Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/8/2019

This week’s Roundup was prepared by Joy Loving and Bishop Dansby.

Politics and Policy

This week saw the President give a “state of the union” address.  Per this Washington Post item, three areas he didn’t mention:  coal, renewable energy, and climate change.

There may be some narrowing of the partisan divide over whether and how to address climate change risks.  This Green Tech Network/Energy News Network podcast offers some insights.

What to do about transportation sector contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and how to do it is a big question.  Southeast Energy News says Virginia could be on a path to addressing this question. The Transportation Research Board of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has issued a policy snapshot, “Critical Issues in Transportation 2019” takes a broad and long-term view of 12 areas needing attention.

The Register-Herald, Beckley WV, reported that VA Tech researchers will use U.S. Department of Energy grant money to study ways to “reduce the stress of renewables on the nation’s power grid”.  Hopefully, their results will lead to more favorable federal and state policies on renewable energy.

Several recent articles covered a study that concluded “Climate change skeptics live where its effects are hurting economy most”; this headline is from CBS NewsThe Hill put it this way:  “Climate change likely to hit red states hardest”.  Brookings weighed in also:  “How the geography of climate damage could make the politics less polarizing”.

You will recall that a favorite trope of conservative talk show hosts was the Obama restriction on incandescent lightbulbs (actually, energy standards that affected inefficient bulbs). Now, the U.S. Department of Energy has a proposal to roll back standards on lightbulbs that will cost consumers billions. Further, the proposal sets up all sorts of barriers designed to slow progress and compromise the highly successful standards program that saves the average household more than $500 off their energy bills every year.

When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined members of the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats at a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office pushing a Green New Deal in November, she framed the proposal, which few had then heard of, as the only way for the Party and the country to seriously address climate change. “We do not have a choice,” she told them. “We have to get to one hundred per cent renewable energy in ten years. There is no other option.” The Green New Deal resolution as now drafted some three months later has language that leaves open the possibility of sustaining or expanding nuclear energy, which had been rejected in an open letter last month from over six hundred environmental groups, including the Sunrise Movement. The resolution also does not rule out the possibility of a carbon tax—an idea favored by centrists but viewed as inadequate by many climate activists.

Technology

There is a lot of buzz about a “green new deal” for America.  Architectural Digest discusses what this might mean for building design.

GM and other car makers have said that they are going ‘all-electric,” and yet GM has discontinued their Chevy Volt and continues to crank out conventional vehicles. Nevertheless, GM CEO Barra repeated Wednesday GM’s intent to go all-electric, but it doesn’t expect to make money off battery-powered cars until early next decade.

Railroads have long been the most efficient form of transport. Global transport emissions could peak in the 2030s if railways are “aggressively” expanded, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Tesla has acquired Maxwell Technologies, a company you probably have never heard of. Maxwell is a capacitor manufacturer, including something called the ultra-capacitor. It is well known that batteries have limitations that ultra-capacitors do not have, and vice versa. Tesla’s Elon Musk has been quoted as having a personal fascination with ultra-capacitors. Tesla’s purchase of Maxwell might signal an interest in using ultra-capacitor to power electric cars.

 Climate

A recent New York Times article in its “Climate Forward” series warns in stark terms that shrinking glaciers mean less water for human consumption and for agriculture, affecting millions of people.  And The Guardian reporter David Wallace-Wells tells us that after researching the already-happening and likely-future effects of global warming, he’s no longer a doubter about what the world will be like in 2100—again, a gloomy perspective with a chilling image of an August 2018 Portugal wildfire.  The Washington Post reminds us, through stories about real people and communities called “Gone in a Generation”, that the U.S. isn’t immune from climate calamities and, indeed, that they’re already happening.

How about a wall to combat climate change?  “The Navy Wants to Build a Wall to Stave Off Climate Change”, according to a Bloomberg report.  Perhaps this barrier will actually keep unwanted water out.

An intriguing study reported in ScienceDirect examines whether carbon dioxide reductions in the late 1500s were connected to human explorations in the “new world”.

A research team working on Baffin Island in Northeastern Canada has uncovered evidence that today’s Earth looks a lot like it did 115,000 years ago. All we’re missing is the much higher sea level that was present at that time. New research suggests the planet is already paralleling the most recent major warm period in its past. Now the only question is how fast Antarctica could collapse to raise sea level.

If climate change changed the color of the oceans, would that get the world’s attention? The changes in color are in part a function of the fluctuating populations of phytoplankton, or algae — the microscopic plants that, across their thousands of different species, do some rather heavy lifting for the global ecosystem.

When we think about all that climate change imperils, we don’t always think about art and history.  Maybe we should, given that “9 Famous Sites from Art History Are in Danger of Destruction”, according to this Artsy article.

Energy

Nary does a week go by without an article, or 6, about the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and/or Mountain Valley Pipelines (MVP).  Here’s one from Reuter’s about rising costs because of construction delays.  And here’s a WHSV-TV item about one type of delay.  The current General Assembly is trying to decide how much authority the State Corporation Commission has on the subject of Dominion claims for ratepayer-reimbursement for the ACP.  Here’s Bacon’s Rebellion’s piece on a recent House vote on HB 1718.  And, as has been true from the beginnings of the ACP and MVP, the thorny issue of eminent domain continues to matter to many—as indicated in this Reuter’s item and in this Roanoke Times piece.

Many rural counties struggle with the pros and cons of large solar farms.  Here’s an interesting article about a win-win approach that doesn’t actually reduce agricultural use while allowing solar panels.

The World Economic Forum recently heard from CEOs Jules Kortenhurst of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Cristina Lampe-Onnerrud of Cadenza Innovation about the urgent need to move more quickly to reduce carbon emissions.  And RMI did a piece about China’s efforts in this regard, as did Renewable Energy World (REW).

There have been a number of recent articles about the changing relationship between utilities and their customers and about changing utility business models.  REW ran an article titled “How Utilities and Consumers Can Join Forces to Power the Sustainable Future”.  REW did another article, “Why Community Solar Is the Future of the Industry”.  And Green Tech Network offered up this item:  “Utilities ‘Need to Be More’ Than Electricity Providers, Entergy and ComEd Execs Declare”.  Chron published “University of Houston courts oil and gas for work on carbon management”.  And of all corporations, “BP will link bonuses for 36,000 workers to climate targets”, according to CNN Business item.

During the 2019 Virginia Assembly session, there was no lack of renewable energy and energy efficiency bills to alter the barriers in current laws.  Ivy Main’s blog Power for the People provided a Feb 4 status update on how these bills fared.  The picture she paints shows Virginia legislators have a way to go.

In contrast, Dominion Energy has been supporting the education of Virginia teachers about solar energy so they can in turn educate students.  The Dickenson Star reported on a southwest Virginia event, as did the Bluefield WV Telegraph.  Closer to home, The Citizen reported recently in two articles about the Harrisonburg school board’s efforts to put solar panels on schools and the dilemma posed for the city’s municipal electric utility (Harrisonburg Electric Commission–HEC) and city officials and staff.  Other nearby schools’ systems (Albemarle and Augusta Counties) have managed to make this happen, but it appears HEC and Harrisonburg have a financial interest in their schools’ not going solar.  Two other Citizen articles, one about a sustainability effort in the city and the other about the city council’s vision for Harrisonburg by 2039 provide further context about the challenges the city faces.

Australia has been experiencing record high temperatures.  Yale Environment 360 published an article about how renewables helped keep the grid operating.

Advertisements

Climate Change and Climate Science: The Ghost of Christmas Future

Les'TalkSnip

The speaker series “Democracy in Peril?” is pleased to announce our next session: “Climate Change and Climate Science: The Ghost of Christmas Future.” The presentation, given by Dr. Leslie Grady, Professor Emeritus in Environmental Engineering at Clemson University, will take place on Monday, February 11 from 5-6:30PM in Madison Hall Conference Room (Room 1001) at James Madison University.

