Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/15/2019

Politics and Policy

On Friday students in nearly 100 countries around the world joined Greta Thunberg in her “school strikes for climate” protest.  At The Washington Post, Griff Witte, Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis reported on the events and profiled several students from around the U.S. who joined in.  The Guardian presented some of the posters from around the world.  A group of climate scientists wrote an open letter in support of the students.  Inside Climate News illustrated what climate scientists were saying when various world leaders were the age of today’s students.  Both the United Mine Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers came out against the Green New Deal (GND), saying “We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered,” even though the GND calls for a “fair and just transition” as we move toward zero net greenhouse gas emissions.  Evidently, Upton Sinclair was right.  Not surprisingly, President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal is not friendly to research and other programs related to climate change.  Australia’s annual carbon emissions have reached a new high and drops in emissions from the electricity sector have been wiped out by increases from other industries.

A new paper in Nature Climate Change provided more fuel to the debate about solar radiation management, a form of geoengineering, as a policy for slowing global warming.  The ideas are too complicated to cover in a sentence or two, so I encourage you to read Chris Mooney’s article.  The U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked a Swiss push to develop geoengineering governance at the UN Environment Assembly.  The town of Exeter, N.H. passed an ordinance recognizing the “right to a healthy climate system capable of sustaining human societies”, the second ordinance of its kind to be passed in the U.S.  It follows a law passed by the town of Lafayette, CO, which enacted a “Climate Bill of Rights” ordinance in 2017.  On the other hand, Indiana is the latest state to consider legislation increasing to a felony the penalty for peaceful protests on private property of fossil fuel companies.  Fossil fuel and other corporate trade groups paid public relations and advertising firms at least $1.4 billion from 2008 to 2017 to help them win over the American public.

No matter what you might think about the Green New Deal, it has already had one important impact: Republicans are speaking out about climate change, including former Ohio Gov. John KasichCBS News had a piece about Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), the ranking member of the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.  As infrastructure talks progress in Congress, Democrats are calling for any legislative package to address climate change, even though exactly how is not yet clear.  Executives from two Canadian oilsands companies praised a carbon tax at this year’s CERAWeek, a conference in Houston considered to be one of the most important for the world’s energy sector.  Inside Climate News summarized other activity at the conference.

Australia’s central bank warned that climate change is likely to cause economic shocks and threaten the country’s financial stability unless businesses take immediate stock of the risks.  Ivy Main summarized the fate of this year’s energy legislation in Virginia under the title “How the General Assembly failed Virginia again on clean energy.”  As expected, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam vetoed two bills that would have made it difficult for Virginia to join two interstate agreements limiting greenhouse gas emissions, one from the power sector and one from transportation.  On March 4, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said that climate change was making tornadoes worse.  Scientists at Climate Feedback concluded that the statement was misleading.

Potpourri

Calling themselves BirthStrikers, women and men are refusing to have children until climate change ends.  At Vox, Umair Irfan looked at the broader questions around the ethics of child bearing in an age of climate change.  Climate scientist Michael Mann had a strongly worded opinion piece at Newsweek.  Dan Charles had an interesting series on NPR in which he helped us imagine what life would be like in 2050 after climate change had been stopped.  Jeff Goodell filed more dispatches at Rolling Stone from Antarctica where he is aboard the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer.  He also filed three while I was gone: March 1, March 6, and March 8.  At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach explained how climate change is affecting spring by examining “Spring” in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”  Alina Tugend asked the question “Can art help save the planet?” at The New York Times.  In his new book, The Snap Forward, futurist Alex Steffen encourages people to think of tackling climate change as an ongoing opportunity to build a sustainable future, not a fight we’ve already lost.

Climate

Dramatic temperature increases in the Arctic are unavoidable, according to a report released at the UN Environment Assembly.  Even meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, would do nothing to stop Arctic winter temperatures from increasing 3° to 5°C by 2050 and 5° to 9°C by 2080.

On Wednesday, a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists published the results of a large study of the impacts of sea level rise on California’s coast.  The team concluded that damage by the end of the century could be more devastating than the worst earthquakes and wildfires in state history.  As sea levels rise, high-tide flooding is becoming a growing problem in many parts of the globe, including cities on the U.S. East Coast.  Now, new research shows that as these waters recede, they carry toxic pollutants and excess nutrients into rivers, bays, and oceans.

Carbon Brief has published an update of its 2017 interactive map illustrating the extreme weather events that have been studied to determine whether they can be attributed to climate change.  The analysis suggests that 68% of the 260 extreme weather events studied were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change.

A new paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change investigated the conditions required to hold global warming to 2°C by 2100.  By examining 5.2 million possible climate futures, the authors concluded that carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to achieve that without geoengineering or other technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people in cooler states, where air conditioning and other ways to cool down are less common, are likely to misjudge the deadly dangers hot spells can pose to their health.

Another paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences used computer simulation to examine future conditions for crop growth and found that by 2040, without reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, up to 14% of land dedicated to wheat, corn, rice, and soy beans will be drier than in 1986-2005, while 31% will be wetter.

Energy

Two papers described new research with proton conducting fuel cells.  One device harnessed as much as 98% of the electricity it was fed to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, providing an efficient way to store energy.  Engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed an artificial leaf that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere or flue gas and convert it into a fuel with ~14% solar-to-fuel efficiency.

On Wednesday, the U.S. and India agreed to build six U.S.-designed nuclear power plants in India.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., NRC commissioners rejected a recommendation from their staff to require reactor owners to recognize the new climate reality and fortify their plants against flooding and seismic events.

Renewable energy sources supplied nearly 65% of Germany’s electricity last week, with wind turbines alone responsible for 48.4% of power production nationwide.  At Axios Ben Geman explained why offshore wind is finally expected to experience rapid growth in the U.S.  Goldman Sachs said it expected utility-scale solar installations globally to reach 108 GW in 2019, up 12% on 2018, and then grow by another 10% in 2020 to 119 GW.  In the past I have linked to several articles about the difficulty of siting new power lines to move renewable electricity across the country.  Well, a new project has an interesting solution: burying the power lines along railroad rights-of-way.  Joel Stronberg wrote about the implications to the fight against climate change of local communities rejecting wind and solar farms.

BP announced on Wednesday a three-year partnership with EDF aimed at developing further technologies to detect and prevent methane leaks.  BP had aimed to reduce methane emissions to 0.2% of its overall oil and gas production by 2025, but was able to achieve that target in 2018.  Other oil and gas companies, including Shell, are also pledging to reduce methane emissions and are calling for more regulation of the gas.  On the other hand, according to Unearthed, “British oil major BP successfully lobbied the Trump administration to roll back key climate regulations preventing the release of methane into the atmosphere, despite claiming to support the Paris agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C.”

General Motors has recently established the position of VP for electric vehicle charging and infrastructure.  Ben Geman of Axios interviewed the first person to hold the post and gained insights into how GM views the development of that infrastructure.  He also reported on discussions about EVs at the Houston energy conference.  Volkswagen is increasing the number of new EV models it plans to build over the next decade from 50 to 70.  On Thursday, Toyota announced that it will invest about $750 million in facilities in five states to increase production of hybrid vehicles.  Joel Stronberg discussed CAFE fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and offered his opinion on the problems the auto industry faces as a result of the Trump administrations desire to roll them back.

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 3/8/2019

Joy Loving is this week’s author.

Politics and Policy

This article in Yes! Magazine provided a perspective on government action and inaction on climate change, asking “After 40 Years of Government Inaction on Climate, Have We Finally Turned a Corner?”  The author was inspired in part by his reporting about The Children’s Trust.  Perhaps an answer lies in part in actions such as this one by the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis:  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported on passage of a bill to protect some public lands.

