Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/19/2019

Politics and Policy

More than 300 people had been arrested by Wednesday in climate protests that have gridlocked the core of London this week.  Those protests have been staged by Extinction Rebellion, which is working to bring similar disruptive protests to the U.S.  Guardian columnist George Monbiot, writing in support of Extinction Rebellion, said “Our system – characterized by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing – will inevitably implode.  The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned.  Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast.”  International lawyer Polly Higgens is calling for the International Criminal Court in the Hague to recognize ‘ecocide’ as a crime against humanity, alongside genocide and war crimes.  Mat Hope interviewed her for Desmog.

In an open letter to The Guardian accompanying the launch of a report from the Network for Greening the Financial System, the governors of the Bank of England and the Banque de France warned that the global financial system faces an existential threat from climate change and must take urgent steps to reform.  Although he has not yet done so, President Trump has said he will appoint Heritage Foundation senior fellow Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board.  Moore has a history of rejecting climate science, although he has said he would support a carbon tax under certain conditions.

The New York Times (NYT) asked all 18 declared Democratic presidential candidates for their views on a number of policy options related to climate change.  You can read an article about their responses, as well as their individual responses.  Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who has made climate change the focal point of his presidential campaign, called on the Democratic National Committee to hold a debate centered solely on the issue.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) this week became the latest major presidential candidate to promise to halt all new leases for fossil fuel development on federal lands and offshore if elected.  The NYT also published an opinion piece by Amory B. Lovins and Rushad R. Nanavatty of the Rocky Mountain Institute arguing that “Any serious energy transformation effort … will need to harness America’s immensely powerful and creative economic engine, not dismantle it.”  At Vox, David Roberts interviewed Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), co-sponsor of the Green New Deal Resolution, about some of the claims that have been made about it.

Alberta, the home of Canada’s tar sands, elected a conservative leader who promised to cancel the province’s carbon tax, lift a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands, and create a “war room” to combat the oil industry’s opponents.  In addition, the federal and Ontario governments squared off in the province’s top court over the federal government’s climate change law.  New York City set an ambitious new standard for combating greenhouse gas emissions by approving a package of policies designed to slash energy use in big buildings.  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a major overhaul of state oil and gas rules, turning the focus away from encouraging production and directing regulators to make public safety and the environment their top priority.  As the cost of renewable energy drops and its popularity rises around the country, Republican lawmakers in several key states are ratcheting up their attacks on wind power.

Potpourri

For Earth Day, The Washington Post created a different way to read about climate change: an all-cover issue of their Magazine, with each cover illustrating an aspect of climate change that The Post wrote about in the past year or so.  Links are provided to the articles.  A new biannual magazine called Atmos explores climate and culture because “in order for us to have an impact on our changing climate, it has to start with people.”  In a seven-minute video beautifully illustrated by Molly Crabapple, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Avi Lewis provide a thought experiment of what the world might look like if we actually adopted the Green New Deal.  It is accompanied by an essay by Naomi Klein.  For Earth Day, the Pew Research Center looked at attitudes about climate change around the world and in the U.S.  Students from Virginia Tech were the Grand Winner at this year’s Solar Decathlon Design Challenge sponsored by DOE.  They also placed first in the Attached Housing Division.  The NYT had a couple of articles about things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint: Repair rather than replace broken items and use less single-use plastic.  “Degrees of Change” from Science Friday is a new series that explores the problem of climate change and how we as a planet are adapting to it.  You can sign up for a newsletter associated with it here.  Last week I provided a link to an excerpt from Bill McKibben’s new book Falter.  Jared Diamond provided a review this week.  Sunday was the first anniversary of the death of David Buckel, who died by self-immolation in hopes of catalyzing action on climate change.  The Guardian published a tribute by Oliver Conroy.  Yale Climate Connections has an informative article about John Kaiser, who is a former climate change denier who now regrets “how wrongheaded but certain I was.”  Lastly, be sure to check Earth Doctor Doug Hendren’s website periodically to see what new songs and albums he’s posted.

Climate

NASA’s GISTEMP surface temperature data set, one of the major data sets that have found the last five years to be the hottest on record and Earth to be 1°C warmer than in the late 1800s, has found new backing from an independent satellite record — suggesting that its findings are on a sound footing, scientists reported in the journal Environmental Research Letters.  Simulation results from the new generation of climate models being developed for the next IPCC report show greater warming projections than previous models, and their developers aren’t sure why.

To understand how the U.S. has warmed since 1970, Climate Central looked at temperature trends in 242 cities and 49 states.  They found that Las Vegas, NV was the fastest warming city and Alaska was the fastest warming state.  Meanwhile, more evidence for an exceptionally warm Arctic, especially in Greenland, has been building up, including early ice breakup on rivers and an early thaw in Alaska.  Unfortunately, the growing frequency of extreme weather dulls people’s awareness of climate change impacts, with the result that most people normalize extreme weather over just two to eight years.

Hurricane Maria was the rainiest storm known to have hit Puerto Rico, and climate change is partly to blame, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  As hurricane season nears, Paul Douglas of the Capital Weather Gang called for better prediction systems so we can prepare vulnerable coastal areas for bigger, wetter, and faster-strengthening hurricanes.  The problems plaguing farmers in Honduras and elsewhere have mounted with rising temperatures and increasingly unpredictable weather, causing them to abandon their farms and head north.

Thawing permafrost in the Arctic may be releasing 12 times as much nitrous oxide as previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.  Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2, can remain in the atmosphere for up to 114 years.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has prepared a climate change position statement that says that limiting the average global temperature increase to 1.5°C since preindustrial times is critical to maintaining the ecological function of the reef.  Ocean acidification is another result of increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  Gavin MacRae reviewed its impacts on marine food webs.

Energy

The US Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. energy consumption hit a record high in 2018, in large part due to the growing use of petroleum and natural gas.  The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of two proposed liquefied natural gas export terminals.  Duke Energy announced that it has put on hold for at least 15 years its plan to build a $100+ million gas-fired power plant at Lake Julian in western North Carolina.  The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors has approved the final permits for what will be the largest solar facility in Virginia and among the biggest in the nation.

Researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland and the Energy Watch Group have compiled the first scenario for optimally transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy.  New studies suggest that as more renewable energy is introduced on the U.S.’s electric grids, a wider use of electric heat pumps will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Eve Andrews at Grist examined the question “Why do we continue to expand car-dependent infrastructure?”.  U.S. electric bus maker Proterra announced an agreement that will help it scale up its battery leasing program, which will remove the upfront cost premium of buying an electric bus.  Nikola Motors is a start-up company that will build long-haul trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells along with a hydrogen fueling system to jump-start the industry.   Some of the world’s largest automobile companies unveiled new electric vehicles (EVs) at the Shanghai Auto Show.  Due to the plunging price of batteries, EVs will be cost-competitive with internal combustion-engine cars by 2022, according to a report at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Eric Niiler provided a review of where off-shore wind turbine deployment stands now in the U.S.  Harnessing wave power to generate electricity is another type of renewable energy, although it is much less developed than wind turbines.  Now, three companies are gearing up to conduct long-term tests of their devices at the same site in Hawaii.

Global energy storage deployments are projected to grow by a factor of 13 to reach 158 GW-hrs by 2024, according to a report by Wood Mackenzie.  Swedish company SaltX, which achieves electrical and heat storage using specially nanocoated salt, has installed a large-scale demonstration facility in Germany.  The company believes that its technology can be economically competitive with pumped hydro.  Another demonstration facility, this one in Thailand, is using a hybrid lithium-ion and zinc-bromine flow battery system to store electricity from solar panels for a remote village that is off the grid.

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.

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Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/12/2019

Politics and Policy

Climate change poses security risks, according to decades of intelligence reports.  Nevertheless, you may recall that last February, the National Security Council (NSC) began considering establishing a new federal advisory committee to challenge the consensus on climate change.  Now, former Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, who served as chief negotiator for the Geneva nuclear testing talks from 1988 to 1990, is said to be favored to lead the review panel.  Nevertheless, several agencies have informed the NSC that they do not anticipate taking part in the committee.

Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a nominee to serve on the Federal Reserve Board, told E&E News in a brief interview on Monday that the Fed should not consider the risks that rising temperatures could have on the economy.  However, the Urban Land Institute partnered with Heitman, a global real estate investment management firm, to assess the potential impacts of climate change on the long-term viability of real estate assets.  Canada’s building rules are being rewritten due to climate change because if no changes are made in the way they build, infrastructure failures linked to climate change could cost Canadians $300 billion over the next decade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has contrasted his nation’s approach to climate change with that of the U.S., arguing that his country takes the threat seriously.  President Trump signed a pair of executive orders on Wednesday seeking to make it easier for firms to build oil and gas pipelines and harder for state agencies to intervene.  In a Reuters interview about those executive orders, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that other issues were more important than climate change.  The Senate voted 56-41 on Thursday to confirm David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas and water lobbyist, as Secretary of the Interior.  A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday to expand the electric vehicle tax credit by 400,000 vehicles per manufacturer.  Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Thursday to increase federal funding toward developing carbon capture technology.  Also, the White House will begin promoting carbon capture and storage technology.  New York City is the first U.S. city to adopt a congestion pricing fee, which will be applied to the “central business district.”  Justine Calma looked at the implications of such a fee for Grist.  According to a new report from The International Renewable Energy Agency, the most cost-effective strategy to achieve a “climate-safe future” is an accelerated energy transition to renewables and energy efficiency coupled with electrification of key sectors like transportation.

In a letter to the journal Science in support of the youth climate protestors, 22 prominent climate scientists said “Their concerns are justified and supported by the best available science. … They deserve our respect and full support.”  More than 4200 Amazon employees are pushing the company to approve a shareholder resolution that would force Amazon to develop a plan to address its carbon footprint.  Meanwhile, Apple announced on Thursday that 21 manufacturers in its supply chain have vowed to obtain all their electricity from renewable sources, bringing to more than 5 GW the total amount of renewable energy that will be used by the company and its suppliers by 2020.

