Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/27/2018

“Still, global warming doesn’t haunt even the uncorrupted imagination in quite the same way as the bomb, perhaps because it unfolds more slowly.” — Bill McKibben, The New Yorker

“Meanwhile, business as usual in harvesting and burning fossil fuels around the planet continues apace throughout the vast majority of countries, particularly within the U.S.” — Dahr Jamail, Truthout

Policy and Politics

On Monday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt released a policy memo stating that the burning of biomass, such as trees, for energy in many cases will be considered “carbon neutral” by the agency.  It should be noted, however, that the carbon neutrality of biomass is still a contentious issue within the scientific community.  On Thursday, Pruitt appeared before two House panels, but conceded little about controversial spending and management decisions he has made.  Writing for Yale Climate Connections, Jan Ellen Spiegel examined the impacts of Pruitt’s decision to change the CAFE standards for cars and light trucks.  Meanwhile, an appellate court threw out a decision by DOT to postpone increases in the penalties that automakers are required to pay if they don’t meet efficiency standards under the CAFE standards.  Speaking to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said climate change is a long-term problem that won’t go away, and that gives him confidence the U.S. will either stay in the agreement or come back if it does leave.  Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he will write a $4.5m check to cover this year’s U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

On Tuesday, Ceres released a detailed report examining the environmental performance, including their response to climate change, of more than 600 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S.  Hawaii is overhauling how utilities get paid, upending a century-old business model and ordering incentives for affordability, renewable power, and helping homeowners add rooftop solar.  Rising sea level is raising knotty questions about property ownership along our coasts.  Just who owns property that becomes literally “under water”?  Around the country, the government’s response to coastal flooding is pushing lower-income people away from the waterfront.  The homes they leave, in turn, are often replaced with more costly ones, such as those built higher off the ground, which are better able to withstand storms.  Housing experts, economists, and activists call this “climate gentrification.”  However, new data from Harvard University and the University of Colorado suggests that homes at lower elevations in the Miami area are selling for less and gaining value slower than similar ones at higher elevations.

When it comes to climate change and renewable energy, luckily not all countries have the attitudes evident in the U.S. public.  For example, a recent government survey of the public in the UK revealed that 85% support renewables.  On the policy front, Ploy Achakulwisut, a post-doc at George Washington University, reminded us that not all scenarios for holding global warming to 2°C are created equal and Jason Mark discussed the question of climate reparations in Sierra.  Four protesters can present a “necessity defense” against criminal charges stemming from their efforts to shut down two Enbridge Energy oil pipelines, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.  Ministers and environmental advocates are trying to improve the way they reach out to evangelical Christians, a group that is deeply divided in its views about humans’ role in climate change.  Yale Climate Connections has compiled an updated list of books on climate change communication and added books about climate change activism.  Speaking of books, Andrew Revkin and Lisa Mechaley have a new book, entitled Weather: An Illustrated History.  You can listen to a conversation with Revkin on Science Friday.

Climate

A study published in Science last year used modeling to calculate the impact at the end of this century on each state’s gross domestic product (GDP) from events associated with climate change under business-as-usual CO2 emissions.  It found that Florida and Texas would suffer the greatest economic damage, with reductions in GDP of around $100 billion.  California came in third.  A study published Monday in Nature Climate Change found that despite only a small projected change in California’s average yearly precipitation throughout the 21st century, there may be huge and highly consequential changes in precipitation extremes.

A new paper in Science Advances suggests that low-lying coral islands across the tropical oceans could become “uninhabitable” much sooner than previously expected because of the combined impacts of sea level rise and large waves.  However, other scientists think the study may be giving an overly-pessimistic outlook.

In the past decade, methane levels in the atmosphere have shot up, to the extent that it now contains two-and-a-half times as much of the gas as it did before the Industrial Revolution.  The reason for the rapid increase is poorly understood, although scientists have several hypotheses.  The Economist discussed the increase and its potential impact on global warming.

A new research study, published in the journal Earth’s Future, has found that the regions of the African continent between 15°S and 15°N, will likely see an increase in hot nights and longer and more frequent heat waves, even if the global average temperature rise is kept below 2°C.  These effects will intensify if the temperature increase exceeds the 2°C threshold.  Moreover, the daily rainfall intensity is expected to increase with higher global warming scenarios and will especially affect the Sub‐Saharan coastal regions.  New research in the journal Nature Climate Change examined the impacts of deforestation since 1860 on the temperature of the hottest day of the year in the northern mid-latitudes.  It found that the deforestation contributed at least one-third of the local present-day warming and was responsible for most of this warming before 1980.

Peridotite is one form of rock that has the potential to react with CO2 and form insoluble carbonates, a process referred to as weathering.  Weathering has long been known as one of the ways of naturally removing CO2 from the atmosphere, but was thought to be too slow to be useful for achieving the negative emissions that will probably be required to keep temperature increases below 1.5°C.  Peridotite, however, has the potential for much more rapid reaction, and is now under study as a way to remove some of the CO2 in the atmosphere.

The Daily Climate reprinted an article by Paul Ehrlich and John Harte entitled “Analysis: Pessimism on the Food Front,” that originally appeared in the journal Sustainability.  Could Ehrlich be right this time?  On the other hand, perhaps the resiliency of Bolivian women can provide a bit of optimism.

Energy

Nature examined the forces behind the recent CO2 emissions trends and what they signal for the future.  The good news is that clean-energy technology is at last making substantial strides.  The bad news is that the pace isn’t nearly quick enough.  Big economic and political hurdles stand in the way of shutting off the fossil-fuel spigot and the cheap energy it provides.  The paradox of the science underlying the Paris Climate Agreement is that quitting fossil fuels and slashing climate pollution to zero won’t prevent global warming from exceeding 2°C.  Humanity also will have to invent a way to clean the atmosphere of at least some of the carbon pollution put there since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Bloomberg News looked at three companies that view that necessity as the basis for a business model.

In its annual report on the status of the wind industry, the Global Wind Energy Council said cumulative wind energy capacity stood at 539 GW at the end of last year and should increase by 56% to 840 GW by the end of 2022.  General Electric has decided to test its huge 12 MW offshore wind turbine at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult center in Northumberland, England.  The New York Times has a fascinating photo-journalism article about building large turbines and blades.

A new engineering and economic analysis of the possibility of adding carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to corn-based bioethanol production provides additional information to the debate about the controversial fuel.  The analysis, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, determined that adding carbon capture would be very straight-forward and, with proper incentives, could lead to the development of a CO2 pipeline network and sequestration sites.

In a setback for a potential carbon-free form of energy, evidence now indicates that the second-largest earthquake in modern South Korean history was caused by a geothermal energy pilot plant.

Adele Peters provided an update in Fast Company on the role of microgrids in the restoration of power in Puerto Rico.  Microgrids require storage, which is often done with lithium ion batteries.  However, the managing director of the International Lead Association argues that advanced lead battery technology has an important role to play in today’s energy storage world.

For the first time, the production cost of renewables in G20 energy markets is lower than that of fossil fuels, an industry asset manager has claimed.  China has ordered local governments to “ease the burden” on renewable power generators by strengthening guaranteed purchase agreements and giving them priority access to new grid capacity, the National Energy Administration said on Thursday.

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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