Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/25/2019

Policy and Politics

California’s fuel standard, designed to reduce emissions of CO2 from transportation fuels sold in the state, is a valid measure, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last Friday.  As a result of last week’s letter by the economists about a carbon tax, columnist Robert J. Samuelson said he is “(slightly) less pessimistic about global warming.”  Two University of Pennsylvania academics argued in The Washington Post that the U.S. already has a carbon tax: “one that is hidden, unfair and ever-increasing.  Call it the do-nothing climate tax.”  In the first of a two part series at Environmental Health News, journalist Lewis Raven Wallace wrote: “Public housing residents, along with other poor, disabled, elderly, and vulnerable people, are becoming a first wave of climate migrants in the U.S.—people selectively displaced … because they can’t afford to stay.”  Part 2 is entitled “Lingering long after a storm, mold and mental health issues.”  Writing in The Guardian, Gabrielle Canon said “A study released this year by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saved the nation $6 in future disaster costs.”

In a recent paper in Nature Climate Change, a team of academic researchers laid out the pervasive nature of misinformation campaigns on climate change instigated by the “climate countermovement” and proposed three approaches for dealing with it.  On Monday Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said “Millennials and Gen Z and all these folks that come after us are looking up, and we’re like, ‘The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, and your biggest issue is how are we gonna pay for it?’.”  The press focused on the “12 years”, which caused Andrew Freedman at Axios to seek clarification from some prominent climate scientists.

At Axios, Amy Harder provided a primer on climate change policy.  On Thursday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) unveiled the ‘‘Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019’’ with a few other Democrats and one Republican.  The bill would impose an initial $15-per-ton CO2-e “fee” on fossil fuel producers, processors, and importers that rises $10 annually.  All the revenues are returned to the public via a “dividend.”  On a split vote, a Virginia legislative committee approved a bill to halt construction of power plants that use fossil fuels and pipelines that carry such fuels after 2020 and to develop a plan for the state to rely totally on renewable energy for generating electricity by 2036.  Two polls out this week updated our understanding of the American public’s views on climate change.  Unfortunately, a significant majority of Americans are unwilling to contribute $10 each month to address it.

In another article in its series about agriculture and climate, Inside Climate News argued that industrial farming encourages practices that degrade the soil and increase emissions, while leaving farmers more vulnerable to damage as the planet warms.  On Wednesday, Vineyard Wind and a group of conservation organizations entered into an unprecedented agreement to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.  The agreement offers a template for future development of offshore wind.

Potpourri

Guardian reporter Megan Mayhew Bergman, a southerner, continued her travels through the South assessing people’s responses to climate change.  She “found that many members of coastal communities have built up psychological resilience after living through years of extreme weather.”  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed novelist Cai Emmons about his book Weather Woman.  Brady also interviewed interdisciplinary artist Catherine Sarah Young for her Burning Worlds newsletter.  In The Guardian, celebrated author Annie Proulx looked at her favorite books to help us cope with how our world is changing, writing “We need clear explanations of climate change, what it means and how to cope with it.”

Climate

On Thursday, Berkeley Earth became the second group to determine that 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record, following the Copernicus Climate Change Service earlier in the month.  Ordinarily, NASA and NOAA would have released their rankings by this time, but the government shutdown has delayed them.  Nevertheless, both are expected to also rank 2018 as fourth hottest.  Perhaps as a result of the past four years, more Americans now think that climate change is happening and is human-caused.

New research published by the International Committee of the Red Cross has established a relationship between a changing climate and conflict, leading to increased migration.  Furthermore, a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change discovered that deteriorating climate conditions played “a statistically significant role” in the recent waves of migrants fleeing Middle East conflict.  The insurance giant Aon reported on Tuesday that the global cost of extreme weather in 2018 hit $215 billion.

