Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/10/2018

Policy and Politics

Last week’s Roundup started with an article by Nathaniel Rich, entitled “Losing Earth,” that comprised the entire issue of The New York Times Magazine for August 5.  Because of its conclusion, the article caused quite a stir.  Below I have listed some of the responses to it:

  1. Kate Aronoff, “What ‘The New York Times’ Climate Blockbuster Missed,” The Nation
  2. Emily Atkin, “Who’s to Blame for Global Warming,” The New Republic
  3. Alyssa Battistoni, “How Not to Talk about Climate Change,” Jacobin Magazine
  4. Peter Gleick, “Saving Earth: Don’t Fall into Climate Change Fatalism,” HuffPost Opinion
  5. Alexander Kaufman, “2018 Would Still Be a Climate Hellscape If We Acted 30 Years Ago,” HuffPost Environment
  6. Naomi Klein, “Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not ‘Human Nature’,” The Intercept
  7. Joe Romm, “Scientists Aren’t Impressed with New York Times’ New Story on Climate Change,” Think Progress
  8. Rhea Suh, “The Moral of The New York Times Climate Story: We Need to Up Our Game,” Natural Resources Defense Council

President Donald Trump reportedly plans to fill a vacancy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with Bernard McNamee, executive director of DOE’s Office of Policy and a former top official at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative research and advocacy group that advocates for deregulation.  The EPA is floating the idea of changing its rulemaking process and setting a threshold level of fine particles that it would consider safe.  Previously, it has considered no level safe.  The change would affect how EPA counts the co-benefits of reducing fine particles when making rules aimed at reducing other pollutants, like greenhouse gases.  California air regulators on Tuesday said they plan to keep tightening state vehicle emissions rules despite a Trump administration proposal last week that would strip the state of the ability to set its own limits.  The Heartland Institute’s second “America First” conference on U.S. energy was held Tuesday in New Orleans.  Inside Climate News covered the gathering and found many singing a very negative tune.

Nader Sobhani analyzed Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s Market Choice Act for the Niskanan Center.  A new study in Nature Climate Change has found that if a blanket carbon tax is applied across all sectors, agriculture will be especially hard hit, increasing food insecurity.  The authors emphasize “Agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies.”  Pete Myers reflected on Buckminster Fuller’s “energy slaves” as depicted in Stuart McMillen’s comic.  Environmental writer Cally Carswell ruminated in High Country News on the question of why she and her husband moved to Santa Fe during a time of drought.  New York Times science writer John Schwartz reviewed William T. Vollman’s two volume Carbon Ideologies.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has a new set of climate opinion maps.

Climate

Probably the most written about scientific paper on climate change this week was the one by Will Steffen et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  The paper is pretty well summed up in the first sentence of the abstract: “We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced.”  The paper is labeled as a “Perspective” and is open access.  It can be read or downloaded hereJonathan Watts had a good summary, while Steven Salzberg and Jeff Goodell had interesting commentaries.  Skeptical Science presented a graphic that clarifies the various periods discussed.  On the subject of uncertain futures, Amy Brady interviewed debut novelist Harriet Alida Lye about her new book, The Honey Farm.

One of the authors of another study in PNAS told Carbon Brief “Our analysis of methane uptake around the globe shows that methane uptake in forest soils has decreased by an average of 77% from 1988 to 2015. We conclude that the soil methane sink may be declining and overestimated in several regions across the globe.”  Daisy Dunne discussed the paper and explained its significance at Carbon Brief.  A paper in Nature Communications reported on a study that found that maintaining existing forests may be more effective than bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as a strategy for reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Solar radiation management (SRM) is a form of proposed geoengineering in which sulfate aerosols would be injected into the upper atmosphere to reflect some of the incoming sunlight, thereby helping to cool Earth.  Most consideration of SRM has been theoretical, but now a group of scientists has examined the impacts of two 20th century volcanoes (which also spew large quantities of sulfur into the atmosphere) to estimate what the effects of SRM would be on agriculture.  They concluded that the positive and negative effects would cancel each other out, leaving little net benefit.

Unless you have been completely cut off from the news, you are doubtless aware of the severe fires in California.  ABC News queried climate scientist Michael Mann about the impact climate change has had on them.  Meanwhile, Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief performed a fact-check on the assertion that wildfires in the U.S. burned more acres in the early part of the 20th century than today.  Last week Quirin Schiermeier had an interesting article in Nature about the increasing ability of attribution studies to determine how likely it is that certain weather events (such as heat waves) have been caused or influenced by climate change.

As evidenced by Death Valley having the hottest month of any location in the world, ever, heat waves have been hitting all around the Northern Hemisphere, so writers at The Christian Science Monitor asked whether they have changed people’s attitudes about global warming.  Regardless of attitudes, actions haven’t changed all that much, with the result that people and governments are ill-prepared for a warmer world.  Unfortunately, problems aren’t limited to the Northern Hemisphere.  In the Southern, in the middle of the worst drought in living memory, Australia is also heating up due to climate change. Critics say too little is being done to prevent increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall.

A study published in PNAS found that 43% of the bird species in the Mojave Desert in the early 20th century have been lost because of climate change.  Climate Central analyzed the number of days each year in the spring, summer, and fall with an average temperature between 61°F and 93°F.  This is the range for transmission of diseases spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes or Culex type.  Of the 244 cities analyzed, 94% are seeing an increase in the number of days, indicating a heightened risk for disease transmission.

Energy

Quartz had a feature about a new battery developed by Pellion Technologies, that utilizes lithium-metal technology, rather than lithium-ion technology.  Quartz explained why this could be significant: “Pellion’s battery can pack nearly double the energy of a conventional lithium-ion battery.”  Minnesota electric cooperative Connexus Energy has confirmed recent press reports that it is building 15MW/30MWh of battery energy storage, while another not-for-profit, Vermont Electric Cooperative, will build a 1.9MW/5.3MWh system in its service area.

Companies and agencies, excluding utilities, have agreed to buy 7.2 GW of clean energy worldwide so far this year, shattering the record of 5.4 GW for all of 2017, according to a report last Friday from Bloomberg NEFBloomberg NEF also reported that global wind and solar developers took 40 years to install their first trillion watts (terawatts) of power generation capacity, but the next terawatt may be finished within the next five years.  They estimated that the industry reached the 1-terawatt milestone sometime in the first half of the year.  Apple is leading the development of two new wind and solar energy farms in Illinois and Virginia that will not only help bring green energy to its own operations, but also those of Akamai, Etsy, and Swiss Re.

This week’s “Clean Economy Weekly” from Inside Climate News had several items of interest, including the low electricity price from the Vineyard offshore wind farm off Cape Cod and news that demand for Tesla’s Powerwall is exceeding supply.  Julia Pyper at Greentech Media reviewed the status of wind energy in the U.S. in light of the cancellation of the Wind Catcher project in Texas and Oklahoma.

Virginia has picked a Los Angeles firm, EVgo, to build and operate a network of electric-vehicle charging stations across the commonwealth, with the state planning to use $14 million from the Volkswagen settlement to cover its share of the public-private partnership cost.  Gregory Schneider summarized recent actions by federal judges against the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.

By the end of this year, Siemens Gamesa and its research partners in Denmark plan to install at sea a prototype suction bucket foundation that could reduce the cost to construct and install offshore wind turbine foundations by 40% compared to existing technology.  The U.S. wind industry will face tough times post-2021 when the value of the Production Tax Credit drops to 60% in 2022 and 40% in 2023, before disappearing entirely in 2024.  Using data and analysis from its latest “North America Wind Power Outlook”, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables presented five drivers that will sustain demand for new wind capacity additions in the market during this time.  In documents and sworn statements filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board on Thursday, the developers of the six-turbine Icebreaker Wind project planned for Lake Erie presented evidence that Murray Energy Corp. has been bankrolling anti-Icebreaker consultants, as well as lawyers representing two residents who have testified against the project.

More than 3,500 hydropower dams are being planned or built around the world.  This could double by 2030.  Most of these dams are in the planning stage, and the data don’t include dams primarily designed for water supply, flood prevention, navigation and recreation – so the total number of dams being built could be much higher.  Needless to say, the construction of such dams is a contentious issue.

