Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/15/2019

Politics and Policy

On Friday students in nearly 100 countries around the world joined Greta Thunberg in her “school strikes for climate” protest.  At The Washington Post, Griff Witte, Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis reported on the events and profiled several students from around the U.S. who joined in.  The Guardian presented some of the posters from around the world.  A group of climate scientists wrote an open letter in support of the students.  Inside Climate News illustrated what climate scientists were saying when various world leaders were the age of today’s students.  Both the United Mine Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers came out against the Green New Deal (GND), saying “We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” even though the GND calls for a “fair and just transition” as we move toward zero net greenhouse gas emissions.  Evidently, Upton Sinclair was right.  Not surprisingly, President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal is not friendly to research and other programs related to climate change.  Australia’s annual carbon emissions have reached a new high and drops in emissions from the electricity sector have been wiped out by increases from other industries.

A new paper in Nature Climate Change provided more fuel to the debate about solar radiation management, a form of geoengineering, as a policy for slowing global warming.  The ideas are too complicated to cover in a sentence or two, so I encourage you to read Chris Mooney’s article.  The U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked a Swiss push to develop geoengineering governance at the UN Environment Assembly.  The town of Exeter, N.H. passed an ordinance recognizing the “right to a healthy climate system capable of sustaining human societies”, the second ordinance of its kind to be passed in the U.S.  It follows a law passed by the town of Lafayette, CO, which enacted a “Climate Bill of Rights” ordinance in 2017.  On the other hand, Indiana is the latest state to consider legislation increasing to a felony the penalty for peaceful protests on private property of fossil fuel companies.  Fossil fuel and other corporate trade groups paid public relations and advertising firms at least $1.4 billion from 2008 to 2017 to help them win over the American public.

No matter what you might think about the Green New Deal, it has already had one important impact: Republicans are speaking out about climate change, including former Ohio Gov. John KasichCBS News had a piece about Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), the ranking member of the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.  As infrastructure talks progress in Congress, Democrats are calling for any legislative package to address climate change, even though exactly how is not yet clear.  Executives from two Canadian oilsands companies praised a carbon tax at this year’s CERAWeek, a conference in Houston considered to be one of the most important for the world’s energy sector.  Inside Climate News summarized other activity at the conference.

Australia’s central bank warned that climate change is likely to cause economic shocks and threaten the country’s financial stability unless businesses take immediate stock of the risks.  Ivy Main summarized the fate of this year’s energy legislation in Virginia under the title “How the General Assembly failed Virginia again on clean energy.”  As expected, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam vetoed two bills that would have made it difficult for Virginia to join two interstate agreements limiting greenhouse gas emissions, one from the power sector and one from transportation.  On March 4, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said that climate change was making tornadoes worse.  Scientists at Climate Feedback concluded that the statement was misleading.

Potpourri

Calling themselves BirthStrikers, women and men are refusing to have children until climate change ends.  At Vox, Umair Irfan looked at the broader questions around the ethics of child bearing in an age of climate change.  Climate scientist Michael Mann had a strongly worded opinion piece at Newsweek.  Dan Charles had an interesting series on NPR in which he helped us imagine what life would be like in 2050 after climate change had been stopped.  Jeff Goodell filed more dispatches at Rolling Stone from Antarctica where he is aboard the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer.  He also filed three while I was gone: March 1, March 6, and March 8.  At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach explained how climate change is affecting spring by examining “Spring” in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”  Alina Tugend asked the question “Can art help save the planet?” at The New York Times.  In his new book, The Snap Forward, futurist Alex Steffen encourages people to think of tackling climate change as an ongoing opportunity to build a sustainable future, not a fight we’ve already lost.

Climate

Dramatic temperature increases in the Arctic are unavoidable, according to a report released at the UN Environment Assembly.  Even meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, would do nothing to stop Arctic winter temperatures from increasing 3° to 5°C by 2050 and 5° to 9°C by 2080.

On Wednesday, a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists published the results of a large study of the impacts of sea level rise on California’s coast.  The team concluded that damage by the end of the century could be more devastating than the worst earthquakes and wildfires in state history.  As sea levels rise, high-tide flooding is becoming a growing problem in many parts of the globe, including cities on the U.S. East Coast.  Now, new research shows that as these waters recede, they carry toxic pollutants and excess nutrients into rivers, bays, and oceans.

Carbon Brief has published an update of its 2017 interactive map illustrating the extreme weather events that have been studied to determine whether they can be attributed to climate change.  The analysis suggests that 68% of the 260 extreme weather events studied were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change.

A new paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change investigated the conditions required to hold global warming to 2°C by 2100.  By examining 5.2 million possible climate futures, the authors concluded that carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to achieve that without geoengineering or other technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people in cooler states, where air conditioning and other ways to cool down are less common, are likely to misjudge the deadly dangers hot spells can pose to their health.

Another paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences used computer simulation to examine future conditions for crop growth and found that by 2040, without reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, up to 14% of land dedicated to wheat, corn, rice, and soy beans will be drier than in 1986-2005, while 31% will be wetter.

Energy

Two papers described new research with proton conducting fuel cells.  One device harnessed as much as 98% of the electricity it was fed to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, providing an efficient way to store energy.  Engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed an artificial leaf that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere or flue gas and convert it into a fuel with ~14% solar-to-fuel efficiency.

On Wednesday, the U.S. and India agreed to build six U.S.-designed nuclear power plants in India.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., NRC commissioners rejected a recommendation from their staff to require reactor owners to recognize the new climate reality and fortify their plants against flooding and seismic events.

Renewable energy sources supplied nearly 65% of Germany’s electricity last week, with wind turbines alone responsible for 48.4% of power production nationwide.  At Axios Ben Geman explained why offshore wind is finally expected to experience rapid growth in the U.S.  Goldman Sachs said it expected utility-scale solar installations globally to reach 108 GW in 2019, up 12% on 2018, and then grow by another 10% in 2020 to 119 GW.  In the past I have linked to several articles about the difficulty of siting new power lines to move renewable electricity across the country.  Well, a new project has an interesting solution: burying the power lines along railroad rights-of-way.  Joel Stronberg wrote about the implications to the fight against climate change of local communities rejecting wind and solar farms.

BP announced on Wednesday a three-year partnership with EDF aimed at developing further technologies to detect and prevent methane leaks.  BP had aimed to reduce methane emissions to 0.2% of its overall oil and gas production by 2025, but was able to achieve that target in 2018.  Other oil and gas companies, including Shell, are also pledging to reduce methane emissions and are calling for more regulation of the gas.  On the other hand, according to Unearthed, “British oil major BP successfully lobbied the Trump administration to roll back key climate regulations preventing the release of methane into the atmosphere, despite claiming to support the Paris agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C.”

General Motors has recently established the position of VP for electric vehicle charging and infrastructure.  Ben Geman of Axios interviewed the first person to hold the post and gained insights into how GM views the development of that infrastructure.  He also reported on discussions about EVs at the Houston energy conference.  Volkswagen is increasing the number of new EV models it plans to build over the next decade from 50 to 70.  On Thursday, Toyota announced that it will invest about $750 million in facilities in five states to increase production of hybrid vehicles.  Joel Stronberg discussed CAFE fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and offered his opinion on the problems the auto industry faces as a result of the Trump administrations desire to roll them back.

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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