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.

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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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/25/2018

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

POLITICS and POLICY

This opinion piece, “Walk with us, Ryan Zinke, and see the folly in what you’ve done,” by a former park ranger, encourages Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to read the great American preservationist writers, such as Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Robert Marshall, Rachel Carson, E.O. Wilson, Carl Safina and Terry Tempest Williams.

An analysis shows that hitting the toughest climate target of keeping global warming below 1.5C will save world $30 trillion in damages, far more than the cost of cutting emissions. Only a handful of countries would be better off if the earth were allowed to warm more than 1.5C.

President Trump’s pick to head NASA, Jim Bridenstine, once doubtful, confirms he believes humans are the leading cause of climate change.

Bridenstine’s position on climate change presents a sharp departure from his previous stance as a former congressman from petro-state Oklahoma, and those of President Trump and high-ranking administration officials, such as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Rick “Oops” Perry may have stumbled upon the solution to going 100 percent renewable. Buried in his grid study is how electric cars and smart control systems will enable deep penetration of solar and wind energy.

Given the slow progress of Virginia in climate change and renewable energy policy, it is a pleasure to see that Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), has commissioned its first two solar farms, which together form the largest solar project for a distribution cooperative in Virginia to date.

Policy can incentivize the transition off of fossil fuels. Six Chinese cities dominate global electric-vehicle sales because getting a license plate for a gasoline car in those cities can take years through a lottery, or cost more than $14,000 in a monthly auction, while an EV license is free and often can be obtained a lot faster.

CLIMATE SCIENCE

Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. They break open the tough CO2 molecule and use the carbon to build their leaves and roots. In the process, they deposit carbon into the ground. For years people have excitedly discussed the possibility of stashing carbon in the soil while growing food. Now, for the first time, California is using cap-and-trade money to pay farmers to do it on a large scale. It’s called the California Healthy Soils Initiative.

For 400 months in a row, our planet has been unusually hot

In a report out Thursday, NOAA confirmed that April was the 400th consecutive month of warmer-than-average global temperatures. The probability that this happened by chance is near zero.

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere after the impact of the Chicxulub asteroid, which ended the era of dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, warmed the Earth’s climate for 100,000 years, a new study has revealed. The study, based on an analysis of fossil records, suggested that the Earth’s overall temperature increased by 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) over that time. And climate change skeptics call climate change activists alarmists?

Models that generate energy and emission pathways to limit warming to 1.5C have generally relied on large amounts of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to provide the required negative emissions. Many of the models deploy BECCS on a massive scale, allocating a land area up to five times the size of India to growing the biomass needed by 2100. This analysis suggests “natural climate solutions” can reduce the need for BECCS.

ENERGY

Casandras have harped that the Achilles Heel of renewable energy is the difficulty of integration of such variable sources into the electrical grid. (Is that a total of three Greek mythological references in one sentence?) More and more studies show not only is this feasible but can make the grid more resilient. According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are seven countries already at, or very near, 100 percent renewable power.

British Petroleum (BP) is investing in technology to charge electric vehicles (EVs) “in 5 Minutes,” saying, “We are committed to be the fuel provider of choice—no matter what car our customers drive.” A caveat, though, is that such rapid charging of batteries—as opposed to super-capacitors—is a ways into the future, if at all. Query whether this is more publicity than real interest in “fueling” EVs on the part of BP.

As Rick Perry has recently discovered, the energy stored in EVs’ batteries has the potential to help stabilize the grid. The UK is one of those taking a look at such vehicle-to-grid integration. If electric vehicles are left plugged into smart, two-way charging points when not in use, their batteries can feed power into the network at times of peak demand. Just 10 new Nissan LEAFs can store as much energy as a thousand homes typically consume in an hour.

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/18/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared on Wednesday before the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ostensibly about EPA’s 2019 budget, although much of the questioning focused on his conduct.  Also on Wednesday, at a meeting of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks (R) asserted that erosion plays a significant role in sea level rise.  On the bright side, new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said to employees on Thursday, “I don’t deny the consensus, I believe fully in climate change and that we human beings are contributing to it in a major way.”  More good news: After the Trump administration canceled NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System last week, Congress acted this week to restore the funding.  Three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit nullified a key permit for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to set clear limits for the impact on threatened or endangered species.  On the same day, a consortium of environmental and advocacy groups filed a complaint with EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office asking the agency to overturn North Carolina state permits for the pipeline and requesting a new environmental justice analysis of it.

Last week I provided a link to an article about California’s new requirement that homes built in 2020 and thereafter have solar panels.  This week David Roberts at Vox looked at the pros and cons of such a policy.  The state of Alaska has deep internal contradictions because it is being impacted more by climate change than any other state, yet it’s economy is based on fossil fuel development.  Brad Plumer of The New York Times examined the developing climate action plan in light of these contradictions.  A new research study published in the British Journal of Management has found that most U.S. insurance companies have not adapted their strategies to address the dangers of climate change, making them likely to raise rates or deny coverage in high-risk areas.  Roughly six-in-ten Americans say climate change is currently affecting their local community either a great deal or some, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.  Pew also found that Republicans and Democrats broadly favor the use of more solar and wind energy, but disagree on the use of more fossil fuels and nuclear energy.  Deloitte also released the results of a new poll that looks at generational differences on climate change.

In an effort to explain the urgency of action on climate change, climate scientists developed the concept of the carbon budget.  Unfortunately, that has not speeded up countries’ responses to climate change, in part because the uncertainties associated with the budget have not been adequately expressed.  Now, in separate analyses published this week in Nature Geoscience, two researchers, one at the Center for International Climate Research and the other at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, argue that the solution is to completely rethink the way policies designed to push us towards climate goals are set.  In a blog post at the Niskanen Center, David Bookbinder, Chief Counsel for the Center, argued that climate nuisance litigation against fossil fuel producers is a good idea.