Potpourri

Last August Nathaniel Rich published an essay in the New York Times Magazine about the decade from 1979 to 1989, which he labeled the decade in which humanity missed its chance to fix climate change.  He has expanded the essay into a book — Losing Earth: A Recent History.  Amy Brady interviewed British novelist and journalist John Lanchester about his new cli-fi novel The WallRolling Stone published an excerpt from Bill McKibben’s new book FALTER: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, McKibben wrote “The respectable have punted; so now it’s up to the scruffy, the young, the marginal, the angry to do the necessary work.  Their discipline and good humor and profound nonviolence are remarkable…”  The April 9 issue of The New York Times Magazine was called “The Climate Issue.”  It contains six interesting articles.  Peter Sinclair’s latest video addresses the question “Should a Green New Deal include nuclear power?”.  On the subject of videos, The New York Times published a review of the Netflix series “Our Planet” on Wednesday.  It seems obvious to say it, but children born today will have to live their lives with drastically smaller carbon footprints than their grandparents if climate change is to be controlled.  Now, Carbon Brief has quantified the reduction, as reported in this piece from The Guardian.  Virginia Tech doctoral candidate Maria Saxton investigated the impact on someone’s ecological footprint of moving into a tiny house.  Joanna Boehnert argued that designers cannot design sustainable ways of living without a shift in economic priorities.  Burger King is testing a Whopper containing a vegetarian alternative made by Impossible Foods rather than beef.  The burger received a glowing review from a senior meat industry lobbyist.

Climate

On Tuesday, NOAA released data showing that, overall, March temperatures in Alaska were as much as 20°F above historical averages.  A new paper in the journal The Cryosphere reported on simulation studies examining the future of glaciers in the European Alps.  Under business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, 95% of the ice in the glaciers will be gone by 2100.  Research conducted by an international team of scientists and summarized in a new paper in Environmental Research Letters, found that “The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic,” according to lead author Jason Box.

Copernicus Climate Change Service operates a network of satellites for the EU that collects weather, soil, air, and water data.  Bloomberg presented a number of satellite photos and summarized what has been learned from the data about the impacts of climate change on Europe.  The San Francisco–based start-up Planet, along with two other satellite companies, has been participating in a NASA program to determine whether the companies’ imagery and data can be used to create a dashboard of “essential climate variables.”  A study presented this week in Vienna at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union showed that last summer’s extreme heat in the Northern Hemisphere was an “unprecedented” event that would not have happened without increased heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

Climate change is making every day hazardous for many.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans — from New York to Miami to Phoenix —live in government-subsidized housing that is at serious risk of flooding.  In addition, a McClatchy analysis revealed that more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities that exist almost entirely within “very high fire hazard severity zones”.  On the subject of hazards, a paper in Monday’s Nature Climate Change determined that if we continue with business-as-usual CO2 emissions, the damages will cost the U.S. about $500 billion per year by 2090.  If we take actions to limit warming to 2.5°C, however, the damages will drop to $280 billion per year.

In a study, published Monday in the journal Nature, scientists used ground and satellite measurements to look at 19,000 glaciers and found that they are shrinking five times faster now than they were in the 1960s.  A study by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany has shown that Earth’s climate is highly sensitive to small changes in CO2 levels and that changes in CO2 levels were a main driver of the ice ages, together with variations in Earth’s orbit around the sun.

Energy

Australia is developing systems to use solar energy to supply “green” hydrogen to power the global economy.  A new technique for combining two types of solar cells offers the promise of increasing solar cell efficiency by as much as 20%.  Also, Australia is debating new mandates for electric vehicles.  Several of the points raised in the debate are germane to the U.S.  Akshat Rathi wrapped up his series on batteries at Quartz by examining what will be required to make significant advances in battery technology.

New research shows that people in the U.S. are biased against nuclear power.  An opinion piece in The New York Times advocating for nuclear power ended with “If the American public and politicians can face real threats and overcome unfounded fears, we can solve humanity’s most pressing challenge and leave our grandchildren a bright future of climate stability and abundant energy.”  The U.S. NRC has issued a final environmental impact statement and the staff has recommended issuing an early site permit for the Clinch River Nuclear Site in west Oak Ridge, TN, where two or more small modular nuclear reactors could be built.

In a report published on Thursday, Legal and General Investment Management, which manages assets worth $1.3 trillion worldwide, said oil demand could start to decline from 2025 if countries impose strict policies to curb climate change.  However, the total cost to the global economy to act on climate change could be as low as 0.5% of global GDP.

The Environmental Defense Fund announced new evidence Thursday that methane emissions in New Mexico are climbing amid a surge in oil and natural gas production in the Permian Basin drilling zone that straddles the state boundary with Texas.

Shell announced on Monday that it plans to invest $300m over the next three years in natural ecosystem-based projects, such as planting trees.  Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and BHP have invested in Carbon Engineering, a start-up developing technology to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  A new study, published in the journal Nature Energy, found that taking into account resources needed to create and run systems needed for carbon capture, more energy can be produced by investing in wind farms and solar panels, combined with various kinds of energy storage.

Vox has published a five-part series about the comprehensive urban plan being implemented in Barcelona, Spain, which would reclaim more than half the streets now devoted to cars for mixed-use public spaces, or “superblocks.”  The series presents a case study of how to undo the large impact that cars have had on cities worldwide.

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 4/5/2019

Politics and Policy

During an interview with Euractiv, Nobel Prize laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz called on Europe and China to join forces against the U.S. at the WTO, saying America has become a “free-rider” on climate change under the Trump administration, in violation of global free trade rules.  Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich summarized the characteristics of initiatives putting a price on carbon around the world.  Canada imposed a carbon tax on four provinces that had defied Ottawa’s push to combat climate change.  Although this article is not about climate change per se, it raises some interesting questions about infrastructure and associated expectations that are germane to lowering CO2 emissions.  Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are opposing the markup of a bill introduced last week by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) that would bind the Trump administration to uphold the goals agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement.  A federal judge ruled that an executive order by President Trump that lifted an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic coast was unlawful.

In a lengthy New Yorker feature, Jonathan Blitzer reported from the western highlands of Guatemala where he found that climate change is influencing people’s decisions to leave and migrate to the U.S.  In a letter to the head of the International Energy Agency, publisher of the annual “World Energy Outlook”, the signatories called on the Paris-based institution to “make clearer that [its] business-as-usual scenario… charts a dangerous course to a world with between 2.7°C and 3°C of warming”.  The World Economic Forum released the 2019 edition of its “Fostering Effective Energy Transition” report.  David Victor summarized the report’s major insights.

When asked whether he had lost his edge as the climate change candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2020, Jay Inslee replied “I am the only candidate—I repeat the only candidate—who has said unequivocally and forcefully that defeating climate change has to be the number one priority.”  Bloomberg looked at positions on fighting climate change being taken by Democrats who oppose the Green New Deal (GND).  To mark its first hearing, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis welcomed a group of young climate activists who testified about their experiences with climate change.  On Instagram Live Wednesday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke to critics, warning “And for those of you who are trying to mock and delay this moment, I mean, I just feel bad for you.  I pity you for your role in history right now.”  Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), author of the Green Real Deal resolution, made his case in an opinion piece on Real Clear Politics.  Like AOC, Gaetz said at a press conference, “History will judge harshly my Republican colleagues who deny the science of climate change.”  You may have seen a cost of $93 trillion attached by some to the GND.  E&E News looked at where that number came from.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year would slash funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at the DOE national labs.  A federal judge ruled that Mr. Trump’s executive order that lifted an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic coast was unlawful.  A government advisory group scrapped by President Trump has reassembled independently to call for better adaptation to the impacts of climate change.  It released a report on Thursday warning that Americans are being put at risk due to a muddled response to climate science.  Brad Plumer fact-checked some dubious claims made recently by President Trump about wind power.  The morning after the President’s claims, a bipartisan group of 19 senators announced a push for “robust” funding of federal programs to support the industry.

Potpourri

Psychologist Jeffrey T. Kiehl provided some helpful advice about effectively communicating with people about climate change, as did performance artist Peterson Toscano.  Semi-naked climate change protesters interrupted a House of Commons Brexit debate and glued their hands to the glass of the public gallery, spending almost 20 minutes with their buttocks facing the chamber.  For those who want to take a deep dive into batteries, Quartz provided a guide to the elements that can be used in them.  The Economist pondered the question “Can the novel handle a subject as cataclysmic as climate change?”  Luke Buckmaster reviewed the documentary film 2040 at The Guardian and concluded that it would have been better as a TV series.  Netflix’s Our Planet does what no other natural-history documentary has done — it forces viewers to acknowledge their own complicity in the destruction of nature.  In a very sobering essay at Common Dreams last Friday, Gus Speth compared the U.S. to the other OECD nations in “A People’s State of the Nation.”

Climate

New research published Wednesday in the journal Nature found that warmer waters associated with climate change are making it harder for corals in the Great Barrier Reef to reproduce.  Following major coral bleaching events due to heat stress in 2016 and 2017, the amount of reproductive material collected in the water after a mass spawning event in 2018 was down by 89%.

The last time Earth had as much CO2 in the atmosphere as now, Antarctica was 20°C warmer, with beech and possibly conifer trees growing within 300 miles of the South Pole, sea level was 65 ft higher, and global average temperatures were 3-4°C warmer, according to a paper presented at a Royal Meteorological Society meeting.  A large iceberg is about the calve from the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica, but it won’t be because of climate change.  A study, published this month in the journal Geology, suggests that ice on glacial cliffs in Greenland and Antarctica is acting like soil and rock by slumping — that is, when weakened sediment breaks apart from land and slides down a slope.  This may eventually lead to a more rapid rise in sea levels.