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

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Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/3/2018

This week’s Roundup was prepared by H. Bishop Dansby.

POLITICS AND POLICY

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

The Weekly Roundup particularly recommends this landmark piece in the New York Times Magazine by Nathaniel Rich. It is a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Complementing the text is a series of aerial photographs and videos, all shot over the past year. Click here.

At last: A carbon tax proposal by a Republican

Citizens Climate Lobby and others around the world believe that a carbon tax is the best solution for climate change. Now, Florida congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, will introduce legislation next week that calls for a gradually escalating carbon tax specifically designed to accelerate the decarbonization of the U.S. economy.

In exchange for the fee, the proposal would completely eliminate the gasoline tax and press pause on the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (that’s in jeopardy anyway under the changing Supreme Court). It would also devote most of its revenue to building new transportation infrastructure nationwide. That it raises money at all is controversial, since Citizens Climate Lobby and those few Republicans in favor of a carbon tax want a completely revenue-neutral proposal. Click here.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Youth Plaintiffs, Allows Juliana v. United States to Proceed to Trial 

Remarkably, this suit by Our Children’s Trust has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2015, a group of 21 kids aged 8 to 19 filed suit against the U.S. government in a District Court in Oregon. The complaint: The feds had violated their constitutional rights by deliberately allowing CO2 levels to skyrocket. The plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States argued the government should be held accountable for the harm caused by climate change.

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s plea to halt case proceedings, kicking it back to the District Court of Oregon, where the case is still pending. If successful, the suit would force the federal government to come up with a plan to reduce carbon emissions.

The suit proceeds to trial on October 29. Click here.

Virginia lawmakers consider fossil fuel lobbyist for energy regulator seat

On paper, Virginia’s sweeping new energy law should result in significant new investments in the state’s electric grid, as well as energy storage, efficiency, and renewable generation such as wind and solar. Now, even as Virginia lawmakers ask the State Corporation Commission to implement the comprehensive energy bill they passed this year, they’re also considering appointing a commissioner with close ties to the oil and gas industry who critics say will hurt the state’s clean energy transition. Click here.

Virginia Supreme Court rules in favor of customers in Dominion solar case

Dominion was attempting to overturn a State Corporation Commission ruling that allows big businesses or box stores to seek out non-utility power providers who offer 100 percent renewable energy, without the requirement of providing 5 years’ advance notice.

SELC attorney Will Cleveland says, “Time and again, we’ve seen Dominion throw up road blocks to prevent customers from directly accessing renewable energy. The Virginia Supreme Court today made clear that Dominion cannot control or impede the renewable energy industry…” Click here.

CLIMATE SCIENCE

Droughts, Heat Waves and Floods: How to Tell When Climate Change Is to Blame

Meteorologists, particularly those on TV, have always had a grand opportunity to educate the public on climate change, but they have generally refused to do so, either because of their own climate change denial or because climate change was not deemed part of the weather news. Now, the science is increasingly capable of sussing out what part of extreme weather is due to climate change, so that it is likely to become part of weather forecasting. Click here.

The world is hot, on fire, and flooding. Climate change is here. The worst ravages of climate change are on display around the world.

It’s the hottest month of one of the hottest years in the history of human civilization, and unusual wildfires are sprouting up all over the map. Sweden has called for emergency assistance from the rest of the European Union to help battle massive wildfires burning north of the Arctic Circle. Across the western United States, 50 major wildfires are burning in parts of 14 states, fueled by severe drought. In Greece, citizens have been forced into the sea to try to escape the flames. Heat waves in Japan have killed scores of people. The wildfires burning in Siberia earlier this month sent smoke plumes from across the Arctic all the way to New England. Last year, big wildfires burned in Greenland for the first time in recorded history. Click here.

ENERGY

Technology companies help drive solar growth in Virginia

Driving the growth is a huge appetite for solar-generated electricity from the nation’s biggest technology companies — Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook. They are setting up shop in Virginia and insisting on renewable energy to power their facilities.

Ashburn’s “Data Center Alley,” for example, now has the largest concentration of data centers in the world, with more than 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic passing through Loudoun County’s digital infrastructure.

Also driving solar energy growth is a steep drop in price. According to one industry source, the cost to develop a kilowatt of solar power has fallen from $96 in 1970 to 40 cents this year.

Ivy Main contends, though, that the General Assembly needs to do much more to unlock the potential of solar for multifamily housing, parking lots, airports, closed landfills, and other spaces. Click here.

N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center Releases the 50 States of Grid Modernization Report

The report provides insights on state regulatory and legislative discussions and actions on grid modernization, utility business model and rate reform, energy storage, microgrids, and demand response. Click here.

The $3 Billion Plan to Turn Hoover Dam Into a Giant Battery

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, an original operator of the dam when it was erected in the 1930s, wants to equip it with a $3 billion pipeline and a pump station powered by solar and wind energy. The pump station, downstream, would help regulate the water flow through the dam’s generators, sending water back to the top to help manage electricity at times of peak demand. The net result would be a kind of energy storage — performing much the same function as the giant lithium-ion batteries being developed to absorb and release power. Click here.

 

Weekly Roundup “Vacation Edition” 7/27/2018

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News is briefly interrupted for a well-deserved week of vacation! In its place this week is a “Vacation Edition” of “Climate Music” from Doug Hendren.

About “Climate Music”:  About 5 years ago, I came to the disturbing conclusion that climate science, no matter how compelling, was no match for the remarkable psychological defenses people have against threatening information. Music was a powerful force in the 60s, why not today? Equipped with Apple’s “GarageBand” program, a quiet room and a few instruments, I started writing simple musical stories about climate change, water, clean energy, and of course various villains and heroes in the climate movement. It’s all up on my website, MusicalScalpel.com and meant to be shared freely. I think of these songs as “painless education,” and also entertainment for hard-working activists. Here are a few old and newer pieces. I hope you enjoy them!

THE BALLAD OF POPE FRANCIS Based on a true story– related by Michael Shank. While preparing his encyclical “Laudato Si” in 2015,  Pope Francis convened climate scientists and church leaders at the Vatican. Marc Morano, professional climate denier employed by the Heartland Institute, tried to disrupt the proceedings. He was caught by the Swiss Guard and shown the door. In considering the devious tactics and misinformation of the fossil industry, I was reminded of the folk wisdom about Satan’s verbal cleverness, for which “Get thee behind me!” is the only effective response.

THE SOLAR SPILL.  Somewhere I came across a bumper sticker reading “A Solar Spill is Just a Nice Day”, and I ran with it: “Who’s gonna pay the bill for a solar spill?”  We have gotten so desensitized to images of oil spills that it’s difficult to imagine a world free of them. Think of how many different “externalized costs” we have been putting up with related to fossil-fuel pollution!

BIOSPHERE.  Written as a “children’s song”, this one addresses the common misperception that the world seems so enormous, how could people possibly be changing it? The key point is that the biosphere is actually smaller than we think: “The space we’re living in / is as thin as your skin.”

WHAT’S IN A NUMBER? This was written to demystify some of the straightforward numbers associated with climate change. In particular, it challenges the misperception that a few degrees are insignificant: “Ninety-eight point six, or a hundred and five / can make all the difference in staying alive.”

FAKE WEATHER was written to try to capture the absurdity of Texas politicians being in the front ranks of climate change deniers, after five feet of rain falling on Houston last year. “We might have a problem here – the storm of the century every year.” Jeff Heie came over and shot an iPhone video on the patio.

SCOTT PRUITT’S EPA is a parody of the 1927 classic “Ain’t She Sweet”. I just put the finishing touches last week on a new CD containing this song: “Everyone Pollute America – E.P.A.!”  Asking some friends whether I should pull the song after Pruitt’s resignation, the verdict was to leave it in, since his ghost will probably be with us for some time.