Climate

A new paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters investigated the number of people facing multiple climate change risks for various degrees of warming.  At 1.5°C of warming in 2050, 16% of the world’s population will have moderate-to-high levels of risk in two or more sectors (e.g., water, energy, food, or environment).  At 2.0°C of warming, 29% of the global population is at risk, while at 3°C, 50% is.  Also, a paper in the journal Science projected that with 3.2°C of warming, which is what is expected from current emission reduction pledges, ecosystem range losses of >50% will occur for ~49% of insects, 44% of plants, and 26% of vertebrates.  At 2°C warming, this falls to 18% of insects, 16% of plants, and 8% of vertebrates and at 1.5°C, to 6% of insects, 8% of plants, and 4% of vertebrates.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS One, scientists have predicted the response to future warming of nearly 700 species of fish and other sea creatures inhabiting the waters around North America.  They found that hundreds of species of fish and shellfish will be forced to migrate northwards to escape the effects of climate change, putting global fisheries at risk.

New research, published in the journal Nature, shows that there is now a “clear human fingerprint” on the global water supply, although natural variability also played a role in driving changes to water availability over the past 15 years.  Dr. Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, presented a tutorial at Carbon Brief about how climate change is already making droughts worse.  Meanwhile, the World Resources Institute argued that Middle Eastern and North African countries could tap into their solar-energy potential to cope with fresh water scarcity by switching to solar energy from fossil fuel electricity generation that uses up water.

Normal temperatures, generally defined to be the 30-year average at a location, are trending up across most of the U.S.  Since 1980, the average continental U.S. temperature has risen 1.4°F.  Also, NOAA confirmed that April was the 400th consecutive month that was warmer than the 20th century average for that month.  The last month cooler than the 20th century average was December 1984.

A new study published in the journal PLOS One found that between 1990 and 2015 forest growing stock increased annually by 1.3% in high income countries and by 0.5% in middle income nations, while falling by 0.7% in 22 low income countries.  The authors argue that as incomes rise, farmers abandon marginal lands, allowing them to reforest and that this is responsible for regreening, rather than fertilization due to high CO2 levels, as some have claimed.

An analysis of stream flow data from USGS stream gauges has shown that the amount of rainfall in the Midwest has been increasing over the last 100 years.  On a larger scale, a 14-year NASA mission has confirmed that a massive redistribution of freshwater is occurring across Earth, with part of the middle-latitudes drying and the tropics and higher latitudes gaining water supplies.  Climate change is thought to be at least partially responsible for each.

Energy

A while back I provided a link to an article about Vaclav Smil.  Now Paul Voosen has an article about him in Science, entitled “Meet Vaclav Smil, the man who has quietly shaped how the world thinks about energy.”

Between January and March, wind power produced 18.8% of the UK’s electricity needs, compared to nuclear energy’s 18.76%. Gas was still the dominant source of the country’s electricity, at 39.4%.  This is the first time that wind energy has exceeded nuclear over such a protracted period.  In the U.S., new research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) suggested that the value of offshore wind energy makes it a better bet than onshore wind energy for many locations along the East Coast.  The report provides the first rigorous assessment of offshore wind’s economic value on the eastern seaboard.  Another report from LBNL found that if wind and solar resources provided 40 to 50% of generation, wholesale energy prices would drop by as much as 1.6¢ per kilowatt-hour.

A new report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggested state and federal policy options that could preserve existing nuclear power generation, with its zero CO2 electricity.

I’ve mentioned previously the advantages of lead-acid batteries for energy storage in the U.S. because of the highly advanced supply chain for recycled components.  Unfortunately, such a supply chain does not exist in much of Africa, leading to environmental problems with lead-acid batteries.  A San Diego-based startup is advocating for the use of electric school buses as backup batteries for the electric grid.

Apple, along with Alcoa and Rio Tinto, announced a collaboration in Canada to fund a technology that can reduce CO2 emissions from the high-temperature smelting process that goes into making aluminum.  If successful, the technology will eliminate around 17% of the CO2 emissions associated with aluminum production.  A new pilot facility under construction in northern Sweden will produce steel using hydrogen from renewable electricity. The only emissions will be water vapor, explains the CEO of Hybrit, the company behind the process, which seeks to revolutionize steelmaking.

The Interior Department said Thursday it plans to approve the Palen solar farm, which will be built on public lands just south of Joshua Tree National Park, in the open desert east of the Coachella Valley.  The 3,100-acre, 500 MW power plant would be one of the country’s largest solar projects.  However, some object because of the proximity to a National Park and the farm’s potential impact on wildlife habitat.

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 5/11/2018

Policy and Politics

At the Paris climate talks in 2015 the developed countries pledged $100 billion per year to help the poorest nations fight climate change.  The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from that commitment, thereby raising the question at this week’s Bonn talks of how that money will be replaced.  This led, in part, to the poorer nations saying that they are fed up with foot dragging by the richer countries, with the talks ending in a stalemate.  Consequently, another week has been added in September to try to resolve the issues prior to COP24 in Poland in December.  Carbon Brief has a summary of the key outcomes from the Bonn talks.  Dave Roberts laid out at Vox the types of policies required to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In April of last year, EPA removed an informational website about climate change for review and updating.  It still isn’t back.  More than 10,000 documents, made public as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Sierra Club, showed that the EPA’s close control of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s events has been driven more by a desire to avoid tough questions from the public than by concerns about security, contradicting Pruitt’s longstanding defense of his secretiveness.  With last month’s confirmation of Pruitt’s deputy, the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, it appears that the likelihood of Pruitt being fired has increased.  On Thursday Pruitt said that he wants to radically revise how basic, health-based national air quality standards are set, giving more weight to the economic costs of achieving them and taking into account their impacts on energy development.  However, a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, affirmed that the agency cannot consider the cost of implementation when setting the standards.  Major automakers are telling the Trump administration they want to reach an agreement with California to avoid a legal battle over fuel efficiency standards, and support continued increases in mileage standards through 2025, as long as they “also are consistent with marketplace realities.”  According to The Washington Post, “Internal changes to a draft Defense Department report de-emphasized the threats climate change poses to military bases and installations, muting or removing references to climate-driven changes in the Arctic and potential risks from rising seas…”  Meanwhile, the Trump administration has cancelled NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System, which is crucial to the verification of the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The California Energy Commission voted on Wednesday to change the state building code to require all new homes built in 2020 or after to be equipped with solar panels.  However, some say this will provide a glut of solar energy during the day that will compound California’s energy problems.  The Utah Legislature recently adopted a resolution that moves the state from denial of global climate change to the recognition that finding a solution is crucial.  How did this happen?  Because of students from Logan High School, who refused to give up.  The social cost of carbon (SCC) is an important parameter in determining appropriate strategies for addressing climate change and the damage it will cause.  In an opinion piece in The Hill, economics professors Robert S. Pindyck and James H. Stock argue why the SCC should not be set to zero.  KQED interviewed climate scientist Michael Mann.  You can listen or read the transcript here.

