Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/15/2017

On Saturday, ministers and representatives of up to 30 major economies will convene in Montreal for the first climate talks since the U.S. announced its plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  In what some described as a changing of the climate guard, the meeting was co-convened by the EU, China, and Canada.  After the U.S. withdrew its financial support for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Canada and other nations increased their contributions to ensure funding.  Working Group 1 of the IPCC has revealed the chapter outline for the 6th Assessment Report, due in 2021-22.  In advance of the annual UN General Assembly meeting in NYC, President Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is planning to meet with top energy and climate officials from major foreign countries.  Another indicator of change is a new report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, which found that more than 1,200 global businesses are moving to embrace a carbon price as a way to analyze current business practices and prepare for the future when global carbon pricing is the norm.  Finally, Environmental Defense Fund attorney Ben Levitan discussed four facts about climate law and science that help counter the distortions from EPA administrator Pruitt.

Early this week, the news was again dominated by a hurricane, this time Irma.  I am providing a link to Carbon Brief’s summary of media reaction, rather than trying to cover the articles.  Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) came under criticism for not doing more to prepare his state for the consequences of climate change.  Alexander Burns of The New York Times wrote that some in Congress think the conversation on climate change is shifting in the wake of Harvey and Irma, in spite of Scott Pruitt’s comments that talking about climate change now would be “very, very insensitive.”  In Bloomberg Politics Jennifer Dlouhy wrote “Research shows monster storms may only harden people’s position, underscoring already entrenched beliefs about the role humans play in warming the planet,” and in The Washington Post, researchers Llewelyn Hughes and David Konisky said “Our research shows that people who experience severe weather are only modestly more likely to support the types of efforts we need to build resilience to climate change.”  Perhaps this is due in part by the way the press has handled climate change and its impacts.  Indeed, Peter Dykstra commented on the total lack of the “C-word” during the otherwise excellent TV coverage of Harvey and Irma.  Meanwhile, in an interesting article at Nieman Reports, Michael Blanding wrote about how some “news outlets are bringing innovation, urgency and new audiences to stories on climate change.”

Climate

Last week I provided links to articles about how climate change is impacting hurricanes.  This week, Chris Mooney of The Washington Post considered some less-discussed hurricane attributes that could plausibly change in a warming world: season length, regions of formation and intensification, intensification rate, and storm size.  Also, Chelsea Harvey considered the impacts of declining coral reefs on the damage caused by wave action against the shore line.

A new paper, published in Nature, reported that two-thirds of the glacial ice in Asia’s high mountains could vanish by 2100 if we continue to emit CO2 at current rates.  Those glaciers provide water to at least 800 million people living in Asia.  On the other hand, if steps are taken to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial times, only one-third of the glacial ice will be lost.  Another paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), asserts that the loss of mountain ice creates a host of problems for the people who live downstream.  Meanwhile, in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, the largest concentration of glaciers in the American Rocky Mountains is melting.  Unfortunately, the Wind River glaciers remain some of the least understood ice sheets in North America.

Writing in Eos, the magazine of the American Geophysical Union, a group of scientists argued that ocean heat content and sea level rise are much better indicators of global warming than average surface air temperature, primarily because they are much less subject to natural variability.  And speaking of “natural”, climate scientists Katherine Hayhoe explained in a new video why natural cycles can’t explain current warming.

There have been many studies on the impact of rising CO2 levels on plant yields, i.e., the amount of grain produced per acre, but there have been few on how rising CO2 impacts the nutritional quality of the plants.  Politico senior food and agriculture reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich wrote an interesting article about this question and the quest of a mathematician to study it.  Although the answer to the question is uncertain, it is now beginning to receive more attention.  Meanwhile, a new paper in PNAS, by authors associated with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, reports that some plants appear to become more efficient at using water as atmospheric levels of CO2 increase.

Another new paper in PNAS by authors associated with Scripps Institution of Oceanography has asserted that there is a 5% chance that the impacts of climate change within the 30 years will be catastrophic, meaning that most people would have trouble adapting.  In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, the senior author stated that few people would get on an airplane if they thought there was a 5% chance it would crash.

The costs of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017, taking wildfire suppression from 15% to 55% of the Forest Service budget.

After running for a decade beyond its planned life, the satellite-based Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), which has helped scientists track the melting of ice around Earth, is nearly out of fuel and will soon make its final science run, NASA announced late Thursday.  In a rather long article in The New York Times Magazine, Jon Gertner explored the various satellites employed by NASA and NOAA to keep track of what is happening with our weather and climate, while also examining the potential impacts of federal budget cuts on the programs dependent on those satellites.

Energy

Carbon Tracker Initiative has issued a new report that found that energy consumers in the US could be paying an extra $10bn a year by 2021 to prop up ageing coal-fired power plants.  Interestingly, Dominion Energy is listed as facing the highest percent of potentially stranded assets of any U.S. electric utility.  Meanwhile, in the UK, off-shore wind won contracts at record-lows of $76 per MWh, making them among the cheapest new sources of electricity generation there, joining onshore wind and solar, with all three cheaper than new gas-fired power plants.  Note, that’s a 50% decline since a similar auction two years ago.

In a new report released Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Agency projected that worldwide emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels would grow 16% by the year 2040 from the levels of 2015.  The report shows coal on a 20-year-long plateau, natural gas plentiful and growing, wind and solar growing rapidly in percentage terms but not fast enough to bring emissions down in absolute terms, and petroleum holding its own as the main source of energy for transportation, despite the arrival of electric vehicles.

Two lawsuits, one filed in Virginia and the other in the District of Columbia, are challenging FERC’s eminent domain authority under the Natural Gas Act.  They, along with other potential lawsuits in other jurisdictions, address the question of what constitutes a public necessity.  The outcomes may have impacts far beyond the natural gas pipelines involved.  North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has delayed until mid-December its decision on whether to permit the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection has rescinded its water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  And on the subject of pipelines, the Minnesota Department of Commerce recommended this week that a major tar sands oil pipeline should not be expanded and that the old, existing line should be shut down because the state’s refineries don’t need additional crude oil.  Minnesota was just one of several states closely examining new pipelines.

In its 2011 SunShot Initiative, the Obama administration set the goal of reducing the cost of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems by 75% by 2020.  The Trump administration recently announced that the goal has been met.  While the rest of the solar industry is doing well, GTM Research has forecast that residential solar PV will experience its first down year ever in 2017, shrinking by 3% compared to 2016.  There are several reasons for this, as explained by Julia Pyper.

GE Renewable Energy unveiled its largest onshore wind turbine this week, a 4.8 MW turbine that can generate enough electricity at low to medium wind speeds for the equivalent of 5,000 homes.

