Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/8/2018

Policy and Politics

Earlier, I provided a link to an article about NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine changing his mind on the existence of man-made climate change.  He said he did so because he “read a lot.”  Furthermore, in a recent meeting with a small group of reporters, he voiced support for two climate studies that the Trump administration had wanted to cut.  Hawaii Governor David Ige signed three important bills on Monday.  One commits the state to becoming fully carbon neutral by 2045.  Another will use carbon offsets to help fund planting trees throughout Hawaii.  The third requires new building projects to consider how high sea levels will rise in their engineering decisions.

Last Friday, a Washington D.C. judge ordered the EPA to comply with a legal request to produce scientific evidence backing Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claim that human activity is not the largest factor causing global climate change.  On Thursday, the EPA took its first step toward a comprehensive overhaul of the cost-benefit calculations that underpin the entire array of its regulations, including actions to rein in climate change.  Also last Friday, the White House called on Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate steps to keep both coal and nuclear power plants running, backing Perry’s claim that plant closures threaten national security.  The proposal is similar to one advocated by coal magnate Robert E. Murray.  A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that the proposal could lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions because nuclear power would benefit more than coal.  While the Trump administration continues its coal advocacy, changes of government in Italy and Spain hold out the promise of more rapid decarbonization of the EU.  At the G7 meeting in Canada, institutional investors with $26 trillion in assets called on leaders to phase out the use of coal in power generation to help limit climate change, despite strong opposition from Washington.

This past week the Poor People’s Campaign turned its attention to environmental and climate justice.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian on Thursday, Bill McKibben reminded us that “The constant sense of crisis that the president creates robs us of the concentration we need to focus on long-term issues like climate change.”  We even have a hard time talking about it.  Laurie Goering had some ideas about how to initiate conversations on climate.  Speaking of conversations, Amy Brady had one with novelist Sam Miller about his new cli-fi book Blackfish City.  Sierra Club’s new documentary movie Reinventing Power: America’s Renewable Energy Boom lets people across the U.S. tell their own stories of how wind and solar have changed their lives and benefitted the diverse regions where they live.

Climate

A new paper in the journal Nature reported that the speed at which tropical cyclones move decreased by an average of 10% globally between 1949 and 2016.  The western north Pacific had the greatest decrease, at 20%.  Declining speed is important because slower storms linger longer, dumping more rain in a given location.  On the subject of storm-associated rainfall, Peter Sinclair has a new video explaining how the warm Gulf of Mexico fueled the unprecedented rainfall associated with Hurricane Harvey.

A new study by NOAA scientists revealed that the frequency of coastal “sunny-day flooding” doubled in the U.S. over the last 30 years.  Archeologists in the U.S. and around the world are concerned about the impact on archeological sites of such flooding and the associated sea level rise.

Last month was the warmest May on record for the U.S.  Furthermore, almost 8,600 local heat records were broken or tied during the month.  Carbon dioxide levels measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory exceeded 411 parts per million (ppm) in May, the highest monthly average ever recorded.  Perhaps more importantly, the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone from 1.5 ppm/year in the 1990s to 2.2 ppm/year now.

Catalyzed by a new report on human displacement as a result of “natural” disasters, Harjeet Singh wrote about the global awakening to the scale of the coming displacement and migration associated with climate change.

A paper published last week in Science revealed that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases caused by food production.  George Monbiot used these findings as the starting point for an opinion piece in The Guardian.

A steep decline in coral cover across the Great Barrier Reef is a phenomenon that “has not been observed in the historical record”, a new report by the Australian Institute of Marine Science says.  Furthermore, survey reefs in the northern section, the worst hit by climate-induced marine heatwaves, have lost about half their coral cover.

Energy

A new study, published in Nature Energy, describes a scenario by which global warming is limited to 1.5°C by improving energy efficiency, with no use of negative emissions technologies (NETs).  On the other hand, another study concluded that given the continued increase in CO2 emissions, it will be impossible to keep warming below 2°C and thus that should now be considered an aspirational goal.

In past Roundups I have provided links to articles about NETs, which will most likely be required to keep warming below 1.5°C, in spite of the first article in the preceding paragraph.  A team of scientists from the Mercator Research Institute at the University of Leeds in the UK and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has just published a three-part literature review in the journal Environmental Research Letters about NETs.  They presented the big picture of the challenge facing us in The Washington Post and provided a more comprehensive presentation of their findings at Carbon Brief.  An article published online on Thursday in the journal Joule described the results of a study achieving direct air capture (DAC) of CO2, the first step in some NET processes.  The authors of the paper state: “Depending on financial assumptions, energy costs, and the specific choice of inputs and outputs, the levelized cost per ton CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranges from 94 to 232 $/t-CO2.”  This is significantly lower than the costs from previous DAC studies and will make it possible to produce liquid fuels from the CO2 and hydrogen obtained from renewable energy.  Such fuels will have net zero emissions, not negative emissions.

David Roberts at Vox described new interactive maps at Carbon Brief that show changes in the amount of coal generation of electricity during the 21st Century.  Roberts said he considered his post to be an “amuse-bouche — a few images to whet your appetite for the bigger meal over at Carbon Brief.”  He also tackled the difficult task of explaining “software-defined electricity” (SDE) and how its application can greatly increase the energy efficiency of almost all devices that use electricity, thereby decreasing the amount that must be generated.

Solar developers told Reuters that President Donald Trump’s tariff on imported solar panels led U.S. renewable energy companies to cancel or freeze investments of more than $2.5 billion in large installation projects.  That’s more than double the approximately $1 billion in new spending plans announced by firms building or expanding U.S. solar panel factories to take advantage of the tax on imports.  However, energy analysts say the Chinese government’s decision to dramatically cut its solar power subsidies will create a glut of solar panels and send their prices tumbling worldwide, which should help solar installers.

An estimated 178 GW of renewable power was added worldwide in 2017 – representing 70% of net additions – according to a new report from the renewables policy organization REN21.  New investment in renewables was nearly $279 billion, more than double what went to new fossil fuel and nuclear power capacity.  A new study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, has found that plunging prices for renewable energy and rapidly increasing investment in low-carbon technologies could leave fossil fuel companies with trillions in stranded assets and spark a global financial crisis.  Fiona Harvey examined what is meant by a “carbon bubble” and what might happen should it burst.

A 36” diameter gas pipeline, known as the Leach XPress, which was put into service in January in West Virginia, blew up and shot flames high in the air early Thursday morning.  No injuries were reported.  In Virginia, a sweeping state energy law that takes effect July 1 will, among other things, require utilities to add 5 GW of wind and solar by 2028.  However, a ruling by the State Corporation Commission raised questions that threaten the viability of the law.  Ivy Main’s blog post from Tuesday is entitled “Dominion won’t build new baseload gas plants.  So why is it still building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline?”

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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