For years, climate scientists have warned about the dangers of man-made global warming. Yet just as the Ghost of Christmas Future showed Scrooge what may happen depending on how he acted, climate science provides us with glimpses of possible futures that depend on how we respond. Some future warming is inevitable because of accumulated greenhouse gases, but its severity and impact on precipitation, drought, agriculture, and sea level will depend on how quickly industrial nations adopt renewable energy sources and how generously they assist developing nations in doing so as well. Dr. Leslie Grady, an environmental engineer and Professor Emeritus from Clemson University, will discuss what many have called the most difficult challenge ever faced by humankind, one that puts democracy itself in danger. An open discussion with audience members will follow the presentation.

The Democracy in Peril series is co-sponsored by the History Department, the Office of Faculty Access and Inclusion, the Lifelong Learning Institute, the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement, the College of Arts and Letters, and the Center for Global Engagement. This session is also co-sponsored by the JMU’s Office of the President.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/1/2019

Policy and Politics

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are planning to unveil legislation for a Green New Deal (GND) in the coming days.  Atlantic staff writer Robinson Meyer explained why the “task is enormous, and the path is narrow” to passing the GND through Congress.  Dana Nuccitelli expressed concern about some aspects of the letter sent to Congress by 626 organizations urging lawmakers to consider a number of principles when crafting climate legislation like the GND.  Last week I included articles about AOC’s 12-year deadline comment.  This week Joe Romm explained where it came from.  The 2018 midterms saw several green-minded governors either elected for the first time or reelected.  David Roberts reviewed their early actions on climate change at Vox.  The nation’s intelligence community warned in its annual assessment of worldwide threats that climate change poses risks to global stability because it is “likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.”

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler put eight new members on the agency’s main board of external science advisers, including John Christy, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.  Christy is an outspoken climate skeptic who argues that the climate is less sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions than the scientific consensus has found.  Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur says she will not seek a third term after being told by Senate leaders she would not be renominated.  Bill Gates is making the rounds on Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to spend billions of dollars over the next decade for pilot projects to test new designs for nuclear power reactors.  The Navy is considering erecting a 14-foot flood wall around the Washington Navy Yard to protect it from rising sea levels.  A series of new reports shows how climate change is intertwined with the world’s worsening health, and suggests changes in the global food production system.

The Energy Information Administration issued its Annual Energy Outlook on January 24, but Dan Gearino argued that its projections underestimate both the rate at which coal will decline and the rate at which wind power will grow.  The gap between Canada’s proposed climate efforts and its 2030 Paris Agreement target has grown even wider in the last year.  A report from the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center found that 47 states and the District of Columbia took some type of distributed solar policy action during 2018.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will host “Brightfields 2019 — Virginia”, a solar energy development conference, April 9-10 at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday stayed a previous court decision against Forest Service permits that allowed construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) across national forests and the Appalachian Trail.  A bill designed to wean Virginia’s electricity sector off of fossil fuels failed on a partisan vote in the state House of Delegates late Thursday afternoon.  Another piece of legislation advancing through the General Assembly would add new restrictions on Dominion Energy’s ability to pass along costs of transporting gas from the ACP to its Virginia-based power stations.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell presented a short compilation of realistic but optimistic clean energy news mostly from 2018 and Amy Brady interviewed Dominican novelist Rita Indiana about her book Tentacle.  A few of artist Katherine Wolkoff’s black and white photographs from her exhibit in New York City can be viewed at The Cut.  Michael Svoboda presented a list of 2018’s most significant climate change reports at Yale Climate Connections.  The latest video from Peter Sinclair is about the “methane time bomb” and whether we should be concerned about it.  Climate Interactive posted a video of climate scientist Beth Sawin’s TEDx talk about multisolving.  Kaelyn Lynch reviewed James Balog’s (Chasing Ice) latest film, The Human Element, for Outside magazine.  Sam Wall of The Roanoke Times interviewed Radford University English professor Rick Van Noy about his new book: “Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South”.  In an opinion piece at CNN, author Mark Lynas wrote: “I am currently working on an updated edition of Six Degrees.  It’s a scary task because many of the impacts that I had previously put in later chapters — equating to three or more degrees of global warming — have had to be moved forwards, because they are happening already.”

Climate

A report published in Nature last week, projects that the planet’s capacity to take in CO2 could begin to decline starting in 2060.  If those projections prove true, it would create a feedback loop that could accelerate the worst effects of global warming.  New research from the Brookings Institution suggests that areas where Americans are the most skeptical about climate change will be the hardest hit by its effects.  Furthermore, over the coming years and decades, climate change will harm much of the inland U.S., causing billions of dollars in losses by 2100.

Zoeann Murphey and Chris Mooney published a four-part multimedia series in The Washington Post about how climate change is impacting American’s lives.  The New York Times had an article about the polar vortex and its effects on extremely cold weather.  The article had a very interesting and descriptive animation of what happens.  At Carbon Brief, Robert McSweeney spoke with a number of climate scientists about how changes in the Arctic can cause extreme weather across the mid-latitudes.

New research, published in Science, challenges the long-held view that the strength of the “Atlantic Conveyer Belt” (ACB) is primarily driven by processes in the Labrador Sea, which is in the northwest Atlantic.  Instead, the strength of the ACB is most linked to processes in waters between Greenland and Scotland.  Chris Mooney discussed the significance of this to climate change.

On Friday, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology released its climate summary for January and said that the month was Australia’s hottest on record.  The Berkeley Earth scientific team has reported that in 2018, 29 countries plus Antarctica set individual records for the hottest year ever, while no country saw a record cold year.  Arctic summers may be hotter now than they have been for 115,000 years, according to new research published in Nature Communications.

A massive cavity two-thirds the size of Manhattan and almost 1,000 ft tall has been discovered in the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.  Jeff Goodell is accompanying a team of scientists to Antarctica whose mission is to better understand the risk of catastrophic collapse of Thwaites Glacier.  He will be writing a series of dispatches during his trip.  The first is here.

Energy

A new report, from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s One Earth initiative, lays out a blueprint to keep warming in check without relying on nuclear power or new technologies to capture CO2 that haven’t yet been proven at scale.  If technologies to capture CO2 are required, researchers have found a way to do so using a chemical technique similar to one scuba divers and submarines use to “rebreathe” CO2-rich exhalations.

A panel appointed by the German government has recommended that Germany stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2038 at the latest.  New wind, solar, and biomass power generation displaced hard coal last year according to a review of 2018 European electricity statistics.  China’s renewable power capacity rose 12% in 2018 compared to a year earlier.  In the UK, Cornwall Insight’s new projections suggest the emergence of a new generation of giant offshore wind turbines, coupled with on-going planned restrictions for onshore turbines, could see offshore projects undercut their onshore equivalent on a levelized cost of energy basis by around 2028.  Brazil’s new government announced plans to build a bridge over the Amazon River in Pará state to begin developing what he called an “unproductive, desertlike” region – a reference to the Amazon rainforest.

In the U.S., companies and government agencies last year signed contracts to buy 13.4 GW of clean power.  That easily shattered the prior record of 6.1 GW that was set in 2017.  New information from Texas grid operator ERCOT showed that carbon-free resources made up more than 30% of its 2018 energy consumption, and a slightly larger percentage of its 2019 generation capacity.  NextEra Energy’s CEO Jim Robo said that even after federal tax credits expire, electricity from wind will be 2–2.5¢/kw-hr and from large-scale solar 2.5–3¢/kw-hr.  Storage will add 0.5–1¢/kw-hr.  This would put these resources slightly below the current cost of natural gas-fired generation.  An estimated $8 billion in savings could be achieved in five years if just a third of all major electricity transmission projects across the nation were opened up to competition, according to a report by the Brattle Group.