Canada is warming on average at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world, a new scientific report from the government indicates.  Klawock, a town in southeastern Alaska, reached 70°F on March 19, the state’s earliest reading ever to reach that temperature.  A new study, published in Nature Communications, documents the 60-fold increase in permafrost landslides that has occurred over the past three decades in the Canadian Arctic.  As glaciers melt and retreat, exposing ice-free earth as they go, they can kick up clouds of dust into the atmosphere.  New research suggests that these dust particles may strongly affect the formation of Arctic clouds, which have a major influence over the region’s temperatures and precipitation.

The restoration of natural forests and coasts can simultaneously tackle climate change and the annihilation of wildlife, but is being overlooked, an international group of campaigners has said.  In writing about natural climate solutions, George Monbiot of The Guardian said “What I love about natural climate solutions is that we should be doing all these things anyway.”

An abnormally hot summer in Australia ended with the warmest March on record, with temperatures 2.13°C above the average, according to new data from the Bureau of Meteorology.  In 2011, Shark Bay – a world heritage area in Western Australia famous for its seagrass meadows and unique wildlife – faced an unprecedented marine heatwave.  Now, research published in the journal Current Biology has found that the impacts of that heatwave were propagated up the food chain, resulting in a 12% decline in the number of bottle-nosed dolphins.

Energy

Last week I linked to an article about lithium-ion battery costs dropping 35% since last year.  This week Eric Holthaus of Grist wrote about the implications of that drop.  In the UK, Pivot Power will collaborate with manufacturer and system integrator redT on what is claimed to be the world’s first grid-scale hybrid battery energy storage project to use a combination of lithium-ion and vanadium technologies.  Last week, Florida Power and Light (FPL) announced that it would retire two natural gas plants and replace them with what is likely to be the world’s largest solar-powered battery bank when it’s completed in 2021.

With electric vehicle (EV) sales climbing, electric utilities are investing in thousands of new EV charging stations, recognizing that if they don’t move now, they could lose out on a growing and increasingly competitive market.  In a recent blog post, Robert Scribbler evaluated five EVs.

Andreas Hoffrichter of Michigan State University, a self-described “scholar of rail,” states at The Conversation “it’s clear to me that the quickest way to decrease greenhouse gases from transportation is to travel by train and move goods by rail instead of on the road or by air.”

More than 140 GW of solar and wind generation capacity were added globally last year, with solar installations hitting a record 94 GW, new figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency show.  Global wind power capacity is expected to increase by 50% in the next five years as technology costs fall further and emerging markets drive growth, the Global Wind Energy Council said in an annual report on the wind industry.  While at CERAWeek in Houston, Edward Klump of E&E News spoke with four CEOs about the economics, technology, and trends driving the electricity sector in a greener direction.

Europe has more than 45 demonstration projects to improve electricity-to-hydrogen gas technologies and their integration with power grids and existing natural gas networks.  The principal focus has been to make the electrolyzers that convert electricity to hydrogen more efficient, longer-lasting, and cheaper to produce.  Dominion Energy plans to reduce methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure in half over the next decade.

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 3/29/2019

Politics and Policy

The Trump administration announced last Friday that the government would provide an additional $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to the Plant Vogtle nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia, with Energy Secretary Rick Perry saying, “This is the real new green deal.”  Americans are evenly split over the use of nuclear power to supply the nation’s energy grid, a new Gallup poll revealed Wednesday.  In New Mexico the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has had both successes and problems during the 20 years it has been storing radioactive waste underground, thereby providing valuable experience for devising plans for the nuclear power industry.

Calling the Senate vote on the Green New Deal (GND) a sham, all but three Democrats voted “present” as the measure was defeated 57-0.  On the heels of that defeat, Democrats tried to prove they would not give up on tackling climate change.  Meanwhile, politicians from both sides of the aisle have been presenting alternatives to the GND, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy.  In addition, on Wednesday morning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that House Democrats were introducing HR 9, the “Climate Action Now Act,” which aims to keep the U.S. in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  As a climate advocate of a libertarian persuasion, Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center wrote an open letter to Green New Dealers explaining why he can’t support their initiative.  In an impassioned column, Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin wrote “…climate change should be properly thought of as an epidemic that left untreated will injure, impoverish and kill our people.  Denying the cause of those calamities isn’t climate denial, it’s a denial of human suffering.”  At Vox, David Roberts made “the case against incremental climate policy.”  Does that mean that climate policy will ultimately be determined by lawsuits, much as tobacco policy was?  Perhaps that would be easier if Polly Higgins is successful in making ecocide an international crime.

Bills to clamp down on pipeline protests have spread to at least nine new states this year, part of an industry-backed push that began two years ago to heighten penalties for activists who try to block fossil fuel infrastructure projects.  President Trump is expected to sign an executive order imminently to expedite gas and oil pipeline development.  Also, on Friday afternoon the President handed a victory to TransCanada Corp. with a new presidential permit allowing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to go forward.  Many say the move is an effort to sidestep judiciary and environmental review and is likely to face legal challenges.  Shareholder activism is one tool of capitalism that has been used to influence the climate policies of corporations.  Unfortunately, under President Trump the Securities and Exchange Commission has made it more difficult for shareholders to be heard.

Glenn Rudebusch, the San Francisco Fed’s executive vice president for research, warned in a report on Monday that “climate-based risk could threaten the stability of the financial system as a whole.”  But fixes like those taken by the European Central Bank are currently not within the Fed’s authority.  Every year, the world’s five largest publicly owned oil and gas companies spend approximately $200 million on lobbying designed to control, delay, or block binding climate-motivated policy.  By 2025, Copenhagen aims to be net carbon neutral, thereby demonstrating to the rest of the world policies that cities can adopt to tackle climate change.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, Craig Chandler presented a five part series on how to cut your carbon footprint: One, Two, Three, Four, Five.  Herman Daly, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and a long-time advocate for steady-state economics, had an essay at Local Futures on ”growthism.”  The Conversation has introduced a new newsletter called “Imagine” that presents a vision of a world acting on climate change.  You can read the first issue and subscribe to it hereYale Climate Connections observed Women’s History Month by publishing a list of books and reports on gender and climate change.  At The New York Times, John Schwartz collected the stories of men and women with a family history in fossil fuels who now work in renewable energy.  Jeff Goodell sent his last dispatch to Rolling Stone from onboard the Nathanial B. Palmer as it neared Punta Arenas, Chile.  Climate scientist David Goodrich has ridden his bicycle, lots, to experience climate change first hand.  He was interviewed at Yale Climate Connections about his experiences.

Climate

This week the World Meteorological Organization released its 25th annual State of the Climate report.  A major message in the report is that both the physical and financial impacts of global warming are accelerating.  Vast area of Australia are experiencing record drought and it is taking a toll on the mental health of farmers.

In the Arctic, the retreat of Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier has stalled since 2016, according to new research in Nature Geoscience.  The pause has been caused by a pulse of cool water entering the sea surrounding the glacier. This cool water burst came as a result of changes to ocean circulation patterns.  In the Antarctic, Two rifts on the Brunt Ice Shelf are close to creating an iceberg over 560 square miles in size.

A new study, published last month in the journal Global Change Biology, found that cod larvae that survive when reared under conditions of ocean acidification expected by the end of the century suffer significant organ damage and developmental delays that could cause problems throughout their lifetimes.

Researchers across the U.S. say the milder winters of a changing climate are inducing earlier flowering of temperate tree fruits, exposing the blooms and nascent fruit to increasingly erratic frosts, hail, and other adverse weather.  An expanding network of researchers has discovered the greenhouse gas methane flowing out of trees from the vast flooded forests of the Amazon basin to Borneo’s soggy peatlands, from temperate upland woods in Maryland and Hungary to forested mountain slopes in China.  These findings complicate our ability to assess the role of forests in the global climate system.

A new study, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Disease, aims to estimate how the geographic ranges of the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which carry viral diseases such as dengue fever, Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya, are likely to change with varying levels of future climate change.  The results show that, under business-as-usual carbon emissions, almost one billion additional people could be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases by 2080.

Energy

Greenhouse-gas emissions from the use of energy — by far their largest source — surged in 2018, reaching a record high of 33.1 billion tons, despite an increase in renewable energy.  Emissions showed 1.7% growth, well above the average since 2010.  Nevertheless, a report from Global Energy Monitor stated that the number of coal-fired power plants on which construction was begun each year has fallen by 84% since 2015, and 39% in 2018 alone, while the number of completed plants has dropped by more than half since 2015.  Carbon Brief has updated its map of the world’s coal-fired power plants.  More good news came from the climate policy NGO Sandbag, which released a new report on Tuesday revealing that the EU is on track to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, far exceeding official targets.  Furthermore, according to a new report issued Monday by Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean Energy, nearly three-quarters of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. cost more to operate than it would cost to build new wind and solar in the same area.

The Charles City County (VA) Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to approve a special-use permit for a 340-MW solar energy project planned for the western part of the county.  The project still needs approval from the State Corporation Commission and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  In Spotsylvania County, VA, the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains could soon be built and, depending on whom you ask, it would be either a dangerous eyesore that will destroy the area’s rural character or a win-win, boosting the local economy and the environment.  Dominion Energy has decided to permanently close ten older and less-efficient generating units in Virginia that had previously been put into cold storage because they could no longer compete profitably.  The units include a mixture of coal and gas-fired resources, along with one biomass unit.

Scotland’s Orkney islands produce more clean energy than their inhabitants can use, so they convert the excess to hydrogen to power cars and other things, thereby serving as a demonstration project for the rest of the world.  EURACTIV’s energy and environment editor, Frédéric Simon, spoke with Jan Ingwersen, who is the general manager of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas.  Among the things they discussed was the conversion of gas pipelines from natural gas to hydrogen.