Climate

In December of 2016, the North Pole was 50°F above its usual winter temperature.  A recent paper in the journal Weather and Climate Extremes has found that 60 to 70% of that warming was due to the loss of sea ice associated with climate change. The rest was caused by natural intrusions of warm air into the Arctic, including contributions from El Niño.  Furthermore, the number of times temperatures have risen above freezing in February has been increasing since 1997.  On a related topic, growing inflows of warmer ocean waters on both sides of the Arctic Ocean are driving heat, nutrients, and temperate species to new polar latitudes — with profound impacts on Arctic Ocean dynamics, marine food webs, and longstanding predator-prey relationships.

A 350-page report released on Wednesday by the California Environmental Protection Agency tracks 36 indicators of climate change in the state and concludes that it is having a significant impact there.

A new paper in the journal Earth’s Future reports that the extraordinary rainfall associated with hurricane Harvey was fueled by record high water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.  Another study, this one in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the rapid intensification of hurricanes increased from 1986 to 2015 in the central and eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean.  These findings are of concern because the peak season for Atlantic storms, which officially starts on 1 June, is predicted to have as many as 18 named storms, with up to five of them developing into major hurricanes, according to separate forecasts from North Carolina State University and Colorado State University.

Surface wind speeds across landmasses all over the planet have fallen by as much as 25% since the 1970s as a result of climate change.  One consequence will be calm air over cities at certain times of year, leading to more intense air pollution.

Scientists have discovered a new positive feedback loop to add to those that make global warming worse.  As freshwater lakes warm, aquatic plants such as cattails flourish.  Unlike forest debris that may wash into lakes, cattail debris causes an increase in the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change examined the potential impact of climate change on marine protected areas (MPAs) during this century.  It found that without drastic action MPAs will be ‘devastated’ by rapid global warming.

Energy

Dominion Energy’s annual stockholders’ meeting was held on Wednesday in Richmond and opponents to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline were there in force.  Meanwhile, on Thursday opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline had a hearing before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond concerning their suit against the pipeline developers and federal regulators.

Transportation is a big user of energy, most provided by fossil fuels.  Two articles this week provided some ideas for lowering their use.  One is about five ways to change buses so that people would want to use them.  The other presents a radical idea for limiting air travel.  In addition, The New York Times reviewed the things that auto companies have done to increase the fuel economy of their vehicles.  A new AAA survey has found that 20% of Americans say their next vehicle will be an electric car.  That’s up from 15% in 2017, the first time that AAA asked the question.  And on Tuesday, Audi said it plans to sell about 800,000 battery-electric and hybrid powered cars in 2025.

Since 2010 investments in solar energy have outpaced investments in wind energy.  In an effort to catch up, turbine manufacturers and operators are turning to better software, artificial intelligence, and improved weather forecasting to generate more electricity per turn of the blades.  The U.S. Geological Survey has a new database of the more than 57,000 commercial wind turbines in the country.  A Washington Post analysis of the data revealed that Kern County, CA, has more wind turbines than any other county.

Costa Rico hopes to become the first country in the world to decarbonize its economy by eliminating all use of fossil fuel, its new president announced during his inaugural address.  Between April 2017 and March 2018, India added around 11.8 GW of renewable energy capacity. That’s more than double the 5.4 GW of capacity addition in the coal and hydro power sectors during the same period.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, has found that tourism accounted for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2009 to 2013, four times larger than previously thought.  Carbon Brief has a more detailed report.

The UK and the EU generate a greater percentage of their electricity from renewable sources than the U.S.  In fact, this summer there will be periods when they are generating more renewable energy than they can use.  In a new report, UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers said the answer could be to use the excess power to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with the hydrogen functioning as a form of energy storage.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/4/2018

Policy and Politics

According to Inside Climate News, “the Trump foreign policy team, now more than ever, is a tight cabal of hardline foes of climate action.”  Thus, while the career diplomats meeting in Bonn this week would like to have some influence on the outcome of negotiations on the rules of how to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, they have few bargaining chips to offer.  In addition, developing countries say they are “frustrated” with the lack of leadership from the developed world.  In fact, according to Climate Home News, they and their advocates feel that rich nations are not even engaging in discussions on the financial support they need to deal with the problems of climate change.  While I had hoped for a week without articles about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, it wasn’t to be, with articles about his relationship with lobbyists, his expenditures while in Oklahoma, and his travel at EPA (“After taking office last year, Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel…”).

Fortune 500 corporations are facing renewed pressure from climate-focused activist investors.  Of the more than 420 shareholder resolutions proposed recently, about 20% focused on climate, tied for the largest of any proposal category, according to a report by the group Proxy Impact.  In addition, a group of 279 investors — pension plans, insurers, mutual funds, and exchange traded-funds — with a collective $30tn in assets, has banded together to tackle the issue via a five-year global initiative called Climate Action 100+.  A report by two industry groups — the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute and the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy — was sent Wednesday to the Trump administration.  It finds that the U.S. would reap broad economic gains if the federal government ratifies the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for the phase out of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants.  California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging the EPA’s April 2 determination that the fuel economy requirements for cars and light trucks are too stringent and must be revised.  Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia are joining California on the lawsuit.  Together, they represent about 43% of new car sales nationally.

