Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/21/2017

As might be expected, the article by David Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine that I linked to last week caused quite a stir; it was the most-read article in the history of the magazine.  One commentator was Farhad Manjoo, a The New York Times columnist, who argued that we can learn a lot about how to mobilize to fight climate change by studying our response to Y2K, in which the worst-case outcome was emphasized.  On Tuesday, New York Times reporter Coral Davenport had a TimesTalks conversation with Al Gore about what went through his mind when President Trump made his announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.  Although not about climate change per se, Justin Gillis and Jonathan Corum have an interesting article in The New York Times about infrastructure problems at the National Science Foundation’s research facility in Antarctica.  You might also be interested in Corum’s fantastic photo essay about what he and Gillis saw while in Antarctica, or in John Sutter’s reflections on iceberg A68, which recently broke off of the Larsen C ice shelf.  In response to French President Macron’s offer of employment for climate scientists, France’s basic research agency has been flooded with applicants, many from the U.S.

On Wednesday, the former top climate policy official at the Department of Interior filed a complaint and a whistleblower disclosure form, alleging that the Trump administration is threatening public health and safety by trying to silence scientists like him.  Also, the Department canceled plans for a climate change expert from the USGS to join Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his visit to Montana’s Glacier National Park last weekend.  On Wednesday, President Trump nominated former economics professor and climate change skeptic Sam Clovis to the top scientific post at USDA, while the House passed two bills streamlining the federal permitting process for oil and gas pipelines.  On the other hand, dozens of House Republicans joined Democrats to vote down an anti-climate amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act and sent a strong message that the military should prepare for and fight climate change.  Former New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte will join the center-right Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) as a senior adviser.  California lawmakers voted Monday night to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program for cutting greenhouse gas emissions until 2030.  The bill was complex so Citizens’ Climate Lobby summarized some of its merits and drawbacks.

Climate

This week the journal Earth Systems Dynamics published an article written by climate scientist James Hansen and 14 coauthors.  They argue that it will be necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to reduce the concentration to no more than 350 ppm (we are currently above 400 ppm).  Consequently, as we continue to put more and more CO2 in the atmosphere, we burden today’s youth with greater expenses to remove it, in addition to greater risks of living with the impacts of that CO2Ensia presented a summary of techniques for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and Science published an editorial about governance of geoengineering, of which CO2 removal is a part.

A new paper in Nature Scientific Reports has found that 17% of methane emissions in the Mackenzie Delta of Canada comes from only 1% of the land surface, locations where thawing permafrost allows methane to seep out of buried oil and gas formations which had previously been sealed off by permafrost.

NOAA announced that the first half of 2017 was the planet’s second warmest on record, trailing only 2016.  Carbon Brief summarized temperature and sea ice extent so far this year.  Using Philadelphia as a case study, researchers at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Battelle Memorial Institute developed techniques for identifying heat islands in cities so at-risk citizens can be helped.  In 2003 Europe was hit with an extreme heat wave.  Now, scientists from France and Australia have asked how high temperatures might get in France in 2100 under a similar heat wave, but with CO2 concentrations that would exist if we continue with business-as-usual emissions.  The answer: 50°C (122°F).

Two coastal counties and one coastal city in California are suing a group of major fossil fuel companies for damages that they will incur due to rising sea level.  Although many legal experts consider the suit to be a long-shot, if successful it is likely to spur other similar litigation.  On the other side of the U.S., the city of Miami is considering surrendering some developed land to nature, to accommodate the rising seas.  The city government would buy out property owners in notoriously flood-prone areas and convert the land into parks and retention basins.

Images from the European Space Agency showed that the iceberg released from the Larsen C ice shelf is already beginning to break up.  In addition, a new rift has been detected in the ice shelf.  Meanwhile, a new paper in Nature Climate Change has provided additional information about the factors causing weakening of the ice shelves in West Antarctica.

So far in 2017, the U.S. has endured 49 separate weather, climate, and flood disasters, according to data from Munich Re, a global reinsurance firm.  That’s tied with 2009 as the second-highest January-June number on record.  Only 2012, with 59 events, had more.  Many of the people impacted by floods are insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.  Unfortunately the program is heavily in debt and badly in need of an overhaul.

Newly published research has shown that extreme weather events could devastate food production if they occurred in several key areas at the same time.  The researchers found there is a 6% chance every decade that a simultaneous failure in corn production could occur in China and the U.S., which would result in widespread misery, particularly in Africa and south Asia, where corn is consumed directly as food.

Energy

Bloomberg had an interesting piece summarizing where the world stands on electric cars right now.  It seems there is more news about them than there are actual cars.  Also, Mark Harris at The Guardian argued that the broad acceptance of electric vehicles will be limited until there is big improvement in batteries.  Conversely, OPEC and others are revising their estimates of EV sales upward.

A new study in Nature Climate Change has pointed out that as production declines at large oil fields, more energy is required to extract the oil, making the net energy extraction lower.  The study provided tools for examining this reality and considering it when estimating the climate impacts of oil production.  The big oil companies have been planning on becoming big gas companies as oil demand drops.  Now, however, reports from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and BP question whether those plans are realistic.  Also, speaking of gas, NPR had a very comprehensive piece about FERC and the gas pipelines awaiting approval.

Despite praising the work of scientists at a “clean coal” lab in West Virginia during a recent visit, Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed significant cuts to the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy, which funds the lab.  Nevertheless, U.S. coal exports for the first quarter of 2017 were 58% higher than in the same quarter last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported.  Still, in the long run, will the U.S. go the way of the UK?  Only five years ago, coal was generating more than 40% of the UK’s electricity, but a new analysis by Imperial College London revealed that coal supplied just 2% of power in the first half of 2017.

Minnesota tripled its solar energy capacity through the first quarter of this year and has increased solar output 12-fold since 2015.  Much of this has happened because it has embraced community solar.  In addition, a new report by the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab concluded that solar-plus-storage may be a more cost effective way to meet peak electricity demand than building new gas-fired peaking plants.  In Virginia, Dominion Energy will build a 15 MW solar farm on land in Middlesex County owned by the University of Virginia and will dedicate all of its output to the university.

With President Trump considering opening the Atlantic coastline to oil exploration, he might consider a cautionary tale from 2010.  A new study by Louisiana State University scientists indicates that crude oil from the BP oil spill has become lodged in wetland soils, where it remains almost as toxic as the day it was deposited.

Wind and solar power don’t pose a significant threat to the reliability of the U.S. power grid, Department of Energy (DOE) staff members said in a draft report, contradicting statements by DOE Secretary Rick Perry.  A DOE spokeswoman cautioned that the draft is “constantly evolving.”  That evolution may well be the result of differences between political and professional staff at DOE.

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 7/14/2017

I would like to start this week with an article that has gotten a lot of attention in the media, both print and on-line.  I am referring to David Wallace-Wells article “The Uninhabitable Earth” that appeared in New York Magazine on July 9.  Its doomsday nature caused climate scientist Michael Mann to respond in The Washington Post.  In addition, the climate scientists at Climate Feedback, who fact-check the scientific accuracy of climate-related articles in the popular press, rated its scientific credibility as low, with a score of -0.7.  A number of non-scientist commentators also wrote about Wallace-Wells’ article, but I’ll refer you only to blogger Robert Scribbler as a thoughtful example.  In response to the criticisms, Wallace-Wells published an annotated version on Friday.  During the week, he also published interviews with scientists Wallace Smith Broecker, Peter Ward, Michael Mann, James Hansen, and Michael Oppenheimer.  You might also want to look at ideas about personal actions against climate change, such as this those in this article from The Guardian, which reported on a study published in Environmental Research Letters.  Finally, to end on a positive note, Drew Jones, co-founder of Climate Interactive, shared with members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby ten reasons to be hopeful about climate progress.