Tesla has posted profits in consecutive quarters for the first time since going public in 2010.  Shell New Energies, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, acquired EV charging startup Greenlots.  In 2018, Ingka Group, the parent company of Ikea, pledged that Ikea will deliver every item worldwide by electric vehicle by 2025.  It started by promising a switch to EVs in five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Amsterdam, and Shanghai) by 2020.  As of January 23, it had already reached that goal in Shanghai.

The International Council on Clean Transportation released a study on the climate impacts of a creating a new commercial supersonic aircraft network Wednesday.  A new report from the International Energy Agency has found that urban and high-speed rail hold “major promise to unlock substantial benefits”, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, and air pollution.  Carbon Brief examined eight key charts from the report showing the status of rail in the world today and how it could reduce emissions in future.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/25/2019

Policy and Politics

California’s fuel standard, designed to reduce emissions of CO2 from transportation fuels sold in the state, is a valid measure, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last Friday.  As a result of last week’s letter by the economists about a carbon tax, columnist Robert J. Samuelson said he is “(slightly) less pessimistic about global warming.”  Two University of Pennsylvania academics argued in The Washington Post that the U.S. already has a carbon tax: “one that is hidden, unfair and ever-increasing.  Call it the do-nothing climate tax.”  In the first of a two part series at Environmental Health News, journalist Lewis Raven Wallace wrote: “Public housing residents, along with other poor, disabled, elderly, and vulnerable people, are becoming a first wave of climate migrants in the U.S.—people selectively displaced … because they can’t afford to stay.”  Part 2 is entitled “Lingering long after a storm, mold and mental health issues.”  Writing in The Guardian, Gabrielle Canon said “A study released this year by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saved the nation $6 in future disaster costs.”

In a recent paper in Nature Climate Change, a team of academic researchers laid out the pervasive nature of misinformation campaigns on climate change instigated by the “climate countermovement” and proposed three approaches for dealing with it.  On Monday Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said “Millennials and Gen Z and all these folks that come after us are looking up, and we’re like, ‘The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, and your biggest issue is how are we gonna pay for it?’.”  The press focused on the “12 years”, which caused Andrew Freedman at Axios to seek clarification from some prominent climate scientists.

At Axios, Amy Harder provided a primer on climate change policy.  On Thursday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) unveiled the ‘‘Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019’’ with a few other Democrats and one Republican.  The bill would impose an initial $15-per-ton CO2-e “fee” on fossil fuel producers, processors, and importers that rises $10 annually.  All the revenues are returned to the public via a “dividend.”  On a split vote, a Virginia legislative committee approved a bill to halt construction of power plants that use fossil fuels and pipelines that carry such fuels after 2020 and to develop a plan for the state to rely totally on renewable energy for generating electricity by 2036.  Two polls out this week updated our understanding of the American public’s views on climate change.  Unfortunately, a significant majority of Americans are unwilling to contribute $10 each month to address it.

In another article in its series about agriculture and climate, Inside Climate News argued that industrial farming encourages practices that degrade the soil and increase emissions, while leaving farmers more vulnerable to damage as the planet warms.  On Wednesday, Vineyard Wind and a group of conservation organizations entered into an unprecedented agreement to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.  The agreement offers a template for future development of offshore wind.

Potpourri

Guardian reporter Megan Mayhew Bergman, a southerner, continued her travels through the South assessing people’s responses to climate change.  She “found that many members of coastal communities have built up psychological resilience after living through years of extreme weather.”  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed novelist Cai Emmons about his book Weather Woman.  Brady also interviewed interdisciplinary artist Catherine Sarah Young for her Burning Worlds newsletter.  In The Guardian, celebrated author Annie Proulx looked at her favorite books to help us cope with how our world is changing, writing “We need clear explanations of climate change, what it means and how to cope with it.”

Climate

On Thursday, Berkeley Earth became the second group to determine that 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record, following the Copernicus Climate Change Service earlier in the month.  Ordinarily, NASA and NOAA would have released their rankings by this time, but the government shutdown has delayed them.  Nevertheless, both are expected to also rank 2018 as fourth hottest.  Perhaps as a result of the past four years, more Americans now think that climate change is happening and is human-caused.

New research published by the International Committee of the Red Cross has established a relationship between a changing climate and conflict, leading to increased migration.  Furthermore, a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change discovered that deteriorating climate conditions played “a statistically significant role” in the recent waves of migrants fleeing Middle East conflict.  The insurance giant Aon reported on Tuesday that the global cost of extreme weather in 2018 hit $215 billion.

Dr. Sigrid Lind, from the Institute of Marine Research and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Norway, told a conference in Norway that the Barents Sea is changing from an Arctic climate to an Atlantic climate as the water gets warmer.  Also in the Arctic, Greenland’s enormous ice sheet is melting at an accelerated rate and could become a major factor in sea-level rise around the world within two decades.  Climate change is intensifying a new military buildup in the Arctic, as regional powers attempt to secure northern borders that until recently were reinforced by a continental-sized division of ice.

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change combined groundwater model results with global datasets of the planet’s ground and surface water to examine how long it takes groundwater sources around the world to respond to stresses caused by climate change, such as changes in rainfall patterns.  Another paper in Nature Climate Change, reported that over the last 40 years the number of krill in the Southern Ocean has decreased and their location has moved southward.  At the other pole, killer whales are extending their range into the Chukchi Sea as a result of warming water and less sea ice.

A consultant’s study warned that climate change’s future impacts on Virginia Beach could cost from $1.7 billion to $3.8 billion for new citywide infrastructure.  Failure to prepare, on the other hand, could cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars — a year.  Further south, Miami-Dade County is facing even larger problems, particularly to its water supply.  At Bloomberg Businessweek Christopher Flavelle examined the threats and the potential costs to adapt to them.  On the other side of the world, Bangladesh, already grappling with the Rohingya crisis, now faces a devastating migration problem as hundreds of thousands face an impossible choice between coastlines battered by sea level rise and urban slums.

Energy

A new report from Deloitte — entitled “New market. New entrants. New challenges.” — suggests that the market for pure electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles is fast approaching a “tipping point” that should drive soaring sales over the next decade.  Furthermore, it predicts that globally the cost of ownership for EVs will match gasoline and diesel models by 2024.  Nevertheless, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency reminded the attendees that the growth in EV sales will have little impact on oil demand for the foreseeable future because it is being driven by trucks, the petrochemical industry, and planes.  BP said on Thursday it had invested in Chinese start-up PowerShare, which links electric vehicle drivers to charging points and helps power suppliers balance distribution.  Utility and auto executives, state and local government officials, and environmentalists gathered in Chicago Wednesday for a summit aimed at overcoming barriers to EV adoption in the Midwest.  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed a sweeping executive order aimed at increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles in Colorado, a move that’s expected to mean more EVs will be available for purchase in the state and sets Colorado on a path to be aligned with California’s standards.  Cities that have purchased electric buses are reporting difficulty with the buses’ battery life when the weather is too hot or too cold, as well as difficulties on routes with hills.