In New York City, Daimler AG unveiled its new Fuso eCanter, an electric light-duty truck produced under the Mitsubishi Fuso brand.  Daimler is supplying a fleet to several New York City non-profits and United Parcel Service Inc. has signed on as the first commercial customer in the U.S.  At the Frankfurt auto show, Volkswagen AG announced that it plans to build electric versions of all 300 models in the 12-brand group’s lineup by 2030.  Also at the show, Mercedes Benz announced that it would begin selling the GLC F-Cell in the U.S. by late 2019.  The car is a plug-in hybrid, except that instead of an internal combustion engine it has a hydrogen-powered fuel cell for hybrid operation.

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 9/8/2017

Once again, hurricanes were the major news items this week, with three hurricanes simultaneously in the Atlantic for the first time in seven years.  Irma was moving through the Caribbean and heading toward Florida as I wrapped up this week’s Roundup.  Ironically, its formation and strength may have been associated with the failure of El Niño to form in the Pacific.  Many are concerned that multiple large hurricanes represent the new normal.  Writing at Inside Climate News, Sabrina Shankman addressed six questions about Irma, Harvey, and climate change, including whether the U.S. had experienced a hurricane “drought”.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post examined the question of the “drought” in more detail while Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic explained the difficulties of hurricane forecasting.  Nothing seems to have swayed climate change deniers, who remained steadfast in their denial.  Climate scientist Michael Mann and colleagues wrote an opinion piece in the Post calling for sensible policies to protect citizens in the face of climate change and two Stanford scientists published an opinion piece in The New York Times outlining the lessons we should learn from HarveyAxios presented an interesting graphic summarizing all of the Atlantic hurricanes over the past 30 years.  It helps put things in perspective.  Finally, writing at the World Resources Institute, Christina Chan and James DeWeese discussed how Houston can rebuild with resilience.  Such ideas may prove important for many cities.

As hurricanes continued to dominate the news, it is interesting to note that a paper in the journal Climatic Change estimated the fraction of the current rises in global average temperature and sea level that can be attributed to the CO2 and methane emissions from the 90 major fossil fuel and cement producing companies.  In an accompanying commentary, Henry Shue, Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Relations, and Senior Research Fellow Emeritus at Merton College, Oxford, concludes that “The time has come for the major carbon producers to face the reality of the unsafe products they persist in marketing and the safer world they could help to create.  Otherwise, they risk turning themselves into enemies of humanity.”  Two of the authors of the paper wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian calling for the fossil fuel industry to pay for the impacts of storms like Harvey.  If hurricanes exacerbate your climate anxiety, then you should read Eve Andrews article in Grist about how to manage it.

If you can stand to read it, the article by Washington Post investigative reporter Robert O’Harrow, Jr. will tell you a lot about the people who worked to get the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord.  Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16 to 14 to restore funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change in the State Department appropriations bill.  The House’s version of the State funding bill does not fund the U.N. climate agency, so the two will have to negotiate regarding the final outcome.  President Trump has nominated three-term Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to oversee NASA, a job that often goes to astronauts or scientists.  He faces a contentious Senate confirmation over his past comments dismissive of climate change as a man-made problem.  If you would like some positive political news, then read this article about the respectful approach taken by Citizens’ Climate Lobby in its work on behalf of a carbon fee and dividend as a solution to climate change.

Climate

If you have a child (or grandchild) in school who is beginning to learn about climate and climate change, then you might look at this article about teachers and the challenges they face teaching about it.  The article mentions some really good resources that you might pass on.

The libertarian Niskanen Center filed an amicus brief in the 9th Circuit Court case Juliana vs United States, or the “Children’s Climate Case.”  The brief supports the lower court’s finding under the public trust doctrine and argues that the government’s responsibility extends to climate change.

A new paper published in the journal Science Advances reported on the fate of parasites in a warming world.  The study found that many parasites could face extinction, which sounds like a good thing, except that the loss of parasites could destabilize many of the world’s ecosystems.  On the subject of ecosystems, a study carried out by experts from the British Antarctic Survey found that as the Antarctic seafloor warms over the next century, four out of five marine species living there are predicted to decline in numbers.

While California has experienced its hottest summer on record, at least 81 large fires were blazing across 1.5 million acres of the U.S. West, from Colorado to California and north to Washington.  Meanwhile, across the Canadian border, British Columbia has already had a record-breaking fire season.  This raises the question of whether climate change is making the wildfire season longer and more intense through increased drought.  Certainly, this year’s flash drought is having a big impact on agriculture across Montana and North Dakota.

Previously, I have provided articles about a link between climate change and the Syrian civil war.  The evidence for such a link came from a 2015 paper that suggested that a severe drought beginning in 2006 acted as a catalyst for the conflict by sparking vast waves of migration, and that climate change made such droughts in the region more than twice as likely.  Now, a new paper in Political Geography disputes that link, finding that there is “no clear evidence” that human-driven climate change contributed to the 2006 drought.

Initial figures suggest that Greenland may have gained a small amount of ice over the 2016-17 year.  If confirmed, this would mark a one-year blip in the long-term trend of year-on-year declines over recent decades.

Energy

Jaguar Land Rover announced that all new cars produced from 2020 will have only hybrid and electric drive trains.  The article also contains a section on the state of electric cars.  Nissan has introduced a new version of the all-electric Leaf.  It is rated for 248 miles in Japan, 235 miles in Europe, but only 150 miles in the US, due to different range tests for electric vehicles in different countries.  And next month Tesla plans to unveil an electric big-rig truck with a working range of 200 to 300 miles, Reuters has learned.  Meanwhile, Scotland announced plans to end the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2032 and fast-track the development of a country-wide charging network for electric vehicles.

A 4.5GW solar-thermal project planned in the Tunisian desert would send electricity to Malta, Italy, and France using submarine cables in the largest energy export project since the abandoned Desertec initiative.

A new poll by researchers at the University of Michigan found strong support among Americans for net metering policies for homeowners with solar panels or wind turbines.  For those without solar panels, Dominion Energy Virginia will offer the opportunity to buy solar-generated electricity from community-based solar facilities.  The company has also identified two sites, a long-closed coal mine in Wise County and a 4,100-acre site in Tazewell County, for possible pumped hydroelectric storage facilities and has paused development of a fifth reactor at its North Anna nuclear power plant.