With respect to the Paris Climate Agreement, the communique released at the end of the G20 summit in Hamburg reads: “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” adding “The leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris agreement is irreversible” and “we reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris agreement”.  John Cushman of Inside Climate News analyzed the differences between the U.S. and other G20 nations on climate change.  However, during his joint news conference with French President Macron on Thursday in Paris, President Trump said, “Something could happen with respect to the Paris accords, let’s see what happens.  If it happens, that will be wonderful, and if it doesn’t, that’ll be OK too.”  A recent paper by scholars at Stanford University and the University of Michigan reported that American politicians perceive their constituents’ positions as more conservative than they actually are on a wide range of issues.  Although not covered in the paper, this applies to climate change, according to Dana NuccitelliClimate scientists are perplexed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s plans to use a “red team, blue team” approach to debate climate science, in part because they see it as a trap with no escape.

Climate

An important event this week, which may or may not be related to climate change, was the calving of the huge iceberg from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica.  Both The New York Times and The Washington Post had good articles, each from a different perspective.  Both had interesting graphics.

If you love coral reefs, prepare to have your heart broken by a new film from the director of Chasing Ice.  Premiering Friday (July 14) on Netflix, Chasing Coral is a crash course on how climate change is devastating our underwater ecosystems.  The trailer can be seen here.  Unfortunately, coral isn’t the only creature being impacted by humans.  A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found growing evidence that a sixth mass extinction is unfolding, linked in part to climate change.

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that warmer-than-usual springtime temperatures in the Arctic Ocean are followed by colder-than-usual temperatures across much of North America, as well as less precipitation in some parts of the southern U.S.  This observation challenges the idea that global warming will enhance agriculture around the globe.  NASA has reported that May 2017 was the second warmest May on record, after May 2016.

A new meta-analysis of 692 databases from 648 different locations in “all continental regions and major ocean basins” has reconstructed global temperatures over the past 2000 years.  The study was done by the PAGES2k Consortium, a group of almost 100 scientists from around the world, and was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Data.  The results confirmed the “hockey stick” shape of the temperature graph and the fact that the current global temperature is the highest during the Common Era.

An article, published Wednesday in the journal Elementa, Science of the Anthropocene, examined how many U.S. coastal communities would face chronic, disruptive flooding (defined as 10% or more of a community’s usable land flooding 26 times a year) during this century, as well as when that might occur.  Currently, more than 90 communities suffer from such flooding and the number is expected to almost double in the next 20 years.  The authors also have provided an interactive map to allow communities to plan.  Bloomberg presented a preview of a few cities and The Washington Post focused on the shores of Maryland and Virginia.  Of course, flooding isn’t limited to the east coast, as shown in this article about California.  It is not just towns that are threatened, however.  A new paper in Nature Scientific Reports examined the danger of rising sea level to threatened species on Pacific islands.  The picture isn’t pretty; many face global extinction.

New research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that improving efficiency in refrigeration and phasing out fluorinated gases used for cooling could avoid 1°C of warming by 2100.  NOAA’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index for 2016, released this week, showed that greenhouse gas emissions increased more last year than they have in nearly 30 years.

A new study, conducted for the Asian Development Bank, has concluded that with unabated greenhouse gas emissions, Asia and the Pacific are at high risk of suffering deeper poverty and disaster.  This raises the question of when human society will be willing to consider geoengineering as a stop-gap measure to reduce the impacts of our continued emission of greenhouse gases until we can stop them.  To prepare for that time, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research are using computer modeling to try to understand the consequences of such actions.

Energy

In a report published on Thursday, the International Energy Agency forecast that within five years the U.S. would become the second biggest exporter of liquified natural gas, behind Australia, but ahead of Qatar.  According to the Carbon Majors Report, just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

Energy storage received a boost this week when utility-scale zinc-iron flow battery maker VIZn Energy announced that it can deliver energy storage to pair with solar or wind at $0.04 per kilowatt-hour.

A report by Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering has concluded that large improvements are needed in biofuels if they are to meet the required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the needs of energy users requiring liquid fuels.

Carbon Brief has compiled seven charts that illustrate why the International Energy Agency has concluded that global investment in coal-fired power plants is set to decline dramatically.  In addition, Morgan Stanley has issued a report projecting that by 2020 “renewables will be the cheapest form of new-power generation across the globe.”  Royal Dutch Shell plans to spend as much as $1 billion a year by 2020 on its New Energies division as the transition toward renewable power and electric cars accelerates.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) uses an array of movable mirrors that focus the sun’s rays on a central tower to heat molten salt or another liquid to make steam to drive a generator for making electricity.  Its advantage is that it can store enough heat to operate at night.  Its disadvantage has been cost, but now a company has bid $0.0945/kWh to produce electricity in Dubai.  Some say this price is competitive with PV solar plus batteries, but others disagree.  Speaking of PV solar, growth in rooftop solar has dramatically slowed this year in the U.S., due in large part to lobbying by electric utilities.

Dominion Energy announced Monday it is partnering with a Danish energy company to build two wind turbines off the Virginia coast.

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 7/7/2017

Climate scientist Ben Santer had a very moving and informative essay on Wednesday in The Washington Post.  British political scientist David Runciman, in an essay appearing as a “Long Read” piece in The Guardian, posited: “The politics of climate change poses a stark dilemma for anyone wanting to push back against the purveyors of post-truth.  Should they bide their time and trust that the facts will win out in the end?  Or do they use the evidence as weapons in the political fight, in which case they risk confirming the suspicion that they have gone beyond the facts?”  Much to think about there.  Justin Gillis, writing in The New York Times, has updated his short answers to 16 hard questions about climate change.

Last week I included a link to an article about the setting of the trial date for the children’s lawsuit against the federal government over climate change.  This week Chelsea Harvey wrote in The Washington Post about how things are likely to proceed in the case.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the EPA has overstepped its authority in attempting to suspend for two years the implementation of the rule restricting methane leaks from oil and gas wells.  Rather, the agency must follow a new rulemaking process to fully undo the regulations.  In an opinion piece on Project Syndicate, economist Joseph Stiglitz took President Trump to task for pulling the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement and made the case for a carbon tax.

Climate

A new paper published online in Science Advances sought to understand why estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) obtained from historical temperature data records are systematically lower than estimates obtained from the paleoclimate record.  The authors found that estimates of ECS from historical temperature data records do not account for the fact that different parts of Earth warm at different speeds.  This suggests that Earth is likely to warm up more than we had hoped.

As we think of rising seas and how to protect coastal cities and other infrastructure from them, there might well be lessons to be learned from the ancient Romans.  Whereas modern concrete has a lifetime of decades in the presence of sea water, Roman concrete has a lifetime of millennia.  Scientists and engineers are working to understand why.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication have issued a new report in which they found that 58% of Americans believe that climate change is mostly human caused.  That is the highest level reported since the survey began in 2008.  Unfortunately, only 13% knew that more than 90% of climate scientists agreed that climate change was happening and was caused by humans.

