Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/31/2018

Policy and Politics

One question in the ongoing negotiations over NAFTA is whether Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will stick by his demand that climate change be recognized in it.  Last week I provided links to articles about the fall of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.  This week, Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic examined the possible connections between the climate positions of the Trump administration and the changing climate positions in Australia and Canada.  This is potentially quite important in light of a new report that found that while action by cities, states, regions, and businesses can go a long way towards meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, their actions alone, in the absence of national actions, are not enough to hold the global temperature increase to well-below 2°C.  Meanwhile, in spite of the EU’s strong actions on climate change, there are influential people who challenge the consensus on its causes.  A non-binding opinion written by a Member of the EU Parliament, John Stuart Agnew of the UK Independence Party, has shocked EU lawmakers for its dismissal of climate science – and the support he received to write it from mainstream rightwing and liberal political blocs.  Without first notifying his Prime Minister, environmentalist Nicolas Hulot resigned from his position as France’s minister of ecological and solidarity-based transition Tuesday morning during a live breakfast show on national radio.  A new report produced for the UN by Bios, an independent research institute based in Finland, has concluded that free market capitalism will not be able to meet the challenges posed by climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels.  Rather some other, as yet unidentified, economic model will be required.

The California legislature voted on Tuesday to require that 100% of the state’s electricity come from carbon-free sources by 2045.  In a letter dated Wednesday, FERC cited a recent analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as justification for allowing construction to resume along most of the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 303-mile route through West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.  A federal judge ruled that the coastal city of South Portland, Maine, did not violate the U.S. Constitution when it passed an ordinance that blocked Portland Pipe Line Corporation from bringing Alberta tar sands oil through its port for export.  Meanwhile, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal on Thursday released its decision delaying the Kinder Morgan Trans Canada pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil to the Canadian West Coast.  In reaction, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said she is pulling her province out of the national climate change plan.

This week Yale Climate Connections presented 12 books illustrating authors attempts to meet the challenge of talking with children about climate change at different age levels, from pre-school to young adult.  Wes Granberg-Michaelson, former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, wrote this week at Sojourners about the role of ecumenical Christians in the fight against climate change.  Ivy Main explained the Virginia Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Affiliates Act with respect to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.


According to a new paper in Earth Systems Dynamics, by 2035 we could pass the “point of no return” for reducing carbon emissions in order to limit global temperature rise to 2°C.  Furthermore, the authors determined that the deadline to stop global warming reaching 1.5°C has already passed, unless we commit to radical action now.

A new paper in the journal Science Advances reported that even if global average temperatures rise by as much as 4°C above pre-industrial levels, the damaging effects on fishing can be reduced through improved management of fisheries, allowing even greater catches.  However, without improved management, negative impacts will be severe.

A study published recently in Geophysical Research Letters used modeling to study the impacts of climate change on El Niño/La Niña events.  Summarizing their work, the lead author of the paper told John Abraham of The Guardian: “We can’t say from this study whether more or fewer El Niños will form in the future — or whether the El Niños that do form will be stronger or weaker in terms of ocean temperatures in the Pacific.  But we can say that an El Niño of a given magnitude that forms in the future is likely to have more influence over our weather than if the same El Niño formed 50 years ago.”

As documented in a new paper in Science Advances, scientists have discovered a new source of heat under the sea ice in the Beaufort Gyre of the Canadian Basin in the Arctic Ocean.  Summer sea ice has been absent from the Chukchi Sea for quite some time, allowing sunlight to directly contact the water, heating it.  That warm water is being carried under the sea ice into the Beaufort Gyre, but at a lower depth so that it doesn’t contact the ice above it.  However, should currents change, allowing the warm water to rise and contact the ice, its heat content is sufficient to melt the ice.

John Schwartz has a very interesting article in The New York Times, accompanied by beautiful photos and videos by Josh Haner, about the decline of Atlantic Puffins.  While climate change is involved, the interconnections are complex and difficult to tease apart.

While coastal cities in the U.S. face the risk of sea level rise as Earth warms, cities in the American Southwest face another hazard, extremely high temperatures.  This is requiring people to adapt in many ways.  California published its Fourth Climate Change Assessment this week, which includes a 67-page section on the state’s desert areas.  Sammy Roth summarized five major takeaways from the report.  The New York Times had an interactive graphic that allows you to enter your birthplace and year of birth and then see how the number of days with maximum temperatures exceeding 90°F has changed, among other things.  One way to lower temperatures in cities is to plant trees.  Unfortunately, nationally, 36.2 million urban trees are lost each year, along with a corresponding depletion of all their benefits, including carbon storage and cooling.

When we think about the impacts of sea level rise on Miami-Dade County, FL, the first things that comes to mind are the effects on roads, houses, and stormwater infrastructure.  Writing at Climate Changed, Christopher Flavelle argued that the main threat of sea level rise to the habitability of Miami-Dade is to its water supply.

Two articles published this week examined the impacts of warming on global food supplies.  One, published in Science, looked at losses of wheat, corn, and rice to insects.  It found that global yield losses of the three crops will increase by between 10 and 25% per degree Celsius of global mean surface warming.  The other, in Nature Climate Change, estimated that at atmospheric CO2 levels of 550 ppm, an additional 175 million people would be zinc deficient and an additional 122 million people would be protein deficient.  One South Korean company thinks the way around such problems is to grow non-commodity food crops in tunnels, while a company in Scotland says that their indoor farm is the most advanced in the world.  And another large study of global fossil and temperature records from the past 20,000 years suggests that Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems are at risk of drastic changes as Earth warms, especially if humans continue burning fossil fuels as in the past.


Some time back I provided a link to an article about the plans of Dyson to build an electric car.  The company has now announced plans to build a ten mile test track in Wiltshire, UK.  There are now more than a million electric cars in Europe after sales soared by more than 40% in the first half of the year.  Amy Harder at Axios sought to put Telsas and other electric cars in perspective in the fight against climate change.

By 2020, Facebook plans to power its global operations with 100% renewable energy and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.  Orlando, FL, has set a goal of generating all of its energy from carbon-free sources by 2050, and they are going about doing it in some interesting ways.  In Australia, a new analysis says wholesale electricity prices will almost halve over the next four years because of the installation of renewables.  A household just outside of Berlin has become the recipient of the 100,000th grid-connected residential battery energy storage system in Germany.

Japan’s consumption of liquefied natural gas is set to fall as the country’s nuclear reactors restart, with output from atomic power set for its highest since the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.  Russia is almost ready to deploy its first floating nuclear power plant.  Needless to say, the idea is controversial.  On the other hand, the South African Department of Energy this week announced that the Cabinet has approved a draft updated Integrated Resources Plan which will see increased renewable energy generation in place of a planned nuclear expansion.

A high pressure system that stalled over Britain this summer was responsible for a decline in surface winds, causing electricity generation by wind turbines to decline.  On the subject of wind turbines, research published in the journal Ecology and Evolution has revealed that European pipistrelle bats are drawn to red lights.  Researchers say that to limit bat deaths by collisions with wind turbines, operators should install on-demand lighting that only turns on if an airplane approaches.

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.