Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/6/2019

Politics and Policy

The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change began meeting in Madrid this week.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Alice Bell of the climate change charity, Possible, gave a brief preview of the COP meetings.  A delegation from the U.S. Congress said the U.S. will take action on greenhouse gases and engage with other countries on the climate emergency despite President Trump’s rejection of international cooperation.  A main issue to be resolved at COP25 is how the carbon markets in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement will be handled, since they are highly controversial.  The World Meteorological Organization released its annual state of the global climate report at COP25.  Henry Fountain used that occasion to summarize the impacts of Earth’s warming.  University of Oxford public policy professor Thomas Hale wrote about the tendency for climate politics to become increasingly existential as both climate change and decarbonization advance over the next decades.

Given the predictions of sea level rise this century, one problem coastal governments will face is deciding which properties they can afford to defend and which they can’t.  Facing that dilemma is coming sooner than expected for officials of Monroe County, in the Florida Keys.  Unfortunately, their job is made more difficult by the tendency of people living in flood-prone areas to underestimate the danger they face.  All of this is intertwined with the struggles of the insurance industry to adjust to the increased risk they face and the response of regulators to that adjustment.

A new report published by Greenpeace International said that restoring oceans’ ecosystems would boost their capacity to absorb heat and store carbon, helping to mitigate the impacts of increased atmospheric CO2 levels.  Compliance with new regulations associated with fighting climate change will cost companies worldwide nearly $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years, according to an estimate by German insurer Allianz SE.

On Monday the Senate confirmed Dan Brouillette to lead the Department of Energy.  On Sunday, former Secretary of State John Kerry announced the formation of a new bipartisan climate alliance, called “World War Zero.”  Made up of world leaders, military brass, and Hollywood celebrities, the goal of the group is to push for public action to combat climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

Several sources reported on a study published in Geophysical Research Letters.  It examined how accurately computer models published between 1970 and 2007 projected Earth’s temperature as CO2 and other greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere.  As the authors stated in their “Plain Language Summary”, “We find that climate models published over the past five decades were generally quite accurate in predicting global warming in the years after publication…”  I’ve provided a link to an article by David Roberts at Vox because the first part gives a good synopsis of the study, while the latter part provides a deeper dive for those who are interested.  A new generation of computer models is now being used in studies for the next IPCC report.  For those who are interested in the modeling efforts, Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief has prepared an explainer.

An analysis of 70,716 bird specimens from 52 North American species collected over 40 years shows birds are shrinking as the world warms, according to a paper published in the journal Ecology Letters.  According to the World Meteorological Organization, the average temperatures for the five-year (2015-2019) and 10-year (2010-2019) periods ending this year are almost certain to be the highest on record.  New research, published Wednesday in Science Advances, showed that just ten atmospheric river events caused nearly half the flood damage in the western U.S. over the past forty years, adding up to billions of dollars of damage. 

A new study, also published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, reported that the Arctic has warmed by 0.75°C (1.35°F) in the last decade alone while Earth as a whole has warmed by nearly the same amount, 0.8°C, over the past 137 years.  In addition, another study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds on the surface of Greenland that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year, thereby lubricating it and causing its more rapid movement toward the sea while the meltwater is flowing under it.  As a consequence, current models likely underestimate future sea level rise.  Another new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that thinning in the ring of floating ice around Antarctica is driving the loss of ice from the interior of the continent.

The issue of climate tipping points was back in the news, with a new paper in Nature warning that the risks are now much more likely and much more imminent than they had been thought to be eleven years ago when the same group of researchers evaluated them.  Graham Readfearn wrote about the Nature article in his column in The Guardian.  One possible tipping point involves the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, or AMOC, which helps regulate temperatures and weather around the world.  Its flow has dropped 15% over the past decade.

At COP25 in Madrid, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that whereas around 10 million people a year are displaced by river flooding today, the number could surge to as many as 50 million a year by the end of the century if governments do not step up action to tackle climate change.  Climate-fueled disasters such as wildfires, cyclones, and floods were the main reason that people were forced to flee their homes in the last decade, according to a new report from Oxfam.  Overall, these events have displaced more than 20 million people around the globe.  Such events are affecting our mental health, even if we aren’t directly impacted by them.  Since the federal government isn’t acting to reduce the causes of climate change, it’s a good thing it is funding programs to teach resiliency.

Energy

According to an estimate from the Global Carbon Project (GCP), total CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry will likely total 36.8 billion tons in 2019, 0.6% higher than in 2018, setting a new record.  Climate Brief provided a detailed analysis of the GCP report.  Umair Irfan of Vox republished a fascinating animation from an earlier Climate Brief post that illustrates how the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from various countries have varied over time from the 19th century until now.  The China paradox: it burns about half the coal used globally each year, yet it’s also the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles.  According to a new report, the number of insurers unwilling to ensure coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time U.S. companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuel projects.

A paper published Tuesday in Environmental Research Letters reported that natural gas use is growing so fast, its CO2 emissions over the past six years were greater than the decline in emissions from the falling use of coal.  In a “Perspective” piece in The New England Journal of Medicine, three physicians wrote: “…we consider expansion of the natural-gas infrastructure to be a grave hazard to human health.”  Grist and bioGraphic teamed up to produce an extensive article about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, featuring the people and places that will be impacted.  The illustrations in the two sources are slightly different.

Federal nuclear regulators granted controversial 20-year license extensions to two aging reactors at Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant, which means they could operate for a total of 80 years.  Washington State Ferries, which runs the second-largest ferry system in the world, is switching from diesel to batteries, a move that will eliminate current annual consumption of almost 20 million gallons of diesel fuel.  If you like futuristic ideas you might be interested in this article from Wired about the increasingly feasible idea of beaming concentrated solar energy from space to Earth.

General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem said on Thursday they will invest $2.3 billion to build an electric vehicle battery plant near Lordstown, Ohio, creating one of the world’s largest battery facilities.  Electric vehicle start-up Lucid Motors is beginning construction of its production factory in Casa Grande, Arizona.  Hyundai Motor announced that it plans to invest about $17 billion between 2020 and 2025 on electric and autonomous vehicles.

Yale Climate Connections published an overview of energy storage techniques.  On Monday, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2030, offsetting the schools’ greenhouse gas emissions with more renewable energy and other steps.

