Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/7/2018

Policy and Politics

In a comment in the journal Nature, two climate scientists and a policy expert explained why global warming will happen much faster than expected over the next 30 years and laid out steps the scientific and policy communities should take to allow a more rapid response to the crisis.  On the same theme, in a recent piece in The Washington Post, reporter Steven Mufson quoted Nobel Laureate William Nordhaus as saying “I never use the word ‘pessimism’; I always use the word ‘realism,’ but I’d say it’s a kind of dark realism today.”  Mufson’s article laid out clearly the seriousness of the climate problem we face today as a result of our collective procrastination.  In a follow-up article, Mufson and James McAuley (in Paris) examined the backlash in France against a carbon tax, the type of action most favored by economists to slow CO2 emissions.  The French government abandoned the proposed tax on Wednesday.

On Monday night Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) hosted a town hall meeting on Capitol Hill that addressed the proposed “Green New Deal” being pushed by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).  Coincidentally, economist Dean Baker and anthropologist Jason Hickel are in the middle of an interchange on the subject of whether it is feasible to reduce our emissions and resource use in line with planetary boundaries while at the same time continuing to pursue exponential GDP growth.  The Institute for New Economic Thinking released two working papers from prominent economists backing up the increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists and examining the question of economic growth in an age of climate change.  Writing at The Intercept, Kate Aronoff summarized and analyzed the papers.

For the first time in a decade, a bipartisan climate bill has been introduced in Congress.  The “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act” would institute a national carbon tax.  As the name implies, the money collected would be returned to American households as a “dividend.”  White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday the Trump administration will seek to end subsidies for electric cars and renewable energy sources.  It’s unclear how the administration plans to cut the tax credits, since Congress enacted them and would have to act to end them.  The administration seems hell-bent on finding and burning every last drop of oil under the U.S. in spite of the climate impacts, as evidenced by their insistence on conducting seismic surveys along the East Coast that could harm dolphins, whales, and other marine animals.  In addition, on Thursday, EPA’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, announced a proposal to allow new coal-fired power plants to emit up to 1,900 pounds of CO2 per MW-hr of electricity generated, up from 1,400 pounds allowed now.  However, the administration doesn’t expect any to be built.  According to a study published in the journal Science, the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back automotive fuel economy standards relied on an error-ridden and misleading analysis that overestimates the costs and understates the benefits of tighter regulation.  It further describes the cost-benefit analysis as marred by mistakes and miscalculations, based on cherry-picked data and faulty assumptions, and skewed in its conclusions.

Fighting climate change is one of the best ways to improve health around the world, and the benefits of fewer deaths and hospitalizations would far outweigh the costs of not acting, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.  Diplomats and policy makers began meeting in Poland this week to hammer out a set of rules for tracking how well countries are meeting their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.  The effectiveness of the Agreement moving forward is very dependent on the outcome of these talks.  As occurred last year at COP 23, the Trump administration plans to host a side event touting the use of fossil fuels.

Every two years The Roddenberry Foundation, launched by the family of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, provides $1 million to organizations that help tackle climate change.  This year’s winners were inspired by Project Drawdown and the associated book Drawdown, which focuses on the many overlooked ways in which climate change can be addressed.  Using Matthieu Auzanneau’s new book, Oil, Power, and War: A Dark History as a starting point, petroleum geologist Jean Laherrère wrote about the impact of fracking on world oil production and speculated what is likely to happen in the future.  On the off-chance you were considering giving a book on climate change to someone for Christmas, Michael Svoboda at Yale Climate Connections has compiled a list of 12 books that came out this year you can choose from.

Climate

According to studies published on Wednesday by the Global Carbon Project in two scientific journals (Environmental Research Letters and Earth System Science Data), global CO2 emissions rose by 1.6% in 2017 and are on course to rise by 2.7% this year, dashing any hopes of their leveling off any time soon.  The Washington Post and The New York Times also had the story.

A new paper in the journal Nature found that the rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet in recent decades is “exceptional over at least the last 350 years.”  The authors concluded that “Continued atmospheric warming will lead to rapid increases in Greenland ice sheet runoff and sea-level contributions.”  In another part of the Arctic, the Siberian city of Yakutsk is the largest city in the world built entirely on permafrost.  As the Arctic warms, Yakutsk is experiencing permafrost melting, which threatens the structural integrity of some of its buildings.  Since it became possible to measure sea ice extent via satellite in the late 1970s, Arctic sea ice has declined in a manner consistent with a warming Earth.  Antarctic sea ice, on the other hand, increased until 2016 when it began declining precipitously.  Now, a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change has offered an explanation for the anomalous behavior of the Antarctic sea ice.

Prof Peter Stott of the UK Met Office Hadley Center announced at the UN Climate talks in Poland that the sweltering heat that hit the UK this summer was made 30 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  New research, published this week in the journal Science, has revealed that rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out 96% of marine species and more than 67% of terrestrial animals on the planet during the “great dying” 252 million years ago.

Earth’s situation at the start of COP 24 in Poland prompted Robin McKie and others to publish a “Portrait of a planet on the verge of climate catastrophe” in Sunday’s Guardian.  Residents of coastal towns, such as Del Mar, CA, face some difficult decisions as they consider the impacts of sea level rise.  Seth Borenstein of the AP wrote about “The less talked about climate impacts.”

People in rich nations will have to make big cuts to the amount of beef and lamb they eat if the world is to be able to feed 10 billion people, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute.  These cuts and a series of other measures are also needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, it says.  The BBC summarized where we stand in 2018 by using seven interesting charts.  They also provided a guide to what you can do.  The U.S. ranks fourth in mitigating climate change, behind Denmark, the U.K, and Canada, among 25 countries analyzed in a report commissioned by utility Drax Group Plc and compiled by academics at Imperial College London.

Energy

A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected Tuesday that 2018 would see the lowest U.S. coal consumption since 1979, as well as the second-greatest number on record of coal-fired power plants shutting down.  Xcel Energy, a utility serving 3.6 million electricity customers in eight states said Tuesday it will try to eliminate all its carbon emissions from electrical generation by 2050.  In addition, a new global analysis of 6,685 coal-fired power plants by Carbon Tracker found that it is now cheaper to build new renewable generation than to run 35% of them worldwide.  By 2030, that percentage will increase dramatically, with renewables beating out 96% of today’s existing and planned coal-fired generation.  Still, coal is not dead yet.  Riverview Energy Corporation is seeking an air permit for its “clean coal” diesel plant in Spencer County, Indiana, that would turn the state’s abundant coal reserves into diesel fuel while emitting extensive amounts of CO2.

Katherine Spector of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy provided perspective on the recent price action in the global oil market.  The Permian Basin’s Wolfcamp and Bone Spring formations in West Texas and New Mexico hold the most potential oil and gas resources ever assessed, the U.S. Interior Department said Thursday.  On Sunday, Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, announced that her government would temporarily curtail the province’s oil production, chiefly from the tar sands, because there isn’t enough pipeline capacity to ship the crude to market.

Researchers have found a way to convert CO2 into plastics, fabrics, and other useful products more efficiently and cheaply than possible before.  The new method, described in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is a form of artificial photosynthesis.  Likewise, Solidia Technologies has developed a way to produce cement that substantially lowers the carbon footprint associated with the production of concrete products.

A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows the extent to which clean energy is contributing jobs to the rural economies of 12 Midwestern states. It also reflects what the rural Midwest stands to lose from Trump administration actions that harm clean energy.  A question under discussion about North Dakota is equally applicable to the Shenandoah Valley: Do rural Americans have a say in what they see outside their dining-room windows, even if that view extends miles beyond their property lines?  Closer to home, a recent example in northern Virginia is proof that solar companies can navigate aesthetic and other concerns that often arise around projects, particularly in areas new to larger-scale solar projects.

