Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/18/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared on Wednesday before the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ostensibly about EPA’s 2019 budget, although much of the questioning focused on his conduct.  Also on Wednesday, at a meeting of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks (R) asserted that erosion plays a significant role in sea level rise.  On the bright side, new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said to employees on Thursday, “I don’t deny the consensus, I believe fully in climate change and that we human beings are contributing to it in a major way.”  More good news: After the Trump administration canceled NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System last week, Congress acted this week to restore the funding.  Three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit nullified a key permit for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to set clear limits for the impact on threatened or endangered species.  On the same day, a consortium of environmental and advocacy groups filed a complaint with EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office asking the agency to overturn North Carolina state permits for the pipeline and requesting a new environmental justice analysis of it.

Last week I provided a link to an article about California’s new requirement that homes built in 2020 and thereafter have solar panels.  This week David Roberts at Vox looked at the pros and cons of such a policy.  The state of Alaska has deep internal contradictions because it is being impacted more by climate change than any other state, yet it’s economy is based on fossil fuel development.  Brad Plumer of The New York Times examined the developing climate action plan in light of these contradictions.  A new research study published in the British Journal of Management has found that most U.S. insurance companies have not adapted their strategies to address the dangers of climate change, making them likely to raise rates or deny coverage in high-risk areas.  Roughly six-in-ten Americans say climate change is currently affecting their local community either a great deal or some, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.  Pew also found that Republicans and Democrats broadly favor the use of more solar and wind energy, but disagree on the use of more fossil fuels and nuclear energy.  Deloitte also released the results of a new poll that looks at generational differences on climate change.

In an effort to explain the urgency of action on climate change, climate scientists developed the concept of the carbon budget.  Unfortunately, that has not speeded up countries’ responses to climate change, in part because the uncertainties associated with the budget have not been adequately expressed.  Now, in separate analyses published this week in Nature Geoscience, two researchers, one at the Center for International Climate Research and the other at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, argue that the solution is to completely rethink the way policies designed to push us towards climate goals are set.  In a blog post at the Niskanen Center, David Bookbinder, Chief Counsel for the Center, argued that climate nuisance litigation against fossil fuel producers is a good idea.

Climate

A new paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters investigated the number of people facing multiple climate change risks for various degrees of warming.  At 1.5°C of warming in 2050, 16% of the world’s population will have moderate-to-high levels of risk in two or more sectors (e.g., water, energy, food, or environment).  At 2.0°C of warming, 29% of the global population is at risk, while at 3°C, 50% is.  Also, a paper in the journal Science projected that with 3.2°C of warming, which is what is expected from current emission reduction pledges, ecosystem range losses of >50% will occur for ~49% of insects, 44% of plants, and 26% of vertebrates.  At 2°C warming, this falls to 18% of insects, 16% of plants, and 8% of vertebrates and at 1.5°C, to 6% of insects, 8% of plants, and 4% of vertebrates.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS One, scientists have predicted the response to future warming of nearly 700 species of fish and other sea creatures inhabiting the waters around North America.  They found that hundreds of species of fish and shellfish will be forced to migrate northwards to escape the effects of climate change, putting global fisheries at risk.

New research, published in the journal Nature, shows that there is now a “clear human fingerprint” on the global water supply, although natural variability also played a role in driving changes to water availability over the past 15 years.  Dr. Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, presented a tutorial at Carbon Brief about how climate change is already making droughts worse.  Meanwhile, the World Resources Institute argued that Middle Eastern and North African countries could tap into their solar-energy potential to cope with fresh water scarcity by switching to solar energy from fossil fuel electricity generation that uses up water.

Normal temperatures, generally defined to be the 30-year average at a location, are trending up across most of the U.S.  Since 1980, the average continental U.S. temperature has risen 1.4°F.  Also, NOAA confirmed that April was the 400th consecutive month that was warmer than the 20th century average for that month.  The last month cooler than the 20th century average was December 1984.

A new study published in the journal PLOS One found that between 1990 and 2015 forest growing stock increased annually by 1.3% in high income countries and by 0.5% in middle income nations, while falling by 0.7% in 22 low income countries.  The authors argue that as incomes rise, farmers abandon marginal lands, allowing them to reforest and that this is responsible for regreening, rather than fertilization due to high CO2 levels, as some have claimed.

An analysis of stream flow data from USGS stream gauges has shown that the amount of rainfall in the Midwest has been increasing over the last 100 years.  On a larger scale, a 14-year NASA mission has confirmed that a massive redistribution of freshwater is occurring across Earth, with part of the middle-latitudes drying and the tropics and higher latitudes gaining water supplies.  Climate change is thought to be at least partially responsible for each.

Energy

A while back I provided a link to an article about Vaclav Smil.  Now Paul Voosen has an article about him in Science, entitled “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy.”

Between January and March, wind power produced 18.8% of the UK’s electricity needs, compared to nuclear energy’s 18.76%. Gas was still the dominant source of the country’s electricity, at 39.4%.  This is the first time that wind energy has exceeded nuclear over such a protracted period.  In the U.S., new research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) suggested that the value of offshore wind energy makes it a better bet than onshore wind energy for many locations along the East Coast.  The report provides the first rigorous assessment of offshore wind’s economic value on the eastern seaboard.  Another report from LBNL found that if wind and solar resources provided 40 to 50% of generation, wholesale energy prices would drop by as much as 1.6¢ per kilowatt-hour.

A new report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggested state and federal policy options that could preserve existing nuclear power generation, with its zero CO2 electricity.

I’ve mentioned previously the advantages of lead-acid batteries for energy storage in the U.S. because of the highly advanced supply chain for recycled components.  Unfortunately, such a supply chain does not exist in much of Africa, leading to environmental problems with lead-acid batteries.  A San Diego-based startup is advocating for the use of electric school buses as backup batteries for the electric grid.

Apple, along with Alcoa and Rio Tinto, announced a collaboration in Canada to fund a technology that can reduce CO2 emissions from the high-temperature smelting process that goes into making aluminum.  If successful, the technology will eliminate around 17% of the CO2 emissions associated with aluminum production.  A new pilot facility under construction in northern Sweden will produce steel using hydrogen from renewable electricity. The only emissions will be water vapor, explains the CEO of Hybrit, the company behind the process, which seeks to revolutionize steelmaking.

The Interior Department said Thursday it plans to approve the Palen solar farm, which will be built on public lands just south of Joshua Tree National Park, in the open desert east of the Coachella Valley.  The 3,100-acre, 500 MW power plant would be one of the country’s largest solar projects.  However, some object because of the proximity to a National Park and the farm’s potential impact on wildlife habitat.

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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