Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/22/2019

Politics and Policy

Even though federal intelligence agencies have affirmed several times since President Trump took office that climate change poses a national security threat, the White House is preparing to assemble a panel under the leadership of William Happer to assess that conclusion.  At a meeting of the Planetary Security Initiative at The Hague on Tuesday, scholars and international officials warned that the Middle East and North Africa are about to be plunged into further chaos because of ongoing climate change and its associated impacts on food and water supplies.

The Trump administration has broken off talks with the California Air Resources Board over vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and is on track to roll back standards set by former President Obama, the White House said in a statement Thursday.  A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by two Pennsylvania boys and an environmental group seeking to stop President Trump from rolling back regulations addressing climate change, saying the court does not have power to tell the White House what to do.  Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have passed legislation allowing electric coops to raise their net metering caps from 1% to 7%.  A provision to raise the net metering cap for customers of investor-owned utilities — Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power — didn’t advance into the final legislation.  The Governor is expected to sign the bill.

 Changes in land use to foster more uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere is an important component of many countries’ pledges under the Paris Climate Agreement.  A recent “Perspective” piece in the journal Nature Climate Change argues that there are many shortcomings associated with those pledges, making it likely that those countries will fail to meet them.  The lead author of the Perspective piece had a guest post about the article at Carbon Brief.  ClimateWise, an initiative of the University of Cambridge that studies climate-related insurance risks, has issued new reports demonstrating how to a more precise look at those risks and their financial impacts.  This is most timely, since according to The Economist, corporate-risk managers are rotten at assessing their exposure to a changing climate.

Janos Pasztor, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change and currently Executive Director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, said: “For the moment, …, the world simply doesn’t know enough to decide [about solar geoengineering].  It doesn’t even know how it should go about making such a decision, how to research solar radiation modification, or even whether to consider the possibility of deployment at all.”  In The Washington Post, Leah C. Stokes, an assistant professor of environmental politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote about five things we should know about the Green New Deal (GND).  Lisa Friedman and Trip Gabriel of The New York Times called the GND “an extraordinarily complicated series of trade-offs that could be realized, experts say, with extensive sacrifices that people are only starting to understand.”  Decarbonizing buildings is an important component of any serious plan to reduce CO2 emissions.  California is beginning to tackle the problem as described by David Roberts at Vox.

Potpourri

Wallace Broecker, the geochemist who popularized the phrase “global warming,” died on Monday at 87.  He was fond of saying “The climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks.”  On Wednesday, Oliver Krug published an article in The Guardian about some of the artists who are illuminating the impacts of climate change.  Megan Mayhew Bergman had another article about how people in the southern U.S. are responding to climate change.  This one is mainly about Florida.  Journalist and translator Philipp Blom has a new book, entitled Nature’s Mutiny, about the 17th century’s Little Ice Age (LIA) and how it transformed Europe.  Blom contends that we can learn how climate change might influence society by looking backward at the LIA.  David Wallace-Wells used his New York Magazine article from last year as a starting point for his new book entitled The Uninhabitable Earth.  Kate Yoder of Grist described it as “an immersion in seemingly all of the worst-case climate scenarios.”  Whether that will be helpful or not depends on where you stand on the spectrum of how people react to troubling information, as discussed by climate scientist and psychologist Jeffrey Kiehl.  Wallace-Wells also had a rather long opinion piece entitled “Time to Panic” in The New York Times.  In contrast to Wallace-Wells’ book, the film “2040”, which was inspired by Project Drawdown, focuses on the work that is being done now to steer the right course through the potential hazards of climate change.

Climate

According to NOAA, January 2019 was the third-warmest January in the history of global weather record-keeping, which dates back to the 1880s.  The only warmer global Januaries in the instrumental record were 2016 and 2017.  The impacts of climate change don’t occur in isolation; rather they occur together.  Climate Central has prepared a new report entitled “CLIMATE PILE-UP: Global Warming’s Compounding Dangers” that quantifies those interactions for many cities in the U.S.  You can read either a synopsis or the full report.  Climate change was responsible for the majority of under-reported humanitarian disasters last year, according to an analysis of more than a million online news stories commissioned by Care International.  Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that, as a result of climate change, air pollution is lingering longer over cities and summer storms are becoming more powerful.

The Bramble Cay melomys, a small brown rodent living on a tiny Torres Strait island near Papua New Guinea, has been declared extinct, giving it the distinction of being the first mammal driven to extinction by human-caused climate change.  Climate change also influences where insect populations thrive and in New England large infestations of moose (or winter) ticks are taking a toll on moose calves.

A new paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, reported that laboratory-grown meat may do more damage to the climate in the long run than meat from cattle.  A study from European thinktank IDDRI claims that pesticides can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population.  In an opinion piece at Medium, farmer Alex Heffron argues that we need to stop focusing on what we eat, and start focusing on how the food we eat is produced.

According to a new analysis, there is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of emissions.  Older trees have long been thought to be more efficient carbon ‘sinks’, but new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that young trees are actually better at absorbing CO2 than established tropical rainforests.  The Natural Resources Defense Council and Stand.earth reported that the largest U.S. makers of at-home tissue products use only virgin fiber from Canada’s northern forests — one of the world’s best absorbers of atmospheric CO2 — in their major brands, thereby making climate change worse.

Data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s Climate Change in the American Mind surveys show that, over the past five years, the proportion of Americans who think global warming is happening and who worry about it has increased sharply.  The program also recently released its 2018 set of “Partisan Climate Opinion Maps.”  They are definitely worth a look.

Energy

Mining company Glencore has promised to cap the amount of the coal it is capable of taking out of the ground.  Glencore made its decision after facing pressure from a shareholder network known as Climate Action 100+, which has the backing of more than 300 investors managing $32 trillion.  Major tech companies are teaming with oil giants to use automation, AI, and big data services to enhance oil exploration, extraction, and production.  The EPA said CO2 output grew 0.6% in 2018 over the previous year, to 1.93 billion tons, while electricity generated grew 5%, to 23.4 quadrillion BTUs.

The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, Simon Denyer, had an article on Wednesday about the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima eight years after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident.  Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Thursday outlined the government’s plan to build a number of new nuclear reactors.

In total, 16.7 GW of new wind projects reached a final investment decision last year in Europe — 12.5 GW onshore and 4.2 GW offshore — 45% more than in 2017, according to WindEurope’s annual report.  Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed an executive order ending the moratorium on wind turbine permits imposed one year ago by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.  Portland General Electric (PGE) plans to build the 380 MW Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility just north of Lexington, Oregon.  It is being touted as the first in the U.S. to combine wind and solar power with battery storage.  A tidal turbine array in the north of Scotland set a new world record for generating power and exporting it into the national grid.

The results of a study published in the journal Energies show that as much as 25% of the increase in the UK’s GDP between 1971 and 2013 was driven by energy efficiency gains.  This suggests that improving energy efficiency has benefits beyond climate policy, given that the delivery of increased energy services can improve various aspects of society.  The EU agreed on Tuesday to reduce CO2 emissions from new trucks and buses by 30% compared to 2019 levels by 2030.

At Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk addressed three myths about renewable energy and provided a “friendly response” to each.  Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables studied the performance of a hypothetical power grid if electricity generation in it was 100% renewable (50% wind and 50% solar) with battery storage and winter conditions like those experienced during the recent polar vortex occurred.  It required a lot of storage.

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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