Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/6/2018

Policy and Politics

A new report by Oil Change International and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis claims that the International Energy Agency has wrongly guided governments into decisions about the use of oil, gas, and coal that are inconsistent with the long-term climate objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The International Maritime Organization environment meeting in London is expected to set a concrete target for shipping emissions in the coming decades.  Because of the impacts that solar radiation management (SRM) activities are likely to have on developing nations, scientists from several of them have said that they need to “play a central role” in the conversation around SRM.  Because of a federal court ruling in August 2017 that found the EPA did not have the authority to regulate hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases, the California Air Resources Board adopted a regulation that prohibits their use.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced that the fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks are too stringent and must be revised downward.  (The New York Times had two good graphics comparing the U.S. standards to others around the world.)  The EPA also said it was considering whether to revoke the waiver that allows California to set its own, tougher emissions rules.  California officials promptly vowed to defend its standards in court, signaling that years of litigation and uncertainty could lie ahead, which is something auto manufacturing officials don’t want.  Behind the scenes, however, the administration and California were in quiet talks about a compromiseInside Climate News has a good history of the fuel economy standards as well as an analysis of the impacts of any reductions.  Interestingly, the phrase “climate change” does not appear in the 38-page document outlining EPA’s reasons for the change.  Similarly, National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge.  Fifteen attorneys general and the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday for not controlling methane emissions.  Pruitt’s ethics were in the news this week, with revelations about his housing and his hiring practices.  E&E News provided some background on “administratively determined” hires, which were at the center of the hiring issue.

Writing at The Atlantic, environmental journalist Michelle Nijhuis explored questions such as “When are kids ready—both intellectually and emotionally—to learn about an abstract, global problem that may affect their future in very tangible, often disturbing ways?”  The second part of Yale Climate Connection’s series on books about energy features those that consider how renewable energies will reshape America and the world.  One policy aimed at reducing CO2 emissions that has not received much attention is restricting the supply of fossil fuels.  Prompted by the writings of a pair of economists, David Roberts examined the pros and cons of this approach at Vox.  Recently, climate change protesters in Massachusetts were acquitted by using the necessity defense.  Writing in The New Yorker, Carolyn Kormann explored the history and application of that defense.

Climate

New research, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, used satellite data to analyze changes in the surface elevation of glaciers all around the Antarctic coastline.  It found that from 2010 to 2016, the continent lost about 560 square miles total of grounded ice.  Furthermore, nearly 11% of the glaciers around Antarctica are apparently retreating at a faster pace today than they were at the end of the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago.

Several papers addressed the different impacts that would be felt with 1.5°C and 2.0°C of warming.  Two published in Nature Climate Change found that, under 1.5°C of warming, Arctic waters could experience ice-free summers around 2.5% of the time, or one in every 40 years.  Under 2°C of warming, ice-free conditions could occur 19-34% of the time, or once every three to five years.  A new paper in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A reported on the economic impacts of both 1.5°C and 2°C of warming.  Compared to a scenario without any warming, by 2100, median per capita GDP would be 8% lower with 1.5°C and 13% lower with 2°C of warming.  Other papers in the same journal addressed other issues, such as rising seas and food stress.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, has found that although food sources like plankton, insects, and vegetation have been appearing earlier each year, seabird populations are not matching their breeding and nesting patterns to adapt to this change.

Pet food represents as much as 30% of all meat consumption in the U.S. and is a significant source of greenhouse gases.  Consequently, at least one company is developing pet food using fake-meat technology.

At least seven countries set March high-temperature records late last week.  As the world heats up, cities will experience some of the worst warming because of the heat island effect.  In a feature article in Science News, Aimee Cunningham explored the impacts of hotter cities and things that can be done to lessen their warming.

Energy

Internal company documents uncovered by a Dutch news organization show that Royal Dutch Shell had a deep understanding, dating at least to the 1980s, of the science and risks of global warming caused by fossil fuel emissions.  On Wednesday, Friends of the Earth Netherlands (FEN) warned Shell that if it did not revise plans to invest only 5% in sustainable energy and 95% in greenhouse-gas emitting oil and gas, FEN is prepared to bring suit to force it to do so.  This is just the latest lawsuit against the oil and gas industry.  On Wednesday, Inside Climate News provided a summary of actions to date in the U.S.

A Danish off-shore wind company that has proposed projects in Massachusetts and Virginia will be opening an office in Atlantic City with the goal of supplying enough energy for 1.5 million homes.  On the other side of the country, Redwood Coast Energy Authority is the lead agency organizing a floating wind farm project near Eureka, CA.  The plan is to have 10-15 turbines 20 miles off-shore producing 100-150 MW of power.

Investors worldwide plowed a record $161 billion into solar energy last year, representing more than half the investment in all renewables apart from large hydroelectric projects, according to a report jointly published by the UN and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Unfortunately, investment by developed countries in renewable energy has halved since 2011.

The world’s largest wind turbine maker Vestas is partnering with Sweden’s Northvolt to develop a lithium-ion battery for wind and solar power storage.

In some instances, the impediment to larger use of renewable energy has been the difficulty in building transmission lines from the places where the energy is generated to the places where it is needed.  SunZia submitted its application in March to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for approval of transmission line locations and right of way widths for lines that will take energy into Arizona and other locations in the southwest.

For some time, the conventional wisdom has been that natural gas will serve as a bridge fuel until renewable energy can be developed sufficiently to supply the bulk of our energy needs.  However, technological advances and declining costs of wind and solar PV are challenging that “wisdom,” putting proponents of natural gas on the defensive.

JinkoSolar has confirmed plans to invest $50 million in a factory in Florida to supply NextEra Energy Resources with up to 2.75 GW of solar modules over four years. It’s the first move by a Chinese PV company to invest in U.S. manufacturing in response to the Trump administration’s 30% tariff on imported solar products.

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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