Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/15/2019

Politics and Policy

A new study from the Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK-based leftwing thinktank, warns that a gathering storm of human-caused threats to climate, nature, and the economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis.  On the brighter side, investors are willing to put up the capital to fund the Green New Deal (GND) goals provided they get clarity from Congress, said Jon Powers, president of financial technology company CleanCapital and former chief sustainability officer under President Obama.  “The thing that holds up capital the most is uncertainty,” he said.  “Once you have certainty in that policy, then that capital will know where to go.”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday the Senate will hold a vote on the GND, although a time has not yet been scheduled.  Joe Romm had an article at Think Progress this week examining what a WWII-scale mobilization might look like.  Amy Harder had an interesting infographic at Axios illustrating what fighting climate change means to different groups.

A paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters, confirmed the conclusions of a study last year by the Environmental Defense Fund: the Trump administration’s “Affordable Clean Energy Rule”, which would replace the Clean Power Plan, would cause more CO2 emissions than doing nothing in many states.  The Interior Department did not sufficiently consider the climate impacts of expanding a coal mine in Montana and must reexamine its environmental analysis, a federal judge ruled this week.  Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First in August 2017 for $1.0 billion, alleging the groups worked to undermine the Dakota Access pipeline that’s now shipping oil from North Dakota to Illinois.  On Thursday a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit saying he found no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise.  Pipeline executives are urging President Trump to assert federal authority over interstate pipelines and prevent states from blocking projects that run through their boundaries.  The petroleum industry has been depicting itself lately as the target of a conspiracy by scientists, local government officials, and climate change activists to make it look bad.

More than a dozen Republican senators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have urged President Trump to back the Kigali Amendment to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, and the U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration industry agrees.  So why won’t the Trump administration do so?  The Democrat-led House Committee on Science, Space and Technology devoted its first hearing to exploring the wide-ranging effects of climate change.  There was a subtle shift among key Republicans toward accepting the prevailing research that points to human-driven global warming.  If you think the divide between the political parties in the U.S. over climate change has been bad, it looks downright cordial compared to the situation in Australia, in spite of the huge climate impacts they have been experiencing.

At The New York Times, Brad Plumer provided an overview of state actions on climate change since the November elections.  Jan Ellen Spiegel wrote at Yale Climate Connections about how the 2018 elections changed the climate for renewable energy in the Northeast.  Plumer and Blacki Migliozzi teamed up with Robbie Orvis and Megan Mahajan of Energy Innovation to prepare a very informative infographic illustrating the CO2 reduction that the U.S. could achieve if it adopted seven of the most ambitious climate policies already in place around the world.  Climate-related disasters cost the world $650 billion over the last three years, according to a new report from Morgan Stanley.  The cost to North America was $415 billion, or 0.66% of North America’s GDP.  Bloomberg presented a chilling piece entitled “The Pessimist’s Guide to 2019: Fires, Floods, and Famines.”

Potpourri

The 2019 Tyler Prize for environmental achievement (the “Nobel for the Environment) was awarded February 12 to two eminent climate scientists, Warren Washington and Michael Mann.  Sara Peach offered advice for a reader who is worried about the climate impact of air travel.  Peter Sinclair’s latest video focuses on 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg, who virtually stole the show at the recent World Economic Forum.  Rupert Read, a philosophy professor at the University of East Anglia in England, wrote that he thought the student climate strikes started by Thunberg “are morally and politically justifiable.”  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that the percent of people in the U.S. alarmed about climate change has increased to 29%, double the segment’s size in 2013.

Climate

When soot (black carbon) falls from the atmosphere onto the surface of Arctic ice it absorbs energy from the sun, speeding up melting and decreasing the reflection of solar radiation back into space.  A study published Thursday in the journal Science Advances found that the burning of fossil fuels is the main source of black carbon in the Arctic.  Two new papers in the journal Nature suggest that the contributions of Antarctica to sea level rise by the end of this century will not be as great as other recent papers have suggested.

For a variety of reasons, the U.S. Forest Service’s latest aerial survey of federal, state, and private land in California found that 18 million trees throughout the state died in 2018, bringing the state’s total number of dead trees to more than 147 million.  When you add up both their absorption and emission, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001.  Due largely to forest fires and insect infestations, the trees have actually added to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions for each of the past 15 years.  China and India are “leading the world” in “greening” the landscape, a study published in Nature Sustainability found, with the two countries accounting for one-third of the new forests, croplands and other types of vegetation observed globally since 2000.  However, that greening is “not enough to offset” the loss of the world’s tropical rainforests, particularly in Brazil, a scientist told Carbon Brief.

A study conducted at Iowa State University and published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports, identified three ways climate change will increase the likelihood of violence.  In 13 of 26 countries, people listed climate change as the top global threat, with the Islamic State militant group topping the list in eight and cyber attacks in four, according to a new poll conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Intensive agriculture, particularly the heavy use of pesticides, is the main driver of rapid declines in insect populations according to a new paper in the journal Biological Conservation.  Urbanization and climate change are also significant factors.

A new study in Nature Communications illustrated the impacts of climate change on U.S. cities by examining which locations now have climates like those the cities will experience in 2080 under two CO2 emissions scenarios.

Energy

A paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A describes initial studies on a new type of wave energy device that, because of its mechanical simplicity, may someday solve many of the problems associated with extracting electrical energy from the oceans.

Los Angeles will abandon a plan to replace three aging gas power plants along its coast with newer natural gas technology and will instead invest in renewable energy as it seeks to move away from fossil fuels.  In addition to being good for the climate, this may be a sound economic move if Justin Mikulka of Desmog is correct.  According to him, North American natural gas producers desperately need higher prices, making gas less competitive with renewables.  Dominion Energy of Virginia says it will cut methane emissions from its natural gas system by about 25% over the next decade to help fight climate change.

Wind, solar, and other renewables will account for about 30% of the world’s electricity supplies by 2040, up from about 10% today, according to BP’s annual energy outlook.  Simon Evans provided a detailed analysis of the report at Carbon Brief.  Spain aims to close all seven of its nuclear power plants between 2025 and 2035 as part of plans to generate all the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050.  German power and gas grid firms Amprion and Open Grid Europe said on Monday they would apply to build the country’s first large hydrogen plant that can convert wind power to alternative fuels that are easier to store and transport.

Described as a project of “strategic importance” for India’s energy sector, the country’s first grid-scale lithium-ion battery energy storage system officially went into service this week.  Oregon utility Portland General Electric said Wednesday that together with power producer NextEra Energy it plans to construct and connect a 300MW wind park, 50MW solar farm, and 30MW of battery energy storage.  U.S.-firm Hydrostor will convert a disused zinc mine in South Australia into a below-ground air-storage cavern for a 5MW/10MWh compressed air energy storage demonstration project.  As Americans buy more electric vehicles (EVs), the need for charging stations is increasing, but important questions exist around the issues of who should own them and who should set the charging rates.  David Thill of Energy News Network discussed the experience of Illinois in dealing with them.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Advanced Transportation looking at transit in Europe reported “a remarkable advantage of high-speed trains compared to aircraft”, with regard to direct CO2 emissions per [passenger-mile].  In spite of that, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced he was scaling back plans for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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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