In a subjective appraisal based on analysis of numerous scientific models and his personal experience observing climate change in a variety of places, John Vidal, former environment editor of The Guardian, took a global look at where the impacts of climate change will be the greatest.  In an interview with Yale Environment 360, University of Hawaii geologist Chip Fletcher described the threats confronting Hawaii and other tropical islands and discussed potential adaptation strategiesThe Guardian presented pictures of life along the vanishing shorelines of the Solomon Islands.

Climate Central has prepared an interactive graphic showing how much selected cities around the world will warm by the end of the century under two different emissions scenarios.  The graphic has some peculiar characteristics, but can provide interesting results and is worth looking at.  Another interactive graphic has been prepared by Carbon Brief.  It summarizes the findings from the more than 140 extreme weather events that have been studied to ascertain whether they were influenced by climate change.

Richard Rood, Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan, published an essay in The Conversation entitled “If we stopped emitting greenhouse gases right now, would we stop climate change?”.

Energy

A couple of weeks ago, while I was out of town, Bishop Dansby provided a link to an article in IEEE Spectrum about the “battle royal between competing visions for the future of energy” that had broken out on the pages of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Now, in order to shed additional light on where clean energy might be headed, the staff of Grist “talked to six of the smartest energy experts around” and asked for their opinions.  It is interesting reading.

The Daily Climate had an article about “Walking the Line: Into the Heart of Virginia”, a two-week journey along the route through Virginia of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The G20 nations provide four times more public financing to fossil fuels than to renewable energy, according to a new report by a coalition of NGOs, including Oil Change International, Friends of the Earth U.S., the Sierra Club, and WWF Europe.

On Wednesday, Volvo Car Group said it plans to offer only hybrid or full-electric motors on every new model launched in 2019 or later.  As a consequence, when an existing model is due for a major revamp, it will no longer be offered with only an internal combustion engine.  In addition, on Thursday, the government of France announced that no new gasoline or diesel powered cars could be offered for sale in the country after 2040.  According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) Long-Term Electric Vehicle Outlook released on Thursday, Tesla will emerge as “the stand-out” electric vehicle manufacturer in terms of total cumulative deliveries through 2021.  BNEF also projected that electric vehicles will account for 54% of all new light-duty vehicle sales globally by 2040Seventeen states now charge fees for electric vehicles registered in the state.  Speaking of cars and their powertrains, hydrogen-powered, fuel cell cars seem to be stuck in “prototype stage”.

The overall share of wind, hydroelectric, and solar power in Germany’s electricity mix climbed to a record 35% in the first half of 2017.

EPA officials on Wednesday released their proposed 2018 biofuel requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard.  The proposals for corn-based ethanol and biodiesel are essentially the same as for 2017, while the targets for cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels are lower.

Tesla has been awarded the contract to build a 100 MW grid-scale battery to serve as emergency back-up power for South Australia.

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 6/30/2017

Writing in the journal Nature, Christiana Figueres and colleagues argued that the world has limited time to respond to climate change and set out a six-point plan for reducing the world’s CO2 emissions by 2020.  They also listed three steps by which the plan could be achieved.  Carbon Brief reported on the plan and included reactions from several individuals.  A coalition of mayors of more than 7,400 cities across the world has pledged to work together to combat climate change.  Writing in Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben posed three questions you can ask politicians at any level to determine whether they are serious about acting to slow climate change.  Dana Nuccitelli published an interesting essay at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about the economics of fighting climate change.  Federal judge Ann Aiken has set a trial date of Feb. 5, 2018 for the lawsuit brought by 21 children and young adults over the U.S. government’s alleged failure to rein in fossil fuel development and address climate change.  She also granted a request by the American Petroleum Institute, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the National Association of Manufacturers to withdraw from the case.  Sophie Kivlehan, James Hansen’s granddaughter and one of the youth plaintiffs, wrote about why she is suing.  Her op-ed is here, along with a few other items from Hansen.

The House Appropriations energy subcommittee met on Wednesday to mark up their bill for funding the Department of Energy.  The good news is that the overall agency budget was set at $37.6 billion, giving it only $209 million less than in fiscal 2017, but $3.65 billion above President Trump’s request.  The bad news is that ARPA-E was zeroed out.  In a speech on Thursday to celebrate “Energy Week”, President Trump emphasized his plan to focus on fossil fuel development during his term, but his ideas have met with skepticism from a number of analysts.  Meanwhile, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed that the EU is fully committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and will not “overlook tensions” with the U.S. during next week’s G20 meeting in Germany, Climate Home said “Germany’s G20 presidency dramatically weakened a climate action plan, gutting it of ambitious language and defining gas, and potentially even some coal power, as ‘clean technologies’, in an attempt to appeal to U.S. president Donald Trump.”  E&E News has reported that according to a senior administration official, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is leading a formal initiative to perform a critical review of climate science.  Joseph Majkut of the Niskanen Center thinks there could be value in such an exercise, if it leads to further acceptance of mainstream climate science.  Others disagree.

Climate

Although this topic is a little wonkish, the information is important to any who might interact with Congressman Goodlatte or other politicians who deny the seriousness of climate change.  From the start of the 21st century until 2015, climate models projected warmer global average temperatures than were observed by satellite readings in the upper troposphere.  Some have used this as evidence that models are too sensitive to the effects of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Now a new paper in the journal Nature Geoscience has provided a likely explanation for the discrepancy: rather than being too sensitive to CO2, the models didn’t adequately account for three cooling effects during the first part of this century.  The paper above was based on Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) data set 3.  However, a new paper in Journal of Climate by RSS updated their data set with new corrections for factors such as satellite drift known to be associated with satellite-based temperature measurements.  Those corrections increased the rate of warming detected since 1998 by 140%, bringing it into close agreement with surface temperature measurements and weakening arguments that satellite temperature records don’t show as much warming.  However, the change in the satellite temperature record should not detract from the findings of the Nature Geoscience paper, although the differences between measured and modeled temperature are smaller.

The Paris Climate Agreement called for limiting global warming to 2°C over preindustrial times, with an aspirational goal of 1.5°C of warming.  This raises the question of how large an impact an additional 0.5°C of warming would have.  A new paper in Nature Climate Change sought to answer that question by examining changes in the incidence of extreme weather indicators over two time periods, 1960-1979 and 1991-2010, both of which experienced a 0.5°C temperature increase.  They found that the intensity of hot extremes increased by 1°C, while the intensity of cold extremes decreased by 2.5°C, and extreme rainfall intensity increased by 9%.  Another paper in the same journal examined the potential for hail storms in a warming U.S.  They found that while fewer hail storms are expected over most areas of the country, an increase in mean hail size is projected, with fewer small hail events and a shift toward a more frequent occurrence of larger hail.

Lightning-caused forest fires have risen 2 to 5% a year for the last four decades, according to a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.  The study found that lightning storms were the main driver of recent massive fire years in Alaska and northern Canada, and that these storms are likely to move further north as the climate warms.  Meanwhile, wildfires in Siberia have burned 133,000 acres as of last week.  In addition, a new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, has found that wildfires in Canada can deposit soot on Greenland, darkening its surface.  Nevertheless, a new paper in Science found that the global burned area declined by 24.3% over the past 18 years, primarily due to agricultural expansion and intensification.

A new report from UNESCO found that 72% of the world’s major coral reefs suffered severe and repeated heat stress during the past three years.  Thus it is particularly important to note that a new paper in the journal Climate Dynamics has confirmed that three different data sets show that all of Earth’s ocean basins are warming.  One impact of that warming is a rise in sea level, in part due to thermal expansion.  However, a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change has reported that melting ice is now a greater contributor than thermal expansion to sea level rise.  The paper also confirmed that the rate of rise is increasing.

