Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/7/2018

Policy and Politics

In a comment in the journal Nature, two climate scientists and a policy expert explained why global warming will happen much faster than expected over the next 30 years and laid out steps the scientific and policy communities should take to allow a more rapid response to the crisis.  On the same theme, in a recent piece in The Washington Post, reporter Steven Mufson quoted Nobel Laureate William Nordhaus as saying “I never use the word ‘pessimism’; I always use the word ‘realism,’ but I’d say it’s a kind of dark realism today.”  Mufson’s article laid out clearly the seriousness of the climate problem we face today as a result of our collective procrastination.  In a follow-up article, Mufson and James McAuley (in Paris) examined the backlash in France against a carbon tax, the type of action most favored by economists to slow CO2 emissions.  The French government abandoned the proposed tax on Wednesday.

On Monday night Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) hosted a town hall meeting on Capitol Hill that addressed the proposed “Green New Deal” being pushed by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).  Coincidentally, economist Dean Baker and anthropologist Jason Hickel are in the middle of an interchange on the subject of whether it is feasible to reduce our emissions and resource use in line with planetary boundaries while at the same time continuing to pursue exponential GDP growth.  The Institute for New Economic Thinking released two working papers from prominent economists backing up the increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists and examining the question of economic growth in an age of climate change.  Writing at The Intercept, Kate Aronoff summarized and analyzed the papers.

For the first time in a decade, a bipartisan climate bill has been introduced in Congress.  The “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act” would institute a national carbon tax.  As the name implies, the money collected would be returned to American households as a “dividend.”  White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday the Trump administration will seek to end subsidies for electric cars and renewable energy sources.  It’s unclear how the administration plans to cut the tax credits, since Congress enacted them and would have to act to end them.  The administration seems hell-bent on finding and burning every last drop of oil under the U.S. in spite of the climate impacts, as evidenced by their insistence on conducting seismic surveys along the East Coast that could harm dolphins, whales, and other marine animals.  In addition, on Thursday, EPA’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, announced a proposal to allow new coal-fired power plants to emit up to 1,900 pounds of CO2 per MW-hr of electricity generated, up from 1,400 pounds allowed now.  However, the administration doesn’t expect any to be built.  According to a study published in the journal Science, the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back automotive fuel economy standards relied on an error-ridden and misleading analysis that overestimates the costs and understates the benefits of tighter regulation.  It further describes the cost-benefit analysis as marred by mistakes and miscalculations, based on cherry-picked data and faulty assumptions, and skewed in its conclusions.

Fighting climate change is one of the best ways to improve health around the world, and the benefits of fewer deaths and hospitalizations would far outweigh the costs of not acting, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.  Diplomats and policy makers began meeting in Poland this week to hammer out a set of rules for tracking how well countries are meeting their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.  The effectiveness of the Agreement moving forward is very dependent on the outcome of these talks.  As occurred last year at COP 23, the Trump administration plans to host a side event touting the use of fossil fuels.

Every two years The Roddenberry Foundation, launched by the family of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, provides $1 million to organizations that help tackle climate change.  This year’s winners were inspired by Project Drawdown and the associated book Drawdown, which focuses on the many overlooked ways in which climate change can be addressed.  Using Matthieu Auzanneau’s new book, Oil, Power, and War: A Dark History as a starting point, petroleum geologist Jean Laherrère wrote about the impact of fracking on world oil production and speculated what is likely to happen in the future.  On the off-chance you were considering giving a book on climate change to someone for Christmas, Michael Svoboda at Yale Climate Connections has compiled a list of 12 books that came out this year you can choose from.

Climate

According to studies published on Wednesday by the Global Carbon Project in two scientific journals (Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data), global CO2 emissions rose by 1.6% in 2017 and are on course to rise by 2.7% this year, dashing any hopes of their leveling off any time soon.  The Washington Post and The New York Times also had the story.

