Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/2/2018

Politics and Policy

On Thursday, Emily Holden reported in The Guardian: “Democrats don’t have a plan to address climate change comprehensively – or even to a significant degree – if they regain control of the US government in the near future, despite criticizing Republicans as the party of pollution.”  In spite of that, according to Lisa Friedman of The New York Times, climate change has made its way into high-profile races this fall.  It is literally on the ballot in Washington state in the form of Initiative 1631, which would impose the nation’s first carbon tax.  Consequently, the oil industry has spent a record $30 million fighting the initiative, double what an alliance of green groups and billionaire activists has spent to support it.  On Wednesday, a conservative group released a report concluding that a national carbon tax would raise less revenue and cut emissions less than often claimed.  Among other energy-related issues on the ballot, both Arizona and Nevada are considering requiring power companies to get half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

One finding in the recent IPCC climate report is that it will most likely be necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere in order to hold the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C.  Consequently, San Francisco-based startup accelerator Y Combinator has announced a new initiative to invest in long-shot research into ways to cheaply do that.  Even as scientists learn more about hurricanes and climate change, FEMA flood-risk mapping does not take into account how global warming is changing the climate, including how sea level is rising.

A study done by the UK-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy found that only 58 of the 197 countries signing the Paris Climate Agreement have set economy-wide targets for emissions reductions in their domestic laws or policies and just 16 of these are as ambitious as, or more ambitious than, the pledges contained in their Nationally Determined Contributions.  The State Air Pollution Control Board of Virginia voted Monday to create a new set of regulations to limit CO2 emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels as part of a proposed new emissions trading system with nine other states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast (RGGI).

On Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt a novel lawsuit filed by young Americans that attempts to force the federal government to act on climate change, turning down a request from the Trump administration to stop it before trial.  Mary Heglar, a policy publications editor at a prominent environmental advocacy organization had a very moving and personal essay at Vox that provides insight into how one 20- or 30-something is dealing with the reality of climate change.  Jody Tishmack had a thought-provoking essay at Resilence entitled “Wake up. Stop Dreaming.”  Paul McAuley, a former research biologist who is now a full-time novelist with more than 20 books to his credit, has a new book of climate fiction (cli-fi), Austral.  Amy Brady interviewed him for Yale Climate Connections and Chicago Review of Books.  Amazon Original Stories, an Amazon Publishing imprint, this week launched a cli-fi series called “Warmer” about “possible tomorrows” in a U.S. ravaged by climate change.  The series contains seven books, each taking place in a different state.

Neil Chatterjee, the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has pledged to keep politics out of the agency’s decisions.  PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest power market operator, released a long-awaited study on Thursday finding that there is no immediate threat to the country’s grid, undermining arguments from the Trump administration that favor bailing out coal and nuclear energy.  The New York Times reported that new data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication – in partnership with Utah State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara – show how Americans across the country view climate and energy policies.

Climate

While violence and poverty have been cited as the reasons for the Central American migrants trudging through Mexico toward the U.S., experts say the big picture is that the changing climate is forcing farmers off their land.

A new paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature revealed that the world’s oceans have warmed 60% more than previously thought.  As a consequence, the maximum CO2 emissions that the world can produce while still avoiding warming of 2°C must be reduced by 25%.  Reuters Investigates released a new series entitled “Ocean Shock” that was produced by a team of journalists, photographers, videographers, and artists to report on the changes that are occurring in the oceans as a result of their warming.  Eliza Barclay and Umair Irfan updated their post about 10 ways to accelerate progress against climate change.

A team at Vox prepared an interesting infographic presentation about how temperature and rainfall are projected to change in 2000 U.S. cities over the next 30 years if the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue increasing as they are today.  “Unworkable”, a report from Public Citizen and the Farmworker Association of Florida released on Tuesday, spells out the risks of rising temperatures to Florida’s large population of outdoor workers, particularly construction and agricultural workers.  A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, asserts that greenhouse gases are increasingly disrupting the jet stream, causing more frequent summer droughts, floods, and wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.  Heatwaves in the UK are lasting twice as long as they did 50 years ago, according to a Met Office report.

On Tuesday, an iceberg about five times the size of Manhattan broke off of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.  It is the 6th largest iceberg to calve from the glacier.  Meanwhile, scientists in Canada have warned that massive glaciers in the Yukon territory are shrinking even faster than would be expected from a warming climate and bringing dramatic changes to the region.  Daniel Grossman interviewed several climate scientists about climate tipping points for Yale Climate Connections.  New research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that while solar geoengineering could slow heating of the land, it may not slow the heating of the oceans and associated sea level rise.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that some bird species living near the tops of tropical mountains have been driven to extinction by rising temperatures because they can’t move higher to cooler climes.

Energy

The Trump administration’s case for repealing the CAFE standards for cars is riddled with calculation mistakes, indefensible assumptions, and broken computer models, according to economists, environmental groups, and a major automaker.  However, David Roberts at Vox predicted that the rise of electric vehicles will render the debate over those standards moot.  Unfortunately, GM managed to upset environmental groups, politicians, the auto industry and others with its announcement that it supports establishing a national program modeled after California’s zero-emissions vehicle program.  To help Virginia communities switch to electric buses, the state is committing $14 million of the VW settlement to help cover the difference in cost between conventional buses and electric ones.

Japan’s nuclear power plants were idled following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in 2011, but some are now being reopened to provide electricity again.  For decades, uranium mining has been banned by state law in Virginia.  On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case testing whether the state has such authority, or whether it resides instead with the federal government.

Justin Mikulka reported at Desmog that “At current oil prices, most fracking companies are losing money while trying to get every last drop out of the known sweet spots in American shale plays. … These companies can’t hope to pay back their massive debts if the best days of the major shale plays are either in the past or rapidly approaching.”  Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, announced a plan last week to cover and capture methane gas from thousands of its hog manure pits.

At MIT Technology Review James Temple explained why it is so difficult to develop a battery-powered airplane and what researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon are doing to solve the problem.  On a larger scale, vanadium redox flow battery maker VRB Energy has begun commissioning a 3MW/12MWh energy storage system in Hubei, China, which is expected to help serve as a demonstrator for much larger projects to come.  However, because vanadium is scarce and increasing in price, researchers are looking at other chemicals, such as iron and selected organic molecules, for use in flow batteries.

As much as $60 billion of coal-fired power assets may be stranded in the next decade across Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to a new study by Carbon Tracker, which cited tighter environmental policies and competition from cheaper renewable energy.  As more solar and wind generation are added in those countries, coal plants will go idle and struggle to generate revenue needed to repay their loans.  The most promising “clean coal” systems burn coal at higher temperatures than conventional plants, capturing 48% rather than 30% of the energy out of each ton of fuel.  Their costs are about 40% higher than a regular plant, and their CO2 emissions are 25% to 35% lower, according to the World Coal Association.  Still, the economics just don’t add up.  This was reinforced by a new study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute that found wind to be the cheapest energy resource across the Central Plains and down the Appalachian Mountains, natural gas across the Coastal Plain and parts of the northern Rocky Mountains, and solar across the Southwest and sporadically through the Midwest and Northwest.

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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