The latest S&P Global Market Intelligence data show that 49 GW of new power generation capacity will be added in the U.S. in 2019, with 45% from wind and 22% from solar.  We will also see the retirement of nearly 6 GW of coal.  New information from Texas grid operator ERCOT showed that carbon-free resources made up more than 30% of its 2018 energy consumption.  The largest share of credit goes to the state’s massive wind farms, which provided 18.6% of 2018 energy.  A new report by the World Resources Institute has found that while progress has been made toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, progress has been insufficient to allow global greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2020.  At Forbes, Jude Clemente argued that China’s coal reliance is not falling nearly as fast as some like to claim.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Eric Luo, president of China’s GCL System Integration Technology Co, a maker of solar panels, said the global solar power industry is about to lose a major competitive windfall as prices of Chinese-made solar panels begin to recover after a collapse last year.  Solar panel prices are already stabilizing and he expects them to rebound by 10 to 15% as the industry consolidates.  Agrivoltaics employs photovoltaic arrays that are raised far enough off the ground and spaced in such a way that some crops can still grow around and beneath the panels, or cattle can graze.

Projections from the Energy Information Administration suggest that by 2050, U.S. CO2 emissions from energy use will decline only about 2.5% as oil and gas production expand.

Legal delays on key environmental permits for the $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) are starting to impact the pipeline’s owners – and raise concerns among investors.  A U.S. appeals court will let the Trump administration pull back a contested permit authorizing the ACP to cross under the Blue Ridge Parkway, allowing the National Park Service to reconsider the authorization and consult with other agencies.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/18/2019

Policy and Politics

Growing tension between the world’s major powers is the most urgent global risk and makes it harder to mobilize collective action to tackle climate change, according to a report prepared for next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  “Imposing a cost on carbon is the most economically efficient way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” yet public support is an “obstacle” to this, argue three experts on climate policy and climate economics, in the journal Nature. However, “opposition can dissipate once the benefits become clear”, they say.  In letter published Wednesday evening in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), forty-five top economists from across the political spectrum, including 27 Nobel laureates in economics, all four living former chairs of the Federal Reserve, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors, and two former Treasury Secretaries, called for the U.S. to put a tax on carbon, saying it is by far the best way for the nation to address climate change.  Last week, 626 environmental groups sent a letter to every member of Congress calling on them to support the Green New Deal.  However, six of the largest, most influential environmental advocacy groups didn’t sign it.  In its present form, the Green New Deal is very proscriptive regarding clean energy, prompting David Roberts to opine that that is one fight that should be avoided right now.  Daisy Simmons listed six things everyone should know about it at Yale Climate Connection.

Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, stated during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he would continue the administration’s aggressive reversal of environmental rules.  The Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan would increase greenhouse gas emissions in much of the U.S. more than doing nothing at all, according to new research.  Across the country, cities are implementing new housing and transit laws that have a secondary effect of lowering their emissions of greenhouse gases.  In The New York Times, senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin wrote about the four key issues determining climate change’s impact on the economy.  A new Pentagon report identifies significant risks from climate change at scores of military bases and says the Defense Department is taking protective measures against the threat.  But members of Congress, who requested the report, said it lacks the detail they were looking for.

While the Trump administration envisions energy and mineral exploration as part of the future of the land removed from Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, because of poor economics it is uncertain whether anyone will lease the land.  In a controversial move, President Trump issued an executive order on the Friday before Christmas that expands logging on public land in the West on the grounds that it will curb deadly wildfires.  Last week the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection reopened a public comment period for modifications to a combined state and federal permitting process that Mountain Valley must complete before it can dig trenches through streams and wetlands for its pipeline.

A modeling study published in Nature Communications found that there is a 64% chance of holding global warming to less than 1.5°C if no new fossil fuel infrastructure is built and all existing such infrastructure is replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of its useful life.  Executives at the major U.S. automakers are pressing the Trump administration and California to agree on standards for fuel efficiency and carbon emissions through 2025.  On Thursday Virginia’s State Corporation Commission rejected most of Dominion Energy’s $6 billion proposal to modernize its electrical grid, stating that the cost to customers was too high.  One of the most conservative legislators in the Virginia General Assembly has proposed using the proceeds from the sale of electricity from solar arrays at schools to help finance badly needed repairs at many schools.  Ivy Main posted her annual compilation of climate and energy bills files with the Virginia General Assembly this year.

With “This Land,” artist David Opdyke melds art and activism, hoping to inspire urgent changes in the perception of climate change.  On BBC Culture, Diego Arguedas Ortiz explored climate fiction by addressing the question: “Can imagined futures of drowned cities and solar utopias help us grasp the complexity of climate change?”.  Last year, academic political theorists Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann published a book entitled Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future.  Isaac Chotiner interviewed them for The New Yorker.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell had a short piece highlighting two upbeat articles on strategies for combatting climate change that came out while I was taking Christmas break.  Also, SueEllen Campbell teamed up with philosopher, writer, and climate activist Kathleen Dean Moore to write an inspiring piece about why they won’t quit pushing for climate action.

Climate

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the rate of ice loss from Antarctica has accelerated since 1979 and is now six times larger than it was then.  Furthermore, the rate of ice loss from East Antarctica is much larger than had previously been thought.  Another study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, found that vast areas of permafrost around the world warmed significantly over the past decade, intensifying concerns about accelerated releases of methane and CO2 as microbes decompose the thawing organic soils.  The disintegration of permafrost is also causing big problems for communities and military installations in the Arctic by damaging roads and other infrastructure as the land destabilizes and erodes.  In addition, mountain glaciers around the world are also melting, threatening water supplies for millions of people.  NYT journalist Henry Fountain and photographer Ben Solomon visited Kazakhstan to report on the Tuyuksu glacier, which is rapidly melting.

The same group of scientists that reported last week that the oceans were warming 40% faster than they were five years ago, reported this week that 2018 was the warmest year on record for the oceans.  Furthermore, the top five years of ocean heat content have come in the last five years.  Carbon Brief presented its “State of the Climate” report for 2018.

Research published on Wednesday in the journals Science Advances and Global Change Biology examined the future of coffee plants and found that 60% of the world’s coffee species are at risk of extinction in the wild due to climate change, habitat loss, and the spread of diseases and pests.  Scientist Brad Lister returned to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years and found that 98% of ground insects and 80% of leaf canopy insects had vanished.  The most likely cause is global warming.

Rising global temperatures could lead to many more deaths a year than the 250,000 predicted by the World Health Organization just five years ago, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Speaking of rising temperatures, Australia has been in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave this week.

An ambitious report on the global food system from a commission convened by the medical journal The Lancet calls for a radical change in food production.  “The dominant diets that the world has been producing and eating for the past 50 years are no longer nutritionally optimal, are a major contributor to climate change, and are accelerating erosion of natural biodiversity,” The Lancet‘s editors wrote in a commentary accompanying the report, released Wednesday.

Energy

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest power company, intends to file for bankruptcy as it faces tens of billions of dollars in potential liability because of the wildfires that devastated parts of the state over the past two years.  This could have big impacts in the clean energy world.

China put just over 43 GW of new solar generation capacity into operation in 2018, down 18% from a year earlier.  Florida Power & Light Co. announced a major solar plan Wednesday, vowing to install more than 30 million solar panels in Florida by 2030.  In 2019, more renewable energy will be added to the U.S. grid than fossil fuel-based energy, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration.  A scathing new report from the Rachel Carson Council examines the wood pellet biofuel industry, specifically operations in North Carolina, and its “severely adverse” environmental and health effects.  Wood pellet producer Enviva called the report misleading and factually incorrect.

A former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday cast doubt about whether nuclear technology can be used to combat climate change, calling it “old technology.”  Nuclear power has also remained terribly expensive.

Last week I linked to one of the articles that reported that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.4% in 2018.  Part of that increase was caused by increased air traffic, with demand for jet fuel rising 3%.  On the subject of greenhouse gas emissions, Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic sought answers to the question of whether those emissions were following the worst case scenario proposed in the 2014 IPCC report.