Volkswagen announced on Wednesday that it is scouting a location in North America for a new production factory to build electric vehicles.  It plans to introduce a $30,000 to $40,000 electric vehicle in 2020.

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 11/30/2018

The biggest climate news over the past two weeks was the release of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment: Impacts, Risk, and Adaptation in the United States.  The homepage for the report contains links to Summary Findings, an Overview, individual Report Chapters, and downloads.

Climate Central presented a webinar on the report featuring Katharine Hayhoe and provided a recording of it.

The journal Science had three articles about the report.  David Malakoff reported on its release; Jeffrey Mervis reported that President Trump’s nominee to be the chief scientist at USDA, Scott Hutchins, accepts the conclusions of the report and hopes science can help farmers adapt to some of the harmful effects already being caused by climate change; and Scott Waldman reported that the release of the report by the Trump administration on Black Friday only generated more attention than the report might have otherwise gotten.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch had a good article by John Boyer about how Virginia will feel climate change.  Grist provided a region-by-region summary.

The New York Times had three articles about the report shortly after its release.  One provided an overview of the major findings, another focused on what is new in it, and the third examined what prompted the White House to release it on Black Friday.  It also had articles about ways the U.S. will need to adapt and how Trump’s policies will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Politico reported that Trump said he didn’t believe the report.  Inside Climate News reported that Trump and other deniers launched an all-out response to the report, as did Dino Grandoni at The Washington Post.  Politico reported: “Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Wednesday accused the Obama administration of tilting last week’s federal climate change report to focus on the worst-case outcomes — and indicated that the Trump administration could seek to shape the next big study of the issue.”

The Washington Post reported that the assessment said that damage from climate change is intensifying across the country and it will be expensive.  So did Inside Climate News.

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The 2018 Emissions Gap Report was issued by the UN Environment Programme on Tuesday of this week.  According to the report, there is still a small window to keep global temperature increases below 2°C; the one for achieving the 1.5°C goal is even smaller.  However, if the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, temperatures will likely rise more than 2°C.  Inside Climate News also wrote about the report.

A report in The Lancet warned of cascading health risks from climate change.

Just in case you saw a report of a coming ice age, you can find out where it came from here.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/16/2018

Politics and Policy

The ranking members of the House committees on Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources; and Science, Space, and Technology said they plan to hold a series of hearings about climate change over two days at the beginning of next year.  While The Hill reported that Democrats were divided over how to confront climate change, David Roberts of Vox speculated that there may be more unity than meets the eye.  Let us hope so, because as Richard Eckersley wrote this week, “It is barely stretching the truth to say that since the 1960s, we have declared each decade as the time for decisive action on the environment, and as each decade passes, we postpone the deadline another ten years … This profound failure is having far-reaching consequences that go beyond the environment, as it undermines trust in our institutions, notably government and democracy.”  Perhaps change will come from the actions of some of the new members of Congress who have a history of environmental activism.

In a repeat of a strategy that brought strong criticism at last year’s UN climate talks, the Trump administration plans to set up a side-event promoting fossil fuels at this year’s talks next month in Poland.  However, the administration also plans to allow State Department officials to take part in key negotiations.  A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, assessed the relationship between each nation’s ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the temperature rise that would result if all the countries in the world followed their example.  China, Russia, and Canada are among the worst, leading the world to 5.1°C of warming by 2100, whereas the U.S. goal would lead the world to 4°C warming.

A team of scientists has reported in the journal Science Advances that the U.S. could meet a significant portion of its pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement through the application of natural climate solutions such as reforestation, management of grasslands, and the use of cover crops.  Conversely, in anticipation of looser environmental regulations, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon jumped almost 50% during the three-month electoral season that brought Jair Bolsonaro to power.  Furthermore, Bolsonaro has chosen a new foreign minister who believes climate change is part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China.

Despite greater attention to the risks of sea level rise, housing construction in the most vulnerable areas of the country is growing more quickly than in safer, drier locations, according to a new report by the research organization Climate Central and the real estate website Zillow.

A bipartisan group of 18 governors is proposing that the federal government take a serious look at integrating the three main U.S. power grids, comparing the importance of grid modernization to the creation of the interstate highway system 60 years ago.

Climate

Two papers published Wednesday in Nature addressed the issue of hurricanes.  One examined the rainfall intensity of Hurricanes Katrina, Irma, and Maria and found that it increased by between 4% and 9% because of climate change.  The other found that Houston’s tall buildings promoted Hurricane Harvey’s heavier rainfall by increasing atmospheric drag.  Scientists behind a major study that claimed the Earth’s oceans are warming faster than previously thought, now say their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are.

Reporter Marguerite Holloway and photographer Josh Haner went to America’s oldest national park to capture how climate change is altering the landscape and ecosystem.  The result is a stunning but sad article about Yellowstone.  Dana Nuccitelli presented the many ways in which climate change has worsened California’s wildfires at Yale Climate Connections.  Scientists have documented how thawing permafrost in the Arctic is causing rapid erosion of the shoreline.  A study published in the journal Marine Fisheries Review has found that valuable species of shellfish — eastern oysters, northern quahogs, softshell clams, and northern bay scallops — have become harder to find on the East Coast because of degraded habitat caused by a warming environment.  A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that heat stress appears to be associated with transgenerational fertility problems in male insects.

The ecosystem in the Andes above 12,500 ft is called the páramo and it is warming faster than anywhere else outside of the Arctic.  Throughout the Andes, the páramos act like a sponge, collecting water from fog, drizzle, and melting mountaintop glaciers, storing it, and then releasing it into the lowlands.  An estimated 40 million people depend on the páramos for drinking water.  Sarah Fecht of Columbia University’s Earth Institute visited the páramos to report on the changes occurring there as Earth warms.  A study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, showed that birds in the Andes are heading uphill to keep pace with warming temperatures and will soon run out of room.  Writing at Yale Environment 360, Richard Conniff used that study as a jumping off place to explore the larger picture of species adaptation to climate change.

Increasing demand for home air conditioning, driven by global warming, population growth, and rising incomes in developing countries, could increase Earth’s temperatures an additional 0.5°C by 2100, according to a new report by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).  The demand is growing so fast that a “radical change” in home-cooling technology will be necessary to neutralize its impact, writes RMI.

Chinese scientists have warned that the melting glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, known as the world’s Third Pole, will cause a reduced water supply in coming decades.  The plateau is the origin of Asia’s 10 largest rivers, including the Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Yarlung Zangbo, and Syr Darya rivers, which provide water for three billion people across Asia.

Energy

The good news: Renewable energy is now cheaper than natural gas and coal in parts of the U.S.  The bad news: The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects global energy demand will rise 25% through 2040 if it stays on its current trajectory.  Consequently, CO2 emissions may continue to rise.  However, new energy saving and renewables targets adopted by the EU on Tuesday put the bloc on course to overshoot its climate goals.  Under the new rules, the EU is targeting energy savings of 32.5% and a renewable energy goal of 32% by 2030.  On the other hand, a new report by Climate Transparency found that 82% of energy in G20 countries is still being provided by coal, oil and gas, which have relied on an increase of about 50% in subsidies over the past 10 years to compete.  Half of the increase in Australia’s annual CO2 emissions can be linked to the failure to bury greenhouse gases underground at the country’s largest liquefied natural gas development.  Meanwhile, columnist George Monbiot made an impassioned plea in The Guardian for radical action to drastically cut carbon emissions.