Fully 80% of energy company respondents to a survey indicated that they are currently implementing or considering energy storage to defer grid investments.  When people think about energy storage, they typically think about batteries and indeed, a record number of such systems was installed in the second quarter of this year.  However, under certain applications thermal energy storage makes more sense than batteries, even though it is less well known.  Writing for Greentech Media, Julian Spector provided an interesting tutorial on the technology.  One method not covered in Spector’s article is storing excess energy as heat in silicon, but it is discussed in this article.  Another type of energy storage is conversion of excess electricity to hydrogen, which is covered here.

Air conditioning is expected to use a greater amount of energy as the world warms and more people use it.  Thus, it is heartening to note that Stanford engineers have come up with a simple, passive radiative system to improve air conditioning efficiencyThis short article gives a more complete picture of its construction.

Early next year, a tanker owned by Maersk and a passenger ship owned by Viking Line will be outfitted with rotor sails developed by Norsepower Oy Ltd., based on an idea of German engineer Anton Flettner in the early 20th century.  If all goes as expected, the sails will reduce fuel consumption by around 10%.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/1/2017

I’d like to give a big thank you to Erik Bahnson, Bishop Dansby, Dave Pruett, and Doug Hendren, each of whom prepared a Roundup while Joni and I were in New York and Canada.  It was really nice to turn off climate news for four weeks and just enjoy ourselves.  We particularly enjoyed Tadoussac, Quebec, where we saw Beluga, Minke, Fin, and Blue whales.  I’d also like to give a shout out to our Toyota Prius, which averaged over 60 mpg during the trip.

Of course, the big news this week was hurricane Harvey and its impact on the Texas Gulf Coast.  I’m sure you are fully aware of Harvey, so I won’t link to the numerous news articles about it.  Rather, I’ll provide a few articles about the impacts of climate change on Harvey.  Carbon Brief summarized media reaction to possible links between Harvey and climate change, Climate Signals had a good summary of the climate impacts on Harvey, The Washington Post looked at the debate over the effect of climate change on hurricanes, and David Leonhardt of The New York Times presented a thoughtful Op-Ed piece entitled, “Harvey, the Storm That Humans Helped Cause.”  At Vox, David Roberts reported nine things you can say about Harvey and climate change.  One good that could come from Harvey is that politicians and planners will give more attention to where and how people build.  Bloomberg had a couple of good articles on the subject, one looking at building codes and the other about the National Flood Insurance Program.  Amazingly, on Tuesday the EPA rejected a contention by scientists that the historic rainfall from Harvey was linked to climate change, calling it “an attempt to politicize an ongoing tragedy.”  As to the question of just who is politicizing climate change, I suggest you read this item.  Finally, we should bear in mind that the U.S. Gulf Coast isn’t the only area experiencing devastating flooding.

Climate

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to eliminate the positions of the special envoys for climate change and the Arctic.  Their duties will be shifted to other programs within the State Department.

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists has found that chronic inundation (defined as flooding events that cover at least 10% of the community and happen at least twice a month) will occur in about a dozen North Carolina towns and cities within the next 20 years.  If you would like to read a longer article about the report, go here.

The water level in the Caspian Sea has dropped 5 feet since 1996.  Now, a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters has reported that the drop was caused by increased evaporation rates associated with warmer air temperatures.

Yale Climate Connections provided a review of Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel.

A new study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, suggests that rising temperatures at the Antarctic sea-floor will have a much greater impact on biodiversity than thought previously.  Certain species responded much more to increased temperature than others, causing them to dominate, thereby decreasing biodiversity.

I will admit that I had never thought about climate change causing landslides, but that is what is happening in Switzerland.  Once one has been exposed to the idea, it is entirely logical.  It turns out that many of the steep mountain faces that are iconic of Switzerland have been stabilized by permafrost, which is now melting as the climate warms.

The southern pine beetle kills pitch, red, and jack pine trees by laying its eggs under the bark, in much the same way that the mountain pine beetle killed trees in the Rocky Mountains.  The northern limit of the southern pine beetle is where tree bark temperatures drop to 14°F.  Now, as temperatures increase due global warming, the latitude at which that occurs is moving northward, and so are the beetles, according to a new paper in Nature Climate Change.

Energy

Writing at Yale Environment 360, Jacques Leslie analyzed the changing relationship between electric utilities and the solar industry.  He found that it is more complex than typically portrayed in the typical us vs. them scenario.

Southern Co. and other utilities building the Vogtle nuclear expansion project in Georgia are prepared to finish the reactors, but laid out a set of assurances that must be met in a filing with state utility regulators on Thursday.  If the Georgia Public Service Commission approves the project, Plant Vogtle will be the only set of nuclear reactors under construction in the United States, since Duke Energy just cancelled plans to build reactors in Florida and South Carolina.  Duke Energy also said it won’t help restart construction on the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina.  Desmog examined why construction of the Vogtle plant ran into difficulties.

China Civil Engineering Corp. will build a $5.8 billion hydro-power station in Nigeria’s eastern Mambila region with a capacity to generate 3,050 MW.  The project requires the construction of four dams and includes 435 miles of transmission lines.

While I was away, DOE released the results of its grid study.  PV Magazine interviewed Mark Dyson, a manager at Rocky Mountain Institute’s electricity practice, about the content of the report and the disconnect between the recommendations and the evidence presented.  Also, Dr. Susan Tierney expressed her opinion of the report.

One Houston-area facility which appears to have survived Harvey intact is Net Power’s $140 million, 50-MW natural gas power plant, which will capture effectively all of the CO2 it produces, without significantly higher costs.  The plant is expected to be fired up for the first time later this year, and if all works as planned, it could be a real game-changer for carbon capture technology.

Over the past several years, the International Energy Agency and similar organizations have consistently underestimated the growth in solar energy globally.  A new paper in the journal Nature Energy examined why that has occurred and the lead author of the paper prepared a commentary on it.

The latest issue of the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s Electric Power Monthly revealed that renewable energy sources and nuclear power each are providing roughly 20% of the U.S. electricity supply.  However, coal again supplied the greatest amount of electricity, displacing gas.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/25/2017

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

CLIMATE:

Climate change sets the world on fire. Canada has had the worst wildfire season in its history. Europe has seen 3 times the average number of fires this summer. Even Greenland is burning. Longer, hotter seasons from climate change are an important ingredient. In the American west, there is no longer a “fire season” – now it’s year ’round. And in related news, A Russian tanker has traversed the Arctic for the first time without an ice-breaker. Its cargo? Liquefied natural gas.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas late Friday with “catastrophic flooding” predicted as it moves northeast toward Houston over the next few days. Over 200,000 are currently without power. Governor Abbott has advised Houston residents to “strongly consider” evacuation. Hurricanes are fueled by ocean heat, and sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are 1.5 to 4 degrees C above average. More heat also significantly increases the rainfall in hurricanes.