Potpourri

Climate strikers took to the streets of Washington, DC on Friday, targeting the headquarters of the World Bank.  Giving Tuesday occurred this week, so Sigal Samuel of Vox prepared “a list of six of the most high-impact, cost-effective, and evidence-based organizations [you might consider donating to].  (I’m not including bigger-name groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund or the Sierra Club, because most big organizations are already relatively well-funded.)”  Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video, this one about wind energy replacing coal as baseload power.  In the “Climate Fwd: newsletter” from the New York Times, Kyla Mandel provided helpful information about how to decrease the carbon footprint of your Christmas lights.  The Editorial Board of The Washington Post published a sobering editorial about humanity’s “bleak” future unless we act more quickly on climate change.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/22/2019

Politics and Policy

I’ve decided to start with two sobering articles from our neighbors to the north, both published in The Tyee.  The first makes the point that we can’t stop the climate crisis just by switching to renewable energy.  The second two-part article starts by addressing the same issue, but then laying out “11 realistic responses to the climate crisis.”  (Part I; Part II).  If these articles get you down, you might consider what Cara Buckley has to say.

At Inside Climate News, Marianne Lavelle addressed the question of why, given his credentials as a climate warrior, climate activists aren’t excited by a run for president by Michael Bloomberg.  Democrats unveiled the “100 Percent Clean Economy Act,” the first significant legislation in their effort to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren all have different proposals for decarbonizing U.S. transportation.  Republicans are beginning to come forward with proposals for climate legislation, as evidenced by this opinion piece and interview.  However, author and professor Thor Hogan argued that action on climate change will only come with Democratic victories in 2020.

Some regulators are arguing for mandatory disclosure of climate change risks to investors and regulators.  As a consequence, companies that analyze such risk have become attractive for investors.  Yale Environment 360 looked at the complex policy issue of moving people away from rising seas by examining the experiences of people in one New Jersey community on the Delaware Bay.  Last year Virginia Beach, VA, became one of a small but growing number of communities willing to say no to real estate developers who wanted to build houses in an area prone to flooding.  The developers sued; the city won.  Copenhagen’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025.  Jonathan Watts wrote eloquently about a meeting of diverse people in a remote community in the Amazon basin.  They comprise a nascent alliance of traditional communities, climate activists, and academics who are re-imagining what the world’s greatest forest was, what it can be, and who can best defend it.  That makes it particularly sad to note that development, most of it illegal, destroyed more than 3700 square miles of Brazilian Amazon rainforest in the year ending in July.

Wisconsin became the latest state to enact an ALEC-patterned bill providing severe penalties for those who trespass near oil and gas pipelines in order to protest.  On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court was to consider whether to take up climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation suit against conservative magazine National Review.  California and 22 other states sued the EPA last Friday, asking a federal court to block the Trump administration from stripping California of its authority to set its own fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks.  Starting in 2020, California will only buy from automakers that recognize the state’s legal authority to set emissions standards.  In a comprehensive article in Energy Transition magazine from the Rocky Mountain Institute, Christian Roseland examined the big question of how best to design cities for urban mobility

Climate and Climate Science

On Wednesday, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its Climate Change Resilience Index, which measures the preparedness of the world’s 82 largest economies.  They found that based on current trends, the fallout of warming temperatures would shave off 3% of global GDP ($7.9 trillion) by 2050.  The impact varied by region, with the developing world fairing worst.  Of course, when considering studies quantifying future economic impacts, one must bear in mind that it is difficult to project impacts resulting from circumstances that are unprecedented.  That is the conclusion from a new report published by the London School of Economics based on a collaborative study involving three prestigious institutions.  As a result, future impacts are likely to be underestimated.

Fire seasons around the world are growing longer, making it more difficult for countries to share resources, such as the large tanker planes that dump large quantities of water on the flames.  Although multiple factors are involved, one reason for the fire in Australia is thought to be an intensification of the Indian Ocean dipole

An article in the journal Science Advances reported that one-third of vascular plant species in Africa are potentially threatened with extinction and another third are likely rare, potentially becoming threatened in the near future.  I’ve put in several articles in the past about coral bleaching and how it has increased as temperatures have increased.  Now Chris Mooney and several photographers and videographers have presented a report in The Washington Post about what scientists are doing to help save coral reefs.  A potentially deadly disease affecting marine mammals, including seals and sea otters, has been passed from the North Atlantic Ocean to the northern Pacific as a result of the melting of the Arctic sea ice.

Diaa Hadid and Abdul Sattar had a very interesting piece about the farmers in the Harchi Valley in Pakistan’s highlands who have a complex relationship with the Ultar glacier, which is melting.  You’ve probably heard about the research ship that was purposely frozen into the Arctic sea ice as part of the year-long project MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate).  Daisy Dunn of Carbon Brief spent the first six weeks with them and here is the first of four planned articles covering the scientist’s research.

According to data released this week by NOAA, 2019 is likely to be Earth’s second- or third-warmest calendar year on record since modern temperature data collection began in 1880.  A study recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters suggests that by 2050, on average globally, urban heat island warming will probably be equivalent to about half the warming caused by climate change. 

Energy

On Thursday, Tesla unveiled its all-electric pickup truck, the Cybertruck.  Ford is now taking deposits for its new all-electric Mustang Mach-E.

To accommodate increased population growth and to build stronger economies, African nations are turning to more coal-fired power plants.  In addition to increased greenhouse gas emissions, more power plants mean more conventional air pollutants.  According to a recent study in Environmental Science and Technology, that pollution will cause tens of thousands of premature deaths.  Countries around the world reduced their coal-fired power plant capacity by 8GW in the 18 months to June 2019 because old plants were retired faster than new ones were built.  But over the same period, China increased its capacity by 42.9GW.  Of even greater concern is that within China, coal and electricity industry groups are pushing for an even bigger increase in the country’s overall coal power capacity.  Furthermore, China is also financing around a quarter of all proposed coal-fired power plants outside its borders.

In this year’s “Production Gap” report, the UN Environment Programme warned about a major discrepancy between planned fossil fuel production and efforts aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C.  Planned production by 2030 is about 50% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. 

