Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/19/2018

In light of the recent IPCC report on holding global warming to 1.5°C, I suggest that you start your reading this week with Rebecca Solnit’s essay in The Guardian last Sunday.  Its title is “Don’t despair: the climate fight is only over if you think it is.”

Politics and Policy

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow on Sunday downplayed the significance of the recent IPCC report.  During an appearance on 60 Minutes on Sunday night and an interview by the Associated Press on Tuesday, President Donald Trump was asked about climate change.  His answers led to reactions from a number of publications, including The Washington Post, Vox, and The Guardian.  He also said that climate scientists who find that human activities are driving climate change have a “very big political agenda,” causing the American Meteorological Association to push back forcefully in a letter published Tuesday.  The IPCC’s report said that government policies alone won’t ensure the “unprecedented” societal changes needed over the next decade to stem climate change.  Rather, we must have buy-in from the business community.  However, a number of scientists contend that the report wasn’t strong enough and that it downplayed the full extent of the real threat.  Meanwhile, at Scientific American, six climate scientists stated: “Rather than resign ourselves to a dystopian path, or deflect reality through cycles of denial, we need a fundamental attitude shift: we must instead see climate change as one of the greatest opportunities we have ever faced.”  Finally, science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times, “None of the major technological transformations of the 19th and 20th centuries were the product of the private sector acting alone and responding only to the market.  Railroads, radio, telegraph, telephone, electricity and the internet were all the result of public-private partnerships.  None was delivered by the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace.  All involved significant interventions by the visible hand of government.”

DOE’s efforts to force economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants to stay online for as long as two years has evidently been scrapped because of opposition from the president’s own advisers on the National Security Council and National Economic Council, according to an article in Politico.  The EPA has released the list of finalists being considered for positions on its Science Advisory Board.  The list includes researchers who reject mainstream climate science and who have fought against environmental regulations for years.  Economist William D. Nordhaus, a co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel prize in economics for his work on pricing carbon emissions, was interviewed by Coral Davenport of The New York Times about which governments are getting his ideas right.  Following the announcement of Nordhaus’ Nobel Prize and the release of the new IPCC report, Felix Salmon of Axios wrote about the costs associated with warming of 1.5° and 2°C.  Exxon-Mobil is contributing $1 million to Americans for Carbon Dividends, a group that is working to establish a carbon fee and dividend to reduce fossil fuel use.  The Global Commission on Adaptation was launched at The Hague this week.  It aims to bring together expertise from around the world to identify the best ways of adapting to climate change.

On Wednesday, a group of researchers released an updated version of the 1973 report, “The Limits to Growth.”  They found that efforts to satisfy social Sustainable Development Goals with conventional policy tools come at the price of unsustainable use of natural resources such as water, land, and energy.  Hence, environmental goals, including stabilizing climate, threaten to fall by the wayside.  According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, most Americans are unaware that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and is human-caused.  On Thursday, for a second time, the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a lawsuit filed by young activists who have accused the U.S. government of ignoring the perils of climate change.  On Friday, the Court issued an order freezing the trial until lawyers for the young people provide a response and the Court issues another order.  On Monday, the judge in the case had ruled that President Trump could not be included in the lawsuit.  On Tuesday, FERC gave permission for developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to begin cutting trees on the site of a planned natural gas compressor station in Buckingham County, VA.  Also on Tuesday, Dominion Energy announced that it is seeking renewal of its licenses for the two nuclear units at Surry Power Station.  The current licenses are valid through 2032 and 2033, so a renewal would extend them through 2052 and 2053.

Climate

A recent study finds that tourism is responsible for 8% of the world’s annual carbon pollution.

While writing about the tendency of IPCC reports to focus on the median potential responses, rather than the extremes, Kurt Cobb referred to risk expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote in his book Fooled by Randomness, “It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear.”

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that populations of arthropods in a Puerto Rican rainforest have fallen drastically since 1976.  The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss.  If you are concerned about the spread of malaria into the U.S. as a result of the warmer temperatures associated with climate change, then you should read the advice from Sara Peach at Yale Climate Connections.

Climate change has been having mixed effects in West Virginia.  On the one hand, the climate has become milder with warmer winters, cooler summers and generally more humid conditions year-round.  On the other, in the forests, oaks are being replaced by maples, which prefer shadier and wetter conditions, thereby altering forest ecosystems.

A new paper in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science has found that tornado activity is increasing in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and parts of Ohio and Michigan, while decreasing in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  This pattern is consistent with the eastward movement of the “dry line”, where there is dry air to the west and moist air to the east.  The lead author of the paper said, “This is what you would expect in a climate change scenario, we just have no way of confirming it at the moment.”

One possible impact of climate change may be increased migration.  Four social scientists from Europe explored this possibility in The Washington Post.  Since much migration may occur in the Global South, projections of what may happen there are particularly important.  Unfortunately, a lack of historical data hampers efforts to make those projections.

As global temperatures rise and the Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly sea ice-free, phytoplankton blooms are expanding northward at a rate of 1° of latitude — or 69 miles — per decade, moving into waters where they have never been seen before, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Energy

Carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. power sector fell 4.5% in 2017 due to the closure of coal-fired power plants.  Overall, emissions dropped by 2.7%.  The fight continues over the exportation of coal to Asia from ports in the state of Washington, with the Army Corps of Engineers reviving an environmental review of a coal-export project a year after state environmental regulators denied the project a key permit.  In addition, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the Trump administration is considering using military bases and federal properties in Washington, Oregon and California to ship coal and natural gas to Asia.

A year ago, General Motors announced plans for 20 new electric vehicle models by 2023, but in the U.S. market, GM was aggressively transforming its product line for something else—it was scaling back on cars and doubling down on higher-emissions pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.  GM is not alone.  All of the Big Three automakers—GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler—have shifted toward big, heavy vehicles that use more fuel per mile.  City Lab has an analysis of the status of electric vehicle adoption in the U.S.  A major determinant of the lifetime CO2 emissions associated with an electric vehicle is the source of electricity in the factory where the battery is made.  If it is a coal-fired power plant, it may take many years before the lifetime emissions become less than that of a diesel-powered vehicle.

As of August, non-utility buyers had announced contracts for more than 3.5 gigawatts of renewable energy projects in 2018, setting a new single-year record in the U.S.  Since then, procurement numbers have continued to grow, as the corporate renewables market has matured and expanded to include new geographies and new buyers.

The Trump administration is considering allowing companies to build offshore wind farms off the coast of California.

Solar and wind energy now generate more than 20% of electricity in 10 states, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Iowa is at the top of the list, with 37% of its electricity coming from wind and solar in 2017, followed by Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, all above 30%.

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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