Climate and Energy News 1/26/2018

Policy and Politics

Business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos urged political leaders and fellow businesses to seize the opportunity to invest in tackling climate change.  (Megan Darby and Karl Mathiesen of Climate Home News presented a contrast between the rhetoric and reality.)  Meanwhile, at home, President Trump imposed a 30% tariff on solar panels imported from China and South Korea.  This prompted a backlash among some conservatives and from South Korea, as well as several prognostications as to what it all means (e.g., Inside Climate News and Politico).  And solar wasn’t the only form of renewable energy facing restrictions.  Maine Gov. Paul LePage imposed a moratorium Wednesday on new wind energy projects in the western and coastal regions of the state.  He also established the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission – which will have meetings that are closed to the public and not subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

Lots of people have wondered how a temperature rise of 2°C was chosen as a “safe” rise in the Paris Climate Agreement.  Katharine Hayhoe answers that question in her latest Global Weirding video.  So, what could we do if the temperature rise exceeds a “safe” value?  One proposed policy choice is solar geoengineering, in which sulfur dioxide is injected into the upper atmosphere to reflect some of the incoming sunlight.  A big question is what would happen if we suddenly stopped doing that, given that the atmosphere would still contain lots of CO2, which would rapidly push the temperature upward.  That question was addressed in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution and Robinson Meyer discussed it in The Atlantic.  And in Wired, Charles C. Mann, author of the book 1491, had an essay excerpted from his new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, in which he summarizes the history of climate change knowledge, right up to current discussions of geoengineering.  Over the last couple of years, I have provided several links to articles extolling the benefits of eating less meat.  Now, grazier Ariel Greenwood argues that a reduction in meat consumption can have unintended ecological consequences.  A number of films at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California, focused on climate change.  Daisy Simmons reported on them at Yale Climate Connections.

“A striking 68 percent of mayors agree that cities should play a strong role in reducing the effects of climate change, even if it means sacrificing revenues or increasing expenditures,” according to a report released Tuesday by the Boston University Initiative on Cities.  Its bad enough that climate research programs in the U.S. are facing funding cuts, but when our Canadian neighbors stop funding their Climate Change and Atmospheric Research program, which is very important for understanding the Arctic, things are getting pretty bad.  In a critique of international policies on climate change, New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter argued “that the greatest impediment to slowing this relentless warming is an illusion of progress that is allowing every country to sidestep many of the hard choices that still must be made.”  In that light, one may wonder about the motivations behind EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s concern for methane emissions.  To end this section on a positive note, I’m going to include an article that came out a week ago on Grist.  It profiles several conservatives (some of whom were inspired by Bob Inglis at RepublicEn) who constitute part of the “eco-right” and who are working to remove the partisanship surrounding climate change.

Climate

I have frequently provided links to papers on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as a way of achieving negative emissions of CO2.  In a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, the authors argue that deploying BECCS technology on the scale needed to address climate change would use up massive amounts of water, fertilizer, and land.  It would also probably lead to large environmental problems and may even destabilize key planetary systems.

A new study, published in the journal Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, points out the threats to the Cuvette Centrale peatlands of Africa, the world’s largest intact tropical peatland.  At risk is the ability of the peatlands to sequester large amounts of carbon, preventing its release to the atmosphere as CO2.  World Resources Institute’s Molly Bergen traveled to Central Africa and wrote about the four challenges in the fight to save the rainforests there.

“[I]t is unlikely the United States has ever seen such a sizable area of excessive tropical cyclone rainfall totals as it did from Harvey,” the National Hurricane Center said in a meteorological review of the storm released on Thursday.  Now, Texas is in a drought.

A new study published this week in Nature Climate Change examined 56 mountain glacier drainage basins worldwide and determined that roughly half had reached their “peak water” point, after which the amount of runoff each year will decline.  In 2016 two mountain glaciers collapsed in Tibet within three months.  Now, a paper in Nature Geoscience argues that climate change was the cause of both.

In a paper published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, a team of Chinese scientists reported that in 2017, the world’s oceans were the hottest ever recorded.

Scientists and engineers have long known that removing air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and soot from power plant emissions to reduce air pollution could have the perverse consequence of making global warming worse.  Now a new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has quantified the effect, suggesting that the temperature increase could be between 0.5 and 1.0°C.

Energy

Forty-three businesses signed long-term agreements for a record 5.4 GW of clean power, including solar and wind, worldwide last year, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. That’s up from 4.3 GW in 2016 and is enough to displace at least 10 coal-fired power plants.  Budweiser said it has switched all of its U.S. brewing to renewable electricity and is adding a clean energy logo to its labels as part of a global shift to green power by its parent, Anheuser-Busch InBev.  Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market, has become the latest financial firm to announce that it plans to stop investing in coal companies.

There is no single plug system in use by all electric vehicle (EV) companies.  As EV sales increase and money is spent to expand charging networks, there is concern that much of that money will be wasted if EV manufacturers can’t agree on a standard plug soon.  Writing in The Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli argues that as the electric grid becomes greener, switching from gasoline-powered cars to EVs will become an important method for the U.S. to meet its share of carbon pollution cuts.  And on the subject of alternative-fueled vehicle, not only does the start-up Riversimple rely upon a hydrogen fuel cell for power, it has a new business model for an auto company – it will only lease its cars.

China’s emissions of CO2 associated with the power sector increased last year after three years of declining emissions.  The increase was attributed to larger activity in the manufacturing sector.

A proposed direct-current transmission line, which would have carried 4,000 MW of renewable wind energy from Western Oklahoma to eastern Tennessee, has been shelved by the developer following continued opposition by the Arkansas congressional delegation.  That’s a shame, because one of the things limiting renewable energy expansion is lack of transmission infrastructure.

Puerto Rico’s governor said on Monday he intends to sell off the island’s power utility to the private sector.  As part of the plan, Puerto Rico would receive 30% of its power from renewable sources.

By August, five fully-electric barges capable of carrying 24 20-ft. containers will be operating on the canals of Belgium and The Netherlands.

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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