A new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, details how global warming could disproportionately affect poor areas of the U.S., contributing to widening economic inequality among Americans.  In Uganda, where poverty is widespread, climate change is causing increasingly extreme weather events like longer dry spells and erratic rainfall.  This is having negative effects on traditional agricultural practices so local climate champions are training both students and farmers on organic farming practices as a means of adapting to the increasingly erratic climate.

Western Europe experienced an exceptionally warm June and scientists associated with World Weather Attribution have concluded climate change has made such heat waves ten times more likely in Spain and Portugal, and four times more likely in England, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  Meanwhile, further east, on Wednesday at 4:30 pm local time, the temperature in Ahvaz, Iran reached 129.2°F, with a heat index of 142.1°F.  If verified, this would tie the all-time heat record for the Eastern Hemisphere.  Meanwhile, in the U.S. temperatures were pretty high in Arizona; high enough to cause some to conclude that they preview what life will be like in a warmer world.

Energy

I have previously provided links to articles about the carbon capture power plant being built be Southern Co. in Mississippi.  It was to have used a new technology for providing “clean coal” electrical generation, but Southern Co. is pulling the plug on the project and will, instead, operate with natural gas.  On a more positive note, perhaps this teen’s idea will someday pan out as a way to remove CO2 economically.

In a blog post in The Guardian, David Robert Grimes noted that climate change is an energy problem and urged people to have an honest conversation about nuclear energy.  However, a study conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council cautions against focusing on nuclear power plants’ so-called “baseload” attributes.  Consequently, it is interesting to note that one company is studying how small nuclear reactors can be paired with renewable energy facilities.

The trend for utility-scale energy storage appears to be growing as more states have adopted policies to encourage it.  Lithium-ion batteries will supply much of that storage.  While we tend to focus on Telsa’s Gigafactory, we need to keep in mind that roughly 55% of global lithium-ion battery production is based in China, compared with 10% in the U.S.  By 2021, China’s share is forecast to grow to 65%, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Another form of energy storage, which doesn’t involve batteries, is pumped hydroelectric storage.  Dominion Energy is considering sites in southwestern Virginia to build such a facility.

On several occasions, I have linked to articles about India’s plans to greatly increase its solar energy capacity and move swiftly to meet its commitments made under the Paris Climate Agreement.  However, writing in Climate Home, Aditi Roy Ghatak questions Prime Minister Modi’s sincerity, given his relationship with Gautam Adani and his ties to coal-fired electricity generation.

Norway’s Statoil is installing the world’s first floating windfarm off the coast of Scotland.  Although more expensive than fixed-base turbines, floating turbines can potentially be installed at many more locations around the world, greatly expanding the potential of wind power.  On the subject of wind turbines, engineers are working on designs for turbines taller than the Empire State Building.

GTM Research expects a 27% drop in average global solar project prices by 2022, or about 4.4% each year.  However, in the U.S., if Suniva’s and SolarWorld’s trade dispute with China is successful, analysts think the resulting increase in solar panel prices could reduce the number of installations by two-thirds over the next five years.  Ivy Main has released her 2017 guide to Virginia wind and solar policy.

A new report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation has concluded that the North American power grid is reliable and resilient despite the growth of variable, renewable energy sources.

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 6/23/2017

Les Grady was out of town this week.  Thanks to CAAV member Bishop Dansby, who compiled this week’s Roundup.

Politics and Economics of Climate Change

On-air meteorologists owe it to their viewers to discuss climate change, says The Washington Post’s weather editor Jason Samenow. He quoted Raleigh, North Carolina meteorologist Greg Fishel, who said that even though broadcast meteorologists “have the least education [on climate change], we have [the] most responsibility to educate ourselves so we can educate the public in the right way.”

At a Citizens Climate Lobby reception to honor members of Congress for leadership on climate change, two Republicans and two Democrats issued a plea to their colleagues to depoliticize the climate issue and come together to forge solutions. “We need to get beyond this Hatfields versus McCoys brand of politics,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), after accepting the Climate Leadership Award from Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

More than 1,400 U.S. cities, states, and businesses have joined a growing coalition that vows to stay committed to the Paris Climate Accord. The groups, which include several Fortune 500 businesses, signed a statement called “We Are Still In” shortly after President Trump’s announcement that his administration plans to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Macron responds to Trump: ‘Make our planet great again’.

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has, inter alia, a very interesting set of maps.

Exxon Mobil lends its support to a carbon tax proposal.

Climate Change Science

On current trends, the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2040.

Beyond organic: How regenerative farming can save us from global catastrophe.  “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

Eventually, we will need to not only reduce carbon emissions but also remove carbon from the atmosphere. Swiss firm Climeworks has built the world’s first commercial plant to suck CO2 directly from the air.

The evidence for the onset of climate change is compelling. But who and where is it hitting the hardest?

Energy

An Arizona utility signs a game-changing deal cutting solar power prices in half.  Tucson Electric Power will buy new solar power at under 3 cents per kWh, a “historically low price.”

In Virginia, the Carilion New River Valley Medical Center just finalized plans to install solar panels on its property. About 4,300 solar panels are now on site in one of the largest projects of its kind in Virginia. Land on which the solar system will be located doubles as sheep grazing land.

Nevada reverses the earlier harsh elimination of net metering. Governor Brian Sandoval signed a handful of new solar and energy related bills today in Carson City to help the state pivot away from the anti-consumer, anti-solar net metering regulation that forced SolarCity out of the state in late 2015.

Can the U.S. grid work with 100% renewables? There’s a Scientific Fight Brewing.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/16/2017

On Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament that “The European Union will not renegotiate the Paris agreement.  The 29 articles of the agreement must be implemented and not renegotiated.”  At the end of a two-day summit in Bologna, Italy, the U.S. refused to endorse a joint communique with other G7 countries on climate change.  DOE is closing the office that works with other countries to develop clean energy technologies.  Analysts are beginning to detect the way the Trump administration will try to rescind the Clean Power Plan.  Meanwhile, the Swedish parliament passed a law committing the country to becoming a net-zero carbon emitter by 2045.

On Tuesday, the EPA proposed a two-year delay in implementing a rule requiring oil and gas companies to detect and repair leaks of methane and other air pollution at new and modified drilling wells.  In addition, the Bureau of Land Management is seeking to delay implementation of a rule limiting methane waste at oil and natural gas drilling sites on federal lands.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has named energy industry attorney Patrick Traylor as a deputy in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.  On Thursday Pruitt appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee to defend the budget proposal for his agency that would cut its funding by 31%.  However, members of the subcommittee made it clear that they have no intention of approving the budget as proposed.  At the same hearing, he indicated that the Trump administration is not considering revoking California’s authority to set its own pollution standards for cars and trucks.  On a similar topic, the attorneys general from 13 states announced that they would mount a vigorous court challenge to any effort to roll back vehicle fuel-efficiency standards for 2022-2025 put in place by the Obama administration.

