Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/14/2018

Policy and Politics

California solidified its role as a world leader on climate action as Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday to shift the state to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045.  Timed to coincide with the opening of the Global Climate Action Summit on Wednesday in San Francisco, Gov. Brown and UN Special Envoy for Climate Action Michael Bloomberg had an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times touting the many actions that have been taken in the U.S. to counter the negative impacts of the Trump administration on the fight against climate change.  Nevertheless, a new report released Wednesday at the Summit projected that by 2025, the U.S. will have cut greenhouse gas emissions by only 17% below 2005 levels, rather than the 26-28% it had pledged under the Paris Climate Agreement.  Thousands took to the streets of San Francisco, New York, and other cities around the world prior to the summit.  Climate Home News reported on the Summit and the significance of the large Chinese delegation.  Meanwhile, at the UN, Secretary General António Guterres said in a speech to world leaders, “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change.”  Some of the world’s biggest investment houses, controlling $30 trillion worth of funds, have agreed to join forces to put pressure on governments to adhere to the promises they made in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s administration announced Wednesday that the state would seek to regulate methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure.  On the other hand, the EPA plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirement that oil and gas companies monitor and repair methane leaks and the Interior Department is expected to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and burning of methane from drilling operations.  A comment published Wednesday in Nature Communications by a group of prominent climate scientists criticized a new European directive that treats wood harvested directly for bioenergy use as a carbon-free fuel, stating “replacing fossil fuels with wood will likely result in 2-3x more carbon in the atmosphere in 2050 per gigajoule of final energy.”

Bill McKibben introduced a video of poets Aka Niviana of Greenland and Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands as they present their moving poem “Rise”.  Speaking of Greenland, in order to understand how climate change is affecting both the animals and the Indigenous communities that depend on them for food, income, and cultural identity, the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources teamed up with scientists to listen to what locals have observed.  Economic columnist Robert Samuelson had a thought-provoking piece in the Washington Post entitled “Why we don’t prepare for the future.”  New York Times best-selling author Anne Lamott, author of Almost Everything – Notes on Hope, recently wrote in National Geographic: “Hope is the belief that no matter how dire things look or how long rescue or healing takes, modern science in tandem with people’s goodness and caring will boggle our minds, in the best way.”  There is another cli-fi book out: The Completionist by Siobhan Adcock.  Amy Brady interviewed her at Yale Climate Connections.  Nathaniel Rich reviewed William T. Vollmann’s two-volume Climate Ideologies in The Atlantic.  Rich wrote “Vollmann’s meager wish is for future readers to appreciate that they would have made the same mistakes we have.”  The National Science Teachers Association called on science teachers from kindergarten through high school to emphasize to students that “no scientific controversy exists regarding the basic facts of climate change.”


There was much media coverage of Hurricane Florence as it approached the Carolinas, so I will not attempt to cover it.  However, there were two articles I would like to call to your attention.  Andrea Thompson explained “compound flooding” and why it could make the impacts of Florence more severe than the storm’s category would suggest.  And Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and contributing writer for Grist, had this to say about Florence: “We have entered the heart of climate change’s period of consequences.”  In addition, a team of scientists from Stony Brook University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimated that Florence’s rainfall forecast is more than 50% higher than it would have been without global warming, and that its projected size is about 48 miles larger.  The population along North Carolina’s coast is almost 50% higher now than 20 years ago, fueled in part by a pro-development government that rejected long-term projections of sea level rise.  The New York Times examined the history and impacts of such policies.  Meanwhile, on the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria, Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell wrote that the impact of the storm on Puerto Rico “was a manufactured catastrophe, created by an explosive mix of politics, Wall Street corruption, poor planning and rising carbon pollution.”  Lest we forget, in the Pacific, Super Typhoon Mangkhut is expected to barrel through the northernmost tip of the Philippines early on Saturday, carrying the 125 mph wind speeds and the gusts of up to 155 mph that it has maintained since it struck Micronesia earlier in the week.  Finally, new research, published in Journal of Climate, investigated the intensification of hurricanes in a warming world and found that it will occur more rapidly, just as it did with Maria last year and Florence this year.