THE SUNSHINE STATE is about Florida Power and Light, which is a lot like Dominion Energy – an 800-lb gorilla that likes to get its way. In this case, the Florida Tea Party beat FPL by framing solar energy as a “freedom” issue, popularizing the term “energy democracy”. As Bob Inglis, Erik Curren and others have long been saying, solar energy is a quintessential conservative issue! “It ain’t the Russians or Chinese / keeping people on our knees / It’s the way that corporations squeeze / clinging to monopolies!”

I’ll have another climate music CD coming out in a month or two. If you enjoyed this “vacation program”, email me your name and address, and I’ll be happy to send along a CD when they arrive. I like to make them available to promote climate education and activism. Sing loud!

Doug Hendren, MD
dhhendren [@] gmail.com
MusicalScalpel.com

Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/20/2018

Policy and Politics

In spite of a vote in the House condemning a carbon tax (which Dana Nuccitelli called foolish), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) is preparing to introduce legislation next week that would pause federal regulations on climate change in exchange for an escalating tax on carbon emissions, according to a draft obtained by E&E News.  Although Curbelo’s proposed tax is not revenue-neutral, a recent study found that policies in which the proceeds from a carbon tax are returned to taxpayers will have little negative economic impact while effectively curbing carbon emissions.  America’s Pledge, an initiative co-founded by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has released a report detailing “bottom-up” strategies for states, cities and businesses to take meaningful action on climate change.  A coalition of worker advocacy groups is calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create the country’s first national standard for heat stress, something the government has failed to do for over 40 years.

E&E News interviewed EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.  (If you open the article, be sure to check out Wheeler’s suit.)  On Wednesday, the EPA pushed back the deadline for closing coal ash dumps that don’t meet water protection standards until 31 October 2020.  Wheeler said the changes would save utilities roughly $30m annually.  A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a Trump administration policy that sought to ignore a regulation limiting sales of “glider trucks” that environmental groups called “super-polluting.”

Fossil fuel producers, airlines, and electrical utilities outspent environmental groups and the renewable energy industry 10 to 1 on lobbying related to climate change legislation between 2000 and 2016, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change.  Today, airplane engines release about 1.5% of the CO2 that humans create by burning fossil fuels – as much as Canada’s carbon footprint.  They also release significant amounts of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, and water vapor into the upper atmosphere, all of which impact warming.  To meet our climate goals, something must be done, but what?  The EU and China have signed a joint agreement on climate change as part of the EU-China summit in Beijing, but according to a report released on Thursday, China still needs to take significant steps to curb its own CO2 emissions.  Living shorelines can help slow or stop erosion in coastal areas.  Since Florida’s permitting rules on living shorelines were eased a little more than a year ago, 34 small living shorelines, typically under 500 feet, have been approved or built.

Ivy Main has published her Guide to Wind and Solar Policy in Virginia for 2018.  Roy Scranton, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, had an essay in The New York Times adapted from his new book We’re Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change.  A new survey of attitudes about climate change and what to do about it has been conducted by ABC News, Stanford University’s Political Psychology Research Group and Resources for the Future.  Go here for a summary of the results.  Attorneys for 21 young activists suing the federal government over climate change urged a judge Wednesday to allow their case to go to trial while government lawyers argued that a court can’t direct national energy policy.  Meanwhile, a federal judge on Thursday dismissed New York City’s lawsuit against five of the world’s largest oil companies, stating that global warming should be solved by Congress and the president—not by the courts.  David Hasemyer has prepared a review of the various lawsuits against the federal government and fossil fuel companies, showing where they stand now.

Climate

California is not the only place experiencing wildfires.  At least 11 wildfires are burning inside the Arctic Circle, with Sweden being particularly hard hit.  In addition, high temperature records are being set across Scandinavia, Japan is sweltering, and in the U.S. an extreme heat wave is hitting Texas and surrounding states.  All in all, over a billion people are at risk in a warmer world, according to one study.  A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that wildfires in the western U.S. are causing an increase in small particulate matter in the atmosphere, a particularly worrisome form of air pollution.

A paper published Thursday in the journal Science has reported that summers are heating up faster than the other seasons as global temperatures rise, especially in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and the changes carry the clear fingerprints of human-caused climate change.  Canada’s Arctic is warming at one of the fastest rates of anywhere on Earth, with the annual average temperature on northern Ellesmere Island increasing by 3.6°C between 1948 and 2016.  This is causing significant melting of glaciers.

According to a new report from non-profit organizations GRAIN and The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, meat and dairy companies are on track to being the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, outpacing even the fossil fuel industry.

The large cities in India are among the hottest on Earth.  Somini Sengupta reported from New Delhi on conditions in several of them in the summer, when conditions are becoming unbearable.  Meanwhile, in Africa, the drought that threatened to turn off the taps in Cape Town was made three times more likely by global warming, according to a study released on Friday by World Weather Attribution.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that a slowing of the Gulf Stream (aka the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” or AMOC) will lead to a period of prolonged warming because less heat will be carried into the deep ocean.  However, writing at RealClimate, climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf and Michael Mann were very critical of the paper, stating “the idea that a weak AMOC promotes rapid global warming is in itself not supported by any convincing evidence.”

Antarctica is a strange place, as shown by a recent paper in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.  For example, it is the only place on Earth where the surface is colder than the stratosphere.  This causes some of the greenhouse gases that warm the rest of the planet to cool Antarctica for much of the year.

Energy

The International Energy Agency has released its World Energy Outlook 2018, covering energy investments in 2017.  A major finding was that global energy investments fell 2% in 2017, with a “worrying” 7% decline in renewable energy investments.  On the other hand, a bright spot was the 54% increase in electric vehicle (EV) sales, which topped one million for the first time.

The Pacific island nation of Palau, which currently relies on diesel fuel to supply almost all its electricity, is in the middle of an experiment. Over the next year and a half, the country will shift to 100% renewable energy, at no cost to the government.  This will happen because of the efforts of Gridmarket, a predictive analytics and mapping company, and Trammell Crow, a Republican philanthropist committed to fighting climate change.  On a larger scale, Costa Rico, which already gets 80% of its electricity from renewable sources, is working to be carbon-neutral by 2021 through an incentive-driven plan that will focus largely on the transportation sector, its largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The CEO of Deepwater Wind, the company that developed the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., said Monday the company is beginning the next, larger phase of development for offshore wind farms to supply power to Rhode Island and Connecticut, to Long Island, NY, and to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Meanwhile, MAKE Consulting has projected that onshore wind turbine size and capacity is on track to continue increasing at a steady pace, while offshore equipment will grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.  Illustrating that nothing is foolproof, Britain is experiencing a “wind drought” that has reduced output from its wind turbines by around 40%.

The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state regulators erred in rejecting the proposed 780-mile Grain Belt Express electricity transmission project from developer Clean Line Energy.  The project would cross Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana to distribute Kansas wind power as far as Indiana and beyond.  Meanwhile, Duke Energy cancelled an RFP for Midwest wind energy because the price of the electricity was too high, presumably because of a lack of transmission options.

Last week I provided a link to a study arguing the likely demise of nuclear energy in the U.S.  Now, Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes has argued that nuclear energy must be a part of the energy solution.  In addition, David Roberts has analyzed the utility of natural gas as a bridge fuel to totally renewable energy.

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 7/13/2018

Policy and Politics

On Monday, President Trump nominated Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy created on the U.S. Supreme Court by the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy.  Writing in The New York Times, Brad Plumer evaluated what his impact on environmental law is likely to be should he be confirmed.  Likewise, Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic about Kavanaugh’s environmental opinions while serving as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has served since 2006.  Also on Monday the EPA sent its proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan to the White House for review.  Amanda Paulson and Mark Trumbull of The Christian Science Monitor speculated about why it did so in the context of changes that have been occurring at the Agency.

California law requires that the state’s greenhouse gas emissions return to 1990 levels by 2020.  The California Air Resources Board announced that the goal has already been met; in 2016, in fact.  A centrist Democratic group, New Democracy, says the party’s climate and energy strategy should offer a vision that embraces the nation’s fracking boom alongside renewables and efficiency.  Meanwhile, the latest iteration of the twice-yearly survey conducted by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College has found that 73% of people in the U.S. now think there is solid evidence of global warming and 60% believe that the warming is due, at least in part, to human influences.  Exxon Mobil said on Thursday it has ended its association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has written an expert court report that forcefully supports a group of children and young adults who have sued the federal government for failing to act on climate change.