Despite years of claims and commitments about clean investment and alleviating climate change, the world’s largest oil companies have contributed just 1% of their spending budgets to green energy in 2018.  The fracking of hard-to-reach oil reserves has helped the U.S. regain its crown as the world’s top crude oil producer, but even the IEA is now worried that the shale boom has been overhyped.

Monday afternoon as a cold front was moving into the area with windy conditions, wind turbine output in Texas reached 17,920 MW, 2% higher than the previous record.  Two Master of Science students at Lancaster University won the James Dyson award for their O-Wind Turbine, which takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering.

Volkswagen intends to sell electric cars for less than $23,000 and protect German jobs by converting three factories to make Tesla rivals.  VW is also expected to discuss far-reaching alliances with battery cell manufacturer SK Innovation and rival Ford.  Starting in January, all major manufacturers operating in China, from global giants Toyota and GM to domestic players BYD and BAIC Motor, have to meet minimum requirements there for producing new-energy vehicles, or NEVs (plug-in hybrids, pure-battery electrics, and fuel-cell autos).  Electric school buses are slowly making a debut in school districts around the U.S.  Backed by a state grant, Greenlots will partner with Volvo Trucks to install charging infrastructure for electric trucks in warehouses in Southern California, including onsite solar panels and energy storage.

A proposal by Pacific Gas & Electric, one of California’s three main investor-owned utilities, to deploy large-scale energy storage using batteries to replace peaking natural gas plants has been approved by the state’s regulator.  In Australia, Fluence will supply the latest large-scale battery energy storage system.  Meanwhile, India will take a different approach, with Tata Power planning to purchase a gravity-based energy storage system from Energy Vault.  The U.S. military is increasingly turning to renewables, batteries, and other technology to bolster energy resilience at bases, according to a new report from the Association of Defense Communities.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/9/2018

Politics and Policy

The elections provided good news and bad news on the climate front.  The good news is that at least 10 new governors campaigned on aggressively moving their states away from burning fossil fuels and toward relying on renewable forms of energy for electricity.  Also, seven people elected to the House and one to the Senate have science backgrounds.  Finally, the citizens of Nevada voted to require utilities to generate or acquire incrementally larger percentages of electricity from renewable energy so that by 2030 at least 50% is renewable.  The bad news is that a similar measure was defeated in Arizona, while an attempt to enact the nation’s first carbon tax was defeated in Washington State.  Reporters Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman provided their five climate take-aways and Bill McKibben reflected on the election in an opinion piece, both in The New York Times.  Contrary to an article I linked to last week that said Democrats have no long-term climate agenda, Josh Siegle of The Washington Examiner reported that they plan to use their House majority to prepare for major climate change legislation in 2020.  They also plan to resurrect a special committee focused on climate change, giving them a platform to spotlight the issue.

According to three experts who issued a warning to their profession in the journal Science on Thursday, the Trump administration is empowering political staff to meddle with the scientific process by pushing through reforms disguised to look as though they boost transparency and integrity.  EPA.gov pages that previously provided information about climate change have been changed from claiming that they are “updating” to an error message that reads, “We want to help you find what you are looking for,” as revealed by a report released this week by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative.  The change indicates that information related climate change is not being “updated,” but removed entirely.  Newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, an authoritarian nationalist sometimes called the “tropical Trump,” has staked out an environmental agenda that would open the Amazon to widespread development, putting at risk a region that plays a vital role in stabilizing the global climate.

The Children’s Lawsuit is on hold again after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday granted the Trump administration’s motion for a temporary stay.  A federal judge blocked the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline on Thursday, saying the Trump administration’s justification for approving it last year was incomplete.  The developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) filed an application with FERC on Tuesday to extend the natural gas pipeline into North Carolina.  On Wednesday afternoon, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a temporary halt to a water-crossing permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) in West Virginia.  As battles over the gas pipelines played out in court, West Virginia state regulators continued to cite the MVP and ACP for environmental problems.  The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project last Friday.

Bonnie Tsui, a writer based in Berkeley, CA, had a photo-essay in The New York Times, reflecting on Yosemite National Park after the Ferguson fire.  Friday’s radio story at Yale Climate Connections featured “tempestries.”  A tempestry is a knitted representation of the year’s temperatures at a specific location.  Each color represents a temperature, and each line, the daily high.  Put together 365 of these lines, and you get a thin, striped tapestry that shows a full year’s changing seasons.  Katharine Hayhoe has posted a new episode of “Global Weirding”.  It’s all about climate models.  Writing at Transition Network.org, Rob Hopkins called for the use of imagination in fighting climate change, stating: “My main take-away from the 2018 IPCC report is that there may still be time, but only if we can bring about a deep reimagining of what the world could be and how it might work.  As Daniel Aldana Cohen put it, ‘we are only doomed if we do nothing’”.  Consequently, if you’re worried about climate change and its impacts at home and around the world, focus on your own actions and habits, say environmental advocates.  Here are six things you can do.

A new study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlighted the tendency among all Americans to underestimate how much minority groups (blacks, Latinos, and Asians, in particular) and low-income groups care about the environment and climate change.  And another study, which appears in the journal PLoS One, suggests that people of color, especially Native Americans, face more risk from wildfires than whites. It is another example of how the kinds of disasters exacerbated by climate change often hit minorities and the poor the hardest.

Climate

A new article in the journal Global Change Biology reports on a 30-year study of changes in 106 long‐term inventory plots in Amazonian forests.  The senior author summarized their findings thusly: “The data showed us that the droughts that hit the Amazon basin in the last decades had serious consequences for the make-up of the forest, with higher mortality in tree species most vulnerable to droughts and not enough compensatory growth in species better equipped to survive drier conditions.”

The rate of “daily nest predation“— eggs stolen from the nest by predators such as foxes or rodents — has increased threefold over the past 70 years in the Arctic, according to a study published Friday in Science that looked at more than 38,000 nests from 237 shorebird populations in 149 locations throughout the world.

Scant rainfall, hot temperatures, high winds, and plentiful fuel are to blame for the tinderbox conditions that fanned the flames of the Camp, Hill, and Woolsey fires in California.  And in a rapidly shifting environment characterized by rising temperatures, climate change played a role as well.

Jennifer Collins explored how climate change is altering the Bavarian Alps, reporting on things like disappearing glaciers, less snowfall and increased landslides.  And in another part of the world, Stephanie Leutert examined the relationship between climate change in Honduras and the movements of Honduran migrants northward.  Finally, climate scientist Michael Mann commented on the impacts of climate change on the extreme weather events in the U.S. this summer.

Rapid warming and vanishing sea ice in the Arctic have enabled new species, from humpback whales to white-tailed deer, to spread northward.  Scientists are increasingly concerned that some of these new arrivals may be bringing dangerous pathogens that could disrupt the region’s fragile ecosystems.

Energy

A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), ‘Long-Term Energy Storage Outlook,’ is much more bullish on energy storage than last year’s report, saying that they expect battery costs to drop 52% by 2030.  In addition, BNEF claimed that this would “transform the economic case for batteries in both the vehicle and the electricity sector”.  Reuters reported that Germany has earmarked 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to support a consortium looking to produce electric car battery cells and plans to fund a research facility to develop next-generation solid-state batteries.  SolarEdge is targeting a world where the “majority of solar systems will include storage”, according to CEO Guy Sella.  Along those lines, a demonstration project was initiated in Germany in which a hybrid battery system containing both lithium-ion and sodium-sulfur batteries will be used to stabilize a grid containing significant wind energy.

In a new report, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is joining a growing number of environmental organizations to back existing nuclear power plants because of climate reasons, despite continued concerns about the technology’s safety and radioactive waste.  Steve Clemmer, a co-author of the report and director of energy research and analysis at UCS was quoted by Axios as saying: “We’re in a place right now from a climate perspective [where] we have to make some hard choices. We need every low-carbon source of power we can get.”

Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a new molecule for use in a molecular solar thermal (MOST) energy storage system.  In such systems, a photo-switchable molecule absorbs sunlight and undergoes a chemical isomerization to a metastable high energy species.  The fluid containing that species can then be stored, and when heat is needed, passed over a catalyst that causes heat to be released for use as the molecule returns to its original state.

In the past five years, the amount of renewable energy capacity in the UK has tripled while fossil fuels’ capacity has fallen by one-third.  The result is that between July and September, the capacity of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower reached 41.9GW, exceeding the 41.2GW capacity of fossil fuel-fired power plants.  And in the U.S., a record number of coal-fired power plants will close this year, with cheap natural gas and renewables expected to replace lost capacity.  A report by the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis shows that a record 15.4GW of coal capacity will close.

A new paper in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has found that the impacts of wind turbines are more far-reaching than previously thought.  The authors wrote: “By reducing the activity of predatory birds in the area, wind turbines effectively create a predation-free environment that causes a cascade of effects on a lower trophic level.”  In the developing world, an estimated 3,700 dams, large and small, are now in various stages of development.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences studied this proliferation of large dams and the importance of incorporating climate change into considerations of whether to build a dam.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/2/2018

Politics and Policy

On Thursday, Emily Holden reported in The Guardian: “Democrats don’t have a plan to address climate change comprehensively – or even to a significant degree – if they regain control of the US government in the near future, despite criticizing Republicans as the party of pollution.”  In spite of that, according to Lisa Friedman of The New York Times, climate change has made its way into high-profile races this fall.  It is literally on the ballot in Washington state in the form of Initiative 1631, which would impose the nation’s first carbon tax.  Consequently, the oil industry has spent a record $30 million fighting the initiative, double what an alliance of green groups and billionaire activists has spent to support it.  On Wednesday, a conservative group released a report concluding that a national carbon tax would raise less revenue and cut emissions less than often claimed.  Among other energy-related issues on the ballot, both Arizona and Nevada are considering requiring power companies to get half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

One finding in the recent IPCC climate report is that it will most likely be necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere in order to hold the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C.  Consequently, San Francisco-based startup accelerator Y Combinator has announced a new initiative to invest in long-shot research into ways to cheaply do that.  Even as scientists learn more about hurricanes and climate change, FEMA flood-risk mapping does not take into account how global warming is changing the climate, including how sea level is rising.

A study done by the UK-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy found that only 58 of the 197 countries signing the Paris Climate Agreement have set economy-wide targets for emissions reductions in their domestic laws or policies and just 16 of these are as ambitious as, or more ambitious than, the pledges contained in their Nationally Determined Contributions.  The State Air Pollution Control Board of Virginia voted Monday to create a new set of regulations to limit CO2 emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels as part of a proposed new emissions trading system with nine other states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast (RGGI).

On Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt a novel lawsuit filed by young Americans that attempts to force the federal government to act on climate change, turning down a request from the Trump administration to stop it before trial.  Mary Heglar, a policy publications editor at a prominent environmental advocacy organization had a very moving and personal essay at Vox that provides insight into how one 20- or 30-something is dealing with the reality of climate change.  Jody Tishmack had a thought-provoking essay at Resilence entitled “Wake up. Stop Dreaming.”  Paul McAuley, a former research biologist who is now a full-time novelist with more than 20 books to his credit, has a new book of climate fiction (cli-fi), Austral.  Amy Brady interviewed him for Yale Climate Connections and Chicago Review of Books.  Amazon Original Stories, an Amazon Publishing imprint, this week launched a cli-fi series called “Warmer” about “possible tomorrows” in a U.S. ravaged by climate change.  The series contains seven books, each taking place in a different state.

Neil Chatterjee, the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has pledged to keep politics out of the agency’s decisions.  PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest power market operator, released a long-awaited study on Thursday finding that there is no immediate threat to the country’s grid, undermining arguments from the Trump administration that favor bailing out coal and nuclear energy.  The New York Times reported that new data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication – in partnership with Utah State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara – show how Americans across the country view climate and energy policies.

Climate

While violence and poverty have been cited as the reasons for the Central American migrants trudging through Mexico toward the U.S., experts say the big picture is that the changing climate is forcing farmers off their land.

A new paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature revealed that the world’s oceans have warmed 60% more than previously thought.  As a consequence, the maximum CO2 emissions that the world can produce while still avoiding warming of 2°C must be reduced by 25%.  Reuters Investigates released a new series entitled “Ocean Shock” that was produced by a team of journalists, photographers, videographers, and artists to report on the changes that are occurring in the oceans as a result of their warming.  Eliza Barclay and Umair Irfan updated their post about 10 ways to accelerate progress against climate change.

A team at Vox prepared an interesting infographic presentation about how temperature and rainfall are projected to change in 2000 U.S. cities over the next 30 years if the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue increasing as they are today.  “Unworkable”, a report from Public Citizen and the Farmworker Association of Florida released on Tuesday, spells out the risks of rising temperatures to Florida’s large population of outdoor workers, particularly construction and agricultural workers.  A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, asserts that greenhouse gases are increasingly disrupting the jet stream, causing more frequent summer droughts, floods, and wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.  Heatwaves in the UK are lasting twice as long as they did 50 years ago, according to a Met Office report.

On Tuesday, an iceberg about five times the size of Manhattan broke off of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.  It is the 6th largest iceberg to calve from the glacier.  Meanwhile, scientists in Canada have warned that massive glaciers in the Yukon territory are shrinking even faster than would be expected from a warming climate and bringing dramatic changes to the region.  Daniel Grossman interviewed several climate scientists about climate tipping points for Yale Climate Connections.  New research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that while solar geoengineering could slow heating of the land, it may not slow the heating of the oceans and associated sea level rise.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that some bird species living near the tops of tropical mountains have been driven to extinction by rising temperatures because they can’t move higher to cooler climes.

Energy

The Trump administration’s case for repealing the CAFE standards for cars is riddled with calculation mistakes, indefensible assumptions, and broken computer models, according to economists, environmental groups, and a major automaker.  However, David Roberts at Vox predicted that the rise of electric vehicles will render the debate over those standards moot.  Unfortunately, GM managed to upset environmental groups, politicians, the auto industry and others with its announcement that it supports establishing a national program modeled after California’s zero-emissions vehicle program.  To help Virginia communities switch to electric buses, the state is committing $14 million of the VW settlement to help cover the difference in cost between conventional buses and electric ones.

Japan’s nuclear power plants were idled following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in 2011, but some are now being reopened to provide electricity again.  For decades, uranium mining has been banned by state law in Virginia.  On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case testing whether the state has such authority, or whether it resides instead with the federal government.

Justin Mikulka reported at Desmog that “At current oil prices, most fracking companies are losing money while trying to get every last drop out of the known sweet spots in American shale plays. … These companies can’t hope to pay back their massive debts if the best days of the major shale plays are either in the past or rapidly approaching.”  Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, announced a plan last week to cover and capture methane gas from thousands of its hog manure pits.

At MIT Technology Review James Temple explained why it is so difficult to develop a battery-powered airplane and what researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon are doing to solve the problem.  On a larger scale, vanadium redox flow battery maker VRB Energy has begun commissioning a 3MW/12MWh energy storage system in Hubei, China, which is expected to help serve as a demonstrator for much larger projects to come.  However, because vanadium is scarce and increasing in price, researchers are looking at other chemicals, such as iron and selected organic molecules, for use in flow batteries.