Florida Power & Light Company is planning to build the world’s largest battery energy storage system adjacent to an existing PV solar power plant, but others have the same idea.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance says the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 35% compared to the first six months of 2018, while offshore wind costs have decreased 24% over the same period.  While battery energy storage works well to level out short-term fluctuations in energy availability, other technologies are required for long-term energy storage, i.e., over days or weeks.  One now being deployed is cryogenic energy storage, which uses liquid air.

At Vox, Umair Irfan and Javier Zarracina answered the question, “Why does a huge swath of the country have hardly any wind turbines at all?”.

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 3/22/2019

Politics and Policy

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington ruled late Tuesday that the Interior Department violated federal law by failing to take into account the climate impact of its oil and gas leasing in Wyoming.  He temporarily blocked drilling on about 300,000 acres of land in the state.  Inside Climate News reported that activists are using similar approaches against the Trump administration’s rush to open more U.S. property to oil and gas leases.  Meanwhile, at Axios Amy Harder argued that “President Trump and congressional Republicans are increasingly outliers in an otherwise emerging consensus across America that climate change is a problem and that the government should pass new laws to address it.”  On March 8 Dominion Energy Virginia came back to the State Corporation Commission with a revised Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that reduces the number of new gas combustion turbines in half.  According to Ivy Main, this would diminish the justification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has expressed support for a carbon tax for years.  Tuesday, Hassett told E&E News that he has a long record of supporting carbon taxes, but would not say if he has broached the subject with President Trump.  In the opinion section of The New York Times, Steven Rattner, a counselor to the Treasury secretary in the Obama administration and a Wall Street executive, made the case for a carbon tax.  On Thursday republicEn.org hosted a webinar entitled “The Carbon Tax Bill: 10 Years Later” featuring former Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina.  In his annual “Energy Outlook” report, Michael Cembalest, chairman of market investment and strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, wrote that the U.S. needs to reduce its use of carbon much faster, but changing that will require far harder choices than most people realize.  Indeed, in an opinion piece in The Guardian, Phil McDuff wrote: “Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it.  We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital.”

During an interview Wednesday on “CBS This Morning” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”  That prompted Emily Atkin at The New Republic to write “The EPA chief’s latest argument against fighting climate change is astonishingly foolish—but it’s exactly what most of us want to hear.”  Centrist Democrats are pushing back on the fast-paced approach to climate change legislation preferred by Green New Deal supporters, arguing instead for a more gradual manner that they think will have a stronger chance of passing and reaching across the aisle.  Because Senate Democrats consider the upcoming vote on the Green New Deal resolution to be a sham, they are apparently planning to vote “present”, even though they introduced it.  Nevertheless, Robinson Meyer argued that “America cares about climate change again.”

The Arctic region’s cooperation in the battle against global warming by reducing black carbon emissions is being hampered by the U.S. and Russia, the Finnish foreign ministry said on Wednesday.  A report released Friday from British nonprofit “Influence Map” shows that ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, and Total have spent more than $1 billion combined on lobbying to delay, control, or block policies to tackle climate change since the Paris Agreement was signed.  Also, according to a new report from a group of environmental nonprofits, during the same time period the 33 largest global banks collectively provided $1.9 trillion in financing for fossil fuel companies.  Russia is considering climate legislation that could give the world’s fifth largest emitter a framework for regulating carbon emissions for the first time.

Potpourri

Jeff Goodell filed another dispatch from the Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel in Antarctica.  As the ship was leaving the region of the Thwaites Glacier, its 25 mile wide by 15 mile deep floating ice shelf disintegrated.  At Yale Climate Connections (YCC), Michael Svoboda briefly reviewed the eight movies of 2018 with a cli-fi element and looked forward to those that will be released in 2019.  Also at YCC, SueEllen Campbell compiled a list of stories about the impacts of climate change in National Parks.  Board games are the latest devices to help both planners and citizens learn how to adapt to sea level rise and other consequences of climate change.  According to a new report released Wednesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, local governments can better prepare for disasters by investing in resilience programs and tending to societal problems that are often made worse during and after catastrophes.  With coal mining jobs disappearing in southeast Kentucky, environmental and energy reporter Elizabeth McGowen visited to determine whether green jobs could replace them.  At The Guardian, columnist Rebecca Solnit reflected on “Why climate action is the antithesis of white supremacy.”

Climate

The first results from a new generation of global climate models are now becoming available.  According to a report from a group of European climate modelers, early results suggest that estimates of “climate sensitivity” from these models are higher than previous values.  Last week the first item under “Climate” was about dramatic temperature increases in the Arctic being unavoidable.  However, it turns out that the degree of warming was overstated due to ambiguity in a key paragraph in the report from the UN Environment Assembly and the accompanying press release.

Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year on March 13, peaking at 14.78m sq km.  It is tied with 2007 as the seventh smallest winter maximum in the 40-year satellite record.  Thawing permafrost in high-altitude mountains has been contributing to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, new research published in the journal Nature Communications suggests.

Deadly and historic flooding is plaguing states across the Midwest, isolating entire towns and upending the region.  The Great Lakes Basin has warmed more over the last 30 years than the rest of the contiguous U.S. and could warm dramatically more by the end of the 21st Century.  Insurers have warned that climate change could make coverage for ordinary people unaffordable after the world’s largest reinsurance firm, Munich Re, blamed global warming for $24 billion of losses in the California wildfires.  As damaging storms and other effects of climate change have hit Florida particularly hard in the past few years, some older adults living there have become concerned about their safety and their ability to enjoy retirement. So they’re fleeing the state.

Spring is usually a coordinated dance of singing birds, bursting leaves, buzzing insects, and blooming flowers, but climate change is throwing off the rhythm.  Samantha Harrington summarized five examples of winners and losers as a result.  The AP looked at 424 weather stations throughout the U.S. lower 48 states that had consistent temperature records since 1920 and counted how many times daily hot temperature records were tied or broken and how many daily cold records were set.  In a stable climate, the numbers should be roughly equal.  Since 1999, the ratio has been two warm records set or broken for every cold one.

Daisy Dunne has a very informative article about the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef that also examines the question of whether the reef can survive.  The article is accompanied by great multimedia presentations.  Meanwhile, researchers in Australia are re-engineering corals to make them more resistant to higher temperatures using techniques as old as the domestication of plants and as new as the latest gene-editing tools.

Energy

At Inside Climate News, Nicholas Kusnetz provided a wrap-up of the activities at the CERAWeek oil and gas conference in Houston the week of March 11-15, noting that it was a week of contradictions, with some executives touting clean energy and others treating gas as a “forever fuel.”  At The New Yorker, Bill McKibben explained why gas isn’t even a bridge fuel, much less a “forever” one.

Buildings are responsible for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., so tackling those emissions is an important component of fighting climate change.  At Vox, David Roberts surveyed the parts of the U.S. that are displaying leadership in reducing building energy use.  The Brattle Group projects that $30 billion to $90 billion would have to be spent on transmission lines by 2030 to cost-effectively serve the electrification of the American economy.  That investment would represent a 20-50% increase in average annual transmission spending compared to the past 10 years.

Amnesty International (AI) attacked the electric vehicle (EV) industry on Thursday for selling itself as environmentally friendly while producing many of its batteries using polluting fossil fuels and unethically sourced minerals.  While AI’s allegations may well be true, there are many myths about renewable energy out there.  Karin Kirk presented some ways to counter them at Yale Climate Connections.  Two reports released yesterday, one by the Energy Information Agency and the other by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, highlight the impressive growth of renewable power and EVs — but also how far they have to go before replacing fossil fuels’ role in the energy system.  The New York City government’s maintenance costs for its EV fleet were much less per automobile than its gasoline-powered cars.

Last week I provided links to two articles about hydrogen production.  Both systems must use freshwater as the source of the hydrogen via electrolysis.  This week there was an article about research at Stanford that allows seawater to be used to produce hydrogen.  Toyota and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency are teaming up to transform part of a decommissioned car manufacturing site in Altona into a commercial-grade hydrogen production and refueling site.

SK Innovation plans a lithium-ion battery factory in Jackson County, GA, about 65 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, where the company says it will invest nearly $1.7 billion and hire 2,000 by 2025.  24M, a startup battery company, claims it has made a breakthrough in creating semi-solid lithium-ion battery cells with an energy density exceeding 350Wh/kg.

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 3/15/2019

Politics and Policy

On Friday students in nearly 100 countries around the world joined Greta Thunberg in her “school strikes for climate” protest.  At The Washington Post, Griff Witte, Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis reported on the events and profiled several students from around the U.S. who joined in.  The Guardian presented some of the posters from around the world.  A group of climate scientists wrote an open letter in support of the students.  Inside Climate News illustrated what climate scientists were saying when various world leaders were the age of today’s students.  Both the United Mine Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers came out against the Green New Deal (GND), saying “We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” even though the GND calls for a “fair and just transition” as we move toward zero net greenhouse gas emissions.  Evidently, Upton Sinclair was right.  Not surprisingly, President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal is not friendly to research and other programs related to climate change.  Australia’s annual carbon emissions have reached a new high and drops in emissions from the electricity sector have been wiped out by increases from other industries.

A new paper in Nature Climate Change provided more fuel to the debate about solar radiation management, a form of geoengineering, as a policy for slowing global warming.  The ideas are too complicated to cover in a sentence or two, so I encourage you to read Chris Mooney’s article.  The U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked a Swiss push to develop geoengineering governance at the UN Environment Assembly.  The town of Exeter, N.H. passed an ordinance recognizing the “right to a healthy climate system capable of sustaining human societies”, the second ordinance of its kind to be passed in the U.S.  It follows a law passed by the town of Lafayette, CO, which enacted a “Climate Bill of Rights” ordinance in 2017.  On the other hand, Indiana is the latest state to consider legislation increasing to a felony the penalty for peaceful protests on private property of fossil fuel companies.  Fossil fuel and other corporate trade groups paid public relations and advertising firms at least $1.4 billion from 2008 to 2017 to help them win over the American public.