Last week’s Roundup highlighted several articles about young climate activists.  The Guardian weighed in as well this week, with a close look at some individuals involved in the Sunrise Movement.  Perhaps these young people and others in their movement will be heartened to learn that there is a strong climate advocate, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, who says he will run for President in 2020.  The Washington Post’s (WaPo) Energy 202 gave the details.

You’ve no doubt heard about Democratic proposals for a “green new deal”.  The Hill reported that the conservative approach would look a lot different.  And the Washington Examiner offered a slightly different, but related, take. republicEn offered this perspective:

“The caucus will not focus on climate change, but instead on returning Republicans to the conservation and environmental roots laid by President Theodore Roosevelt by tackling public lands issues, wildlife conservation, and environmental degradation of rivers, streams, and animal habitats. Toward that end, the caucus will work on ‘conservative solutions which are driven by a commitment to innovation, competitive markers, and entrepreneurialism.’”

Is there a way forward for the c-words (compromise? consensus? climate action?)?  See what you think about this Inside Climate News item titled “Green New Deal vs. Carbon Tax: A Clash of 2 Worldviews, Both Seeking Climate Action” and subtitled “The contest is elevating climate policy conversations on the campaign trail and in Washington. It could inspire compromises that bring together pieces of each.”  Maybe not, according to this author writing in FiveThirtyEight. USA Today reported a somewhat related story.  And then there’s this Bloomberg piece, which suggested maybe some level of bipartisanship is a possibility, this item from DW.com about shifting attitudes among evangelicals, and this PBS Frontline story about the self-described “conservative Republican and libertarian” mayor of Georgetown TX.  This WaPo Energy 202 story talked about the first debate in the Senate this week, suggesting so far compromise is not “in the air”.  And yet, two senators of different parties penned a March 8 op-ed in the WaPo on why we need to act on climate change.

There’s a new government panel that Mr. Trump is convening to let us all know just how much of a climate-related security problem we have.  Here’s Reuter’s report “White House drafts guidelines for panel questioning climate threat to security”.  Not everybody thinks that’s a good idea, as these WaPo items reportedAxios weighed in also.  Also, Bloomberg reported that Mr. Trump’s soon-to-be-released 2020 budget proposal would slash Department of Energy funding for renewable energy from $2.3B to $700M.  The author doesn’t believe Congress will go along. In this WaPo opinion piece, the authors explored how they consider Mr. Trump “at war with his own government over climate change”.

Nexus noted that “A report released Tuesday by the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU details how the administration’s efforts to eliminate regulations in key industries, including the automotive and fossil fuel sectors, ‘amount to a virtual surrender to climate change.’”  Nexus listed several media articles, including one by the Washington Examiner and another by ThinkProgress that present somewhat different “takes” on the report. This Grist article briefly summarized expected legal battles about six environmental regulatory rollbacks, and the Daily Press wrote a story about VA’s attorney general supporting challenges to offshore drilling.  Apparently, offshore drilling is preceded by seismic testing, and a SC lawmaker demonstrated just how harmful that might be to marine wildlife, the Post and Courier reported.

Potpourri

Is the world ready for lab-grown meat?  That question is examined in this Guardian article.  In a related article, Guardian asked “What the Green New Deal will mean for your hamburger”.

Like olive oil?  “Italy sees 57% drop in olive harvest as result of climate change, scientist says”, according to The Guardian.

Here’s a surprising WaPo Energy 202 piece headlined: “The Energy 202: Oil giant makes business case for taking climate change seriously”.  Guess who the “oil giant” is?  Of all companies, BP!

Union of Concerned Scientists published an October 2018 report that may help you more fully understand why lower rates don’t necessarily mean lower electricity costs.  The story is a few months old but the information remains relevant.

A Guardian reporter provided some history (past and present) about environmental injustice. VA is featured in several examples he cited.

When climate disasters strike, we can always count on FEMA to help those affected, right?  Maybe not, as NPR reported in “How Federal Disaster Money Favors The Rich”.

A 2017 VA law provided Dominion a lot of money for a variety of energy initiatives, including energy efficiency.  As a regulated monopoly, Dominion is guaranteed cost recovery and a minimum rate of return for many of its projects. This opinion piece from Bacon’s Rebellion is a bit wonky but reminds us about unintended consequences and their effects on our wallets.

Climate

In the “financial costs of climate change” department, here’s a NRDC story reporting on homeowners’ plights following the multiple hurricanes in the south in the past few years.  In last week’s Roundup we learned that “property value losses from coastal flooding in 17 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states were nearly $16 billion from 2005 to 2017.” But what about California’s fires?  Incredibly costly, according to this recent Bloomberg article:  “California’s Wildfires Burn Through America’s Climate Illusions”.  The Economist published a report that by 2100 “Climate change will affect more than the weather”—specifically the U.S Gross Domestic Product or GDP.  The graphics indicate—surprise!—the poorer among us will be hit harder economically than the wealthier and—another surprise!—the warmer areas more than the more northern ones.

National Geographic is offering its film “Paris to Pittsburgh” on its website.  Introducing the film, National Geo said: “As scientists’ warnings about the impacts of climate change become more and more dire—and the level of inaction from the federal government becomes more and more alarming—a growing number of leaders are fighting global warming with local solutions.”

This AP News article reported on efforts by legislators in several states, including VA, to ensure “balance” in the way schools present climate-related materials.

This Nature article addressed the question of whether humans can engineer our way out of our excessive carbon emissions.

Do we really need insects?  After reading this WaPo article, you might conclude we do.  But then there’s mosquitoes, which like to live where it’s warm (CityLab).  This Guardian item made a case that “Endangered species face ‘disaster’ under Trump administration” because “Trump’s push to expand oil and gas drilling is eroding protections for some of America’s most at-risk wildlife”.  You know the one about the frog in water that is very gradually heated up so the animal does not realize the danger until it’s too late?  What about humans?  The Atlantic said maybe we’re somewhat like that frog.

Bad news about ocean warming, sea level rise, and low sea ice in these four articles from The Guardian (“Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal” and “Australia’s marine heatwaves provide a glimpse of the new ecological order”); RNZ (“The world talks about climate change while Kiribati waits…and suffers”); and the AP (“Correction: Bering Sea-Low Ice story”).

Energy

A VA solar installer penned an op-ed about Virginia energy policy that appeared in the Virginia Mercury (VA Merc).  He wants more transparency and inclusiveness.

The Virginia State Water Control Board decided not to consider revoking its certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) but declared it’s in favor of strong “enforcement” around “compliance” matters.  The VA Mercury described what happened and, sort of, why (based on the Board’s public explanation).  The online paper followed up with an opinion piece by Editor Robert Zullo that had some harsh words about the process.  A Forbes contributor and investment advisor analyzed the possible economic effects on the developers of the MVP and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which he believes will be built.

In the Central Valley, when pipelines come up in a discussion, usually so does eminent domain.  It also comes up in Texas—by a Republican State Senator whose family “has run a gasoline and fuel distribution company”–interesting item appearing in the Texas Tribune.  The Senator’s constituents facing eminent domain land seizure agreed with her.  In NC, a judge sided, at least temporarily, with a landowner over Dominion and Duke, in what was described in The Progressive Pulse as another setback to the utilities wanting to build the ACP.  At least one VA legislator tried “to give landowners who don’t want pipeline construction on their land a fair chance against … companies involved in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline”. He wasn’t successful as reported by WSHV TV 3.  My Buckhannon (WV) provided a March 6 update on the ACP titled “Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction unlikely to recommence prior to September”.