A new paper in the journal Nature found that the rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet in recent decades is “exceptional over at least the last 350 years.”  The authors concluded that “Continued atmospheric warming will lead to rapid increases in Greenland ice sheet runoff and sea-level contributions.”  In another part of the Arctic, the Siberian city of Yakutsk is the largest city in the world built entirely on permafrost.  As the Arctic warms, Yakutsk is experiencing permafrost melting, which threatens the structural integrity of some of its buildings.  Since it became possible to measure sea ice extent via satellite in the late 1970s, Arctic sea ice has declined in a manner consistent with a warming Earth.  Antarctic sea ice, on the other hand, increased until 2016 when it began declining precipitously.  Now, a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change has offered an explanation for the anomalous behavior of the Antarctic sea ice.

Prof Peter Stott of the UK Met Office Hadley Center announced at the UN Climate talks in Poland that the sweltering heat that hit the UK this summer was made 30 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  New research, published this week in the journal Science, has revealed that rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out 96% of marine species and more than 67% of terrestrial animals on the planet during the “great dying” 252 million years ago.

Earth’s situation at the start of COP 24 in Poland prompted Robin McKie and others to publish a “Portrait of a planet on the verge of climate catastrophe” in Sunday’s Guardian.  Residents of coastal towns, such as Del Mar, CA, face some difficult decisions as they consider the impacts of sea level rise.  Seth Borenstein of the AP wrote about “The less talked about climate impacts.”

People in rich nations will have to make big cuts to the amount of beef and lamb they eat if the world is to be able to feed 10 billion people, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute.  These cuts and a series of other measures are also needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, it says.  The BBC summarized where we stand in 2018 by using seven interesting charts.  They also provided a guide to what you can do.  The U.S. ranks fourth in mitigating climate change, behind Denmark, the U.K, and Canada, among 25 countries analyzed in a report commissioned by utility Drax Group Plc and compiled by academics at Imperial College London.

Energy

A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected Tuesday that 2018 would see the lowest U.S. coal consumption since 1979, as well as the second-greatest number on record of coal-fired power plants shutting down.  Xcel Energy, a utility serving 3.6 million electricity customers in eight states said Tuesday it will try to eliminate all its carbon emissions from electrical generation by 2050.  In addition, a new global analysis of 6,685 coal-fired power plants by Carbon Tracker found that it is now cheaper to build new renewable generation than to run 35% of them worldwide.  By 2030, that percentage will increase dramatically, with renewables beating out 96% of today’s existing and planned coal-fired generation.  Still, coal is not dead yet.  Riverview Energy Corporation is seeking an air permit for its “clean coal” diesel plant in Spencer County, Indiana, that would turn the state’s abundant coal reserves into diesel fuel while emitting extensive amounts of CO2.

Katherine Spector of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy provided perspective on the recent price action in the global oil market.  The Permian Basin’s Wolfcamp and Bone Spring formations in West Texas and New Mexico hold the most potential oil and gas resources ever assessed, the U.S. Interior Department said Thursday.  On Sunday, Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, announced that her government would temporarily curtail the province’s oil production, chiefly from the tar sands, because there isn’t enough pipeline capacity to ship the crude to market.

Researchers have found a way to convert CO2 into plastics, fabrics, and other useful products more efficiently and cheaply than possible before.  The new method, described in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is a form of artificial photosynthesis.  Likewise, Solidia Technologies has developed a way to produce cement that substantially lowers the carbon footprint associated with the production of concrete products.

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows the extent to which clean energy is contributing jobs to the rural economies of 12 Midwestern states. It also reflects what the rural Midwest stands to lose from Trump administration actions that harm clean energy.  A question under discussion about North Dakota is equally applicable to the Shenandoah Valley: Do rural Americans have a say in what they see outside their dining-room windows, even if that view extends miles beyond their property lines?  Closer to home, a recent example in northern Virginia is proof that solar companies can navigate aesthetic and other concerns that often arise around projects, particularly in areas new to larger-scale solar projects.

Volkswagen announced on Wednesday that it is scouting a location in North America for a new production factory to build electric vehicles.  It plans to introduce a $30,000 to $40,000 electric vehicle in 2020.

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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