Maine is moving forward with Aqua Ventus, a demonstration project with one or two wind turbines that would be the first floating offshore wind installation in the country.  In an effort to facilitate marine traffic through areas with offshore wind turbines, the five New England leaseholders have proposed a uniform turbine layout with 1 nautical mile spacing between turbines.  Balsa wood is a key component of many wind turbine blade cores because it is both strong and lightweight.  Unfortunately, there is currently a shortage of balsa, slowing the production of turbine blades.  The growth of wind energy in Germany has slowed for a variety of reasons.  Are there lessons to be learned for the U.S.?  Global wind speeds are picking up after decades of stalling, creating the potential for wind turbines to increase average output 37% in the next five years, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Heliogen is a start-up energy company that uses a field of mirrors and artificial intelligence to concentrate sunlight and create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, and glass, as well as to drive other industrial processes, such as making hydrogen.

Potpourri

On Monday, The Washington Post unveiled Climate Solutions, a line of coverage that explores the people and organizations focused on tackling climate change.  Just in time for Thanksgiving, Susan Shain compiled a list of places you can go to get the facts about climate change.  A professor at an Arkansas university presented an essay about how he learned to sidestep politics while teaching climate science.  His message is relevant to all of us.  Bill McKibben had an essay in The Guardian entitled “The climate science is clear: it’s now or never to avert catastrophe.”  He and Tamara Toles O’Laughlin wrote in Yes! magazine that big oil should have to compensate poor people and people of color for the suffering they have experienced and will experience as a result of climate change.  Writing in Ensia, Laalitha Surapaneni argued that we shouldn’t waste time trying to change the minds of climate deniers.  Rather, we should invest it in motivating passive allies to act.  An Israeli company claims to have developed an economic way to convert household garbage into a thermoplastic that can be formed into usable products.

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 11/15/2019

Politics and Policy

Working with the Rhodium Group, Columbia University economists completed a study of a fee-and-dividend type carbon tax and found that it would slash American carbon pollution by almost 40% within a decade.  Meanwhile, the political arm of the Climate Leadership Council is launching a digital ad campaign to sell a carbon tax.  Transportation accounts for over a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, much of that from cities.  Consequently, cities around the world are struggling with how to control vehicles and their impact.

If you are a sustainability investor you might be interested in a new paper in Palgrave Communications by researchers at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment within the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard who studied where to invest in more renewable energy infrastructure.  Studies at the University of Buffalo have found that it is possible to make buildings more resilient to the impacts of climate change while also reducing their contributions to its cause.

On Monday, former coal executive Don Blankenship announced he will make a 2020 White House bid as a Constitution Party candidate.  Although young voters are attracted to Bernie Sanders’ climate plans, others say they are “technically impractical, politically unfeasible, and possibly ineffective.”  In a joint project organized by Inside Climate News, reporters across the Midwest explored how communities are responding to climate change.  A new report from Climate Transparency said that Canada’s plan to meet its greenhouse-gas emissions targets is among the worst in the G20, whereas Australia’s response to climate change is one of the worst.  As if to prove the point, Australia’s government appeared pretty dysfunctional in the face of the brush fires.

According to ProPublica, although California’s cap-and-trade program has helped it meet some initial, easily attained benchmarks, experts are increasingly worried that it is allowing the state’s biggest polluters to conduct business as usual, and even increase their emissions.  An estimated 80% of Britain’s peat bogs have been damaged or destroyed, leading to the release of significant amounts of the CO2 that had been stored in.  Because bogs are such important carbon sinks, efforts are now underway to learn more about bog ecosystems and how to restore large boggy areas.

Climate and Climate Science

According to a major new study, published in The Lancet, climate change poses an unprecedented health risk to children and is already having “persistent and pervasive” effects that will last throughout their lives.  Australian weather forecasts for the next three months said that there is just a 25% chance that the country’s east coast, where brush fires are raging, will receive average rainfall.  A group of former fire chiefs said the government’s refusal to discuss climate change issues was impeding preparations for large-scale fires.

During an “acqua alta” event on Wednesday, St Mark’s Basilica in Venice was flooded for only the sixth time in 1,200 years.  Four of those floods have occurred within the past 20 years.  The mayor attributed the severe flooding to climate change, but there are many reasons Venice floods.  Yale Climate Connections discussed new efforts by scientists to study the risk potentials associated with multiple climate change events, such as when a drought and heat wave occur together.

At Yale Climate Connections Sara Peach addressed the question: “How is climate change affecting autumn?”.  And on a similar topic, Alejandra Borunda of National Geographic discussed the weird fall weather the U.S. has been experiencing lately.  On longer time scales, numerous areas have seen greater climate volatility recently.  Big, destructive hurricanes are hitting the U.S. three times more frequently than they did a century ago, according to a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

This year, the algal bloom in Lake Erie was among the most severe and toxic since scientists began keeping track in the early 2000s.  Tony Briscoe, an environmental reporter with the Chicago Tribune, wrote about the many factors, including climate change, that have contributed to such blooms.

The intensity of ice generation in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan exceeds that of any single place in the Arctic Ocean or Antarctica, and the sea ice reaches a lower latitude than anywhere else on the planet.  Unfortunately, it is in one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, which is slowing down ice production.  This, in turn, is causing cascading effects in the North Pacific.  Science presented the most interesting video I have seen yet depicting Arctic sea ice loss.  In addition to extent, it also incorporates age.  A new study published in PNAS has found that loss of snow and ice cover are the main reasons for a reduction in the Arctic’s ability to reflect heat, not soot as had been previously thought.  Switzerland is responsible for just 0.1% of global CO2 emissions, yet the Alps are warming twice as fast as the global average, causing many problemsInside Climate News had a good article by Bob Berwyn using new research to explain the factors driving ice loss from Antarctica.  In addition to the warm waters eating away the bottoms of the ice shelves, “atmospheric rivers” are causing more surface melting.

Energy

On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued its World Energy Outlook for 2019.  It contains both good news and bad news.  The good news: more use of fossil fuel-free energy.  The bad news: increasing energy demand.  In addition, the IEA revealed that methane leakage from coal mines could be having an impact on climate equivalent to that of the shipping and aviation industries combined.  Although its Outlook is widely read, the IEA is often criticized by clean energy advocates.  If you want to do something else to help lower your CO2 emissions you might consider switching the time that you run your dishwasher, clothes dryer, and other high-demand electrical appliances from daytime to nighttime.

