Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/4/2018

Policy and Politics

According to Inside Climate News, “the Trump foreign policy team, now more than ever, is a tight cabal of hardline foes of climate action.”  Thus, while the career diplomats meeting in Bonn this week would like to have some influence on the outcome of negotiations on the rules of how to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, they have few bargaining chips to offer.  In addition, developing countries say they are “frustrated” with the lack of leadership from the developed world.  In fact, according to Climate Home News, they and their advocates feel that rich nations are not even engaging in discussions on the financial support they need to deal with the problems of climate change.  While I had hoped for a week without articles about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, it wasn’t to be, with articles about his relationship with lobbyists, his expenditures while in Oklahoma, and his travel at EPA (“After taking office last year, Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel…”).

Fortune 500 corporations are facing renewed pressure from climate-focused activist investors.  Of the more than 420 shareholder resolutions proposed recently, about 20% focused on climate, tied for the largest of any proposal category, according to a report by the group Proxy Impact.  In addition, a group of 279 investors — pension plans, insurers, mutual funds, and exchange traded-funds — with a collective $30tn in assets, has banded together to tackle the issue via a five-year global initiative called Climate Action 100+.  A report by two industry groups — the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute and the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy — was sent Wednesday to the Trump administration.  It finds that the U.S. would reap broad economic gains if the federal government ratifies the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for the phase out of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants.  California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging the EPA’s April 2 determination that the fuel economy requirements for cars and light trucks are too stringent and must be revised.  Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia are joining California on the lawsuit.  Together, they represent about 43% of new car sales nationally.

Dominion Energy Virginia just released its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan and Ivy Main had a blog post discussing its content.  She also had one earlier in the week outlining “How Virginia localities will get to 100% renewable.”  Utility Dive had a detailed description of RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that Virginia and New Jersey hope to join, including an explanation of how it works.  National Book Award winner Richard Powers has published a new novel, The Overstory, which is about trees.  Amy Brady interviewed him for the Chicago Review of Books, which shared it with Yale Climate Connections.  On the subject of books, a new study published this week in the journal Environmental Communication found that less than 4% of the pages in the most popular college-level introductory physics, biology, and chemistry textbooks published between 2013 and 2015 were devoted to discussing climate change.

Climate

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that illnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016.  Although many factors contributed to this increase, climate change played an important role.  Warming ocean waters likely are contributing to the expansion northward of the ranges of bottlenose dolphins, false killer whales, and bull sharks, according to two recent scientific articles.

According to a new study by Florida International University, mangroves just south of Miami were migrating westwards over marshland at a rate of about 100 ft a year until they were halted by the L-31E levee, a flood barrier in Miami-Dade County.  As a consequence, they are likely to be submerged by water within 30 years, killing them and destroying the protection they provide during storms.  This is unfortunate because a recent study indicates that mangroves store about 50% more carbon than had previously been thought.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances used modeling to predict increases in temperature variability in tropical countries over the coming decades.  The countries that have contributed least to climate change, and are most vulnerable to extreme events, are projected to experience the strongest increase in variability.  Thus, it is particularly sad that Oxfam has found that finance for poor countries to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and deal with climate change is lagging behind the promises of rich countries.  In addition, while the poorest countries are making progress toward the UN’s sustainable energy goals, they are not progressing as quickly as development agencies had hoped, according to a new report from the UN, the World Health Organization, and three other international agencies.

A new paper in Geophysical Research Letters has found that between 2015 and 2017, around 23% of the annual surface melt across the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica occurred during the winter months.  All of the winter melt events were caused by a combination of strong wind, high temperatures, and low relative humidity.  The U.S. National Science Foundation and the British Natural Environment Research Council will deploy six field missions to Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica in the next several years in order to learn more about the large glacier’s stability.  And on the other end of the globe, the February sea-ice extent in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska set a record low this winter, being only half that of the previous lowest winter on record (2001).  In addition, the Bering Sea ice has never melted this early before.

Zeke Hausfather of Carbon Brief provided an analysis of the “state of the climate” after the end of the first quarter of 2018.  He projects that 2018 will be the fourth warmest year on record, following 2016, 2017, and 2015.  For the first time since humans have been monitoring, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have exceeded 410 ppm averaged across an entire month, pushing the planet closer to warming beyond levels that scientists and the international community have deemed “safe.”

It was 122.4°F (50.2°C) in Nawabshah, Pakistan, on Monday, and meteorologists say it is the highest temperature ever reliably recorded, anywhere in the world, in the month of April.  And on the subject of records, a rainstorm that hit Kauai, Hawaii in April dumped nearly 50 inches of rain in 24 hours, eclipsing the previous record of 28.5 inches set in 2012.  It was the first major storm in Hawaii linked to climate change.

Energy

With the exception of Tennessee and North Carolina, there are no wind turbines installed in the Southeastern U.S.  Several factors are responsible, as explained by Umair Irfan and Javier Zarracina at Vox.  General Motors has signed power-purchase contracts with wind farms, now under construction in Ohio and Illinois, that will put plants in Ohio and Indiana on the path to being able to say they get 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.

Mercedes-Benz Energy has determined that there is no economic benefit to basing home energy storage systems on automotive batteries and thus it is exiting the home energy storage business.  Rather, it will focus “exclusively on the development and construction of stationary energy storage systems for grid applications.”  A Stanford University team has developed a new battery that they say houses a large amount of energy, lasts a long time, and could be inexpensive enough to store energy for the grid.  On a smaller scale, Voltstorage has brought a vanadium-redox-flow energy storage system (i.e., a flow battery) to the residential market.

A report by UK accountancy firm Ernst & Young found that the U.S. has moved up to second place (after China) in a ranking of the most attractive countries for renewables investment.  For example, AT&T Inc. and Walmart Inc. are among 36 businesses, government agencies and universities that have agreed to buy 3.3 GW of wind and solar power so far this year. That’s on track to shatter the previous high of 4.8 GW of disclosed deals last year, according to a report Monday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Anheuser-Busch announced Thursday that it will buy 800 hydrogen-electric powered semitrucks from Nikola Motor Company.  Its goal is to have its vehicles produce zero carbon emissions by 2025.

Russians are building a floating nuclear power plant that will provide electricity to a remote city near the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeast Russia.  Needless to say, opinions are divided about it.  On the other hand, as a result of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Japan is turning away from nuclear energy and back to coal for generation of its electricity, having opened at least eight new coal-fired power plants in the past 2 years.  Furthermore, it has plans for an additional 36 over the next decade.

Utility companies clashed with oil industry interests over electric vehicle and fuel subsidies at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Oil-backed groups proposed a resolution that opposed state efforts to subsidize non-gas vehicles and allow utilities to charge customers for EV charging stations. It was tabled after a protracted floor battle and opposition from utility interests like Duke Energy and the Edison Electric Institute.

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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