Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/14/2018

Policy and Politics

President Trump’s top White House adviser on energy and climate stood before a crowd of some 200 people on Monday at the climate conference in Poland and said “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.”  Mocking laughter echoed through the conference room.  In addition, the U.S. joined Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Australia in weakening a reference to the recent IPCC report on holding warming to 1.5°C.  All of this left a void in leadership that other countries were reluctant or unable to fill.  Nevertheless, on Wednesday, the EU, Canada, and New Zealand, along with scores of developing countries pledged to toughen their existing commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to enable the world to stay within a 1.5°C rise in global warming.  On Monday in Poland, green groups released a report calling for a “climate damages tax” on the extraction of fossil fuels to help pay for the growing costs of harsher storms, wildfires, floods, and rising seas, while providing a stronger incentive to wean the world off carbon-heavy energy.  The French government ignored a key point about a carbon tax – it must protect the poor from its impacts – and consequently the tax failed.  The BBC examined this issue.  In the U.S., greens are moving away from a carbon tax, partly because of the defeat of a tax in the state of Washington and partly because many think any tax that is politically palatable will be too little, too late.  However, The Hill reported that new and recently reelected Democratic governors plan a series of aggressive steps to address climate change and bolster renewable energy industries in their states.

President Trump has stated his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but he can’t do so for three years and then must wait an additional year for the exit to take effect.  Chris Mooney examined the significance of this timeline in The Washington Post.  The endangerment finding is the legal underpinning for all of the actions on climate change taken by President Barack Obama’s EPA.  Scientific understanding of the risks greenhouse gases pose to public health and welfare has strengthened since that “finding,” according to a new review article published Thursday in the journal Science.  On Wednesday the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said it will stop financing coal projects, and nearly all oil projects, as part of a global effort by government-owned development banks to address climate change.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released the list of ranking members for the next Congress and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will become the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Trump administration for granting “incidental take” permits to seismic-mapping companies that will produce deafening sounds under the Atlantic Ocean while searching for oil and gas deposits.  A New York Times investigation has found that Marathon Petroleum, the country’s largest oil refiner, worked with powerful oil-industry groups and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to run a stealth campaign to roll back automobile fuel efficiency standards.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) took the unprecedented action last Friday of ordering Dominion Energy to totally redo its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan that it submitted for approval in May.  Environmental groups said that the SCC action called into question the need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, an assertion that Dominion Energy disputed.  On Thursday, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, finding that the U.S. Forest Service “abdicated its responsibility” and kowtowed to private industry in approving the project.  A citizen panel that votes on air pollution permits was set to decide Monday whether Dominion can build a natural gas compressor station in a historical African-American community.  But on Sunday the state announced the meeting was being delayed until Dec. 19 because of a winter storm that has made roads dangerous.

A group of more than 400 investors managing $32 trillion in assets warned governments to take more aggressive steps to address climate change or risk a financial crash several times worse than the 2008 global recession.  Businesses also need to act.  A new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change reported that businesses might be massively underestimating the effect of climate change on their work.  The Economist had an interesting article examining the underlying moral assumptions embedded in economic models applied to climate change; how much should we value a future life?

Climate

The annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) occurred in Washington D.C. this week.  Among the events was NASA’s release on Monday of new maps of ice velocity and surface height elevation of Antarctic glaciers, revealing that a group of four glaciers to the west of Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, plus a handful of smaller glaciers further east, are losing ice.  Meanwhile, in West Antarctica, Thwaites Glacier continues to be the big one that ice scientists are most concerned about.  Author Jon Gertner visited with scientists participating in a large study of the glacier and wrote an interesting report about their concerns.  Back at the AGU meeting, NOAA’s release of its Arctic Report for 2018 occurred on Tuesday.  The big news is that although the mass of sea ice present has increased since 2012, the percent of old sea ice has continued to decline, bringing us closer to the time when sea ice will be absent during the summer.  This is of particular concern because the open ocean absorbs about twice as much sunlight as floating sea ice.  Researchers also reported at the AGU meeting that the length of time snow is on the ground in the California mountains is continually “being squeezed” into a shorter time period by climate change.  Researchers from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks reported that they have successfully used radar measurements taken by Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite to estimate methane emissions from lakes formed by melting permafrost.

According to in-depth studies published this week in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 15 extreme weather events in 2017 were made more likely by human-caused climate change.  One would have been “virtually impossible” without human influence.  A new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature reported that as the climate warms, El Niños will become stronger and more frequent, causing “more extreme events” in the U.S. and around the world.

Australian scientists reported in the journal Royal Society Biology Letters that deep water seagrass meadows are as capable of storing carbon as shallow water meadows and that both can remove and sequester significant amounts of atmospheric CO2.

According to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, if we continue with “business-as-usual” CO2 emissions, Earth’s climate in 2030 will most closely resemble the overall climate of the mid-Pliocene period, about 3 million years ago.

Earlier Roundups have linked to articles about plants having less protein, zinc, and iron when grown in the presence of CO2 concentrations expected by mid-century if we continue with business-as-usual CO2 emissions.  Now, Elena Suglia of the University of California, Davis has put those findings into perspective with respect to their impacts on human nutrition in the future.

Energy

The wind industry is expected to add more than 680 GW of capacity worldwide in the next decade, according to two reports from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.  Peter Sinclair has a new video explaining how energy storage can help stabilize the grid as more wind and solar are added.  I should have caught this one last week, but I missed it, so I’m including it this week.  We don’t often think about it, but one benefit of wind and solar energy is that they require no water, which is really important in some parts of the U.S.

The EU failed on Tuesday to reach a compromise over how sharply to curb CO2 emissions from cars and vans as car-producing countries and more environmentally conscious lawmakers could not find a compromise.  Daimler will buy battery cells worth more than $23 billion by 2030 as it plans to launch 130 electric and hybrid vehicles by 2022, in addition to making electric vans, buses, and trucks.  VW says that by the end of 2019 mass production of its new electric car will begin at Zwickau in eastern Germany where an entire factory is being transformed at a cost of about €1.2 billion.  The aim is to eventually manufacture up to 330,000 electric models a year at the plant.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released on Thursday, calls for a complete rejuvenation of the U.S. fusion energy program.  Among the recommendations is that the U.S. should prepare to build its own fusion power plant.

On Tuesday, Carbon Brief published a guest post containing charts that showed how 25 countries have progressed (or not) on ten indicators of clean energy use.  Ireland’s performance on climate action in response to global warming has been ranked as the worst in the EU and among the worst in the world in a major international assessment by the Climate Change Performance Index.  Part of the reason is the burning of peat for electricity, which emits more CO2 than coal.  In 2016, peat generated nearly 8% of Ireland’s electricity, but was responsible for 20% of that sector’s carbon emissions.

A recent report from the Rocky Mountain Institute showed that net-zero energy houses can make financial sense in much of the Midwest. The initial extra costs of making a new home net-zero pay for themselves through energy savings in less than a decade in both Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and in less than 14 years in most of the 50 largest U.S. cities.

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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