A research team, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, has reported that China’s CO2 emissions from its energy sector are expected to increase this year and next, driven by rising oil and gas consumption instead of by coal.  The African Development Bank will not fund a coal-fired power plant project in Kenya and has no plans to finance such plants in future, senior officials said.  Also, the European Investment Bank said Thursday that it will stop financing fossil fuel energy projects from the end of 2021.

Tesla will “build batteries, powertrains and vehicles” at its European gigafactory, which company CEO Elon Musk has tweeted will be in the Berlin area of Germany.  In an effort to boost the sales of electric vehicles (EVs), manufacturers are shifting their focus to the high-performance, rather than environmental, features of the cars.  On the other hand, a 2018 survey of U.S. consumers found that they would prefer phasing out gas-guzzlers sooner, rather than later.  E&E News has just reported on the “Electric Road Trip,” an 8,000-mile journey in an electric car and an investigation into how electric transportation will change America.  Many cities want to add electric buses to their bus fleets, but the capacity to build them is limited, resulting in hundreds of backlogged orders in the U.S.  One downside of EVs is the deterioration of the batteries over time.  Thus engineers and DIYers are looking for ways to use the residual storage capacity of the batteries once they have reached the end of  their useful automotive life.

Thirteen cities and one county in California have enacted new zoning codes encouraging or requiring all-electric new construction.  Faced with such electrification of buildings, one natural gas utility is proposing to add renewable biogas to its pipelines.  This raises questions, such as, how viable a business model this is and will it help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Japanese officials have announced a new $2.7 billion project that will include 11 solar plants and 10 wind farms to be built on abandoned or contaminated lands in Fukushima prefecture.  Virginia Gazette published an article about the state of solar farms in Virginia.

Potpourri

William E. Rees, professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia, said not to call him a pessimist, but rather a realist.  In a two-part series (Part I; Part II) he explained why “the world needs to face some hard facts that suggest we are headed toward catastrophe.”  A survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 63% of Georgia voters think the country is not doing enough to address climate change.  When you want to take a break and watch a film you can choose from the “Top 10 sustainability films of all times” compiled by The Hill.  Jeff Peterson, who worked at the EPA, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and White House Council on Environmental Quality, has a new book out: A New Coast: Strategies for Responding to Devastating Storms and Rising Seas.  He published an article on The Daily Climate about ways coastal communities can prepare for storms and rising seas.  The winners and shortlisted photos in the Climate Visuals 2019 photography awards were presented at The Guardian.  Authors Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope think “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.

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.

Energy

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.

Potpourri

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.

Turn Truth into Action

24 Hours of Reality Presentation by Steve Gardner
Thursday, November 21 | 5-6:30pm
Pale Fire Brewing Co.
217 S Liberty St, Harrisonburg

You’ve seen the headlines. You know the climate crisis is devastating the Earth. You want to know what we can do. What you can do. You’re not alone – and we think it’s time for answers. 

So, on Thursday, November 21, Harrisonburg will be part of 24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action, a global conversation on the truth of the climate crisis and how we solve it. 

Well-known former Harrisonburg resident Steve Gardner is a retired dentist who has been trained by the Climate Reality Project started by Al Gore. Not only a Master Naturalist, but a committed activist, in September of this year Steve completed a 600 mile long bike trip along the crest of the Blue Ridge to raise awareness of climate change. He is eager to share his passion in his hometown. Steve’s easy-going style and the relaxed setting makes this challenging issue easier to talk about. Join Steve as we all think about “Truth in Action” and what that means for us. Now, while we still have time.  

Peanuts and pretzels will be provided as snacks!

Hosted by Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, the Shenandoah Group of the Virginia Sierra Club, and Pale Fire Brewing Company  


Dr. Steve Gardner appeared on WHSV’s Bob Corso’s 1on1 on November 20, 2019. Find the interview here.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/1/2019

Politics and Policy

Following weeks of violent protests in Chile, President Sebastian Piñera said the country would not host the COP25 climate summit in December.  The next day, Spain offered to host the meeting in Madrid.  A new report from the European Environment Agency said the EU is nearly on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.  However, a “Significant increase in efforts [is] needed over the next decade” to reach the 2030 goals.  The U.S. did not participate in the Green Climate Fund meeting last Friday in which 27 countries pledged nearly $10 billion to assist poorer nations in combatting climate change.  They were unable to make up for the shortfall caused by the lack of U.S. participation.

On Monday, more than a dozen automakers filed a legal intervention siding with the White House’s effort to revoke the right of California and other states to enact tougher emissions rules than those set by the federal government.  Rather than freezing CAFE standards for five years at 2020 levels, the U.S. EPA may issue a rule by year’s end requiring automakers to sell new cars that reduce carbon emissions by 1.5% a year through 2025.  Top House Republicans are talking through how to proceed with their own climate change legislation, but it remains to be seen how far they’ll be willing to go.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality is about ready to release its how-to tool kit for solar developers to guide them in making their property attractive to pollinators and birds by planting native plants.

A secret agreement has allowed America’s homebuilders to make it much easier to block changes to building codes that would require new houses to better address climate change, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times (NYT).  CBC News addressed the issue of population control as a strategy for fighting climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

California is burning again, driven by Santa Ana and Diablo winds.  Jason Samenow and Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post had a good explanation of those winds and how climate change might influence them.  The fires caused Bill McKibben to ask: “Has the climate crisis made California too dangerous to live in?”  In addition, California resident and NYT columnist Farhad Manjoo ruminated over the future of his state.  Meanwhile, members of the Sunrise Movement used the fires as a focus of protests in the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to express their frustration about the level of congressional inaction on climate change so far.

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by damage to tropical rainforests around the world are being underestimated by a factor of six, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.  Although organic farming has many positive impacts on the environment, yields are lower than conventional farming, meaning that more land is required.  According to a new study in Nature Communications, the greenhouse gas emissions from that additional land more than offset the benefits from organic farming.

Research by Climate Central has shown that rising sea levels could, within 30 years, push chronic flooding higher than land currently occupied by 300 million people, mostly in coastal Asia.  In 2015, nations around the world agreed to pursue a set of sustainable development goals, but worsening climate change may be putting them out of reach, a top UN official said.