Dominion Energy Virginia just released its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan and Ivy Main had a blog post discussing its content.  She also had one earlier in the week outlining “How Virginia localities will get to 100% renewable.”  Utility Dive had a detailed description of RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that Virginia and New Jersey hope to join, including an explanation of how it works.  National Book Award winner Richard Powers has published a new novel, The Overstory, which is about trees.  Amy Brady interviewed him for the Chicago Review of Books, which shared it with Yale Climate Connections.  On the subject of books, a new study published this week in the journal Environmental Communication found that less than 4% of the pages in the most popular college-level introductory physics, biology, and chemistry textbooks published between 2013 and 2015 were devoted to discussing climate change.

Climate

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that illnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016.  Although many factors contributed to this increase, climate change played an important role.  Warming ocean waters likely are contributing to the expansion northward of the ranges of bottlenose dolphins, false killer whales, and bull sharks, according to two recent scientific articles.

According to a new study by Florida International University, mangroves just south of Miami were migrating westwards over marshland at a rate of about 100 ft a year until they were halted by the L-31E levee, a flood barrier in Miami-Dade County.  As a consequence, they are likely to be submerged by water within 30 years, killing them and destroying the protection they provide during storms.  This is unfortunate because a recent study indicates that mangroves store about 50% more carbon than had previously been thought.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances used modeling to predict increases in temperature variability in tropical countries over the coming decades.  The countries that have contributed least to climate change, and are most vulnerable to extreme events, are projected to experience the strongest increase in variability.  Thus, it is particularly sad that Oxfam has found that finance for poor countries to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and deal with climate change is lagging behind the promises of rich countries.  In addition, while the poorest countries are making progress toward the UN’s sustainable energy goals, they are not progressing as quickly as development agencies had hoped, according to a new report from the UN, the World Health Organization, and three other international agencies.

A new paper in Geophysical Research Letters has found that between 2015 and 2017, around 23% of the annual surface melt across the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica occurred during the winter months.  All of the winter melt events were caused by a combination of strong wind, high temperatures, and low relative humidity.  The U.S. National Science Foundation and the British Natural Environment Research Council will deploy six field missions to Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica in the next several years in order to learn more about the large glacier’s stability.  And on the other end of the globe, the February sea-ice extent in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska set a record low this winter, being only half that of the previous lowest winter on record (2001).  In addition, the Bering Sea ice has never melted this early before.

Zeke Hausfather of Carbon Brief provided an analysis of the “state of the climate” after the end of the first quarter of 2018.  He projects that 2018 will be the fourth warmest year on record, following 2016, 2017, and 2015.  For the first time since humans have been monitoring, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have exceeded 410 ppm averaged across an entire month, pushing the planet closer to warming beyond levels that scientists and the international community have deemed “safe.”

It was 122.4°F (50.2°C) in Nawabshah, Pakistan, on Monday, and meteorologists say it is the highest temperature ever reliably recorded, anywhere in the world, in the month of April.  And on the subject of records, a rainstorm that hit Kauai, Hawaii in April dumped nearly 50 inches of rain in 24 hours, eclipsing the previous record of 28.5 inches set in 2012.  It was the first major storm in Hawaii linked to climate change.

Energy

With the exception of Tennessee and North Carolina, there are no wind turbines installed in the Southeastern U.S.  Several factors are responsible, as explained by Umair Irfan and Javier Zarracina at Vox.  General Motors has signed power-purchase contracts with wind farms, now under construction in Ohio and Illinois, that will put plants in Ohio and Indiana on the path to being able to say they get 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.

Mercedes-Benz Energy has determined that there is no economic benefit to basing home energy storage systems on automotive batteries and thus it is exiting the home energy storage business.  Rather, it will focus “exclusively on the development and construction of stationary energy storage systems for grid applications.”  A Stanford University team has developed a new battery that they say houses a large amount of energy, lasts a long time, and could be inexpensive enough to store energy for the grid.  On a smaller scale, Voltstorage has brought a vanadium-redox-flow energy storage system (i.e., a flow battery) to the residential market.

A report by UK accountancy firm Ernst & Young found that the U.S. has moved up to second place (after China) in a ranking of the most attractive countries for renewables investment.  For example, AT&T Inc. and Walmart Inc. are among 36 businesses, government agencies and universities that have agreed to buy 3.3 GW of wind and solar power so far this year. That’s on track to shatter the previous high of 4.8 GW of disclosed deals last year, according to a report Monday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Anheuser-Busch announced Thursday that it will buy 800 hydrogen-electric powered semitrucks from Nikola Motor Company.  Its goal is to have its vehicles produce zero carbon emissions by 2025.

Russians are building a floating nuclear power plant that will provide electricity to a remote city near the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeast Russia.  Needless to say, opinions are divided about it.  On the other hand, as a result of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Japan is turning away from nuclear energy and back to coal for generation of its electricity, having opened at least eight new coal-fired power plants in the past 2 years.  Furthermore, it has plans for an additional 36 over the next decade.

Utility companies clashed with oil industry interests over electric vehicle and fuel subsidies at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Oil-backed groups proposed a resolution that opposed state efforts to subsidize non-gas vehicles and allow utilities to charge customers for EV charging stations. It was tabled after a protracted floor battle and opposition from utility interests like Duke Energy and the Edison Electric Institute.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/27/2018

“Still, global warming doesn’t haunt even the uncorrupted imagination in quite the same way as the bomb, perhaps because it unfolds more slowly.” — Bill McKibben, The New Yorker

“Meanwhile, business as usual in harvesting and burning fossil fuels around the planet continues apace throughout the vast majority of countries, particularly within the U.S.” — Dahr Jamail, Truthout

Policy and Politics

On Monday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt released a policy memo stating that the burning of biomass, such as trees, for energy in many cases will be considered “carbon neutral” by the agency.  It should be noted, however, that the carbon neutrality of biomass is still a contentious issue within the scientific community.  On Thursday, Pruitt appeared before two House panels, but conceded little about controversial spending and management decisions he has made.  Writing for Yale Climate Connections, Jan Ellen Spiegel examined the impacts of Pruitt’s decision to change the CAFE standards for cars and light trucks.  Meanwhile, an appellate court threw out a decision by DOT to postpone increases in the penalties that automakers are required to pay if they don’t meet efficiency standards under the CAFE standards.  Speaking to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said climate change is a long-term problem that won’t go away, and that gives him confidence the U.S. will either stay in the agreement or come back if it does leave.  Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he will write a $4.5m check to cover this year’s U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

On Tuesday, Ceres released a detailed report examining the environmental performance, including their response to climate change, of more than 600 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S.  Hawaii is overhauling how utilities get paid, upending a century-old business model and ordering incentives for affordability, renewable power, and helping homeowners add rooftop solar.  Rising sea level is raising knotty questions about property ownership along our coasts.  Just who owns property that becomes literally “under water”?  Around the country, the government’s response to coastal flooding is pushing lower-income people away from the waterfront.  The homes they leave, in turn, are often replaced with more costly ones, such as those built higher off the ground, which are better able to withstand storms.  Housing experts, economists, and activists call this “climate gentrification.”  However, new data from Harvard University and the University of Colorado suggests that homes at lower elevations in the Miami area are selling for less and gaining value slower than similar ones at higher elevations.