Remember the tree sitters who oppose the pipelines?  Well, some of them are still there, per this CITYLAB article.  And, speaking of trees, here’s a tale, from WVTF Public Radio, about what happens in one part of the world affecting others.

Water water everywhere—at least in the climate news.  Related to our dependence on it, here’s a VERY detailed presentation from Ensia of how, when, where, and why the U.S. uses water.  Certainly makes one pause when one considers what may happen to water supplies because of climate disruptions and our apparently insatiable need for water.  One industry that uses LOTS of it is the concrete industry.  This report in The Guardian provided some alarming details about concrete’s hazards.  And then there’s waste from the coal industry (aka coal ash) according to this Inside Climate News report.

Another energy industry that can unfavorably affect water availability and safety is hydro fracturing (aka fracking).  Energy News reported that fracking produces another “side effect” in the territory of the grid operator PJM.  PJM services VA, among other nearby mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states.  The reporter made the argument that “Shale gas boom slows progress on renewables in PJM grid territory” so that “Wind and solar generation on the nation’s largest regional electric grid lags other parts of the country.”  A surprising part of the report suggests that PJM states can’t produce as much solar energy as other, sunnier states like NC, apparently overlooking how close VA is to NC, how much farther south it is than Great Lakes states, and how much sunshine VA actually receives.

Farther south, in GA, the Atlanta City Council decided “… to OK plan to have facilities run on clean energy by 2035”, apparently believing it has enough solar energy to do that.

Mining has been big business in Brazil but the benefits to mining companies have come at a huge cost to the indigenous peoples whose lands are being mined.  The Guardian reported on how they are fighting back and why.

The Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) “tracks and scores states based on their energy policies and how these policies help or hinder local clean energy action.”  Its latest Community Power Scorecard rates Virginia a C.  Reviewing their “policies that matter for local energy” makes it hard to understand how Virginia scored that well.  John Farrell of ILSR explained in a Renewable Energy News “Why ILSR’s 2019 Community Power Scorecard Matters”.

Locally and elsewhere in Virginia and other states, proposals for “solar farms” are attracting a lot of attention from proponents and opponents.  In a recent opinion piece, a former Augusta County Supervisor, weighed in writing in the Daily Progress.  And, a recent CivilEats piece described a way to have solar panels on land that is also being farmed. The WaPo Business section wrote about some pros and cons of IL farmers “raising” solar panels on farmable land in “The next money crop for farmers: Solar panels”.

Speaking of solar, here’s some good news about Nepal, from Thomson Reuters Foundation News (“In rural Nepal, solar irrigation helps keep families together”). Closer to home, Augusta County has joined Albemarle in putting solar panels on 7 schools, WHSV TV reported.  Harrisonburg’s school system plans to have solar energy producing electricity for one or more of its schools, and Rockingham County is considering that possibility.  Here’s some more good VA solar news from WVPT.

Remember the Exxon Valdez?  How about the Deepwater Horizon?  Probably yes.  But, have you heard about Taylor Energy of New Orleans?  Here are an article from the WaPo and another from the SunSentinel.  The Solomon Islands also recently experienced a catastrophic oil spill, as reported in the Guardian.

Action Items

Robert Whitescarver, a farmer and blogger in Swope VA, wrote extensively about proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changes to the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS).  He noted that the definition “has profound implications”—e.g., “How much can we pollute these waters? How much can we dredge, fill, or alter them?”  He suggested each of us should consider “Just how far upstream do we allow the federal government to regulate and protect?” and let the EPA know our answer.  The public comment period ends April 15.

Renew Rocktown, CAAV, and Shenandoah Group of Sierra Club plan to do a Solar Census to count the number of solar installations within the city of Harrisonburg.  If you own solar, check out this site.

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/1/2019

Politics and Policy

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee announced his candidacy for U.S. President, with climate change as his first priority.  Switzerland wants the world to talk about if and how to use geoengineering to slow climate change – and will ask the UN’s environment arm to take the lead.  Costa Rica’s president has launched an economy-wide plan to decarbonize the country by 2050, saying he wants to show other nations what is possible to address climate change.  Writing about putting a price on carbon emissions, Frank Ackerman said: “…under either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, the price level matters more than the mechanism used to reach that price. …[U]nder either approach, a reasonably high price is necessary but not sufficient for climate policy; other measures are needed to complement price incentives.”  In an opinion piece to accompany “Concrete Week” at The Guardian, John Vidal lays out the case for imposing a carbon tax on cement.

In her New Yorker essay about climate-related business failures, Sheelah Kolhatkar wrote “If the coming climate-related business crises will have one positive side effect, it’s that acute financial losses are likely to force policy changes in a way that environmental damage on its own has not.”  A report by the UK-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that 100 global financial institutions have introduced policies restricting coal funding.  The German think tank Adelphi analyzed the manifestos, public statements, and voting behavior of 21 right-wing populist parties represented in the European Parliament, and found that only three of them accept the scientific consensus that humans are creating significant climate change.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) submitted the names of Republican members of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), who is the chair of the panel.  The Senate on Thursday approved former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the EPA by a vote of 52 to 47.  One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted against Wheeler’s confirmation.  Tim Gallaudet, the acting administrator of NOAA, was suddenly replaced on Monday by the No. 3 official at the agency, former weather industry scientist Neil A. Jacobs.  Pennsylvania state legislators are debating whether to subsidize existing nuclear power plants to keep them operating.

The editorial board of The Washington Post proposed their alternative to the Green New Deal (GND).  Responding to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “cynical Green New Deal vote,” Democrats are looking “to get Republicans on record on climate change,” by introducing their own climate resolution.  More than 100 youth climate protesters, part of The Sunrise Movement, entered McConnell’s office Monday to advocate for the GND.  Ultimately, 42 people, all over 18, were arrested.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also had an encounter with young people, which was kind of tense.  This caused Bill McKibben to write “… youth carry the moral authority here, and, at the very least, should be treated with the solicitousness due a generation that older ones have managed to screw over.”  Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic had a different take on it.  Perhaps the GND critics should consider why David Roberts at Vox thinks so many of them “…have missed the mark.”  Last week I included an article about a plan to reassess whether climate change poses a national security threat.  Well, the plan has morphed into an ad-hoc group that will conduct an adversarial review of climate science out of the public eye.  These new efforts to question or undermine the established science of climate change have created a widening rift between the White House and some leading figures in the president’s own party.  As Amy Harder at Axios said, “some congressional Republicans are beginning to publicly acknowledge it, and a few are even considering policies addressing it.”

Potpourri

The New York Times has an informative article entitled “Teach About Climate Change with These 24 New York Times Graphs.”  Be sure to pass it on to anyone you know who is a teacher.  There are two new books out about the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and its aftermath.  Sonja Schmid reviewed them for Nature.  Michael Svoboda compiled a list of books dealing with environmental justice for Yale Climate Connections.  Amy Brady interviewed photographer Virginia Hanusik about her project “A Receding Coast.”  In another dispatch from Antarctica, Jeff Goodell talked with expedition chief scientist Rob Larter about Thwaites Glacier.

Climate

A paper published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change celebrated the 40th anniversary of three key events in climate change science.  One finding of the paper was that climate scientists are now 99.9999% certain that current climate change is being caused by human emissions of CO2.  (That is the level of certainty associated with the “five-sigma” threshold mentioned in the article.)  Something much less certain about CO2 buildup in the atmosphere is what it will do to clouds.  A new paper in the journal Nature Geoscience used simulation to examine the impacts of very high CO2 concentrations on the formation and stability of stratocumulus clouds, the kind that hover low in the sky and create vast decks of cloud cover, cooling Earth.  The authors found that when the CO2 level reached 1300 ppm, those clouds disappear, causing temperatures to increase rapidly.

