Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/15/2018

Policy and Politics

President Donald Trump is the first president since 1941 not to name a science adviser, a position created during World War II to guide the Oval Office on scientific and technical matters.  There is also no chief scientist at the State Department or the Department of Agriculture and both the Interior Department and NOAA have disbanded climate science advisory committees.  However, this week the White House nominated Mary Neumayr, the current chief of staff of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), to lead it.  The CEQ coordinates environmental activities across federal agencies and implements the National Environmental Policy Act.  President Trump has also nominated Daniel Simmons, a former fossil fuel lobbyist who has questioned climate science, to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  President Trump skipped the G7’s formal discussions on climate change and refused to join in common statements by the other six nations reaffirming their commitment to the Paris climate agreement, which he wants to abandon.  Instead, the U.S. unilaterally promoted fossil fuels.

The drip, drip, drip of allegations of unethical behavior on the part of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued this week with revelations by The New York Times that senior staff members at the EPA frequently felt pressured by Pruitt to help in personal matters and obtain special favors for his family.  Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK) said in an interview Wednesday that he has requested a face-to-face meeting with Pruitt to discuss the allegations of ethical misconduct dogging him.  Furthermore, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso (R), chair of the Senate environment committee that has oversight of the EPA, said that he plans to call Pruitt to testify before his panel about his scandals later this year.  So how does Pruitt keep his job?  Margaret Talbot at The New Yorker posits that it is because he is an evangelical Christian.  The Government Accountability Office has agreed to review the Trump administration’s method for calculating the social cost of carbon.  All five members of FERC told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that they see no immediate national security emergency to justify propping up coal and nuclear power plants with a government order.  FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur announced Wednesday that she will consider the broad climate impacts of new natural gas infrastructure when voting on whether to approve new projects.

There is a new video channel on You Tube called “Hot Mess” that presents climate-related videos.  You can see an episode about the 97% consensus at Skeptical Science.  Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, had an opinion piece in The New York Times entitled “Earth will survive.  We may not.”  Climate scientist Kate Marvel had an interesting (and amusing) column at Scientific American about “Why I won’t debate science” and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in The Guardian about Pope Francis’ meeting with a gathering of fossil fuel executives at the Vatican.  In an analysis in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dana Nuccitelli argued that the “Benefits of curbing climate change far outweigh costs.”  At Vox, David Roberts examined models used to estimate the costs of climate change in an essay entitled “We are almost certainly underestimating the economic risks of climate change.”  (Be sure to at least read the last section.)

Climate

The results of the “Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-Comparison Exercise” were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.  The study focused on Antarctica and found that the melt rate has tripled during the past decade, from 73 to 219 billion tons of ice annually.  Furthermore, the rate was 49 billion tons per year from 1992 through 1997.  The rapid, recent changes are almost entirely driven by the West Antarctic ice sheet, which is being melted from below by warm ocean waters.  Carbon Brief has a more detailed report.

Reuters has obtained a draft copy of the IPCC’s report on keeping global warming below 1.5°C, on average.  According to the report, “If emissions continue at their present rate, human-induced warming will exceed 1.5°C by around 2040” and slow economic growth.

Four countries – the US, China, Brazil, and Argentina – produce more than two thirds of the world’s corn.  A new paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), projects that the mean total corn production in these countries will decline by 8-18% if the planet warms by 2°C, and 19-46% with 4°C of warming.  Today, the chance of these four countries all having production losses of more than 10% in the same year is close to zero.  However, the study suggests this likelihood increases to 7% under 2°C warming and 86% under 4°C.  Another paper in PNAS found that by the end of this century, less water and hotter air will combine to cut average yields of vegetables by nearly one-third.  Finally, a paper in the journal Nature, reported that the increased CO2 levels and temperatures associated with climate change will reduce the mineral content and nutritional value of vegetables and legumes.

Climate change is impacting fisheries globally as fish migrate due to warming oceans.  A new study, published in the journal Science on Friday, used modeling to investigate the migration patterns of 892 species of commercially important fish as they moved through 261 “exclusive economic zones.”  On average, fish are venturing into new territories at 43 miles per decade, a pace expected to continue and accelerate, outpacing the rate at which lawmakers are handling jurisdictional disputes.

Spring in Europe was unusually warm this year.  That caused butterflies to hatch early, but it didn’t have a similar impact on the opening of flowers.  As a result, plants and their pollinators are out of sync, to the detriment of both.

The idea that climate change has caused and will cause human conflict and mass migrations has become more and more accepted.  But is this really true?  Mark Maslin, a Professor at University College London, discussed this question at The Conversation, based on a paper he and a graduate student recently published in Nature.

Energy

This week BP released its annual “Statistical Review of World Energy.”  It found that energy demand accelerated in 2017 by 2.2%, but a 17% increase in solar and wind did little to offset the dominance of fossil fuels.  Natural gas consumption rose by 3%, followed by a 1.8% rise in oil demand, and a 1% increase in coal consumption.  Carbon Brief provided a detailed analysis.  Former BP chief executive Tony Hayward cast doubt over the worldwide energy transition, arguing that the penetration of renewables worldwide is being outpaced by the demand for growth.  David Roberts agrees.  Here in the U.S., the solar market added 2.5 GW of solar PV in the first quarter of this year, representing annual growth of 13%, according to the latest “U.S. Solar Market Insight Report” from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Flow batteries offer several advantages over lithium-ion batteries for large-scale systems when electricity must be supplied for several hours, such as in the evening after the sun has set.  Andy Colthorpe wrote about the obstacles facing the flow battery industry in its fight for commercialization.  Perhaps the investment by Breakthrough Energy Ventures in the flow battery startup Form Energy will help overcome them.

Scotland has met its annual greenhouse gas reduction target for the third consecutive year.  Greenhouse gas emissions fell by 49% from 1990 to 2016.  However, according to a new report, Germany will not meet its 2020 reduction target, achieving only a 32% reduction since 1990, rather than the 40% target.

A new study, published the journal Nature Communications, has found that storing billions of metric tons of CO2 underground would be a safe and effective way to help limit the extent of climate change.

On Thursday Senior U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo of Albuquerque ordered the BLM to conduct further analysis on the environmental impact of potential drilling for oil and gas on more than 19,000 acres in the Santa Fe National Forest.  Most significantly, the judge found that federal environmental law requires the BLM to consider the “downstream” and cumulative impacts on climate change of the use of the fuel produced from leases on public lands.

“The Economics of Clean Energy Portfolios,” released by the Rocky Mountain Institute last month, showed that emerging mixes of renewable energy, storage, and other distributed energy resources may soon be more cost effective than natural gas plants in most regions of the U.S.  Furthermore, the report said “The same technological innovations and price declines in renewable energy that have already contributed to early coal-plant retirement are now threatening to strand investments in natural gas.”

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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