Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/29/2018

Special Announcement:  On Sept. 16, Dr. Gerald Durley will be the principal speaker at the 15th Annual NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet, which begins at 6:00 pm in the Festival Ballroom on the JMU campus.  He will speak on “Civil Rights and Climate Change.”  I call this to your attention because Dr. Durley is a civil rights activist who is also passionate about climate change and its impacts on people of color.  He recently spoke at an American Renewable Energy Day meeting in Colorado, as reported in this article from Aspen Public Radio.  As you can see from the article, he has some important messages for those working to limit climate change.  So, mark your calendars now and watch for further information about how to buy tickets.

Policy and Politics

After less than a year on the job, Robert Powelson said Thursday he would resign from FERC in mid-August to lead the National Association of Water Companies.  Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday.  Writing for The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer solicited opinions on what this will likely mean for environmental law, including on climate change.  On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted to keep litigation over the Clean Power Plan on hold for another 60 days.  This prompted two judges to say they would not vote for such a delay again.  Eleven states and the District of Columbia sued the Trump administration on Wednesday, demanding enforcement of regulations on super-polluting greenhouse gases (hydrofluorocarbons) in air conditioners and refrigerators.  A similar lawsuit was filed by environmentalists on Tuesday.  You may recall that San Francisco and Oakland had sued BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell to help pay for the costs of building seawalls and other projects to adapt to climate change.  Well, the judge threw out the case on Tuesday, reasoning that no single judge and jury should make a decision impacting the entire world.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. pledged a 26% to 28% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels as a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement.  Unfortunately, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group LLC, we are on track to reduce emissions by only 12% to 20%.  A new PAC, called Americans for Carbon Dividends, has been formed by former Senators Trent Lott (R, MS) and John Breaux (D, LA).  Its purpose is to educate the public about and lobby for, a carbon tax-and-dividend.  Perhaps young Republicans, who are much more interested than their elders in addressing climate change, will find some of the ideas appealing.  The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House just added six more members, bringing the total membership to 84.  In a statement released Monday, NOAA said it will not drop the word “climate” from its mission statement nor will it de-emphasize research into climate change and resource conservation.

June 23rd was the 30th anniversary of climate scientist James Hansen’s prescient testimony before a Senate committee.  Elizabeth Kolbert, among others, reflected on the anniversary, Eric Holthaus solicited the opinions of ten climate scientists about Hansen’s impact on them, and Axios summarized the state of things.  In commemoration of the anniversary, Hansen himself presented his ideas about what should be done in an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, which was reprinted on Hansen’s blog.  Bill McKibben had an essay in The Guardian on Wednesday about the fight against a replacement pipeline (called Enbridge Energy Line 3) proposed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S., but Minnesota regulators approved it on Thursday.  Joe Romm has published a new book, entitled How to Go Viral and Reach Millions.  John Abraham reviewed the book at The Guardian.  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda reviewed Paul Schader’s new film First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, asking whether it meets the three criteria of a good cli-fi movie.  Spoiler alert: the review revealed key plot points.

Climate

Climate Home News (CHN) obtained a leaked copy of the 2nd draft of the “Summary for Policymakers” in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C to be released later this year.  In the new summary, the authors make clear that the difference between warming of 1.5°C and 2°C would be “substantial” and damaging to communities, economies, and ecosystems across the world.  CHN published an annotated version of the summary, showing the differences between the two drafts.  Meanwhile, a study published Tuesday in Nature Climate Change found that under 1.5°C of warming, more than 100 million Europeans would typically see summer heat that exceeds anything in the 1950-2017 observed record every other year.  Under 2°C of warming, the frequency would be two of every three years.

A new study by Global Forest Watch, which is affiliated with the World Resources Institute, found that in 2017 deforestation led to the clearing of a land area the size of Italy.  Unfortunately, the falling trend in Brazil was reversed amid political instability and forest destruction soared in Colombia.  Carbon emissions associated with the lost forests were about the same as total emissions from the U.S.

The temperature in the coastal city of Quriyat, Oman, never dropped below 108.7°F (42.6°C) on Tuesday, most likely the highest minimum temperature ever observed on Earth.

A new report from the World Bank paints an ominous picture of the future for South Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh).  If nothing is done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, climate change could sharply diminish living conditions for up to 800 million people.  Even if we act to reduce emissions, 375 million are still expected to be affected.

New research, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that warming conditions and decreasing sea ice volume “may soon” see the Barents Sea complete a transition from cold, fresh Arctic waters to a warm, salty Atlantic regime, with “unknown consequences” for the wider ecosystem and commercial fishing.  Other research, published in Nature, has uncovered a new threat to endangered coral reefs worldwide: most are incapable of growing quickly enough to compensate for rising sea levels triggered by global warming.

Changing rainfall patterns pose a threat to ecosystems, people, and infrastructure as longer and more intense rainfall events release large quantities of water over short time periods.  Furthermore, across the U.S., reservoirs that supply drinking water and lakes used for recreation are experiencing toxic algal blooms with growing frequency as waters warm.  Many climate-related events are now occurring as CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase.  Understanding how multiple extreme events interact is critical to understanding the risks associated with climate change.

Energy

A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change focuses on “residual emissions,” which are all the leftover sources of carbon pollution we have to deal with after cleaning up electricity generation.  Even with aggressive policies to decarbonize the global economy, the researchers estimate that 1,000 gigatons of residual carbon emissions will accumulate in the atmosphere by 2100, which is more than the total carbon budget for keeping warming below 1.5°C.  That is why negative emissions will be required.

As we move toward a zero-emissions economy, about 27% of current CO2 emissions will be difficult to eliminate, according to a new paper in the journal Science.  They result from long-haul shipping and transportation, cement and steel production, and power generation facilities that are turned on only when needed.  We need to start addressing those emissions now so that technologies will be available when all the “easy” emissions have been eliminated.  On Thursday, Yale Environment 360 explored current efforts in the shipping industry to reduce emissions.

There is no question that David Roberts at Vox is a cheerleader for electric vehicles (EVs), as is quite apparent from his latest column.  Nevertheless, his summary of the latest developments in the war for EV adoption is well worth reading, particularly if you think EVs are just a passing fad.  He makes two important points that shouldn’t be overlooked: (1) significant resources are being put into vehicle charging infrastructure, and (2) a coalition of automakers, utilities, and civic groups is working to develop a set of principles by which policymakers can advance electric transportation.  Speaking of infrastructure, BP is buying the UK’s largest electric charging network, Chargemaster.  BP now provides fuel at over 1200 convenience stores in the UK and wants to ensure that customers keep coming after they shift to EVs.

A consortium led by Swiss investor Partners Group and Royal Dutch Shell said it has secured financing for the building of a 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) wind farm in the Dutch part of the North Sea.

At the World Gas Conference in Washington, DC, Total SA Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said on Tuesday “This idea of natural gas as a transition fuel to renewables is strange.  Natural gas is a solution (to climate change). It’s been scientifically proven.”  Pouyanne’s views were echoed by others who joined him on an industry panel, including executives from ConocoPhillips, BP Plc, Equinor Asa, and Qatar Petroleum.  Oh?  As I recall, James Hansen once said something to the effect that natural gas doesn’t change the destination, it just changes how fast we get there.  It should be noted that last week, a new study was published in Science showing that the amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60% higher than the official estimates of the EPA, making its climate impact in the short-term roughly the same as the CO2 emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants.

Continuing advances in solar cell design may soon make it possible to use the windows in buildings as transparent solar panels, allowing buildings to generate significant amounts of their energy needs.

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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