Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/11/2019

Policy and Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up ExxonMobil’s latest attempt to block Massachusetts’ investigation into whether the oil giant misled the public and investors about climate change.  The decision clears the way for state Attorney General Maura Healey to force the company to turn over records.  If you would like to read a recap of how the fossil fuel industry got the media to think climate change was debatable, Amy Westervelt provided one at The Washington Post.

President Trump has formally nominated Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist who has led the EPA in an acting capacity for six months, to serve as EPA administrator.  Meanwhile, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the EPA to release about 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and 25 Trump officials, including Wheeler.  Nations that abandon the Paris Climate Agreement will ultimately be worse off economically despite some GDP benefits from reneging, according to a new analysis by researchers with the Brookings Institution.

One change with the new Congress is the appointment of a new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL).  USA Today interviewed her about her plans for the committee, given its restrictions.  Former Congressman Ryan Costello, a moderate Republican from southeastern Pennsylvania, has joined Americans for Carbon Dividends as managing director.  He warned that Republicans are at risk of losing more seats in Congress if they don’t start offering real solutions to climate change.  Washington Governor Jay Inslee is considering running for president with a campaign centered on climate change.  He has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry should he run.

Signs are emerging that a significant shift is under way in the response to climate change, dividing it into two related, but distinct, priorities: working to curb greenhouse gases to limit the odds of worst-case outcomes later this century, while simultaneously boosting resilience to current and anticipated climatic and coastal hazards.  Hundreds of environmental organizations signed a letter Thursday backing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in the U.S.  The groups, led by organizations like Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, told members of the House in the open letter that lawmakers should pursue the Green New Deal.  The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 in favor of a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, allowing construction of a 54,000-horsepower natural gas compressor station in a historic African-American community.  Prior to the vote, two former board members maintained that the information available to the board from the utility and staff was inaccurate.  The permit for the compressor station requires the use of technology that will minimize the leakage of methane and other volatile organic compounds.

On Tuesday, Carbon Brief published its annual analysis of the climate-related papers that garnered the most attention in the media last year.  Rob Hopkins had a very interesting interview with artist James McKay at Resilience.  McKay works with engineers, scientists, and ordinary citizens to help them visualize what a low carbon future will look like.  Through his work, McKay has gone from being pessimistic about the future to being wildly optimistic.  Jonathan Watts interviewed climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe for The Guardian.  When asked how much she thought the world will warm, she replied “I hope with all my heart that we stay under 1.5°C, but my cynical brain says 3°C.  Perhaps the reality will be somewhere between my head and my heart at 2°C.”  At Quora, Hayhoe addressed the question “What do the most viable climate solutions look like, and how should they be implemented?”.  Forbes republished her answer.  If you’ve been wondering what it takes to do research on climate in the Arctic, you can read what Kristen Pope learned when she went to Greenland with climate scientist Elizabeth Thomas.  Richard Heinberg had a light-hearted (?) look at the Concretaceous and Hellocene periods of the Anthropocene.

Climate

According to a new report released Tuesday by the independent economic research firm Rhodium Group, U.S. CO2 emissions rose an estimated 3.4% in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years, suggesting that it will be very difficult for the U.S. to meet its pledge under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  In an essay at Yale Climate Connections, Dana Nuccitelli argued that innovation to lower CO2 emissions will only be successful when the costs of the fossil fuels leading to those emissions reflect their impacts on the climate.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40% faster, on average, than reported five years ago in the 5th Assessment Report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The authors discussed the significance of their findings in a guest post at Carbon Brief.  The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said on Monday that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record.  Antarctic sea ice is “astonishingly low” this year, raising concerns about the impacts of ocean water on ice shelves.  In a “long read” at The Guardian, Dahr Jamail discussed the impacts of shrinking glaciers and thawing permafrost.

Refugia are areas of relative climate stability that provide a safe haven for certain species during periods of unfavorable climates.  Scientists are working to identify refugia so that they may be protected, thereby providing a haven for plants, animals, etc. as our climate changes.  Unfortunately, as reported in the journal Global Change Biology, just 5% of the Earth’s land surface is currently unaffected by humans.

During 2018 The Weather Channel published a series of articles under the heading “Exodus: The Climate Migration Crisis” that examined the stories of people all over the world being displaced by climate change.  The articles are compiled here.

Climate change and pollution are teaming up to increase the number of jellyfish in the world’s oceans, causing a variety of problems, including increased stings at Australian beaches.  In addition, coral disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent, severe, and widespread around the globe.  Many factors are contributing to the problem, including pollution and nitrogen runoff from fertilizers and coastal sewer and septic systems, but a key culprit is thought to be steadily increasing ocean temperatures.

Energy

Chevron and Occidental are investing in Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company aiming to commercialize technology that captures CO2 emissions directly from the atmosphere.

In Colorado, wind power paired with a few hours of battery storage is now cheaper than the cost of operating existing coal-fired power plants.  The same is true of solar PV, and in many cases, solar PV paired with battery storage.  With excellent wind and solar resources, Texas is a national leader in renewable energy.  It also has its own power grid, which makes it a good location for testing the incorporation of large amounts of wind and solar power in its energy mix.  Economist Michael Greenstone wrote that with a moderate price on carbon, some advanced nuclear technologies could be competitive with natural gas combined cycle power plants.

Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles increased by 81% in 2018 in the U.S., with Tesla Model 3 leading EV sales and Toyota Prius Prime leading plug-in hybrid sales.  Bloomberg maintains, however, that new battery technology will be required for EVs to take over.

On Monday French rail multinational Alstom and UK rolling stock operating company Eversholt Rail Group unveiled the design for a new hydrogen fuel cell train that will begin to replace trains that still run on diesel by 2022.

“60 Minutes” on CBS presented a segment about Marshall Medoff, an 81-year-old eccentric inventor from Massachusetts who toiled in isolation with no financial support for more than a decade to develop a method for breaking down cellulose, making its sugars available for biofuel production.

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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