It turns out the Heartland Institute isn’t the only group giving “educational” materials to teachers about fossil fuels and climate change.  So are the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, and the National Energy Education Development Project, among others.  A longer article can be found here.  Federal judge James Boasberg, who sits on the D.C. district court, has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to perform an adequate study of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s environmental consequences when it first approved its construction and ordered the agency to conduct new reviews.  On the subject of lawsuits, after district court judge Ann Aiken last week stood by her decision that the youth lawsuit against the federal government deserved a hearing, the Trump administration went over her head to the 9th circuit court of appeals to get the case dismissedChelsea Harvey put this all in perspective at The Washington PostGo here for a profile of one of the plaintiffs, a 14-year old girl from Louisiana.  What happens on the children’s lawsuit is of major importance, not just for them, but for other lawsuits that have been filed in the U.S.  Other countries are facing similar actions.

Climate

According to data released by NASA on Thursday, May was the second-warmest May on record.  The planet was 1.6°F (0.88°C) warmer than the 1951-80 average, trailing May 2016 by just a 10th of a degree.

A new paper in Nature Geoscience examined the warming that occurred during the Holocene epoch since the last ice-age.  It makes several important points, but two stand out: (1) climate models can simulate climate changes over the history of human civilization fairly accurately and (2) humans are causing global warming at a rate 20 times faster than Earth’s fastest natural climate change.

The mayor of Tangier Island, VA, in the Chesapeake Bay is concerned about the erosion of the island.  However, President Trump called to tell him not to worry: “your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.”  That’s not what the Army Corps of Engineers thinks, however.  Meanwhile, across the Bay, residents of Deal Island, MD, are struggling with a variety of questions, including what is the most appropriate way to respond to on-going changes.

A new paper, published Wednesday in the Geological Society of America’s bulletin GSA Today has found that the coast of Louisiana is sinking faster than had been thought.

A paper in Nature Communications has documented a two-week period of surface melting on the Ross ice shelf in West Antarctica in January 2016.  A series of confounding events, including the strong El Niño, acted together to cause the melting.  Such events contribute to concern for the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet.  At this point we are still waiting for the release of the huge iceberg from the Larsen C ice shelf.  John Abraham provided some perspective on why that release is of concern.

Energy

The 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy has been released and Carbon Brief has provided a detailed look at its content.  The major points are that global CO2 emissions grew by only 0.1% while energy demand increased by 1.0%; non-hydro renewable energy sources grew by 14%; oil and gas use increased by 1.8%, but coal use fell 1.4%.  Bloomberg Markets summarized in five charts the shifts occurring in global energy.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance also released a new report, entitled New Energy Outlook 2017.  Because of the declining costs of solar panels, the report predicts that by 2040, 25% of Australia’s power will come from solar, as will 20% of Brazil’s, 15% of Germany’s, and 5% of India’s and the U.S.’s.  The report also projects that global CO2 emissions from the power sector will peak in 2026.  Among other projections, China’s renewable capacity will account for 63% of its overall power mix in 2040, compared with 33% last year.  Also, India’s cumulative solar PV capacity will rise from 10 GW in 2016 to 670 GW in 2040.  Inside Climate News also has an extensive report.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s monthly power report for March found that 8% of the electricity produced in the U.S. that month came from wind and 2% from solar, making March the first time that production from the two sources exceeded 10%.  The consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates released a report prepared for Ceres in which they found that since 2000, CO2 emissions from the U.S. electric power industry have dropped 19%, while GDP has grown 33%.  Looking to the future, an increasing number of solar-plus-storage projects have been cropping up around the country.  Nevada has reinstated net metering for residential solar customers after an 18-month absence.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has reported that 34 of the 61 operating U.S. nuclear reactors are being paid less for their electricity than it costs them to produce it, due to competition from cheap natural gas.  Consequently, some states are working to subsidize nuclear power plants to keep them generating emissions-free electricity.

Many think that hydroelectric power is environmentally benign.  However, a paper published in the journal Nature has warned that the Amazon basin could suffer significant and irreversible damage if an extensive dam building program proceeds.  It said that more dams could affect the dynamics of the complex river system and put thousands of unique species at risk.

Put this one down as one of those developments you hope will be commercialized someday.  Researchers in Australia have developed a solar paint that splits water vapor in the atmosphere into hydrogen gas and oxygen, using energy provided by sunlight.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has released a new report entitled the 2017 Utility Energy Efficiency Scorecard.  The report evaluated the 51 largest electrical utilities in the U.S. on their energy efficiency programs.  Dominion Energy in Virginia ranked 50th.  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has signed Executive Directive 11, instructing the Department of Environmental Quality to begin the process of establishing regulations that will reduce carbon emissions from power plants.  One provision in the regulations will be a mandatory cap-and-trade program.

The administration’s plans for energy research run counter to the rest of the world’s.  Last week I supplied a link to an article about the Trump administration’s proposed elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy.  Now, at the behest of Congress, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report evaluating the program.  It found that the program “is not failing” and doesn’t need reform.

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 6/9/2017

Although it is an opinion piece and should be read as such, the blog post by Jerry Taylor of the Libertarian Niskanen Center lays out clearly the irrationality of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.  As to why that irrationality prevailed, several authors expressed opinions: Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money, in The New Yorker; Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton in The New York Times; and Naomi Oreskes in The Guardian.  Also, Marianne Lavelle, writing at Inside Climate News, analyzed the five shades of climate denial on display at the White House.  The article has a great graphic.  Pushback against the decision has come from many places, with 12 states, 279 cities, and hundreds of companies, universities, and organizations vowing to meet the U.S. pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by the year 2025.  (Go here to read Ivy Main’s report on reaction to Governor McAuliffe’s order to DEQ to develop a rule capping carbon emissions from power plants.)  Michael Bloomberg promised to provide up to $15 million of his own money to pay the U.S. share of the operating costs of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.  On Tuesday, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law aligning itself with the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Paris Agreement.  In addition, the U.S.’s top diplomat in China resigned his position over the withdrawal and a former EPA administrator said that if the U.S. is going to withdraw, it should just get out of the way and not interfere in future negotiations regarding the agreement.

In an interview on Breitbart News on Monday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt voiced support for a “red team-blue team” exercise to debate key climate science issues.  Marianne Lavelle fact-checked his defense of President Trump’s withdrawal from Paris, while The World Resources Institute fact-checked President Trump on climate finance.  On Tuesday, President Trump nominated Jeffrey Bossert Clark to serve as the Justice Department’s top environmental lawyer.  Bossert has repeatedly challenged the scientific foundations of U.S. climate policy and was part of a legal team that represented BP in lawsuits stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.  It is worth noting that as of June 6 President Trump had only nominated persons to fill 7 of 46 top science posts that require Senate confirmation.

Climate

In his announcement of his plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, President Trump claimed the Agreement would avoid just 0.2°C of warming.  Writing at Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather analyzed that assertion, providing evidence that it is incorrect and that the Agreement would avoid around 1°C of warming compared to a business-as-usual scenario.  Carbon Brief also analyzed the impact of the U.S. withdrawal on future global temperatures.

A new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, has found that along all of the US coastline, the average risk of a 100-year flood will increase 40-fold by 2050 under a business-as-usual emissions scenario.  However, the range of increases was from 1- to 1314-fold, depending on location.

Polar bears must continually move to stay in their territory because of the constant movement of the sea ice beneath them.  As sea ice has thinned due to global warming, it has begun to move faster.  This requires the bears to move faster, expending more energy.  As a result, they must find more food, and this is a challenge.  And speaking of Arctic ice, Annie Sneed interviewed two experts to learn how changes in this northern region are driving the oceans to new heights.

