Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/19/2018

Policy and Politics

Jack Gerard announced Wednesday he would step down as head of the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying association of oil and natural gas companies.  In a recent interview with Reuters, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said, “The climate is changing. That’s not the debate. The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100?”  Dana Nuccitelli interviewed several climate scientists to answer that question.  Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R, FL), one of the founders of the Climate Solutions Caucus, was interviewed about the Caucus by Katherine Bagley for Yale Environment 360.  A report released Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that, during the first year of the Trump administration, science advisory panels all across the government have been decreased in size or disbanded.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report showed that President Trump’s arrival in the White House in 2017 coincided with a marked increase in concern about the environment among experts polled by the organization.  On Thursday, EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Barry Breen told a congressional oversight committee that the government needs to plan for the ongoing threat posed to Superfund sites from climate change.  A bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress is urging President Trump to recognize climate change as a national security threat.

In a two-part series on Yale Climate Connection, Michael Svoboda provided a brief description of each of the major books on climate change economics published between 2005 and 2018Chicago Review of BooksAmy Brady interviewed novelist C. Morgan Babst, author of the “climate fiction” novel The Floating World, on the social inequality of climate change.  Ivy Main finished summarizing the energy-related bills that have been filed with the VA General Assembly: Part 2 and Part 3.  If measures before the state legislatures in Washington and Oregon pass, there will be a price on CO2 emissions from California to British Columbia.

Climate

An important new paper was published in the journal Nature on Monday.  It examined the value of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), which is the amount the global average temperature of Earth would increase following a doubling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  For a number of reasons, there is still considerable uncertainty associated with ECS.  This study allowed the scientists to narrow the ECS range to between 2.2 and 3.4°C, with a central value of 2.8°C (5.04°F), somewhat lower than the previous central estimate of 3.0°C.  If correct, this means that the worst-case scenario is less likely to happen, but so is the best-case.

Both NASA and NOAA released their analyses of 2017 global average temperature on Thursday.  The agencies agreed that 2017 was the hottest year on record not influenced by El Niño.  When all years were included, NASA ranked 2017 as 2nd, while NOAA ranked it as 3rd.  The difference was due to the use of different methodologies by the two agencies.  Time Magazine presented a photo essay of how the ice in Antarctica is responding to the rise in temperature.

A major characteristic of human-caused climate change is the speed at which it is occurring.  This raises the question of whether the various species on Earth can adapt rapidly enough to survive.  In the case of Arctic ringed seals on the western shores of Svalbard, early indications are that they are doing well, except for one worrying thing, the survival of their pups.  On the other hand, musk oxen are not doing well, particularly when faced with increased winter rainfall.  And a study by scientists at Macquarie University in Australia revealed that high temperatures have a negative effect on zebra finch fertility.

Water stress is one of the factors that can lead to instability in a nation.  Also, water stress can be aggravated by climate change.  Consequently, a panel of retired U.S. military officials warned that water stress is likely to increase, with consequences for world stability.

Shifts in weather or ocean circulation can spark deadly marine heat waves, just as atmospheric shifts can bring droughts and heat waves on land.  Now, a new paper in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has shown that three 2016 marine heat waves that killed whales, birds, corals, and shellfish from Australia to Alaska were many times more likely because of human emissions of greenhouse gases.  Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, said that the battle to save the world’s coral reefs is at a “make or break point”.

The oceans contain significant amounts of methane hydrate, which is an ice-like structure on the ocean floor.  One concern has been that as Earth warms, these hydrates will melt, allowing the methane to make its way through the water to the atmosphere.  This would increase warming because methane is a strong greenhouse gas.  Now, a new study in Science Advances has provided data that suggest that methane released from the sea floor will be consumed by bacteria before it reaches the atmosphere.

Energy

Output from UK wind farms topped 10 GW for the first time, setting a new national record.  Saudi Arabia expects to install 4.125 GW of new renewable energy capacity this year, at a cost of $5 billion to $7 billion.  According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, world clean energy investment totaled $333.5 billion last year, up 3% from 2016 and the second highest annual figure ever, taking cumulative investment since 2010 to $2.5 trillion.  Reality is turning out to be very sobering for both India and Germany.  A top government official has told Reuters that India will need at least $125 billion to fund its ambitious plan to increase the share of renewable power in the country’s grid by 2022.  Germany will have to spend more than $1.2 trillion to meet even the lower end of the European Union’s 2050 target to reduce CO2 emissions.

Dominion Energy plans to put nine of its older, inefficient, and rarely-used generating units across Virginia into dormant status.  They account for less than 1% of the company’s generation capacity.  This fits with a national trend reported by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, which reported that roughly 13 GW of coal-fired generating capacity would be retired this year across the U.S.  Meanwhile, Reuters reported that nearly two-thirds of U.S. coal producing states lost coal mining jobs in 2017, even as overall employment in the sector grew modestly.

The transportation sector was the largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. for the second year in a row, according to an analysis from the Rhodium Group published Wednesday.  In a move that will help alleviate that problem, Ford announced this week that it will spend $11 billion by 2022 to develop electric vehicles and will bring 16 fully electric models to market by then.  It also plans to offer 24 plug-in hybrids.  Looking skyward, all of Norway’s short-distance airliners should be entirely electric by 2040, according to the chief executive of Avinor, the country’s airport operator.  Toward that end, Avinor plans to test a commercial route flown with a small electric plane with 19 seats, starting in 2025.

According to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, all types of clean energy will fall within the cost range of fossil fuels in the next two years.  Robert Dieterich provided a detailed look at concentrated solar power with molten salt as a promising renewable energy technology that can provide electricity on demand 24 hours a day.

Thermal power plants for electricity generation, whether fossil fuel-fired or nuclear, require water for cooling, which can be a serious problem when water is periodically scarce, such as in India.  One way to alleviate the problem is to use more renewable energy.

A new paper in the journal Science of the Total Environment reported on a study examining the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of nine means of generating electricity, including fossils fuels, renewables and nuclear power.  The team found that when the three criteria were given equal weight, shale gas extraction by fracking ranked seventh, which placed it above coal, but far below wind and solar.

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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