No matter what you might think about the Green New Deal, it has already had one important impact: Republicans are speaking out about climate change, including former Ohio Gov. John KasichCBS News had a piece about Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), the ranking member of the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.  As infrastructure talks progress in Congress, Democrats are calling for any legislative package to address climate change, even though exactly how is not yet clear.  Executives from two Canadian oilsands companies praised a carbon tax at this year’s CERAWeek, a conference in Houston considered to be one of the most important for the world’s energy sector.  Inside Climate News summarized other activity at the conference.

Australia’s central bank warned that climate change is likely to cause economic shocks and threaten the country’s financial stability unless businesses take immediate stock of the risks.  Ivy Main summarized the fate of this year’s energy legislation in Virginia under the title “How the General Assembly failed Virginia again on clean energy.”  As expected, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam vetoed two bills that would have made it difficult for Virginia to join two interstate agreements limiting greenhouse gas emissions, one from the power sector and one from transportation.  On March 4, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said that climate change was making tornadoes worse.  Scientists at Climate Feedback concluded that the statement was misleading.

Potpourri

Calling themselves BirthStrikers, women and men are refusing to have children until climate change ends.  At Vox, Umair Irfan looked at the broader questions around the ethics of child bearing in an age of climate change.  Climate scientist Michael Mann had a strongly worded opinion piece at Newsweek.  Dan Charles had an interesting series on NPR in which he helped us imagine what life would be like in 2050 after climate change had been stopped.  Jeff Goodell filed more dispatches at Rolling Stone from Antarctica where he is aboard the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer.  He also filed three while I was gone: March 1, March 6, and March 8.  At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach explained how climate change is affecting spring by examining “Spring” in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”  Alina Tugend asked the question “Can art help save the planet?” at The New York Times.  In his new book, The Snap Forward, futurist Alex Steffen encourages people to think of tackling climate change as an ongoing opportunity to build a sustainable future, not a fight we’ve already lost.

Climate

Dramatic temperature increases in the Arctic are unavoidable, according to a report released at the UN Environment Assembly.  Even meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, would do nothing to stop Arctic winter temperatures from increasing 3° to 5°C by 2050 and 5° to 9°C by 2080.

On Wednesday, a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists published the results of a large study of the impacts of sea level rise on California’s coast.  The team concluded that damage by the end of the century could be more devastating than the worst earthquakes and wildfires in state history.  As sea levels rise, high-tide flooding is becoming a growing problem in many parts of the globe, including cities on the U.S. East Coast.  Now, new research shows that as these waters recede, they carry toxic pollutants and excess nutrients into rivers, bays, and oceans.

Carbon Brief has published an update of its 2017 interactive map illustrating the extreme weather events that have been studied to determine whether they can be attributed to climate change.  The analysis suggests that 68% of the 260 extreme weather events studied were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change.

A new paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change investigated the conditions required to hold global warming to 2°C by 2100.  By examining 5.2 million possible climate futures, the authors concluded that carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to achieve that without geoengineering or other technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people in cooler states, where air conditioning and other ways to cool down are less common, are likely to misjudge the deadly dangers hot spells can pose to their health.

Another paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences used computer simulation to examine future conditions for crop growth and found that by 2040, without reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, up to 14% of land dedicated to wheat, corn, rice, and soy beans will be drier than in 1986-2005, while 31% will be wetter.

Energy

Two papers described new research with proton conducting fuel cells.  One device harnessed as much as 98% of the electricity it was fed to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, providing an efficient way to store energy.  Engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed an artificial leaf that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere or flue gas and convert it into a fuel with ~14% solar-to-fuel efficiency.

On Wednesday, the U.S. and India agreed to build six U.S.-designed nuclear power plants in India.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., NRC commissioners rejected a recommendation from their staff to require reactor owners to recognize the new climate reality and fortify their plants against flooding and seismic events.

Renewable energy sources supplied nearly 65% of Germany’s electricity last week, with wind turbines alone responsible for 48.4% of power production nationwide.  At Axios Ben Geman explained why offshore wind is finally expected to experience rapid growth in the U.S.  Goldman Sachs said it expected utility-scale solar installations globally to reach 108 GW in 2019, up 12% on 2018, and then grow by another 10% in 2020 to 119 GW.  In the past I have linked to several articles about the difficulty of siting new power lines to move renewable electricity across the country.  Well, a new project has an interesting solution: burying the power lines along railroad rights-of-way.  Joel Stronberg wrote about the implications to the fight against climate change of local communities rejecting wind and solar farms.

BP announced on Wednesday a three-year partnership with EDF aimed at developing further technologies to detect and prevent methane leaks.  BP had aimed to reduce methane emissions to 0.2% of its overall oil and gas production by 2025, but was able to achieve that target in 2018.  Other oil and gas companies, including Shell, are also pledging to reduce methane emissions and are calling for more regulation of the gas.  On the other hand, according to Unearthed, “British oil major BP successfully lobbied the Trump administration to roll back key climate regulations preventing the release of methane into the atmosphere, despite claiming to support the Paris agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C.”

General Motors has recently established the position of VP for electric vehicle charging and infrastructure.  Ben Geman of Axios interviewed the first person to hold the post and gained insights into how GM views the development of that infrastructure.  He also reported on discussions about EVs at the Houston energy conference.  Volkswagen is increasing the number of new EV models it plans to build over the next decade from 50 to 70.  On Thursday, Toyota announced that it will invest about $750 million in facilities in five states to increase production of hybrid vehicles.  Joel Stronberg discussed CAFE fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and offered his opinion on the problems the auto industry faces as a result of the Trump administrations desire to roll them back.

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 3/8/2019

Joy Loving is this week’s author.

Politics and Policy

This article in Yes! Magazine provided a perspective on government action and inaction on climate change, asking “After 40 Years of Government Inaction on Climate, Have We Finally Turned a Corner?”  The author was inspired in part by his reporting about The Children’s Trust.  Perhaps an answer lies in part in actions such as this one by the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis:  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported on passage of a bill to protect some public lands.

Last week’s Roundup highlighted several articles about young climate activists.  The Guardian weighed in as well this week, with a close look at some individuals involved in the Sunrise Movement.  Perhaps these young people and others in their movement will be heartened to learn that there is a strong climate advocate, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, who says he will run for President in 2020.  The Washington Post’s (WaPo) Energy 202 gave the details.

You’ve no doubt heard about Democratic proposals for a “green new deal”.  The Hill reported that the conservative approach would look a lot different.  And the Washington Examiner offered a slightly different, but related, take. republicEn offered this perspective:

“The caucus will not focus on climate change, but instead on returning Republicans to the conservation and environmental roots laid by President Theodore Roosevelt by tackling public lands issues, wildlife conservation, and environmental degradation of rivers, streams, and animal habitats. Toward that end, the caucus will work on ‘conservative solutions which are driven by a commitment to innovation, competitive markers, and entrepreneurialism.’”

Is there a way forward for the c-words (compromise? consensus? climate action?)?  See what you think about this Inside Climate News item titled “Green New Deal vs. Carbon Tax: A Clash of 2 Worldviews, Both Seeking Climate Action” and subtitled “The contest is elevating climate policy conversations on the campaign trail and in Washington. It could inspire compromises that bring together pieces of each.”  Maybe not, according to this author writing in FiveThirtyEight. USA Today reported a somewhat related story.  And then there’s this Bloomberg piece, which suggested maybe some level of bipartisanship is a possibility, this item from DW.com about shifting attitudes among evangelicals, and this PBS Frontline story about the self-described “conservative Republican and libertarian” mayor of Georgetown TX.  This WaPo Energy 202 story talked about the first debate in the Senate this week, suggesting so far compromise is not “in the air”.  And yet, two senators of different parties penned a March 8 op-ed in the WaPo on why we need to act on climate change.

There’s a new government panel that Mr. Trump is convening to let us all know just how much of a climate-related security problem we have.  Here’s Reuter’s report “White House drafts guidelines for panel questioning climate threat to security”.  Not everybody thinks that’s a good idea, as these WaPo items reportedAxios weighed in also.  Also, Bloomberg reported that Mr. Trump’s soon-to-be-released 2020 budget proposal would slash Department of Energy funding for renewable energy from $2.3B to $700M.  The author doesn’t believe Congress will go along. In this WaPo opinion piece, the authors explored how they consider Mr. Trump “at war with his own government over climate change”.

Nexus noted that “A report released Tuesday by the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU details how the administration’s efforts to eliminate regulations in key industries, including the automotive and fossil fuel sectors, ‘amount to a virtual surrender to climate change.’”  Nexus listed several media articles, including one by the Washington Examiner and another by ThinkProgress that present somewhat different “takes” on the report. This Grist article briefly summarized expected legal battles about six environmental regulatory rollbacks, and the Daily Press wrote a story about VA’s attorney general supporting challenges to offshore drilling.  Apparently, offshore drilling is preceded by seismic testing, and a SC lawmaker demonstrated just how harmful that might be to marine wildlife, the Post and Courier reported.

Potpourri

Is the world ready for lab-grown meat?  That question is examined in this Guardian article.  In a related article, Guardian asked “What the Green New Deal will mean for your hamburger”.

Like olive oil?  “Italy sees 57% drop in olive harvest as result of climate change, scientist says”, according to The Guardian.

Here’s a surprising WaPo Energy 202 piece headlined: “The Energy 202: Oil giant makes business case for taking climate change seriously”.  Guess who the “oil giant” is?  Of all companies, BP!

Union of Concerned Scientists published an October 2018 report that may help you more fully understand why lower rates don’t necessarily mean lower electricity costs.  The story is a few months old but the information remains relevant.

