Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/8/2017

Policy and Politics

The EPA will not block its scientists from freely discussing their work in public, Administrator Scott Pruitt promised lawmakers this week, in the wake of a recent incident in which researchers were barred from presenting findings on climate change at a conference.  However, he also told lawmakers that early in 2018 he plans to review the 2009 endangerment finding that climate change is a risk to human health by using the “red team/blue team” approach used by the military.  In further EPA news, the agency announced Wednesday that it will take comments on its proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan at upcoming hearings in San Francisco; Gillette, Wyoming; and Kansas City, Missouri.  The dates, times and venues have not yet been announced.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held Congress’ first hearings on climate science in 1976, and it resulted in passage of bipartisan legislation to establish a National Climate Program Office.  Today, the Committee is best known for being hostile to climate scientists.  What happened?  Inside Climate News reviewed the transformation of this powerful committee to help answer that question.

While Suniva and SolarWorld have continued to appeal to President Trump to impose tariffs on imported solar panels, installers and others have argued that a tariff will cause more jobs in solar installation to be lost than will be gained in solar panel manufacturingGreentech Media had a detailed summary of the hearings.  Both the House and Senate versions of the tax-cut bill contain provisions that pose a threat to the development of wind and solar power.  Paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr., who in turn had paraphrased the great abolitionist leader Theodore Parker, Bill McKibben wrote in Rolling StoneThe arc of the physical universe appears to be short, and it bends toward heat.  Win soon or suffer the consequences.”

More than 50 mayors from cities of all sizes wrapped up a climate change summit in Chicago on Wednesday, at which they signed a formal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their cities.  In order to do that, they will need to consider housing, land use, and transportation as a single system, since they are all intertwined, complementary, and reinforcing.  A recent study published in the journal BioScience showed how important it is to consider the sources used by any blogs you read on the subject of climate change.  Those that aren’t based on the peer-reviewed scientific literature can be very misleading.

Climate

In 2015 journalists from The New York Times accompanied a team of scientists to Greenland, where they were studying the fate of meltwater from the ice sheet.  The question being studied was whether the water flowed directly to the sea, or whether some was retained in cavities within the ice sheet.  The results of those studies have now been published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences and the Times has an interesting article about the study, complete with excellent graphics.  Another article in the Times, which I missed last week deals with the mental stress of climate change on Inuit people.  It is accompanied by some wonderful watercolors.

Several climate change models are used by climate scientists to project future warming.  Because of differences between them, they provide a variety of projections.  Scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. ranked the models by how well they simulated historical temperature changes.  When they then examined projections of future temperature changes they found that those that best simulated past temperature changes gave the highest projections of future changes, by around 15%, on average.

As wildfires once again raged across California, Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic examined the question of whether they were being made worse by climate change.  A paper this week in Nature Communication provided additional evidence linking the loss of Arctic sea ice with drought in California and extreme cold winter temperatures in the eastern U.S.  This does not bode well for the current California wildfires.  Another consequence of melting Arctic sea ice is more human activity, such as boat traffic and oil exploration.  As a consequence, conservationists are concerned about the impact on marine life that is not adapted to such activities.  One example is narwhals, which have a unique stress response that may not be compatible with human activities.

One impact of increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere is to make the oceans more acidic.  Consequently, scientists have been studying the impacts of increased acidity on a variety of marine species, such as shellfish.  A recent article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, Biological Sciences reported on studies on mussels.  The acidity of sea water varies with location and in shallow coastal waters, where mussels grow, it also varies with time.  When the scientists subjected mussels to varying acidity levels they found that condition to be more stressful than constant exposure to waters with low acidity.

A new study in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications, found that some U.S. Pacific coast bird species are migrating earlier in the spring and later in the fall than they used to.  These changes appear to be linked to warmer, wetter climate conditions.  Climate change is also having an impact on birds in the UK, as documented in a new report.

Rivers in the Amazon are cycling between increasingly severe states of flood and drought, as predicted by climate change models, and the results are directly impacting local wildlife and the indigenous people who protect the forest, according to a new study published in the journal Conservation Biology.

Energy

A notice that was slated to be published Friday in the Federal Register by the Bureau of Land Management will suspend a rule to limit methane leaks from oil and gas operations on federal land.  On the other hand, the American Petroleum Institute announced on Tuesday that a consortium of oil and gas companies is undertaking a voluntary program to reduce their methane emissions.  Speaking of methane, last Friday the U.S. Forest Service gave its approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest and on Thursday of this week the Virginia Water Control Board approved the pipeline, its last major regulatory hurdle.  Finally, a note about pipelines in general.  Regulators are concerned that the oil leak from the Keystone Pipeline may have been caused by the weights that keep it from floating when it is below the water table.  One problem is that the regulators don’t know where the weights are.

Lithium-ion battery packs used in electric vehicles are selling at an average price of $209 a kWh, down 24% from a year ago and about a fifth of what it was in 2010, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) survey shows. Furthermore, according to a report by BNEF, the cost will likely fall to below $100 a kWh by 2025.  Of course, the price of the battery packs will depend in part on the price of lithium, which is now at a record high due to high demand and limited supply.  This is causing one of the world’s largest lithium producers to consider expanding into a fourth country.

According to new data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (IEA), transportation has surpassed electricity generation as the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.  The transportation sector now emits 1.9 billion tons of CO2 annually; the electric power sector emits 1.8 billion tons.  There is growing interest in electric vehicles (EVs) coupled with renewable energy as a way of reducing emissions from both sectors, but one deterrence is a lack of EV infrastructure.  This raises the question of whether car-sharing services can increase demand for both EVs and their infrastructure.  Of course, if the new EVs look as good as the concept cars shown at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, a lot of people won’t take too much convincing, particularly since EVs are cheaper to own and operate over four years than gasoline or diesel cars.  The IEA also reported that U.S. solar photovoltaic electricity output in the first nine months of 2017 grew 47% over the same period in 2016.

More than half of the EU’s 619 coal-fired power plants are losing money, according to a new report by Carbon Tracker.  Furthermore, stricter air pollution rules and higher carbon prices will push even more plants into unprofitability, with 97% losing money by 2030.

Read it and weep.  China’s share of the global market for protection against climate change more than tripled over the 13 years leading to 2015, according to a report commissioned by the German government and published by the Federal Environment Office.  Germany fell to second place and the U.S. finished third.

This week, Akshat Rathi started a series about carbon capture on Quartz.  The first article provided an overview, the second with the Allam cycle which uses supercritical CO2 to drive the turbine in a gas-powered system to generate electricity, the third with negative-emissions concrete, and the fourth with a new process, invented by a teenager, that absorbs CO2 at about 15% of the cost of the industry standard.  The series will conclude next week.

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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