When it comes to climate change and renewable energy, luckily not all countries have the attitudes evident in the U.S. public.  For example, a recent government survey of the public in the UK revealed that 85% support renewables.  On the policy front, Ploy Achakulwisut, a post-doc at George Washington University, reminded us that not all scenarios for holding global warming to 2°C are created equal and Jason Mark discussed the question of climate reparations in Sierra.  Four protesters can present a “necessity defense” against criminal charges stemming from their efforts to shut down two Enbridge Energy oil pipelines, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.  Ministers and environmental advocates are trying to improve the way they reach out to evangelical Christians, a group that is deeply divided in its views about humans’ role in climate change.  Yale Climate Connections has compiled an updated list of books on climate change communication and added books about climate change activism.  Speaking of books, Andrew Revkin and Lisa Mechaley have a new book, entitled Weather: An Illustrated History.  You can listen to a conversation with Revkin on Science Friday.

Climate

A study published in Science last year used modeling to calculate the impact at the end of this century on each state’s gross domestic product (GDP) from events associated with climate change under business-as-usual CO2 emissions.  It found that Florida and Texas would suffer the greatest economic damage, with reductions in GDP of around $100 billion.  California came in third.  A study published Monday in Nature Climate Change found that despite only a small projected change in California’s average yearly precipitation throughout the 21st century, there may be huge and highly consequential changes in precipitation extremes.

A new paper in Science Advances suggests that low-lying coral islands across the tropical oceans could become “uninhabitable” much sooner than previously expected because of the combined impacts of sea level rise and large waves.  However, other scientists think the study may be giving an overly-pessimistic outlook.

In the past decade, methane levels in the atmosphere have shot up, to the extent that it now contains two-and-a-half times as much of the gas as it did before the Industrial Revolution.  The reason for the rapid increase is poorly understood, although scientists have several hypotheses.  The Economist discussed the increase and its potential impact on global warming.

A new research study, published in the journal Earth’s Future, has found that the regions of the African continent between 15°S and 15°N, will likely see an increase in hot nights and longer and more frequent heat waves, even if the global average temperature rise is kept below 2°C.  These effects will intensify if the temperature increase exceeds the 2°C threshold.  Moreover, the daily rainfall intensity is expected to increase with higher global warming scenarios and will especially affect the Sub‐Saharan coastal regions.  New research in the journal Nature Climate Change examined the impacts of deforestation since 1860 on the temperature of the hottest day of the year in the northern mid-latitudes.  It found that the deforestation contributed at least one-third of the local present-day warming and was responsible for most of this warming before 1980.

Peridotite is one form of rock that has the potential to react with CO2 and form insoluble carbonates, a process referred to as weathering.  Weathering has long been known as one of the ways of naturally removing CO2 from the atmosphere, but was thought to be too slow to be useful for achieving the negative emissions that will probably be required to keep temperature increases below 1.5°C.  Peridotite, however, has the potential for much more rapid reaction, and is now under study as a way to remove some of the CO2 in the atmosphere.

The Daily Climate reprinted an article by Paul Ehrlich and John Harte entitled “Analysis: Pessimism on the Food Front,” that originally appeared in the journal Sustainability.  Could Ehrlich be right this time?  On the other hand, perhaps the resiliency of Bolivian women can provide a bit of optimism.

Energy

Nature examined the forces behind the recent CO2 emissions trends and what they signal for the future.  The good news is that clean-energy technology is at last making substantial strides.  The bad news is that the pace isn’t nearly quick enough.  Big economic and political hurdles stand in the way of shutting off the fossil-fuel spigot and the cheap energy it provides.  The paradox of the science underlying the Paris Climate Agreement is that quitting fossil fuels and slashing climate pollution to zero won’t prevent global warming from exceeding 2°C.  Humanity also will have to invent a way to clean the atmosphere of at least some of the carbon pollution put there since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Bloomberg News looked at three companies that view that necessity as the basis for a business model.

In its annual report on the status of the wind industry, the Global Wind Energy Council said cumulative wind energy capacity stood at 539 GW at the end of last year and should increase by 56% to 840 GW by the end of 2022.  General Electric has decided to test its huge 12 MW offshore wind turbine at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult center in Northumberland, England.  The New York Times has a fascinating photo-journalism article about building large turbines and blades.

A new engineering and economic analysis of the possibility of adding carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to corn-based bioethanol production provides additional information to the debate about the controversial fuel.  The analysis, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, determined that adding carbon capture would be very straight-forward and, with proper incentives, could lead to the development of a CO2 pipeline network and sequestration sites.

In a setback for a potential carbon-free form of energy, evidence now indicates that the second-largest earthquake in modern South Korean history was caused by a geothermal energy pilot plant.

Adele Peters provided an update in Fast Company on the role of microgrids in the restoration of power in Puerto Rico.  Microgrids require storage, which is often done with lithium ion batteries.  However, the managing director of the International Lead Association argues that advanced lead battery technology has an important role to play in today’s energy storage world.