As a result of Earth’s warming, the amount of sea ice that blankets the Gulf of St. Lawrence is shrinking at a rate of roughly 12% per decade, increasing the exposure of shore lines of islands like Magdalen to increasing erosion and collapsing cliff faces.  The annual fall bowhead whale migration along the north coast of Alaska and Canada is late, raising concern for native people who depend on them for winter food.  At Inside Climate News, Sabrina Shankman examined the links to climate change.  Arctic seas, along with the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, are acidifying faster than any other marine waters on the planet.

Scientists gathered for a “High Mountain Summit” at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, discussed the fact that mountain-sourced water supplies are becoming less predictable as warmer temperatures melt glaciers, change precipitation patterns, and alter river levels.  A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported the surprise finding that glacial rivers sequester CO2 by chemical weathering due to the high concentrations of silicate silt particles present.  Current methods of CO2 accounting don’t consider this sink.

Energy

In a new paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, MIT engineers described an entirely new method for removing CO2 from a stream of air.  Although the technique could revolutionize the field of carbon capture, there are a number of nontechnical barriers preventing the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage.  Another research paper, this one in Joule, presented an advance in electric vehicle battery charging that could allow enough charge to travel 200 miles to be applied in just 10 minutes.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that the development of floating offshore wind turbines could enable offshore wind to meet the entire electricity demand of several key electricity markets several times over.  Although little of it is offshore, the U.S. is now home to more than 100 GW of wind energy capacity, second only to China, a new report from the American Wind Energy Association said Thursday.  The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Monday released for public comment its last environmental analysis of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Project in Wyoming.  It will be the largest wind farm in the U.S., with up to 3 GW of capacity from 1,000 turbines.

The U.S. coal company Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.  Honda has announced that it will sell only hybrid and electric vehicles in Europe by 2022, three years earlier than previously planned.  In its annual Southeast Asia outlook, the IEA warned that the region could become a net importer of fossil fuels in the next few years, increasing carbon emissions in the region.

A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute has found that by the middle of the 2020s, hybrid ‘portfolios’ of batteries and renewable energy will economically outperform existing gas power plants.  Furthermore, such portfolios are already cost-competitive with building new ones.  A new study from Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment will help planners in different regions of the U.S. determine which type of renewable energy would bring the most benefit to their region.  The benefits varied by region.  On Thursday, Dominion Energy announced plans to build a 150 MW solar park in Prince George County, Virginia, and send its output to a data center facility.  A group representing some of Virginia’s largest employers, including Walmart, says Dominion Energy has too many carbon-emitting facilities in its renewable energy portfolio plan and that the utility is stifling renewable energy market growth.

Driven in part by Colorado’s stringent methane standard, a growing cadre of scientists and entrepreneurs is working to develop and deploy novel technologies to address the growing issue of methane leaks across the natural gas supply chain.  The UK plans to phase out subsidies to power plants that use wood pellets as fuel.  This has given hope to activists in North Carolina who hope to shut down the wood pellet industry, arguing that electricity generated with wood pellets is not really carbon neutral.

Potpourri

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has turned down the Nordic Council’s 2019 Environmental Award, stating that rather than awards, “What we need is for our politicians and the people in power [to] start to listen to the current, best available science.”  Fareed Zakaria reviewed Rachel Maddow’s new book Blowout, concluding that it “is a brilliant description of many of the problems caused by our reliance on fossil fuels.  But it does not provide a path out of the darkness.”  If you want to get more involved in a national movement to increase action on climate change, SueEllen Campbell has compiled a list of organizations to consider.  Two editors at The Conversation summarized what the “experts” recommend that we do to fight the climate crisis.

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.

Run Down on Local Candidates’ Stands on Climate Change

CAAV Steering Committee member Sally Newkirk drew up this quick list of where the candidates stand on Climate Change. Most of the information came directly from the candidates’ websites.


District 20 House of Delegates:

Jennifer Lewis:

  • Opposes both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.
  • Supports reforming the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
  • Doesn’t accept money from Dominion or Appalachian Power.
  • Supports moving towards a 100% clean and renewable energy future.
  • Endorsed by Sierra Club and Clean Virginia.

John Avoli:

  • No comments on our environment except to project that farmers want clean air and water.

District 25 House of Delegates

Jennifer Kitchen:

  • Supports the Green New Deal.
  • Opposes Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Chris Runion:

  • No issues stated on anything. Expressed a desire to maintain conservative status quo.

District 26 House of Delegates

Tony Wilt:

  • Nothing stated on Environment
  • Voted along party lines to stifle distributed solar.

Brent Finnegan:

  • Opposes pipelines.
  • Supports a green economic plan.
  • Supports Virginia Solar Freedom Bill.
  • Wants to adopt “better than federal motor vehicle standards”.
  • Supports a just and equitable carbon tax.

District 24 State Senate Race

Emmett Hanger:

  • Nothing on climate.
  • Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
  • Advocates expanding State Parks.
  • Introduced and passed bill removing solar panels from being taxed as personal property.

Annette Hyde:

  • Believes in protecting water and air for future generations.
  • Virginia should be moving away from fracked gas.
  • Supports a bill that expands distributed solar through tax credits, rebates and low interest rates.

District 26 State Senate Race

Mark Obenshain:

  • Talks about “energy independence”
  • Supports clean coal, wind energy, biomass and offshore drilling.

April Moore:

  • Climate Change is her number 1 issue.
  • Wants to bring more green technology jobs to the Valley.
  • Supports moving toward a clean and renewable energy future.

CAAV Comments to US Forest Service

CAAV Comments on Draft Forest Service Environmental Assessment for North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project

by Joy Loving, on behalf of CAAV, submitted 10/25/2019

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a local grassroots non-profit organization whose volunteer Steering Committee members focus and act on a variety of issues that are connected to the current climate crisis.  We are located in the Central Shenandoah Valley.  CAAV’s mission is to limit the impact of humans on Earth’s climate and minimize the effects of inevitable climate change in order to protect the future for Earth and its inhabitants.  The vision of CAAV is to create and nurture climate action in our Shenandoah Valley community so that we can become a regional leader in promoting climate change mitigation and resilience.  Our goals are to 1) train and mobilize community members to engage in local and regional efforts that promote climate change mitigation and resilience and 2) achieve policies and legislation that enable and advance the systemic changes required to promote climate stabilization and resilience.  CAAV’s website is:  https://climateactionallianceofthevalley.org/.