Bryce Oates had a very interesting essay in Civil Eats entitled “In Farm Country, Grappling with the Taboo of Talking about Climate Change.”  I highly recommend it because it provides information that may lead to a better understanding among nonfarmers of some in the farm community.  Another interesting essay appeared in Nautilus.  It was written by Mark L. Hineline and is entitled “Is Fixing the Climate Incompatible with American Ideals.”  On the subject of essays, former BP CEO John Browne made the case in Bloomberg Opinion for why the big oil and gas companies have a role to play in the energy revolution.  Dana Nuccitelli addressed the impact of climate change alarmists in contrast to climate change deniers.  Finally, World Resources Institute’s Liz Goodwin wondered if people will wake up to food waste in the same way they have waked up to plastic waste.

Climate

Scientists are finding that temperature affects the adult size of a variety of species, with higher temperatures being associated with smaller body size.  Although the exact consequences are unknown, it is possible smaller body sizes could have a number of impacts on species fitness, with a cascading effect through various trophic levels.  In addition, a study of sea birds revealed that the nutritional value of their prey, fish and squid, deteriorated during ocean warming events.  These are just two examples of the potential impacts of a warmer planet.  Another example of the complex interactions in nature that can be changed by increasing CO2 levels was revealed by a new paper in the journal Ecology Letters.  The authors studied the impact of rising CO2 on milkweed, the plant required for Monarch butterflies to reproduce, and found that beneficial chemicals produced by the milkweed decrease as CO2 increases, making the Monarchs more susceptible to an important parasite.

Nights have been warming faster than days.  Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich explained at The New York Times why that’s dangerous.  It particularly doesn’t bode well for those without air conditioning.  A new study published in PLOS Medicine found that during a heat spell, college students living in dorms without air conditioning scored between 4% and 13% lower than students in air conditioned dorms when tested on their response times and mental arithmetic shortly after waking up.  A new study, published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, illustrates another way to document changes in climate over time.  The authors selected 46 trees shown in television footage of the Tour of Flanders bicycle race in Belgium from 1981 to 2016.  The footage clearly showed that the trees budded and bloomed earlier each year over the period covered.

As Earth warms, it is important for people working outdoors to be mindful of the heat index, which combines temperature and humidity, to avoid heat stress.  A recent study revealed that severe heat stress, including death, can occur at a heat index of just 85°F, even though U.S. occupational safety standards warn that workers are at risk when the heat index reaches 91°F.

A new study, published in the journal Science Advances, found that in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, CO2 from microbial decomposition of soil organic matter is escaping into the air faster than plants are taking it back up.  Put another way, the soil microbes appear to be more temperature sensitive than the shrubs, suggesting that as Earth warms, the Arctic tundra will become a net contributor of atmospheric CO2, rather than a net sink.  Another paper, this one in the journal Nature Geoscience, examined the impact of melting permafrost.  The findings suggest that because of emissions of methane and CO2 from wetlands and melting permafrost, human-caused emissions will need to be cut by an additional 20% to meet the Paris Agreement’s limits of 1.5°C or 2°C temperature rise.

In the first of three articles in The New York Times’ Climate Fwd newsletter, Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote about the youth soccer players trapped in the cave in Thailand: “By now, it’s well known that their predicament was caused by rising floodwaters in the cave. What is less known is that the pattern of precipitation that ensnared them is in keeping with broader changes to the region’s seasonal monsoon that researchers have attributed to climate change.”

Energy

I’d like to start the Energy section this week with a gee-whiz article about a long shot energy technology that could provide an inexhaustible carbon-free power source.  The renewable fuel is ammonia (NH3) (yes, the fertilizer and cleaning agent) and the route to an “ammonia economy” is described well by Robert Service in this article from Science.  While full development has some ways to go, ideas like this are what give me hope for the future.

According to data released on Tuesday by the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, wind, solar, hydropower, and biogas met 36.3% of Germany’s electricity needs between January and June 2018, while coal provided just 35.1%, the first time this has occurred for such an extended period.  Here is an interesting idea from the UK: Use social media to turn energy conservation into a game and rewarding people monetarily for high achievement.

Pumped storage is a concept that has been around for a long time and has been used extensively at nuclear power plants to store excess energy at night when demand was low.  Now it is getting a second look as a means for storing solar and wind energy.  NPR’s Dan Charles recently visited the Bath County Pumped Storage Station owned by Dominion Energy in the Appalachian Mountains.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in early July examined the nuclear power industry in the U.S. and concluded: “Achieving deep decarbonization of the energy system will require a portfolio of every available technology and strategy we can muster. It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”  Likewise, according to the UK’s first “National Infrastructure Assessment”, published Tuesday by the National Infrastructure Commission, renewables can generate half of Britain’s power by 2030 without adding to consumer bills, potentially crowding out nuclear as a significant low carbon source of electricity.  Furthermore, the report concluded that the country can have low-carbon electricity, heat, and transport in 2050 at the same cost as today’s high-carbon energy system.

According to an in-depth article by Saqib Rahim at E&E News, the Trump administration has been very accepting of off-shore wind energy, leading him to speculate that by 2021 the U.S.’s first utility-scale off-shore wind project could be operational.  The question is, though, who will develop it, U.S. or European companies.  The latter have a lot more experience and see the U.S. East Coast as a new frontier after years of success across the Atlantic.

The average U.S. retail price of electricity is about 10.4¢/kWh.  Research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined the cost performance of utility energy efficiency programs, utilizing data from almost 8,800 programs across 41 states between 2009 and 2015.  They concluded that the average cost of saving electricity through efficiency programs was 2.5¢/kWh.

Investments in clean energy in India rose 22% in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year, while investments by China fell by 15%, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  At this rate, India is expected to overtake China and become the largest growth market by the late 2020s.  Nevertheless, it should be noted that absolute investment by China was much higher in the first half of 2018 at $58.1 billion, compared to India’s $7.4 billion.  In addition, globally, clean energy investment dropped 1% and totaled $138.2 billion in the first half of 2018.

Energy items of particular interest to Virginia readers:

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has accused the builder of the Mountain Valley Pipeline of environmental violations punishable by fines and repair mandates, saying the company’s failure to install and maintain erosion-control devices has fouled 8,800 feet of streams in six locations.  On the subject of gas pipelines, Columbia Gas Transmission has told federal pipeline regulators that a landslide was the apparent cause of the rupture and explosion of a new natural gas pipeline in Marshall County, WV, last month.

Augusta County Public Schools in Virginia has reached an agreement with Secure Futures Solar of Staunton to install 1.8 MW of solar panels on seven schools.  The panels will be owned by Secure Futures Solar and installed at no upfront cost.  The school district will buy the electricity generated under a power purchase agreement.  The “Solar Barn Raising” at Gift and Thrift in Harrisonburg, VA, got a nice shout-out on the Energy News Network.

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 7/6/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday.  Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, will serve as Acting Administrator until President Trump nominates a new administrator and the Senate acts on the nomination.  The Trump administration has drafted a new proposal to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants, one that is far less stringent than the Clean Power Plan.  The U.S. will fall far short of its pollution reduction goals under the Paris Climate Agreement, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group, a private market research firm.  Over 20 national and state conservative groups are urging the Trump administration to reject the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol that aims to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases.  China’s CO2 emissions fell from 2014 to 2016 and might already have peaked, according to a study published on Monday in Nature Geoscience.  Ontario’s newly elected Progressive Conservative government announced on Tuesday it would end the province’s cap-and-trade program on CO2 emissions, fulfilling one of Premier Doug Ford’s election promises.

