Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/15/2019

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/8/2019

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/1/2019

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/26/2019

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

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

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

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/18/2019

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/11/2019

Politics and Policy

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren detailed a new environmental justice plan aimed at bolstering and protecting vulnerable communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.  The need for such a plan was illustrated by a study of FEMA’s buyout program published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.  At The New York Times, Lisa Friedman looked at why young climate activists are not impressed with either former Vice President Joe Biden’s climate plans or his climate record.  U.S. mayors are seeking to go over President Trump’s head and negotiate directly at next month’s UN climate change conference in Santiago.  Senate Democrats plan to use the Congressional Review Act to try and repeal the Trump Administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan.  Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, eight EU states have called on the bloc’s incoming top climate official to raise the CO2 reduction target for 2030 to 55% from 40%.

Virginia ranked 29th in the 2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard released earlier this month by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  This caused reporter Elizabeth McGowen to write “If Virginia is ever to bust loose from its middle-of-the-pack state ranking on energy efficiency, its regulated utilities must be the prime movers and shakers.”  In a letter to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper dated Thursday, Drew Shindell, Nicholas Professor of Earth Science at Duke University, said that the state should place a “permanent moratorium” on new natural gas infrastructure in the state, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).  Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Dominion Energy Inc of a lower court ruling that halted construction of the ACP.  Nick Martin of The New Republic sees new pipelines coming everywhere. 

In a study released on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) joined a chorus of other studies calling for a price on carbon emissions.  The IMF study found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2°C, although others have recommended a much higher tax.  The Vice Chairman of the Board of Swiss drug company Roche said business must set more ambitious goals for reining in human impact on climate and the environment.  A poll conducted by YouGov Blue and Data for Progress sought to determine voters’ reactions to some of the recent proposals by Democratic candidates for fighting climate change.  Robinson Meyer reviewed the findings at The Atlantic.

Two new reports from the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University addressed the question of how to decarbonize industrial heat, i.e., the heat used to do things like make steel, glass, or cement.  The first report is about the current state of industrial heat technology (decarbonizing is hard) whereas the second addresses policy recommendations for decarbonizing the sector (a carbon tax only ranked fifth among the policies).

Climate and Climate Science

Scientists in Siberia have discovered regions with very high atmospheric methane concentrations.  The methane is coming from melting permafrost.  One source is under the East Siberian Sea and is releasing so much methane that the sea looks like it is boiling in some places.

The New York Times has published detailed maps of total transportation-based CO2 emissions and emissions per capita for many metropolitan areas around the U.S., based on data from Boston University’s “Database of Road Transportation Emissions”.  The Times also had an article about the formation of ghost forests along the mid-Atlantic coast, caused by the migration inland of salt water as a result of sea level rise and a decreased flow of fresh water as a result of drought.

Two recent articles, one last month in Scientific Reports and one this week in Science Advances, shed light on the forces causing accelerated melting of the glaciers in Antarctica.  Be sure to watch the video, in which Ian Howat of Ohio State University does a good job of explaining what is happening.  More rapid melting is also occurring in Greenland, contributing at least 25% of sea level rise.  Science has a rather lengthy article about efforts in Greenland to better understand the melting there, thereby improving scientists’ ability to predict how rapidly sea level will rise.  There is also an interesting video associated with this research.  In South America, nearly 30% of Peru’s glaciers have melted away since 2000, threatening a critical source of drinking water and irrigation for millions of people downstream, according to a new study published in the journal The Cryosphere.  Unfortunately, such melting of mountain glaciers is happening all over the world with similar consequences, as detailed in the new IPCC report on oceans and the cryosphere. 

The National Audubon Society released a new report on Thursday detailing how the ranges of 389 North American birds will change as Earth warms.  Brad Plumer of The New York Times used that report to examine what will happen to the state birds of several states.  A new paper in the journal Science has found that by 2050, up to 5 billion people may be at risk from diminishing ecosystem services, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

NOAA announced that September 2019 tied for the second-warmest September on record in the Lower 48 states.  In addition, hundreds of weather stations from the Mississippi River to the East Coast broke high temperature records for the period Oct. 1-3.  The records weren’t confined to the U.S., however, with records also being set in Europe.

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, scientists found that some coral colonies damaged by oceanic warming from climate change can regrow and fill out the empty skeletons they left behind.  The process is slow, however, suggesting that its success will depend on the frequency of ocean warming events.

Energy

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to the pioneers of the lithium-ion battery.  NASA recently received an all-electric aircraft, the X-57 Maxwell, that will undergo testing in the coming months with the first flight expected in 2020.  British inventor Sir James Dyson said that the company that bears his name is scrapping its plans to build an electric car, even though its engineers had developed a “fantastic” one.

A new report from the Center for American Progress noted that the U.S. needs to get to 65% renewable electricity by 2030 to be on track for 100% renewables in 2050, the level scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  The report also looks at what needs to happen in key sectors to meet that goal.  Many think wind power will supply the majority of U.S. renewable energy.  Philip Warburg reviewed the history of wind power in the U.S.

In order to reduce the risk of forest fires during periods of high winds, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. began cutting electricity to 800,000 customers in California this week.

In the U.S. all utility scale facilities combining renewable energy with energy storage use alternating-current coupling.  Now, utilities are studying direct-current coupling, which requires less equipment and promises to be less expensive.