As such, we are concerned with many aspects of natural and human behavior that in some way affect the viability of our air, water, land, health (human and wildlife), and plants.  For this reason, we are offering our comments on the Forest Service’s (FS) Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project in Rockingham County, Virginia and Pendleton County, West Virginia.  CAAV does not represent itself as having expertise in forest management.  Rather, we offer our thoughts and recommendations guided by general principles of good stewardship of our natural resources, of which North Shenandoah Mountain’s acreage is clearly an important part.  We have reviewed the FS’s descriptions of the Project Purpose and Activity.  We note that the proposed restoration and other actions would occur on about 7% of the planning area.

Following are the considerations we believe the FS must both keep in mind and adhere to in carrying out the restoration and management efforts it envisions. 

  • In general CAAV is supportive of integrated resource management that “[i]ncludes timber harvesting, prescribed fire, road decommissioning, aquatic habitat improvements, wildlife habitat improvements, and nonnative invasive species”, provided that such activities do not have unintended consequences that ultimately do more harm to the forest than good.  We question whether the described project design [“to move the existing conditions within the North River Ranger District towards desired conditions described in the 2014 Revised Forest Plan for the George Washington National Forest (Forest Plan)] will yield the most beneficial results given advancements in the science of forest management and climate-change-related environmental impacts that have arisen since 2014.  At a minimum, the FS should document both the advancements and the impacts and address if/how the 2014 plan continues to be optimal.
  • Current relevant scientific consensus on any proposed action should inform and drive FS analysis and decisions around the necessity, location, and extent of any actions, including tree and plant removal, new plantings (including species, varieties, density, and quantity).  Any deviation from this consensus must be documented, including likely consequences; these will be important historical records for future FS actions and decisions.  For example, given what we understand is science to the contrary, should this project attempt to simplify the structural complexity of long-lived but not yet fully developed forest tree species only a century after most of the area was deforested?  If the FS believes it should, then the reasons should be clearly and publicly stated along with a clear plan for monitoring results and remediation if/when clearly necessary.
  • To the extent that the FS will “provide open canopy conditions through timber harvest and prescribed burning”, it must understand and consider the implications of prior de-forestations of the area that have occurred.  For example, where soil loss has occurred from logging and burning, nature needs long periods of time to restore forest stability and function.  The FS must determine, prior to such activities, the extent of soil compaction and degradation and the implications of the loss of leaf litter.  If the FS concludes that the anticipated gains outweigh the negatives, then the reasons should be clearly and publicly stated along with a clear plan for monitoring results and remediation if/when clearly necessary.
  • Overwhelmingly, scientists stress the criticality of preserving and restoring natural, native forests to mitigating the impacts of climate change.  Science also says that deforestation and forest degradation are major contributors to increased carbon dioxide. Thus questions arise as to the carbon emission amounts that the FS anticipates resulting from each of its planned actions and what effect do those amounts have given the lost carbon sequestration from the loss of the trees burned or timbered, especially from what mature trees would sequester if allowed to grow older?  It is our understanding that mature and old trees in temperate, deciduous forests are better at soil storage of carbon than other systems.   Other questions arise relative to proposed burns and timber harvesting, such as what are the projected effects on overall forest balance, a complex and ongoing occurrence from natural forces, especially given that this aspect of forests is so crucial to both carbon sinking and the nature and variety of the many plant and animal species that forests support. Tinkering with these natural processes can alter their innate ability to rebuilt soil, soil that burning and harvesting would likely degrade or even remove from the environment. Most proposed FS actions would result in a “simplified” forest structure.  So the draft EA proposes is not only silent about how much CO2 will be emitted through burning, logging, and soil disturbance, but the proposed actions, presumably intended to “manage” the many acres addressed in the draft may have the negative effects of upsetting the forest’s natural processes that are the basis of its structure and stability.  The FS must understand, quantify, and publicly provide the anticipated impacts on CO2 emissions and sequestration before it proceeds with finalizing and implementing the plan.
  • Clearly, there are situations in which controlled and even repeated deliberate burning of large parts of national forests may be justified.  Two arguments in favor of proactive burning are to remove built-up forest floor debris and to allow for native species to have a better environment in which to flourish.  On the other hand, timber harvesting will leave excessive debris behind.  And, without careful analysis of the proposed areas to be harvested, with appropriate limits on the age, size, and type of trees to be included and excluded, as well as adequate management of logging processes to insurance compliance with requirements, the intended results may not be realized.  If the FS believes the “leftovers” from timber harvesting would not pose a threat because of our relatively humid climate, the question arises as to why naturally occurring forest floor debris that is naturally occurring would pose such a threat.  The draft EA does not adequately explain the FS’s approach to prescribed burning, especially in terms of this seeming contradiction.  Nor is the draft clear as to how the FS will determine which areas “need” prescribed burning or timber harvesting.  Prior to undertaking either, in any part of the coverage acreage, the FS needs to fully understand, quantify, and publicly provide the anticipated impacts on the overall forest structure and balance of these activities prior to undertaking them.
  • Questions also arise about the effects on the forest system from the proposed activities of using “herbicides to treat non-native invasive plant species … and native plant competitors”, creating 2.15 miles of new roads, doing 19.1 miles of reconstruction (presumably repair and upgrade of existing roads), performing 25- 30 miles of “maintenance”, decommissioning 15 miles of roads, and building 15 miles of temporary roads.  Assuming these activities are essential, they will clearly be destructive of various, but unidentified (in the draft) parts of the ecosystems within and outside the forest areas in which they happen.  Even the many other activities that appear to be, and are arguably, both beneficial and necessary could have deleterious effects.  Examples include protecting riparian habitat, restoring fire‑dependent plant communities, applying thinning and regeneration treatments, and acting to create or expand habitats for existing species.  It is also not clear that other proposed activities (such as prescribed burns and timber harvesting) will not have unintended consequences such as habitat destruction of these or other animal or plant species or a negative re-balancing from the new species components that result. The FS must explicitly anticipate these effects and establish mitigation and restoration efforts that will precede and follow their occurrences, as well as plan for and budget ongoing assessment and management of any effects.