Volkswagen has selected Chattanooga, Tennessee as its first North American manufacturing facility for electric vehicle (EV) production, which will require an investment of $800 million and create 1,000 new jobs.  GM is shifting 75% of its powertrain engineers from internal-combustion engines to electric vehicle development as it prepares to unleash of wave of EVs under the Cadillac brand.  Carbon dioxide emissions from EVs are 40% lower than internal combustion engine vehicles, even when the EVs are charged using electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, according to research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Unfortunately, right now, according to Nexus Media, car companies aren’t even trying to sell EVs.  The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it is launching a research center on lithium battery recycling in an effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources for the metal that is used in electric vehicles and electronics.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/11/2019

Policy and Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up ExxonMobil’s latest attempt to block Massachusetts’ investigation into whether the oil giant misled the public and investors about climate change.  The decision clears the way for state Attorney General Maura Healey to force the company to turn over records.  If you would like to read a recap of how the fossil fuel industry got the media to think climate change was debatable, Amy Westervelt provided one at The Washington Post.

President Trump has formally nominated Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist who has led the EPA in an acting capacity for six months, to serve as EPA administrator.  Meanwhile, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the EPA to release about 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and 25 Trump officials, including Wheeler.  Nations that abandon the Paris Climate Agreement will ultimately be worse off economically despite some GDP benefits from reneging, according to a new analysis by researchers with the Brookings Institution.

One change with the new Congress is the appointment of a new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL).  USA Today interviewed her about her plans for the committee, given its restrictions.  Former Congressman Ryan Costello, a moderate Republican from southeastern Pennsylvania, has joined Americans for Carbon Dividends as managing director.  He warned that Republicans are at risk of losing more seats in Congress if they don’t start offering real solutions to climate change.  Washington Governor Jay Inslee is considering running for president with a campaign centered on climate change.  He has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry should he run.

Signs are emerging that a significant shift is under way in the response to climate change, dividing it into two related, but distinct, priorities: working to curb greenhouse gases to limit the odds of worst-case outcomes later this century, while simultaneously boosting resilience to current and anticipated climatic and coastal hazards.  Hundreds of environmental organizations signed a letter Thursday backing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in the U.S.  The groups, led by organizations like Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, told members of the House in the open letter that lawmakers should pursue the Green New Deal.  The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 in favor of a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, allowing construction of a 54,000-horsepower natural gas compressor station in a historic African-American community.  Prior to the vote, two former board members maintained that the information available to the board from the utility and staff was inaccurate.  The permit for the compressor station requires the use of technology that will minimize the leakage of methane and other volatile organic compounds.

On Tuesday, Carbon Brief published its annual analysis of the climate-related papers that garnered the most attention in the media last year.  Rob Hopkins had a very interesting interview with artist James McKay at Resilience.  McKay works with engineers, scientists, and ordinary citizens to help them visualize what a low carbon future will look like.  Through his work, McKay has gone from being pessimistic about the future to being wildly optimistic.  Jonathan Watts interviewed climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe for The Guardian.  When asked how much she thought the world will warm, she replied “I hope with all my heart that we stay under 1.5°C, but my cynical brain says 3°C.  Perhaps the reality will be somewhere between my head and my heart at 2°C.”  At Quora, Hayhoe addressed the question “What do the most viable climate solutions look like, and how should they be implemented?”.  Forbes republished her answer.  If you’ve been wondering what it takes to do research on climate in the Arctic, you can read what Kristen Pope learned when she went to Greenland with climate scientist Elizabeth Thomas.  Richard Heinberg had a light-hearted (?) look at the Concretaceous and Hellocene periods of the Anthropocene.

Climate

According to a new report released Tuesday by the independent economic research firm Rhodium Group, U.S. CO2 emissions rose an estimated 3.4% in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years, suggesting that it will be very difficult for the U.S. to meet its pledge under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  In an essay at Yale Climate Connections, Dana Nuccitelli argued that innovation to lower CO2 emissions will only be successful when the costs of the fossil fuels leading to those emissions reflect their impacts on the climate.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40% faster, on average, than reported five years ago in the 5th Assessment Report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The authors discussed the significance of their findings in a guest post at Carbon Brief.  The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said on Monday that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record.  Antarctic sea ice is “astonishingly low” this year, raising concerns about the impacts of ocean water on ice shelves.  In a “long read” at The Guardian, Dahr Jamail discussed the impacts of shrinking glaciers and thawing permafrost.

Refugia are areas of relative climate stability that provide a safe haven for certain species during periods of unfavorable climates.  Scientists are working to identify refugia so that they may be protected, thereby providing a haven for plants, animals, etc. as our climate changes.  Unfortunately, as reported in the journal Global Change Biology, just 5% of the Earth’s land surface is currently unaffected by humans.

During 2018 The Weather Channel published a series of articles under the heading “Exodus: The Climate Migration Crisis” that examined the stories of people all over the world being displaced by climate change.  The articles are compiled here.

Climate change and pollution are teaming up to increase the number of jellyfish in the world’s oceans, causing a variety of problems, including increased stings at Australian beaches.  In addition, coral disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent, severe, and widespread around the globe.  Many factors are contributing to the problem, including pollution and nitrogen runoff from fertilizers and coastal sewer and septic systems, but a key culprit is thought to be steadily increasing ocean temperatures.

Energy

Chevron and Occidental are investing in Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company aiming to commercialize technology that captures CO2 emissions directly from the atmosphere.

In Colorado, wind power paired with a few hours of battery storage is now cheaper than the cost of operating existing coal-fired power plants.  The same is true of solar PV, and in many cases, solar PV paired with battery storage.  With excellent wind and solar resources, Texas is a national leader in renewable energy.  It also has its own power grid, which makes it a good location for testing the incorporation of large amounts of wind and solar power in its energy mix.  Economist Michael Greenstone wrote that with a moderate price on carbon, some advanced nuclear technologies could be competitive with natural gas combined cycle power plants.

Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles increased by 81% in 2018 in the U.S., with Tesla Model 3 leading EV sales and Toyota Prius Prime leading plug-in hybrid sales.  Bloomberg maintains, however, that new battery technology will be required for EVs to take over.

On Monday French rail multinational Alstom and UK rolling stock operating company Eversholt Rail Group unveiled the design for a new hydrogen fuel cell train that will begin to replace trains that still run on diesel by 2022.

“60 Minutes” on CBS presented a segment about Marshall Medoff, an 81-year-old eccentric inventor from Massachusetts who toiled in isolation with no financial support for more than a decade to develop a method for breaking down cellulose, making its sugars available for biofuel production.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/21/2018

Policy and Politics

The UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland ended on Saturday after an all-night session.  The major accomplishment was the adoption of rules to implement the three-year-old Paris Climate Agreement.  Carbon Brief summarized the key outcomes from the meeting.  The weakness of the accomplishments in Poland caused Larry Elliott, the economics editor at The Guardian to write in an opinion piece “Katowice was the real Munich and the feeble UN accord the equivalent of the piece of paper Chamberlain brought back home with him from his meeting with Hitler.  Appeasement doesn’t work and merely delays necessary policy action.  That was true in the late 30s and it is true again today.”  In addition, Jonathan Watts, global environment editor at The Guardian wrote: “… [T]he next two years will be among the most fraught and crucial in the history of humanity.  Investment decisions on power stations and infrastructure taken during this period will determine whether carbon emissions can be cut by the 45% needed by 2030 to give the 1.5°C target a chance.”  Many NGOs said national leaders at the summit had failed to address the urgency of climate change and have pledged growing international protests to drive more rapid action on global warming.