A Guardian reporter provided some history (past and present) about environmental injustice. VA is featured in several examples he cited.

When climate disasters strike, we can always count on FEMA to help those affected, right?  Maybe not, as NPR reported in “How Federal Disaster Money Favors The Rich”.

A 2017 VA law provided Dominion a lot of money for a variety of energy initiatives, including energy efficiency.  As a regulated monopoly, Dominion is guaranteed cost recovery and a minimum rate of return for many of its projects. This opinion piece from Bacon’s Rebellion is a bit wonky but reminds us about unintended consequences and their effects on our wallets.

Climate

In the “financial costs of climate change” department, here’s a NRDC story reporting on homeowners’ plights following the multiple hurricanes in the south in the past few years.  In last week’s Roundup we learned that “property value losses from coastal flooding in 17 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states were nearly $16 billion from 2005 to 2017.” But what about California’s fires?  Incredibly costly, according to this recent Bloomberg article:  “California’s Wildfires Burn Through America’s Climate Illusions”.  The Economist published a report that by 2100 “Climate change will affect more than the weather”—specifically the U.S Gross Domestic Product or GDP.  The graphics indicate—surprise!—the poorer among us will be hit harder economically than the wealthier and—another surprise!—the warmer areas more than the more northern ones.

National Geographic is offering its film “Paris to Pittsburgh” on its website.  Introducing the film, National Geo said: “As scientists’ warnings about the impacts of climate change become more and more dire—and the level of inaction from the federal government becomes more and more alarming—a growing number of leaders are fighting global warming with local solutions.”

This AP News article reported on efforts by legislators in several states, including VA, to ensure “balance” in the way schools present climate-related materials.

This Nature article addressed the question of whether humans can engineer our way out of our excessive carbon emissions.

Do we really need insects?  After reading this WaPo article, you might conclude we do.  But then there’s mosquitoes, which like to live where it’s warm (CityLab).  This Guardian item made a case that “Endangered species face ‘disaster’ under Trump administration” because “Trump’s push to expand oil and gas drilling is eroding protections for some of America’s most at-risk wildlife”.  You know the one about the frog in water that is very gradually heated up so the animal does not realize the danger until it’s too late?  What about humans?  The Atlantic said maybe we’re somewhat like that frog.

Bad news about ocean warming, sea level rise, and low sea ice in these four articles from The Guardian (“Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal” and “Australia’s marine heatwaves provide a glimpse of the new ecological order”); RNZ (“The world talks about climate change while Kiribati waits…and suffers”); and the AP (“Correction: Bering Sea-Low Ice story”).

Energy

A VA solar installer penned an op-ed about Virginia energy policy that appeared in the Virginia Mercury (VA Merc).  He wants more transparency and inclusiveness.

The Virginia State Water Control Board decided not to consider revoking its certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) but declared it’s in favor of strong “enforcement” around “compliance” matters.  The VA Mercury described what happened and, sort of, why (based on the Board’s public explanation).  The online paper followed up with an opinion piece by Editor Robert Zullo that had some harsh words about the process.  A Forbes contributor and investment advisor analyzed the possible economic effects on the developers of the MVP and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which he believes will be built.

In the Central Valley, when pipelines come up in a discussion, usually so does eminent domain.  It also comes up in Texas—by a Republican State Senator whose family “has run a gasoline and fuel distribution company”–interesting item appearing in the Texas Tribune.  The Senator’s constituents facing eminent domain land seizure agreed with her.  In NC, a judge sided, at least temporarily, with a landowner over Dominion and Duke, in what was described in The Progressive Pulse as another setback to the utilities wanting to build the ACP.  At least one VA legislator tried “to give landowners who don’t want pipeline construction on their land a fair chance against … companies involved in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline”. He wasn’t successful as reported by WSHV TV 3.  My Buckhannon (WV) provided a March 6 update on the ACP titled “Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction unlikely to recommence prior to September”.

Remember the tree sitters who oppose the pipelines?  Well, some of them are still there, per this CITYLAB article.  And, speaking of trees, here’s a tale, from WVTF Public Radio, about what happens in one part of the world affecting others.

Water water everywhere—at least in the climate news.  Related to our dependence on it, here’s a VERY detailed presentation from Ensia of how, when, where, and why the U.S. uses water.  Certainly makes one pause when one considers what may happen to water supplies because of climate disruptions and our apparently insatiable need for water.  One industry that uses LOTS of it is the concrete industry.  This report in The Guardian provided some alarming details about concrete’s hazards.  And then there’s waste from the coal industry (aka coal ash) according to this Inside Climate News report.

Another energy industry that can unfavorably affect water availability and safety is hydro fracturing (aka fracking).  Energy News reported that fracking produces another “side effect” in the territory of the grid operator PJM.  PJM services VA, among other nearby mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states.  The reporter made the argument that “Shale gas boom slows progress on renewables in PJM grid territory” so that “Wind and solar generation on the nation’s largest regional electric grid lags other parts of the country.”  A surprising part of the report suggests that PJM states can’t produce as much solar energy as other, sunnier states like NC, apparently overlooking how close VA is to NC, how much farther south it is than Great Lakes states, and how much sunshine VA actually receives.

Farther south, in GA, the Atlanta City Council decided “… to OK plan to have facilities run on clean energy by 2035”, apparently believing it has enough solar energy to do that.

Mining has been big business in Brazil but the benefits to mining companies have come at a huge cost to the indigenous peoples whose lands are being mined.  The Guardian reported on how they are fighting back and why.

The Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) “tracks and scores states based on their energy policies and how these policies help or hinder local clean energy action.”  Its latest Community Power Scorecard rates Virginia a C.  Reviewing their “policies that matter for local energy” makes it hard to understand how Virginia scored that well.  John Farrell of ILSR explained in a Renewable Energy News “Why ILSR’s 2019 Community Power Scorecard Matters”.

Locally and elsewhere in Virginia and other states, proposals for “solar farms” are attracting a lot of attention from proponents and opponents.  In a recent opinion piece, a former Augusta County Supervisor, weighed in writing in the Daily Progress.  And, a recent CivilEats piece described a way to have solar panels on land that is also being farmed. The WaPo Business section wrote about some pros and cons of IL farmers “raising” solar panels on farmable land in “The next money crop for farmers: Solar panels”.

Speaking of solar, here’s some good news about Nepal, from Thomson Reuters Foundation News (“In rural Nepal, solar irrigation helps keep families together”). Closer to home, Augusta County has joined Albemarle in putting solar panels on 7 schools, WHSV TV reported.  Harrisonburg’s school system plans to have solar energy producing electricity for one or more of its schools, and Rockingham County is considering that possibility.  Here’s some more good VA solar news from WVPT.

Remember the Exxon Valdez?  How about the Deepwater Horizon?  Probably yes.  But, have you heard about Taylor Energy of New Orleans?  Here are an article from the WaPo and another from the SunSentinel.  The Solomon Islands also recently experienced a catastrophic oil spill, as reported in the Guardian.

Action Items

Robert Whitescarver, a farmer and blogger in Swope VA, wrote extensively about proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changes to the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS).  He noted that the definition “has profound implications”—e.g., “How much can we pollute these waters? How much can we dredge, fill, or alter them?”  He suggested each of us should consider “Just how far upstream do we allow the federal government to regulate and protect?” and let the EPA know our answer.  The public comment period ends April 15.

Renew Rocktown, CAAV, and Shenandoah Group of Sierra Club plan to do a Solar Census to count the number of solar installations within the city of Harrisonburg.  If you own solar, check out this site.

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/1/2019

Politics and Policy

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee announced his candidacy for U.S. President, with climate change as his first priority.  Switzerland wants the world to talk about if and how to use geoengineering to slow climate change – and will ask the UN’s environment arm to take the lead.  Costa Rica’s president has launched an economy-wide plan to decarbonize the country by 2050, saying he wants to show other nations what is possible to address climate change.  Writing about putting a price on carbon emissions, Frank Ackerman said: “…under either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, the price level matters more than the mechanism used to reach that price. …[U]nder either approach, a reasonably high price is necessary but not sufficient for climate policy; other measures are needed to complement price incentives.”  In an opinion piece to accompany “Concrete Week” at The Guardian, John Vidal lays out the case for imposing a carbon tax on cement.

In her New Yorker essay about climate-related business failures, Sheelah Kolhatkar wrote “If the coming climate-related business crises will have one positive side effect, it’s that acute financial losses are likely to force policy changes in a way that environmental damage on its own has not.”  A report by the UK-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that 100 global financial institutions have introduced policies restricting coal funding.  The German think tank Adelphi analyzed the manifestos, public statements, and voting behavior of 21 right-wing populist parties represented in the European Parliament, and found that only three of them accept the scientific consensus that humans are creating significant climate change.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) submitted the names of Republican members of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), who is the chair of the panel.  The Senate on Thursday approved former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the EPA by a vote of 52 to 47.  One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted against Wheeler’s confirmation.  Tim Gallaudet, the acting administrator of NOAA, was suddenly replaced on Monday by the No. 3 official at the agency, former weather industry scientist Neil A. Jacobs.  Pennsylvania state legislators are debating whether to subsidize existing nuclear power plants to keep them operating.

The editorial board of The Washington Post proposed their alternative to the Green New Deal (GND).  Responding to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “cynical Green New Deal vote,” Democrats are looking “to get Republicans on record on climate change,” by introducing their own climate resolution.  More than 100 youth climate protesters, part of The Sunrise Movement, entered McConnell’s office Monday to advocate for the GND.  Ultimately, 42 people, all over 18, were arrested.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also had an encounter with young people, which was kind of tense.  This caused Bill McKibben to write “… youth carry the moral authority here, and, at the very least, should be treated with the solicitousness due a generation that older ones have managed to screw over.”  Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic had a different take on it.  Perhaps the GND critics should consider why David Roberts at Vox thinks so many of them “…have missed the mark.”  Last week I included an article about a plan to reassess whether climate change poses a national security threat.  Well, the plan has morphed into an ad-hoc group that will conduct an adversarial review of climate science out of the public eye.  These new efforts to question or undermine the established science of climate change have created a widening rift between the White House and some leading figures in the president’s own party.  As Amy Harder at Axios said, “some congressional Republicans are beginning to publicly acknowledge it, and a few are even considering policies addressing it.”