A recent study published in Environmental Research Letters revealed that precipitation during the rainy season in the Amazon rainforest increased by 7 to 24 inches between 1979 and 2015.  Furthermore, the increase was caused primarily by increases in the sea surface temperature in the Atlantic Ocean.  A modeling study published Monday in the journal Science found that placing large wind and solar farms in the Sahel could increase precipitation there by nearly 20 inches a year.

A study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change found that global warming of 3°C to 4°C could raise mortality rates by between 1 and 9% compared to limiting warming to 2°C or less.  Global hunger has reverted to levels last seen a decade ago, wiping out progress on improving people’s access to food and leaving one in nine people undernourished last year, with extreme weather a leading cause, the UN has warned.

A new study in the journal PLOS One has examined changes in the arrival of spring along four bird migratory routes in North America.  It found that the changes varied from north to south along three of the routes, which could impact reproductive success of the birds.  A warmer world also impacts the reproduction of alpine wildflowers, which along with other pressures, makes them more susceptible to extinction.

NASA plans to send the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) into space on 15 September from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will focus on measuring changes in ice thickness in Greenland and Antarctica, but it will also collect data on forest growth and cloud height.

In an effort to reduce methane emissions from rice fields, farmers have been advised to intermittently flood them, rather than leaving them constantly flooded.  Now, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed that the practice greatly increases the emissions of nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has stated that there is a 70% chance of a recurrence of an El Niño weather event before the end of this year.  El Niño events have a number of impacts on the weather, including increased warming.  In addition, the WMO indicated that climate change may be influencing the frequency with which the events occur.


Accurate carbon counting has two practical goals. The first is to establish the current trends and future trajectories of global emissions, so we can determine whether the world is on target for restricting global warming to less than 2°C. The second is to determine whether individual nations are meeting their promises under the Paris Climate Agreement.  Fred Pearce reviewed progress toward each of those goals at Yale Environment 360.  On Thursday, Jocelyn Timperley published an article at Carbon Brief explaining why the cement industry has such high CO2 emissions (if it were a country, it would rank 3rd in the world) and what might be done to reduce them.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday that, based on preliminary estimates, the U.S. “likely surpassed” Russia in June and August, after jumping over Saudi Arabia earlier this year, to become the globe’s biggest oil producer.

A record 8.5 GW of utility solar projects were procured in the first six months of this year after President Donald Trump in January announced a 30% tariff on panels produced overseas, according to a report by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables and the industry trade group Solar Energy Industries Association.  Because of the falling prices of solar farms, companies around the world are now building them without government subsidies.  Juan Monge of Greentech Media interviewed Jonathan Adelman of Excel Energy about the utility’s transition to renewable energy.  The large number of sunny days this summer allowed Europe to set records on solar PV production.

United Airlines said on Thursday it has set a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent over the next few decades to help reduce its carbon footprint and its dependence on fossil fuels.  Several other airlines are also increasing their use of biofuels to cut their fossil carbon emissions.  Ikea is accelerating its plans for a zero-emissions delivery fleet, planning to achieve it in New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Paris, and Shanghai by 2020 and worldwide by 2025.

Global demand for fossil fuels will peak in 2023, the thinktank Carbon Tracker has predicted, posing a significant risk to financial markets because trillions of dollars’ worth of oil, coal, and gas assets could be left worthless.  Oil and gas firms have rejected the idea that their assets are at risk.  By the end of the decade, Europe’s largest oil companies must roughly double the amount of money they’re now dedicating to “new energies” in order to meet key climate targets, according to a report from JPMorgan Chase & Co., suggesting that the challenge facing the fossil fuel industry has been vastly underestimated.

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.