Dr. Sigrid Lind, from the Institute of Marine Research and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Norway, told a conference in Norway that the Barents Sea is changing from an Arctic climate to an Atlantic climate as the water gets warmer.  Also in the Arctic, Greenland’s enormous ice sheet is melting at an accelerated rate and could become a major factor in sea-level rise around the world within two decades.  Climate change is intensifying a new military buildup in the Arctic, as regional powers attempt to secure northern borders that until recently were reinforced by a continental-sized division of ice.

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change combined groundwater model results with global datasets of the planet’s ground and surface water to examine how long it takes groundwater sources around the world to respond to stresses caused by climate change, such as changes in rainfall patterns.  Another paper in Nature Climate Change, reported that over the last 40 years the number of krill in the Southern Ocean has decreased and their location has moved southward.  At the other pole, killer whales are extending their range into the Chukchi Sea as a result of warming water and less sea ice.

A consultant’s study warned that climate change’s future impacts on Virginia Beach could cost from $1.7 billion to $3.8 billion for new citywide infrastructure.  Failure to prepare, on the other hand, could cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars — a year.  Further south, Miami-Dade County is facing even larger problems, particularly to its water supply.  At Bloomberg Businessweek Christopher Flavelle examined the threats and the potential costs to adapt to them.  On the other side of the world, Bangladesh, already grappling with the Rohingya crisis, now faces a devastating migration problem as hundreds of thousands face an impossible choice between coastlines battered by sea level rise and urban slums.

Energy

A new report from Deloitte — entitled “New market. New entrants. New challenges.” — suggests that the market for pure electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles is fast approaching a “tipping point” that should drive soaring sales over the next decade.  Furthermore, it predicts that globally the cost of ownership for EVs will match gasoline and diesel models by 2024.  Nevertheless, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency reminded the attendees that the growth in EV sales will have little impact on oil demand for the foreseeable future because it is being driven by trucks, the petrochemical industry, and planes.  BP said on Thursday it had invested in Chinese start-up PowerShare, which links electric vehicle drivers to charging points and helps power suppliers balance distribution.  Utility and auto executives, state and local government officials, and environmentalists gathered in Chicago Wednesday for a summit aimed at overcoming barriers to EV adoption in the Midwest.  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed a sweeping executive order aimed at increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles in Colorado, a move that’s expected to mean more EVs will be available for purchase in the state and sets Colorado on a path to be aligned with California’s standards.  Cities that have purchased electric buses are reporting difficulty with the buses’ battery life when the weather is too hot or too cold, as well as difficulties on routes with hills.

The latest S&P Global Market Intelligence data show that 49 GW of new power generation capacity will be added in the U.S. in 2019, with 45% from wind and 22% from solar.  We will also see the retirement of nearly 6 GW of coal.  New information from Texas grid operator ERCOT showed that carbon-free resources made up more than 30% of its 2018 energy consumption.  The largest share of credit goes to the state’s massive wind farms, which provided 18.6% of 2018 energy.  A new report by the World Resources Institute has found that while progress has been made toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, progress has been insufficient to allow global greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2020.  At Forbes, Jude Clemente argued that China’s coal reliance is not falling nearly as fast as some like to claim.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Eric Luo, president of China’s GCL System Integration Technology Co, a maker of solar panels, said the global solar power industry is about to lose a major competitive windfall as prices of Chinese-made solar panels begin to recover after a collapse last year.  Solar panel prices are already stabilizing and he expects them to rebound by 10 to 15% as the industry consolidates.  Agrivoltaics employs photovoltaic arrays that are raised far enough off the ground and spaced in such a way that some crops can still grow around and beneath the panels, or cattle can graze.

Projections from the Energy Information Administration suggest that by 2050, U.S. CO2 emissions from energy use will decline only about 2.5% as oil and gas production expand.

Legal delays on key environmental permits for the $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) are starting to impact the pipeline’s owners – and raise concerns among investors.  A U.S. appeals court will let the Trump administration pull back a contested permit authorizing the ACP to cross under the Blue Ridge Parkway, allowing the National Park Service to reconsider the authorization and consult with other agencies.

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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