Potpourri

The New York Times has an informative article entitled “Teach About Climate Change with These 24 New York Times Graphs.”  Be sure to pass it on to anyone you know who is a teacher.  There are two new books out about the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and its aftermath.  Sonja Schmid reviewed them for Nature.  Michael Svoboda compiled a list of books dealing with environmental justice for Yale Climate Connections.  Amy Brady interviewed photographer Virginia Hanusik about her project “A Receding Coast.”  In another dispatch from Antarctica, Jeff Goodell talked with expedition chief scientist Rob Larter about Thwaites Glacier.

Climate

A paper published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change celebrated the 40th anniversary of three key events in climate change science.  One finding of the paper was that climate scientists are now 99.9999% certain that current climate change is being caused by human emissions of CO2.  (That is the level of certainty associated with the “five-sigma” threshold mentioned in the article.)  Something much less certain about CO2 buildup in the atmosphere is what it will do to clouds.  A new paper in the journal Nature Geoscience used simulation to examine the impacts of very high CO2 concentrations on the formation and stability of stratocumulus clouds, the kind that hover low in the sky and create vast decks of cloud cover, cooling Earth.  The authors found that when the CO2 level reached 1300 ppm, those clouds disappear, causing temperatures to increase rapidly.

An iceberg roughly twice the size of New York City is set to break away from the Brunt ice shelf in Antarctica as a result of a rapidly spreading rift.

According to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it took just two to eight years for Americans in a given location to stop recognizing that extreme temperatures were, in fact, extreme.  Temperatures in the UK and Europe were unseasonably warm this week, setting many wintertime high temperature records.  And in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia posted its hottest summer ever and the first season in which temperatures exceeded 2°C above the long-term average.

A new analysis, published Wednesday by First Street Foundation, estimates that property value losses from coastal flooding in 17 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states were nearly $16 billion from 2005 to 2017.  Florida, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina each saw more than $1 billion in losses.

Marine fish around the world are already feeling the effects of climate change.  Rising sea temperatures have reduced the productivity of some fisheries by 15% to 35% over 8 decades, although in other places fish are thriving because warming waters are becoming more suitable.  Also, in the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change.  Writing in Scientific American, Laura Poppick reviewed the causes and consequences of such changes.

Energy

The cover article in this week’s issue of Chemical and Engineering News is about carbon capture and the various technologies available.  Although it must undergo a lot of development before it can be applied, an article in the journal Nature Communications described a new process that can convert CO2 into solid particles of carbon, which would be much easier to store than liquid CO2.

New research, published Monday in the journal Nature Energy, found that hydrogen produced using renewable energy is already cost competitive in niche applications and is likely to be competitive in industrial-scale applications within a decade.  (The linked article is from the UK.  If, like me, you don’t know what a “hob” is in this context, it is a cooktop.)  Meanwhile, Australia’s government is setting up a coalition to explore a hydrogen economy.

An analysis of newly released official energy data from China by Unearthed revealed several interesting items.  Among them, China’s CO2 emissions grew by approximately 3% last year, the largest rise since at least 2013.  On the other hand, power generation from non-fossil sources grew by 29%, with wind power generation increasing 20% and solar PV 50%.  Wind and solar generated 8% of China’s power needs, up from 3% five years ago.  Efforts to cut emissions of CO2 and tackle climate change in developed economies are beginning to pay off according to research led by the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia in the UK and published Monday in Nature Climate Change.  New government figures from Australia revealed that its greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise, reaching their highest on a quarterly level since mid-2011, as soaring pollution from the liquefied natural gas export sector overwhelmed ongoing decreases from power plants.

Flow batteries are typically used in large installations, such as for storing energy at solar or wind farms.  Now, researchers are working to decrease their size so that they can be employed in electric vehicles, thereby reducing the time it takes to recharge the vehicles.  A new “conventional” battery using a zinc-bromine combination has been unveiled at Sydney University in Australia.  The appeal of zinc-bromine includes the materials’ relative abundance, particularly compared with lithium, and the nonflammability of the electrolyte gel.  Battery prices have fallen so low that the technology is now the least expensive way to provide customers in the Southwest with electricity, according to Arizona Public Service Co. (APS).  To take advantage of this shift, APS will add large, building-size batteries to the power grid across Arizona.

On February 1, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced it was making available $28 million in funding for research projects to develop new technologies for floating offshore wind turbines.  Wind turbines are typically designed to shut down at temperatures below −20°F, so when temperatures plunged during the January polar vortex, turbines in the Upper Midwest shut down, renewing the debate about the role of onshore wind in meeting baseload power needs.  As more renewable energy is installed in the best places for wind and solar, the challenge will be to get the electricity to the places that need it, particularly when states and localities display a NIMBY mentality.  E&E News asks if this will be the next GND battlefront.

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 2/22/2019

Politics and Policy

Even though federal intelligence agencies have affirmed several times since President Trump took office that climate change poses a national security threat, the White House is preparing to assemble a panel under the leadership of William Happer to assess that conclusion.  At a meeting of the Planetary Security Initiative at The Hague on Tuesday, scholars and international officials warned that the Middle East and North Africa are about to be plunged into further chaos because of ongoing climate change and its associated impacts on food and water supplies.

The Trump administration has broken off talks with the California Air Resources Board over vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and is on track to roll back standards set by former President Obama, the White House said in a statement Thursday.  A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by two Pennsylvania boys and an environmental group seeking to stop President Trump from rolling back regulations addressing climate change, saying the court does not have power to tell the White House what to do.  Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have passed legislation allowing electric coops to raise their net metering caps from 1% to 7%.  A provision to raise the net metering cap for customers of investor-owned utilities — Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power — didn’t advance into the final legislation.  The Governor is expected to sign the bill.

 Changes in land use to foster more uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere is an important component of many countries’ pledges under the Paris Climate Agreement.  A recent “Perspective” piece in the journal Nature Climate Change argues that there are many shortcomings associated with those pledges, making it likely that those countries will fail to meet them.  The lead author of the Perspective piece had a guest post about the article at Carbon Brief.  ClimateWise, an initiative of the University of Cambridge that studies climate-related insurance risks, has issued new reports demonstrating how to a more precise look at those risks and their financial impacts.  This is most timely, since according to The Economist, corporate-risk managers are rotten at assessing their exposure to a changing climate.

Janos Pasztor, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change and currently Executive Director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, said: “For the moment, …, the world simply doesn’t know enough to decide [about solar geoengineering].  It doesn’t even know how it should go about making such a decision, how to research solar radiation modification, or even whether to consider the possibility of deployment at all.”  In The Washington Post, Leah C. Stokes, an assistant professor of environmental politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote about five things we should know about the Green New Deal (GND).  Lisa Friedman and Trip Gabriel of The New York Times called the GND “an extraordinarily complicated series of trade-offs that could be realized, experts say, with extensive sacrifices that people are only starting to understand.”  Decarbonizing buildings is an important component of any serious plan to reduce CO2 emissions.  California is beginning to tackle the problem as described by David Roberts at Vox.

Potpourri

Wallace Broecker, the geochemist who popularized the phrase “global warming,” died on Monday at 87.  He was fond of saying “The climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks.”  On Wednesday, Oliver Krug published an article in The Guardian about some of the artists who are illuminating the impacts of climate change.  Megan Mayhew Bergman had another article about how people in the southern U.S. are responding to climate change.  This one is mainly about Florida.  Journalist and translator Philipp Blom has a new book, entitled Nature’s Mutiny, about the 17th century’s Little Ice Age (LIA) and how it transformed Europe.  Blom contends that we can learn how climate change might influence society by looking backward at the LIA.  David Wallace-Wells used his New York Magazine article from last year as a starting point for his new book entitled The Uninhabitable Earth.  Kate Yoder of Grist described it as “an immersion in seemingly all of the worst-case climate scenarios.”  Whether that will be helpful or not depends on where you stand on the spectrum of how people react to troubling information, as discussed by climate scientist and psychologist Jeffrey Kiehl.  Wallace-Wells also had a rather long opinion piece entitled “Time to Panic” in The New York Times.  In contrast to Wallace-Wells’ book, the film “2040”, which was inspired by Project Drawdown, focuses on the work that is being done now to steer the right course through the potential hazards of climate change.

Climate

According to NOAA, January 2019 was the third-warmest January in the history of global weather record-keeping, which dates back to the 1880s.  The only warmer global Januaries in the instrumental record were 2016 and 2017.  The impacts of climate change don’t occur in isolation; rather they occur together.  Climate Central has prepared a new report entitled “CLIMATE PILE-UP: Global Warming’s Compounding Dangers” that quantifies those interactions for many cities in the U.S.  You can read either a synopsis or the full report.  Climate change was responsible for the majority of under-reported humanitarian disasters last year, according to an analysis of more than a million online news stories commissioned by Care International.  Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that, as a result of climate change, air pollution is lingering longer over cities and summer storms are becoming more powerful.

The Bramble Cay melomys, a small brown rodent living on a tiny Torres Strait island near Papua New Guinea, has been declared extinct, giving it the distinction of being the first mammal driven to extinction by human-caused climate change.  Climate change also influences where insect populations thrive and in New England large infestations of moose (or winter) ticks are taking a toll on moose calves.

A new paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, reported that laboratory-grown meat may do more damage to the climate in the long run than meat from cattle.  A study from European thinktank IDDRI claims that pesticides can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population.  In an opinion piece at Medium, farmer Alex Heffron argues that we need to stop focusing on what we eat, and start focusing on how the food we eat is produced.

