Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/21/2018

Policy and Politics

While some have touted the necessity of using negative emissions technologies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere to limit warming, researchers from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany, urged a thorough ethical analysis of the technologies before they are broadly applied.  An analysis commissioned by Greenpeace has found that the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars in Europe must be phased out before 2030 if the auto sector is to play its part in holding global warming to 1.5°C.  Although many advocate for carbon pricing as a way to decrease fossil fuel use, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has concluded that carbon prices in major advanced economies are too low to cut greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst effects of climate change.  Recently released documents show that like Exxon, Shell knew in the 1980s the impacts that continued burning of fossil fuels would have on the planet.  Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum will join the European-led Oil & Gas Climate Initiative, adding $300 million to its fund for carbon-reduction ventures.  “The Climate Mobilization” is a nonprofit that advocates for a World War II-style mobilization for fighting global warming.

The Interior Department eased requirements that oil and gas firms operating on federal and tribal land capture any methane released.  The move will have negative impacts on the fight against climate change and thus environmentalists and Democrats vowed to fight it in court.  On the other hand, Shell announced on Monday plans to limit leaks of methane across its oil and gas operations.  On Wednesday, the EPA announced that it is proposing a rule to rescind a 2016 regulation that would have phased out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), strong greenhouse gases, as refrigerants in appliances.  A number of states have moved to make it harder to protest oil and gas projects.  Now in Louisiana, the first felony arrests of protesters could become a test case of these tougher laws as opponents vow a legal challenge.  If all of the flooding associated with Hurricane Florence has you concerned about the susceptibility of your home to flooding, you can check FEMA flood maps here.  If you are thinking of buying a house, you might want to look into the laws in your state requiring disclosure of flood risk.  Virginia has essentially none.

When David Goodrich retired from his job as a climate scientist at NOAA, he resolved to ride his bike across America to see what climate change was doing up close.  He shared some of his observations at National GeographicWired published an interview with Stewart Brand, who had this to say about climate change: “We can see the problem but we can’t see the solution.  So the problem fills our minds.  But here’s the thing: Solutions don’t have to fill everybody’s mind—they just have to fill enough minds so that we can work them out.”  Peter Sinclair has two new videos, one entitled: “Textbook Trauma – The Emotional Cost of Climate Change” and another entitled: “Jennifer Francis: How Climate and Ice Melt Intensify Hurricanes.”

Climate

Scientists studying the Wilkes Subglacial Basin of East Antarctica have found that during the late Pleistocene interglacial intervals, when air temperatures were at least 2°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, extensive melting of the glaciers occurred, causing sea levels to be between 18 and 40 feet higher than they are today.  NASA is continuing with its Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) project, a five-year, $30 million effort aimed at improving sea level rise projections by understanding how warming oceans are melting ice sheets from below.  Last week I linked to an article about the planned launch of ICESat-2 by NASA on Saturday, Sept. 15.  The launch was successfulReuters had a very interesting article about the difficulties and dangers of collecting data in Greenland.

Perhaps as a result of a blocking pattern associated with a warm Arctic, Hurricane Florence produced an extraordinary rainstorm that statistically had a 1-in-100 chance of occurring each year (a 100-year storm).  Over substantial areas, the deluge had a 0.1% chance of happening (a 1,000-year storm).  Flooding from Florence was widespread and its impacts disproportionately hit poor and minority communities, as reported in this story in The Guardian.  The U.S. isn’t the only place with climate-related flooding.  In a paper published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, researchers reported that extreme floods on the Amazon River that had occurred roughly once every 20 years in the first part of last century are now happening about every four years.  Climate change is also impacting the nature of summer thunderstorms in the U.S. desert Southwest, making groundwater recharge more problematic.

Although most of us are unaware of it, fungi play a major role in regulating the climate by influencing the amount of carbon stored in the soil.  Tropical forests were once a major carbon sink, taking up much of the CO2 released to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.  Now, deforestation, degradation, and general disturbance have combined to make tropical forests a net carbon source rather than a sink, meaning they’re losing more carbon than they can absorb.  Writing for Yale Climate Connections, Daisy Simmons reviewed the status of tropical forests today.

