Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/18/2019

Policy and Politics

Growing tension between the world’s major powers is the most urgent global risk and makes it harder to mobilize collective action to tackle climate change, according to a report prepared for next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  “Imposing a cost on carbon is the most economically efficient way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” yet public support is an “obstacle” to this, argue three experts on climate policy and climate economics, in the journal Nature. However, “opposition can dissipate once the benefits become clear”, they say.  In letter published Wednesday evening in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), forty-five top economists from across the political spectrum, including 27 Nobel laureates in economics, all four living former chairs of the Federal Reserve, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors, and two former Treasury Secretaries, called for the U.S. to put a tax on carbon, saying it is by far the best way for the nation to address climate change.  Last week, 626 environmental groups sent a letter to every member of Congress calling on them to support the Green New Deal.  However, six of the largest, most influential environmental advocacy groups didn’t sign it.  In its present form, the Green New Deal is very proscriptive regarding clean energy, prompting David Roberts to opine that that is one fight that should be avoided right now.  Daisy Simmons listed six things everyone should know about it at Yale Climate Connection.

Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, stated during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he would continue the administration’s aggressive reversal of environmental rules.  The Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan would increase greenhouse gas emissions in much of the U.S. more than doing nothing at all, according to new research.  Across the country, cities are implementing new housing and transit laws that have a secondary effect of lowering their emissions of greenhouse gases.  In The New York Times, senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin wrote about the four key issues determining climate change’s impact on the economy.  A new Pentagon report identifies significant risks from climate change at scores of military bases and says the Defense Department is taking protective measures against the threat.  But members of Congress, who requested the report, said it lacks the detail they were looking for.

While the Trump administration envisions energy and mineral exploration as part of the future of the land removed from Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, because of poor economics it is uncertain whether anyone will lease the land.  In a controversial move, President Trump issued an executive order on the Friday before Christmas that expands logging on public land in the West on the grounds that it will curb deadly wildfires.  Last week the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection reopened a public comment period for modifications to a combined state and federal permitting process that Mountain Valley must complete before it can dig trenches through streams and wetlands for its pipeline.

A modeling study published in Nature Communications found that there is a 64% chance of holding global warming to less than 1.5°C if no new fossil fuel infrastructure is built and all existing such infrastructure is replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of its useful life.  Executives at the major U.S. automakers are pressing the Trump administration and California to agree on standards for fuel efficiency and carbon emissions through 2025.  On Thursday Virginia’s State Corporation Commission rejected most of Dominion Energy’s $6 billion proposal to modernize its electrical grid, stating that the cost to customers was too high.  One of the most conservative legislators in the Virginia General Assembly has proposed using the proceeds from the sale of electricity from solar arrays at schools to help finance badly needed repairs at many schools.  Ivy Main posted her annual compilation of climate and energy bills files with the Virginia General Assembly this year.

With “This Land,” artist David Opdyke melds art and activism, hoping to inspire urgent changes in the perception of climate change.  On BBC Culture, Diego Arguedas Ortiz explored climate fiction by addressing the question: “Can imagined futures of drowned cities and solar utopias help us grasp the complexity of climate change?”.  Last year, academic political theorists Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann published a book entitled Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future.  Isaac Chotiner interviewed them for The New Yorker.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell had a short piece highlighting two upbeat articles on strategies for combatting climate change that came out while I was taking Christmas break.  Also, SueEllen Campbell teamed up with philosopher, writer, and climate activist Kathleen Dean Moore to write an inspiring piece about why they won’t quit pushing for climate action.

Climate

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the rate of ice loss from Antarctica has accelerated since 1979 and is now six times larger than it was then.  Furthermore, the rate of ice loss from East Antarctica is much larger than had previously been thought.  Another study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, found that vast areas of permafrost around the world warmed significantly over the past decade, intensifying concerns about accelerated releases of methane and CO2 as microbes decompose the thawing organic soils.  The disintegration of permafrost is also causing big problems for communities and military installations in the Arctic by damaging roads and other infrastructure as the land destabilizes and erodes.  In addition, mountain glaciers around the world are also melting, threatening water supplies for millions of people.  NYT journalist Henry Fountain and photographer Ben Solomon visited Kazakhstan to report on the Tuyuksu glacier, which is rapidly melting.

The same group of scientists that reported last week that the oceans were warming 40% faster than they were five years ago, reported this week that 2018 was the warmest year on record for the oceans.  Furthermore, the top five years of ocean heat content have come in the last five years.  Carbon Brief presented its “State of the Climate” report for 2018.

Research published on Wednesday in the journals Science Advances and Global Change Biology examined the future of coffee plants and found that 60% of the world’s coffee species are at risk of extinction in the wild due to climate change, habitat loss, and the spread of diseases and pests.  Scientist Brad Lister returned to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years and found that 98% of ground insects and 80% of leaf canopy insects had vanished.  The most likely cause is global warming.

Rising global temperatures could lead to many more deaths a year than the 250,000 predicted by the World Health Organization just five years ago, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Speaking of rising temperatures, Australia has been in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave this week.

An ambitious report on the global food system from a commission convened by the medical journal The Lancet calls for a radical change in food production.  “The dominant diets that the world has been producing and eating for the past 50 years are no longer nutritionally optimal, are a major contributor to climate change, and are accelerating erosion of natural biodiversity,” The Lancet‘s editors wrote in a commentary accompanying the report, released Wednesday.

Energy

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest power company, intends to file for bankruptcy as it faces tens of billions of dollars in potential liability because of the wildfires that devastated parts of the state over the past two years.  This could have big impacts in the clean energy world.

China put just over 43 GW of new solar generation capacity into operation in 2018, down 18% from a year earlier.  Florida Power & Light Co. announced a major solar plan Wednesday, vowing to install more than 30 million solar panels in Florida by 2030.  In 2019, more renewable energy will be added to the U.S. grid than fossil fuel-based energy, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration.  A scathing new report from the Rachel Carson Council examines the wood pellet biofuel industry, specifically operations in North Carolina, and its “severely adverse” environmental and health effects.  Wood pellet producer Enviva called the report misleading and factually incorrect.

A former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday cast doubt about whether nuclear technology can be used to combat climate change, calling it “old technology.”  Nuclear power has also remained terribly expensive.

Last week I linked to one of the articles that reported that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.4% in 2018.  Part of that increase was caused by increased air traffic, with demand for jet fuel rising 3%.  On the subject of greenhouse gas emissions, Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic sought answers to the question of whether those emissions were following the worst case scenario proposed in the 2014 IPCC report.

Volkswagen has selected Chattanooga, Tennessee as its first North American manufacturing facility for electric vehicle (EV) production, which will require an investment of $800 million and create 1,000 new jobs.  GM is shifting 75% of its powertrain engineers from internal-combustion engines to electric vehicle development as it prepares to unleash of wave of EVs under the Cadillac brand.  Carbon dioxide emissions from EVs are 40% lower than internal combustion engine vehicles, even when the EVs are charged using electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, according to research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Unfortunately, right now, according to Nexus Media, car companies aren’t even trying to sell EVs.  The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it is launching a research center on lithium battery recycling in an effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources for the metal that is used in electric vehicles and electronics.

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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