Potpourri

The Guardian has launched a new series entitled “The polluters”.  The first article was published Wednesday and reveals the 20 companies whose exploitation of the world’s fossil fuel reserves can be linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965.  George Monbiot had an opinion piece to accompany the article.  At the New Yorker, Bill McKibben wrote that in order to make progress, Americans need to stop believing in the fable that the U.S. has already made great progress in cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions.  Michael Svoboda presented summaries with links of 12 reports about climate change, its impacts, and building resilience against them at Yale Climate Connections.  Jane Fonda is moving to Washington, DC, for four months to engage in civil disobedience over climate change on the Capitol steps each Friday.  A new wave of climate protests hit cities around the world this week—this time aimed at shocking people with civil disobedience, fake blood on the pavement, and bodies lying in the streets under signs that read: “Stop funding climate death.”  “Carbon Ruins” is a museum exhibit that looks back on the fossil fuel age from the perspective of 2050 after global net-zero CO2 emissions had been achieved.

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 10/4/2019

Politics and Policy

In contrast to most proposed legislation for a carbon tax, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the best strategy for applying one is to start high (e.g., over $100/ton or more), rise for a few years, and then fall gradually.  David Roberts examined the implications of that suggestion.  Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s largest coal and natural gas producing states, is starting the process to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  On Wednesday, Citigroup issued a report entitled “Managing the Financial Risks of Climate Change,” in which it said that financial regulators must transform how they account for the economic risks of a climate change.  Perhaps the failure to do so is why the majority of the world’s 50 largest banks have not made commitments to respond to the risks of climate change and continue to finance fossil fuels.

Because there were no new commitments from the big emitters at the recent UN Climate Action Summit, many considered it to be a failure.  However, dozens of announcements on climate action were made over the three-day summit.  With a view toward accountability, Climate Home News published a (non-exhaustive) list of initiatives, promises, and goals.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Professor Alex Rosenberg of Duke University explained why climate change is such a hard problem to solve, introducing the concept of PPE in the process.

On Monday, the White House announced that President Trump intends to nominate James Danly to be a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  But he broke with a decades-old tradition by not nominating a Democrat along with Danly.  A nonpartisan taskforce of former government officials has warned that the treatment of science by the Trump administration has hit a “crisis point”.  The Trump administration’s recent revocation of California’s authority to set its own tailpipe emission standards was seen by many as an assault on states’ rights.  E&E News had an article entitled “Meet the ‘NIMBY people’ trying to kill solar.”  A report from the Rhodium Group shows that passing a few tax incentives for electric cars, nuclear plants, and renewable power could lead to big carbon cuts.  An article in The Hill stated “The Trump administration, in its push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is arguing the project should go forward because ‘there is not a climate crisis.’”

A growing body of evangelical leaders is ramping up pressure on Republican lawmakers to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, breaking from some evangelicals’ long skepticism of climate change.  On the NBC News website, researcher Malka Older argued that the U.S. government must recognize the economic threat caused by extreme weather associated with climate change and prepare for it.  On Tuesday, a coalition of New England and mid-Atlantic states, known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, took a first step toward limiting transportation emissions across 13 states.  After the recent rash of fire and extreme weather events, the Federal Reserve’s regional banks are digging deeper into how Earth’s warming will impact U.S. businesses, consumers, and the country’s $17 trillion banking system.

Climate and Climate Science

High temperature records were set all over the southeastern U.S. on Wednesday.  A new study by World Weather Attribution found that since 1900, the chances of receiving the amount of rain dumped on Southeast Texas by Tropical Storm Imelda has more than doubled, while the amount of rainfall in such an event has increased by about 18%.

Salt water continues to move farther inland in Florida’s Biscayne Aquifer (Miami-Dade County), although at a slower rate, according to new U.S. Geological Survey mapping.  In Australia, parts of northern and inland New South Wales, along with southern Queensland, have been in drought since 2016, severely depleting river and lake levels, threatening water supplies for many towns and cities.

Throughout the last 500 million years, the period when complex animal life has existed on Earth, the carbon cycle has been in balance for more than 99% of the time, but not now.  National Geographic went along with scientists to learn more about the huge peat deposit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the scale of which was only recognized a few years ago.  Because of the amount of carbon it contains, it must remain intact.

An iceberg slightly larger than Oahu, Hawaii, broke off this week from the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica.  The loss of Arctic ice is making it very difficult for polar bears to feed, causing their future to be uncertain.  The Washington Post published a photo-essay on Thursday about the impacts of the melting permafrost in Siberia. 

Coral bleaching occurs during ocean heat waves as a result of corals ejecting the algae with which they live in symbiosis.  If bleaching events occur in rapid succession, the corals can be killed.  Now, new research published in the journal Scientific Reports provides hope by suggesting that corals may be able to cope with these stressful events by controlling which algae reside within them.

Energy

A good deal of press has been given to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a component of any plan to hold the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C.  CCS will require the development of a complex infrastructure but there currently is no economic incentive for doing so.  Some propose, however, that we first focus on carbon capture and utilization (CCU), in which economic benefits are gained through use of the captured carbon.  David Roberts is publishing a four-part series at Vox explaining how CCU might serve as an on-ramp for eventual large-scale application of CCS.  Part 1 was published September 4 and presented a brief introduction to the need for CCS and the various types of CCU that might help get it going.  Part 2 was published October 2 and focused on the largest industrial use of captured CO2: enhanced oil recovery.  Parts 3 and 4 will appear later.  It may be too early to judge whether it will pan out, but scientists and engineers in Canada believe they have developed a way to extract in situ hydrogen from tar sands, while leaving the carbon in the ground.  The hydrogen would provide a clean energy source.