An iceberg roughly twice the size of New York City is set to break away from the Brunt ice shelf in Antarctica as a result of a rapidly spreading rift.

According to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it took just two to eight years for Americans in a given location to stop recognizing that extreme temperatures were, in fact, extreme.  Temperatures in the UK and Europe were unseasonably warm this week, setting many wintertime high temperature records.  And in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia posted its hottest summer ever and the first season in which temperatures exceeded 2°C above the long-term average.

A new analysis, published Wednesday by First Street Foundation, estimates that property value losses from coastal flooding in 17 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states were nearly $16 billion from 2005 to 2017.  Florida, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina each saw more than $1 billion in losses.

Marine fish around the world are already feeling the effects of climate change.  Rising sea temperatures have reduced the productivity of some fisheries by 15% to 35% over 8 decades, although in other places fish are thriving because warming waters are becoming more suitable.  Also, in the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change.  Writing in Scientific American, Laura Poppick reviewed the causes and consequences of such changes.

Energy

The cover article in this week’s issue of Chemical and Engineering News is about carbon capture and the various technologies available.  Although it must undergo a lot of development before it can be applied, an article in the journal Nature Communications described a new process that can convert CO2 into solid particles of carbon, which would be much easier to store than liquid CO2.

New research, published Monday in the journal Nature Energy, found that hydrogen produced using renewable energy is already cost competitive in niche applications and is likely to be competitive in industrial-scale applications within a decade.  (The linked article is from the UK.  If, like me, you don’t know what a “hob” is in this context, it is a cooktop.)  Meanwhile, Australia’s government is setting up a coalition to explore a hydrogen economy.

An analysis of newly released official energy data from China by Unearthed revealed several interesting items.  Among them, China’s CO2 emissions grew by approximately 3% last year, the largest rise since at least 2013.  On the other hand, power generation from non-fossil sources grew by 29%, with wind power generation increasing 20% and solar PV 50%.  Wind and solar generated 8% of China’s power needs, up from 3% five years ago.  Efforts to cut emissions of CO2 and tackle climate change in developed economies are beginning to pay off according to research led by the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia in the UK and published Monday in Nature Climate Change.  New government figures from Australia revealed that its greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise, reaching their highest on a quarterly level since mid-2011, as soaring pollution from the liquefied natural gas export sector overwhelmed ongoing decreases from power plants.

Flow batteries are typically used in large installations, such as for storing energy at solar or wind farms.  Now, researchers are working to decrease their size so that they can be employed in electric vehicles, thereby reducing the time it takes to recharge the vehicles.  A new “conventional” battery using a zinc-bromine combination has been unveiled at Sydney University in Australia.  The appeal of zinc-bromine includes the materials’ relative abundance, particularly compared with lithium, and the nonflammability of the electrolyte gel.  Battery prices have fallen so low that the technology is now the least expensive way to provide customers in the Southwest with electricity, according to Arizona Public Service Co. (APS).  To take advantage of this shift, APS will add large, building-size batteries to the power grid across Arizona.

On February 1, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced it was making available $28 million in funding for research projects to develop new technologies for floating offshore wind turbines.  Wind turbines are typically designed to shut down at temperatures below −20°F, so when temperatures plunged during the January polar vortex, turbines in the Upper Midwest shut down, renewing the debate about the role of onshore wind in meeting baseload power needs.  As more renewable energy is installed in the best places for wind and solar, the challenge will be to get the electricity to the places that need it, particularly when states and localities display a NIMBY mentality.  E&E News asks if this will be the next GND battlefront.

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 2/22/2019

Politics and Policy

Even though federal intelligence agencies have affirmed several times since President Trump took office that climate change poses a national security threat, the White House is preparing to assemble a panel under the leadership of William Happer to assess that conclusion.  At a meeting of the Planetary Security Initiative at The Hague on Tuesday, scholars and international officials warned that the Middle East and North Africa are about to be plunged into further chaos because of ongoing climate change and its associated impacts on food and water supplies.

The Trump administration has broken off talks with the California Air Resources Board over vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and is on track to roll back standards set by former President Obama, the White House said in a statement Thursday.  A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by two Pennsylvania boys and an environmental group seeking to stop President Trump from rolling back regulations addressing climate change, saying the court does not have power to tell the White House what to do.  Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have passed legislation allowing electric coops to raise their net metering caps from 1% to 7%.  A provision to raise the net metering cap for customers of investor-owned utilities — Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power — didn’t advance into the final legislation.  The Governor is expected to sign the bill.

 Changes in land use to foster more uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere is an important component of many countries’ pledges under the Paris Climate Agreement.  A recent “Perspective” piece in the journal Nature Climate Change argues that there are many shortcomings associated with those pledges, making it likely that those countries will fail to meet them.  The lead author of the Perspective piece had a guest post about the article at Carbon Brief.  ClimateWise, an initiative of the University of Cambridge that studies climate-related insurance risks, has issued new reports demonstrating how to a more precise look at those risks and their financial impacts.  This is most timely, since according to The Economist, corporate-risk managers are rotten at assessing their exposure to a changing climate.

Janos Pasztor, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change and currently Executive Director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, said: “For the moment, …, the world simply doesn’t know enough to decide [about solar geoengineering].  It doesn’t even know how it should go about making such a decision, how to research solar radiation modification, or even whether to consider the possibility of deployment at all.”  In The Washington Post, Leah C. Stokes, an assistant professor of environmental politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote about five things we should know about the Green New Deal (GND).  Lisa Friedman and Trip Gabriel of The New York Times called the GND “an extraordinarily complicated series of trade-offs that could be realized, experts say, with extensive sacrifices that people are only starting to understand.”  Decarbonizing buildings is an important component of any serious plan to reduce CO2 emissions.  California is beginning to tackle the problem as described by David Roberts at Vox.

Potpourri

Wallace Broecker, the geochemist who popularized the phrase “global warming,” died on Monday at 87.  He was fond of saying “The climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks.”  On Wednesday, Oliver Krug published an article in The Guardian about some of the artists who are illuminating the impacts of climate change.  Megan Mayhew Bergman had another article about how people in the southern U.S. are responding to climate change.  This one is mainly about Florida.  Journalist and translator Philipp Blom has a new book, entitled Nature’s Mutiny, about the 17th century’s Little Ice Age (LIA) and how it transformed Europe.  Blom contends that we can learn how climate change might influence society by looking backward at the LIA.  David Wallace-Wells used his New York Magazine article from last year as a starting point for his new book entitled The Uninhabitable Earth.  Kate Yoder of Grist described it as “an immersion in seemingly all of the worst-case climate scenarios.”  Whether that will be helpful or not depends on where you stand on the spectrum of how people react to troubling information, as discussed by climate scientist and psychologist Jeffrey Kiehl.  Wallace-Wells also had a rather long opinion piece entitled “Time to Panic” in The New York Times.  In contrast to Wallace-Wells’ book, the film “2040”, which was inspired by Project Drawdown, focuses on the work that is being done now to steer the right course through the potential hazards of climate change.

Climate

According to NOAA, January 2019 was the third-warmest January in the history of global weather record-keeping, which dates back to the 1880s.  The only warmer global Januaries in the instrumental record were 2016 and 2017.  The impacts of climate change don’t occur in isolation; rather they occur together.  Climate Central has prepared a new report entitled “CLIMATE PILE-UP: Global Warming’s Compounding Dangers” that quantifies those interactions for many cities in the U.S.  You can read either a synopsis or the full report.  Climate change was responsible for the majority of under-reported humanitarian disasters last year, according to an analysis of more than a million online news stories commissioned by Care International.  Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that, as a result of climate change, air pollution is lingering longer over cities and summer storms are becoming more powerful.

