Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/11/2018

Policy and Politics

At the Paris climate talks in 2015 the developed countries pledged $100 billion per year to help the poorest nations fight climate change.  The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from that commitment, thereby raising the question at this week’s Bonn talks of how that money will be replaced.  This led, in part, to the poorer nations saying that they are fed up with foot dragging by the richer countries, with the talks ending in a stalemate.  Consequently, another week has been added in September to try to resolve the issues prior to COP24 in Poland in December.  Carbon Brief has a summary of the key outcomes from the Bonn talks.  Dave Roberts laid out at Vox the types of policies required to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In April of last year, EPA removed an informational website about climate change for review and updating.  It still isn’t back.  More than 10,000 documents, made public as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Sierra Club, showed that the EPA’s close control of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s events has been driven more by a desire to avoid tough questions from the public than by concerns about security, contradicting Pruitt’s longstanding defense of his secretiveness.  With last month’s confirmation of Pruitt’s deputy, the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, it appears that the likelihood of Pruitt being fired has increased.  On Thursday Pruitt said that he wants to radically revise how basic, health-based national air quality standards are set, giving more weight to the economic costs of achieving them and taking into account their impacts on energy development.  However, a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, affirmed that the agency cannot consider the cost of implementation when setting the standards.  Major automakers are telling the Trump administration they want to reach an agreement with California to avoid a legal battle over fuel efficiency standards, and support continued increases in mileage standards through 2025, as long as they “also are consistent with marketplace realities.”  According to The Washington Post, “Internal changes to a draft Defense Department report de-emphasized the threats climate change poses to military bases and installations, muting or removing references to climate-driven changes in the Arctic and potential risks from rising seas…”  Meanwhile, the Trump administration has cancelled NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, which is crucial to the verification of the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The California Energy Commission voted on Wednesday to change the state building code to require all new homes built in 2020 or after to be equipped with solar panels.  However, some say this will provide a glut of solar energy during the day that will compound California’s energy problems.  The Utah Legislature recently adopted a resolution that moves the state from denial of global climate change to the recognition that finding a solution is crucial.  How did this happen?  Because of students from Logan High School, who refused to give up.  The social cost of carbon (SCC) is an important parameter in determining appropriate strategies for addressing climate change and the damage it will cause.  In an opinion piece in The Hill, economics professors Robert S. Pindyck and James H. Stock argue why the SCC should not be set to zero.  KQED interviewed climate scientist Michael Mann.  You can listen or read the transcript here.

Climate

In December of 2016, the North Pole was 50°F above its usual winter temperature.  A recent paper in the journal Weather and Climate Extremes has found that 60 to 70% of that warming was due to the loss of sea ice associated with climate change. The rest was caused by natural intrusions of warm air into the Arctic, including contributions from El Niño.  Furthermore, the number of times temperatures have risen above freezing in February has been increasing since 1997.  On a related topic, growing inflows of warmer ocean waters on both sides of the Arctic Ocean are driving heat, nutrients, and temperate species to new polar latitudes — with profound impacts on Arctic Ocean dynamics, marine food webs, and longstanding predator-prey relationships.

A 350-page report released on Wednesday by the California Environmental Protection Agency tracks 36 indicators of climate change in the state and concludes that it is having a significant impact there.

A new paper in the journal Earth’s Future reports that the extraordinary rainfall associated with hurricane Harvey was fueled by record high water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.  Another study, this one in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the rapid intensification of hurricanes increased from 1986 to 2015 in the central and eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean.  These findings are of concern because the peak season for Atlantic storms, which officially starts on 1 June, is predicted to have as many as 18 named storms, with up to five of them developing into major hurricanes, according to separate forecasts from North Carolina State University and Colorado State University.

Surface wind speeds across landmasses all over the planet have fallen by as much as 25% since the 1970s as a result of climate change.  One consequence will be calm air over cities at certain times of year, leading to more intense air pollution.

Scientists have discovered a new positive feedback loop to add to those that make global warming worse.  As freshwater lakes warm, aquatic plants such as cattails flourish.  Unlike forest debris that may wash into lakes, cattail debris causes an increase in the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change examined the potential impact of climate change on marine protected areas (MPAs) during this century.  It found that without drastic action MPAs will be ‘devastated’ by rapid global warming.

Energy

Dominion Energy’s annual stockholders’ meeting was held on Wednesday in Richmond and opponents to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline were there in force.  Meanwhile, on Thursday opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline had a hearing before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond concerning their suit against the pipeline developers and federal regulators.

Transportation is a big user of energy, most provided by fossil fuels.  Two articles this week provided some ideas for lowering their use.  One is about five ways to change buses so that people would want to use them.  The other presents a radical idea for limiting air travel.  In addition, The New York Times reviewed the things that auto companies have done to increase the fuel economy of their vehicles.  A new AAA survey has found that 20% of Americans say their next vehicle will be an electric car.  That’s up from 15% in 2017, the first time that AAA asked the question.  And on Tuesday, Audi said it plans to sell about 800,000 battery-electric and hybrid powered cars in 2025.

Since 2010 investments in solar energy have outpaced investments in wind energy.  In an effort to catch up, turbine manufacturers and operators are turning to better software, artificial intelligence, and improved weather forecasting to generate more electricity per turn of the blades.  The U.S. Geological Survey has a new database of the more than 57,000 commercial wind turbines in the country.  A Washington Post analysis of the data revealed that Kern County, CA, has more wind turbines than any other county.

Costa Rico hopes to become the first country in the world to decarbonize its economy by eliminating all use of fossil fuel, its new president announced during his inaugural address.  Between April 2017 and March 2018, India added around 11.8 GW of renewable energy capacity. That’s more than double the 5.4 GW of capacity addition in the coal and hydro power sectors during the same period.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, has found that tourism accounted for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2009 to 2013, four times larger than previously thought.  Carbon Brief has a more detailed report.

The UK and the EU generate a greater percentage of their electricity from renewable sources than the U.S.  In fact, this summer there will be periods when they are generating more renewable energy than they can use.  In a new report, UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers said the answer could be to use the excess power to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with the hydrogen functioning as a form of energy storage.

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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