Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/18/2019

Politics and Policy

President Donald Trump confirmed that U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will step down from his Cabinet post at the end of the year.  Trump also announced that he would nominate Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette to succeed Perry.  Following on the heels of a federal appeals court ruling that stayed a key permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered that all work on the pipeline stop, except for stabilization and restoration activities.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published a report regarding the financial risk of climate change to low- and moderate-income communities.  The risk is dire, but the report proposes actions that could alter the behavior of financial institutions and local governments, pushing them to better prepare for climate change.  Unlike most Republican-led state governments, Florida has a chief resilience officer, whose job it is to prepare the state for the types of risk considered in the Fed report.  Climate risk has a big impact on the insurance industry, which raises the question of whether it can survive.  At WBUR, Robin Young discussed this question with The Economist finance correspondent Matthieu Favas.  Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, told The Guardian, “Companies and industries that are not moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt…”

Climate change will not be on the agenda at next year’s Group of Seven (G-7) summit hosted by the U.S. at Trump National Doral near Miami.  John D. Macomber of the Harvard Business School examined the options for building (or rebuilding) in an age of climate change.  An editorial in The Economist addressed how national carbon-cutting goals should be expressed.  One example was the necessity to include imbedded-carbon from imports in the calculations.  Forty-five percent of carbon emissions come from making things.  A new report argues that the best way to address them is to shift to a circular economy.  At Yale Environment 360, Fen Montaigne interviewed William Moomaw of Tuft’s University who is a proponent of “proforestation”, leaving older and middle-aged forests intact because of their superior carbon-sequestration abilities.

Umair Irfan and David Roberts at Vox asked the Democratic presidential candidates six climate-related questions that haven’t been asked at the debates.  Nine responded.  The answers can be found here.  If you don’t have time to read their responses, Grist had the highpoints.  Climate change is often listed as a driver of conflict, particularly in regions of the world where water is scarce.  But, is it?  John Vidal addressed that question in Ensia, ending with a quote from a recent paper in Nature: “Across the experts, best estimates are that 3–20% of conflict risk over the past century has been influenced by climate variability or change.”  However, Vidal said, “… they also wrote that the risk of conflict is likely to increase as climate change intensifies.”

Climate and Climate Science

Carbon Brief has published its third quarterly “State of the Climate” report for this year.  So far, it looks like 2019 will be the second warmest year on record, even though there was no El Niño.  Switzerland’s glaciers have lost a tenth of their volume in the past five years alone — a rate of melting that is unprecedented in more than a century of observations.  Even before the impacts of 2019 had occurred, 92% of Greenlanders thought that climate change is happening, but only 52% thought it is human-caused.  National Geographic had an interesting retrospective piece about how scientists discovered that the ice dams that hold back Greenland’s glaciers are being melted from the bottom by warm sea water.

A study published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B found that forest birds take their cue for nesting from nighttime temperatures in the spring.  Consequently, as climate change causes temperatures to rise, the breeding patterns of birds are being altered.  A study published in the journal Nature found that toxic algal blooms are increasing across the world as temperatures rise.  The study was based on 30 years of NASA data.  Driven in part by climate change, species turnover has increased in many ecosystems as species better adapted to current conditions displace traditional ones.

Qatar has already seen average temperatures rise more than 2°C above preindustrial times, which means it is experiencing some very hot temperatures.  In addition, Qatar is very humid, because of its location in the warm Persian Gulf.  Consequently, Qatar is air conditioning the outdoors, which is one reason it has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rate in the world.  Far away from Qatar, in South America, the Xingu River is one of the Amazon River’s largest tributaries, but more than a third of its drainage basin, a region bigger than New York State, is now deforested.  This makes the basin a perfect laboratory in which to study the impact of deforestation on climate and the remaining rainforest.

Two new papers, one in Nature Communications and the other in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined how two important diseases will spread in response to global warming and land use.  The first study looked at Ebola and concluded that as temperatures warm, Ebola will move to other parts of Africa as the bats that harbor the virus move.  The second looked at malaria, finding that deforestation significantly increases its transmission. 

According to this year’s global hunger index, climate change is driving alarming levels of hunger in the world, undermining food security in the world’s most vulnerable regions.  In the U.S., farmers are increasingly experiencing the impacts of severe weather, yet the Department of Agriculture spends just 0.3% of its $144 billion budget helping them adapt to climate change.


This week’s “Climate Fwd: Newsletter” from The New York Times had an interesting article about heat pumps and the energy that they save.  One item that the author didn’t mention is that the cleaner your electricity gets, the cleaner the heat pump gets, as opposed to a furnace, which will always emit greenhouse gases.

According to the NYT, some of the major oil and gas “companies have significantly increased their flaring, as well as the venting of natural gas and other potent greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere, according to data from the three largest shale-oil fields in the United States.”  The Daily Climate published an op-ed piece by Derrick Z. Jackson, a Union of Concerned Scientists Fellow in climate and energy, about the efforts by the natural gas industry to paint itself green.  Although green hydrogen is still very much in its infancy, investors and policymakers are starting to take note.  Consequently, Green Tech Media took a brief look at ten countries beginning to move on this potentially important energy source.

Volvo Cars is targeting a 40% reduction in the carbon footprint of each car it manufactures by 2025 and aims to become fully climate neutral by 2040.  Toward that end, it introduced its first fully electric vehicle, a battery-powered version of its small SUV, the XC40.  Ford announced on Thursday it has developed a 12,000-strong charging station network, called the FordPass Charging Network, that its future electric-vehicle owners will be able to take advantage of.  In a two-part series, Utility Dive and Smart Cities Dive explored the question of how cities and utilities are preparing for the expected increase of electric vehicles in the transportation mix.  (Part I; Part II)

By 2022, 30% of the electricity consumed by state agencies and institutions in Virginia will come from renewable sources, under a new agreement between the Commonwealth and Dominion Energy.  The 12-MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project being developed by Dominion Energy and Orsted US received federal approval of two important permits.  An analysis by Carbon Brief revealed that during the third quarter of 2019, UK electricity production by solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower beat out production by fossil fuels for the first time.  Although many U.S. electric utilities are promising net zero carbon emissions by 2050, most plan to rely heavily on coal and natural gas for decades.  That means continuing increases in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.  In an opinion piece in the NYT, Justin Gillis wrote “What the events in California and Miami and Houston tell us is that we are living through the risks of an altered climate now, not a hundred years from now.  Expect the situation to keep getting worse for the rest of your life.”

In an interview with Reuters, Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell, expressed concern that some shareholders could abandon them due partly to what he called the “demonization” of oil and gas and “unjustified” worries that its business model is unsustainable.  “Despite what a lot of activists say, it is entirely legitimate to invest in oil and gas because the world demands it,” he said.  To illustrate that point, India is investing $60 billion to build a national gas grid and import terminals by 2024 in a bid to cut its carbon emissions.  So how can we rein in oil and gas?  The Guardian presented eight ideas.  Calm has returned to the streets of Quito after Ecuador’s government agreed to reinstate fuel subsidies following eleven days of nationwide, violent protests.


Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition movement, has a new book entitled From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want.  At The New Yorker, Rachel Riederer reviewed two new books dealing with the “stark inequality of climate change”: This Land Is Our Land by Jedediah Purdy and The Geography of Risk by Gilbert Gaul.  Although written from an Australian perspective, Iain Walker and Zoe Leviston’s article about the three forms of climate change denial is equally applicable to the U.S.  There was an interesting article in the NYT entitled “How Guilty Should You Feel About Flying?”.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda continued his summary of recent climate-related reports released so far this year.

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.