The powering past coal alliance (PPCA), which seeks to establish a global coal phase-out by 2050 at the latest, now has 91 members, all vowing to end the construction of new coal-fired power plants by 2020.  On the other hand, the New South Wales government is considering legislation that could limit the ability for planning authorities to rule out coal mine projects on the basis of the climate change impact of emissions from the coal once it is burned.  China plans to shut a total of 8.66 GW of obsolete coal-fired power capacity by the end of this year, the National Energy Administration said.  In the U.S., a group backed by anonymous donors launched a campaign on Monday to promote the benefits of cheap, abundant natural gas against what it called “radical” proposals like the Green New Deal that would phase out use of the fossil fuel.  On the other hand, opponents of new natural gas pipelines are arguing that their builders are misusing eminent domain.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue of whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued permits for the construction and operation of four new solar projects that will generate a total of 192 MW of electricity.  A modeling study conducted by the Greenlink Group found that adding at least 49 GW of solar energy through 2050 would save Virginia consumers money.

The largest windfarm in the world will have a combined capacity of 3.6 GW and will be located at Dogger Bank off the coast of Yorkshire in the North Sea.  The turbines will be GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X, which have a capacity of 12 MW each and stand 853ft tall with blades that extend 351ft.  The vast majority of offshore wind farms employ turbines fixed to the ocean floor, but waters off the coast of California are too deep for that technology.  Floating turbines offer a solution, but only a few have been tried, all in Europe.  Utility Dive examined the possibility of employing floating turbines in California.  Bloomberg Businessweek examined why it is so hard to get an offshore wind farm built in the U.S. and the A.P. addressed Trump’s dislike for the industry.

At Energy Storage News, Stefan Hogg addressed the need for lithium-ion battery recycling and the challenges facing the industry in developing a system.

Potpourri

On September 20, David Wallace-Wells began publishing a series of interviews at Intelligencer, part of New York Magazine.  The series is entitled “The State of the World: A series about climate change” and comprises in-depth interviews with climate leaders about their views on the future of Earth’s climate.  A list of the interviewees can be found here.  Another article from mid-September that I want to call to your attention focused on the psychological impact of climate change on children.  On that same theme, PBS News Hour presented an article advising how to talk to your children about climate change.  Yale Climate Connections has reposted two short essays from The Conversation by Australian scientists working on the Great Barrier Reef, one near the end of his career, the other near the start of hers.  At The Tyee, Professor Jennifer Ellen Good addressed the link between continual economic growth and climate change, concluding that the news media ignore the clear connection.  On Monday in Harrisonburg, Innovation Hub aired a segment entitled “Fools for Fossil Fuels: A History of Climate Change Inaction.”  Three scientists have been named MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Fellows for their work related to climate change.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has updated its “Climate Opinion Maps,” including a new question on whether the President should do more to address global warming.

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 9/27/2019

Politics and Policy

Greta Thunberg, whose emotional address to the UN Climate Action Summit went viral this week, was recognized by the judges of Sweden’s annual Rights Livelihood awards for “inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts”.  Unfortunately, the Summit accomplished little, although Thunberg’s remark about “fairy tales of eternal economic growth” raised the ire of some.  Many others agreed with her, however.  For example, both Canadian economist and author Peter Victor (Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster) and Canadian writer Naomi Klein (On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal) argued that we must overcome the idea of investing for endless growth to stop climate change.  In anticipation of the Summit, both Al Gore and John Kerry published opinion pieces.  Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Southern States Energy Board in Louisville, Kentucky, chairman and host, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R), said Thunberg was “remarkably ill informed.”  Robinson Meyer’s article about her in The Atlantic certainly doesn’t confirm that.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) called on governments to overhaul the rules of the international trade and monetary systems so all countries could carry out the necessary mass investments to decarbonize their economies.  UNCTAD secretary general Mukhisa Kituyi said meeting the UN sustainable development goals “requires rebuilding multilateralism around the idea of a global Green New Deal, and pursuing a financial future very different from the recent past”.  Data firm IHS Markit compiled the first global benchmark for carbon emissions pricing, based on trading under the three most liquid trading schemes: the EU’s, and two from the U.S. (California and RGGI). 

Early in the week, Trump administration officials threatened to withhold federal highway funding from California, arguing that the state has not shown what steps it is taking to improve its air quality.  But California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) responded “We won’t be intimidated by this brazen political stunt,” only to be accused on Thursday of “failing to meet its obligations” to protect the environment.  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said his agency is “limited” in regard to its “statutory authorities to address the issue” of climate change.  On Friday, hundreds of thousands of people around the world took part in another wave of strikes to demand urgent action on climate change.  New research suggests that banks are shielding themselves from climate change at taxpayers’ expense by shifting riskier mortgages — such as those in coastal areas — off their books and over to the federal government.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said on Tuesday it was forming a climate change task force to better understand how businesses are responding to the issue.  A substantial number of corporations moved ahead with vows to address climate concerns and used the U.N. Climate Summit as a venue for unveiling their targets.

While more than 60 countries have said that they will try to reduce their net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, they accounted for only 11% of global emissions in 2017.  Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) has introduced the bipartisan Market Choice Act which would replace the federal gasoline tax with a tax on carbon emissions from sources of fossil fuel combustion.  Many argue that a carbon tax is not very effective at reducing carbon emissions from transportation.  Jonathan Marshall addressed that criticism at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby website.