Thanks to Chris Bolgiano for her input. More about the project and its environmental assessment here.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/26/2019

Joy Loving prepared this week’s edition, with assistance from Les Grady.

Politics and Policy

The Washington Post’s (WaPo) Editorial Board believes that “There’s an effective and progressive solution for climate change. [They ask] Why won’t Democrats embrace it?”  The authors argue that “The science does not change because politicians deny that humans are warming the planet. Likewise the economics do not change because politicians find them ideologically or politically inconvenient.”  The Hill reports that “Trump prepares to formally withdraw US from Paris Climate Accord”. Vice notes that “This Alaskan Forest Eats a Ton of Carbon. The Trump Administration Wants to Let Loggers Cut It Down.

It’s as big as the entire state of West Virginia.”

The Hill prints a joint op-ed by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.):  “New Senate caucus will seek bipartisan solutions to address the climate challenge”.  Grist asks “Congress is losing a major Republican climate hawk. What now?”  Francis “Rooney is the current co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives whose main objectives are to educate members of Congress about climate change and to push for climate legislation….”  Rooney just announced he’s leaving the House of Representatives.  A CCL spokesperson “cited recent polling that shows growing support for carbon taxes and a Green New Deal among young Republicans. And he said that Republicans from districts that have been touched by extreme weather and other climate-tinged events are wising up to the fact that voters support climate action.”

Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) says that the recent election in our northern neighbor yielded a winner beyond the politicians:  “The big election winner? The carbon tax”.  Jules Kortenhorst of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) believes “The next US administration has the chance to strike the greatest climate bargain of all time. For less than $3/ton of CO2 abated, the next US government could economically retire the nation’s coal plants and buy back the planet’s future – all while saving US consumers billions.”  In an opinion piece for Utility Dive, Jacob Susman, a partner at Mission Driven Capital Partners, argues that “We’re already paying a carbon price — let’s invoice those responsible and collect the dividends instead”.

Politico reports that “USDA inspector general launches climate change investigation”.  At issue is whether “the department has been routinely burying its work on climate change, even as farmers and ranchers are increasingly dealing with its harmful effects.”  Grist has a story about fired members of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee who nonetheless “reconvened to review the latest science and offer recommendations for new air quality regulations… [and later] issued a letter warning that current regulatory limits pose a threat to public health and urging stricter standards to limit particulate pollution, which has been linked to increased risk of a host of heart and respiratory diseases.”  This item in the Allegheny Front says “Pennsylvanians Tell EPA, We Need More Controls on Methane, Not Less”.

The Atlantic has a story about ocean acidification:  “The Worst Day in Earth’s History Contains an Ominous Warning.  One of the planet’s most dramatic extinctions was caused in part by ocean acidification, which has become a problem in our own era.”  The story explores the similarities between the massive extinction that happened after the huge asteroid slammed into Earth, particularly the effects on oceans.  Ocean acidification played an important role in three mass extinctions, suggesting that we should be paying more attention to the acidification going on now.

Climate and Climate Science

The Associated Press reports that the “South Pole’s ozone hole shrinks to smallest since discovery”. The shrinkage “is more due to freakish Antarctic weather than efforts to cut down on pollution,” according to NASA.  WaPo also covered this story.

The Guardian recently pledged to “give the climate crisis the attention it demands.”  Here are 3 recent examples of its coverage:

  1. Renewable energy to expand by 50% in next five years – report”.  “The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are rolling out at their fastest rate in four years.”
  2. ‘Racism dictates who gets dumped on’: how environmental injustice divides the world”.  The paper’s “new environmental justice reporter, Nina Lakhani, asked five luminaries of the movement to explain “environmental justice”…. They reveal why, alongside global heating and the extinction crisis, it is one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
  3. Alex Preston reviews Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer review – a life-changing book.

This somewhat wonky but interesting reporting by ScienMag on a University of California Irvine study sheds light on how “Plant physiology will be major contributor to future river flooding”.  As if “precipitation anomalies caused by atmospheric warming” isn’t enough of a problem, because “[p]lants get more water-efficient and leak less underground soil moisture out through their pores in a carbon-rich atmosphere,”… there is … more soil moisture stored up underground, so … climate models predict rainfall events will saturate the ground and more rain will run off into rivers.”  A new study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that climate change is making stronger El Niños, which change weather worldwide and heat up the planet.

Anchorage (AK) Daily News describes how “A Western Alaska village, long threatened by erosion and flooding, begins to relocate”.  National Geographic also covers this story.  The CBC says that “Climate change has turned permafrost into a carbon emitter [and] Social Sharing [and] Tundra plants can’t absorb enough carbon in summer to make up for carbon released in winter”. A paper that was published Monday in Nature Climate Change reported that the amount of CO2 released as a result of thawing permafrost was almost twice as much as that taken up by plant growth, making the Arctic a net emitter of CO2Deutsche Welle (DW) also covers the effects of the climate crisis on indigenous Alaskan peoples in “Alaska: Climate change threatens indigenous traditions”. 

Reuters reports that “Climate change hampers progress on fighting epidemics: Global Fund”.  Grist reports on a “New study [that] pinpoints the places most at risk on a warming planet”.  “As many as five billion people will face hunger and a lack of clean water by 2050 as the warming climate disrupts pollination, freshwater, and coastal habitats…. People living in South Asia and Africa will bear the worst of it.”  WaPo interviews Al Gore about his latest climate-related presentation, this one a stark warning “of a looming food crisis caused by climate change”.  The Intercept interviews Bill McKibben about his new book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?  Ozy has a story about Germany’s Minister for Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection who “Believes Trees Will Save Germany — If She Can Save the Trees”. Michigan Radio (NPR station) has a story headlined:  “Without widespread cultural change, the climate crisis won’t be solved, says UM expert”. The New York Times publishes an opinion piece by Naomi Orestes and Nicholas Stern titled “Climate Change Will Cost Us Even More Than We Think”.  Bloomberg also covered this story.