Rising temperatures have a direct impact on those who work outdoors.  Michelle Chen wrote about those impacts, as well as other occupational health issues associated with climate change.  The number of undernourished people around the globe increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, the third straight year of growth and the highest figure since 2009, according to a new report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The New York Times will publish a “Climate Solutions Special Report” in the September 24 print edition of the International NYT.  Today’s electronic edition of the NYT carried nine articles from the report: (1) things that are being done to adapt; (2) examples of fighting climate change or its impacts; (3) turning chicken waste into jet fuel and other useful products; (4) how Costa Rica is moving toward being the globe’s first carbon-neutral nation; (5) how reforestation in Columbia is saving hummingbirds as well as fighting climate change; (6) in Sweden, trash heats homes, powers buses, and fuels taxi fleets; (7) electric trucks are being used by UPS in London for deliveries; (8) G.E. has entered Europe’s offshore wind market; and (9) Rwanda is trying biogas as a way to curb deforestation.

A combination of warmer water and nutrient runoff is thought to be fueling a bloom of sargassum seaweed in the Caribbean, threatening everything from the tourist industry to turtle survival.

Energy

A new report by BVG Associates and commissioned by Virginia’s Sierra Club chapter says Virginia’s port infrastructure, experienced maritime workforce, and geographical advantages make it an ideal candidate for becoming a hub for the East Coast offshore wind supply chain.  However, Virginia will face stiff competition in doing so, as evidenced by New Jersey’s recent solicitation for 1,100 MW of offshore wind capacity — the largest single-state offshore wind solicitation in the U.S. to date.  All forms of energy have an environmental impact; the trick is to examine the costs and the benefits when siting a project.  An example of the tug-of-war that takes place whenever a project is sited is the proposed wind farm more than 30 miles off the coast of Montauk, Long Island.

ARPA-E, the Department of Energy’s blue-sky research program, this week announced $28 million in R&D grants for 10 projects aimed at delivering energy storage systems that can last for days.  David Roberts provided some background on ARPA-E and a summary of some of the ways for storing energy that are being investigated.

A new paper by Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, argues that the costs of improving energy efficiency are lower than previously believed and the benefits are verging on unlimited. The paper says the world can sustain continued improvements in efficiency much more easily than previously thought, a key part of fighting climate change.

Faced with Hurricane Florence’s powerful winds and record rainfall, North Carolina’s solar farms held up with only minimal damage while other parts of the electricity system failed.  According to a report by Bloomberg NEF, solar projects that incorporate battery storage are becoming cheaper to build per megawatt-hour in parts of the U.S. Southwest than new gas-fired generation.  Consequently, some analysts question gas industry projections for growth.  Net metering is the policy that compensates rooftop solar owners at retail rates for the electricity their solar arrays send to the grid.  Replacements for it have been debated nationally for years and now sector leaders say some replicable policies may finally be emerging.

EU energy ministers agreed on Tuesday to pool efforts to increase the use of hydrogen in transport and power as part of the bloc’s attempt to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.  Meanwhile, Germany has rolled out the world’s first hydrogen-powered train, signaling the start of a challenge to diesel trains by costlier but more eco-friendly technology.

David Roberts at Vox wrote about market research and polling concerning renewable energy done on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute.  After presenting some of the findings, he summarized this way: “The basic message from the public … is this: We want clean, modern energy, and we’ll pay for it.  We’re willing to let experts work out the details, but we don’t want to hear that it can’t be done.  Just do it.”  The Japanese energy conglomerate Marubeni will no longer build coal-fired power plants and it plans to slash its ownership in coal-fired energy assets in half by 2030.  Chicago-based Middle River Power LLC and New York-based Avenue Capital said Thursday that they would end their efforts to purchase the largest coal-fired power plant in the West, the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona.

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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