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted his resignation to the White House on Saturday.  Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil, gas and water industries that rely on Interior’s decisions, is poised to become acting secretary.  Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced a carbon pricing bill Wednesday that aims to help cut climate change-causing emissions.  The bill is a companion to legislation introduced in the House in November.  Dino Grandoni explained the “Green New Deal” in his “Energy 202” column at The Washington Post.  A recent poll suggests bipartisan support, but you’ll have to read about the poll here because the findings are too nuanced to be summarized.  Democratic leaders on Thursday tapped Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) to head a revived U.S. House panel on climate change, ending a monthlong effort to establish a select committee on the Green New Deal.  Nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia have banded together to develop the Transportation and Climate Initiative, similar to RGGI, to cap transportation emissions and invest proceeds from the program into cleaner infrastructure that could help incentivize the adoption of electric vehicles.  New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced Monday that the state will rejoin RGGI and a petition filed last month in Pennsylvania could give that state an opening to join.  Elizabeth McGowen interviewed Lee Francis, deputy director of The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, about the potential benefits of Virginia joining RGGI.  In direct contradiction to the recent National Climate Assessment, the Congressional Budget Office last week said that climate change poses little economic risk to the U.S.

The Trump administration rolled out a proposal Thursday that could open up oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as early as next summer.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has quietly folded its Climate and Health Program into a branch that studies asthma and expunged the word climate from the name of the newly consolidated office.  City lawmakers in the District of Columbia voted unanimously Tuesday to pass the Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018, which mandates 100% renewable electricity in the capital by 2032.

The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board decided on Wednesday to open up another public comment period on a proposed permit to build a natural gas compressor station in a historic African-American community in Buckingham County.  The vote was 3-1.

Megan Mayhew Bergman is a writer who grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, but now lives in Vermont.  She is a columnist at The Guardian and has started a column in which she will report on her travels throughout the South to speak candidly with people about how their lives are being transformed by climate change.  I found her first two columns to be quite interesting: First and Second.  David Wallace-Wells reflected on what the future may hold for his daughter at the Intelligencer.  Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson considered the future and said that to thrive in the climate change era we need to rethink the rules and assumptions of corporate capitalism.  Amazon has a new cli-fi collection of novellas called Warmer.  Amy Brady interviewed Edan Lepucki, best-selling author of one of the stories, at Yale Climate ConnectionsYale Climate Connections also had an interesting article entitled “How to sort out good-faith questions about climate change.”  You may remember that 10 years ago this week a 27-year old University of Utah student named Tim DeChristopher disrupted a BLM auction of oil and gas leases near Arches National Park in Utah.  He ultimately spent two years in prison for his action.  Brian Maffly interviewed him for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Climate

The Galápagos Islands sit at the intersection of three ocean currents, putting them in the cross hairs of one of the world’s most destructive weather patterns, El Niño, which causes rapid, extreme ocean heating across the Eastern Pacific tropics.  This makes the Galápagos Islands one of the places most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  Once the final official global annual surface temperature is published, 2018 will be the hottest La Niña year on record, by a wide margin.  UK Met Office scientists have predicted that the average global temperature next year will be around 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, bringing it close to the record-breaking heat seen in 2016 when temperatures peaked at 1.15°C above those levels.  As part of its Weather 2050 project, Vox examined how average winter low temperatures are projected to shift in the 1,000 largest U.S. cities by 2050 if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  They found that in 67 cities, the average winter low temperature could increase to more than 32°F, the freezing point of water.

A paper in the journal Botany reported that 55 varieties of potato plants grown at high temperatures grew larger, but tuber production fell by an average of 93%.

Last Thursday at the AGU meeting, a team of climate scientists argued that the American West may currently be experiencing its first mega-drought in more than 500 years.  A record-breaking period of aridity set in around the year 2000 and continues to this day, they said.  Climate change seems to be driving a good portion of the problem.  On the other hand, the continental U.S. as a whole is on pace to have the fifth wettest year on record and eight states are on track to have their wettest year on record.

Two new research papers in the journal Environmental Research Letters have concluded that there is “no statistical evidence” for the much-discussed slowdown in global average surface temperature rise in the early 21st century – often called the “hiatus”.  In other words, it didn’t happen.  Writing at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dana Nuccitelli debunked the popular climate change denier meme that Earth is entering a Little Ice Age.

A new paper in the journal Science warns that Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecological tipping points.  According to the study, 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another.  With respect to climate- and weather-related disasters, Rob Moore, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council said “The federal government isn’t going to be able to put out the kind of resources it did in 2017 every single year or even every other year.  At some point we have to start thinking seriously about a new paradigm, about how we prepare for the impacts of climate change, cope with what the future has in store, as well as recover from these disasters as they occur.”

Energy

Dominion Energy, has partnered with Orsted, a Danish company that purchased Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind in October, to build two test turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.  Orsted recently selected Siemens Gamesa to supply the turbine blades.  The project is scheduled to be operating by December 2020 on 2,135 marine acres leased by Virginia.

The International Energy Agency’s Coal 2018 report found that global coal demand grew by 1% in 2017 after two years of decline. The rise was chiefly driven by global economic growth.  Despite recent growth, demand is still below “peak” levels seen in 2014 and is expected to hold steady until 2023.  In 2018, renewable energy in Germany probably matched or beat coal power generation for the first time, aided by favorable weather that boosted wind and solar capacity.  Israel said on Monday it would stop the use of coal by 2030.  According to new research, published in the journal International Labour Review, accelerating the transition to clean energy could add 24 million jobs globally by 2030.

Ministers from EU countries agreed on Thursday to reduce CO2 emissions from trucks and buses by 30% by 2030, with the potential to review this in 2022.  Unlike other countries, such as the U.S., China, Japan, and Canada, the EU currently has no limits on emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.  The California Air Resources Board voted to require that all new buses be carbon-free by 2029.  Environmental advocates project that the last greenhouse-gas-emitting buses will phase out by 2040.  Negotiators from the European Parliament and the Council agreed on Monday to a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions from cars and vans by 2025 and a 37.5% cut for cars by 2030.  The 2030 target for vans is 31%.

Exxon Mobil Corp sent a letter to the EPA in support of methane gas emission rules put in place under the Obama administration.

Work is underway on an energy storage project in South Australia that will use biogas to generate power to be stored in modules of molten silicon, from startup 1414 Degrees.

A consortium in Oslo, Norway, made up of architects, engineers, environmentalists, and designers is creating energy-positive buildings in a country with some of the coldest and darkest winters on Earth.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/14/2018

Policy and Politics

President Trump’s top White House adviser on energy and climate stood before a crowd of some 200 people on Monday at the climate conference in Poland and said “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.”  Mocking laughter echoed through the conference room.  In addition, the U.S. joined Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Australia in weakening a reference to the recent IPCC report on holding warming to 1.5°C.  All of this left a void in leadership that other countries were reluctant or unable to fill.  Nevertheless, on Wednesday, the EU, Canada, and New Zealand, along with scores of developing countries pledged to toughen their existing commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to enable the world to stay within a 1.5°C rise in global warming.  On Monday in Poland, green groups released a report calling for a “climate damages tax” on the extraction of fossil fuels to help pay for the growing costs of harsher storms, wildfires, floods, and rising seas, while providing a stronger incentive to wean the world off carbon-heavy energy.  The French government ignored a key point about a carbon tax – it must protect the poor from its impacts – and consequently the tax failed.  The BBC examined this issue.  In the U.S., greens are moving away from a carbon tax, partly because of the defeat of a tax in the state of Washington and partly because many think any tax that is politically palatable will be too little, too late.  However, The Hill reported that new and recently reelected Democratic governors plan a series of aggressive steps to address climate change and bolster renewable energy industries in their states.

