Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/16/2018

Politics and Policy

The ranking members of the House committees on Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources; and Science, Space, and Technology said they plan to hold a series of hearings about climate change over two days at the beginning of next year.  While The Hill reported that Democrats were divided over how to confront climate change, David Roberts of Vox speculated that there may be more unity than meets the eye.  Let us hope so, because as Richard Eckersley wrote this week, “It is barely stretching the truth to say that since the 1960s, we have declared each decade as the time for decisive action on the environment, and as each decade passes, we postpone the deadline another ten years … This profound failure is having far-reaching consequences that go beyond the environment, as it undermines trust in our institutions, notably government and democracy.”  Perhaps change will come from the actions of some of the new members of Congress who have a history of environmental activism.

In a repeat of a strategy that brought strong criticism at last year’s UN climate talks, the Trump administration plans to set up a side-event promoting fossil fuels at this year’s talks next month in Poland.  However, the administration also plans to allow State Department officials to take part in key negotiations.  A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, assessed the relationship between each nation’s ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the temperature rise that would result if all the countries in the world followed their example.  China, Russia, and Canada are among the worst, leading the world to 5.1°C of warming by 2100, whereas the U.S. goal would lead the world to 4°C warming.

A team of scientists has reported in the journal Science Advances that the U.S. could meet a significant portion of its pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement through the application of natural climate solutions such as reforestation, management of grasslands, and the use of cover crops.  Conversely, in anticipation of looser environmental regulations, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon jumped almost 50% during the three-month electoral season that brought Jair Bolsonaro to power.  Furthermore, Bolsonaro has chosen a new foreign minister who believes climate change is part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China.

Despite greater attention to the risks of sea level rise, housing construction in the most vulnerable areas of the country is growing more quickly than in safer, drier locations, according to a new report by the research organization Climate Central and the real estate website Zillow.

A bipartisan group of 18 governors is proposing that the federal government take a serious look at integrating the three main U.S. power grids, comparing the importance of grid modernization to the creation of the interstate highway system 60 years ago.

Climate

Two papers published Wednesday in Nature addressed the issue of hurricanes.  One examined the rainfall intensity of Hurricanes Katrina, Irma, and Maria and found that it increased by between 4% and 9% because of climate change.  The other found that Houston’s tall buildings promoted Hurricane Harvey’s heavier rainfall by increasing atmospheric drag.  Scientists behind a major study that claimed the Earth’s oceans are warming faster than previously thought, now say their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are.

Reporter Marguerite Holloway and photographer Josh Haner went to America’s oldest national park to capture how climate change is altering the landscape and ecosystem.  The result is a stunning but sad article about Yellowstone.  Dana Nuccitelli presented the many ways in which climate change has worsened California’s wildfires at Yale Climate Connections.  Scientists have documented how thawing permafrost in the Arctic is causing rapid erosion of the shoreline.  A study published in the journal Marine Fisheries Review has found that valuable species of shellfish — eastern oysters, northern quahogs, softshell clams, and northern bay scallops — have become harder to find on the East Coast because of degraded habitat caused by a warming environment.  A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that heat stress appears to be associated with transgenerational fertility problems in male insects.

The ecosystem in the Andes above 12,500 ft is called the páramo and it is warming faster than anywhere else outside of the Arctic.  Throughout the Andes, the páramos act like a sponge, collecting water from fog, drizzle, and melting mountaintop glaciers, storing it, and then releasing it into the lowlands.  An estimated 40 million people depend on the páramos for drinking water.  Sarah Fecht of Columbia University’s Earth Institute visited the páramos to report on the changes occurring there as Earth warms.  A study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, showed that birds in the Andes are heading uphill to keep pace with warming temperatures and will soon run out of room.  Writing at Yale Environment 360, Richard Conniff used that study as a jumping off place to explore the larger picture of species adaptation to climate change.

Increasing demand for home air conditioning, driven by global warming, population growth, and rising incomes in developing countries, could increase Earth’s temperatures an additional 0.5°C by 2100, according to a new report by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).  The demand is growing so fast that a “radical change” in home-cooling technology will be necessary to neutralize its impact, writes RMI.

Chinese scientists have warned that the melting glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, known as the world’s Third Pole, will cause a reduced water supply in coming decades.  The plateau is the origin of Asia’s 10 largest rivers, including the Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Yarlung Zangbo, and Syr Darya rivers, which provide water for three billion people across Asia.

Energy

The good news: Renewable energy is now cheaper than natural gas and coal in parts of the U.S.  The bad news: The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects global energy demand will rise 25% through 2040 if it stays on its current trajectory.  Consequently, CO2 emissions may continue to rise.  However, new energy saving and renewables targets adopted by the EU on Tuesday put the bloc on course to overshoot its climate goals.  Under the new rules, the EU is targeting energy savings of 32.5% and a renewable energy goal of 32% by 2030.  On the other hand, a new report by Climate Transparency found that 82% of energy in G20 countries is still being provided by coal, oil and gas, which have relied on an increase of about 50% in subsidies over the past 10 years to compete.  Half of the increase in Australia’s annual CO2 emissions can be linked to the failure to bury greenhouse gases underground at the country’s largest liquefied natural gas development.  Meanwhile, columnist George Monbiot made an impassioned plea in The Guardian for radical action to drastically cut carbon emissions.

Despite years of claims and commitments about clean investment and alleviating climate change, the world’s largest oil companies have contributed just 1% of their spending budgets to green energy in 2018.  The fracking of hard-to-reach oil reserves has helped the U.S. regain its crown as the world’s top crude oil producer, but even the IEA is now worried that the shale boom has been overhyped.

Monday afternoon as a cold front was moving into the area with windy conditions, wind turbine output in Texas reached 17,920 MW, 2% higher than the previous record.  Two Master of Science students at Lancaster University won the James Dyson award for their O-Wind Turbine, which takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering.

Volkswagen intends to sell electric cars for less than $23,000 and protect German jobs by converting three factories to make Tesla rivals.  VW is also expected to discuss far-reaching alliances with battery cell manufacturer SK Innovation and rival Ford.  Starting in January, all major manufacturers operating in China, from global giants Toyota and GM to domestic players BYD and BAIC Motor, have to meet minimum requirements there for producing new-energy vehicles, or NEVs (plug-in hybrids, pure-battery electrics, and fuel-cell autos).  Electric school buses are slowly making a debut in school districts around the U.S.  Backed by a state grant, Greenlots will partner with Volvo Trucks to install charging infrastructure for electric trucks in warehouses in Southern California, including onsite solar panels and energy storage.

A proposal by Pacific Gas & Electric, one of California’s three main investor-owned utilities, to deploy large-scale energy storage using batteries to replace peaking natural gas plants has been approved by the state’s regulator.  In Australia, Fluence will supply the latest large-scale battery energy storage system.  Meanwhile, India will take a different approach, with Tata Power planning to purchase a gravity-based energy storage system from Energy Vault.  The U.S. military is increasingly turning to renewables, batteries, and other technology to bolster energy resilience at bases, according to a new report from the Association of Defense Communities.

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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