Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/27/2019

Politics and Policy

Greta Thunberg, whose emotional address to the UN Climate Action Summit went viral this week, was recognized by the judges of Sweden’s annual Rights Livelihood awards for “inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts”.  Unfortunately, the Summit accomplished little, although Thunberg’s remark about “fairy tales of eternal economic growth” raised the ire of some.  Many others agreed with her, however.  For example, both Canadian economist and author Peter Victor (Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster) and Canadian writer Naomi Klein (On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal) argued that we must overcome the idea of investing for endless growth to stop climate change.  In anticipation of the Summit, both Al Gore and John Kerry published opinion pieces.  Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Southern States Energy Board in Louisville, Kentucky, chairman and host, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R), said Thunberg was “remarkably ill informed.”  Robinson Meyer’s article about her in The Atlantic certainly doesn’t confirm that.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) called on governments to overhaul the rules of the international trade and monetary systems so all countries could carry out the necessary mass investments to decarbonize their economies.  UNCTAD secretary general Mukhisa Kituyi said meeting the UN sustainable development goals “requires rebuilding multilateralism around the idea of a global Green New Deal, and pursuing a financial future very different from the recent past”.  Data firm IHS Markit compiled the first global benchmark for carbon emissions pricing, based on trading under the three most liquid trading schemes: the EU’s, and two from the U.S. (California and RGGI). 

Early in the week, Trump administration officials threatened to withhold federal highway funding from California, arguing that the state has not shown what steps it is taking to improve its air quality.  But California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) responded “We won’t be intimidated by this brazen political stunt,” only to be accused on Thursday of “failing to meet its obligations” to protect the environment.  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said his agency is “limited” in regard to its “statutory authorities to address the issue” of climate change.  On Friday, hundreds of thousands of people around the world took part in another wave of strikes to demand urgent action on climate change.  New research suggests that banks are shielding themselves from climate change at taxpayers’ expense by shifting riskier mortgages — such as those in coastal areas — off their books and over to the federal government.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said on Tuesday it was forming a climate change task force to better understand how businesses are responding to the issue.  A substantial number of corporations moved ahead with vows to address climate concerns and used the U.N. Climate Summit as a venue for unveiling their targets.

While more than 60 countries have said that they will try to reduce their net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, they accounted for only 11% of global emissions in 2017.  Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) has introduced the bipartisan Market Choice Act which would replace the federal gasoline tax with a tax on carbon emissions from sources of fossil fuel combustion.  Many argue that a carbon tax is not very effective at reducing carbon emissions from transportation.  Jonathan Marshall addressed that criticism at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby website.

Climate and Climate Science

On Wednesday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate.  A good short summary was provided at Science, while Carbon Brief provided an in-depth summary of the key findings.  The Washington Post also covered the release.  The Arctic, of course, is part of the cryosphere, so Richard Hodgkins summarized what has happened there this year and what its impacts will be on the rest of us.  On Monday, Carbon Brief examined the many factors contributing to sea level rise.  Arctic sea ice reached its summer minimum extent for 2019.  This year was the joint-second lowest in the 40-year satellite record, tied with 2007 and 2016.

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports found more than 65,000 lakes, like those on the Greenland ice sheet, on the surface of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.  This is surprising because East Antarctica is much colder and suggests that parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet may be highly sensitive to climate warming.

The IPCC Sixth Synthesis Report (AR6) is not due until June 2022 and like its predecessors, it will rely heavily upon modeling to determine what will likely happen in the future.  An editorial in the journal Nature Climate Change provided a brief look at where the modeling effort stands and considers the interesting findings concerning equilibrium climate sensitivity.

U.N. officials have warned that increasing numbers of farmers in drought-stricken Honduras could be forced to leave their homes unless support is ramped up to help them better cope with extreme weather and climate change.

China’s Ministry of Natural Resources said on Thursday that coastal sea levels were 48 millimeters (1.9 inches) higher last year than the 1993-2011 average, with winter ice floes shrinking.  In addition, average recorded temperatures in December last year were 1.7°C (3.1°F) higher than normal.

Energy

Last week I provided information about Duke Energy announcing plans to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  It joined 21 other power companies that have pledged to lower their carbon footprints since 2018.  However, many of them plan to keep large coal-fired power plants open for decades to come and/or plan to build new natural gas power plants.  Consequently, some energy analysts are skeptical of the companies’ ability to meet their pledges.  Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the state will contribute $20 million to a Dominion Energy plan to replace diesel-powered school buses with electric buses and Ivy Main commented on the “cascade of clean energy announcements” recently in Virginia.  Meanwhile, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, and Southern Co. have spent more than $109 million lobbying lawmakers and officials since the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was unveiled five years ago.

Writing at Yale Environment 360, Michael Standaert reported that growth of wind and solar in China is slowing as government funding for green energy falters and upgrades to the transmission infrastructure lag.  With China’s CO2 emissions again on the rise, experts worry the world’s largest emitter may fall short of key climate goals.  At the same site, Bruce Lieberman addressed the question: “How to reconcile people’s love affair with their vehicles and society’s need to reduce carbon emissions?”.

For years, the oil and gas industry downplayed the connection between fossil fuel burning and climate change.  Today, however, nearly every major fossil fuel company has acknowledged that carbon emissions help drive global warming, even as President Trump questions the connection.  The latest Energy Trends data confirm that coal accounted for just 0.6% of the UK’s power mix between April and June, marking the first quarter since the 19th century in which coal fell below 1.0% of total generation.

New energy efficiencies in the transportation, building, and industrial sectors can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 50%, according to a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Bolivia will try and capitalize on its large lithium reserves to set up an industrial ecosystem around batteries and other storage technologies

Potpourri

Teenage girls are stepping up for the climate much more than boys.  A survey of more than 100 U.S. climate strike organizers and nearly 200 participants in the Washington, DC, strike found that 68% of the organizers and 58% of the participants were female.  Unfortunately, regardless of gender, teenage activism is accompanied by a lot of harassment and “climate change anxiety.”  David Roberts had a piece in Vox about Greta Thunberg and the seeming ineffectiveness of troll attacks against her.  Although I missed it last week, David Wallace-Wells published a profile of Thunberg in New York Magazine.  Billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick announced on Thursday the second-largest donation ever to an American university: $750 million to the California Tech for environmental study, much of it focused on technological solutions to combat climate change.  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed author Amitav Ghosh about his new cli-fi novel Gun IslandNewsweek published a lengthy interview with authors Katharine K. Wilkinson (Between God & Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change) and Robin Veldman (The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change) about what evangelical Christians think about climate change.

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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