Climate and Climate Science

On Wednesday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate.  A good short summary was provided at Science, while Carbon Brief provided an in-depth summary of the key findings.  The Washington Post also covered the release.  The Arctic, of course, is part of the cryosphere, so Richard Hodgkins summarized what has happened there this year and what its impacts will be on the rest of us.  On Monday, Carbon Brief examined the many factors contributing to sea level rise.  Arctic sea ice reached its summer minimum extent for 2019.  This year was the joint-second lowest in the 40-year satellite record, tied with 2007 and 2016.

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports found more than 65,000 lakes, like those on the Greenland ice sheet, on the surface of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.  This is surprising because East Antarctica is much colder and suggests that parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet may be highly sensitive to climate warming.

The IPCC Sixth Synthesis Report (AR6) is not due until June 2022 and like its predecessors, it will rely heavily upon modeling to determine what will likely happen in the future.  An editorial in the journal Nature Climate Change provided a brief look at where the modeling effort stands and considers the interesting findings concerning equilibrium climate sensitivity.

U.N. officials have warned that increasing numbers of farmers in drought-stricken Honduras could be forced to leave their homes unless support is ramped up to help them better cope with extreme weather and climate change.

China’s Ministry of Natural Resources said on Thursday that coastal sea levels were 48 millimeters (1.9 inches) higher last year than the 1993-2011 average, with winter ice floes shrinking.  In addition, average recorded temperatures in December last year were 1.7°C (3.1°F) higher than normal.

Energy

Last week I provided information about Duke Energy announcing plans to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  It joined 21 other power companies that have pledged to lower their carbon footprints since 2018.  However, many of them plan to keep large coal-fired power plants open for decades to come and/or plan to build new natural gas power plants.  Consequently, some energy analysts are skeptical of the companies’ ability to meet their pledges.  Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the state will contribute $20 million to a Dominion Energy plan to replace diesel-powered school buses with electric buses and Ivy Main commented on the “cascade of clean energy announcements” recently in Virginia.  Meanwhile, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, and Southern Co. have spent more than $109 million lobbying lawmakers and officials since the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was unveiled five years ago.

Writing at Yale Environment 360, Michael Standaert reported that growth of wind and solar in China is slowing as government funding for green energy falters and upgrades to the transmission infrastructure lag.  With China’s CO2 emissions again on the rise, experts worry the world’s largest emitter may fall short of key climate goals.  At the same site, Bruce Lieberman addressed the question: “How to reconcile people’s love affair with their vehicles and society’s need to reduce carbon emissions?”.

For years, the oil and gas industry downplayed the connection between fossil fuel burning and climate change.  Today, however, nearly every major fossil fuel company has acknowledged that carbon emissions help drive global warming, even as President Trump questions the connection.  The latest Energy Trends data confirm that coal accounted for just 0.6% of the UK’s power mix between April and June, marking the first quarter since the 19th century in which coal fell below 1.0% of total generation.

New energy efficiencies in the transportation, building, and industrial sectors can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 50%, according to a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Bolivia will try and capitalize on its large lithium reserves to set up an industrial ecosystem around batteries and other storage technologies

Potpourri

Teenage girls are stepping up for the climate much more than boys.  A survey of more than 100 U.S. climate strike organizers and nearly 200 participants in the Washington, DC, strike found that 68% of the organizers and 58% of the participants were female.  Unfortunately, regardless of gender, teenage activism is accompanied by a lot of harassment and “climate change anxiety.”  David Roberts had a piece in Vox about Greta Thunberg and the seeming ineffectiveness of troll attacks against her.  Although I missed it last week, David Wallace-Wells published a profile of Thunberg in New York Magazine.  Billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick announced on Thursday the second-largest donation ever to an American university: $750 million to the California Tech for environmental study, much of it focused on technological solutions to combat climate change.  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed author Amitav Ghosh about his new cli-fi novel Gun IslandNewsweek published a lengthy interview with authors Katharine K. Wilkinson (Between God & Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change) and Robin Veldman (The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change) about what evangelical Christians think about climate change.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/20/2019

Joni and I are pretty well settled in our new home, so it is time for me to return to compiling the Roundup each week.  I would like to send a big Thank You! to Joy Loving for filling in for me while I was occupied with other things.  I greatly appreciate it.

Politics and Policy

The Trump administration on Thursday officially revoked California’s authority to set its own emission standards but the state filed a lawsuit on Friday and is preparing for a lengthy legal battle over the issue.  Also on Thursday, Senate Democrats released a report outlining dozens of times the Trump administration has censored or minimized climate science at agencies across the federal government.

The U.N. is convening a climate summit on Monday, September 23, in part to determine whether the world’s nations can muster the resolve to slash carbon emissions as rapidly as scientists say is needed.  Only countries that have promised meaningful new pledges will be allowed to speak, muzzling the U.S.  In advance of that summit, an international group of experts has published the Exponential Roadmap: the 36 most viable solutions to halve greenhouse gas emissions globally by 2030.  They also say that strong civil society movements are needed to drive such change.  Unfortunately, humanity doesn’t have a very good track record, as illustrated in a feature for Nature, where Jeff Tollefson “shows how little progress nations have made towards limiting greenhouse-gas emission”.  He also compares current pledges to what would be needed to meet global climate goals and highlights the gap between these insufficient aims and current progress.  Nevertheless, Bill McKibben could still paint a hopeful picture of the future, as could Jeff Goodell.