As much as $60 billion of coal-fired power assets may be stranded in the next decade across Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to a new study by Carbon Tracker, which cited tighter environmental policies and competition from cheaper renewable energy.  As more solar and wind generation are added in those countries, coal plants will go idle and struggle to generate revenue needed to repay their loans.  The most promising “clean coal” systems burn coal at higher temperatures than conventional plants, capturing 48% rather than 30% of the energy out of each ton of fuel.  Their costs are about 40% higher than a regular plant, and their CO2 emissions are 25% to 35% lower, according to the World Coal Association.  Still, the economics just don’t add up.  This was reinforced by a new study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute that found wind to be the cheapest energy resource across the Central Plains and down the Appalachian Mountains, natural gas across the Coastal Plain and parts of the northern Rocky Mountains, and solar across the Southwest and sporadically through the Midwest and Northwest.

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

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/26/2018

Politics and Policy

The Canadian government has developed a comprehensive plan to meet Canada’s carbon targets under the Paris Climate Agreement.  At its heart is a carbon fee and dividend system with 90% of the revenue returned to the people.  The federal government has worked with the provinces to develop systems appropriate to each province’s circumstances, but four provinces have refused to cooperate, so now the federal government is imposing its system on them.  President Trump named Neil Chatterjee to be the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Wednesday, replacing previous chairman Kevin McIntyre, who will remain as a commissioner.  Federal regulators have pulled another permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) construction project, which now lacks authority to build through streams and wetlands along the project’s entire 303-mile route.  The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said late Friday that it had signed off on plans to control erosion and sediment, manage water runoff from storms, and limit damage to the fragile “karst” geography of certain mountainous areas as blasting and digging for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) get underway.  FERC on Tuesday approved Dominion Energy’s request to proceed with construction of the ACP in parts of West Virginia, although it said the authorization does not include construction on National Forest Service Lands.

Inside Climate News had an update of where the major climate change lawsuits stand today.  Science reported that there are scientists on both sides of the Children’s Lawsuit.  Vann R. Newkirk II, a staff writer for The Atlantic, had an essay on the impact of climate change on American democracy.

Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), had an opinion piece in The New York Times in which he laid out the forensic evidence for humans being responsible for all of the recent trends in global temperatures.  Leo Hickman of Carbon Brief interviewed GISS scientist, Kate Marvel, about a range of topics.  Even though the recent IPCC report made clear that the causes of climate change must be acted on now, in most schools, climate change is still just starting to make its way into classrooms, and many teachers don’t have the training or the resources they need to teach it.

A group of landowners whose property was taken against their wishes for the MVP is seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court.  Among the constitutional questions raised is whether eminent domain should be awarded to a private company in pursuit of profits.  In an essay at Resilience, Mia Gray and Betsy Donald argue that we need to create new models of regional economic and environmental well-being, focusing on reducing inequality and waste.  A commentary at Energy News Network praised Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s plan to transition the state’s economy to clean energy.  Aron Chang, an urban designer in New Orleans, provided advice to cities preparing for climate change.  Andrew Simms and Peter Newell called for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty.

The UN-backed Green Climate Fund has approved more than $1 billion for 19 new projects to help developing countries tackle climate change, officials said Sunday.  European Union lawmakers voted on Thursday to press EU countries and the European Commission to harden their stance on climate action ahead of United Nations climate talks in Katowice, Poland in December.  They called for countries to set their Nationally Determined Contributions at 55% or more by 2030.  “Saudi Arabia spent the last three decades throwing sand in the global gears of containing climate change”, writes Jean Chemnick, a journalist who covers international climate policy for E&E News.  Its tactics continued at climate change conferences this year, now with “the help of the United States”.  The Puerto Rican government is considering committing the island to a 100% renewable energy grid by 2050, according to a new plan introduced Wednesday.  Peter Maurer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Guardian Australia that climate change is already exacerbating domestic and international conflicts, and governments must take steps to ensure it does not get worse.

Climate

We know that cattle production has a big carbon footprint, all the way from the fuel that it used to grow the grain that cattle are fed to the methane produces by their digestive system.  Well, what if you could grow beef without an animal?  That is a goal being pursued by at least two companies, as well as two working on poultry and three on fish.  The cover article in C&EN describes how far they have come and the challenges still facing them.

 Inside Climate News is publishing a series of articles on agriculture, climate change and the American Farm Bureau’s influence.  The first appeared Wednesday and is about how the climate agenda of the American Farm Bureau Federation is failing American farmers.  Also on Wednesday, Paul Horn provided an infographic illustrating why farmers are ideally positioned to fight climate change.  On the subject of agriculture, NPR investigated the impacts of climate change to five important crops.

National Geographic had a moving article with beautiful images about the warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and its impacts on the ecosystems there.  It also had an article about migration due to drought in Latin America.  For example, in Guatemala, increasingly erratic climate patterns have produced year after year of failed harvests and dwindling work opportunities across the country, triggering migration.  Writing at Yale Environment 360, Nicola Jones summarized some of the features that have shifted in the face of climate change: how people grow their food, access their drinking water, and live in places that are increasingly being flooded, dried out, or blasted with heat waves.  Nancy Fresco, a member of the research faculty at the University of Alaska, wrote of the many aspects of climate change the citizens of her state must deal with on a daily basis.

Carbon Brief has issued its latest “State of the Climate” report for 2018.  As one might expect, ocean heat content reached the highest level since records began, showing that global warming continues unabated.  Several other records were also set.  NOAA has forecast a 60% chance that the entire Great Barrier Reef will reach alert level one, which signals extreme heat stress and bleaching are likely from November 2018 to February 2019.

Energy

The recent IPCC report on the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming made it clear that removal of CO2 from the atmosphere or power plant exhaust will be required to hold warming below 1.5°C.  Just how that will be achieved is less clear.  Luckily the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine just released a report on the state of carbon dioxide removal technologies.  Writing at Vox, Umair Irfan summarized the major findings of the report.  The IPCC report also called for rapid decarbonization of the global economy.  In a new report, energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie projected that by 2035 the global energy transition will reach a point of no return, creating an “unstoppable” shift for companies and countries around the world.  The question is, will that be fast enough.

Even though the U.S. currently has only one operational off-shore wind farm, more are in the planning stage.  One of the advantages of off-shore wind turbines is their larger size, compared to on-shore turbines.  David Roberts explained why larger turbines are advantageous and discussed General Electric’s new monster turbine, the 12 MW Haliade-X.  If you’ve ever driven from Los Angeles to Palm Springs on Interstate 10, you drove through San Gorgonio Pass, where wind turbines blanket both sides of the highway.  The area looks like a museum for wind turbines because some date back to the 1980s.  As those older turbines approach the end of their lifetimes, a number of factors, both political and economic will determine whether they will be replaced with newer, larger ones, as explained by Sammy Roth of the Palm Springs Desert Sun.

Hyundai has introduced its Kona EV in the U.S.  The 64kWh battery gives it a range of 258 miles, and on the latest fast-chargers it will go from flat to 80% state-of-charge in 54 minutes.  Dyson announced that it will build its EV in Singapore.  Reuters had a brief description of each of the companies planning to build an all-electric big rig truck.

Some 20,000 German coal miners marched through Bergheim demanding protection for their jobs as the coal commission met to draw up a plan to phase out coal-fired power generation.  China has made efforts to cut the share of coal in its energy use, but its overall coal consumption and production are again rising.  In Arizona, Proposition 127, an amendment to Arizona’s constitution that would require power companies to generate 50% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, is on the ballot this fall.  It has faced aggressive opposition from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, or A.P.S.

In a new report, the International Energy Agency warned that oil-dependent nations (Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela) face “unprecedented challenges” and it is essential that they diversify their economies.  In the U.S. the fracking boom has led to increased domestic production of oil and gas, and associated greenhouse gas production.  A new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and the Sightline Institute has revealed that the industry is awash in red ink.

