Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/13/2018

Policy and Politics

Ethics charges against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued to be aired this week.  As a result, he has a 29% job approval rating, according to a poll released Thursday.  The Senate voted 53-45 on Thursday to confirm Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, to be deputy administrator of the EPA.  If the Republicans continue to control the House after the fall elections, then a big question will be who succeeds Paul Ryan as Speaker.  The major contenders are Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).  According to an analysis by E&E News, the two have few differences on energy and environmental issues.

A recent study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that Americans overwhelmingly support teaching our children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming.  And speaking of children, all around the globe, young people are joining together to demand action on climate change.  An October 29th trial date has been scheduled for the lawsuit filed by young activists who say the U.S. government is failing to protect them from climate change.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Monday that he had vetoed a bill that requires legislative approval before the state can participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program among Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that mandates CO2 emission reductions in the power sector.  On Friday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed ExxonMobil another defeat in the company’s legal battle to head off investigations into whether it misled the public about the risks of climate change, ruling that Attorney General Maura Healey has the authority to compel it to turn over records showing whether its marketing or sale of fossil fuel products violated the state’s consumer protection law.  Writing at Yale Environment 360, Richard Conniff examined the split within the environmental movement over the provision in the recently approved federal budget that increases tax credits for projects that capture and store CO2.

Climate

Two new papers in the journal Nature deal with the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which carries warmth into the Northern Hemisphere’s high latitudes.  One paper concluded that the AMOC has declined in strength by 15% since the mid-20th century to a “new record low.”  The other paper found that the AMOC has slowed over the past 150 years and is now weaker than at any time in more than a millennium.  These findings prompted an editorial in Nature.

In an article on Monday, Carbon Brief assessed nine new carbon budget estimates for limiting warming to 1.5°C released by different groups over the past two years.  Most show larger allowable emissions than were featured in the last IPCC report, but there is a lot of variability among the estimates.  Then, on Friday a paper in Nature Climate Change showed that it is possible to limit warming to 1.5°C without the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) by employing a suite of highly ambitious mitigation options.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that heat waves over the world’s oceans are becoming longer and more frequent, damaging coral reefs and creating chaos for aquatic species.  The amount of sea ice off Western Alaska coasts this spring was the lowest in more than 150 years of record-keeping.  Writing at DW, Ruby Russel reviewed the state-of-the-art in determining whether extreme weather events are related to climate change.

Monarch butterfly caterpillars can eat only milkweed and doing so makes them toxic to predators because of the uptake of poisonous cardenolides from the plant.  A paper in the journal Ecology reported that the caterpillars prefer tropical milkweed, but this may prove to be a problem because tropical milkweed contains more cardenolides under warmer temperatures, which may overpower the caterpillars’ tolerance.  On the subject of plants and insects, a paper in Global Change Biology reported that drought reduces the overall number of flowers produced by plants.  Consequently, as drought increases due to climate change, there will be less food for bees and other pollinators.

North America is divided into two distinct geographic regions, with the west being dry and the east moist.  Historically, these regions have been separated by the 100th meridian.  Now, two papers in the journal Earth Interactions have shown that the dividing line has shifted eastward about 140 miles, to near the 98th meridian.

A new five-year study that will be published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Agricultural Systems suggests that cattle can be raised, fed, and slaughtered in a way that reduces their greenhouse gas emissions to a tolerable level.  Weather volatility is going to disrupt the agriculture world in the coming decades, bringing more frequent droughts, flooding and storms, according to a report from BMI Research on agriculture megatrends.  “Enhanced rock weathering” may be another way that significant amounts of CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere.  The process would involve pulverizing silicate rocks, like basalt, and adding it to farmland to speed the ability of minerals to store carbon in soil.  However, since this has never been tried on large scale, considerable research is required to be sure that it works and that there are no negative effects.

Energy

The Environmental Defense Fund on Wednesday announced plans to build and launch a satellite that will measure major global sources of methane, including 50 oil-and-gas regions that make up about 80% of production, as well as feedlots and landfills.  Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC announced Wednesday that it plans an extension of the 303-mile natural gas pipeline currently under construction, connecting with the project’s end point in Pittsylvania County, VA, and heading another 70 miles south into North Carolina.

Renewable energy holds great promise for allowing living standards to be increased globally while simultaneously reducing greenhouse emissions.  Like all manufactured items, however, the components that generate renewable energy have finite lifetimes.  What will we do with them when the end of those lifetimes is reached?  Two articles this week explored that question.  One focused on solar panels while the other looked at solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines.

Under a new international agreement, global shipping must at least halve its CO2 emissions by 2050.  The agreement, reached by the International Maritime Organization on Friday, is an initial step for one of the world’s biggest polluting industries.  Over the next five years, negotiators will develop a package of measures to fulfill the target, delivering a final strategy in 2023.  Another industry with high CO2 emissions is cement production.  According to a new report from the Carbon Disclosure Project, those emissions must be reduced sharply if the world is to meet the climate change goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has announced two wind energy leasing areas totaling nearly 390,000 acres off the coast of Massachusetts, along with additional acreage off the coast of New York.  The world’s most powerful wind turbine, at 8.8 MW, has been installed at Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Center off the coast of North East Scotland.  The center is set to be a testbed for new offshore wind technologies.  Thomas Brostrom is president of Ørsted North America.  Ørsted, which is headquartered in Denmark, develops, constructs, and operates offshore wind farms.  In a guest column in The Virginian-Pilot on Sunday, Brostrom said “Virginia has the chance to leverage its port assets, high-quality workforce and favorable business climate to become a major hub for the [offshore wind energy] supply chain. However, this must be coupled with strong public policy signals from state and local leaders that this industry is valued.”

GTM Research has released a report that provides a global overview of the energy storage market.  The U.S. is expected to remain the world’s biggest market until 2022, with China its closest rival.  The renewable energy market, however, is another story.  Last year nearly half of the world’s new renewable energy investment came from China, whose investment rose 30% compared with 2016, and was more than three times that of the U.S.

LG Electronics has deployed its new NeON 2 solar panels at a large facility in North Carolina.  The panels use an innovative wiring system that increases light absorption, as well as bifacial capability, to achieve an output of 395 watts/panel.  (By comparison, my four-year-old panels achieve around 250 watts each.)

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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