Climate Home News deputy editor Megan Darby had a feature entitled “Net-zero: the story of the target that will shape our future.”  A group of more than 500 major institutional investors, which together manage $35 trillion in assets, called Thursday for governments to boost efforts to tackle climate change, warning that failure to do so could have serious economic consequences.  In addition, on Wednesday over 200 investors representing some $16.2 trillion under management called on companies to do their part in halting the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order calling on state agencies and public institutions to create a plan that will make Virginia’s electric grid solely dependent on carbon-free energy sources by 2050.  On the same day, Duke Energy announced that it would accelerate its carbon reduction goals and hoped to hit “net zero carbon emissions” by 2050.  The New Democrat Coalition, made up of moderate congressional Democrats worried about the infeasibility of passing sweeping climate legislation like the Green New Deal, released an 11-page outline of principles on Wednesday, along with a list of bills to back them up.

Potpourri

A solid majority of American teenagers is convinced that humans are changing Earth’s climate and believe that it will cause harm to them personally and to other members of their generation.  Inspired by sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, students and others all over the world participated in the Global Climate Strike on Friday.  Bill McKibben gave 23 reasons for participating.  Thunberg and three other teenagers appeared before the House Climate Crisis Committee and a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Wednesday, with Thunberg telling the lawmakers to “listen to the scientists.”  McKibben also had a rather long piece in The New Yorker in which he addressed the question “What if the banking, asset management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?”  The Economist devoted its September 19 print edition primarily to climate change.  In an editorial to accompany the issue, the editors state that “to conclude that climate change should mean shackling capitalism would be wrong-headed and damaging.” 

Climate and Climate Science

The summer of 2019 was tied with that of 2016 as the hottest on record in the Northern Hemisphere, according to NOAA data released Monday, with a temperature anomaly of 2.03°F (1.13°C) above the 20th-century average.  What’s remarkable about 2019′s record warmth is that it came in the absence of a strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean.  Globally, the June-through-August period was the second warmest such period on record with an average that was 1.67°F (0.93°) above the 20th-century average.

Two new modeling studies published in the journal Nature provided a more optimistic view of the future.  One showed that it should be possible to rapidly shut down coal-fired power plants lacking air pollution control devices without causing a spike in global warming due to the reduction of aerosol emissions.  The other suggested that the need for negative emissions (i.e., removal of CO2 from the atmosphere) to hold temperature increases below 1.5°C is an artifact of the logic employed in modeling studies.  Using the logic framework presented in the study, the authors show that the need to rely on negative emission scenarios will likely be much less than previously thought.

Another paper in the most recent issue of Nature reported on the growth in thickness and area of giant ice slabs beneath the surface snow at middle elevations in Greenland.  They prevent meltwater from percolating into the deeper snow and hasten its runoff to the sea.  As a consequence, Greenland is contributing two to three times as much meltwater to sea level rise than previously thought.

An intensifying marine heat wave in the northeastern Pacific Ocean has raised concerns about a repeat of “The Blob,” which last occurred in 2013-2015, suppressing the growth of small organisms at the base of the ocean food chain and causing wide-spread disruption of fisheries and wildlife.

In Scientific American, Emily Holden wrote: “…the impact of the climate crisis—for patients, doctors and researchers—is already being felt across every specialty of medicine, with worse feared to come.”

Energy

Dominion Energy on Thursday announced plans to build the nation’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Virginia — a 220-turbine installation that would power 650,000 homes at peak wind.  Presently, the only off-shore wind farm in the U.S. is next to Block Island in Rhode Island.  Dan Drollete Jr., the editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, visited to see how this experiment in the transfer of European technology has gone.  On a related topic, NIMBY attitudes are having a negative impact on the siting of renewable energy projects.

China’s total planned coal-fired power projects stand at 226.2 GW, the highest in the world and more than twice the amount of new capacity on the books in India, according to data published by environmental groups on Thursday.  Saudi Aramco, is trying to rebrand itself as being environmentally conscious, but it has a long history of obstructionism on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Oil-backed groups have challenged electric companies’ plans to build charging stations across the country, according to utility commission filings reviewed by Politico, waging regulatory and lobbying campaigns against the proposals as a way to fight electric vehicles.

On Thursday, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos pledged to make the company net carbon neutral by 2040 and to buy 100,000 electric delivery vans from U.S. vehicle design and manufacturing startup Rivian Automotive LLC.

Worldwide CO2 emissions from commercial flights are rising up to 70% faster than predicted by the UN, according to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation.

E&E News asked “Is U.S. shale facing an ‘unmitigated disaster’?”  Experts say the shale oil/gas industry could be headed off a financial cliff and environmental groups are asking who will clean up thousands of wells drilled miles beneath the surface if businesses go bust.  We don’t just rely upon gas and oil for the fuels to power our vehicles.  They also serve as the feedstock and power source for the processes that make the products, from pharmaceuticals to shampoo, that are inherent to modern life.  Robert Service explored the question of how we will make those things as we begin to leave hydrocarbons in the ground.

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 8/25/2019

Joy Loving is the author of the summer 2019 occasional Roundups, of which this is the seventh and the last.  Les Grady will be returning from his summer hiatus in September. 