The four-day meeting of the Green Climate Fund collapsed with the abrupt resignation of the chairman and with no decisions on funding 11 proposals worth nearly $1 billion or on how to increase the main climate finance initiative’s dwindling resources.  China did not appear on a June 29 list of participants in the voluntary phase of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) deal, which requires airlines to limit their emissions or offset them by buying carbon credits.  Rhode Island on Monday became the first state to sue oil companies over the effects of climate change, filing a complaint in Providence/Bristol County Superior Court seeking damages for the costs associated with protecting the state from rising seas and severe weather.  David Hasemyer has provided a review of the major climate change lawsuits, indicating where they now stand.  Colorado has an innovative program of installing solar panels on the houses of low-income residents who have already had their homes weatherized, thereby lowering their energy costs even more.

Joseph Robertson, Global Strategy Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, had an opinion piece entitled “Declare energy independence with carbon dividends” in The Guardian and The Chicago Tribune had an editorial on the topic.  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.  In the interview, Rush described her book as “a collaborative process where my responsibility was to the speakers and to their lived experience.”  Earther reported that Dulce, a ten-minute documentary short about climate change, is beautifully shot.  Architectural Digest had an interesting article about the ways architects are working to reduce energy use by buildings, which currently use 39% of the U.S.’s energy.

Climate

We are all aware that the northeastern U.S. went through a heat wave this past week.  So did Canada, where 33 people died in Quebec.  Climate Signals has reported that hot nights in the contiguous 48 states have been increasing, a sign that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are driving the long-term trends in temperatures.  The U.S. is not alone in experiencing record high temperatures this summer.  So have many other parts of the world, including the UK, which has also been experiencing drought.

A new paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters explored the costs associated with sea level rise as the world warms.  If we miss the 2°C target, sea level would likely rise by 2.8 to 5.9 ft, with global annual flood costs without adaptation of $14 trillion to $27 trillion by 2100.

Carbon Brief had a guest post entitled “How use of land in pursuit of 1.5°C could impact biodiversity” by Prof. Pete Smith, a lead author on the IPCC’s forthcoming special report on climate change and land.  An important question to arise from their deliberations is whether and/or when to apply bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to achieve the negative emissions required to limit warming to 1.5°C.

In a report released on Thursday, Australia’s Climate Council warned that by the 2030s the Great Barrier Reef could see devastating mass bleachings as often as every two years unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced.  In addition, new research, recently published in Nature Climate Change, describes a series of sudden and catastrophic ecosystem shifts that have occurred recently across Australia.  These changes, caused by the combined stress of gradual climate change and extreme weather events, are overwhelming ecosystems’ natural resilience.

Raising cows and other ruminants has severe negative impacts on the climate.  Two articles this week reviewed ways to reduce those impacts.  One of the major problems associated with ruminants such as cows is that they belch copious quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  Attacking the problem directly, scientists have discovered that adding a particular species of dried seaweed to cows’ feed can drastically decrease their methane production.  Another alternative is to eliminate animal production for food altogether by growing animal tissue (i.e., “fake meat”) in bioreactors in an industrial-scale facility.  Writing in Wired, Joi Ito reviewed the six levels of what he calls “cellular agriculture.”

Energy

Because of heavy rains and its inability to control runoff from construction sites, Mountain Valley Pipeline suspended work on the massive natural gas pipeline in Southwest Virginia.  On Tuesday environmental advocates filed a petition with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking it to review a federal permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  The Virginia Supreme Court has upheld, for the third time, a hotly debated state law allowing natural gas companies to enter private property without landowner permission to survey possible routes for new pipelines.  Bills introduced by Virginia 9th District Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, to extend deadlines for the start of construction of hydroelectric projects at the Gathright Dam in Alleghany County and the Flannagan Dam in Dickenson County cleared the Senate last Friday, after the House passed them on June 12.

The Ohio Power Siting Board has recommended conditional approval of the $126 million “Icebreaker” six-turbine off-shore wind energy project in Lake Erie, proposed by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.  The project will be eight to ten miles northwest of downtown Cleveland.  The staff has included more than 34 conditions, including a bird and bat monitoring plan.  Recent studies have provided considerable information on minimizing the danger to birds and bats from wind turbines.

Swiss Re announced it is no longer providing re/insurance to businesses with more than 30% exposure to thermal coal across all lines of business.  It is joining other insurers that have decided to abandon investments in coal-based businesses and/or stop providing coverage for such risks.

A new paper in the journal Science Advances explored the possibility of storing CO2 in the unconsolidated sediment on the sea floor.  The researchers concluded that such storage was feasible, assuming that the subsea sediment remained intact and did not become fractured in the future.

Even though the UK government cancelled a large tidal energy project last week, there is still considerable interest in the idea.  Damian Carrington reviewed the large range of concepts currently under study for generating electricity with tidal power.  Fossil fuels supplied about 80% of the energy consumed in the United States in 2017, the lowest share since 1902, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

With more plug-in hybrids and EVs hitting the road, the question arises as to what to do with their batteries when they no longer have sufficient capacity to power the vehicles.  One answer is to apply them to less demanding tasks, such as energy storage in homes.  When they are no longer suited to that task, they can then be recycled and their elements recovered.  Also, because of the projected increase in EV sales, oil companies are eying EV charging as a way to maintain income as gasoline and diesel fuel sales drop.  The problem is, electric utilities also want that market, setting up a major competitive battle.

Pacific Gas & Electric is seeking approval for four energy storage projects totaling 567 MW/2.27 GWh. Among the four projects are two that would be the largest lithium ion batteries globally on their own and one that would be the world’s largest chemical battery.  Meanwhile, Chinese EV battery makers are frantically building lithium-ion battery gigafactories, including one that will be the largest in the world.

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 6/29/2018

Special Announcement:  On Sept. 16, Dr. Gerald Durley will be the principal speaker at the 15th Annual NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet, which begins at 6:00 pm in the Festival Ballroom on the JMU campus.  He will speak on “Civil Rights and Climate Change.”  I call this to your attention because Dr. Durley is a civil rights activist who is also passionate about climate change and its impacts on people of color.  He recently spoke at an American Renewable Energy Day meeting in Colorado, as reported in this article from Aspen Public Radio.  As you can see from the article, he has some important messages for those working to limit climate change.  So, mark your calendars now and watch for further information about how to buy tickets.

Policy and Politics

After less than a year on the job, Robert Powelson said Thursday he would resign from FERC in mid-August to lead the National Association of Water Companies.  Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday.  Writing for The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer solicited opinions on what this will likely mean for environmental law, including on climate change.  On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted to keep litigation over the Clean Power Plan on hold for another 60 days.  This prompted two judges to say they would not vote for such a delay again.  Eleven states and the District of Columbia sued the Trump administration on Wednesday, demanding enforcement of regulations on super-polluting greenhouse gases (hydrofluorocarbons) in air conditioners and refrigerators.  A similar lawsuit was filed by environmentalists on Tuesday.  You may recall that San Francisco and Oakland had sued BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell to help pay for the costs of building seawalls and other projects to adapt to climate change.  Well, the judge threw out the case on Tuesday, reasoning that no single judge and jury should make a decision impacting the entire world.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. pledged a 26% to 28% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels as a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement.  Unfortunately, according to a new report from the Rhodium Group LLC, we are on track to reduce emissions by only 12% to 20%.  A new PAC, called Americans for Carbon Dividends, has been formed by former Senators Trent Lott (R, MS) and John Breaux (D, LA).  Its purpose is to educate the public about and lobby for, a carbon tax-and-dividend.  Perhaps young Republicans, who are much more interested than their elders in addressing climate change, will find some of the ideas appealing.  The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House just added six more members, bringing the total membership to 84.  In a statement released Monday, NOAA said it will not drop the word “climate” from its mission statement nor will it de-emphasize research into climate change and resource conservation.

June 23rd was the 30th anniversary of climate scientist James Hansen’s prescient testimony before a Senate committee.  Elizabeth Kolbert, among others, reflected on the anniversary, Eric Holthaus solicited the opinions of ten climate scientists about Hansen’s impact on them, and Axios summarized the state of things.  In commemoration of the anniversary, Hansen himself presented his ideas about what should be done in an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, which was reprinted on Hansen’s blog.  Bill McKibben had an essay in The Guardian on Wednesday about the fight against a replacement pipeline (called Enbridge Energy Line 3) proposed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S., but Minnesota regulators approved it on Thursday.  Joe Romm has published a new book, entitled How to Go Viral and Reach Millions.  John Abraham reviewed the book at The Guardian.  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda reviewed Paul Schader’s new film First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, asking whether it meets the three criteria of a good cli-fi movie.  Spoiler alert: the review revealed key plot points.

