Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/1/2019

Policy and Politics

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are planning to unveil legislation for a Green New Deal (GND) in the coming days.  Atlantic staff writer Robinson Meyer explained why the “task is enormous, and the path is narrow” to passing the GND through Congress.  Dana Nuccitelli expressed concern about some aspects of the letter sent to Congress by 626 organizations urging lawmakers to consider a number of principles when crafting climate legislation like the GND.  Last week I included articles about AOC’s 12-year deadline comment.  This week Joe Romm explained where it came from.  The 2018 midterms saw several green-minded governors either elected for the first time or reelected.  David Roberts reviewed their early actions on climate change at Vox.  The nation’s intelligence community warned in its annual assessment of worldwide threats that climate change poses risks to global stability because it is “likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.”

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler put eight new members on the agency’s main board of external science advisers, including John Christy, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.  Christy is an outspoken climate skeptic who argues that the climate is less sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions than the scientific consensus has found.  Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur says she will not seek a third term after being told by Senate leaders she would not be renominated.  Bill Gates is making the rounds on Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to spend billions of dollars over the next decade for pilot projects to test new designs for nuclear power reactors.  The Navy is considering erecting a 14-foot flood wall around the Washington Navy Yard to protect it from rising sea levels.  A series of new reports shows how climate change is intertwined with the world’s worsening health, and suggests changes in the global food production system.

The Energy Information Administration issued its Annual Energy Outlook on January 24, but Dan Gearino argued that its projections underestimate both the rate at which coal will decline and the rate at which wind power will grow.  The gap between Canada’s proposed climate efforts and its 2030 Paris Agreement target has grown even wider in the last year.  A report from the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center found that 47 states and the District of Columbia took some type of distributed solar policy action during 2018.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will host “Brightfields 2019 — Virginia”, a solar energy development conference, April 9-10 at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday stayed a previous court decision against Forest Service permits that allowed construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) across national forests and the Appalachian Trail.  A bill designed to wean Virginia’s electricity sector off of fossil fuels failed on a partisan vote in the state House of Delegates late Thursday afternoon.  Another piece of legislation advancing through the General Assembly would add new restrictions on Dominion Energy’s ability to pass along costs of transporting gas from the ACP to its Virginia-based power stations.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell presented a short compilation of realistic but optimistic clean energy news mostly from 2018 and Amy Brady interviewed Dominican novelist Rita Indiana about her book Tentacle.  A few of artist Katherine Wolkoff’s black and white photographs from her exhibit in New York City can be viewed at The Cut.  Michael Svoboda presented a list of 2018’s most significant climate change reports at Yale Climate Connections.  The latest video from Peter Sinclair is about the “methane time bomb” and whether we should be concerned about it.  Climate Interactive posted a video of climate scientist Beth Sawin’s TEDx talk about multisolving.  Kaelyn Lynch reviewed James Balog’s (Chasing Ice) latest film, The Human Element, for Outside magazine.  Sam Wall of The Roanoke Times interviewed Radford University English professor Rick Van Noy about his new book: “Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South”.  In an opinion piece at CNN, author Mark Lynas wrote: “I am currently working on an updated edition of Six Degrees.  It’s a scary task because many of the impacts that I had previously put in later chapters — equating to three or more degrees of global warming — have had to be moved forwards, because they are happening already.”

Climate

A report published in Nature last week, projects that the planet’s capacity to take in CO2 could begin to decline starting in 2060.  If those projections prove true, it would create a feedback loop that could accelerate the worst effects of global warming.  New research from the Brookings Institution suggests that areas where Americans are the most skeptical about climate change will be the hardest hit by its effects.  Furthermore, over the coming years and decades, climate change will harm much of the inland U.S., causing billions of dollars in losses by 2100.

Zoeann Murphey and Chris Mooney published a four-part multimedia series in The Washington Post about how climate change is impacting American’s lives.  The New York Times had an article about the polar vortex and its effects on extremely cold weather.  The article had a very interesting and descriptive animation of what happens.  At Carbon Brief, Robert McSweeney spoke with a number of climate scientists about how changes in the Arctic can cause extreme weather across the mid-latitudes.

New research, published in Science, challenges the long-held view that the strength of the “Atlantic Conveyer Belt” (ACB) is primarily driven by processes in the Labrador Sea, which is in the northwest Atlantic.  Instead, the strength of the ACB is most linked to processes in waters between Greenland and Scotland.  Chris Mooney discussed the significance of this to climate change.

On Friday, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology released its climate summary for January and said that the month was Australia’s hottest on record.  The Berkeley Earth scientific team has reported that in 2018, 29 countries plus Antarctica set individual records for the hottest year ever, while no country saw a record cold year.  Arctic summers may be hotter now than they have been for 115,000 years, according to new research published in Nature Communications.

A massive cavity two-thirds the size of Manhattan and almost 1,000 ft tall has been discovered in the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.  Jeff Goodell is accompanying a team of scientists to Antarctica whose mission is to better understand the risk of catastrophic collapse of Thwaites Glacier.  He will be writing a series of dispatches during his trip.  The first is here.

Energy

A new report, from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s One Earth initiative, lays out a blueprint to keep warming in check without relying on nuclear power or new technologies to capture CO2 that haven’t yet been proven at scale.  If technologies to capture CO2 are required, researchers have found a way to do so using a chemical technique similar to one scuba divers and submarines use to “rebreathe” CO2-rich exhalations.

A panel appointed by the German government has recommended that Germany stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2038 at the latest.  New wind, solar, and biomass power generation displaced hard coal last year according to a review of 2018 European electricity statistics.  China’s renewable power capacity rose 12% in 2018 compared to a year earlier.  In the UK, Cornwall Insight’s new projections suggest the emergence of a new generation of giant offshore wind turbines, coupled with on-going planned restrictions for onshore turbines, could see offshore projects undercut their onshore equivalent on a levelized cost of energy basis by around 2028.  Brazil’s new government announced plans to build a bridge over the Amazon River in Pará state to begin developing what he called an “unproductive, desertlike” region – a reference to the Amazon rainforest.

In the U.S., companies and government agencies last year signed contracts to buy 13.4 GW of clean power.  That easily shattered the prior record of 6.1 GW that was set in 2017.  New information from Texas grid operator ERCOT showed that carbon-free resources made up more than 30% of its 2018 energy consumption, and a slightly larger percentage of its 2019 generation capacity.  NextEra Energy’s CEO Jim Robo said that even after federal tax credits expire, electricity from wind will be 2–2.5¢/kw-hr and from large-scale solar 2.5–3¢/kw-hr.  Storage will add 0.5–1¢/kw-hr.  This would put these resources slightly below the current cost of natural gas-fired generation.  An estimated $8 billion in savings could be achieved in five years if just a third of all major electricity transmission projects across the nation were opened up to competition, according to a report by the Brattle Group.

Tesla has posted profits in consecutive quarters for the first time since going public in 2010.  Shell New Energies, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, acquired EV charging startup Greenlots.  In 2018, Ingka Group, the parent company of Ikea, pledged that Ikea will deliver every item worldwide by electric vehicle by 2025.  It started by promising a switch to EVs in five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Amsterdam, and Shanghai) by 2020.  As of January 23, it had already reached that goal in Shanghai.

The International Council on Clean Transportation released a study on the climate impacts of a creating a new commercial supersonic aircraft network Wednesday.  A new report from the International Energy Agency has found that urban and high-speed rail hold “major promise to unlock substantial benefits”, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, and air pollution.  Carbon Brief examined eight key charts from the report showing the status of rail in the world today and how it could reduce emissions in future.

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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