Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/12/2019

Politics and Policy

Climate change poses security risks, according to decades of intelligence reports.  Nevertheless, you may recall that last February, the National Security Council (NSC) began considering establishing a new federal advisory committee to challenge the consensus on climate change.  Now, former Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, who served as chief negotiator for the Geneva nuclear testing talks from 1988 to 1990, is said to be favored to lead the review panel.  Nevertheless, several agencies have informed the NSC that they do not anticipate taking part in the committee.

Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a nominee to serve on the Federal Reserve Board, told E&E News in a brief interview on Monday that the Fed should not consider the risks that rising temperatures could have on the economy.  However, the Urban Land Institute partnered with Heitman, a global real estate investment management firm, to assess the potential impacts of climate change on the long-term viability of real estate assets.  Canada’s building rules are being rewritten due to climate change because if no changes are made in the way they build, infrastructure failures linked to climate change could cost Canadians $300 billion over the next decade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has contrasted his nation’s approach to climate change with that of the U.S., arguing that his country takes the threat seriously.  President Trump signed a pair of executive orders on Wednesday seeking to make it easier for firms to build oil and gas pipelines and harder for state agencies to intervene.  In a Reuters interview about those executive orders, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that other issues were more important than climate change.  The Senate voted 56-41 on Thursday to confirm David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas and water lobbyist, as Secretary of the Interior.  A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday to expand the electric vehicle tax credit by 400,000 vehicles per manufacturer.  Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Thursday to increase federal funding toward developing carbon capture technology.  Also, the White House will begin promoting carbon capture and storage technology.  New York City is the first U.S. city to adopt a congestion pricing fee, which will be applied to the “central business district.”  Justine Calma looked at the implications of such a fee for Grist.  According to a new report from The International Renewable Energy Agency, the most cost-effective strategy to achieve a “climate-safe future” is an accelerated energy transition to renewables and energy efficiency coupled with electrification of key sectors like transportation.

In a letter to the journal Science in support of the youth climate protestors, 22 prominent climate scientists said “Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. … They deserve our respect and full support.”  More than 4200 Amazon employees are pushing the company to approve a shareholder resolution that would force Amazon to develop a plan to address its carbon footprint.  Meanwhile, Apple announced on Thursday that 21 manufacturers in its supply chain have vowed to obtain all their electricity from renewable sources, bringing to more than 5 GW the total amount of renewable energy that will be used by the company and its suppliers by 2020.

Potpourri

Last August Nathaniel Rich published an essay in the New York Times Magazine about the decade from 1979 to 1989, which he labeled the decade in which humanity missed its chance to fix climate change.  He has expanded the essay into a book — Losing Earth: A Recent History.  Amy Brady interviewed British novelist and journalist John Lanchester about his new cli-fi novel The WallRolling Stone published an excerpt from Bill McKibben’s new book FALTER: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, McKibben wrote “The respectable have punted; so now it’s up to the scruffy, the young, the marginal, the angry to do the necessary work.  Their discipline and good humor and profound nonviolence are remarkable…”  The April 9 issue of The New York Times Magazine was called “The Climate Issue.”  It contains six interesting articles.  Peter Sinclair’s latest video addresses the question “Should a Green New Deal include nuclear power?”.  On the subject of videos, The New York Times published a review of the Netflix series “Our Planet” on Wednesday.  It seems obvious to say it, but children born today will have to live their lives with drastically smaller carbon footprints than their grandparents if climate change is to be controlled.  Now, Carbon Brief has quantified the reduction, as reported in this piece from The Guardian.  Virginia Tech doctoral candidate Maria Saxton investigated the impact on someone’s ecological footprint of moving into a tiny house.  Joanna Boehnert argued that designers cannot design sustainable ways of living without a shift in economic priorities.  Burger King is testing a Whopper containing a vegetarian alternative made by Impossible Foods rather than beef.  The burger received a glowing review from a senior meat industry lobbyist.

