Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/26/2019

Politics and Policy

Saying, “The United States made a promise to meet the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement – and if the federal government won’t hold up our end of the deal, then the American people must,” Michael Bloomberg contributed $5.5 million to the UN climate negotiations budget.  In a freedom of information request filed late Monday, Sierra Club requested that EPA turn over any documents that support Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s assertion that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”  A number of Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have begun calling for an end to leasing parcels of Western land to coal miners and oil and natural gas drillers.  On Monday, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Tom Carper (D-DE) announced the formation of the Environmental Justice Caucus in the Senate.  Leaders of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus are considering adding criteria to ensure new recruits are green enough to join.  Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have introduced a cap-and-dividend proposal that would combine market-based mechanisms and government oversight with the goal of drastically reducing carbon output over the next 20 years.

The administration is pausing its controversial plans to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic.  In an unusual, but not unprecedented, critique within the Department of Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service pointed out several aspects of climate change that were minimal or absent in the Bureau of Land Management’s draft environmental impact statement on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  More than 1,300 lawsuits related to climate change, many targeting governments or corporations, have been filed around the world since the 1980s, with a surge in recent years.

Ecological economist Julie Steinberger argued at Medium.com that “on climate change, the scientific community (by and large) has been criminally negligent when it comes to observing — and especially learning from — its own track record.”  And at The Guardian, columnist George Monbiot wrote “Like coal, capitalism has brought many benefits.  But, like coal, it now causes more harm than good.”  Earlier in April, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled its “American Energy: Cleaner, Stronger” agenda in response to their recognition of the need to address climate change.  Clean energy policy analyst Joel Stronberg critiqued the Chamber agenda within the context of the Trump administration’s energy policies.

In town halls hosted by CNN, five Democratic presidential candidates laid out their positions on climate change.  Young voters care about stopping climate change, even if it slows economic growth, according to a new poll from the Harvard University Institute of Politics.  The poll found that they are divided, however, on how the problem should be addressed.  In a paper released last Friday, scientists called for a “Global Deal for Nature” with a unified objective: protect ecosystems to combat climate change and combat climate change to protect ecosystems.  Denis Hayes, the principal national organizer of the first Earth Day (in April 1970), said on Monday that the 50th anniversary next year will be “the largest, most diverse action in human history.”  He also predicted that “2020 will be for climate what 1970 was for other environmental issues.”  However, the American Geophysical Union published two papers in separate journals this week that showed that drastic actions are required.  A paper in Geophysical Research Letters found that the world’s largest emitters (U.S., EU, and China) can reduce the frequency of future temperature extremes by strongly increasing their emissions cuts.  Nevertheless, a paper in Earth’s Future reported that even if the major emitters greatly increased their emission reductions, the rest of the world would have to drastically cut theirs to hold warming to 2°C.

Potpourri

Last week I included a link to an interview with international lawyer Polly Higgins who fought for recognition of ecocide.  Sadly, she has died at age 50.  The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) have teamed up to sponsor a conference next Tuesday aimed at reframing the way journalists cover climate change.  In preparation, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope published an article entitled “The media are complacent while the world burns.”  The on-line version of The Nation has an article about Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the African-American town of Union Hill, as well as an interview with Bill McKibben.  In London, Extinction Rebellion held a “pause ceremony” at Hyde Park Corner, implying that while they were suspending their protests for now, they would be back.  Although it is a week old, I’m including this article by climate scientist Myles Allen because I think it’s message is particularly important.  Also, Bill McKibben had an interesting essay abstracted from his new book.  Yale Climate Connections (YCC) interviewed author and activist Jeff Biggers about his Climate Narrative Project and “Ecopolis” theatre shows, while Amy Brady interviewed Kristin George Bagdanov about her new book of climate change poetry.  Sara Peach addressed the question of how to prepare children for climate change at YCC.

Climate

According to Carbon Brief’s “State of the Climate” report for the first quarter of 2019, global surface temperatures are on track to be either the second or third warmest since records began in the mid-1800s, behind only 2016 and possibly 2017.  Furthermore, if we stay on the current trajectory of at least 3°C of warming by the end of the century, melting permafrost will increase the global climate-driven impacts by $70 trillion between now and 2300, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that over the course of decades, global warming caused robust and substantial declines in economic output in hotter, poorer countries — and increases in many cooler, wealthier countries — relative to a world without anthropogenic warming.

The Washington Post mapped America’s “wicked weather and deadly disasters” over the past several years.  It also found that in a typical year, taxpayer spending on the federal disaster relief fund was almost 10 times higher than it was three decades ago, even after adjusting for inflation.

According to one estimate, if current warming trends hold, the climate this century will change 10 times faster than many tree species can move.  In response, foresters around the U.S. have launched ambitious experiments to test how people can help forests adapt.  A study published in Nature on Wednesday, found that sea creatures are dying at twice the rate of land animals, in part because cold-blooded marine species have a higher sensitivity to warming and many are already living at the edge of their species’ heat tolerance.  Heat-induced bleaching is just the latest in a long series of insults to the Florida coral reef, which have brought its growth to a standstill and left it vulnerable to erosion and rising seas.  As a result, it is not simply dying; it appears to be vanishing.  More than 8.9 million acres of pristine rainforest were cut down in 2018, according to data from the Global Forest Watch network.

A study published in the journal Science indicated oceans have become stormier over the past 30 years, with increases in both wind speed and wave height.

A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated that Greenland’s glaciers went from dumping about 51 billion tons of ice into the ocean between 1980 to 1990, to 286 billion tons between 2010 and 2018.

Energy

In the Business Section of Sunday’s Washington Post, Steven Mufson profiled three companies that hope to make a business out of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

The Green Advocacy Project commissioned a poll about energy choices that goes more deeply into the public’s attitudes than most polls have done.  The results are quite interesting.

Boston Consulting Group estimated that the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) could create $3 billion to $10 billion of new value for the average utility if it takes appropriate actions.  Of course, that will only happen if people buy EVs.  E&E News posited that social norms and a lack of information on financial benefits have hampered EV adoption in the U.S.  Nevertheless, Ford has made a $500 million investment in EV maker Rivian.  IT giant Cisco is leading a consortium to create a real-world test environment for vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies, bringing fleet owners together and connecting as many as 200 EVs through the use of 10kW, bidirectional chargers.

A group of researchers from Japan, France, Germany, Norway, and the UK just published a paper in Nature Climate Change that assesses how the leakage rate of methane influences the benefit of switching power plants from coal to natural gas.  More than half of the world’s new oil and gas pipelines are located in North America, with a boom in U.S. oil and gas drilling set to deliver a major blow to efforts to slow climate change, a new report from Global Energy Monitor has found.

This month, Massachusetts approved the contracts for Vineyard Wind, clearing the way for it to become the second offshore wind farm in the U.S.  From Appalachia in the U.S. to Queensland in Australia and Chernobyl in Ukraine, solar and wind farms are being developed or built in places not normally associated with clean energy, and in some regions long resistant to it.

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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