Policy and Politics
California, Ontario, and Quebec have held their first auction of greenhouse gas emission credits under their joint cross-border cap-and-trade system. Meanwhile, New Jersey has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 15 other states and Puerto Rico vowing to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. In a letter released on Tuesday, 236 mayors from 47 states urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt not to repeal the Clean Power Plan, saying they need its emissions rules to fight climate change and protect their cities. In an interview published Thursday, Pruitt spoke about how his religious beliefs inform his views on the environment and environmental policy. Physicist Mark Buchanan published an opinion piece about geoengineering at Bloomberg View. In it he said that we should not “be lulled into thinking that humanity can engineer its way out of global warming, that we can get around it without radically changing the way we live.”
President Trump’s plan to phase out funding for the Energy Star program and fund it through fees charged to the companies that use it is meeting strong opposition by groups that represent manufacturers, retailers, utilities, environmentalists, and others who benefit from the program. A coalition of business associations, conservative pundits, and Republican lawmakers is working to ensure that the Senate ratifies the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) because of their strong greenhouse effect. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would authorize EPA to ratchet down the production of HFCs. The New York Times has reported that the Trump administration is considering Donald van der Vaart, the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, to be head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In an interview, van der Vaart expressed skepticism about the extent to which humans have contributed to climate change. Regardless of U.S. participation, countries that ratified the Paris Climate Agreement will meet in Poland in December, where they are expected to put the finishing touches on transparency and verification measures that will ensure that industries and economies abide by emission rules. Unfortunately, countries aren’t doing enough to live up to their Paris pledges.
A shift in public opinion, however gradual, has moved toward acceptance of human-caused global warming. Livia Albeck-Ripka of The New York Times interviewed dozens of people to understand what is driving the change and presented six of their stories in a recent article. One prominent person who changed his mind is Jerry Taylor, who is the focus of this month’s “This is Not Cool” video from Yale Climate Communications. Last week I provided a link to an article about the “valve turners”. This week Huffington Post has an article about how some consider such actions to be ecoterrorism. Last fall author Megan Herbert and climate scientist Michael Mann launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish a children’s book they had written about climate change. If you have children or grandchildren you would like to be aware of climate change and actions against it, then you may want to check out The Tantrum That Saved the World. Or, you may want to give a copy to your local library.
A new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, estimated how climate change could affect the risk of flooding, drought, and heatwaves in 571 European cities by the second half of the century. The research showed that under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, every city studied will face an increased risk of extreme weather events as the climate warms.
As reported in the journal The Cryosphere, NASA scientists have greatly improved their ability to track and measure ice loss from Antarctic glaciers. Their results have shown that the vast majority of the increase in ice loss has been from West Antarctica, whereas the ice flow from East Antarctica has been relatively stable. In another new paper, this one in Nature Communications, scientists examined the effects of delaying present-day reduction of CO2 emissions on the amount of sea level rise as a result of melting Antarctic glaciers. They found that each five-year delay in peaking of CO2 emissions will increase sea-level rise in 2300 by about 8 inches on average. A research team led by a USGS scientist has found that west coast wetlands are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise because they are constrained by natural barriers and man-made obstacles from migrating inland with the rising tides.
In just eight days in mid-February, nearly a third of the sea ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast disappeared, so that the area covered by ice is now 60% below its average from 1981-2010. As the Arctic was flooded with warm air, on Monday and Tuesday the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing. Furthermore, high temperature records were shattered all along the east coast of the U.S. on Tuesday and Wednesday. And in Siberia, melting permafrost has led to a “megaslump” that provides an opportunity for scientists to access up to 200,000 years of historical climate records.
Ocean acidification due to increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere is a threat to sediments that form the base for coral reefs, as well as to the reefs themselves, according to a new paper in the journal Science. The paper said it was “unknown if the whole reef will erode once the sediments become net dissolving” and whether reefs “will experience catastrophic destruction” or merely a slow erosion.
Two authors of a recent paper in Nature Plants explain in Carbon Brief “enhanced weathering” of silicate rock as a technique for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, while also decreasing ocean acidification and stimulating plant growth.
Writing in his column in The Guardian, climate scientist John Abraham explained how pollen data collected from sites across North America and Europe were used to show that Earth’s temperature had been cooling for around 2000 years before humans started burning sufficient fossil fuels to reverse the trend and warm Earth.
For the first time, BP’s Energy Outlook projects a peak in oil consumption, driven in part by the rise of shared and autonomous electric vehicles (EVs). The peak is seen as coming in the late 2030s, by which time they project over 300 million EVs will be on the world’s roads.
Fueled by increased efficiency, consumer spending on electricity fell to 1.3% of personal consumption in 2017, the lowest in records dating to 1959, according to a report Thursday from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. The drop in emissions from the energy sector in 2017 was due more to renewable energy and energy conservation than to the nation switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation. Nevertheless, according to data from the Sierra Club and the Energy Information Administration, more coal capacity closed in the first 45 days of 2018 than in the first three years of the Obama administration.
On several occasions, I’ve provided links to articles about using hydrogen (H2) as a fuel for cars. But what about using H2 to heat homes, to cook with, and to heat water, in the place of natural gas (methane)? Well, a UK gas company is planning to use the city of Leeds to test the idea at full-scale. Ahshat Rathi at Quartz explains the idea, the plans, and some possible problems. In addition, HyTech Power, a company in Redmond, WA, has some unique and innovative ideas for using H2 in transportation and energy storage. David Roberts at Vox described their step-by-step approach.
Having gained experience in East Africa, off-grid, pay-as-you-go solar companies are now moving into West Africa. They can provide solar panels and a battery that will produce 4 kWhr of electricity for less than the cost of kerosene, which most people without electricity use for lighting. On the other hand, in Nigeria more minigrids are being put in place, using solar panels, batteries, and backup power.
Tim Profeta, Director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, had an essay at The Conversation arguing that to meet its climate goals, the U.S. needs to address the economic problems facing nuclear power, perhaps by instituting a carbon tax. The U.S. Department of Energy is conducting research and working with utilities seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow nuclear reactors built in the 1970s to keep operating to 2050 and beyond.
Although Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appears determined to replace the Obama-era BLM methane rule, on Thursday night a federal judge struck down his latest attempt. According to a survey by the Energy Institute, most energy executives underestimate how much they can cut methane emissions as they extract and transport natural gas.
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.