Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/10/2018

Policy and Politics

Last week’s Roundup started with an article by Nathaniel Rich, entitled “Losing Earth,” that comprised the entire issue of The New York Times Magazine for August 5.  Because of its conclusion, the article caused quite a stir.  Below I have listed some of the responses to it:

  1. Kate Aronoff, “What ‘The New York Times’ Climate Blockbuster Missed,” The Nation
  2. Emily Atkin, “Who’s to Blame for Global Warming,” The New Republic
  3. Alyssa Battistoni, “How Not to Talk about Climate Change,” Jacobin Magazine
  4. Peter Gleick, “Saving Earth: Don’t Fall into Climate Change Fatalism,” HuffPost Opinion
  5. Alexander Kaufman, “2018 Would Still Be a Climate Hellscape If We Acted 30 Years Ago,” HuffPost Environment
  6. Naomi Klein, “Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not ‘Human Nature’,” The Intercept
  7. Joe Romm, “Scientists Aren’t Impressed with New York Times’ New Story on Climate Change,” Think Progress
  8. Rhea Suh, “The Moral of The New York Times Climate Story: We Need to Up Our Game,” Natural Resources Defense Council

President Donald Trump reportedly plans to fill a vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with Bernard McNamee, executive director of DOE’s Office of Policy and a former top official at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative research and advocacy group that advocates for deregulation.  The EPA is floating the idea of changing its rulemaking process and setting a threshold level of fine particles that it would consider safe.  Previously, it has considered no level safe.  The change would affect how EPA counts the co-benefits of reducing fine particles when making rules aimed at reducing other pollutants, like greenhouse gases.  California air regulators on Tuesday said they plan to keep tightening state vehicle emissions rules despite a Trump administration proposal last week that would strip the state of the ability to set its own limits.  The Heartland Institute’s second “America First” conference on U.S. energy was held Tuesday in New Orleans.  Inside Climate News covered the gathering and found many singing a very negative tune.

Nader Sobhani analyzed Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s Market Choice Act for the Niskanan Center.  A new study in Nature Climate Change has found that if a blanket carbon tax is applied across all sectors, agriculture will be especially hard hit, increasing food insecurity.  The authors emphasize “Agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies.”  Pete Myers reflected on Buckminster Fuller’s “energy slaves” as depicted in Stuart McMillen’s comic.  Environmental writer Cally Carswell ruminated in High Country News on the question of why she and her husband moved to Santa Fe during a time of drought.  New York Times science writer John Schwartz reviewed William T. Vollman’s two volume Carbon Ideologies.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has a new set of climate opinion maps.

Climate

Probably the most written about scientific paper on climate change this week was the one by Will Steffen et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  The paper is pretty well summed up in the first sentence of the abstract: “We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced.”  The paper is labeled as a “Perspective” and is open access.  It can be read or downloaded hereJonathan Watts had a good summary, while Steven Salzberg and Jeff Goodell had interesting commentaries.  Skeptical Science presented a graphic that clarifies the various periods discussed.  On the subject of uncertain futures, Amy Brady interviewed debut novelist Harriet Alida Lye about her new book, The Honey Farm.

One of the authors of another study in PNAS told Carbon Brief “Our analysis of methane uptake around the globe shows that methane uptake in forest soils has decreased by an average of 77% from 1988 to 2015. We conclude that the soil methane sink may be declining and overestimated in several regions across the globe.”  Daisy Dunne discussed the paper and explained its significance at Carbon Brief.  A paper in Nature Communications reported on a study that found that maintaining existing forests may be more effective than bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as a strategy for reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Solar radiation management (SRM) is a form of proposed geoengineering in which sulfate aerosols would be injected into the upper atmosphere to reflect some of the incoming sunlight, thereby helping to cool Earth.  Most consideration of SRM has been theoretical, but now a group of scientists has examined the impacts of two 20th century volcanoes (which also spew large quantities of sulfur into the atmosphere) to estimate what the effects of SRM would be on agriculture.  They concluded that the positive and negative effects would cancel each other out, leaving little net benefit.

