Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/23/2018

Policy and Politics

The omnibus spending bill that was passed early Friday morning contains funding for several science programs that the Trump administration wanted to reduce or eliminate.  On March 6, the judge in the California cities’ lawsuit against five of the largest oil companies sent both sides in the case a list of eight questions that he wanted them to address.  On Wednesday, a formal “tutorial” on climate change was held “so that the poor judge can learn some science.”  This isn’t the only climate lawsuit going forward, as summarized by Damion Carrington in The Guardian.  Virginia governor Ralph Northam will veto House Bill 1270, which would prohibit the governor or a state agency from establishing a CO2 cap-and-trade program or adopting a regulation that “brings about the participation by the commonwealth in a regional market for the trading of carbon dioxide allowances.”  At the federal level, even though flood risk is rising around the U.S., FEMA has dropped mentions of climate change and sea level rise from its strategic plan, a document that is supposed to guide the agency’s response to hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires through 2022.

Although the auto industry worked with the Obama administration to establish new emissions standards for cars, it now seems to have changed its tune.  Last month, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, argued in a regulatory filing that the basic science behind climate change is not to be trusted.  Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting had an interesting piece about geoengineering and why some climate skeptics have become interested in it.  In an article in Nature, a group of scientists has proposed new types of geoengineering to slow the melting of the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

Speaking at an EU conference in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron said trade agreements “should be a way of spreading our standards. Anyone who signs an agreement with the EU should be committing to put the Paris Agreement into practice… Why should we sign a trade agreement with powers that say they don’t want to implement the Paris Agreement? We would be mad [to do so].”  He also said that Europe must set a minimum price on carbon, something that would require a new tax on imports from non-EU countries that are not doing enough to tackle climate change.  Sierra had a very interesting interview with Katharine Hayhoe, in which she addressed how to communicate with those who deny climate change.  Also, Paul Voosen had a fascinating article in Science about Vaclav Smil.  Never heard of him?  Read the article.  He certainly gives one a lot to think about.

Climate

Mountain glaciers all over the world are melting, with large impacts on downstream communities.  A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, has found that even if there were no additional warming of Earth, 36% of mountain glacial ice would still eventually disappear as the glaciers came to equilibrium with the new climate.  Another paper in the same journal examined the potential for methane production and release from melting permafrost and found it to be much greater than previously estimated.  Reducing short-lived pollutants like methane, HFCs, and black carbon offers a glimmer of opportunity to protect the rapidly warming Arctic and give the world more time to tackle the trickier problem of CO2.

Climate scientist Jennifer Francis had a Perspective piece in The Washington Post on Wednesday offering a possible explanation for why the eastern U.S. has been hit by four powerful coastal storms this March.  Her ideas are not universally accepted however, as pointed out in a report in The New Yorker.  Floods and extreme rainfall events have increased globally by more than 50% this decade, and are now occurring at a rate four times higher than in 1980, according to a new report by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council.  Regardless of what is causing the increased incidence of storms, it is ironic that many states, including coastal ones, are relaxing their building codes.

A new report by the World Bank concludes that as many as 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America could be forced to migrate within their own country by 2050 due to climate change.  Speaking of internal migration, the Louisiana Office of Community Development announced Wednesday that it will spend $11.7m to purchase a 208-hectare parcel of high ground upon which to resettle about 80 residents of an island threatened by rising seas.  In Alaska, money is being allocated to move some of the residents of Newtok to a higher location nine miles away.  And along the Bering Sea, the Alaskan community of Little Diomede has been hammered by waves this winter because of the lack of sea ice, raising the question of how long the village will be habitable.

The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization released its annual report on the global climate, finding that the past three years were the hottest on record and heat waves in Australia, freak Arctic warmth, and water shortages in Cape Town are extending harmful weather extremes in 2018.  After assessing 67 nations representing almost a third of the world’s nation states, 80% of the global population, and 94% of global gross domestic product, HSBC concluded that India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Bangladesh (in that order) are the nations most vulnerable to climate change.

According to a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, premature deaths would fall on nearly every continent if the world’s governments agreed to cut emissions of carbon and other harmful gases enough to limit global temperature rise to less than 1.67°C (3°F) by the end of the century, which is 0.33°C (0.6°F) lower than the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement.  Another paper in the same journal found that limiting warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) rather than 2°C (3.6°F) would cost three times as much and require earlier emissions cuts in the transport and buildings sectors.

A paper in the journal PLOS One found that over the next 20 years, as many as 11 states in the U.S. are predicted to see the average annual area burned increase by 5 times.

New research from the University of Michigan and Tulane University, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that 20% of American eaters account for nearly half of total diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, and that their diets are heavy on beef.  Coincidentally, McDonald’s announced on Tuesday that it is undertaking a new program to substantially reduce its carbon footprint.

Energy

If you want some inspiration, read Brad Plumer’s article about the ARPA-E conference.  ARPA-E is the program in DOE funding high risk/high payoff projects related to energy.  While President Trump’s budget proposal wanted to zero it out, Congress kept it going in the new spending bill.  Plumer’s article will give you an idea of the sorts of things that are being looked at for our energy future.

According to a new report released by the International Energy Agency on Wednesday, global energy demand increased by 2.1% in 2017, compared with 0.9% on average over the previous five years.  More than 40% of the growth in 2017 was driven by China and India; 72% of the rise was met by fossil fuels, a quarter by renewables, and the remainder by nuclear.  As a consequence, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017, reaching a historic high of 32.5 Gt/yr.  Brad Plumer of The New York Times outlined five reasons for the increased emissions.  Nevertheless, according to a report by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and CoalSwarm, the start of construction of new coal-fired power plants dropped by 73% between 2015 and 2017, the number of newly completed plants fell 41%, and the number of plants in planning dropped by 59%.  However, many of the existing plants will be running for quite a while.  So, what will lead to their closure?  That’s complicated, as discussed in this article from Utility Dive.

The U.S. solar industry had its second-best year on record for installations in 2017, installing 10.6 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity, according to an analysis by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.  If all goes as planned, Microsoft will buy 315 MW of solar energy from a 500 MW solar farm to be built in Spotsylvania County, VA.  The energy will be used to power Microsoft’s data centers in Virginia.  Meanwhile, solar panels and batteries are playing a role in the recovery of Puerto Rico from last fall’s hurricanes, although current regulations make it unclear just how microgrids can be incorporated into the new system.  (Resilient Power Puerto Rico, the nonprofit that CAAV’s fall fundraiser contributed to, is mentioned toward the end of the article.)

In a setback for fuel cell powered vehicles, Linde-AG is shutting down its fuel cell car sharing service in Munich because it’s not “economically viable.”  Nevertheless, 78% of auto executives polled in 2017 thought that fuel cell vehicles represented the real future in electric transportation.

Sometimes I provide links to articles about solar energy that refer to the “duck curve” associated with net power demand when solar is integrated into a conventional power system.  If that terminology has baffled you, then this article by David Roberts at Vox is for you.  It explains the duck curve, the problems associated with it, and possible ways to solve them so that more solar (and wind) energy can be incorporated into the grid.

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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