President Trump has stated his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but he can’t do so for three years and then must wait an additional year for the exit to take effect.  Chris Mooney examined the significance of this timeline in The Washington Post.  The endangerment finding is the legal underpinning for all of the actions on climate change taken by President Barack Obama’s EPA.  Scientific understanding of the risks greenhouse gases pose to public health and welfare has strengthened since that “finding,” according to a new review article published Thursday in the journal Science.  On Wednesday the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said it will stop financing coal projects, and nearly all oil projects, as part of a global effort by government-owned development banks to address climate change.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released the list of ranking members for the next Congress and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will become the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Trump administration for granting “incidental take” permits to seismic-mapping companies that will produce deafening sounds under the Atlantic Ocean while searching for oil and gas deposits.  A New York Times investigation has found that Marathon Petroleum, the country’s largest oil refiner, worked with powerful oil-industry groups and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to run a stealth campaign to roll back automobile fuel efficiency standards.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) took the unprecedented action last Friday of ordering Dominion Energy to totally redo its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan that it submitted for approval in May.  Environmental groups said that the SCC action called into question the need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, an assertion that Dominion Energy disputed.  On Thursday, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, finding that the U.S. Forest Service “abdicated its responsibility” and kowtowed to private industry in approving the project.  A citizen panel that votes on air pollution permits was set to decide Monday whether Dominion can build a natural gas compressor station in a historical African-American community.  But on Sunday the state announced the meeting was being delayed until Dec. 19 because of a winter storm that has made roads dangerous.

A group of more than 400 investors managing $32 trillion in assets warned governments to take more aggressive steps to address climate change or risk a financial crash several times worse than the 2008 global recession.  Businesses also need to act.  A new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change reported that businesses might be massively underestimating the effect of climate change on their work.  The Economist had an interesting article examining the underlying moral assumptions embedded in economic models applied to climate change; how much should we value a future life?

Climate

The annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) occurred in Washington D.C. this week.  Among the events was NASA’s release on Monday of new maps of ice velocity and surface height elevation of Antarctic glaciers, revealing that a group of four glaciers to the west of Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, plus a handful of smaller glaciers further east, are losing ice.  Meanwhile, in West Antarctica, Thwaites Glacier continues to be the big one that ice scientists are most concerned about.  Author Jon Gertner visited with scientists participating in a large study of the glacier and wrote an interesting report about their concerns.  Back at the AGU meeting, NOAA’s release of its Arctic Report for 2018 occurred on Tuesday.  The big news is that although the mass of sea ice present has increased since 2012, the percent of old sea ice has continued to decline, bringing us closer to the time when sea ice will be absent during the summer.  This is of particular concern because the open ocean absorbs about twice as much sunlight as floating sea ice.  Researchers also reported at the AGU meeting that the length of time snow is on the ground in the California mountains is continually “being squeezed” into a shorter time period by climate change.  Researchers from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks reported that they have successfully used radar measurements taken by Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite to estimate methane emissions from lakes formed by melting permafrost.

According to in-depth studies published this week in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 15 extreme weather events in 2017 were made more likely by human-caused climate change.  One would have been “virtually impossible” without human influence.  A new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature reported that as the climate warms, El Niños will become stronger and more frequent, causing “more extreme events” in the U.S. and around the world.

Australian scientists reported in the journal Royal Society Biology Letters that deep water seagrass meadows are as capable of storing carbon as shallow water meadows and that both can remove and sequester significant amounts of atmospheric CO2.

According to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, if we continue with “business-as-usual” CO2 emissions, Earth’s climate in 2030 will most closely resemble the overall climate of the mid-Pliocene period, about 3 million years ago.

Earlier Roundups have linked to articles about plants having less protein, zinc, and iron when grown in the presence of CO2 concentrations expected by mid-century if we continue with business-as-usual CO2 emissions.  Now, Elena Suglia of the University of California, Davis has put those findings into perspective with respect to their impacts on human nutrition in the future.

Energy

The wind industry is expected to add more than 680 GW of capacity worldwide in the next decade, according to two reports from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.  Peter Sinclair has a new video explaining how energy storage can help stabilize the grid as more wind and solar are added.  I should have caught this one last week, but I missed it, so I’m including it this week.  We don’t often think about it, but one benefit of wind and solar energy is that they require no water, which is really important in some parts of the U.S.

The EU failed on Tuesday to reach a compromise over how sharply to curb CO2 emissions from cars and vans as car-producing countries and more environmentally conscious lawmakers could not find a compromise.  Daimler will buy battery cells worth more than $23 billion by 2030 as it plans to launch 130 electric and hybrid vehicles by 2022, in addition to making electric vans, buses, and trucks.  VW says that by the end of 2019 mass production of its new electric car will begin at Zwickau in eastern Germany where an entire factory is being transformed at a cost of about €1.2 billion.  The aim is to eventually manufacture up to 330,000 electric models a year at the plant.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released on Thursday, calls for a complete rejuvenation of the U.S. fusion energy program.  Among the recommendations is that the U.S. should prepare to build its own fusion power plant.

On Tuesday, Carbon Brief published a guest post containing charts that showed how 25 countries have progressed (or not) on ten indicators of clean energy use.  Ireland’s performance on climate action in response to global warming has been ranked as the worst in the EU and among the worst in the world in a major international assessment by the Climate Change Performance Index.  Part of the reason is the burning of peat for electricity, which emits more CO2 than coal.  In 2016, peat generated nearly 8% of Ireland’s electricity, but was responsible for 20% of that sector’s carbon emissions.

A recent report from the Rocky Mountain Institute showed that net-zero energy houses can make financial sense in much of the Midwest. The initial extra costs of making a new home net-zero pay for themselves through energy savings in less than a decade in both Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and in less than 14 years in most of the 50 largest U.S. cities.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/7/2018

Policy and Politics

In a comment in the journal Nature, two climate scientists and a policy expert explained why global warming will happen much faster than expected over the next 30 years and laid out steps the scientific and policy communities should take to allow a more rapid response to the crisis.  On the same theme, in a recent piece in The Washington Post, reporter Steven Mufson quoted Nobel Laureate William Nordhaus as saying “I never use the word ‘pessimism’; I always use the word ‘realism,’ but I’d say it’s a kind of dark realism today.”  Mufson’s article laid out clearly the seriousness of the climate problem we face today as a result of our collective procrastination.  In a follow-up article, Mufson and James McAuley (in Paris) examined the backlash in France against a carbon tax, the type of action most favored by economists to slow CO2 emissions.  The French government abandoned the proposed tax on Wednesday.

On Monday night Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) hosted a town hall meeting on Capitol Hill that addressed the proposed “Green New Deal” being pushed by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).  Coincidentally, economist Dean Baker and anthropologist Jason Hickel are in the middle of an interchange on the subject of whether it is feasible to reduce our emissions and resource use in line with planetary boundaries while at the same time continuing to pursue exponential GDP growth.  The Institute for New Economic Thinking released two working papers from prominent economists backing up the increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists and examining the question of economic growth in an age of climate change.  Writing at The Intercept, Kate Aronoff summarized and analyzed the papers.

For the first time in a decade, a bipartisan climate bill has been introduced in Congress.  The “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act” would institute a national carbon tax.  As the name implies, the money collected would be returned to American households as a “dividend.”  White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday the Trump administration will seek to end subsidies for electric cars and renewable energy sources.  It’s unclear how the administration plans to cut the tax credits, since Congress enacted them and would have to act to end them.  The administration seems hell-bent on finding and burning every last drop of oil under the U.S. in spite of the climate impacts, as evidenced by their insistence on conducting seismic surveys along the East Coast that could harm dolphins, whales, and other marine animals.  In addition, on Thursday, EPA’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, announced a proposal to allow new coal-fired power plants to emit up to 1,900 pounds of CO2 per MW-hr of electricity generated, up from 1,400 pounds allowed now.  However, the administration doesn’t expect any to be built.  According to a study published in the journal Science, the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back automotive fuel economy standards relied on an error-ridden and misleading analysis that overestimates the costs and understates the benefits of tighter regulation.  It further describes the cost-benefit analysis as marred by mistakes and miscalculations, based on cherry-picked data and faulty assumptions, and skewed in its conclusions.