EXXON KNEW all along, concludes a peer-reviewed Harvard study, demonstrating a “quantifiable discrepancy” between Exxon’s internal communications and what they told shareholders and the public. This analysis of Exxon’s own materials should bolster the NY and MA Attorneys General case against Exxon-Mobil. Unsurprisingly, Exxon has already attacked the study and its authors.

US CO2 emissions have fallen 14% since 2005, about 2/3 of which is from coal’s declining share of electricity generation (55% to 33%). Most of coal’s share has gone to gas, and whether gas is actually better or worse than coal from a climate standpoint is not clear. However, wind (19%), solar (3%) and efficiency gains (18%) have also contributed to reducing emissions.

How to win the climate wars – talk about local pollution, not global warming. “Pollution” is tangible, not politicized, and something everybody cares about.  Amory Lovins captures this beautifully in his interview by Tom Friedman at last week’sRMI Energy Innovation Summit (from 4:20 to 6:00 in the video): “Talk to people where they’re at…Some care about profits, jobs, competitive advantage… some about climate, creation care, stronger families, communities, national security. It doesn’t matter. Focus on what we can agree ought to be done, for whatever reason. And don’t argue about the reasons.” The entire 45-minute interview is loaded with optimism and inspiring stories. Strongly recommended, and a breath of fresh air!

ENERGY: 

Nearly 70% of the world’s countries, including China, US and UK could be powered entirely by renewables by 2050. Stanford researchers point out this will prevent millions of premature deaths, create 24 million long-term jobs and $20 trillion in saved health and climate costs.

New Battle Cry: 100 Per Cent! Bill McKibben notes that environmentalists have been “better at opposing than proposing”, and urges the Climate Movement to rally around the call for 100% renewable energy. Orlando, FL has joined the cause, now the 40th US city to commit to a 100% clean energy future. Even 72% of Republicans, McKibben notes, want more clean energy.

Nuclear power plants are ‘bleeding cash’, writes Joe Romm. “Let it be written that environmentalists did not kill the nuclear power industry. Economics did.” After the abandonment of one of the last remaining nuclear plant projects in the US, 80% of South Carolina voters think the state should trade nuclear for solar. They are not alone in this view. Solar panel capacity (not generation yet) is about to overtake nuclear energy capacity worldwide. Coal is likewise in rapid decline worldwide, including AustraliaIndia and China, being replaced mainly with renewables. Sixteen percent of US coal plants have retired since 2012, and it looks doubtful that the US will ever build another big coal plant.

Despite coal’s and nuclear energy’s failing economics, last week’s highly anticipated DOE Report recommends policies (read ‘subsidies’) to boost these dying industries. Contradicting Trump’s claims, the report does acknowledge that the coal industry dying from market factors (displaced so far mainly by cheaper gas, wind and efficiency gains).

Renewables are good for the grid. Though some predicted trouble, the US power grid passed Monday’s solar eclipse testwithout a hitch. Joe Romm opines that Energy Secretary Rick Perry may have “stumbled upon the solution to going 100% renewable“: Far from Perry’s claim that renewables jeopardize the US grid, the DOE report finds that renewables do not destabilize the grid, but do help stabilize electricity prices for American consumers. Further, plug-in electric vehicles can provide greater grid flexibility by balancing demand and generation.

ON THE POLICY FRONT:

Cap-and-Trade growing: Northeast strengthens carbon goals as Federal rules fade. The nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have resolved to step up their cap-and-trade program, now on pace to greatly exceed Obama administration targets. The RGGI states represent the 6th largest economy in the world, and five of the nine states are run by Republicans. As Gov. Terry McAuliffe positions VA for more aggressive climate policy, the possibility of VA joining the RGGIis once again on the table. On the West Coast, meanwhile, the California state GOP is divided over whether to stick with current cap-and-trade or tack right to align with the Trump camp.

Solar Tariffs? A case brought by two US solar panel manufacturers is now before the US international Trade Commission. A decision about whether to impose tariffs on solar panel imports would ultimately fall to President Trump. An import tariff would double the price of solar panels, putting half of the US market and 88,000 US solar jobs at risk. It would have major economic impact in Georgia, and also North Carolina, where Republicans are rallying to protect the state’s solar industry,

 Pipeline issues are getting hot:  The Rover pipeline (714 miles from Michigan to WV) is in the news for multiple water quality violations in West Virginia. It comes at a time when public pressure is mounting on Virginia’s DEQ to slow down pipeline water approvals, including from state Senators Hanger and Deeds, and Delegates Bell and Rasoul.  Gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam was booed in Fairfax County for suggesting that the ACP and MVP could move forward pending approvals from DEQ, FERC and COE.

Putting FERC on notice?  A federal appellate court rejected approval of a gas pipeline on Tuesday, saying FERC must give an estimate of greenhouse gas emissions that would result from burning the gas delivered by proposed pipeline projects to Florida. The Tuesday ruling sets a legal precedent that could affect the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

PEOPLE’S PIPELINE PROTEST, September 12, 13, 14. CCAN is organizing statewide protests at DEQ office throughout Virginia.

Trump disbanded federal climate advisory panel. These are the folks who recently leaked their major climate change report. A wise move, it appears. Mr. Trump continues to try to deal with climate by not talking about it: Another US agency deletes references to climate change.

Just for fun: If you’ve gotten this far, relax for a minute and turn up the volume. My latest 2 musical pieces: THE SUNSHINE STATE tells how Floridians reined in their utility, which sounds a lot like Dominion. And THE ANTHROPOCENE, a friendly reminder about where we are.

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/18/2017

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

Climate

“Too much love?” Glacier National Park has seen a tremendous uptick in annual number of visitors. Last year more than one million tourists visited the remote park, an increase of 23 percent over the previous year.  Some surmise that the increase is due to a desire to see firsthand the effects of climate change. Campground hosts report: “People tell us that they want to see the glaciers before they are gone.” I confess, our family will visit Glacier NP in September for that reason among others.

South Florida is among the most vulnerable US localities to rising sea levels, with 2.5 million people at risk to hurricane storm surges of four feet or less. With sea levels expected to rise at least another 10 inches by 2050, Miami estimates that it will need to raise $900 million to upgrade flood protection and drainage systems with the next few decades. In November, the city will ask voters to approve a bond for $400 million to begin the massive effort.

Some good news.  US carbon emissions are down 14 percent since their peak in 2005.  The reasons are manifold and the subject of new analysis by Carbon Brief. The economic crisis of 2008, the rise of wind energy, and the switch from coal to gas for power generation were all major factors. But gas is no panacea: see Energy below.