The Bramble Cay melomys, a small brown rodent living on a tiny Torres Strait island near Papua New Guinea, has been declared extinct, giving it the distinction of being the first mammal driven to extinction by human-caused climate change.  Climate change also influences where insect populations thrive and in New England large infestations of moose (or winter) ticks are taking a toll on moose calves.

A new paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, reported that laboratory-grown meat may do more damage to the climate in the long run than meat from cattle.  A study from European thinktank IDDRI claims that pesticides can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population.  In an opinion piece at Medium, farmer Alex Heffron argues that we need to stop focusing on what we eat, and start focusing on how the food we eat is produced.

According to a new analysis, there is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of emissions.  Older trees have long been thought to be more efficient carbon ‘sinks’, but new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that young trees are actually better at absorbing CO2 than established tropical rainforests.  The Natural Resources Defense Council and Stand.earth reported that the largest U.S. makers of at-home tissue products use only virgin fiber from Canada’s northern forests — one of the world’s best absorbers of atmospheric CO2 — in their major brands, thereby making climate change worse.

Data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s Climate Change in the American Mind surveys show that, over the past five years, the proportion of Americans who think global warming is happening and who worry about it has increased sharply.  The program also recently released its 2018 set of “Partisan Climate Opinion Maps.”  They are definitely worth a look.

Energy

Mining company Glencore has promised to cap the amount of the coal it is capable of taking out of the ground.  Glencore made its decision after facing pressure from a shareholder network known as Climate Action 100+, which has the backing of more than 300 investors managing $32 trillion.  Major tech companies are teaming with oil giants to use automation, AI, and big data services to enhance oil exploration, extraction, and production.  The EPA said CO2 output grew 0.6% in 2018 over the previous year, to 1.93 billion tons, while electricity generated grew 5%, to 23.4 quadrillion BTUs.

The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, Simon Denyer, had an article on Wednesday about the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima eight years after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident.  Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Thursday outlined the government’s plan to build a number of new nuclear reactors.

In total, 16.7 GW of new wind projects reached a final investment decision last year in Europe — 12.5 GW onshore and 4.2 GW offshore — 45% more than in 2017, according to WindEurope’s annual report.  Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed an executive order ending the moratorium on wind turbine permits imposed one year ago by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.  Portland General Electric (PGE) plans to build the 380 MW Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility just north of Lexington, Oregon.  It is being touted as the first in the U.S. to combine wind and solar power with battery storage.  A tidal turbine array in the north of Scotland set a new world record for generating power and exporting it into the national grid.

The results of a study published in the journal Energies show that as much as 25% of the increase in the UK’s GDP between 1971 and 2013 was driven by energy efficiency gains.  This suggests that improving energy efficiency has benefits beyond climate policy, given that the delivery of increased energy services can improve various aspects of society.  The EU agreed on Tuesday to reduce CO2 emissions from new trucks and buses by 30% compared to 2019 levels by 2030.

At Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk addressed three myths about renewable energy and provided a “friendly response” to each.  Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables studied the performance of a hypothetical power grid if electricity generation in it was 100% renewable (50% wind and 50% solar) with battery storage and winter conditions like those experienced during the recent polar vortex occurred.  It required a lot of storage.

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

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/15/2019

Politics and Policy

A new study from the Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK-based leftwing thinktank, warns that a gathering storm of human-caused threats to climate, nature, and the economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis.  On the brighter side, investors are willing to put up the capital to fund the Green New Deal (GND) goals provided they get clarity from Congress, said Jon Powers, president of financial technology company CleanCapital and former chief sustainability officer under President Obama.  “The thing that holds up capital the most is uncertainty,” he said.  “Once you have certainty in that policy, then that capital will know where to go.”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday the Senate will hold a vote on the GND, although a time has not yet been scheduled.  Joe Romm had an article at Think Progress this week examining what a WWII-scale mobilization might look like.  Amy Harder had an interesting infographic at Axios illustrating what fighting climate change means to different groups.

A paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters, confirmed the conclusions of a study last year by the Environmental Defense Fund: the Trump administration’s “Affordable Clean Energy Rule”, which would replace the Clean Power Plan, would cause more CO2 emissions than doing nothing in many states.  The Interior Department did not sufficiently consider the climate impacts of expanding a coal mine in Montana and must reexamine its environmental analysis, a federal judge ruled this week.  Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First in August 2017 for $1.0 billion, alleging the groups worked to undermine the Dakota Access pipeline that’s now shipping oil from North Dakota to Illinois.  On Thursday a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit saying he found no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise.  Pipeline executives are urging President Trump to assert federal authority over interstate pipelines and prevent states from blocking projects that run through their boundaries.  The petroleum industry has been depicting itself lately as the target of a conspiracy by scientists, local government officials, and climate change activists to make it look bad.

More than a dozen Republican senators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have urged President Trump to back the Kigali Amendment to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, and the U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration industry agrees.  So why won’t the Trump administration do so?  The Democrat-led House Committee on Science, Space and Technology devoted its first hearing to exploring the wide-ranging effects of climate change.  There was a subtle shift among key Republicans toward accepting the prevailing research that points to human-driven global warming.  If you think the divide between the political parties in the U.S. over climate change has been bad, it looks downright cordial compared to the situation in Australia, in spite of the huge climate impacts they have been experiencing.

At The New York Times, Brad Plumer provided an overview of state actions on climate change since the November elections.  Jan Ellen Spiegel wrote at Yale Climate Connections about how the 2018 elections changed the climate for renewable energy in the Northeast.  Plumer and Blacki Migliozzi teamed up with Robbie Orvis and Megan Mahajan of Energy Innovation to prepare a very informative infographic illustrating the CO2 reduction that the U.S. could achieve if it adopted seven of the most ambitious climate policies already in place around the world.  Climate-related disasters cost the world $650 billion over the last three years, according to a new report from Morgan Stanley.  The cost to North America was $415 billion, or 0.66% of North America’s GDP.  Bloomberg presented a chilling piece entitled “The Pessimist’s Guide to 2019: Fires, Floods, and Famines.”

Potpourri

The 2019 Tyler Prize for environmental achievement (the “Nobel for the Environment) was awarded February 12 to two eminent climate scientists, Warren Washington and Michael Mann.  Sara Peach offered advice for a reader who is worried about the climate impact of air travel.  Peter Sinclair’s latest video focuses on 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg, who virtually stole the show at the recent World Economic Forum.  Rupert Read, a philosophy professor at the University of East Anglia in England, wrote that he thought the student climate strikes started by Thunberg “are morally and politically justifiable.”  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that the percent of people in the U.S. alarmed about climate change has increased to 29%, double the segment’s size in 2013.

Climate

When soot (black carbon) falls from the atmosphere onto the surface of Arctic ice it absorbs energy from the sun, speeding up melting and decreasing the reflection of solar radiation back into space.  A study published Thursday in the journal Science Advances found that the burning of fossil fuels is the main source of black carbon in the Arctic.  Two new papers in the journal Nature suggest that the contributions of Antarctica to sea level rise by the end of this century will not be as great as other recent papers have suggested.

For a variety of reasons, the U.S. Forest Service’s latest aerial survey of federal, state, and private land in California found that 18 million trees throughout the state died in 2018, bringing the state’s total number of dead trees to more than 147 million.  When you add up both their absorption and emission, Canada’s forests haven’t been a net carbon sink since 2001.  Due largely to forest fires and insect infestations, the trees have actually added to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions for each of the past 15 years.  China and India are “leading the world” in “greening” the landscape, a study published in Nature Sustainability found, with the two countries accounting for one-third of the new forests, croplands and other types of vegetation observed globally since 2000.  However, that greening is “not enough to offset” the loss of the world’s tropical rainforests, particularly in Brazil, a scientist told Carbon Brief.

