions were present in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Andrew Freedman explained what this might mean for winter weather in the U.S. and Canada. Vox presented some interesting graphics of climate change data.
A study published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters found that algal growth was more important than deposited dust and soot to the darkening of ice in one region of western Greenland. Dark ice melts more rapidly than clean ice. On the other side of the Arctic, black guillemots nest on Cooper Island, an uninhabited strip of land 5 miles offshore near Barrow, Alaska. They have been studied each summer since 1975, providing one of the longest, continuous records of the impact of climate change on a single species.
Like the U.S., data from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research indicates that their winter has decreased in length by a month over the last 100 years.
On Wednesday, a subcommittee of the House Science Committee held a hearing on geoengineering, which was quite informative and without the usual posturing. One of the witnesses, Douglas MacMartin, is a co-author on five papers examining by simulation the impacts of the injection of sunlight-reflecting aerosol particles into the stratosphere. They were published together in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres this week. One reason some climate scientists are beginning to consider geoengineering is their inability to model cloud behavior. How and where clouds move and how that will change as the climate warms and the atmosphere becomes either more or less polluted remain among the biggest unanswered questions in climate science.
In case you haven’t had a chance to look at Part 1 of the National Climate Assessment that was released last week, Sabrina Shankman has a summary at Inside Climate News. In another article there, Georgina Gustin wrote: “Scientists at the University of Hawaii at Manoa reviewed medical literature to identify ways in which the body responds to heat and how organs are affected. They calculated that there are 27 ways, physiologically speaking, for a person to die from extreme heat.”
In a new peer-reviewed article in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists from World Weather Attribution and the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research wrote that they had developed techniques that “make it possible to assign extreme events to human-induced climate change and historical emissions” and “allow losses and damage associated with such events to be assigned country-level responsibility.”
Renewables combined with energy storage technologies could generate enough secure power to cover the world’s entire electricity demand by 2050 while proving cheaper than the current fossil-fuel dominated system, according to a study by German non-profit Energy Watch Group and the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, released on Wednesday at COP23 in Bonn.
China Energy Investment Corp. plans to invest $83.7 billion in shale gas development, chemical manufacturing, and underground storage of natural gas liquids derivatives in West Virginia over 20 years, according to a memorandum of understanding. European governments have drastically underestimated methane emissions and will miss their Paris Agreement goals unless they urgently scale down its use, a major new study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has found.
According to the International Energy Agency’s new “Energy Access Outlook 2017” report, the number of people without access to electricity fell to 1.1 billion in 2016 from 1.7 billion in 2000. More than 100 million people have gained electricity access every year since 2012, much of it with renewable energy.
The Energy Storage Association, in collaboration with Navigant Research, has released a white paper entitled “35×25: A Vision for Energy Storage”, which charts a path toward 35 GW of new energy storage systems by 2025.
On Wednesday, the EU proposed sharp automobile emission cuts over the next decade to support the Paris Climate Agreement and compete with China by spurring electric vehicle (EV) production. To be prepared for greater penetration of EVs in the market, filling stations are experimenting with ways to retain their customers’ loyalty after they buy an EV.
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.