Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/8/2019

Politics and Policy

On Monday the Trump administration filed the paperwork with the U.N. to officially withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which cannot occur until Nov. 4, 2020.  In response 24 state governors pledged to uphold the agreement.  At The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer attributed the withdrawal to Trump’s belief in “carbonism.”  Ahead of President Trump’s action, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quietly updated its position on the Agreement to support it.  Thomas Fuller and Coral Davenport had an extensive piece in The New York Times (NYT) that examined how the policies of the Trump administration are hampering California’s efforts to fight climate change.  Meanwhile, a new study by the energy research company Vibrant Clean Energy has found that Colorado can decarbonize its entire state economy while still providing reliable, affordable power.  Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the U.S. where people drive much more than in other countries.  Consequently, Michael Hobbes finds it odd that none of the Democratic presidential contenders has put forth meaningful proposals for dealing with the issue.

The Natural Resources Defense Council announced Tuesday that it has hired Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under President Barack Obama, as its new president and chief executive.  The Senate’s bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus added six new members on Wednesday.  Like the House’s Caucus, members must join two-by-two, with one member from each party.  On Thursday, President Trump formally nominated Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, a former vice president of Ford Motor Co and Louisiana state energy regulator, to head the Department of Energy (DOE).  Fifteen states and a coalition of seven environmental and consumer groups sued DOE on Monday, challenging a decision to eliminate energy efficiency standards for many types of lighting.

Wall Street is incorporating a new risk metric when evaluating companies: climate resiliency.  The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco held the system’s first-ever climate research conference on Friday.  A report published by the Universal Ecological Fund assessed the initial commitments made by the 184 countries that agreed to the Paris Climate Accord in 2015.  They found that only 36 countries made pledges that could conceivably reach the IPCC’s goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.  With sea level rise increasing, coastal communities are facing greater and greater risk.  At Yale Climate Connections, Jan Ellen Spiegel presented some strategies that could help them prepare.

For Prof. Narashimha Rao of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, climate change, at its most essential, is a justice issue.  His research shows that reducing inequality would improve our ability to mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change, and provide for a more stable climate future.  Profs. Ryan Gunderson and Diana Stuart addressed the question of whether corporations should lead climate action and concluded that “Waiting for voluntary corporate actions in a system that still prioritizes profits above all else is simply too slow and may never be effective.”  Umair Irfan of Vox wrote that this week’s legislative elections in Virginia will make it much easier for Governor Ralph Northam to move forward on climate-related initiatives, such as having Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  However, to do so, Virginia’s government must break its bonds with corporate giant Dominion Energy.

Climate and Climate Science

Author Eugene Linden published an opinion piece discussing the various ways in which climate scientists have underestimated the speed at which changes in the climate can occur.  Coincidentally, for the first time, a group of scientists has published an analysis calling climate change an “emergency,” stating that “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.’”  The analysis, published in the journal BioScience, was spearheaded by five scientists and was signed onto by an additional 11,258 from around the world.  The five page summary analysis may be read here.

October was the warmest such month on record globally, narrowly edging out October 2015 for the top spot, according to a new analysis from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.  The Taku Glacier north of Juneau, Alaska, one of the world’s thickest mountain glaciers, has started to retreat as temperatures rise.

A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience examined the complex question of how higher temperatures and CO2 concentrations will affect the availability of water.  In addition, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that greenhouse gas emissions until 2030 pledged under the Paris Climate Agreement lock in 1 m of sea-level rise in the year 2300, even without any additional emissions.

A study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, has projected that by 2100 under business‐as‐usual greenhouse gas emissions, the total abundance of emperor penguins will decline by 81% relative to its initial size, regardless of dispersal abilities.  In contrast, if the Paris Agreement objectives are met, viable emperor penguin refuges will exist in Antarctica.  As a result, the global population is projected to decline by 31% under Paris-1.5°C and 44% under Paris-2°C, before rebounding somewhat.  The phocine distemper virus (PDV) has plagued marine mammals for decades in the North Atlantic Ocean, but now it has shown up in the North Pacific Ocean.  Infected seals from Europe traveled through passages along Northern Russia that had been opened up by lower sea ice levels, allowing the virus to be transmitted to the North Pacific.


Data on the sources of power in the National Electricity Market in Australia showed that at 11:50 am on Wednesday, renewables were providing 50.2% of the power to Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia – the five states served by the market.  Early next year, one of the first power projects that combine solar and wind generation with battery storage is planning to start up in northern Queensland state.  The project aims to provide more information on how to firm-up intermittent renewable power so that the lights stay on when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.  New Zealand has adopted a legally-binding target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  With its economy growing, but with no space for large solar farms, no place to construct hydropower dams, and a dwindling natural gas supply, Bangladesh plans to build 29 coal-fired power plants in the next 20 years, increasing coal’s contribution to its power supply from 2% to 35%.  Both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the International Energy Agency are predicting major declines for fossil fuels and nuclear power alongside strong growth in renewables by 2022 in the U.S.

In an interview with the Energy News Network, Joe Woomer, vice president of grid and technical solutions for Dominion Energy’s Power Delivery Group, talked about the industry’s transformation.  Apex Clean Energy is seeking an amended permit from the Botetourt County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors to allow them to increase the height of the proposed wind turbines on North Mountain to 700 ft.

A paper in the journal Science Advances describes a passive system capable of cooling things down by 23°F without using any power.  BBC News reviewed the current status of nuclear fusion as a source of energy.  The world depends on chemical production to form the ammonia at the heart of modern agriculture.  The process for making ammonia has been around for over 100 years and produces large quantities of CO2 — about 1% of all human emissions.  Now a paper in the journal Joule describes a new process that can cut the CO2 emissions in half.

A new research paper in the journal Nature describes how NASA scientists were able to use airborne spectrophotometry to detect and quantify methane emissions from point sources in California.  A key finding was that just 10% of the emitters were responsible for 60% of the total methane emitted, suggesting that major reductions can be achieved by correcting a relatively small number of emitters.  A new report from Carbon Tracker found that none of the major oil and gas companies are on track to be aligned with Paris by 2040.  Combined, they must cut production by 35% if nations are the meet the collective ambitions of the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to below 2°C.  In spite of that, the NYT reports that a surge of oil production is coming as a result of activities in Brazil, Canada, Norway, and Guyana.

China plans to lead the world in electric vehicle production with an associated infrastructure for vehicle charging.  Toyota has made its hybrid owners unhappy by siding with President Trump on the fuel-economy standards issue.  Lordstown Motors Corp. has bought a massive assembly plant that General Motors shut down earlier this year in Ohio.  The company will use it to build a new electric pickup truck that will be marketed to commercial customers.

The U.S. has become only the second country in the world with 100 GW of operational wind capacity, following China.  More than a quarter of that capacity is in Texas.  A preliminary study suggests that the Block Island Wind Farm has improved fishing in the area by acting as an artificial reef, causing greater fish species diversity.


At The Conversation, Anitra Nelson and Brian Coffee discussed the principles of ecological economics and explained its role in future planning in the face of climate change.  Economist Mark Jaccard has a new book out, entitled A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress.  He was interviewed about it by Nathanael Johnson at Grist.  Amy Brady interviewed Kassandra Montag, author of the new cli-fi book After the Flood.  In an article in Columbia Journalism Review about media coverage of climate change, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope wrote: “While much work still needs to be done, climate coverage does seem to have turned a corner.  The climate silence that had long pervaded so much of the media has been broken.”

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.