A study conducted at Iowa State University and published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports, identified three ways climate change will increase the likelihood of violence.  In 13 of 26 countries, people listed climate change as the top global threat, with the Islamic State militant group topping the list in eight and cyber attacks in four, according to a new poll conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Intensive agriculture, particularly the heavy use of pesticides, is the main driver of rapid declines in insect populations according to a new paper in the journal Biological Conservation.  Urbanization and climate change are also significant factors.

A new study in Nature Communications illustrated the impacts of climate change on U.S. cities by examining which locations now have climates like those the cities will experience in 2080 under two CO2 emissions scenarios.

Energy

A paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A describes initial studies on a new type of wave energy device that, because of its mechanical simplicity, may someday solve many of the problems associated with extracting electrical energy from the oceans.

Los Angeles will abandon a plan to replace three aging gas power plants along its coast with newer natural gas technology and will instead invest in renewable energy as it seeks to move away from fossil fuels.  In addition to being good for the climate, this may be a sound economic move if Justin Mikulka of Desmog is correct.  According to him, North American natural gas producers desperately need higher prices, making gas less competitive with renewables.  Dominion Energy of Virginia says it will cut methane emissions from its natural gas system by about 25% over the next decade to help fight climate change.

Wind, solar, and other renewables will account for about 30% of the world’s electricity supplies by 2040, up from about 10% today, according to BP’s annual energy outlook.  Simon Evans provided a detailed analysis of the report at Carbon Brief.  Spain aims to close all seven of its nuclear power plants between 2025 and 2035 as part of plans to generate all the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050.  German power and gas grid firms Amprion and Open Grid Europe said on Monday they would apply to build the country’s first large hydrogen plant that can convert wind power to alternative fuels that are easier to store and transport.

Described as a project of “strategic importance” for India’s energy sector, the country’s first grid-scale lithium-ion battery energy storage system officially went into service this week.  Oregon utility Portland General Electric said Wednesday that together with power producer NextEra Energy it plans to construct and connect a 300MW wind park, 50MW solar farm, and 30MW of battery energy storage.  U.S.-firm Hydrostor will convert a disused zinc mine in South Australia into a below-ground air-storage cavern for a 5MW/10MWh compressed air energy storage demonstration project.  As Americans buy more electric vehicles (EVs), the need for charging stations is increasing, but important questions exist around the issues of who should own them and who should set the charging rates.  David Thill of Energy News Network discussed the experience of Illinois in dealing with them.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Advanced Transportation looking at transit in Europe reported “a remarkable advantage of high-speed trains compared to aircraft”, with regard to direct CO2 emissions per [passenger-mile].  In spite of that, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced he was scaling back plans for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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 2/8/2019

This week’s Roundup was prepared by Joy Loving and Bishop Dansby.

Politics and Policy

This week saw the President give a “state of the union” address.  Per this Washington Post item, three areas he didn’t mention:  coal, renewable energy, and climate change.

There may be some narrowing of the partisan divide over whether and how to address climate change risks.  This Green Tech Network/Energy News Network podcast offers some insights.

What to do about transportation sector contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and how to do it is a big question.  Southeast Energy News says Virginia could be on a path to addressing this question. The Transportation Research Board of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has issued a policy snapshot, “Critical Issues in Transportation 2019” takes a broad and long-term view of 12 areas needing attention.

The Register-Herald, Beckley WV, reported that VA Tech researchers will use U.S. Department of Energy grant money to study ways to “reduce the stress of renewables on the nation’s power grid”.  Hopefully, their results will lead to more favorable federal and state policies on renewable energy.

Several recent articles covered a study that concluded “Climate change skeptics live where its effects are hurting economy most”; this headline is from CBS NewsThe Hill put it this way:  “Climate change likely to hit red states hardest”.  Brookings weighed in also:  “How the geography of climate damage could make the politics less polarizing”.

You will recall that a favorite trope of conservative talk show hosts was the Obama restriction on incandescent lightbulbs (actually, energy standards that affected inefficient bulbs). Now, the U.S. Department of Energy has a proposal to roll back standards on lightbulbs that will cost consumers billions. Further, the proposal sets up all sorts of barriers designed to slow progress and compromise the highly successful standards program that saves the average household more than $500 off their energy bills every year.

When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined members of the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats at a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office pushing a Green New Deal in November, she framed the proposal, which few had then heard of, as the only way for the Party and the country to seriously address climate change. “We do not have a choice,” she told them. “We have to get to one hundred per cent renewable energy in ten years. There is no other option.” The Green New Deal resolution as now drafted some three months later has language that leaves open the possibility of sustaining or expanding nuclear energy, which had been rejected in an open letter last month from over six hundred environmental groups, including the Sunrise Movement. The resolution also does not rule out the possibility of a carbon tax—an idea favored by centrists but viewed as inadequate by many climate activists.

Technology

There is a lot of buzz about a “green new deal” for America.  Architectural Digest discusses what this might mean for building design.

GM and other car makers have said that they are going ‘all-electric,” and yet GM has discontinued their Chevy Volt and continues to crank out conventional vehicles. Nevertheless, GM CEO Barra repeated Wednesday GM’s intent to go all-electric, but it doesn’t expect to make money off battery-powered cars until early next decade.

Railroads have long been the most efficient form of transport. Global transport emissions could peak in the 2030s if railways are “aggressively” expanded, says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Tesla has acquired Maxwell Technologies, a company you probably have never heard of. Maxwell is a capacitor manufacturer, including something called the ultra-capacitor. It is well known that batteries have limitations that ultra-capacitors do not have, and vice versa. Tesla’s Elon Musk has been quoted as having a personal fascination with ultra-capacitors. Tesla’s purchase of Maxwell might signal an interest in using ultra-capacitor to power electric cars.

 Climate

A recent New York Times article in its “Climate Forward” series warns in stark terms that shrinking glaciers mean less water for human consumption and for agriculture, affecting millions of people.  And The Guardian reporter David Wallace-Wells tells us that after researching the already-happening and likely-future effects of global warming, he’s no longer a doubter about what the world will be like in 2100—again, a gloomy perspective with a chilling image of an August 2018 Portugal wildfire.  The Washington Post reminds us, through stories about real people and communities called “Gone in a Generation”, that the U.S. isn’t immune from climate calamities and, indeed, that they’re already happening.

How about a wall to combat climate change?  “The Navy Wants to Build a Wall to Stave Off Climate Change”, according to a Bloomberg report.  Perhaps this barrier will actually keep unwanted water out.

An intriguing study reported in ScienceDirect examines whether carbon dioxide reductions in the late 1500s were connected to human explorations in the “new world”.

A research team working on Baffin Island in Northeastern Canada has uncovered evidence that today’s Earth looks a lot like it did 115,000 years ago. All we’re missing is the much higher sea level that was present at that time. New research suggests the planet is already paralleling the most recent major warm period in its past. Now the only question is how fast Antarctica could collapse to raise sea level.

If climate change changed the color of the oceans, would that get the world’s attention? The changes in color are in part a function of the fluctuating populations of phytoplankton, or algae — the microscopic plants that, across their thousands of different species, do some rather heavy lifting for the global ecosystem.

When we think about all that climate change imperils, we don’t always think about art and history.  Maybe we should, given that “9 Famous Sites from Art History Are in Danger of Destruction”, according to this Artsy article.