Economics

India’s government estimates that climate change is costing the country $10 billion annually, primarily through the destructive effects of extreme weather events.

By 2050, aviation emissions are projected to consume one-quarter of the world’s remaining carbon budget. (Indeed I read recently, but can’t put a finger on the source, that one cross-country flight undoes the good of 20 years of recycling.) The good news is that 60 nations have committed to an agreement by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that puts a price on aviation carbon.

Speaking of sustainable aviation, Dutch Airports are to be powered by renewable energy beginning in 2018.

On August 11, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released its latest report: Reversing Inequality, which can be downloaded for free in its 74-page entirety. If you don’t know, IPS, founded in 1963, is Washington’s first progressive, multi-issue think tank. The subtitle of this enlightened report is Unleashing the Transformative Potential of an Equitable Economy. Chapter VI, Game-Changing Campaigns, advocates forcefully for “Taxing Excessive Carbon Pollution and Investing in Green Infrastructure and a Just Transition to Renewables.”

Health

Renewables aren’t just good for planetary health, they’re good for human health as well. According to a recent study published in Nature Energy, US wind and solar energy may have helped prevent 12,700 premature deaths in the past nine years, primarily through improved air quality.

Policy

“As the United States reverses its climate policies, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter is in the midst of setting up a national carbon-trading system. Chinese officials are preparing to launch an emissions market later this year that will cover roughly a quarter of the country’s industrial CO2. Officials and nonprofit groups from the European Union, Australia and California have been advising the Chinese on their program design.”

If California were a country, it would have the sixth largest economy in the world. With the Trump Administration rolling back on climate science and policy, California has decided to take matters into its own hands.  On August 16, the leading scientific journal Nature reported on a collaborative initiative by California’s flagship universities to establish a massive institute to research the impacts of climate change and to recommend practical climate solutions for the state—and the world.

Energy

Americans eagerly await the lower-48’s first total solar eclipse since 1979. However, with solar power installations going like gangbusters, the eclipse has the potential to disrupt 9 gigawatts of electrical power generation. While no major power outages or problems are anticipated, the eclipse does provide opportunity to glean experience in managing the grid during disruptions, anticipated and otherwise.

This week’s (Aug. 21) Time features an article titled “A small-scale power solution could pay big dividends across the US.” So-called “microgrids” offer communities the technology to generate (typically via solar arrays), store, and use their own energy, independent of the main grid. The concept is particularly attractive in rural areas because it doesn’t require new main-grid infrastructure.  And in an age of blackouts and cyberattacks, independent microgrids offer energy resiliency. The U.S. military is particularly interested in microgrids as an alternative to diesel backup technology.

On Monday, August 14, a federal judge blocked a proposed 176-million-ton expansion of a coal mine in central Montana.  The ruling “criticized U.S. officials for downplaying the climate change impacts of the project and inflating its economic benefits.” Sound familiar?

Natural gas is often touted as a “clean fuel” and/or as a “bridge fuel.” Not so fast says a Dutch watchdog agency, which is censuring Shell and Exxon for their misleading claims that natural gas is the “cleanest fossil fuel.” Methane (natural gas), far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, is superior to coal for power generation only if leak rates are less than three percent. A recent study in the US found that gas plants leaked at levels up to 120 times higher than reported to US regulators.

Last April, a Trump Administration executive order reversed the previous administration’s moratorium on off-shore drilling along the Atlantic Coast. Now North Carolina coastal residents are gearing up for a fight similar to that Virginia residents are mounting to oppose natural gas pipelines. Although just over 20 percent of North Carolina’s residents live near the coast, seven in ten are concerned about potential negative effects of proposed off-shore drilling. “Tourism, commercial fishing, and recreational fishing are just so important to our economy,” said Tom Kies, president of the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce in Morehead City. The first of three hastily-called public hearings in one week was hosted in Wilmington on August 7 by NC governor Roy Cooper.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/11/2017

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

Politics

Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S.

It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.

The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/climate/climate-change-drastic-warming-trump.html

Under Trump, Coal Mining Gets New Life on U.S. Lands.

A business-friendly secretary of the interior has moved to invigorate a struggling industry, reversing Obama-era restrictions to help create “wealth and jobs.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/06/us/politics/under-trump-coal-mining-gets-new-life-on-us-lands.html

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal calls for zeroing out funding for Energy Star.

https://www.google.com/amp/amp.usatoday.com/story/102192146/

The Ongoing Battle Between Science Teachers And Fake News

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/07/28/537907951/the-ongoing-battle-between-science-teachers-and-fake-newsv

Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/7/7/15927250/utilities-rooftop-solar-batteries

Climate Science

Carbon farming creates healthy soils to help reverse climate change.

Farming practices that reduce emissions and sequester carbon are usually good farming practice in general. Farming is destined to play a major role in addressing climate change.

https://purestrategies.com/news/2017-07-05-carbon-farming-creates-healthy-soils-to-help-reverse-climate-change

Only 5% chance of staying below 2 degrees C

A new study published in Nature Climate Change concludes that there’s only a 5 percent chance that the world can hold limiting below 2 degrees Celsius and a mere 1 percent chance that it can be limited below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/07/31/we-only-have-a-5-percent-chance-of-avoiding-dangerous-global-warming-a-study-finds/?utm_term=.e5faf9c25a46

Golden rule for cutting emissions

In this 3 minute video Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre makes the case for a Global Carbon Law. He suggests a global carbon budget consistent with the Paris Agreement can be met if (1) global emissions peak no later than 2020, and (2) Greenhouse gas emissions half every decade. This halving of emissions is, he suggests, applicable at all scales from the global to the individual.

https://youtu.be/UZ5nKGHMWC0

Animation visualizes century of warming in 35 seconds.

http://e360.yale.edu/digest/new-video-visualizes-a-century-of-global-warming-in-just-35-seconds

Global ocean circulation appears to be collapsing due to a warming planet.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/08/03/global-ocean-circulation-appears-to-be-collapsing-due-to-a-warming-planet/#dedd7acf6f40

From the Daily News Record

Even the conservative local paper must publish news on climate change: “2016 Weather Report: Anything But Normal”

dailynewsrecord.va.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=2a2c2df36

Technology

 Toyota in “production engineering” for a solid state battery, WSJ says.

Reports suggest the new battery will debut in Japan in a model 2022 car with an all-new platform. Since Toyota had been pursuing hydrogen fuel cells as its technology of choice for electric vehicles, this announcement suggests that Toyota is convinced this new battery technology meets customer requirements.

https://arstechnica.com/cars/2017/07/toyota-wants-to-commercialize-solid-state-ev-batteries-by-2022-reports-say/

The super-capacitor electric bus is adopted in China.