Politics and Policy

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the “US government weakens application of Endangered Species Act”.  “EPA Plans to Rewrite Clean Water Act Rules to Fast-Track Pipelines”, according to this Inside Climate News item.  The Augusta Free Press has the story from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s perspective.  The New York Times/Climate (NYT/Climate) said that, by changing the way the Act is applied, the plan “significantly weaken[s] the nation’s bedrock conservation law… making it harder to protect wildlife from the multiple threats posed by climate change.”  And the National Resources Defense Council (NDRC) is also unhappy about what they say is a gutting of the Endangered Species Act.

NYT/Climate notes that “Trump’s Rollback of Auto Pollution Rules Shows Signs of Disarray”.  “The White House, blindsided by a pact between California and four automakers to oppose President Trump’s auto emissions rollbacks, has mounted an effort to prevent any more companies from joining the other side.”  Bloomberg’s editors have produced a podcast and an opinion piece about recent Republican actions to address the climate crisis.

Virginia “Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler … released the final report to Gov. Ralph Northam on recommended actions for enhancing protection of air, water, and public health in Virginia…. Key recommendations include improving water supply and air quality monitoring, measures to hold polluters accountable, and a focus on environmental justice and public engagement. The full report and recommendations [are] available here. ” [AFP item].  The Virginia Mercury’s story called the report a blueprint to modernize the agency and noted: “Even as the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s scope of work has broadened to include such critical concerns as climate change and environmental justice, the agency has seen its funding cut and its programs hamstrung by outdated state regulations”.

NYT/Climate reports that “A coalition of 29 states and cities … sued to block the Trump administration from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants, setting up a case that could determine how much leverage the federal government has to fight climate change in the future.”  Virginia is one of the states.  The Virginia Mercury also has this storyCitizens Climate Lobby (CCL) asks and answers “How Do GHG Emissions Compare Under New Carbon Tax Bills?”  The Energy News Network advises that “Virginia looks to New York green bank for possible clean energy financing”, reporting that “Virginia’s energy office is exploring whether to align the state with a billion-dollar New York clean energy financing program.”

UPI says “Bernie Sanders unveils $16.3 trillion climate change plan”.  Inside Climate News also covers the story.  WaPo’s editors are not impressed.   U.S. News reports that “A DNC [Democratic National Committee] panel on Thursday [August 22] voted down a resolution calling for a presidential primary debate focused on climate change”.  Fox News says “Protests erupt after DNC puts kibosh on climate change-focused debate”. 

Potpourri

  • AFP—Personal story about honeybees.
  • WaPo’s Joel AchenbachScience Trip (audio and great imagery included) to Fly Geyser, Ether Dome, Atchafalaya Swamp, Green Bank Observatory, Earthquake Trail, Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, Scopes Monkey Trial, Cinder Lake, Brookhaven Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, Cahokia Mounds, Delmarva’s Wintering Birds, Humongous Fungus.
  • Another WaPo picture story about Greenland, a large island and autonomous Denmark territory that straddles the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans (includes climate change repercussions). 
  • The Denver Post has this AP story: “Earth’s future is being written in fast-melting Greenland.  Experts say that by the year 2100, melting from Greenland alone could cause 3 or 4 feet of sea level rise”. Apparently, Mr. Trump is interested in the U.S. owning it, according to this item from the BBCWaPo’s Capital Weather Gang (CWG) says that “The U.S. is already transforming Greenland, and it’s imperiling Americans here at home”.
  • From the New York Times (NYT) comes an interactive story about how Phoenix residents try to beat the heat:  “As Phoenix Heats Up, the Night Comes Alive; That will be true for many more cities as the world gets hotter.”
  • The Guardian runs this opinion piece arguing that “The Lion King missed an opportunity to talk about the climate crisis”.  Kate Cohen (writing in WaPo) offers her opinion that “Most of us are hypocrites on climate change. Maybe that’s progress.”

Climate

What’s Happening?

WaPo, in its article titled “2°C: Beyond the limit”, says “Extreme climate change has arrived in America”.  Noting that “global warming does not heat the world evenly”, the report continues:  “A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark.  — Today, more than 1 in 10 Americans — 34 million people — are living in rapidly heating regions, including New York City and Los Angeles. Seventy-one counties have already hit the 2-degree Celsius mark.”  WaPo’s Climate and Environment section provides” five take-aways” from its “analysis of warming climate in the United States”.

WaPo’s CWG warns “Amazon fires could accelerate global warming and cause lasting harm to a cradle of biodiversity”.  Inside Climate News has a story about the European Union’s reaction to the Amazon fires:  “Amazon Fires Spark Growing International Criticism of Brazil”.  At issue is a proposed EU trade deal with Brazil.  Also, several members of the G7 want urgent action because, as French President put it, “Our home is on fire. Literally” ….  The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 percent of our oxygen, is ablaze. It’s an international crisis.”  NBC News reports: “Record fires sweeping across the Amazon this month are bringing renewed scrutiny to Brazil’s deforestation policy and have environmental researchers and conservationists worried that the blazes will only aggravate the climate change crisis.”  This AP item says the G7 leaders have offered assistance to Brazil.

The Guardian has the story of “How US cities are scrambling to protect people from extreme heat”.  NPR explains “Why Sea Level Rise Varies Across The World”.  NPR also asks and answers “How Much Hotter Are The Oceans? The Answer Begins With A Bucket”.