Energy

Nary does a week go by without an article, or 6, about the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and/or Mountain Valley Pipelines (MVP).  Here’s one from Reuter’s about rising costs because of construction delays.  And here’s a WHSV-TV item about one type of delay.  The current General Assembly is trying to decide how much authority the State Corporation Commission has on the subject of Dominion claims for ratepayer-reimbursement for the ACP.  Here’s Bacon’s Rebellion’s piece on a recent House vote on HB 1718.  And, as has been true from the beginnings of the ACP and MVP, the thorny issue of eminent domain continues to matter to many—as indicated in this Reuter’s item and in this Roanoke Times piece.

Many rural counties struggle with the pros and cons of large solar farms.  Here’s an interesting article about a win-win approach that doesn’t actually reduce agricultural use while allowing solar panels.

The World Economic Forum recently heard from CEOs Jules Kortenhurst of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Cristina Lampe-Onnerrud of Cadenza Innovation about the urgent need to move more quickly to reduce carbon emissions.  And RMI did a piece about China’s efforts in this regard, as did Renewable Energy World (REW).

There have been a number of recent articles about the changing relationship between utilities and their customers and about changing utility business models.  REW ran an article titled “How Utilities and Consumers Can Join Forces to Power the Sustainable Future”.  REW did another article, “Why Community Solar Is the Future of the Industry”.  And Green Tech Network offered up this item:  “Utilities ‘Need to Be More’ Than Electricity Providers, Entergy and ComEd Execs Declare”.  Chron published “University of Houston courts oil and gas for work on carbon management”.  And of all corporations, “BP will link bonuses for 36,000 workers to climate targets”, according to CNN Business item.

During the 2019 Virginia Assembly session, there was no lack of renewable energy and energy efficiency bills to alter the barriers in current laws.  Ivy Main’s blog Power for the People provided a Feb 4 status update on how these bills fared.  The picture she paints shows Virginia legislators have a way to go.

In contrast, Dominion Energy has been supporting the education of Virginia teachers about solar energy so they can in turn educate students.  The Dickenson Star reported on a southwest Virginia event, as did the Bluefield WV Telegraph.  Closer to home, The Citizen reported recently in two articles about the Harrisonburg school board’s efforts to put solar panels on schools and the dilemma posed for the city’s municipal electric utility (Harrisonburg Electric Commission–HEC) and city officials and staff.  Other nearby schools’ systems (Albemarle and Augusta Counties) have managed to make this happen, but it appears HEC and Harrisonburg have a financial interest in their schools’ not going solar.  Two other Citizen articles, one about a sustainability effort in the city and the other about the city council’s vision for Harrisonburg by 2039 provide further context about the challenges the city faces.

Australia has been experiencing record high temperatures.  Yale Environment 360 published an article about how renewables helped keep the grid operating.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/1/2019

Policy and Politics

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are planning to unveil legislation for a Green New Deal (GND) in the coming days.  Atlantic staff writer Robinson Meyer explained why the “task is enormous, and the path is narrow” to passing the GND through Congress.  Dana Nuccitelli expressed concern about some aspects of the letter sent to Congress by 626 organizations urging lawmakers to consider a number of principles when crafting climate legislation like the GND.  Last week I included articles about AOC’s 12-year deadline comment.  This week Joe Romm explained where it came from.  The 2018 midterms saw several green-minded governors either elected for the first time or reelected.  David Roberts reviewed their early actions on climate change at Vox.  The nation’s intelligence community warned in its annual assessment of worldwide threats that climate change poses risks to global stability because it is “likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.”

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler put eight new members on the agency’s main board of external science advisers, including John Christy, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.  Christy is an outspoken climate skeptic who argues that the climate is less sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions than the scientific consensus has found.  Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur says she will not seek a third term after being told by Senate leaders she would not be renominated.  Bill Gates is making the rounds on Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to spend billions of dollars over the next decade for pilot projects to test new designs for nuclear power reactors.  The Navy is considering erecting a 14-foot flood wall around the Washington Navy Yard to protect it from rising sea levels.  A series of new reports shows how climate change is intertwined with the world’s worsening health, and suggests changes in the global food production system.

The Energy Information Administration issued its Annual Energy Outlook on January 24, but Dan Gearino argued that its projections underestimate both the rate at which coal will decline and the rate at which wind power will grow.  The gap between Canada’s proposed climate efforts and its 2030 Paris Agreement target has grown even wider in the last year.  A report from the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center found that 47 states and the District of Columbia took some type of distributed solar policy action during 2018.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will host “Brightfields 2019 — Virginia”, a solar energy development conference, April 9-10 at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday stayed a previous court decision against Forest Service permits that allowed construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) across national forests and the Appalachian Trail.  A bill designed to wean Virginia’s electricity sector off of fossil fuels failed on a partisan vote in the state House of Delegates late Thursday afternoon.  Another piece of legislation advancing through the General Assembly would add new restrictions on Dominion Energy’s ability to pass along costs of transporting gas from the ACP to its Virginia-based power stations.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell presented a short compilation of realistic but optimistic clean energy news mostly from 2018 and Amy Brady interviewed Dominican novelist Rita Indiana about her book Tentacle.  A few of artist Katherine Wolkoff’s black and white photographs from her exhibit in New York City can be viewed at The Cut.  Michael Svoboda presented a list of 2018’s most significant climate change reports at Yale Climate Connections.  The latest video from Peter Sinclair is about the “methane time bomb” and whether we should be concerned about it.  Climate Interactive posted a video of climate scientist Beth Sawin’s TEDx talk about multisolving.  Kaelyn Lynch reviewed James Balog’s (Chasing Ice) latest film, The Human Element, for Outside magazine.  Sam Wall of The Roanoke Times interviewed Radford University English professor Rick Van Noy about his new book: “Sudden Spring: Stories of Adaptation in a Climate-Changed South”.  In an opinion piece at CNN, author Mark Lynas wrote: “I am currently working on an updated edition of Six Degrees.  It’s a scary task because many of the impacts that I had previously put in later chapters — equating to three or more degrees of global warming — have had to be moved forwards, because they are happening already.”

Climate

A report published in Nature last week, projects that the planet’s capacity to take in CO2 could begin to decline starting in 2060.  If those projections prove true, it would create a feedback loop that could accelerate the worst effects of global warming.  New research from the Brookings Institution suggests that areas where Americans are the most skeptical about climate change will be the hardest hit by its effects.  Furthermore, over the coming years and decades, climate change will harm much of the inland U.S., causing billions of dollars in losses by 2100.

Zoeann Murphey and Chris Mooney published a four-part multimedia series in The Washington Post about how climate change is impacting American’s lives.  The New York Times had an article about the polar vortex and its effects on extremely cold weather.  The article had a very interesting and descriptive animation of what happens.  At Carbon Brief, Robert McSweeney spoke with a number of climate scientists about how changes in the Arctic can cause extreme weather across the mid-latitudes.

New research, published in Science, challenges the long-held view that the strength of the “Atlantic Conveyer Belt” (ACB) is primarily driven by processes in the Labrador Sea, which is in the northwest Atlantic.  Instead, the strength of the ACB is most linked to processes in waters between Greenland and Scotland.  Chris Mooney discussed the significance of this to climate change.

On Friday, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology released its climate summary for January and said that the month was Australia’s hottest on record.  The Berkeley Earth scientific team has reported that in 2018, 29 countries plus Antarctica set individual records for the hottest year ever, while no country saw a record cold year.  Arctic summers may be hotter now than they have been for 115,000 years, according to new research published in Nature Communications.