Both batteries and capacitors have potential to provide energy for vehicles. Capacitors charge very fast and do not degrade with use, but tend to have far less energy storage capacity than batteries. So-called super-capacitors have the potential to replace batteries in electric vehicles.

https://www.supercaptech.com/the-supercapacitor-electric-bus-is-adopted-in-china

The power grid of the future will require sunny skies above and energy storage below. Thanks to Tesla, Kauai has both.

If Tesla can help keep Kauai solar-powered around the clock with its batteries, then it can apply what it has learned elsewhere in the country, and around the world.

http://grist.org/climate-energy/welcome-to-paradise-batteries-now-included/

The respected Economist Magazine predicts the death of the internal combustion engine.

https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21726071-it-had-good-run-end-sight-machine-changed-world-death?zid=291

or

https://www.acast.com/theeconomisteditorspicks/thedeathoftheinternalcombustionengine

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/4/2017

This week’s Roundup was prepared by Erik Bahnson. (email: ebahnson [at] outlook.com)

On Earth

Humidity-bringing monsoons have long brought taxing weather to residents of South Asia, but what effect could runaway climate change bring to the region? New research indicates that, should the global community fail to make good on their emissions-reduction targets, fully three-quarters of the Indian subcontinent’s population will be exposed to degrees of heat and humidity deemed extremely dangerous by the US National Weather service toward the end of this century; some areas will even witness balmy climbs radical enough to kill healthy persons within 6 hours. Concerningly, the 75% figure would only be reduced to 55% if the Paris Agreement is upheld. Anticipating deadly temperatures in its own backyard, the Houston Chronicle recently published an interactive map that allows users to find how many days of temperatures higher than 95°F each Texan county can expect over a given time period under moderate-emissions and high-emissions global warming scenarios.

Communities of pikas – small mammals related to rabbits – have proven adept at identifying terrain features, like cool moss, that improve their adaptability to changing climates. However, recent research has revealed that some pika groups altogether fail to display such skill, resulting in region-specific population drops that carry intriguing implications for efforts to model species loss. Elsewhere in the biosphere, it’s recently been confirmed that abnormally warm Pacific Ocean surface waters near America’s west coast have driven out critical forage fish species, resulting in fatal malnutrition for thousands of the area’s sea lions. The oceanic “Blob”, as it’s called, has even seen greater numbers of humpback whales ensnared in fishing equipment, as anchovies (attractive prey to the whales) are forced to move closer to the coastline.

A breed of methane-munching microbes hard at work within Antarctic reservoirs may be nipping several melt-exposed gas leaks in the bud. Nevertheless, an article in The Washington Post this week communicated the findings of what may be the most dire climate model studies yet: one suggests it may be necessary to shift the bar for “preindustrial” global temperatures even further back in time, which would place us further along the path of warming than we realized; the second reveals there is a sobering probability (scenarios providing 13% and 32% are mentioned) that ceasing global greenhouse gas emissions immediately may already commit the planet to warming beyond 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures; and a third, weighing factors such as global population, national GDPs, and “the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity”, gives humanity a brutal 5% chance of holding planetary warming to 2°C. Thankfully, experts do believe that last piece could be unduly pessimistic, as it’s based entirely on historical trends and could easily fail to anticipate future legislation. For a briefing on our emergent climate reality, this report is by far the most essential of the week.

Government

US EPA chief Scott Pruitt has rescinded his pledge to delay compliance enforcement for nationwide ground-level ozone standards one day after 11 states filed suit against his initial intentions. The 2015 standards are to be fulfilled on a state-by-state basis; barring further interference, states have until 1 Oct to meet them. Before an audience of over 130 lawmakers, Hollywood icon and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed a potentially game-changing joint effort of USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute and the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators at the latter group’s Boston conference on Friday: it’s a Web-hosted “digital legislative handbook” aimed at providing state and local governments with an arsenal of tools for crafting and passing pertinent environmental initiatives. The site includes the legal language, voting histories, and fiscal impact findings of successful bills that have passed across the nation.

Estonia’s peat bogs have a long history of heating homes and fertilizing garden industries as lucrative as Holland’s flower market, but their steady clearings have transformed vast tracts of land from a valuable carbon sink into a net greenhouse gas emitter more potent than the country’s entire domestic transportation sector. That’s why the Estonian government has begun pursuing the restoration of fallow bogs, and – with an $8 million grant from the European Union – it’s enlisted the nation’s best environmental scientists to figure out how best to do so. Dubbed the “LIFE Mires” project, its procedures will be mirrored in countries throughout the continent should they prove successful. Further west, German government negotiations with embattled car giants BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen resulted in the big three promising to pay for emissions-cutting software upgrades in over 5 million European diesel cars and to incentivise trade-ins of ageing ones. The deal couldn’t have gone better for the auto companies, since it lacks both concrete targets and the far deeper diesel pollution controls desired by Germany’s more environmentally-minded officials.

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, working alongside Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability, recently stress-tested the city’s food supply networks under hypothetical disaster scenarios (both natural and inflicted) to provide Baltimore with concrete ideas for improving its crisis response and cities everywhere with important lessons in food resiliency. The Center’s report recommended “redesigning public transport to facilitate access to food, developing community food storage plans and supporting local farmers to be ready for emergencies.” Elsewhere, a study by San Francisco think-tank Next 10 found that California’s climate change initiatives have directly contributed more than 41,000 jobs and $9 billion in economic activity to the state’s Inland Empire region alone between 2010 and 2016. Indirect effects reel in an additional 73,000 jobs and $14.2 billion for the Inland economy; the study’s critics point out, though, that such rosy figures hide the rising costs that low-income residents may soon face if revenues fail to trickle their way.

Business

After nearly a decade of bitter contention, TransCanada’s infamous Keystone XL pipeline project might ultimately be done in by market forces. Not only has the price of oil more than halved, thereby stunting the expansionary prospects of the Canadian tar sands which provided the pipeline’s purpose, but the appearance of competing pipelines has put Keystone XL’s potential customer base into question. While TransCanada searches for new supplier interest, Nebraska regulators will undergo new public hearings; both forums will be central to the pipeline’s fate. And amid government officials’ ostensible desire to expand coal mining jobs, 2017 has already seen more occupational deaths of American coal miners than the year before – the first rise in such fatalities since 2010. Experts attribute the uptick to the increase in America’s coal output, and point to the fact that nearly all of the killed workers could claim less than a year of experience at their final mine.