Fighting climate change is one of the best ways to improve health around the world, and the benefits of fewer deaths and hospitalizations would far outweigh the costs of not acting, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.  Diplomats and policy makers began meeting in Poland this week to hammer out a set of rules for tracking how well countries are meeting their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.  The effectiveness of the Agreement moving forward is very dependent on the outcome of these talks.  As occurred last year at COP 23, the Trump administration plans to host a side event touting the use of fossil fuels.

Every two years The Roddenberry Foundation, launched by the family of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, provides $1 million to organizations that help tackle climate change.  This year’s winners were inspired by Project Drawdown and the associated book Drawdown, which focuses on the many overlooked ways in which climate change can be addressed.  Using Matthieu Auzanneau’s new book, Oil, Power, and War: A Dark History as a starting point, petroleum geologist Jean Laherrère wrote about the impact of fracking on world oil production and speculated what is likely to happen in the future.  On the off-chance you were considering giving a book on climate change to someone for Christmas, Michael Svoboda at Yale Climate Connections has compiled a list of 12 books that came out this year you can choose from.

Climate

According to studies published on Wednesday by the Global Carbon Project in two scientific journals (Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data), global CO2 emissions rose by 1.6% in 2017 and are on course to rise by 2.7% this year, dashing any hopes of their leveling off any time soon.  The Washington Post and The New York Times also had the story.

A new paper in the journal Nature found that the rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet in recent decades is “exceptional over at least the last 350 years.”  The authors concluded that “Continued atmospheric warming will lead to rapid increases in Greenland ice sheet runoff and sea-level contributions.”  In another part of the Arctic, the Siberian city of Yakutsk is the largest city in the world built entirely on permafrost.  As the Arctic warms, Yakutsk is experiencing permafrost melting, which threatens the structural integrity of some of its buildings.  Since it became possible to measure sea ice extent via satellite in the late 1970s, Arctic sea ice has declined in a manner consistent with a warming Earth.  Antarctic sea ice, on the other hand, increased until 2016 when it began declining precipitously.  Now, a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change has offered an explanation for the anomalous behavior of the Antarctic sea ice.

Prof Peter Stott of the UK Met Office Hadley Center announced at the UN Climate talks in Poland that the sweltering heat that hit the UK this summer was made 30 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  New research, published this week in the journal Science, has revealed that rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out 96% of marine species and more than 67% of terrestrial animals on the planet during the “great dying” 252 million years ago.

Earth’s situation at the start of COP 24 in Poland prompted Robin McKie and others to publish a “Portrait of a planet on the verge of climate catastrophe” in Sunday’s Guardian.  Residents of coastal towns, such as Del Mar, CA, face some difficult decisions as they consider the impacts of sea level rise.  Seth Borenstein of the AP wrote about “The less talked about climate impacts.”

People in rich nations will have to make big cuts to the amount of beef and lamb they eat if the world is to be able to feed 10 billion people, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute.  These cuts and a series of other measures are also needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, it says.  The BBC summarized where we stand in 2018 by using seven interesting charts.  They also provided a guide to what you can do.  The U.S. ranks fourth in mitigating climate change, behind Denmark, the U.K, and Canada, among 25 countries analyzed in a report commissioned by utility Drax Group Plc and compiled by academics at Imperial College London.

Energy

A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected Tuesday that 2018 would see the lowest U.S. coal consumption since 1979, as well as the second-greatest number on record of coal-fired power plants shutting down.  Xcel Energy, a utility serving 3.6 million electricity customers in eight states said Tuesday it will try to eliminate all its carbon emissions from electrical generation by 2050.  In addition, a new global analysis of 6,685 coal-fired power plants by Carbon Tracker found that it is now cheaper to build new renewable generation than to run 35% of them worldwide.  By 2030, that percentage will increase dramatically, with renewables beating out 96% of today’s existing and planned coal-fired generation.  Still, coal is not dead yet.  Riverview Energy Corporation is seeking an air permit for its “clean coal” diesel plant in Spencer County, Indiana, that would turn the state’s abundant coal reserves into diesel fuel while emitting extensive amounts of CO2.

Katherine Spector of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy provided perspective on the recent price action in the global oil market.  The Permian Basin’s Wolfcamp and Bone Spring formations in West Texas and New Mexico hold the most potential oil and gas resources ever assessed, the U.S. Interior Department said Thursday.  On Sunday, Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, announced that her government would temporarily curtail the province’s oil production, chiefly from the tar sands, because there isn’t enough pipeline capacity to ship the crude to market.

Researchers have found a way to convert CO2 into plastics, fabrics, and other useful products more efficiently and cheaply than possible before.  The new method, described in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is a form of artificial photosynthesis.  Likewise, Solidia Technologies has developed a way to produce cement that substantially lowers the carbon footprint associated with the production of concrete products.

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows the extent to which clean energy is contributing jobs to the rural economies of 12 Midwestern states. It also reflects what the rural Midwest stands to lose from Trump administration actions that harm clean energy.  A question under discussion about North Dakota is equally applicable to the Shenandoah Valley: Do rural Americans have a say in what they see outside their dining-room windows, even if that view extends miles beyond their property lines?  Closer to home, a recent example in northern Virginia is proof that solar companies can navigate aesthetic and other concerns that often arise around projects, particularly in areas new to larger-scale solar projects.

Volkswagen announced on Wednesday that it is scouting a location in North America for a new production factory to build electric vehicles.  It plans to introduce a $30,000 to $40,000 electric vehicle in 2020.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/30/2018

The biggest climate news over the past two weeks was the release of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment: Impacts, Risk, and Adaptation in the United States.  The homepage for the report contains links to Summary Findings, an Overview, individual Report Chapters, and downloads.

Climate Central presented a webinar on the report featuring Katharine Hayhoe and provided a recording of it.

The journal Science had three articles about the report.  David Malakoff reported on its release; Jeffrey Mervis reported that President Trump’s nominee to be the chief scientist at USDA, Scott Hutchins, accepts the conclusions of the report and hopes science can help farmers adapt to some of the harmful effects already being caused by climate change; and Scott Waldman reported that the release of the report by the Trump administration on Black Friday only generated more attention than the report might have otherwise gotten.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch had a good article by John Boyer about how Virginia will feel climate change.  Grist provided a region-by-region summary.

The New York Times had three articles about the report shortly after its release.  One provided an overview of the major findings, another focused on what is new in it, and the third examined what prompted the White House to release it on Black Friday.  It also had articles about ways the U.S. will need to adapt and how Trump’s policies will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Politico reported that Trump said he didn’t believe the report.  Inside Climate News reported that Trump and other deniers launched an all-out response to the report, as did Dino Grandoni at The Washington Post.  Politico reported: “Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday accused the Obama administration of tilting last week’s federal climate change report to focus on the worst-case outcomes — and indicated that the Trump administration could seek to shape the next big study of the issue.”

The Washington Post reported that the assessment said that damage from climate change is intensifying across the country and it will be expensive.  So did Inside Climate News.

************************************************************

The 2018 Emissions Gap Report was issued by the UN Environment Programme on Tuesday of this week.  According to the report, there is still a small window to keep global temperature increases below 2°C; the one for achieving the 1.5°C goal is even smaller.  However, if the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, temperatures will likely rise more than 2°C.  Inside Climate News also wrote about the report.

A report in The Lancet warned of cascading health risks from climate change.

Just in case you saw a report of a coming ice age, you can find out where it came from here.

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.