Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/19/2019

Politics and Policy

More than 300 people had been arrested by Wednesday in climate protests that have gridlocked the core of London this week.  Those protests have been staged by Extinction Rebellion, which is working to bring similar disruptive protests to the U.S.  Guardian columnist George Monbiot, writing in support of Extinction Rebellion, said “Our system – characterized by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing – will inevitably implode.  The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned.  Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast.”  International lawyer Polly Higgens is calling for the International Criminal Court in the Hague to recognize ‘ecocide’ as a crime against humanity, alongside genocide and war crimes.  Mat Hope interviewed her for Desmog.

In an open letter to The Guardian accompanying the launch of a report from the Network for Greening the Financial System, the governors of the Bank of England and the Banque de France warned that the global financial system faces an existential threat from climate change and must take urgent steps to reform.  Although he has not yet done so, President Trump has said he will appoint Heritage Foundation senior fellow Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board.  Moore has a history of rejecting climate science, although he has said he would support a carbon tax under certain conditions.

The New York Times (NYT) asked all 18 declared Democratic presidential candidates for their views on a number of policy options related to climate change.  You can read an article about their responses, as well as their individual responses.  Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who has made climate change the focal point of his presidential campaign, called on the Democratic National Committee to hold a debate centered solely on the issue.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) this week became the latest major presidential candidate to promise to halt all new leases for fossil fuel development on federal lands and offshore if elected.  The NYT also published an opinion piece by Amory B. Lovins and Rushad R. Nanavatty of the Rocky Mountain Institute arguing that “Any serious energy transformation effort … will need to harness America’s immensely powerful and creative economic engine, not dismantle it.”  At Vox, David Roberts interviewed Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), co-sponsor of the Green New Deal Resolution, about some of the claims that have been made about it.

Alberta, the home of Canada’s tar sands, elected a conservative leader who promised to cancel the province’s carbon tax, lift a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands, and create a “war room” to combat the oil industry’s opponents.  In addition, the federal and Ontario governments squared off in the province’s top court over the federal government’s climate change law.  New York City set an ambitious new standard for combating greenhouse gas emissions by approving a package of policies designed to slash energy use in big buildings.  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a major overhaul of state oil and gas rules, turning the focus away from encouraging production and directing regulators to make public safety and the environment their top priority.  As the cost of renewable energy drops and its popularity rises around the country, Republican lawmakers in several key states are ratcheting up their attacks on wind power.

Potpourri

For Earth Day, The Washington Post created a different way to read about climate change: an all-cover issue of their Magazine, with each cover illustrating an aspect of climate change that The Post wrote about in the past year or so.  Links are provided to the articles.  A new biannual magazine called Atmos explores climate and culture because “in order for us to have an impact on our changing climate, it has to start with people.”  In a seven-minute video beautifully illustrated by Molly Crabapple, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Avi Lewis provide a thought experiment of what the world might look like if we actually adopted the Green New Deal.  It is accompanied by an essay by Naomi Klein.  For Earth Day, the Pew Research Center looked at attitudes about climate change around the world and in the U.S.  Students from Virginia Tech were the Grand Winner at this year’s Solar Decathlon Design Challenge sponsored by DOE.  They also placed first in the Attached Housing Division.  The NYT had a couple of articles about things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint: Repair rather than replace broken items and use less single-use plastic.  “Degrees of Change” from Science Friday is a new series that explores the problem of climate change and how we as a planet are adapting to it.  You can sign up for a newsletter associated with it here.  Last week I provided a link to an excerpt from Bill McKibben’s new book Falter.  Jared Diamond provided a review this week.  Sunday was the first anniversary of the death of David Buckel, who died by self-immolation in hopes of catalyzing action on climate change.  The Guardian published a tribute by Oliver Conroy.  Yale Climate Connections has an informative article about John Kaiser, who is a former climate change denier who now regrets “how wrongheaded but certain I was.”  Lastly, be sure to check Earth Doctor Doug Hendren’s website periodically to see what new songs and albums he’s posted.

Climate

NASA’s GISTEMP surface temperature data set, one of the major data sets that have found the last five years to be the hottest on record and Earth to be 1°C warmer than in the late 1800s, has found new backing from an independent satellite record — suggesting that its findings are on a sound footing, scientists reported in the journal Environmental Research Letters.  Simulation results from the new generation of climate models being developed for the next IPCC report show greater warming projections than previous models, and their developers aren’t sure why.

To understand how the U.S. has warmed since 1970, Climate Central looked at temperature trends in 242 cities and 49 states.  They found that Las Vegas, NV was the fastest warming city and Alaska was the fastest warming state.  Meanwhile, more evidence for an exceptionally warm Arctic, especially in Greenland, has been building up, including early ice breakup on rivers and an early thaw in Alaska.  Unfortunately, the growing frequency of extreme weather dulls people’s awareness of climate change impacts, with the result that most people normalize extreme weather over just two to eight years.

Hurricane Maria was the rainiest storm known to have hit Puerto Rico, and climate change is partly to blame, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  As hurricane season nears, Paul Douglas of the Capital Weather Gang called for better prediction systems so we can prepare vulnerable coastal areas for bigger, wetter, and faster-strengthening hurricanes.  The problems plaguing farmers in Honduras and elsewhere have mounted with rising temperatures and increasingly unpredictable weather, causing them to abandon their farms and head north.

Thawing permafrost in the Arctic may be releasing 12 times as much nitrous oxide as previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.  Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2, can remain in the atmosphere for up to 114 years.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has prepared a climate change position statement that says that limiting the average global temperature increase to 1.5°C since preindustrial times is critical to maintaining the ecological function of the reef.  Ocean acidification is another result of increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  Gavin MacRae reviewed its impacts on marine food webs.

Energy

The US Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. energy consumption hit a record high in 2018, in large part due to the growing use of petroleum and natural gas.  The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of two proposed liquefied natural gas export terminals.  Duke Energy announced that it has put on hold for at least 15 years its plan to build a $100+ million gas-fired power plant at Lake Julian in western North Carolina.  The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors has approved the final permits for what will be the largest solar facility in Virginia and among the biggest in the nation.

Researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland and the Energy Watch Group have compiled the first scenario for optimally transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy.  New studies suggest that as more renewable energy is introduced on the U.S.’s electric grids, a wider use of electric heat pumps will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Eve Andrews at Grist examined the question “Why do we continue to expand car-dependent infrastructure?”.  U.S. electric bus maker Proterra announced an agreement that will help it scale up its battery leasing program, which will remove the upfront cost premium of buying an electric bus.  Nikola Motors is a start-up company that will build long-haul trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells along with a hydrogen fueling system to jump-start the industry.   Some of the world’s largest automobile companies unveiled new electric vehicles (EVs) at the Shanghai Auto Show.  Due to the plunging price of batteries, EVs will be cost-competitive with internal combustion-engine cars by 2022, according to a report at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Eric Niiler provided a review of where off-shore wind turbine deployment stands now in the U.S.  Harnessing wave power to generate electricity is another type of renewable energy, although it is much less developed than wind turbines.  Now, three companies are gearing up to conduct long-term tests of their devices at the same site in Hawaii.

Global energy storage deployments are projected to grow by a factor of 13 to reach 158 GW-hrs by 2024, according to a report by Wood Mackenzie.  Swedish company SaltX, which achieves electrical and heat storage using specially nanocoated salt, has installed a large-scale demonstration facility in Germany.  The company believes that its technology can be economically competitive with pumped hydro.  Another demonstration facility, this one in Thailand, is using a hybrid lithium-ion and zinc-bromine flow battery system to store electricity from solar panels for a remote village that is off the grid.

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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