For the first time, the production cost of renewables in G20 energy markets is lower than that of fossil fuels, an industry asset manager has claimed.  China has ordered local governments to “ease the burden” on renewable power generators by strengthening guaranteed purchase agreements and giving them priority access to new grid capacity, the National Energy Administration said on Thursday.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/20/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued to be in the news.  If you want a summary of all the investigations of him, The New York Times has provided one.  The Government Accountability Office ruled on Monday that the EPA had violated the law when it installed a soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office at a cost of roughly $43,000.  A group of 131 Democratic representatives and 39 Democratic senators signed a resolution introduced Wednesday that calls for him to resign.  A number of nonprofit organizations not usually known for environmental advocacy, including the NAACP, are joining the calls against Pruitt.

According to a U.N. report released Tuesday, not nearly enough money is flowing into low-carbon investments to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Trump administration officials are reportedly considering using the 68-year-old Defense Production Act to keep struggling coal and nuclear power plants online.  In Canada, the federal government is preparing to counter British Columbia’s bid to control the flow of oil through the province with legislation that will enhance federal power to push through the Trans Mountain pipeline.  On Thursday, the Senate voted along party lines to confirm Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), as head of NASA.  Democrats argued that he was unqualified for the position because he wasn’t a scientist and because of his position on climate change, among other things.  Michael Catanzaro, who has headed domestic energy and environmental issues at the White House’s National Economic Council, plans to leave next week and return to the law and lobbying firm where he previously worked.  He will be replaced by 28-year-old Francis Brooke, who will come over from Vice President Mike Pence’s office.

In Colorado, the city of Boulder, plus Boulder and San Miguel Counties, filed a lawsuit in state court on Tuesday against two oil companies, Exxon Mobil and Suncor Energy, arguing that fossil fuels sold by the companies contribute to climate change, with its associated damages.  A group of eight young Florida residents — represented by Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust — is suing Governor Rick Scott to demand that the state begin working on a court-ordered, science-based “Climate Recovery Plan.”  RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, has generated $1.4 billion in net economic benefits over the past three years, even accounting for the costs it has added to the price of electricity, a study released Tuesday found.  The RGGI states, as well as the West Coast states, have reduced emissions from the power sector, but transportation emissions have continued to rise.  Ivy Main has a new blog post.  This one is about efforts toward 100% clean energy in Virginia.  Yale Climate Connections has launched a new twice-monthly ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) “feature highlighting critical climate-related readings that might have escaped one’s radar … but which warrant attention.”  Author, journalist, and war correspondent William T. Vollmann has released the first volume of a two-volume polemic called Carbon Ideologies.  Volume I, entitled No Immediate Danger, explores how our society is bound to the ideology of energy consumption.  Eric Allen Been interviewed him for Vox.

Climate

More and more, I keep running into the term regenerative agriculture, which is to farm in such a way as to improve the land.  Advocates of it refer to it as “win-win” because not only does it improve the health of agricultural soil, it also removes carbon from the atmosphere.  In a very readable article in The New York Times Magazine, Moises Velasquez-Manoff explains the technique and explores the evidence for and against it.  Some who are not concerned about the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere justify their position by asserting the existence of improved plant growth at higher CO2 levels, which would increase food production.  However, a study published this week in Science calls that assertion into question.  A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One found that Americans waste nearly a pound of food per person every day, roughly equal to 30% of the average American’s daily calories.

Research published in the journal Nature shows that the record-breaking marine heatwave in 2016 across the Great Barrier Reef has left much of the coral ecosystem at an “unprecedented” risk of collapse.

New research, published in the journal Science Advances, has identified a new positive feedback mechanism that appears to be accelerating the melting of Antarctic glaciers.  Fresh melt water, being of lower density, forms a layer on the sea surface next to the glaciers, decreasing mixing and retaining a pool of warm water beneath the glacial ice shelf, accelerating its melting.  Another type of positive feedback mechanism is accelerating the surface melting of Greenland in the Arctic.  According to new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, warming melts the western edge of the ice sheet, releasing mineral dust from rock crushed by the ice sheet; the dust blows to the surface of the ice, nurturing the microbes and algae living there; those organisms produce colored pigments, reducing reflectivity, and increasing melting.  Arctic scientist Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, was interviewed by Katherine Bagely for Yale Environment 360 about the environmental impacts of the changes occurring in the Arctic.

The conclusion of a study that appeared in the journal Ecology Letters is that many forests of the Rocky Mountains aren’t recovering after wildfires burn them and some aren’t returning at all.

An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on a global meta-analysis of the biological timing of 88 species that rely on another life form.  It found that on average, as a result of climate change, species are moving out of sync by about six days a decade, although some pairs are actually moving closer together.

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council focuses on the impacts of climate change on health in Virginia.  It warns that as heat waves increase, the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Virginia will grow.  Prof Helen Berry is the inaugural professor of climate change and mental health at the University of Sydney.  She wrote a guest post on Carbon Brief entitled “The impact of climate change on mental health is impossible to ignore.”

Energy

The New York TimesClimate Fwd” newsletter had two energy-related articles this week.  One dealt with the uneasy relationship environmentalists have with nuclear power.  The other concerned the blueprint adopted by a committee of the International Maritime Organization that sets the shipping industry on a course to reduce carbon emissions by container ships, tankers and other vessels by at least 50% by the middle of the century compared with 2008 levels.

Offshore wind farms are far less harmful to seabirds than previously thought because seabirds actively change their flight path to avoid them.  Onshore wind continues to grow.  Now, four states—Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota—get more than 30% of their in-state electricity production from wind, according a new report by the American Wind Energy Association.

In the first quarter of 2018, 142,445 electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in China, a 154% increase over the first quarter in 2017.  Writing at Vox, David Roberts argues that China is now doing with battery electric buses what it did with solar panels, that is, to ramp up production and drive the price down.  Volkswagen AG unit Electrify America will install EV charging stations at more than 100 Walmart store locations in 34 U.S. states by mid-2019 as part of Electrify’s plans to bolster charging infrastructure across the country.

Walmart plans to more than double the amount of renewable energy it uses in the U.S.  It has also announced that suppliers have reported reducing more than 20 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in the global value chain as part of the company’s Project Gigaton initiative.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has embarked on a wide-ranging review of how interstate natural-gas pipelines are approved, including the use of eminent domain, how the need for a pipeline is assessed, and the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions should be taken into account in pipeline approvals.