Dominion Energy plans to develop 3 GW of clean energy in Virginia by 2022.  Toward that end, on Wednesday they issued an RFP for development of 500 MW of onshore wind and solar.  To the dismay of environmental groups, the application by Hilcorp Energy (a company with a checkered record of oil leaks) to drill for oil six miles off the Alaskan coast in the shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea has been approved by the Interior Department.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/19/2018

In light of the recent IPCC report on holding global warming to 1.5°C, I suggest that you start your reading this week with Rebecca Solnit’s essay in The Guardian last Sunday.  Its title is “Don’t despair: the climate fight is only over if you think it is.”

Politics and Policy

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow on Sunday downplayed the significance of the recent IPCC report.  During an appearance on 60 Minutes on Sunday night and an interview by the Associated Press on Tuesday, President Donald Trump was asked about climate change.  His answers led to reactions from a number of publications, including The Washington Post, Vox, and The Guardian.  He also said that climate scientists who find that human activities are driving climate change have a “very big political agenda,” causing the American Meteorological Association to push back forcefully in a letter published Tuesday.  The IPCC’s report said that government policies alone won’t ensure the “unprecedented” societal changes needed over the next decade to stem climate change.  Rather, we must have buy-in from the business community.  However, a number of scientists contend that the report wasn’t strong enough and that it downplayed the full extent of the real threat.  Meanwhile, at Scientific American, six climate scientists stated: “Rather than resign ourselves to a dystopian path, or deflect reality through cycles of denial, we need a fundamental attitude shift: we must instead see climate change as one of the greatest opportunities we have ever faced.”  Finally, science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times, “None of the major technological transformations of the 19th and 20th centuries were the product of the private sector acting alone and responding only to the market.  Railroads, radio, telegraph, telephone, electricity and the internet were all the result of public-private partnerships.  None was delivered by the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace.  All involved significant interventions by the visible hand of government.”

DOE’s efforts to force economically struggling coal and nuclear power plants to stay online for as long as two years has evidently been scrapped because of opposition from the president’s own advisers on the National Security Council and National Economic Council, according to an article in Politico.  The EPA has released the list of finalists being considered for positions on its Science Advisory Board.  The list includes researchers who reject mainstream climate science and who have fought against environmental regulations for years.  Economist William D. Nordhaus, a co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel prize in economics for his work on pricing carbon emissions, was interviewed by Coral Davenport of The New York Times about which governments are getting his ideas right.  Following the announcement of Nordhaus’ Nobel Prize and the release of the new IPCC report, Felix Salmon of Axios wrote about the costs associated with warming of 1.5° and 2°C.  Exxon-Mobil is contributing $1 million to Americans for Carbon Dividends, a group that is working to establish a carbon fee and dividend to reduce fossil fuel use.  The Global Commission on Adaptation was launched at The Hague this week.  It aims to bring together expertise from around the world to identify the best ways of adapting to climate change.

On Wednesday, a group of researchers released an updated version of the 1973 report, “The Limits to Growth.”  They found that efforts to satisfy social Sustainable Development Goals with conventional policy tools come at the price of unsustainable use of natural resources such as water, land, and energy.  Hence, environmental goals, including stabilizing climate, threaten to fall by the wayside.  According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, most Americans are unaware that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and is human-caused.  On Thursday, for a second time, the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a lawsuit filed by young activists who have accused the U.S. government of ignoring the perils of climate change.  On Friday, the Court issued an order freezing the trial until lawyers for the young people provide a response and the Court issues another order.  On Monday, the judge in the case had ruled that President Trump could not be included in the lawsuit.  On Tuesday, FERC gave permission for developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to begin cutting trees on the site of a planned natural gas compressor station in Buckingham County, VA.  Also on Tuesday, Dominion Energy announced that it is seeking renewal of its licenses for the two nuclear units at Surry Power Station.  The current licenses are valid through 2032 and 2033, so a renewal would extend them through 2052 and 2053.

Climate

A recent study finds that tourism is responsible for 8% of the world’s annual carbon pollution.

While writing about the tendency of IPCC reports to focus on the median potential responses, rather than the extremes, Kurt Cobb referred to risk expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote in his book Fooled by Randomness, “It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear.”

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that populations of arthropods in a Puerto Rican rainforest have fallen drastically since 1976.  The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss.  If you are concerned about the spread of malaria into the U.S. as a result of the warmer temperatures associated with climate change, then you should read the advice from Sara Peach at Yale Climate Connections.

Climate change has been having mixed effects in West Virginia.  On the one hand, the climate has become milder with warmer winters, cooler summers and generally more humid conditions year-round.  On the other, in the forests, oaks are being replaced by maples, which prefer shadier and wetter conditions, thereby altering forest ecosystems.

A new paper in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science has found that tornado activity is increasing in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and parts of Ohio and Michigan, while decreasing in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  This pattern is consistent with the eastward movement of the “dry line”, where there is dry air to the west and moist air to the east.  The lead author of the paper said, “This is what you would expect in a climate change scenario, we just have no way of confirming it at the moment.”

One possible impact of climate change may be increased migration.  Four social scientists from Europe explored this possibility in The Washington Post.  Since much migration may occur in the Global South, projections of what may happen there are particularly important.  Unfortunately, a lack of historical data hampers efforts to make those projections.

As global temperatures rise and the Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly sea ice-free, phytoplankton blooms are expanding northward at a rate of 1° of latitude — or 69 miles — per decade, moving into waters where they have never been seen before, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Energy

Carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. power sector fell 4.5% in 2017 due to the closure of coal-fired power plants.  Overall, emissions dropped by 2.7%.  The fight continues over the exportation of coal to Asia from ports in the state of Washington, with the Army Corps of Engineers reviving an environmental review of a coal-export project a year after state environmental regulators denied the project a key permit.  In addition, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the Trump administration is considering using military bases and federal properties in Washington, Oregon and California to ship coal and natural gas to Asia.

A year ago, General Motors announced plans for 20 new electric vehicle models by 2023, but in the U.S. market, GM was aggressively transforming its product line for something else—it was scaling back on cars and doubling down on higher-emissions pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.  GM is not alone.  All of the Big Three automakers—GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler—have shifted toward big, heavy vehicles that use more fuel per mile.  City Lab has an analysis of the status of electric vehicle adoption in the U.S.  A major determinant of the lifetime CO2 emissions associated with an electric vehicle is the source of electricity in the factory where the battery is made.  If it is a coal-fired power plant, it may take many years before the lifetime emissions become less than that of a diesel-powered vehicle.

As of August, non-utility buyers had announced contracts for more than 3.5 gigawatts of renewable energy projects in 2018, setting a new single-year record in the U.S.  Since then, procurement numbers have continued to grow, as the corporate renewables market has matured and expanded to include new geographies and new buyers.

The Trump administration is considering allowing companies to build offshore wind farms off the coast of California.

Solar and wind energy now generate more than 20% of electricity in 10 states, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Iowa is at the top of the list, with 37% of its electricity coming from wind and solar in 2017, followed by Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, all above 30%.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/12/2018

Because of the importance of the IPCC Special Report on holding global warming to 1.5°C, rather than the normal Roundup this week, I have compiled below some of the articles about it.

Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich said in The New York Times: “Holding warming to 1.5 degrees, the report said, would entail a staggering transformation of the global energy system beyond what world leaders are contemplating today.”

Also in The New York Times, Coral Davenport said: “A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has ‘no documented historic precedent.’”

At The Washington Post, Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis wrote “The world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, and nations will need to take ‘unprecedented’ actions to cut their carbon emissions over the next decade, according to a landmark report by the top scientific body studying climate change.”