Climate

Climate Home News (CHN) obtained a leaked copy of the 2nd draft of the “Summary for Policymakers” in the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C to be released later this year.  In the new summary, the authors make clear that the difference between warming of 1.5°C and 2°C would be “substantial” and damaging to communities, economies, and ecosystems across the world.  CHN published an annotated version of the summary, showing the differences between the two drafts.  Meanwhile, a study published Tuesday in Nature Climate Change found that under 1.5°C of warming, more than 100 million Europeans would typically see summer heat that exceeds anything in the 1950-2017 observed record every other year.  Under 2°C of warming, the frequency would be two of every three years.

A new study by Global Forest Watch, which is affiliated with the World Resources Institute, found that in 2017 deforestation led to the clearing of a land area the size of Italy.  Unfortunately, the falling trend in Brazil was reversed amid political instability and forest destruction soared in Colombia.  Carbon emissions associated with the lost forests were about the same as total emissions from the U.S.

The temperature in the coastal city of Quriyat, Oman, never dropped below 108.7°F (42.6°C) on Tuesday, most likely the highest minimum temperature ever observed on Earth.

A new report from the World Bank paints an ominous picture of the future for South Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh).  If nothing is done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, climate change could sharply diminish living conditions for up to 800 million people.  Even if we act to reduce emissions, 375 million are still expected to be affected.

New research, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that warming conditions and decreasing sea ice volume “may soon” see the Barents Sea complete a transition from cold, fresh Arctic waters to a warm, salty Atlantic regime, with “unknown consequences” for the wider ecosystem and commercial fishing.  Other research, published in Nature, has uncovered a new threat to endangered coral reefs worldwide: most are incapable of growing quickly enough to compensate for rising sea levels triggered by global warming.

Changing rainfall patterns pose a threat to ecosystems, people, and infrastructure as longer and more intense rainfall events release large quantities of water over short time periods.  Furthermore, across the U.S., reservoirs that supply drinking water and lakes used for recreation are experiencing toxic algal blooms with growing frequency as waters warm.  Many climate-related events are now occurring as CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase.  Understanding how multiple extreme events interact is critical to understanding the risks associated with climate change.

Energy

A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change focuses on “residual emissions,” which are all the leftover sources of carbon pollution we have to deal with after cleaning up electricity generation.  Even with aggressive policies to decarbonize the global economy, the researchers estimate that 1,000 gigatons of residual carbon emissions will accumulate in the atmosphere by 2100, which is more than the total carbon budget for keeping warming below 1.5°C.  That is why negative emissions will be required.

As we move toward a zero-emissions economy, about 27% of current CO2 emissions will be difficult to eliminate, according to a new paper in the journal Science.  They result from long-haul shipping and transportation, cement and steel production, and power generation facilities that are turned on only when needed.  We need to start addressing those emissions now so that technologies will be available when all the “easy” emissions have been eliminated.  On Thursday, Yale Environment 360 explored current efforts in the shipping industry to reduce emissions.

There is no question that David Roberts at Vox is a cheerleader for electric vehicles (EVs), as is quite apparent from his latest column.  Nevertheless, his summary of the latest developments in the war for EV adoption is well worth reading, particularly if you think EVs are just a passing fad.  He makes two important points that shouldn’t be overlooked: (1) significant resources are being put into vehicle charging infrastructure, and (2) a coalition of automakers, utilities, and civic groups is working to develop a set of principles by which policymakers can advance electric transportation.  Speaking of infrastructure, BP is buying the UK’s largest electric charging network, Chargemaster.  BP now provides fuel at over 1200 convenience stores in the UK and wants to ensure that customers keep coming after they shift to EVs.

A consortium led by Swiss investor Partners Group and Royal Dutch Shell said it has secured financing for the building of a 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) wind farm in the Dutch part of the North Sea.

At the World Gas Conference in Washington, DC, Total SA Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said on Tuesday “This idea of natural gas as a transition fuel to renewables is strange.  Natural gas is a solution (to climate change). It’s been scientifically proven.”  Pouyanne’s views were echoed by others who joined him on an industry panel, including executives from ConocoPhillips, BP Plc, Equinor Asa, and Qatar Petroleum.  Oh?  As I recall, James Hansen once said something to the effect that natural gas doesn’t change the destination, it just changes how fast we get there.  It should be noted that last week, a new study was published in Science showing that the amount of methane leaking from the nation’s oil and gas fields may be 60% higher than the official estimates of the EPA, making its climate impact in the short-term roughly the same as the CO2 emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants.

Continuing advances in solar cell design may soon make it possible to use the windows in buildings as transparent solar panels, allowing buildings to generate significant amounts of their energy needs.

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 6/15/2018

Policy and Politics

President Donald Trump is the first president since 1941 not to name a science adviser, a position created during World War II to guide the Oval Office on scientific and technical matters.  There is also no chief scientist at the State Department or the Department of Agriculture and both the Interior Department and NOAA have disbanded climate science advisory committees.  However, this week the White House nominated Mary Neumayr, the current chief of staff of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), to lead it.  The CEQ coordinates environmental activities across federal agencies and implements the National Environmental Policy Act.  President Trump has also nominated Daniel Simmons, a former fossil fuel lobbyist who has questioned climate science, to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  President Trump skipped the G7’s formal discussions on climate change and refused to join in common statements by the other six nations reaffirming their commitment to the Paris climate agreement, which he wants to abandon.  Instead, the U.S. unilaterally promoted fossil fuels.

The drip, drip, drip of allegations of unethical behavior on the part of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued this week with revelations by The New York Times that senior staff members at the EPA frequently felt pressured by Pruitt to help in personal matters and obtain special favors for his family.  Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK) said in an interview Wednesday that he has requested a face-to-face meeting with Pruitt to discuss the allegations of ethical misconduct dogging him.  Furthermore, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso (R), chair of the Senate environment committee that has oversight of the EPA, said that he plans to call Pruitt to testify before his panel about his scandals later this year.  So how does Pruitt keep his job?  Margaret Talbot at The New Yorker posits that it is because he is an evangelical Christian.  The Government Accountability Office has agreed to review the Trump administration’s method for calculating the social cost of carbon.  All five members of FERC told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that they see no immediate national security emergency to justify propping up coal and nuclear power plants with a government order.  FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur announced Wednesday that she will consider the broad climate impacts of new natural gas infrastructure when voting on whether to approve new projects.

There is a new video channel on You Tube called “Hot Mess” that presents climate-related videos.  You can see an episode about the 97% consensus at Skeptical Science.  Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, had an opinion piece in The New York Times entitled “Earth will survive.  We may not.”  Climate scientist Kate Marvel had an interesting (and amusing) column at Scientific American about “Why I won’t debate science” and environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in The Guardian about Pope Francis’ meeting with a gathering of fossil fuel executives at the Vatican.  In an analysis in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dana Nuccitelli argued that the “Benefits of curbing climate change far outweigh costs.”  At Vox, David Roberts examined models used to estimate the costs of climate change in an essay entitled “We are almost certainly underestimating the economic risks of climate change.”  (Be sure to at least read the last section.)

Climate

The results of the “Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-Comparison Exercise” were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.  The study focused on Antarctica and found that the melt rate has tripled during the past decade, from 73 to 219 billion tons of ice annually.  Furthermore, the rate was 49 billion tons per year from 1992 through 1997.  The rapid, recent changes are almost entirely driven by the West Antarctic ice sheet, which is being melted from below by warm ocean waters.  Carbon Brief has a more detailed report.

Reuters has obtained a draft copy of the IPCC’s report on keeping global warming below 1.5°C, on average.  According to the report, “If emissions continue at their present rate, human-induced warming will exceed 1.5°C by around 2040” and slow economic growth.