Energy storage is an increasingly hot topic among power providers as intermittent renewable generators take hold across the US, and if you choose to cover your storage needs with batteries, industrialist Elon Musk and his ilk are confident that lithium-ion cells are the way to go. But not so fast, says rival innovator Bill Joy; with the unveiling of his new solid-state prototype, you may not want to rule alkaline batteries out just yet. Joy believes that alkalines will prove more cost-effective and less hazardous under extreme conditions, and his product proves that they can indeed be made rechargeable. Google’s parent company Alphabet, on the other hand, is taking an altogether different approach to satisfy its storage needs. Produced by X, Alphabet’s R&D outfit, “Malta” absorbs energy by creating a temperature differential between a vat of molten salt and another of chilled antifreeze; Malta beats lithium-ion batteries in longevity, and since it’s made of common parts, it’ll be much cheaper at scale to boot.

Facing the regulatory agendas of countries around the world looking to cut their carbon footprints, more and more manufacturers are rethinking where they get their aluminum. In an industry dominated by coal-powered smelters that pump out 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide for every tonne of metal, legislative pressures and a new low-carbon certification program are making hydro-powered producers increasingly attractive to the likes of Apple and Toyota. “Green” aluminum now often finds itself selling at a premium. In the fight to bring the cost of renewable energies ever lower, Eric Loth is out to prove that the next big leap in the affordability of windmills will come with the advent of gargantuan turbines. The bigger the ‘mill, the more efficiently it can reap power; that’s why Loth is bent on developing 500-meter towers fit to pack 50-megawatt output. Such a beast will need to sway in forceful winds to avoid utter destruction, and sport downwind blades able to flex without chopping their stalk.

Agriculture

In Kenya, the fall armyworm (a type of caterpillar) is ravaging maize farms, putting livelihoods in jeopardy. It’s a good thing, then, that Kenyan farmers have begun intercropping their corn with pulses (like green gram and cassava); pulses take roughly half as much time to grow as maize, which substantially decreases their risk of acquiring pests. Spread in part by a government eager to educate growers in sustainable practices, pulse production is bridging income gaps and restoring soil nutrients – even to the point of negating the need for added fertilizer. The wives of Kenyan cattle ranchers, whose husbands are spending more time away from home to feed their animals under drought conditions, have been exposed to intensifying home raids as their assets constitute an increasingly competitive market. These women are learning new tricks, however; in a bid to escape a shaky reliance on their husbands’ income, some are organizing beekeeping cooperatives – again, with the help of government training – to produce a plethora of in-demand products.

Farmers in Central America’s Dry Corridor are staking territories closer to the Caribbean coast as global warming worsens their homeland’s droughts; should this trend continue at current rates, watershed disturbance and slash-and-burn clearcutting will eliminate the area’s forests by 2050. Clashing with indigenous populations, the farmers’ encroachment has at times proven violent. Fortunately, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is slated to roll out a weather monitoring program in the Dry Corridor that will harness geographic data to alert regions to the onset of drought. The system will help both private and public sectors effectively execute mitigation measures.

In more disturbing news, a study from UC Berkeley reveals that during the growing season in India, every day that is 1°C warmer than average temperatures will see approximately 67 additional farmer suicides; raise that to 5°C, and you can expect 335 more farmers will kill themselves. The upshot of this is a truly gruesome figure: the Berkeley researchers believe that, over the past 30 years, 59,300 farmer suicides can be attributed to warming alone, exacerbating a national tragedy already stoked by high farmer debt. And in a shocking report, Environmental Research Letters revealed that global warming could markedly reduce the protein content of staple crops that fully 76% of humans rely upon for the nutrient. Given a business-as-usual global greenhouse emissions scenario, atmospheric carbon concentrations “will sap the protein contents of barley by 14.6 per cent, rice by 7.6 per cent, wheat by 7.8 percent, and potatoes by 6.4 per cent.” Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are slated for the worst nutritional losses, with India alone potentially facing “53 million people at new risk of protein deficiency.”

You & Me

In recent years, Ashden – a London charity committed to backing sustainable solutions – has bestowed two of its £20,000 Ashden Awards to female entrepreneur groups that proliferate solar power access across rural India and Nepal, contributing to a growing cache of startups that aren’t waiting for a state grid to provide out-of-the-way regions with reliable energy. The Ashden winners and their contemporaries bring leadership skills and expendable capital to women who have typically found themselves socially subservient and devoid of career prospects. In other news, a new wave of artists is seeking to overcome the communication difficulties scientists and other experts have encountered when conveying the physical and emotional urgency of climate change – with arresting, innovative creations.

Addressing the desire of individuals to contribute to emissions reduction while acknowledging the aversion many have toward purist vegetarianism, a team of scientists has discovered that if Americans were to replace all the protein we receive from beef with that of beans, our nation could make more than half of the cuts needed to uphold its 2020 targets under the Paris Agreement even if every other sector of our economy doesn’t bother lifting a finger. In the meantime, UCLA geographer Gregory Okin would like us to think about an area of environmental impact that doesn’t typically come to mind: our pets’ diets. This isn’t something he wants us to wring our hands too fervently over, but the fact is that dog and cat diets require a greater proportion of protein than humans’ do; the two species alone eat “about 25 percent of all the animal-derived calories consumed in the United States each year”. Among Okin’s recommendations: avoid pet foods that offer choice cuts of meat, a nutritionally meaningless move that eschews the environmental benefits of feeding Fido industry leftovers.

Two very different lawsuits filed in the interest of spurring action on climate change are making headway in court. In one, a group of minors affiliated with Our Children’s Trust are suing the Trump administration for failing to adequately secure their constitutional right to a livable climate; in another, California lawyers are taking 37 fossil fuel companies to task for knowingly contributing to sea level rise, a sweeping injury in clear violation of California common law. After President Trump reopened areas of the Atlantic Ocean to energy exploration, opposition to offshore oil prospecting is mounting on America’s East Coast as seaside communities rebuke the harmful side-effects seismic airgun surveys pose to the oceanic ecosystems on which their livelihoods rely. Used to detect the presence of fossil fuel reserves beneath the ocean floor, seismic tests can raise the background noise level of over 2,500 square nautical miles up to 260 decibels – more than enough to rupture a human eardrum, wrought upon “animals that rely on sound as much as we do on sight”.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/28/2017

A week ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report about the sidelining of science by the Trump administration.  This week, CAAV member Dave Pruett wrote about the report on Huffington Post.  Perhaps illustrating the point, two prominent skeptics published commentaries this week.  Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, in an article in the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, argued that the benefits of climate change “are often ignored and under-researched.”  He then listed a variety of “benefits.”  Zahra Hirji at Buzz Feed News had some thoughts on Smith’s ideas.  Justin Haskins, executive editor and research fellow at The Heartland Institute published a commentary in The Blaze giving six reasons he is a climate change skeptic.  Writing in Forbes, Ethan Siegel argued that Haskins’ reasons are “demonstrable falsehoods”.  President Trump is expected to nominate a coal lobbyist and an energy industry attorney for a pair of key posts at the EPA.  Stanford University researcher Benjamin Franta traced the history of the movement to obstruct action on climate change.  Meanwhile, John Holdren, chief science adviser to former president Barack Obama, weighed in on the “red-team/blue-team” idea proposed by EPA head Scott Pruitt.  He called it a “kangaroo court.”