New research, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, concludes that it may be possible to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures without using the controversial and largely untested negative emissions technology of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/13/2018

Policy and Politics

Ethics charges against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued to be aired this week.  As a result, he has a 29% job approval rating, according to a poll released Thursday.  The Senate voted 53-45 on Thursday to confirm Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, to be deputy administrator of the EPA.  If the Republicans continue to control the House after the fall elections, then a big question will be who succeeds Paul Ryan as Speaker.  The major contenders are Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).  According to an analysis by E&E News, the two have few differences on energy and environmental issues.

A recent study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that Americans overwhelmingly support teaching our children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming.  And speaking of children, all around the globe, young people are joining together to demand action on climate change.  An October 29th trial date has been scheduled for the lawsuit filed by young activists who say the U.S. government is failing to protect them from climate change.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Monday that he had vetoed a bill that requires legislative approval before the state can participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program among Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that mandates CO2 emission reductions in the power sector.  On Friday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed ExxonMobil another defeat in the company’s legal battle to head off investigations into whether it misled the public about the risks of climate change, ruling that Attorney General Maura Healey has the authority to compel it to turn over records showing whether its marketing or sale of fossil fuel products violated the state’s consumer protection law.  Writing at Yale Environment 360, Richard Conniff examined the split within the environmental movement over the provision in the recently approved federal budget that increases tax credits for projects that capture and store CO2.

Climate

Two new papers in the journal Nature deal with the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which carries warmth into the Northern Hemisphere’s high latitudes.  One paper concluded that the AMOC has declined in strength by 15% since the mid-20th century to a “new record low.”  The other paper found that the AMOC has slowed over the past 150 years and is now weaker than at any time in more than a millennium.  These findings prompted an editorial in Nature.

In an article on Monday, Carbon Brief assessed nine new carbon budget estimates for limiting warming to 1.5°C released by different groups over the past two years.  Most show larger allowable emissions than were featured in the last IPCC report, but there is a lot of variability among the estimates.  Then, on Friday a paper in Nature Climate Change showed that it is possible to limit warming to 1.5°C without the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) by employing a suite of highly ambitious mitigation options.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that heat waves over the world’s oceans are becoming longer and more frequent, damaging coral reefs and creating chaos for aquatic species.  The amount of sea ice off Western Alaska coasts this spring was the lowest in more than 150 years of record-keeping.  Writing at DW, Ruby Russel reviewed the state-of-the-art in determining whether extreme weather events are related to climate change.

Monarch butterfly caterpillars can eat only milkweed and doing so makes them toxic to predators because of the uptake of poisonous cardenolides from the plant.  A paper in the journal Ecology reported that the caterpillars prefer tropical milkweed, but this may prove to be a problem because tropical milkweed contains more cardenolides under warmer temperatures, which may overpower the caterpillars’ tolerance.  On the subject of plants and insects, a paper in Global Change Biology reported that drought reduces the overall number of flowers produced by plants.  Consequently, as drought increases due to climate change, there will be less food for bees and other pollinators.

North America is divided into two distinct geographic regions, with the west being dry and the east moist.  Historically, these regions have been separated by the 100th meridian.  Now, two papers in the journal Earth Interactions have shown that the dividing line has shifted eastward about 140 miles, to near the 98th meridian.

A new five-year study that will be published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Agricultural Systems suggests that cattle can be raised, fed, and slaughtered in a way that reduces their greenhouse gas emissions to a tolerable level.  Weather volatility is going to disrupt the agriculture world in the coming decades, bringing more frequent droughts, flooding and storms, according to a report from BMI Research on agriculture megatrends.  “Enhanced rock weathering” may be another way that significant amounts of CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere.  The process would involve pulverizing silicate rocks, like basalt, and adding it to farmland to speed the ability of minerals to store carbon in soil.  However, since this has never been tried on large scale, considerable research is required to be sure that it works and that there are no negative effects.

Energy

The Environmental Defense Fund on Wednesday announced plans to build and launch a satellite that will measure major global sources of methane, including 50 oil-and-gas regions that make up about 80% of production, as well as feedlots and landfills.  Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC announced Wednesday that it plans an extension of the 303-mile natural gas pipeline currently under construction, connecting with the project’s end point in Pittsylvania County, VA, and heading another 70 miles south into North Carolina.

Renewable energy holds great promise for allowing living standards to be increased globally while simultaneously reducing greenhouse emissions.  Like all manufactured items, however, the components that generate renewable energy have finite lifetimes.  What will we do with them when the end of those lifetimes is reached?  Two articles this week explored that question.  One focused on solar panels while the other looked at solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines.

Under a new international agreement, global shipping must at least halve its CO2 emissions by 2050.  The agreement, reached by the International Maritime Organization on Friday, is an initial step for one of the world’s biggest polluting industries.  Over the next five years, negotiators will develop a package of measures to fulfill the target, delivering a final strategy in 2023.  Another industry with high CO2 emissions is cement production.  According to a new report from the Carbon Disclosure Project, those emissions must be reduced sharply if the world is to meet the climate change goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has announced two wind energy leasing areas totaling nearly 390,000 acres off the coast of Massachusetts, along with additional acreage off the coast of New York.  The world’s most powerful wind turbine, at 8.8 MW, has been installed at Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Center off the coast of North East Scotland.  The center is set to be a testbed for new offshore wind technologies.  Thomas Brostrom is president of Ørsted North America.  Ørsted, which is headquartered in Denmark, develops, constructs, and operates offshore wind farms.  In a guest column in The Virginian-Pilot on Sunday, Brostrom said “Virginia has the chance to leverage its port assets, high-quality workforce and favorable business climate to become a major hub for the [offshore wind energy] supply chain. However, this must be coupled with strong public policy signals from state and local leaders that this industry is valued.”

GTM Research has released a report that provides a global overview of the energy storage market.  The U.S. is expected to remain the world’s biggest market until 2022, with China its closest rival.  The renewable energy market, however, is another story.  Last year nearly half of the world’s new renewable energy investment came from China, whose investment rose 30% compared with 2016, and was more than three times that of the U.S.