Four countries – the US, China, Brazil, and Argentina – produce more than two thirds of the world’s corn.  A new paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), projects that the mean total corn production in these countries will decline by 8-18% if the planet warms by 2°C, and 19-46% with 4°C of warming.  Today, the chance of these four countries all having production losses of more than 10% in the same year is close to zero.  However, the study suggests this likelihood increases to 7% under 2°C warming and 86% under 4°C.  Another paper in PNAS found that by the end of this century, less water and hotter air will combine to cut average yields of vegetables by nearly one-third.  Finally, a paper in the journal Nature, reported that the increased CO2 levels and temperatures associated with climate change will reduce the mineral content and nutritional value of vegetables and legumes.

Climate change is impacting fisheries globally as fish migrate due to warming oceans.  A new study, published in the journal Science on Friday, used modeling to investigate the migration patterns of 892 species of commercially important fish as they moved through 261 “exclusive economic zones.”  On average, fish are venturing into new territories at 43 miles per decade, a pace expected to continue and accelerate, outpacing the rate at which lawmakers are handling jurisdictional disputes.

Spring in Europe was unusually warm this year.  That caused butterflies to hatch early, but it didn’t have a similar impact on the opening of flowers.  As a result, plants and their pollinators are out of sync, to the detriment of both.

The idea that climate change has caused and will cause human conflict and mass migrations has become more and more accepted.  But is this really true?  Mark Maslin, a Professor at University College London, discussed this question at The Conversation, based on a paper he and a graduate student recently published in Nature.

Energy

This week BP released its annual “Statistical Review of World Energy.”  It found that energy demand accelerated in 2017 by 2.2%, but a 17% increase in solar and wind did little to offset the dominance of fossil fuels.  Natural gas consumption rose by 3%, followed by a 1.8% rise in oil demand, and a 1% increase in coal consumption.  Carbon Brief provided a detailed analysis.  Former BP chief executive Tony Hayward cast doubt over the worldwide energy transition, arguing that the penetration of renewables worldwide is being outpaced by the demand for growth.  David Roberts agrees.  Here in the U.S., the solar market added 2.5 GW of solar PV in the first quarter of this year, representing annual growth of 13%, according to the latest “U.S. Solar Market Insight Report” from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Flow batteries offer several advantages over lithium-ion batteries for large-scale systems when electricity must be supplied for several hours, such as in the evening after the sun has set.  Andy Colthorpe wrote about the obstacles facing the flow battery industry in its fight for commercialization.  Perhaps the investment by Breakthrough Energy Ventures in the flow battery startup Form Energy will help overcome them.

Scotland has met its annual greenhouse gas reduction target for the third consecutive year.  Greenhouse gas emissions fell by 49% from 1990 to 2016.  However, according to a new report, Germany will not meet its 2020 reduction target, achieving only a 32% reduction since 1990, rather than the 40% target.

A new study, published the journal Nature Communications, has found that storing billions of metric tons of CO2 underground would be a safe and effective way to help limit the extent of climate change.

On Thursday Senior U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo of Albuquerque ordered the BLM to conduct further analysis on the environmental impact of potential drilling for oil and gas on more than 19,000 acres in the Santa Fe National Forest.  Most significantly, the judge found that federal environmental law requires the BLM to consider the “downstream” and cumulative impacts on climate change of the use of the fuel produced from leases on public lands.

“The Economics of Clean Energy Portfolios,” released by the Rocky Mountain Institute last month, showed that emerging mixes of renewable energy, storage, and other distributed energy resources may soon be more cost effective than natural gas plants in most regions of the U.S.  Furthermore, the report said “The same technological innovations and price declines in renewable energy that have already contributed to early coal-plant retirement are now threatening to strand investments in natural gas.”

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 6/8/2018

Policy and Politics

Earlier, I provided a link to an article about NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine changing his mind on the existence of man-made climate change.  He said he did so because he “read a lot.”  Furthermore, in a recent meeting with a small group of reporters, he voiced support for two climate studies that the Trump administration had wanted to cut.  Hawaii Governor David Ige signed three important bills on Monday.  One commits the state to becoming fully carbon neutral by 2045.  Another will use carbon offsets to help fund planting trees throughout Hawaii.  The third requires new building projects to consider how high sea levels will rise in their engineering decisions.

Last Friday, a Washington D.C. judge ordered the EPA to comply with a legal request to produce scientific evidence backing Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claim that human activity is not the largest factor causing global climate change.  On Thursday, the EPA took its first step toward a comprehensive overhaul of the cost-benefit calculations that underpin the entire array of its regulations, including actions to rein in climate change.  Also last Friday, the White House called on Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate steps to keep both coal and nuclear power plants running, backing Perry’s claim that plant closures threaten national security.  The proposal is similar to one advocated by coal magnate Robert E. Murray.  A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that the proposal could lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions because nuclear power would benefit more than coal.  While the Trump administration continues its coal advocacy, changes of government in Italy and Spain hold out the promise of more rapid decarbonization of the EU.  At the G7 meeting in Canada, institutional investors with $26 trillion in assets called on leaders to phase out the use of coal in power generation to help limit climate change, despite strong opposition from Washington.

This past week the Poor People’s Campaign turned its attention to environmental and climate justice.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian on Thursday, Bill McKibben reminded us that “The constant sense of crisis that the president creates robs us of the concentration we need to focus on long-term issues like climate change.”  We even have a hard time talking about it.  Laurie Goering had some ideas about how to initiate conversations on climate.  Speaking of conversations, Amy Brady had one with novelist Sam Miller about his new cli-fi book Blackfish City.  Sierra Club’s new documentary movie Reinventing Power: America’s Renewable Energy Boom lets people across the U.S. tell their own stories of how wind and solar have changed their lives and benefitted the diverse regions where they live.

Climate

A new paper in the journal Nature reported that the speed at which tropical cyclones move decreased by an average of 10% globally between 1949 and 2016.  The western north Pacific had the greatest decrease, at 20%.  Declining speed is important because slower storms linger longer, dumping more rain in a given location.  On the subject of storm-associated rainfall, Peter Sinclair has a new video explaining how the warm Gulf of Mexico fueled the unprecedented rainfall associated with Hurricane Harvey.

A new study by NOAA scientists revealed that the frequency of coastal “sunny-day flooding” doubled in the U.S. over the last 30 years.  Archeologists in the U.S. and around the world are concerned about the impact on archeological sites of such flooding and the associated sea level rise.

Last month was the warmest May on record for the U.S.  Furthermore, almost 8,600 local heat records were broken or tied during the month.  Carbon dioxide levels measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory exceeded 411 parts per million (ppm) in May, the highest monthly average ever recorded.  Perhaps more importantly, the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone from 1.5 ppm/year in the 1990s to 2.2 ppm/year now.

Catalyzed by a new report on human displacement as a result of “natural” disasters, Harjeet Singh wrote about the global awakening to the scale of the coming displacement and migration associated with climate change.

A paper published last week in Science revealed that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases caused by food production.  George Monbiot used these findings as the starting point for an opinion piece in The Guardian.

A steep decline in coral cover across the Great Barrier Reef is a phenomenon that “has not been observed in the historical record”, a new report by the Australian Institute of Marine Science says.  Furthermore, survey reefs in the northern section, the worst hit by climate-induced marine heatwaves, have lost about half their coral cover.

Energy

A new study, published in Nature Energy, describes a scenario by which global warming is limited to 1.5°C by improving energy efficiency, with no use of negative emissions technologies (NETs).  On the other hand, another study concluded that given the continued increase in CO2 emissions, it will be impossible to keep warming below 2°C and thus that should now be considered an aspirational goal.