Richard Heinberg, of the Post Carbon Institute, often writes thought-provoking but scary essays, which is what he has done in this post.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily halted the children’s climate change lawsuit against the Trump administration, following the administration’s petition for a rare review of the district court’s decision to allow the case to move forward.  On Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the state’s new cap and trade legislation into law.  Brad Plumer provided an analysis in The New York Times of what exactly the new law entails.  The U.S. Senate will soon be considering legislation to modernize the nation’s energy policy.  The big question is, how will that square with what the House just passed.  Climate scientist Michael Mann reviewed Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.  Another climate scientist, Kevin Trenberth, recently received the Roger Revelle medal from the American Geophysical Union.

Climate

Some time back I mentioned a new book entitled Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by environmentalist, author, and entrepreneur Paul Hawken.  Yale Environment 360 has an interview with him that explores why he and his team undertook Project Drawdown.  He said they took on the project because with global warming, we have been “focusing too much on the problem instead of the solution.”  Drawdown presents solutions.  Continuing on a positive note, Yale Climate Connections has an interesting article about the many roles the arts play in getting the message out about climate change.

Greenland has been getting a lot of snow this summer.  Andrea Thompson has an interesting piece on Climate Central that explains what is happening there.  Despite that new snow, scientists are still concerned about the darkening of the glaciers by algal growth and thus are studying it.  Arctic sea ice has about 50 days to go before it reaches its minimum extent for the year, but it already has declined sufficiently to cover less area than the average minimum extent in the 1980s.  On the other side of Earth, scientists have discovered one of the events contributing to the melting of Antarctica’s ice shelves.  Apparently, changes in winds along the East Antarctic coast cause sea levels to drop near the coastline, which sets off large-scale waves that travel along the coastline. When these waves hit the steep topography off the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, they pull warm water toward the coast and under the ice shelves.  And speaking of Antarctica, NASA has just released a thermal infrared image of iceberg A68, which recently broke free of the Larsen C ice shelf.  As part of its “Long Read” program, The Guardian has published a piece by Avi Steinberg about NASA’s ten-year old aerial program to document changes in the ice caps on both poles.

The Paris climate agreement set a target of keeping global warming below 2°C compared to preindustrial temperatures.  It did not, however, define “preindustrial.”  Now, a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that the definition is very important.  If it is defined as late 18th century, rather than late 19th century, that would significantly decrease the budget for future CO2 emissions.  In case you’ve been wondering about summer temperatures during the 21st century, they have indeed been getting warmer, as illustrated by some interesting graphics from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, suggests that “extreme” El Niño events, like the one experienced in 2015/16, could become more frequent as global temperatures rise.  Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, extreme El Niño events could happen twice as often, occurring on average every 10 years.

Most of you are aware of the need to limit nutrient runoff into our streams as a way to minimize algal blooms and their associated dead zones in lakes and coastal regions.  According to a new study published in the journal Science, accomplishing that will become harder as global temperatures increase.  The culprit?  The more extreme rainfall events expected as the world warms.  They will cause greater discharge of nutrients into streams and rivers.

Peatlands store a lot of carbon, preventing it from being released to the atmosphere as CO2.  Surprisingly, relatively little is known about how many peatlands exist on Earth, where exactly they are, and how they function.  Luckily, the scientific community is learning more about them.

Energy

Author, columnist, and commentator Michael Lewis wrote about the Department of Energy and its transition to the Trump administration in a comprehensive piece in Vanity Fair.  You might follow Joe Romm’s frequent advice and put your “head vise” on before reading this article.

Nuclear fusion has the promise of providing the world with limitless electricity, but is so complex that so far it has proven to be impossible to achieve.  This has not kept several organizations from trying, though.  A significant step was recently achieved by Google and Tri Alpha Energy when they developed a new computer algorithm that has significantly speeded up experiments on plasmas.  Of course, today’s nuclear power plants use nuclear fission.  Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins provided 14 reasons while those power plants should not be subsidized.

A study, released on Tuesday by the Energy and Policy Institute, revealed that forty years ago electric utility officials told Congress that the looming problem of climate change might require the world to back away from coal-fired power plants.  Renewable electricity generation will have to increase by 50% by 2030 to meet state requirements for wind, solar and other sources of renewable power, according to a new report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  So how will electric utilities continue to make money in an age of renewable energy?  Well, if the plans of American Electric Power Co. are any indication, it will be by owning the wind and solar farms, as well as the transmission lines, thereby folding them into their rate bases.

Jason Mathers had an interesting blog post about electric vehicles on EDF’s Climate 411.  Getting an independent electric car company up and going is an incredibly difficult task, suggesting few are likely to succeed.  One that apparently is succeeding is Proterra, Inc., an electric bus company that opened its second factory on Wednesday in Los Angeles.  Its first is in Greenville, SC.  And on the subject of automobiles, all sales of new gasoline and diesel cars will cease in the UK by 2040.

In previous Roundups I have provided links to articles about floating wind turbines.  BBC had an update Sunday on the installation of the turbines off the coast of Scotland, which will serve as a test bed for the technology.  Carbon Brief examined the technology in detail.  Speaking of wind turbines, a new engineering analysis has shown that onshore windfarms could be built in the UK for the same cost as new gas-fired power plants and would be nearly half as expensive as nuclear power plants.  In addition, Europe added 6.1GW of new wind power capacity during the first half of the year.  Getting wind farms approved in the U.S. is a bit more difficult than in Europe, it appears.  Ocean City, MD city officials are concerned about the visual effects of a proposed wind farm, even though it will be 17 miles from land.

Aquion Energy, maker of energy storage batteries based on a novel electrolyte with a chemical composition similar to seawater, is back in business following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing earlier this year.

A consortium of Japanese companies plans to launch the world’s first hydrogen supply chain demonstration project, part of the country’s goal of becoming a “hydrogen society”.  Toyota is one of the companies invested in hydrogen fuel cell technology for their vehicles.  At the same time, however, they are also investigating solid-state battery technology for EVs, which would allow them to charge in minutes.

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 7/21/2017

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.