Energy

In a recent Executive Order, “Governor Ralph Northam Signs Executive Order to Expand Access to Renewable Energy, Support Clean Energy Jobs of the Future”.  The Richmond Times Dispatch headlined the story “State to buy energy from solar, wind projects to power government”.  And so did the Roanoke Times with this item:  “Plans for wind farm in Botetourt County move forward”.  Yale Environment 360 has this related item:  “Small Adjustments to Wind Turbines Can Reduce Impacts on Birds, New Study Finds”.  A recent study in the journal Energy Science found that changes to wind turbine design, such as making them taller with shorter blades, could decrease bird mortalityUtility Dive says “Virginia signs largest state renewable energy contract in US with 420 MW Dominion deal”.  The arrangement “aims to help the state meet new clean energy goals.  Combined with previously announced solar projects, electricity produced by the new wind and solar resources will help meet the equivalent of 45% of the state government’s annual energy use.”

Nearly a third of the Earth’s electricity will come from renewables by 2024, according to the International Energy Agency.  However, they warned that the expansion will still be “well short” of what’s required to meet aggressive goals aimed at fighting climate change.  A bipartisan group of 231 mayors sent a letter to Congress urging them to pass the Renewable Energy Extension Act (HR 3961/S. 2289), a five-year extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit.  Here’s a utility rate request that’s pretty unusual:  Camden News reports that “South Arkansas electric utility seeks rate reduction”.  Why?  “Ouachita Electric Cooperative is preparing to ask state regulators to lower rates for its 7,000 members in five south Arkansas counties. The decrease is fueled by advances in solar power and other efficiencies the utility has created.”  More good news from Ensia:  “New report: Efficiency can cut U.S. energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050”.

The Roanoke Times says that “Work on Mountain Valley Pipeline is winding down” but not because of the coming winter.  “Mountain Valley has lost three sets of key permits — all suspended because of the pipeline’s impact on the environment — that have fallen like slow-motion dominoes for a project that was supposed to be done by now.”  In another recent piece, the Times reports “Another delay, cost increase for Mountain Valley Pipeline”.  The Virginia Mercury has this recent headline, echoing the same stories:  “Mountain Valley Pipeline’s cost rises to $5.5 billion, completion pushed to 2020”.  The Post and Courier asks:  “Will SC need gas pipeline like it needed abandoned coal, nuclear plants?”  The piece questions Dominion Energy’s CEO’s wish to “to bring the [Atlantic Coast Pipeline into South Carolina]… if the demand is there”, concluding “It might turn out that we really do need additional natural gas capacity. Or it might turn out that we need another natural-gas pipeline about as much as we needed the coal plant and the nuclear reactors.”

Maritime transport is a large contributor to CO2 emissions.  This Guardian article reports in “Winds of change: the sailing ships cleaning up sea transport” that “Clean transport is the missing link, as many so-called sustainable or ethical goods are currently carried on ships that pollute the air and sea,” and that several shipping companies are increasing their transport of “sail cargo”.  Grist tells the story of “DREAMBOATS [and how] Space-age sails, bionic hulls, clean fuels drawn from the oceans themselves — the shipping industry is poised for transformation … if the stars align.”

The cost gap between electric and gas model cars is beginning to shrink, according to Rachelle Petusky, the manager of research and market intelligence for Cox Automotive Mobility.  And that shift is going to accelerate.

The Guardian has this opinion piece about New York State’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil.  Discussing how mis- and dis-information campaigns have slowed the public’s grasp about the dangers of carbon pollution, the authors reference their report, “America Misled: How the Fossil Fuel Industry Deliberately Misled Americans About Climate Change”.  They conclude:  “Exposing and explaining the techniques of denial are crucial steps in neutralizing disinformation… from any source. Once people know the ways they can be deceived, disinformation no longer has power over them…. But it’s not enough to offer information – we also have to expose disinformation, so that people understand what we have been up against.” Inside Climate News also writes about this trial and about “Former Exxon Scientists Tell[ing] Congress of Oil Giant’s Climate Research Before Exxon Turned to Denial”. UPI reports on another lawsuit on the same issue: “Supreme Court declines to issue stay in Baltimore suit against oil companies”.  Inside Climate News says Massachusetts has also sued ExxonMobil “Over Climate Change, Accusing the Oil Giant of Fraud”.  Politico has a story explaining how “Researchers can now link weather events to emissions – and to the companies responsible. A string of lawsuits is about to give “attribution science” a real-life test.”

Weather Internal (WI) reports that “Government Loophole Gave Oil Companies an $18 Billion Windfall”.  Excerpting from a New York Times story, WI quoted:  “The United States government has lost billions of dollars of oil and gas revenue to fossil-fuel companies because of a loophole in a decades-old law, a federal watchdog agency said…, offering the first detailed accounting of the consequences of a misstep by lawmakers that is expected to continue costing taxpayers for decades to come.”

Potpourri

NBC News has a story (and video) about a Columbia University light exhibit that lets “visitors … imagine what life would be like under 10 feet of water as humanity is confronted by the effects of climate change.”  Thompson Reuters has a somewhat related story:  “As climate impacts hit, cities are still struggling to prepare, researchers warn”.

From ted.com comes this 6:25 minute video about one marine biologist’s love of parrotfish, their unusual lifecycle and behaviors, and the news that humans have overfished them and that their habitat—the coral reefs—may not be around in 30 years unless we do something to stop their destruction.

BBC News has pictures that illustrate the dramatic loss of glacier ice in Iceland since the 1980s.  CNN reports on the wildfires raging in California.

On November 7, the “Byron Allen’s Weather Channel to host Special on Climate Change’s Impact on Black Communities With Presidential Candidates”.  The Weather Channel “will air 2020: Race to Save the Planet, a one-hour, primetime special featuring conversations with the network’s meteorologists and nine presidential candidates on climate change and produced in partnership with The Climate Desk, a media consortium.”

NOTE:  Solar United Neighbors/VA announces its 2019 Solar Congress, to be held in Williamsburg on November 16.  The list of topics includes basic solar information, electric vehicles and solar, advancing rooftop solar policy in VA, organizing to advance solar on the local level, battery storage and solar, equity in solar, organizing for solar in rural electric cooperatives, solar for schools/churches/non-profits, solar workforce development, and the business case for solar.  To learn more and register, visit this link.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/18/2019

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.