Climate

On Tuesday, NOAA released data showing that, overall, March temperatures in Alaska were as much as 20°F above historical averages.  A new paper in the journal The Cryosphere reported on simulation studies examining the future of glaciers in the European Alps.  Under business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, 95% of the ice in the glaciers will be gone by 2100.  Research conducted by an international team of scientists and summarized in a new paper in Environmental Research Letters, found that “The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic,” according to lead author Jason Box.

Copernicus Climate Change Service operates a network of satellites for the EU that collects weather, soil, air, and water data.  Bloomberg presented a number of satellite photos and summarized what has been learned from the data about the impacts of climate change on Europe.  The San Francisco–based start-up Planet, along with two other satellite companies, has been participating in a NASA program to determine whether the companies’ imagery and data can be used to create a dashboard of “essential climate variables.”  A study presented this week in Vienna at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union showed that last summer’s extreme heat in the Northern Hemisphere was an “unprecedented” event that would not have happened without increased heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

Climate change is making every day hazardous for many.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans — from New York to Miami to Phoenix —live in government-subsidized housing that is at serious risk of flooding.  In addition, a McClatchy analysis revealed that more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities that exist almost entirely within “very high fire hazard severity zones”.  On the subject of hazards, a paper in Monday’s Nature Climate Change determined that if we continue with business-as-usual CO2 emissions, the damages will cost the U.S. about $500 billion per year by 2090.  If we take actions to limit warming to 2.5°C, however, the damages will drop to $280 billion per year.

In a study, published Monday in the journal Nature, scientists used ground and satellite measurements to look at 19,000 glaciers and found that they are shrinking five times faster now than they were in the 1960s.  A study by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany has shown that Earth’s climate is highly sensitive to small changes in CO2 levels and that changes in CO2 levels were a main driver of the ice ages, together with variations in Earth’s orbit around the sun.

Energy

Australia is developing systems to use solar energy to supply “green” hydrogen to power the global economy.  A new technique for combining two types of solar cells offers the promise of increasing solar cell efficiency by as much as 20%.  Also, Australia is debating new mandates for electric vehicles.  Several of the points raised in the debate are germane to the U.S.  Akshat Rathi wrapped up his series on batteries at Quartz by examining what will be required to make significant advances in battery technology.

New research shows that people in the U.S. are biased against nuclear power.  An opinion piece in The New York Times advocating for nuclear power ended with “If the American public and politicians can face real threats and overcome unfounded fears, we can solve humanity’s most pressing challenge and leave our grandchildren a bright future of climate stability and abundant energy.”  The U.S. NRC has issued a final environmental impact statement and the staff has recommended issuing an early site permit for the Clinch River Nuclear Site in west Oak Ridge, TN, where two or more small modular nuclear reactors could be built.

In a report published on Thursday, Legal and General Investment Management, which manages assets worth $1.3 trillion worldwide, said oil demand could start to decline from 2025 if countries impose strict policies to curb climate change.  However, the total cost to the global economy to act on climate change could be as low as 0.5% of global GDP.

The Environmental Defense Fund announced new evidence Thursday that methane emissions in New Mexico are climbing amid a surge in oil and natural gas production in the Permian Basin drilling zone that straddles the state boundary with Texas.

Shell announced on Monday that it plans to invest $300m over the next three years in natural ecosystem-based projects, such as planting trees.  Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and BHP have invested in Carbon Engineering, a start-up developing technology to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  A new study, published in the journal Nature Energy, found that taking into account resources needed to create and run systems needed for carbon capture, more energy can be produced by investing in wind farms and solar panels, combined with various kinds of energy storage.

Vox has published a five-part series about the comprehensive urban plan being implemented in Barcelona, Spain, which would reclaim more than half the streets now devoted to cars for mixed-use public spaces, or “superblocks.”  The series presents a case study of how to undo the large impact that cars have had on cities worldwide.

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.