We’ve heard about threats that the climate crisis pose for water.  The Virginia Mercury highlights the difficulty of one Virginia county struggling to meet its residents’ expectations in the face of reductions in its water access (from an aquifer) imposed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  Writing in NYT/Climate, Somini Sengupta and Weiyi Cai make a case that “A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises” [interactive].  In another piece, Ms. Sengupta explains her view that “Earth’s Food Supply Is Under Threat. These Fixes Would Go a Long Way.” 

WaPo’s CWG says “Increasing humidity, driven in part by climate change, is making even modest heat waves unbearable”.  The same folks report what we likely already know or could guess:  “July was Earth’s hottest month since records began, with the globe missing 1 million square miles of sea ice”.  The AP reports that “Blooms, beasts affected as Alaska records hottest month”.  Grist says “The climate change ‘tipping point’ has already arrived for these 70 U.S. counties”.  There’s a graph that shows cities and their level of “readiness”.  The good news is Virginia doesn’t have any on the list.  The USDA tells us “Above-normal activity predicted for hurricane season … [and] If you live or farm along the East Coast, the chances for a tropical storm or hurricane just increased….” [AFP article]

In a detailed article in Science, the authors make “The case for strategic and managed climate retreat”.  They do so because, “Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm’s way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat.”

Who’s Doing What (or Should or Shouldn’t Be)?

This Grist article profiles “An evangelical leader calls young Christians to save the planet”.  Writing in WaPo Outlook, Jamil Zaki helps us understand “Why haven’t we stopped climate change? We’re not wired to empathize with our descendants.”  Newsweek writes about a “Fox News Host [who] Expresses Frustration That Young Americans Believe in Climate Change”.

The Columbia Journalism Review declares that there is “A new commitment to covering the climate story”.  At the urging of journalist Bill Moyers, several media outlets have formed Covering Climate Now and have agreed to “convene and inform a conversation among journalists about how all news outlets—big and small, digital and print, TV and radio, US-based and abroad—can do justice to the defining story of our time.”

Grist has a story about a recent IPCC report that “Planting trees isn’t enough to save us from the climate crisis”.

The Piedmont Chapter of the VA Sierra Club publishes a weekly list of activities and events in its area and also around the Commonwealth.  Subject matters may include gardening, electric

vehicles, bees, water, pipelines, sustainability, action alerts, and many others.  One may subscribe at this link.

Courtland Milloy, a longtime columnist for WaPo’s Local, gives his perspective on the urgent need to act on the effects of the climate crisis.  Describing one life-threatening event in the DC Metro area following serious flooding in July 2019, he declares that “Climate change is here, and we can no longer wait for someone to save us”.  Virginia Public Media has a brief story titled “Despite Growing Flood Risks, Virginia Coastal Development Continues”.  This AFP item, titled “New research could help green Virginia with blue carbon”, reports that carbon sink might be another tool in the management of the Chesapeake Bay.  “Carbon sink describes a process in which coastal sea grasses, mangroves and salt marshes capture and hold carbon.”  Another AFP article highlights a recent announcement by the New Democrat Coalition Climate Change Task Force (of which Virginia Representative Elaine Luria is co-chair) presenting “policy principles to combat climate change with the seriousness and urgency it demands.”

Prior Roundups have featured stories about Texas’ events and actions, some of which address the climate emergency and other that appear to increase it.  We’ve also heard about some actions the Dutch are taking, including providing advice on “managing” sea level rise and “recurrent flooding” (as many Virginia legislators like to call this phenomenon).  Here’s a Grist story that asks “Can the ‘masters of the flood’ help Texas protect its coast from hurricanes?”

Fortune discusses in detail the Aug 19 statement from the Business Roundtable (BR) announcing a new policy modifying its longstanding position that the purpose of corporations is to put shareholders’ interests comes first.  Steven Pearlstein offers his perspective on the statement and describes the history of the BR, which consists of the big company CEOs in U.S. business.  A search of the two articles and the statement for “climate”, “environment”, “sustainability”, “resilience”, “water”, “natural resources” yielded few results.  The Fortune article noted the book, The Trillion‑Dollar Shift by Marga Hoek, “a former construction industry CEO and founder of the Dutch Sustainable Business Association” and mentioned a few references in the statement to environment and sustainability.  Wood Mackenzie and the American Wind Energy Association have issued a report on “growing C&I [commercial and industrial] renewables opportunity [in the corporate sector].  Despite some gains, “The overall penetration of renewables in the power mix for Fortune 1000 companies remains limited at approximately 5%”.  Wood Mackenzie also provides “A peek at [its] latest outlooks for solar, wind energy storage and carbon emissions.” [Greentech Media, GTM, article]

“A group of [Virginia Tech] researchers received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to tackle … environmental challenges with the creation of a new Ecological Forecasting Initiative Research Coordination Network (EFI-RCN).”  The challenges include “climate change, land-use, and invasive species.” [AFP article] The AFP also reports that “Virginia partners with Nature Conservancy to preserve 22K acres” in Russell County.

The AP says that California, “[h]oping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions and other species that require room to roam, transportation officials and conservationists will build a mostly privately funded wildlife crossing over a major Southern California highway. It will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space and better access to food and potential mates.”