Research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that increasingly strong summer storms in the midwestern U.S. will penetrate the stratosphere and result in the increased depletion of ozone, thereby reducing its protection against UV radiation in sunlight.  Another paper in PNAS studied the impacts of Greenland melting, under a business-as-usual emission scenario, on the flow of the Gulf Stream, and its subsequent effect on weather in the Sahel of Africa.  They found that with a meter or more of sea level rise, a significant decrease in precipitation would occur in the western Sahel, with up to a 30% reduction in rainfall between the years 2030 and 2060.  This would have a devastating effect on agriculture.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances found that the probability of India experiencing a major heatwave with over 100 deaths has increased by 146% since 1960, despite just a 0.5°C increase in average temperatures in India.

Another study, this one in Environmental Research Letters, has found that many places on Earth face new climates as temperatures rise.  At 2°C of warming, about 21% of Earth’s land area would see climates that are different from anything observed anywhere today.  At 1.5°C of warming, this drops to about 15%, but at 4°C of warming this increases to more than a third of the global land surface (34-44%).

Energy

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that meeting the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement is technically feasible with existing technologies and those in development, without the need for breakthrough innovation.  However, this requires “net zero” emissions by 2060, resulting in many fossil-fueled power plants being closed before they reach the end of their natural life, causing lost earnings and creating “stranded assets”.  The IEA also said that only three out of 26 assessed technologies – electric vehicles, energy storage and mature variable renewables (solar PV and onshore wind) – are on track to meet climate targets.

One of the things that has been driving the cost of wind energy down is the increasing capacity of offshore wind turbines.  The latest increase has come from Vestas, which launched a 9.5 MW offshore turbine this week.  Another factor decreasing costs is increased reliability.  In the 1990s, the expected lifetime of offshore wind parks was only 15 years; now it is closer to 25 years.  A new report from McKinsey & Company has found that several factors are driving down the cost of offshore wind energy in Europe, making it at grid parity without subsidies.  Meanwhile, on Tuesday in London, the energy ministers from Germany, Denmark, and Belgium joined chief executives from 25 companies to issue a statement pledging to work together to install 60 GW of new offshore wind power next decade, more than five times existing capacity.

President Trump’s budget has proposed cuts of 36.5% in nuclear research, 58% in fossil fuel technology, and 35% in science and energy innovation.  It has also proposed elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy.  Now, a group of business leaders has urged Congress to “invest in America’s economic and energy future by funding vital programs in energy research and development at the Department of Energy.”  Trump’s budget also called for a 77% cut in carbon capture and storage research funding.  Coal company executives are calling on Congress to save that program as well.  A new report from the CNA Military Advisory Board has warned that the U.S. has fallen behind its rivals in developing new, clean energy technology, posing a major risk to long-term security.  Finally, both President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are on record warning the American people that if coal power continues to decline, the lights could go out.  However, experience and research suggest that is an exaggeration.

There will likely always be a need for liquid fuels, such as for airplanes.  One idea is to create those fuels by taking CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into fuel.  Then, when the fuel is burned the CO2 will be returned to the atmosphere, from which it can be removed again to form more fuel.  The problem with this scheme is the energy required to convert the CO2 and the high costs of the catalysts involved.  Now, Swiss researchers have found a way to convert CO2 using sunlight and a catalyst made of inexpensive copper and tin, and at twice the efficiency of previous efforts.

The U.S. solar market added 2,044 MW of new capacity in the first quarter of 2017, with utility-scale system prices dropping below the $1 per watt barrier for the first time.  However, industry analysts have forecast that U.S. solar installations will fall 16% this year.

If you’ve been thinking of buying an electric vehicle (EV) or a plug-in hybrid, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a new version of its report on EV global warming emissions.  If you have a particular vehicle in mind, you can check out its emissions with their EV emissions tool.

The first quarter of 2017 was the biggest in history for the U.S. energy storage market, according to GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association’s latest report.  At the June 6 meeting of Tesla shareholders, Elon Musk announced that the company would be building at least 10 more Gigafactories.  But what do you use if the amount of energy that must be stored is larger than batteries can provide?  Diane Cardwell reviewed the options in The New York Times, with great graphics by Andrew Roberts.

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 6/2/2017

The big political news this week was that President Trump decided to begin the process of pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, a decision based on an economic analysis many consider to be flawed.  As Michael Shear of The New York Times wrote: “…Mr. Trump’s decision is a remarkable rebuke to fellow heads-of-state, climate activists, corporate executives and members of the president’s own staff, all of whom failed this week to change Mr. Trump’s mind with an intense, last minute lobbying blitz.”  In response to Trump’s decision, both China and India pledged to honor their own commitments and encouraged other countries to do the same.  Furthermore, dozens of U.S. states and cities promised to keep working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while three states, 30 cities, and numerous business and academic institutions were working to submit a plan to the U.N. pledging to meet the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement.  The journal Nature published the responses of several scientists to the announcement while the news staff at the journal Science compiled the reactions from a variety of sources.  In addition, David Brooks had a very insightful column in The New York Times while Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute, had a particularly appropriate response to Trump’s decision.  Finally, PolitiFact fact-checked Trump’s announcement and Carbon Brief provided an interactive grid that looked at reactions from a number of sources.

The U.N. Ocean Conference is scheduled for June 5-9 in New York City, but the Trump administration is resisting plans to highlight how climate change is disrupting life in the oceans.  On Wednesday, EPA said it has placed a three-month suspension on parts of Obama administration efforts to curb methane gas emissions, following failure of Congress to rescind the rules under the Congressional Review Act.  Juliet Eilperin and Dennis Brady of The Washington Post published a profile of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that helps explain some of his actions.

A paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters documented the embedded greenhouse gas emissions associated with the consumption of products by an average citizen across 177 regions in 27 EU countries.  Such consumption-based data are important for getting citizens to examine their personal actions in relation to global impacts.  A while back I provided a link to an article about material the Heartland Institute was sending to K-12 teachers with a cover letter suggesting that students would be “better served” if they are taught about the “vibrant debate among scientists on how big the human impact is, and whether or not we should be worried about it” [italics in original].  Well, Yale Climate Connections reported that many teachers have pushed back via social media and other outlets.

Climate

The growing crack in Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf has taken a sharp right turn and in headed toward the Southern Ocean, which is only 8 miles away.  Because the crack grew by 11 miles in the week between May 25 and May 31, scientists expect an iceberg roughly the size of Delaware to be released soon.  Carbon Brief presented a guest post by two Australian scientists discussing whether the eventual collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is already unstoppable.

Last week I linked to an article that stated that the goal of improving the natural heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef is no longer attainable.  Now this week, a paper in the journal Nature argues that reef conservation must no longer attempt to restore reefs of the past, but rather identify the parts of reefs that are essential to their continued existence, and protect them.  On the subject of the Great Barrier Reef, the damage last year due to elevated water temperatures was greater than originally thought.  Similarly, in the U.S., NOAA scientists have found that strict conservation measures in Hawaii have not spared corals from a warming ocean and have warned that U.S. reefs could largely disappear within just a few decades because of global warming.

Earlier this week, NOAA announced that its greenhouse gas index, which indicates the heating effect of all combined greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, increased by 2.5% in 2016.  In addition, they reported that 2016 recorded the second-biggest annual jump in atmospheric CO2 on record.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that melting permafrost can release more nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than CO2, than had previously been thought.

Widespread flooding and devastating mudslides have hit Sri Lanka following torrential rains over the weekend.  At least 150 people were killed and almost a half a million were displaced.