Also at the Post, Margaret Sullivan took the media to task for not giving enough coverage to climate change and the impacts it is having and will have.

Carbon Brief published a Q&A about the report.

The new IPCC report expanded the “carbon budget” for 1.5°C – a simplified way to measure the additional emissions that can enter the atmosphere to stay below 1.5°C.  This report expands the budget for a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5°C to the equivalent of 10 years of current emissions.  This compares to the IPCC’s fifth assessment report (AR5), which put the time to exhaustion of the budget at around three years.  Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief looked into the details of the new, larger carbon budget and explored the reasons behind the shift.

At The Guardian, Jonathan Watts provided a synopsis of the report, while he and Matthew Taylor wrote of the moral obligation of world leaders to act on climate change.

Inside Climate News had a detailed look at what it will take to avoid 1.5°C of warming.

At Vox, David Roberts wrote about “What genuine, no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like”, while Eliza Barclay and Umair Irfan discussed “10 ways to accelerate progress against climate change.”

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/5/2018

Policy and Politics

Representatives of over 130 countries and about 50 scientists were meeting in Incheon, South Korea, this week to try and reach consensus on a report detailing what it would mean — and what it would take — to limit the warming of the planet to 1.5°C.  Climate Home News provided some insights into the U.S. position.  According to comments from a scientist who helped prepare the report, limiting warming to 1.5°C will be “a really enormous lift.”  This and the climate talks in Poland in December, have caused Fiona Harvey to declare the next three months as crucial to the future of the planet.  The role of forests in combating climate change risks being overlooked by the world’s governments, according to a group of scientists that has warned that halting deforestation is “just as urgent” as eliminating the use of fossil fuels.  On the brighter side, the Heinrich Böll Foundation has released a publication entitled “Radical Realism for Climate Justice” that lays out in eight chapters a path for limiting warming to 1.5°C.

President Donald Trump will nominate DOE official Bernard McNamee to the FERC seat left vacant by former commissioner Robert Powelson.  McNamee was one of the key architects of the DOE’s proposed rule to bail out nuclear and coal-fired power plants, which FERC rejected unanimously in January.  Last Friday, President Trump signed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which is expected to speed up the development of advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S. by eliminating several of the financial and technological barriers standing in the way of nuclear innovation.  ProPublica, in partnership with the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail, reported that following a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked a key permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection began rewriting the state construction standards for pipeline river crossings that prompted the appeals court to block the plan.  The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans running for federal office do not mention the threat of global warming in digital or TV ads, in their campaign literature, or on social media.

The documentary Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, will air October 13 on Discovery Channel and Science Channel.  In addition to focusing on NASA’s historic accomplishments in space, the film sheds light on the agency’s lesser-known, but vital, role in measuring the health of Earth.  To mark the film’s release, the writer and director published an opinion piece in The New York Times highlighting the latter role.  Another documentary, Living in the Future’s Past, was reviewed in the L.A. Times.  In The Guardian, Bill McKibbon had an opinion piece in which he discussed the link between the Trump administration’s policies on climate change and child refugee camps, while Leo Barasi argued that further progress on climate change will require people to begin to make changes in their lives, a much more difficult task than shutting down coal-fired power plants.  Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg agrees with him.  That is why she is protesting outside of the Swedish Parliament.  Photographer Adriene Hughes presented some photos of icebergs in Wired that are sew great.  The October issue of National Geographic has an essay by Anne Lamott on hope, the subject of her new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope.

Climate

Carbon Brief released an amazing new interactive, in which the authors extracted the key data and metrics from around 70 peer-reviewed climate studies to show how global warming is projected to affect the world and its regions across a range of temperatures.  The data cover a range of impacts, such as sea level rise, crop yields, biodiversity, drought, economy, and health.

A study published in Science Advances last month looked at tsunami impacts in a world of rising seas and found that as sea level rises, small earthquakes will cause tsunamis as devastating as those caused by large earthquakes today.  For example, today, it would take an 8.6-magnitude quake to flood Macau, but with 50 years of sea-level rise, an 8.2 quake, which is six times less powerful, would inundate the city.

The Guardian has a new series about drought in Australia entitled “The New Normal.”  Here are Part I and Part II.  New research in Nature Communications suggests that the summer fire season in Mediterranean Europe is going to get worse.  Under 3°C warming, the area that is currently burned every year would double.  Even more worryingly, 40% more area would be burned even if the Paris Climate Agreement is fulfilled and warming stays below 1.5°C.

A paper published this week in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science analyzed 13 ocean-based solutions to address climate change.  The study considered the effectiveness and feasibility of both global-scale and local solutions using information from more than 450 publications.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that global warming of 1.5°C would cause economic losses in China of $47 billion annually, whereas warming of 2°C would increase them to $84 billion.  Annual economic losses due to drought were $7 billion per year on average between 1984 and 2017.

If the effects of climate change go unmitigated, the world’s agricultural trade network will shrink dramatically by 2050, a group of researchers show in a new paper in the journal Palgrave Communications.  The U.S., which produced 30% of global food exports in 2015, would only produce 2% by 2050, if temperatures are left to rise by more than 2°C.

Energy

David Roberts published another column at Vox this week about the recent market research and polling done on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute on the subject of the public’s perception of 100% renewable energy.  Roberts’ summary of the public’s sentiment is: “We want clean, modern energy, and we’ll pay for it. We’re willing to let experts work out the details, but we don’t want to hear that it can’t be done. Just do it.”  In a second article, Roberts pointed out that “Silicon PV dominates the market more than ever,” so that most new technologies complement it, rather than replacing it.

Renewable energy companies are beginning to build hybrid wind/solar projects in the U.S.  The rationale is that wind and solar facilities complement each other.  They hit their peaks at different times of day and night, allowing them to provide a steadier output together than if each was alone.  On the other hand, three renewable energy companies are planning new solar projects in the California desert that will include battery storage to meet nighttime demand.  A new paper in the journal Chem presented the design principles for and the demonstration of a highly efficient integrated solar flow battery device with a record solar-to-output electricity efficiency of 14.1%.  The device integrates photovoltaics, storage, and energy delivery.  Energy Storage News reported on the pairing of energy storage with gas generators, which some call a game changer because it allows renewable energy to provide the base load with gas plus batteries serving peak loads.  Two new papers released on Thursday find that wind farms generate comparatively low power for the area they take up, and that installing lots of them could heat up the surrounding land.  The heating is localized, however, and others have criticized the conclusions about the energy generated per area taken up.

According to a study by the German group Urgewald released Thursday, 1,380 coal-fired power plants are under construction or development worldwide.  Export credit agencies such as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, China Development Bank Corp. and Korea Trade Insurance Corp. were among the biggest supporters of those power plants.

The International Energy Agency has issued a new report entitled “The Future of Petrochemicals.”  In it they predict that direct greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemicals production would increase 20% by 2030 and 30% by 2050.  Furthermore, the main driver of the petrochemical industry’s growing climate footprint is plastics.  On Monday, the Swiss startup Climeworks opened its third plant removing CO2 directly from the air.  It will capture 150 tonnes of CO2, which will be converted to methane and used to power trucks running on “green gas.”

Oil prices have been rising lately, having increased 27% this year to more than $85 a barrel.  This is good news for auto makers, who will be rolling out new electric models over the next three or four years, beginning with the Paris Auto Show this week.  It also means there is a need for more charging infrastructure.  Virginia has entered into a public-private partnership with Los Angeles based EVgo Services to conduct the initial buildout of its electric vehicle charging network.  It is dedicating 15% of its Volkswagen settlement money, the maximum amount allowed, toward the project.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has released its “2018 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard” and John Rogers has written about it at the Union of Concerned Scientists website.  Gov. Ralph Northam released his 2018 Virginia Energy Plan on Tuesday and it emphasizes renewables, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and modernizing the electric grid.

