Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/4/2019

Politics and Policy

In contrast to most proposed legislation for a carbon tax, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the best strategy for applying one is to start high (e.g., over $100/ton or more), rise for a few years, and then fall gradually.  David Roberts examined the implications of that suggestion.  Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s largest coal and natural gas producing states, is starting the process to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  On Wednesday, Citigroup issued a report entitled “Managing the Financial Risks of Climate Change,” in which it said that financial regulators must transform how they account for the economic risks of a climate change.  Perhaps the failure to do so is why the majority of the world’s 50 largest banks have not made commitments to respond to the risks of climate change and continue to finance fossil fuels.

Because there were no new commitments from the big emitters at the recent UN Climate Action Summit, many considered it to be a failure.  However, dozens of announcements on climate action were made over the three-day summit.  With a view toward accountability, Climate Home News published a (non-exhaustive) list of initiatives, promises, and goals.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Professor Alex Rosenberg of Duke University explained why climate change is such a hard problem to solve, introducing the concept of PPE in the process.

On Monday, the White House announced that President Trump intends to nominate James Danly to be a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  But he broke with a decades-old tradition by not nominating a Democrat along with Danly.  A nonpartisan taskforce of former government officials has warned that the treatment of science by the Trump administration has hit a “crisis point”.  The Trump administration’s recent revocation of California’s authority to set its own tailpipe emission standards was seen by many as an assault on states’ rights.  E&E News had an article entitled “Meet the ‘NIMBY people’ trying to kill solar.”  A report from the Rhodium Group shows that passing a few tax incentives for electric cars, nuclear plants, and renewable power could lead to big carbon cuts.  An article in The Hill stated “The Trump administration, in its push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is arguing the project should go forward because ‘there is not a climate crisis.’”

A growing body of evangelical leaders is ramping up pressure on Republican lawmakers to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, breaking from some evangelicals’ long skepticism of climate change.  On the NBC News website, researcher Malka Older argued that the U.S. government must recognize the economic threat caused by extreme weather associated with climate change and prepare for it.  On Tuesday, a coalition of New England and mid-Atlantic states, known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, took a first step toward limiting transportation emissions across 13 states.  After the recent rash of fire and extreme weather events, the Federal Reserve’s regional banks are digging deeper into how Earth’s warming will impact U.S. businesses, consumers, and the country’s $17 trillion banking system.

Climate and Climate Science

High temperature records were set all over the southeastern U.S. on Wednesday.  A new study by World Weather Attribution found that since 1900, the chances of receiving the amount of rain dumped on Southeast Texas by Tropical Storm Imelda has more than doubled, while the amount of rainfall in such an event has increased by about 18%.

Salt water continues to move farther inland in Florida’s Biscayne Aquifer (Miami-Dade County), although at a slower rate, according to new U.S. Geological Survey mapping.  In Australia, parts of northern and inland New South Wales, along with southern Queensland, have been in drought since 2016, severely depleting river and lake levels, threatening water supplies for many towns and cities.

Throughout the last 500 million years, the period when complex animal life has existed on Earth, the carbon cycle has been in balance for more than 99% of the time, but not now.  National Geographic went along with scientists to learn more about the huge peat deposit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the scale of which was only recognized a few years ago.  Because of the amount of carbon it contains, it must remain intact.

An iceberg slightly larger than Oahu, Hawaii, broke off this week from the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica.  The loss of Arctic ice is making it very difficult for polar bears to feed, causing their future to be uncertain.  The Washington Post published a photo-essay on Thursday about the impacts of the melting permafrost in Siberia. 

Coral bleaching occurs during ocean heat waves as a result of corals ejecting the algae with which they live in symbiosis.  If bleaching events occur in rapid succession, the corals can be killed.  Now, new research published in the journal Scientific Reports provides hope by suggesting that corals may be able to cope with these stressful events by controlling which algae reside within them.


A good deal of press has been given to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a component of any plan to hold the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C.  CCS will require the development of a complex infrastructure but there currently is no economic incentive for doing so.  Some propose, however, that we first focus on carbon capture and utilization (CCU), in which economic benefits are gained through use of the captured carbon.  David Roberts is publishing a four-part series at Vox explaining how CCU might serve as an on-ramp for eventual large-scale application of CCS.  Part 1 was published September 4 and presented a brief introduction to the need for CCS and the various types of CCU that might help get it going.  Part 2 was published October 2 and focused on the largest industrial use of captured CO2: enhanced oil recovery.  Parts 3 and 4 will appear later.  It may be too early to judge whether it will pan out, but scientists and engineers in Canada believe they have developed a way to extract in situ hydrogen from tar sands, while leaving the carbon in the ground.  The hydrogen would provide a clean energy source.

The powering past coal alliance (PPCA), which seeks to establish a global coal phase-out by 2050 at the latest, now has 91 members, all vowing to end the construction of new coal-fired power plants by 2020.  On the other hand, the New South Wales government is considering legislation that could limit the ability for planning authorities to rule out coal mine projects on the basis of the climate change impact of emissions from the coal once it is burned.  China plans to shut a total of 8.66 GW of obsolete coal-fired power capacity by the end of this year, the National Energy Administration said.  In the U.S., a group backed by anonymous donors launched a campaign on Monday to promote the benefits of cheap, abundant natural gas against what it called “radical” proposals like the Green New Deal that would phase out use of the fossil fuel.  On the other hand, opponents of new natural gas pipelines are arguing that their builders are misusing eminent domain.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue of whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued permits for the construction and operation of four new solar projects that will generate a total of 192 MW of electricity.  A modeling study conducted by the Greenlink Group found that adding at least 49 GW of solar energy through 2050 would save Virginia consumers money.

The largest windfarm in the world will have a combined capacity of 3.6 GW and will be located at Dogger Bank off the coast of Yorkshire in the North Sea.  The turbines will be GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X, which have a capacity of 12 MW each and stand 853ft tall with blades that extend 351ft.  The vast majority of offshore wind farms employ turbines fixed to the ocean floor, but waters off the coast of California are too deep for that technology.  Floating turbines offer a solution, but only a few have been tried, all in Europe.  Utility Dive examined the possibility of employing floating turbines in California.  Bloomberg Businessweek examined why it is so hard to get an offshore wind farm built in the U.S. and the A.P. addressed Trump’s dislike for the industry.

At Energy Storage News, Stefan Hogg addressed the need for lithium-ion battery recycling and the challenges facing the industry in developing a system.


On September 20, David Wallace-Wells began publishing a series of interviews at Intelligencer, part of New York Magazine.  The series is entitled “The State of the World: A series about climate change” and comprises in-depth interviews with climate leaders about their views on the future of Earth’s climate.  A list of the interviewees can be found here.  Another article from mid-September that I want to call to your attention focused on the psychological impact of climate change on children.  On that same theme, PBS News Hour presented an article advising how to talk to your children about climate change.  Yale Climate Connections has reposted two short essays from The Conversation by Australian scientists working on the Great Barrier Reef, one near the end of his career, the other near the start of hers.  At The Tyee, Professor Jennifer Ellen Good addressed the link between continual economic growth and climate change, concluding that the news media ignore the clear connection.  On Monday in Harrisonburg, Innovation Hub aired a segment entitled “Fools for Fossil Fuels: A History of Climate Change Inaction.”  Three scientists have been named MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Fellows for their work related to climate change.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has updated its “Climate Opinion Maps,” including a new question on whether the President should do more to address global warming.

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.