Energy

On Monday, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition released a report by a group of economists, chaired by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Lord Nicholas Stern.  The key conclusion of the report is that meeting the world’s agreed upon climate goals in the most cost-effective way, while fostering growth, requires countries to set a strong carbon price.  Suggested target prices were $40-$80 per metric ton of CO2 by 2020 and $50-100 per metric ton by 2030.

Sixty-two percent of ExxonMobil shareholders voted for the company to begin producing an annual report that explains how it will be affected by global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.  This is just the latest in a growing trend among shareholders in the U.S.

Although it is small and the CO2 captured will not be stored, the carbon capture system that has just started up in Zurich, Switzerland, is significant because it is the first to operate at commercial scale to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

The last big coal-fired power plant in New England shut down permanently on Wednesday, and on Thursday the largest energy provider in New Jersey closed its final two coal-fired power plants, all as a result of cheap natural gas.  Further south, TVA said on Thursday that it expects to continue cutting carbon emissions and reducing energy costs by producing more power with natural gas, while shutting old coal plants.  But coal-fired power plants aren’t the only ones succumbing to cheap natural gas, as another nuclear power plant plans to shut down.  Another impact of cheap natural gas is that 35 states already comply with the 2022 interim requirements of the Clean Power Plan.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal power accounted for 19.35% of total electricity generation in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017.  In addition, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, 777,000 Americans are now employed in the renewable energy sector.

Overall, oil producers say their industry will enjoy decades of growth as they feed the energy needs of the world’s expanding middle classes.  Bloomberg asks, “But what if they’re wrong?” and sets about examining some of the assumptions that go into that rosy assessment.

There were two blog posts this week related to Dominion Virginia Power.  One, by Jim Pierobon, focused on the company’s slow embrace of solar energy, particularly in Virginia.  The other, by Ivy Main, examined the implications of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of a Combined Operating License for Dominion’s third nuclear power plant planned for the North Anna site in Surry County.

40 MW floating solar farm has gone online in Huainan, China.  To date, it is the world’s largest floating solar farm.

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 5/26/2017

On Tuesday, President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal was released and it includes deep cuts in climate science and clean energy research.  These cuts are consistent with the Administration’s emphasis on “energy dominance”, rather than “energy independence.”  Brad Plumer at The New York Times provided an analysis of how budget cuts at DOE will impact climate change.  On Wednesday, Trump met with Pope Francis, who gave Trump a copy of his 2015 encyclical letter on the environment and climate change, which Trump promised to read.  Meanwhile, back in the U.S., 40 Senate Democrats sent Trump a letter urging him to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement, but 22 Senate Republicans urged him to pull out.  However, law experts said that the Republicans got their legal arguments wrong.  The National Association of Manufacturers filed court documents on Monday saying it no longer wanted to join the federal government in the lawsuit against it by 21 children who claim that they have been harmed by the government’s failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.  On Thursday, both the American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers followed suit.  We can expect more lawsuits about climate change in the future since the number of cases is increasing.

Citizen’s Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend, received some good press this week.  If you aren’t familiar with their work, you may want to read the article, or watch the segment about them from “Years of Living Dangerously”.  A survey of more than 8,000 people in eight countries – the United States, China, India, Britain, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Germany – found that 84% of people now consider climate change a “global catastrophic risk”.  So, that raises the question, “Why is it so difficult to act against climate change and other disruptions to Earth’s ecosystem?”.  A new review in Science examined that question and helps us see what to do.

Climate

Following his confirmation hearings, now EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated in written comments: “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming.”  A new paper, published in Nature Scientific Reports, tested that statement using three different data sets and found that they did not support the statement.

The Great Barrier Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan, released in 2015, has the goal of improving the natural heritage values of the reef.  However, experts have told the Reef advisory committee that due to the extensive damage associated with back-to-back coral bleaching episodes in 2015 and 2016, that goal was no longer achievable.

A paper in the journal Nature Communications reported that the number of frost-free days in the contiguous U.S. has increased in the past 100 years: 13 days in the north, 10.7 days in the west, 8.6 days in the central region, and 7.7 days in the south.  In addition, a new paper in Nature Climate Change reported that by midcentury, half of the global population (primarily those in the tropics) are likely to experience climatic conditions that are virtually unheard of for the region in the present climate.

New research, published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, has found that heavy rainfall events in the spring and fall in the northeastern U.S. were 84% more common from 1996 to 2014 than from 1901 to 1995.

Sea ice in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea is melting a month earlier than usual, in part due to the Arctic’s record-warm winter.

A new paper, just out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reexamined sea level records from 1901 to 1990 considering what we now know about global variation in sea level rise and concluded that the average annual rate over that period was 1.1 mm/y, which is in good agreement with a 2015 study, but lower than others.  They then estimated the rate of sea level rise from 1993-2012 using modern techniques and found it to be 3.1 mm/y, indicating a large acceleration.  A second paper related to sea level rise, in Nature Scientific Reports, included authors from USGS.  When they submitted a press release to the Department of Interior (DOI) for approval, DOI deleted a line that discussed the role climate change played in sea level rise.

Energy

A new paper in the journal Energy Economics calls into question a key assumption in the business-as-usual emissions pathway (RCP 8.5) used by the IPCC in projecting possible future climate change.  According to the paper, RCP 8.5 was based on all geologically identified coal, not the fraction it may be possible to dig up.  However, Noah Kaufman, a climate economist at the World Resources Institute said, “This seems like a plausible emissions pathway to consider, and perhaps the heavy use of coal is just a proxy for advances in high-carbon technologies that will enable this pathway,” such as tar sands or frozen methane sheets in the ocean, called hydrates.

On Monday, Tucson Electric Power, an Arizona utility company, announced that it had reached an agreement to buy solar power for 3¢/kWh, a “historically low price” for the U.S.  Meanwhile, the International Trade Commission launched an investigation into whether the U.S. government should impose tariffs on certain imported solar panel technology.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality admitted Wednesday that it provided inaccurate information nearly seven weeks ago about how it plans to handle the review of potential water quality impacts of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.  In other Virginia news, Dominion Virginia Power filed for permission from the State Corporation Commission to offer 100% renewable energy to commercial and industrial customers with peak loads of over 1,000 kilowatts.

Over time, I have provided links to several articles about carbon capture and storage (CCS), many of which have focused on the challenges of applying the technology.  NET Power, a start-up company in Houston, TX, has a unique approach to CCS, by burning natural gas in the presence of pure oxygen, thereby producing an exhaust gas stream of pure CO2, which they compress to supercritical conditions and use to drive a generating turbine before sending the CO2 down a well.  An article from Science provided a good explanation of their process, which promises to provide zero-emission power from a fossil fuel.  Unfortunately, the fate of NET Power may have less to do with the efficiency and innovativeness of their technology, than with the electricity generating overcapacity resulting from the glut of natural gas.  Unfortunately, CCS research will likely suffer from the 87% cut proposed in President Trump’s 2018 budget.  Also, supercritical CO2 research is in danger, even though it offers great promise for a number of generating technologies.

Daimler AG, which makes Mercedes-Benz cars, is planning to build a lithium-ion battery factory in Germany to rival Telsa’s gigafactory.  In addition, battery factories are being planned in Sweden, Hungary, and Poland.  The output from these factories will be used in electric cars and for energy storage.

A report by the Netherlands government’s Environmental Assessment Agency said that off-grid renewable electricity could be the lowest cost option for providing electricity to the more than 600 million Africans who currently live without it.  However, Kenya has signed a $2 billion contract with Chinese company Power Global to finance a new coal-fired power plant adjacent to a UNESCO world heritage site.