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 9/28/2018

Policy and Politics

A new space station sensor that will lay the foundation for future long-term observations of Earth’s climate is moving ahead, despite repeated attempts by the Trump administration to kill it.  The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has issued its first status report, revealing that over 500 companies are now supporters of it, including the world’s largest banks, asset managers, and pension funds, responsible for assets of nearly $100 trillion.  On the subject of preparing for the effects of climate change, more academics are approaching questions once reserved for doomsday cults: (1) Can modern society prepare for a world in which climate change threatens large-scale social, economic, and political upheaval?  (2) What are the policy and social implications of rapid climate disruption?  In his Wednesday column in The Guardian, George Monbiot tackled the threat that continued economic growth poses to limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  A new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, examined the cost of climate change to the economy of each country, as well as to the global economy.  They found the biggest impact to be on India, but that the global impact was much greater than the impact on any individual country.

Speaking to Oliver Milman of The Guardian, Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the upcoming IPCC report on the feasibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C, said “It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5°C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that. … While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”  Nevertheless, reviewers of the report are concerned that the “Summary for Policymakers” is being altered to make the dangers of climate change seem less alarming.  As a result, they say, policymakers could seriously underestimate the risks of global warming.  A new paper in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources, written by a group of UK academics after reviewing almost 200 published papers, concluded “Further delay in pursuing an emissions path consistent with 1.5°C likely renders that target unattainable by conventional means, instead relying on expensive large-scale CDR [carbon dioxide removal], or risky solar radiation management.”  Amazingly, the Trump administration appears to be using this situation as justification for freezing the Obama administration’s automobile fuel efficiency standards, stating in the environmental impact statement for the freeze, that things are going to be so bad that additional CO2 in the atmosphere will have a minor effect on the outcome.

Lawmakers are divided on whether to extend a popular tax credit for electric cars.  EV manufacturers face a cap of 200,000 vehicles that are eligible for the credit, a level now being reached by Tesla and General Motors.  The Washington Post published content from Siemens about the infrastructure that will be required for cities to accommodate large numbers of EVs.  According to The Hill, the EPA plans to merge its Office of the Science Advisor, a senior post that was created to counsel the EPA administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, with the Office of Science Policy and place them under the Office of Research and Development.  This moves the Science Advisor one tier lower in the organizational structure.

Climate

Carbon Brief has produced a new map showing both how the temperature has changed up to present day and how it might change in the future for every different part of the world.  The map combines observed temperature changes with future climate model projections.  It breaks up the world into “grid cells” representing every degree latitude and every degree longitude.  Clicking on a grid cell produces a side bar with the temperature information for that location.

Beyond Meat –makers of meat-free burgers – commissioned a study with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan to conduct a “cradle-to-distribution” life cycle assessment of its Beyond Burger and compare it to that of an uncooked quarter-pound beef burger.  They found that the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, and has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than the beef.

In its continuing coverage of the impacts of climate change on human heritage sites around the world, The New York Times published an article about the efforts to protect ancient archaeological sites in the Orkney islands of Scotland from sea level rise.  Closer to home ProPublica investigated the on-going costs and environmental justice issues of beach replenishment on the East Coast of the U.S.  A new study published Monday in the journal Environmental Research Letters has warned that climate change has adversely and uniquely affected many of the 417 national parks spread across the U.S. and its territories.  Eroding coastlines, recurrent flooding, increased temperatures, etc., will all act to cause Americans to move during the remainder of this century.  Writing in The Guardian, Oliver Milman looked at the impacts of the “climate migrants.”  A sea level research and communications group’s rapid analysis of the storm surge from Hurricane Florence has found that 1-in-5 of the homes impacted along the Carolina coast wouldn’t have fared so badly had sea levels not risen significantly since 1970.

We typically think of sea level rise as the main consequence of melting glaciers and increased CO2 and methane emissions as a major consequence of melting permafrost.  In mountainous regions of the world, however, those events can lead to slope destabilization, causing more landslides.  On the subject of melting permafrost, scientists have discovered that a lake in Alaska formed by it is leaking large quantities of methane.  It is also leaking other hydrocarbon gases typically found in gas wells, suggesting that at least part of the methane is from a fossil source, rather than being formed by microbial decomposition of organic matter in the lake bottom.

According to a study published Thursday in the journal Science, last year’s record hurricane season – which saw Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria cause devastation across North and Central America – was primarily driven by “pronounced warm conditions” in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.  On September 19 and 23, Arctic sea ice appeared to have reached its seasonal minimum extent for the year, at 4.59 million square kilometers (1.77 million square miles). This ties 2018 with 2008 and 2010 for the sixth lowest minimum extent in the nearly 40-year satellite record.

A recent paper in the journal Earth’s Future used modeling to estimate climate sensitivity (the warming associated with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) using the energy balance technique, but with corrections for the two weaknesses that have been discovered in the technique.  The results showed that the estimates were larger than previously calculated with the technique and were consistent with mainstream climate science estimates.

Energy

In earlier Roundups I have linked to articles about zinc-air batteries, potential competitors to lithium-ion batteries for energy storage.  Now NantEnergy has announced that it has made zinc-air batteries rechargeable and reduced their cost to $100 per kilowatt-hr, compared to $300 to $400 per kilowatt-hr for lithium-ion batteries.  Currently, there are still limitations on the applications of zinc-air batteries, but they hold promise for micro-grid and other utility-scale energy storage.

The Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) announced Wednesday that it will speed up the retirement of its coal-fired generation by as much as 10 years — planning to retire the majority of its remaining plants in the next five years and the entire fleet within 10.  In its place, NIPSCO is looking to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind coupled with battery storage.  Spanish electric utility Iberdrola SA, the world’s biggest wind power producer, plans to expand its renewable capacity in the U.S. by about 50% over four years as part of its global plan to reduce carbon emissions.

The unfinished nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina are facing different fates.  In Georgia, the primary owners of Plant Vogtle say the project will continue after they resolved a disagreement about multibillion-dollar budget overages.  In South Carolina, the Office of Regulatory Staff argued that SCE&G should have abandoned construction of two more nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station more than two years before the project ultimately collapsed, and thus construction costs after March 12, 2015, should be disallowed as “imprudent”, freeing ratepayers from having to pay them.  Two federal appeals courts have now upheld state nuclear power plant subsidies, and in doing so, they have also helped to solidify the legal footing for state renewable energy programs across the country.

The UK, Canada, Denmark, and Spain have joined the now 19-strong global Carbon Neutrality Coalition, a group of nations striving to achieve net zero CO2 emissions during the second half of the century, in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  China is aiming for renewables to account for at least 35% of electricity consumption by 2030, according to a revised draft plan from the National Development & Reform Commission.  Nevertheless, according to CoalSwarm, newly released satellite photos appear to show continuing construction of coal plants that China said it was cancelling last year.  Wind is set to become the European Union’s largest source of electricity by 2027, according to International Energy Agency.

Sunpreme, a California-based solar cell and bifacial panel maker, plans to open a Texas manufacturing facility in 2019.  Canadian solar panel manufacturer Heliene is opening a solar panel manufacturing plant in Mountain Iron, Minn.

Since 2012, Texas has approved 43 petrochemical projects along the Gulf Coast that will add millions of tons of greenhouse gas pollution to the atmosphere, according to an environmental study released this week by the Environmental Integrity Project.  The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative committed to cutting methane emissions to an intensity of 0.25% of the group’s total fossil fuel production.  Such a reduction would equate to 350,000 tonnes of methane annually.

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.