ACTION ITEM—Eric King of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition has issued this request:  “Harrisonburg recently applied to renew our status as a Bicycle Friendly Community with the League of American Bicyclists. If you are a cyclist and are interested in contributing input on the bike-friendliness of the Friendly City, the below survey will be reviewed by the League as well as shared with the City.”  Here is the link

Energy

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

WJCT Public Media says that “JEA Projects No Energy Efficiency Gains As FL Utility Regulators Consider Next Decade”.  JEA is “Northeast Florida’s Not-For-Profit, Community-Owned Utility”. FLAPOL reports that the Florida Public Service Commission and Florida Power and Light are examining “a sharp decline in in-state utilities’ projected conservation, with new goals to be set.”  Utilities spokespersons were not in favor of setting goals and offered numerous explanations for the decline.  “’With goals of zero,’ countered Bradley Marshall of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, ‘there is little help on the way for low-income customers, however.’”

Utility Dive asserts that “Everyone loves a guaranteed discount: New financing approach drives community solar growth”.  The article explores how utility-owned utility solar’s growth has the potential to extend the benefits of solar energy to lower and middle income (LMI) customers.  It also discusses numerous projects enable by Department of Energy innovation grants.  It does not appear that many, if any, projects highlighted are customer-community-owned.  Utility Dive also reports that “North Carolina clean energy plan could reduce power sector emissions up to 70% by 2030”.  PV Magazine discusses how and why a utility’s use of solar can actually result in harmful emissions:  “Solar gets by with a little help from its friends”.

GTM’s story, “Why Long Island Could Become New York’s First Energy Storage Hot Spot”, reports that, as a result of a New York state program, “[t]he region stands to benefit from storing renewable power, and $55 million of new incentives could get the market going.”

Fossil Fuels, Utilities and Pipelines

Recent legal actions about Virginia’s two proposed pipelines:  The Roanoke Times reports the “Mountain Valley Pipeline faces new legal challenge, this one over endangered species”.  This challenge is a petition to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals “to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reexamine its earlier opinion that burrowing a 42-inch diameter pipe across rugged mountain slopes and through unspoiled streams will not significantly harm the threatened fish, bats and plants that live there.”  The AP also reports on this story, as does Think Progress in this piece.  The Virginia Mercury notes that the “Mountain Valley Pipeline voluntarily suspends construction that could harm endangered species”.  Blogger Bobby Whitescarver (Getting More on the Ground) offers his take on the court’s decision.  Writing in the Virginia Mercury, environmental hydrologist Jacob Hileman explains “Why the Mountain Valley Pipeline is uniquely risky”.

Not long after an editorial in the News & Advance suggesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) may not be viable, the same paper has this item announcing that “Amherst council approves lease to Atlantic Coast Pipeline for storage yard, staging hub”.  Energy News Network reports that opponents of the ACP in North Carolina “are attempting a novel legal maneuver to stop the gas project from ever coming to the Tar Heel State.” Blogger James Bacon (Bacon’s Rebellion) asks “Delay-and-Block for Pipelines… and Solar?”  He suggests that “delay and block” tactics used by “environmentalists” opposed to pipelines could also be used by those opposed to solar farms.

PV Magazine says “Dominion is polling its customers for pro-monopoly arguments”.  One person contacted by the pollster was asked “if she found two arguments compelling: 1) the claim that ratepayer bills will go up $100 per month if corporations are allowed to procure their own renewables, and 2) that in the states where deregulation was introduced, that customer rates rose 39%.”  The article says the questions suggest “the messages that Dominion is planning on using to fight off legal or regulatory changes that could allow corporations to bypass it and procure renewable energy directly, and challenges to its monopoly.”  Bacon’s Rebellion blogger Steve Haner asks and answers “What Does Dominion Lose When Customers Leave?”—addressing the desire by some large customers to obtain their energy from competitors who can provide it from renewable sources.  Mr. Haner also pens this blogpost.  He examines a Dominion Energy “100 percent renewable” Rider TRG” now pending before the State Corporation Commission (SCC), with a hearing date of Nov 21.  He states:  “How the monopoly utilities propose to provide “100 percent renewable” power is important to understanding their efforts to prevent anybody else selling it in their territory.  Preventing that competition is the real gain for the utilities, and state law only allows consumers a choice if the monopoly utility doesn’t offer its own 100 percent renewable product.  This is Dominion’s third try.”  He goes on to report that “renewables” include hydro plants, Dominion-owned solar fields, four generators that burn biomass (wood) and the percentage of power from wood waste coming out of one of its WV coal plants, and adds that “if the SCC approves this new tariff, no Dominion customer can sign up for renewable energy either produced or packaged by a competitive service provider (CSP)”. 

The Southern Environmental Law Center discusses a recent study “by experts in carbon lifecycle modeling” concluding that “Burning wood from ‘sustainably managed’ forests increases carbon pollution for 40+ years”.

The Rivard Report describes community concerns about the Port Aransas Oil Project that will establish a place for large tankers to take on crude and liquid natural gas (LNG).  A recent near miss between a local ferry and a LNG ship helped fuel public fears.

Writing in the Texas Observer, Amal Ahmed argues that “Climate Change Will Drive Up Energy Use in Texas and Beyond”, pointing out “[a] new study …[finding] that global energy demand could rise by as much as 58 percent in the next 30 years due to climate change… [b]ut Texas’ electric grid doesn’t exactly account for this climate impact.”  According to the North Carolina Clean Technology Center, “Forty-four states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, took actions related to grid modernization in the second quarter of the year, with the greatest number of actions relating to energy storage deployment, data access policies, distribution system planning, utility business model reforms, and integrated resource planning….”  Virginia is among the states.  [Solar Industry Magazine article]