Canada plans to phase in tougher regulations on the emission of methane over the next six years.  Rules requiring companies to control methane leaks and the release of methane from compressors are to take effect starting in 2020, whereas regulations on methane venting and its release from pneumatic devices would come into force in 2023.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., the EPA has announced it will delay rules aimed at cutting methane emissions from landfills.

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 5/19/2017

President Donald Trump’s threat to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement united envoys from much of the rest of the world gathered in Bonn, Germany, making them unusually cooperative in reaching a deal.  Meanwhile, Republican governors Philip Scott of Vermont and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts urged U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to ensure the United States does not withdraw from the agreement.  However, at the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, AK, last minute changes to the intergovernmental declaration requested by the U.S. weakened it, according to a document obtained by Inside Climate News.  President Trump is planning to nominate a non-scientist to the top scientific position at the Department of Agriculture.  The Trump administration is seeking to indefinitely postpone a decision on litigation over the Clean Power Plan (CPP), but a coalition of environmental groups, states supporting the CPP, clean energy groups, and sympathetic utilities filed separate briefs on Monday asking the court to issue a ruling in the lawsuit.  In spite of the positions of the Trump administration, don’t despair; National Geographic has provided six reasons why climate progress will continue.

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe directed the Department of Environmental Quality to begin assembling regulations to reduce carbon emissions from Virginia power plants.  On Wednesday, Ted Halstead, head of the Climate Leadership Council and champion of the “Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends”, released a video of a TED talk that he taped in April.  The Carbon Tax Center has provided an edited transcript of the talk along with a link to the video.  Perhaps the time is getting ripe for a carbon tax, at least at the state level, as legislators in at least five states have introduced proposals that would place a price on carbon in the form of a tax or fee.

Climate

In a report published Thursday in the journal Earth’s Future, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany stated that a proposal to mitigate climate change by planting fast-growing trees and plants that can be burned for electricity, with the carbon they release being captured and stored, is not “realistic and feasible.”

Justine Gillis of The New York Times accompanied a Columbia University team of scientists on an aerial expedition to Antarctica late last year and has written a three part series about why the expedition went.  The graphics and video are very interesting, but did not work in Chrome for me, although they did in Microsoft Edge.  I did not try other browsers.  Theory predicts that Earth’s poles should warm faster than the global average as CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase.  Observations show that this is true for the Arctic, but not for the Antarctic.  There are several possible reasons for this, but new research, published in the journal Earth Systems Dynamics, suggests that an important one is the higher elevation of Antarctica.  Robert McSweeney of Carbon Brief summarized the new research and explained how it fits with other possible explanations.  Finally, a new paper in the journal Current Biology documented an increase in moss growth in Antarctica, demonstrating that the impacts of global warming there are not limited to ice melt.

New research published in the journal Scientific Reports warns that just a small amount of sea level rise can double the risk of coastal flooding from large waves and storm surge.  The most at-risk areas are in the low latitudes, where tidal ranges are smaller, making sea level rise proportionally more significant.

Trees are very good at removing CO2 from the atmosphere; the problem lies in their death and decay, which sends the CO2 back to the atmosphere.  But, what if one could harvest the wood (sustainably) and use it in a way that tied up its carbon for a long time?  According to Canada’s Wood Innovation and Design Centre, there is; use it in wooden skyscrapers, substituting wood for carbon-intensive concrete and steel.  Speaking of trees, a study, published in Science Advances on Wednesday, has found that about three-quarters of tree species common to eastern American forests have shifted their population centers west since 1980. More than half of the species studied also moved northward during the same period.  The reasons for the westward movement are unclear.

In the report released on Tuesday, scientists from UC Davis and CalTrout, a conservation group, warned that nearly half of California’s types of native salmon, steelhead, and trout will go extinct within 50 years unless environmental trends, including climate change, are reversed.  Meanwhile, on the other coast, Ted Williams wrote at Yale Environment 360 about Delaware Bay, which provides a case study in how warming oceans, more severe storms, and sea-level rise are impacting estuaries around the world.

Scientists have only recently discovered that coral reefs around the Chagos Archipelago, a collection of around 60 small islands in the Indian Ocean, have undergone significant bleaching and death, similar to what occurred on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia in 2016.  Concerning the latter, a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that there is an 87% chance that sea surface temperatures as high as those recorded in 2016 could occur around the reef in any given year in a 2°C warmer world.

Two recent studies, one in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change and the other in the journal Environmental Research Letters, have both concluded that climate change will have major negative impacts on the yields of staple grain crops between now and the end of the century.  In a study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists found that climate change and associated season creep are throwing off the migratory patterns of songbirds and possibly jeopardizing their survival.  Nine species are having a particularly difficult time adapting to the new circumstances.

Both NASA and NOAA have reported that April 2017 was the second hottest April on record.  In addition, NOAA has reported that the year-to-date ranks as the 2nd-warmest January through April period, behind the same time period last year.

Energy

Even though lithium-ion batteries are the current mainstay for applications from cell phones to electric vehicles, they have drawbacks, such as the flammability of the electrolyte and the sourcing of lithium.  Consequently, there is great interest in an alternative.  Now, scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have discovered a way around a major problem associated with zinc-based batteries, which have several advantages over lithium-ion batteries, potentially clearing the way for their commercialization.  On the subject of batteries, Tesla and Vermont utility Green Mountain Power are offering home backup batteries for a very low monthly cost because the utility will receive grid benefits through use of Tesla’s GridLogic software.

India’s cabinet approved plans on Wednesday to build 10 nuclear reactors with a combined electrical generating capacity of 7,000 MW.  This is in addition to an installed nuclear capacity of 6,780 MW and another 6,700 MW under construction for completion by 2021-22.  This is occurring in spite of the apparent decline of nuclear energy in the West.  With a few caveats, utility owner Southern Co. agreed to take the lead from bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co. on building two nuclear reactors at its Vogtle power plant in Georgia as soon as next month.

According to Energy Department budget documents obtained by Axios, the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which funds research on advanced vehicles and other aspects of clean energy, would face a roughly 70% cut in 2018, while the Fossil Energy Research and Development program, which conducts research on carbon capture and storage, would face a 55% cut.  However, on Thursday six Republican senators, four of whom are appropriators, sent President Trump a letter stating in part: “We urge you to continue to invest in the Department of Energy’s research and development programs in fiscal year 2018.”  In spite of efforts by the Trump administration to reduce initiatives on renewable energy, it will almost certainly fail to bring jobs back to coal country or dramatically boost coal production, according to a report released by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Are they finally coming?  Neal Boudette of The New York Times examined fuel cell cars and the filling stations required to keep them going.  One thing he didn’t mention, however, is the source of the hydrogen, which may not necessarily be green.  Speaking of disruptive technologies, Stanford economist Tony Seba forecast that the entire market for land transport will switch to electrification within eight years.  While this may not happen as early as he predicted in the West, it may come closer to happening in China and India.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency provided seed grant funding for 12 large-scale solar energy farms and all 12 have now leveraged that funding to become fully financed.  In addition, they have received all regulatory and grid connection approvals required for them to move forward with construction.  When completed, the 12 solar farms will provide enough electricity to power 150,000 homes.  On the topic of renewable energy, China and India have surpassed the U.S. to become the two most attractive countries for renewable energy investment.  Furthermore, they are set to beat their pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement, according to an updated analysis of their climate policies.

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.