Politics and Policy
The elections provided good news and bad news on the climate front. The good news is that at least 10 new governors campaigned on aggressively moving their states away from burning fossil fuels and toward relying on renewable forms of energy for electricity. Also, seven people elected to the House and one to the Senate have science backgrounds. Finally, the citizens of Nevada voted to require utilities to generate or acquire incrementally larger percentages of electricity from renewable energy so that by 2030 at least 50% is renewable. The bad news is that a similar measure was defeated in Arizona, while an attempt to enact the nation’s first carbon tax was defeated in Washington State. Reporters Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman provided their five climate take-aways and Bill McKibben reflected on the election in an opinion piece, both in The New York Times. Contrary to an article I linked to last week that said Democrats have no long-term climate agenda, Josh Siegle of The Washington Examiner reported that they plan to use their House majority to prepare for major climate change legislation in 2020. They also plan to resurrect a special committee focused on climate change, giving them a platform to spotlight the issue.
According to three experts who issued a warning to their profession in the journal Science on Thursday, the Trump administration is empowering political staff to meddle with the scientific process by pushing through reforms disguised to look as though they boost transparency and integrity. EPA.gov pages that previously provided information about climate change have been changed from claiming that they are “updating” to an error message that reads, “We want to help you find what you are looking for,” as revealed by a report released this week by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative. The change indicates that information related climate change is not being “updated,” but removed entirely. Newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, an authoritarian nationalist sometimes called the “tropical Trump,” has staked out an environmental agenda that would open the Amazon to widespread development, putting at risk a region that plays a vital role in stabilizing the global climate.
The Children’s Lawsuit is on hold again after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday granted the Trump administration’s motion for a temporary stay. A federal judge blocked the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline on Thursday, saying the Trump administration’s justification for approving it last year was incomplete. The developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) filed an application with FERC on Tuesday to extend the natural gas pipeline into North Carolina. On Wednesday afternoon, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a temporary halt to a water-crossing permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in West Virginia. As battles over the gas pipelines played out in court, West Virginia state regulators continued to cite the MVP and ACP for environmental problems. The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project last Friday.
Bonnie Tsui, a writer based in Berkeley, CA, had a photo-essay in The New York Times, reflecting on Yosemite National Park after the Ferguson fire. Friday’s radio story at Yale Climate Connections featured “tempestries.” A tempestry is a knitted representation of the year’s temperatures at a specific location. Each color represents a temperature, and each line, the daily high. Put together 365 of these lines, and you get a thin, striped tapestry that shows a full year’s changing seasons. Katharine Hayhoe has posted a new episode of “Global Weirding”. It’s all about climate models. Writing at Transition Network.org, Rob Hopkins called for the use of imagination in fighting climate change, stating: “My main take-away from the 2018 IPCC report is that there may still be time, but only if we can bring about a deep reimagining of what the world could be and how it might work. As Daniel Aldana Cohen put it, ‘we are only doomed if we do nothing’”. Consequently, if you’re worried about climate change and its impacts at home and around the world, focus on your own actions and habits, say environmental advocates. Here are six things you can do.
A new study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlighted the tendency among all Americans to underestimate how much minority groups (blacks, Latinos, and Asians, in particular) and low-income groups care about the environment and climate change. And another study, which appears in the journal PLoS One, suggests that people of color, especially Native Americans, face more risk from wildfires than whites. It is another example of how the kinds of disasters exacerbated by climate change often hit minorities and the poor the hardest.
A new article in the journal Global Change Biology reports on a 30-year study of changes in 106 long‐term inventory plots in Amazonian forests. The senior author summarized their findings thusly: “The data showed us that the droughts that hit the Amazon basin in the last decades had serious consequences for the make-up of the forest, with higher mortality in tree species most vulnerable to droughts and not enough compensatory growth in species better equipped to survive drier conditions.”
The rate of “daily nest predation“— eggs stolen from the nest by predators such as foxes or rodents — has increased threefold over the past 70 years in the Arctic, according to a study published Friday in Science that looked at more than 38,000 nests from 237 shorebird populations in 149 locations throughout the world.
Scant rainfall, hot temperatures, high winds, and plentiful fuel are to blame for the tinderbox conditions that fanned the flames of the Camp, Hill, and Woolsey fires in California. And in a rapidly shifting environment characterized by rising temperatures, climate change played a role as well.
Jennifer Collins explored how climate change is altering the Bavarian Alps, reporting on things like disappearing glaciers, less snowfall and increased landslides. And in another part of the world, Stephanie Leutert examined the relationship between climate change in Honduras and the movements of Honduran migrants northward. Finally, climate scientist Michael Mann commented on the impacts of climate change on the extreme weather events in the U.S. this summer.
Rapid warming and vanishing sea ice in the Arctic have enabled new species, from humpback whales to white-tailed deer, to spread northward. Scientists are increasingly concerned that some of these new arrivals may be bringing dangerous pathogens that could disrupt the region’s fragile ecosystems.
A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), ‘Long-Term Energy Storage Outlook,’ is much more bullish on energy storage than last year’s report, saying that they expect battery costs to drop 52% by 2030. In addition, BNEF claimed that this would “transform the economic case for batteries in both the vehicle and the electricity sector”. Reuters reported that Germany has earmarked 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to support a consortium looking to produce electric car battery cells and plans to fund a research facility to develop next-generation solid-state batteries. SolarEdge is targeting a world where the “majority of solar systems will include storage”, according to CEO Guy Sella. Along those lines, a demonstration project was initiated in Germany in which a hybrid battery system containing both lithium-ion and sodium-sulfur batteries will be used to stabilize a grid containing significant wind energy.
In a new report, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is joining a growing number of environmental organizations to back existing nuclear power plants because of climate reasons, despite continued concerns about the technology’s safety and radioactive waste. Steve Clemmer, a co-author of the report and director of energy research and analysis at UCS was quoted by Axios as saying: “We’re in a place right now from a climate perspective [where] we have to make some hard choices. We need every low-carbon source of power we can get.”
Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a new molecule for use in a molecular solar thermal (MOST) energy storage system. In such systems, a photo-switchable molecule absorbs sunlight and undergoes a chemical isomerization to a metastable high energy species. The fluid containing that species can then be stored, and when heat is needed, passed over a catalyst that causes heat to be released for use as the molecule returns to its original state.
In the past five years, the amount of renewable energy capacity in the UK has tripled while fossil fuels’ capacity has fallen by one-third. The result is that between July and September, the capacity of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower reached 41.9GW, exceeding the 41.2GW capacity of fossil fuel-fired power plants. And in the U.S., a record number of coal-fired power plants will close this year, with cheap natural gas and renewables expected to replace lost capacity. A report by the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis shows that a record 15.4GW of coal capacity will close.
A new paper in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has found that the impacts of wind turbines are more far-reaching than previously thought. The authors wrote: “By reducing the activity of predatory birds in the area, wind turbines effectively create a predation-free environment that causes a cascade of effects on a lower trophic level.” In the developing world, an estimated 3,700 dams, large and small, are now in various stages of development. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences studied this proliferation of large dams and the importance of incorporating climate change into considerations of whether to build a dam.
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.