Unless you have been completely cut off from the news, you are doubtless aware of the severe fires in California.  ABC News queried climate scientist Michael Mann about the impact climate change has had on them.  Meanwhile, Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief performed a fact-check on the assertion that wildfires in the U.S. burned more acres in the early part of the 20th century than today.  Last week Quirin Schiermeier had an interesting article in Nature about the increasing ability of attribution studies to determine how likely it is that certain weather events (such as heat waves) have been caused or influenced by climate change.

As evidenced by Death Valley having the hottest month of any location in the world, ever, heat waves have been hitting all around the Northern Hemisphere, so writers at The Christian Science Monitor asked whether they have changed people’s attitudes about global warming.  Regardless of attitudes, actions haven’t changed all that much, with the result that people and governments are ill-prepared for a warmer world.  Unfortunately, problems aren’t limited to the Northern Hemisphere.  In the Southern, in the middle of the worst drought in living memory, Australia is also heating up due to climate change. Critics say too little is being done to prevent increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall.

A study published in PNAS found that 43% of the bird species in the Mojave Desert in the early 20th century have been lost because of climate change.  Climate Central analyzed the number of days each year in the spring, summer, and fall with an average temperature between 61°F and 93°F.  This is the range for transmission of diseases spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes or Culex type.  Of the 244 cities analyzed, 94% are seeing an increase in the number of days, indicating a heightened risk for disease transmission.

Energy

Quartz had a feature about a new battery developed by Pellion Technologies, that utilizes lithium-metal technology, rather than lithium-ion technology.  Quartz explained why this could be significant: “Pellion’s battery can pack nearly double the energy of a conventional lithium-ion battery.”  Minnesota electric cooperative Connexus Energy has confirmed recent press reports that it is building 15MW/30MWh of battery energy storage, while another not-for-profit, Vermont Electric Cooperative, will build a 1.9MW/5.3MWh system in its service area.

Companies and agencies, excluding utilities, have agreed to buy 7.2 GW of clean energy worldwide so far this year, shattering the record of 5.4 GW for all of 2017, according to a report last Friday from Bloomberg NEFBloomberg NEF also reported that global wind and solar developers took 40 years to install their first trillion watts (terawatts) of power generation capacity, but the next terawatt may be finished within the next five years.  They estimated that the industry reached the 1-terawatt milestone sometime in the first half of the year.  Apple is leading the development of two new wind and solar energy farms in Illinois and Virginia that will not only help bring green energy to its own operations, but also those of Akamai, Etsy, and Swiss Re.

This week’s “Clean Economy Weekly” from Inside Climate News had several items of interest, including the low electricity price from the Vineyard offshore wind farm off Cape Cod and news that demand for Tesla’s Powerwall is exceeding supply.  Julia Pyper at Greentech Media reviewed the status of wind energy in the U.S. in light of the cancellation of the Wind Catcher project in Texas and Oklahoma.

Virginia has picked a Los Angeles firm, EVgo, to build and operate a network of electric-vehicle charging stations across the commonwealth, with the state planning to use $14 million from the Volkswagen settlement to cover its share of the public-private partnership cost.  Gregory Schneider summarized recent actions by federal judges against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.

By the end of this year, Siemens Gamesa and its research partners in Denmark plan to install at sea a prototype suction bucket foundation that could reduce the cost to construct and install offshore wind turbine foundations by 40% compared to existing technology.  The U.S. wind industry will face tough times post-2021 when the value of the Production Tax Credit drops to 60% in 2022 and 40% in 2023, before disappearing entirely in 2024.  Using data and analysis from its latest “North America Wind Power Outlook”, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables presented five drivers that will sustain demand for new wind capacity additions in the market during this time.  In documents and sworn statements filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board on Thursday, the developers of the six-turbine Icebreaker Wind project planned for Lake Erie presented evidence that Murray Energy Corp. has been bankrolling anti-Icebreaker consultants, as well as lawyers representing two residents who have testified against the project.

More than 3,500 hydropower dams are being planned or built around the world.  This could double by 2030.  Most of these dams are in the planning stage, and the data don’t include dams primarily designed for water supply, flood prevention, navigation and recreation – so the total number of dams being built could be much higher.  Needless to say, the construction of such dams is a contentious issue.

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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