LG Electronics has deployed its new NeON 2 solar panels at a large facility in North Carolina.  The panels use an innovative wiring system that increases light absorption, as well as bifacial capability, to achieve an output of 395 watts/panel.  (By comparison, my four-year-old panels achieve around 250 watts each.)

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/6/2018

Policy and Politics

A new report by Oil Change International and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis claims that the International Energy Agency has wrongly guided governments into decisions about the use of oil, gas, and coal that are inconsistent with the long-term climate objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The International Maritime Organization environment meeting in London is expected to set a concrete target for shipping emissions in the coming decades.  Because of the impacts that solar radiation management (SRM) activities are likely to have on developing nations, scientists from several of them have said that they need to “play a central role” in the conversation around SRM.  Because of a federal court ruling in August 2017 that found the EPA did not have the authority to regulate hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases, the California Air Resources Board adopted a regulation that prohibits their use.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced that the fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks are too stringent and must be revised downward.  (The New York Times had two good graphics comparing the U.S. standards to others around the world.)  The EPA also said it was considering whether to revoke the waiver that allows California to set its own, tougher emissions rules.  California officials promptly vowed to defend its standards in court, signaling that years of litigation and uncertainty could lie ahead, which is something auto manufacturing officials don’t want.  Behind the scenes, however, the administration and California were in quiet talks about a compromiseInside Climate News has a good history of the fuel economy standards as well as an analysis of the impacts of any reductions.  Interestingly, the phrase “climate change” does not appear in the 38-page document outlining EPA’s reasons for the change.  Similarly, National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge.  Fifteen attorneys general and the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday for not controlling methane emissions.  Pruitt’s ethics were in the news this week, with revelations about his housing and his hiring practices.  E&E News provided some background on “administratively determined” hires, which were at the center of the hiring issue.

Writing at The Atlantic, environmental journalist Michelle Nijhuis explored questions such as “When are kids ready—both intellectually and emotionally—to learn about an abstract, global problem that may affect their future in very tangible, often disturbing ways?”  The second part of Yale Climate Connection’s series on books about energy features those that consider how renewable energies will reshape America and the world.  One policy aimed at reducing CO2 emissions that has not received much attention is restricting the supply of fossil fuels.  Prompted by the writings of a pair of economists, David Roberts examined the pros and cons of this approach at Vox.  Recently, climate change protesters in Massachusetts were acquitted by using the necessity defense.  Writing in The New Yorker, Carolyn Kormann explored the history and application of that defense.

Climate

New research, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, used satellite data to analyze changes in the surface elevation of glaciers all around the Antarctic coastline.  It found that from 2010 to 2016, the continent lost about 560 square miles total of grounded ice.  Furthermore, nearly 11% of the glaciers around Antarctica are apparently retreating at a faster pace today than they were at the end of the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago.

Several papers addressed the different impacts that would be felt with 1.5°C and 2.0°C of warming.  Two published in Nature Climate Change found that, under 1.5°C of warming, Arctic waters could experience ice-free summers around 2.5% of the time, or one in every 40 years.  Under 2°C of warming, ice-free conditions could occur 19-34% of the time, or once every three to five years.  A new paper in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A reported on the economic impacts of both 1.5°C and 2°C of warming.  Compared to a scenario without any warming, by 2100, median per capita GDP would be 8% lower with 1.5°C and 13% lower with 2°C of warming.  Other papers in the same journal addressed other issues, such as rising seas and food stress.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, has found that although food sources like plankton, insects, and vegetation have been appearing earlier each year, seabird populations are not matching their breeding and nesting patterns to adapt to this change.

Pet food represents as much as 30% of all meat consumption in the U.S. and is a significant source of greenhouse gases.  Consequently, at least one company is developing pet food using fake-meat technology.

At least seven countries set March high-temperature records late last week.  As the world heats up, cities will experience some of the worst warming because of the heat island effect.  In a feature article in Science News, Aimee Cunningham explored the impacts of hotter cities and things that can be done to lessen their warming.

Energy

Internal company documents uncovered by a Dutch news organization show that Royal Dutch Shell had a deep understanding, dating at least to the 1980s, of the science and risks of global warming caused by fossil fuel emissions.  On Wednesday, Friends of the Earth Netherlands (FEN) warned Shell that if it did not revise plans to invest only 5% in sustainable energy and 95% in greenhouse-gas emitting oil and gas, FEN is prepared to bring suit to force it to do so.  This is just the latest lawsuit against the oil and gas industry.  On Wednesday, Inside Climate News provided a summary of actions to date in the U.S.

A Danish off-shore wind company that has proposed projects in Massachusetts and Virginia will be opening an office in Atlantic City with the goal of supplying enough energy for 1.5 million homes.  On the other side of the country, Redwood Coast Energy Authority is the lead agency organizing a floating wind farm project near Eureka, CA.  The plan is to have 10-15 turbines 20 miles off-shore producing 100-150 MW of power.

Investors worldwide plowed a record $161 billion into solar energy last year, representing more than half the investment in all renewables apart from large hydroelectric projects, according to a report jointly published by the UN and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Unfortunately, investment by developed countries in renewable energy has halved since 2011.

The world’s largest wind turbine maker Vestas is partnering with Sweden’s Northvolt to develop a lithium-ion battery for wind and solar power storage.

In some instances, the impediment to larger use of renewable energy has been the difficulty in building transmission lines from the places where the energy is generated to the places where it is needed.  SunZia submitted its application in March to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for approval of transmission line locations and right of way widths for lines that will take energy into Arizona and other locations in the southwest.

For some time, the conventional wisdom has been that natural gas will serve as a bridge fuel until renewable energy can be developed sufficiently to supply the bulk of our energy needs.  However, technological advances and declining costs of wind and solar PV are challenging that “wisdom,” putting proponents of natural gas on the defensive.

JinkoSolar has confirmed plans to invest $50 million in a factory in Florida to supply NextEra Energy Resources with up to 2.75 GW of solar modules over four years. It’s the first move by a Chinese PV company to invest in U.S. manufacturing in response to the Trump administration’s 30% tariff on imported solar products.

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