According to a new analysis, there is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of emissions.  Older trees have long been thought to be more efficient carbon ‘sinks’, but new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that young trees are actually better at absorbing CO2 than established tropical rainforests.  The Natural Resources Defense Council and Stand.earth reported that the largest U.S. makers of at-home tissue products use only virgin fiber from Canada’s northern forests — one of the world’s best absorbers of atmospheric CO2 — in their major brands, thereby making climate change worse.

Data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s Climate Change in the American Mind surveys show that, over the past five years, the proportion of Americans who think global warming is happening and who worry about it has increased sharply.  The program also recently released its 2018 set of “Partisan Climate Opinion Maps.”  They are definitely worth a look.

Energy

Mining company Glencore has promised to cap the amount of the coal it is capable of taking out of the ground.  Glencore made its decision after facing pressure from a shareholder network known as Climate Action 100+, which has the backing of more than 300 investors managing $32 trillion.  Major tech companies are teaming with oil giants to use automation, AI, and big data services to enhance oil exploration, extraction, and production.  The EPA said CO2 output grew 0.6% in 2018 over the previous year, to 1.93 billion tons, while electricity generated grew 5%, to 23.4 quadrillion BTUs.

The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, Simon Denyer, had an article on Wednesday about the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima eight years after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident.  Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Thursday outlined the government’s plan to build a number of new nuclear reactors.

In total, 16.7 GW of new wind projects reached a final investment decision last year in Europe — 12.5 GW onshore and 4.2 GW offshore — 45% more than in 2017, according to WindEurope’s annual report.  Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed an executive order ending the moratorium on wind turbine permits imposed one year ago by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.  Portland General Electric (PGE) plans to build the 380 MW Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility just north of Lexington, Oregon.  It is being touted as the first in the U.S. to combine wind and solar power with battery storage.  A tidal turbine array in the north of Scotland set a new world record for generating power and exporting it into the national grid.

The results of a study published in the journal Energies show that as much as 25% of the increase in the UK’s GDP between 1971 and 2013 was driven by energy efficiency gains.  This suggests that improving energy efficiency has benefits beyond climate policy, given that the delivery of increased energy services can improve various aspects of society.  The EU agreed on Tuesday to reduce CO2 emissions from new trucks and buses by 30% compared to 2019 levels by 2030.

At Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk addressed three myths about renewable energy and provided a “friendly response” to each.  Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables studied the performance of a hypothetical power grid if electricity generation in it was 100% renewable (50% wind and 50% solar) with battery storage and winter conditions like those experienced during the recent polar vortex occurred.  It required a lot of storage.

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 2/15/2019

Politics and Policy

A new study from the Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK-based leftwing thinktank, warns that a gathering storm of human-caused threats to climate, nature, and the economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis.  On the brighter side, investors are willing to put up the capital to fund the Green New Deal (GND) goals provided they get clarity from Congress, said Jon Powers, president of financial technology company CleanCapital and former chief sustainability officer under President Obama.  “The thing that holds up capital the most is uncertainty,” he said.  “Once you have certainty in that policy, then that capital will know where to go.”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday the Senate will hold a vote on the GND, although a time has not yet been scheduled.  Joe Romm had an article at Think Progress this week examining what a WWII-scale mobilization might look like.  Amy Harder had an interesting infographic at Axios illustrating what fighting climate change means to different groups.

A paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters, confirmed the conclusions of a study last year by the Environmental Defense Fund: the Trump administration’s “Affordable Clean Energy Rule”, which would replace the Clean Power Plan, would cause more CO2 emissions than doing nothing in many states.  The Interior Department did not sufficiently consider the climate impacts of expanding a coal mine in Montana and must reexamine its environmental analysis, a federal judge ruled this week.  Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First in August 2017 for $1.0 billion, alleging the groups worked to undermine the Dakota Access pipeline that’s now shipping oil from North Dakota to Illinois.  On Thursday a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit saying he found no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise.  Pipeline executives are urging President Trump to assert federal authority over interstate pipelines and prevent states from blocking projects that run through their boundaries.  The petroleum industry has been depicting itself lately as the target of a conspiracy by scientists, local government officials, and climate change activists to make it look bad.

More than a dozen Republican senators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have urged President Trump to back the Kigali Amendment to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, and the U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration industry agrees.  So why won’t the Trump administration do so?  The Democrat-led House Committee on Science, Space and Technology devoted its first hearing to exploring the wide-ranging effects of climate change.  There was a subtle shift among key Republicans toward accepting the prevailing research that points to human-driven global warming.  If you think the divide between the political parties in the U.S. over climate change has been bad, it looks downright cordial compared to the situation in Australia, in spite of the huge climate impacts they have been experiencing.

At The New York Times, Brad Plumer provided an overview of state actions on climate change since the November elections.  Jan Ellen Spiegel wrote at Yale Climate Connections about how the 2018 elections changed the climate for renewable energy in the Northeast.  Plumer and Blacki Migliozzi teamed up with Robbie Orvis and Megan Mahajan of Energy Innovation to prepare a very informative infographic illustrating the CO2 reduction that the U.S. could achieve if it adopted seven of the most ambitious climate policies already in place around the world.  Climate-related disasters cost the world $650 billion over the last three years, according to a new report from Morgan Stanley.  The cost to North America was $415 billion, or 0.66% of North America’s GDP.  Bloomberg presented a chilling piece entitled “The Pessimist’s Guide to 2019: Fires, Floods, and Famines.”

Potpourri

The 2019 Tyler Prize for environmental achievement (the “Nobel for the Environment) was awarded February 12 to two eminent climate scientists, Warren Washington and Michael Mann.  Sara Peach offered advice for a reader who is worried about the climate impact of air travel.  Peter Sinclair’s latest video focuses on 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg, who virtually stole the show at the recent World Economic Forum.  Rupert Read, a philosophy professor at the University of East Anglia in England, wrote that he thought the student climate strikes started by Thunberg “are morally and politically justifiable.”  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that the percent of people in the U.S. alarmed about climate change has increased to 29%, double the segment’s size in 2013.

Climate

When soot (black carbon) falls from the atmosphere onto the surface of Arctic ice it absorbs energy from the sun, speeding up melting and decreasing the reflection of solar radiation back into space.  A study published Thursday in the journal Science Advances found that the burning of fossil fuels is the main source of black carbon in the Arctic.  Two new papers in the journal Nature suggest that the contributions of Antarctica to sea level rise by the end of this century will not be as great as other recent papers have suggested.

For a variety of reasons, the U.S. Forest Service’s latest aerial survey of federal, state, and private land in California found that 18 million trees throughout the state died in 2018, bringing the state’s total number of dead trees to more than 147 million.  When you add up both their absorption and emission, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001.  Due largely to forest fires and insect infestations, the trees have actually added to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions for each of the past 15 years.  China and India are “leading the world” in “greening” the landscape, a study published in Nature Sustainability found, with the two countries accounting for one-third of the new forests, croplands and other types of vegetation observed globally since 2000.  However, that greening is “not enough to offset” the loss of the world’s tropical rainforests, particularly in Brazil, a scientist told Carbon Brief.

A study conducted at Iowa State University and published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports, identified three ways climate change will increase the likelihood of violence.  In 13 of 26 countries, people listed climate change as the top global threat, with the Islamic State militant group topping the list in eight and cyber attacks in four, according to a new poll conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Intensive agriculture, particularly the heavy use of pesticides, is the main driver of rapid declines in insect populations according to a new paper in the journal Biological Conservation.  Urbanization and climate change are also significant factors.

A new study in Nature Communications illustrated the impacts of climate change on U.S. cities by examining which locations now have climates like those the cities will experience in 2080 under two CO2 emissions scenarios.

Energy

A paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A describes initial studies on a new type of wave energy device that, because of its mechanical simplicity, may someday solve many of the problems associated with extracting electrical energy from the oceans.

Los Angeles will abandon a plan to replace three aging gas power plants along its coast with newer natural gas technology and will instead invest in renewable energy as it seeks to move away from fossil fuels.  In addition to being good for the climate, this may be a sound economic move if Justin Mikulka of Desmog is correct.  According to him, North American natural gas producers desperately need higher prices, making gas less competitive with renewables.  Dominion Energy of Virginia says it will cut methane emissions from its natural gas system by about 25% over the next decade to help fight climate change.

Wind, solar, and other renewables will account for about 30% of the world’s electricity supplies by 2040, up from about 10% today, according to BP’s annual energy outlook.  Simon Evans provided a detailed analysis of the report at Carbon Brief.  Spain aims to close all seven of its nuclear power plants between 2025 and 2035 as part of plans to generate all the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050.  German power and gas grid firms Amprion and Open Grid Europe said on Monday they would apply to build the country’s first large hydrogen plant that can convert wind power to alternative fuels that are easier to store and transport.

Described as a project of “strategic importance” for India’s energy sector, the country’s first grid-scale lithium-ion battery energy storage system officially went into service this week.  Oregon utility Portland General Electric said Wednesday that together with power producer NextEra Energy it plans to construct and connect a 300MW wind park, 50MW solar farm, and 30MW of battery energy storage.  U.S.-firm Hydrostor will convert a disused zinc mine in South Australia into a below-ground air-storage cavern for a 5MW/10MWh compressed air energy storage demonstration project.  As Americans buy more electric vehicles (EVs), the need for charging stations is increasing, but important questions exist around the issues of who should own them and who should set the charging rates.  David Thill of Energy News Network discussed the experience of Illinois in dealing with them.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Advanced Transportation looking at transit in Europe reported “a remarkable advantage of high-speed trains compared to aircraft”, with regard to direct CO2 emissions per [passenger-mile].  In spite of that, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced he was scaling back plans for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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.