In past Roundups I have provided links to articles about NETs, which will most likely be required to keep warming below 1.5°C, in spite of the first article in the preceding paragraph.  A team of scientists from the Mercator Research Institute at the University of Leeds in the UK and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has just published a three-part literature review in the journal Environmental Research Letters about NETs.  They presented the big picture of the challenge facing us in The Washington Post and provided a more comprehensive presentation of their findings at Carbon Brief.  An article published online on Thursday in the journal Joule described the results of a study achieving direct air capture (DAC) of CO2, the first step in some NET processes.  The authors of the paper state: “Depending on financial assumptions, energy costs, and the specific choice of inputs and outputs, the levelized cost per ton CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranges from 94 to 232 $/t-CO2.”  This is significantly lower than the costs from previous DAC studies and will make it possible to produce liquid fuels from the CO2 and hydrogen obtained from renewable energy.  Such fuels will have net zero emissions, not negative emissions.

David Roberts at Vox described new interactive maps at Carbon Brief that show changes in the amount of coal generation of electricity during the 21st Century.  Roberts said he considered his post to be an “amuse-bouche — a few images to whet your appetite for the bigger meal over at Carbon Brief.”  He also tackled the difficult task of explaining “software-defined electricity” (SDE) and how its application can greatly increase the energy efficiency of almost all devices that use electricity, thereby decreasing the amount that must be generated.

Solar developers told Reuters that President Donald Trump’s tariff on imported solar panels led U.S. renewable energy companies to cancel or freeze investments of more than $2.5 billion in large installation projects.  That’s more than double the approximately $1 billion in new spending plans announced by firms building or expanding U.S. solar panel factories to take advantage of the tax on imports.  However, energy analysts say the Chinese government’s decision to dramatically cut its solar power subsidies will create a glut of solar panels and send their prices tumbling worldwide, which should help solar installers.

An estimated 178 GW of renewable power was added worldwide in 2017 – representing 70% of net additions – according to a new report from the renewables policy organization REN21.  New investment in renewables was nearly $279 billion, more than double what went to new fossil fuel and nuclear power capacity.  A new study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, has found that plunging prices for renewable energy and rapidly increasing investment in low-carbon technologies could leave fossil fuel companies with trillions in stranded assets and spark a global financial crisis.  Fiona Harvey examined what is meant by a “carbon bubble” and what might happen should it burst.

A 36” diameter gas pipeline, known as the Leach XPress, which was put into service in January in West Virginia, blew up and shot flames high in the air early Thursday morning.  No injuries were reported.  In Virginia, a sweeping state energy law that takes effect July 1 will, among other things, require utilities to add 5 GW of wind and solar by 2028.  However, a ruling by the State Corporation Commission raised questions that threaten the viability of the law.  Ivy Main’s blog post from Tuesday is entitled “Dominion won’t build new baseload gas plants.  So why is it still building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline?”

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 6/1/2018

This week’s Roundup was prepared by Joy Loving.

POLITICS and POLICY

The Detroit News reported that “[a]utomakers urged the White House to cooperate with California officials in a coming rewrite of vehicle efficiency standards, saying ‘climate change is real.’” They argued multiple regulations would be inefficient.  The automakers may not be so happy at the EPA’s proposed actions on their requests.  Certainly former CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t happy with the EPA either, per the Washington Post and Vice News.  And neither are some of the EPA’s science advisors.  Most recently, they issued an unusual and public rebuke to the EPA’s Administrator.

The EPA may have joined forces with a climate change denier group that isn’t a registered lobbyist.  By contrast, the Department of Interior’s Secretary may be rethinking his earlier positions related to conservation.

Last year the current President had a telephone conversation with the major of Virginia’s tiny Tangier Island to reassure him that the residents needn’t be concerned about the effects of sea level rise.  The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 “includes provisions for flood-risk reduction measures for Virginia’s coast and Tangier that were included at the urging of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)”.  The Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bill on May 22.  Maybe the mayor will get the sea wall he believes will solve his problems?

If you live in a city (or a town or a rural county), you may wonder whether, given the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord a year ago, local government can step in and make any difference.  Here’s a brief commentary by a Cornell associate professor on city and regional planning.  And here’s a Grist article about how some Republican majors, while allergic to the phrase “climate change”, are nonetheless starting to address its implications.  Speaking of the Paris agreement, what’s happened since we pulled out?  Find out here and here.

CLIMATE SCIENCE

A recent NY Times interactive article brings into sharp focus how drought in the southwest US is affecting its water supply.  The focus is on the Rio Grande River.

Been wondering whether the Hawaii volcano-eruption-that-won’t-quit is worsening global warming?  Here’s an answer from The New Republic (spoiler alert:  not so much). And here’s a wonderful opinion piece on the beauty of the Kilauea eruption, including some stunning photos.

We hear a lot about the likely dire results of the melting ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica.  Maybe here’s some hope about that.  We also hear about its negative effects on health; a recent study talked about ways to lessen them.  Somewhat related, could methane be of help in addressing our carbon addiction?

Was Ellicott City’s recent horrible flood the result of climate change?  Read for yourself.  And also this one.

If you like to eat and/or drink, here’s a couple of items to make you think twice.  First, what do you like to eat and second, are you a beer lover?  Hint:  Cows and hops are involved.

ENERGY

Legal attacks on the two VA pipelines continue; some tree sitters have given up, under court order.  Franklin County, has decided not to provide its land for a pipeline construction yard, perhaps following Augusta’s lead (it denied zoning approval earlier this year for a construction facility near Churchville).  Even the Army Corps of Engineers has pulled a Mountain Valley Pipeline permit.  And an insurance industry expert doesn’t believe the pipelines are a good idea.  The VA State Water Control Board has authority to order a stream-by-stream crossing review for these pipelines.  The question is, will they?  Public comment period closed May 30.  Let’s hope they’ll have more effect than they do on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that approved these and many other pipelines.  Speaking of FERC, environmental organizations have had difficulty suing it.  Lastly, this story from Ohio talks about utilities trying to muzzle that state’s water quality commission; this couldn’t happen in VA could it?

Given all this, here’s a reminder that in April, VA Governor Northam announced a “new” strategy for conservation of VA lands.  The Governor will “work with state agencies and partners” to “focus resources on preserving lands with the highest conservation value for the commonwealth.”  Given the vast acreage under assault by the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines, with the accompanying economic losses to the communities through which these pipelines would operate, one wonders just how the Governor’s stated aims square with his stated priorities and the “scientific analyses” he expects to happen, especially since some lands formerly and formally under conservation were in the pipeline corridor and were “traded” for other land elsewhere.

The world (well, at least India and China) is taking some steps toward increasing renewable energy, according to this Bloomberg article.  And some US businesses are stepping up also; here’s some ideas for evaluating business leadership in this regard.  Perhaps some wind projects are finally underway.  And hydropower is going strong world-wide.  Even VA’s electric cooperatives are beginning to get on-board.  As to pipelines, the Canadian government is buying one.  But they’re also investing in geothermal power.  What about solar?  And solar + storage?  Energy efficiency, anyone?

You might be a confused about what’s going on in the coal industry.  Here’s an example of why:  Virginia’s Governor Northam recently approved a bill to help metallurgical coal companies.  Last year, Former Governor McAuliffe vetoed a somewhat similar bill that would have also helped steam coal companies.  The former type of coal is used for steel making; the latter, for making electricity.  The current Governor wants to help VA’s economy and expand our use of Renewable Energy.  Analysis of the effects of previous VA coal tax credits suggest they haven’t been effective in reversing the decline in jobs.  To add to the confusion, the NY Times reported that big banks are now willing to lend money to the coal industry.  And that same China noted above is considering buy more US coal, according to this Bloomberg article.  Finally, the current President wants to use “national security” as a reason for coal and nuclear industry bailouts.  Maybe he believes Canada plans to attack some of them?

Transportation is a big part of greenhouse gas emissions.  Here’s an item about how “old-fashioned” sailing ships might help.  In contrast, the EPA wants to keep dirty trucks arollin’.  Here’s a prediction about Electric Vehicles—they’re coming in large numbers sooner than you may think!

 

We’ll finish up with the arts….  Grist published a list of new documentaries about climate change.  Here’s area links to two of them.  One talks about little ol’ Tangier Island mentioned above.  First, The Human Element (takes a while to load).  Second, a film on Patagonia’s website reminds us that even renewable energy has its downsides.