A massive cavity two-thirds the size of Manhattan and almost 1,000 ft tall has been discovered in the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.  Jeff Goodell is accompanying a team of scientists to Antarctica whose mission is to better understand the risk of catastrophic collapse of Thwaites Glacier.  He will be writing a series of dispatches during his trip.  The first is here.

Energy

A new report, from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s One Earth initiative, lays out a blueprint to keep warming in check without relying on nuclear power or new technologies to capture CO2 that haven’t yet been proven at scale.  If technologies to capture CO2 are required, researchers have found a way to do so using a chemical technique similar to one scuba divers and submarines use to “rebreathe” CO2-rich exhalations.

A panel appointed by the German government has recommended that Germany stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2038 at the latest.  New wind, solar, and biomass power generation displaced hard coal last year according to a review of 2018 European electricity statistics.  China’s renewable power capacity rose 12% in 2018 compared to a year earlier.  In the UK, Cornwall Insight’s new projections suggest the emergence of a new generation of giant offshore wind turbines, coupled with on-going planned restrictions for onshore turbines, could see offshore projects undercut their onshore equivalent on a levelized cost of energy basis by around 2028.  Brazil’s new government announced plans to build a bridge over the Amazon River in Pará state to begin developing what he called an “unproductive, desertlike” region – a reference to the Amazon rainforest.

In the U.S., companies and government agencies last year signed contracts to buy 13.4 GW of clean power.  That easily shattered the prior record of 6.1 GW that was set in 2017.  New information from Texas grid operator ERCOT showed that carbon-free resources made up more than 30% of its 2018 energy consumption, and a slightly larger percentage of its 2019 generation capacity.  NextEra Energy’s CEO Jim Robo said that even after federal tax credits expire, electricity from wind will be 2–2.5¢/kw-hr and from large-scale solar 2.5–3¢/kw-hr.  Storage will add 0.5–1¢/kw-hr.  This would put these resources slightly below the current cost of natural gas-fired generation.  An estimated $8 billion in savings could be achieved in five years if just a third of all major electricity transmission projects across the nation were opened up to competition, according to a report by the Brattle Group.

Tesla has posted profits in consecutive quarters for the first time since going public in 2010.  Shell New Energies, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, acquired EV charging startup Greenlots.  In 2018, Ingka Group, the parent company of Ikea, pledged that Ikea will deliver every item worldwide by electric vehicle by 2025.  It started by promising a switch to EVs in five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Amsterdam, and Shanghai) by 2020.  As of January 23, it had already reached that goal in Shanghai.

The International Council on Clean Transportation released a study on the climate impacts of a creating a new commercial supersonic aircraft network Wednesday.  A new report from the International Energy Agency has found that urban and high-speed rail hold “major promise to unlock substantial benefits”, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, and air pollution.  Carbon Brief examined eight key charts from the report showing the status of rail in the world today and how it could reduce emissions in future.

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 1/25/2019

Policy and Politics

California’s fuel standard, designed to reduce emissions of CO2 from transportation fuels sold in the state, is a valid measure, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last Friday.  As a result of last week’s letter by the economists about a carbon tax, columnist Robert J. Samuelson said he is “(slightly) less pessimistic about global warming.”  Two University of Pennsylvania academics argued in The Washington Post that the U.S. already has a carbon tax: “one that is hidden, unfair and ever-increasing.  Call it the do-nothing climate tax.”  In the first of a two part series at Environmental Health News, journalist Lewis Raven Wallace wrote: “Public housing residents, along with other poor, disabled, elderly, and vulnerable people, are becoming a first wave of climate migrants in the U.S.—people selectively displaced … because they can’t afford to stay.”  Part 2 is entitled “Lingering long after a storm, mold and mental health issues.”  Writing in The Guardian, Gabrielle Canon said “A study released this year by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saved the nation $6 in future disaster costs.”

In a recent paper in Nature Climate Change, a team of academic researchers laid out the pervasive nature of misinformation campaigns on climate change instigated by the “climate countermovement” and proposed three approaches for dealing with it.  On Monday Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said “Millennials and Gen Z and all these folks that come after us are looking up, and we’re like, ‘The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, and your biggest issue is how are we gonna pay for it?’.”  The press focused on the “12 years”, which caused Andrew Freedman at Axios to seek clarification from some prominent climate scientists.

At Axios, Amy Harder provided a primer on climate change policy.  On Thursday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) unveiled the ‘‘Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019’’ with a few other Democrats and one Republican.  The bill would impose an initial $15-per-ton CO2-e “fee” on fossil fuel producers, processors, and importers that rises $10 annually.  All the revenues are returned to the public via a “dividend.”  On a split vote, a Virginia legislative committee approved a bill to halt construction of power plants that use fossil fuels and pipelines that carry such fuels after 2020 and to develop a plan for the state to rely totally on renewable energy for generating electricity by 2036.  Two polls out this week updated our understanding of the American public’s views on climate change.  Unfortunately, a significant majority of Americans are unwilling to contribute $10 each month to address it.

In another article in its series about agriculture and climate, Inside Climate News argued that industrial farming encourages practices that degrade the soil and increase emissions, while leaving farmers more vulnerable to damage as the planet warms.  On Wednesday, Vineyard Wind and a group of conservation organizations entered into an unprecedented agreement to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.  The agreement offers a template for future development of offshore wind.

Potpourri

Guardian reporter Megan Mayhew Bergman, a southerner, continued her travels through the South assessing people’s responses to climate change.  She “found that many members of coastal communities have built up psychological resilience after living through years of extreme weather.”  At Yale Climate Connections, Amy Brady interviewed novelist Cai Emmons about his book Weather Woman.  Brady also interviewed interdisciplinary artist Catherine Sarah Young for her Burning Worlds newsletter.  In The Guardian, celebrated author Annie Proulx looked at her favorite books to help us cope with how our world is changing, writing “We need clear explanations of climate change, what it means and how to cope with it.”

Climate

On Thursday, Berkeley Earth became the second group to determine that 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record, following the Copernicus Climate Change Service earlier in the month.  Ordinarily, NASA and NOAA would have released their rankings by this time, but the government shutdown has delayed them.  Nevertheless, both are expected to also rank 2018 as fourth hottest.  Perhaps as a result of the past four years, more Americans now think that climate change is happening and is human-caused.

New research published by the International Committee of the Red Cross has established a relationship between a changing climate and conflict, leading to increased migration.  Furthermore, a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change discovered that deteriorating climate conditions played “a statistically significant role” in the recent waves of migrants fleeing Middle East conflict.  The insurance giant Aon reported on Tuesday that the global cost of extreme weather in 2018 hit $215 billion.

Dr. Sigrid Lind, from the Institute of Marine Research and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Norway, told a conference in Norway that the Barents Sea is changing from an Arctic climate to an Atlantic climate as the water gets warmer.  Also in the Arctic, Greenland’s enormous ice sheet is melting at an accelerated rate and could become a major factor in sea-level rise around the world within two decades.  Climate change is intensifying a new military buildup in the Arctic, as regional powers attempt to secure northern borders that until recently were reinforced by a continental-sized division of ice.

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change combined groundwater model results with global datasets of the planet’s ground and surface water to examine how long it takes groundwater sources around the world to respond to stresses caused by climate change, such as changes in rainfall patterns.  Another paper in Nature Climate Change, reported that over the last 40 years the number of krill in the Southern Ocean has decreased and their location has moved southward.  At the other pole, killer whales are extending their range into the Chukchi Sea as a result of warming water and less sea ice.

A consultant’s study warned that climate change’s future impacts on Virginia Beach could cost from $1.7 billion to $3.8 billion for new citywide infrastructure.  Failure to prepare, on the other hand, could cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars — a year.  Further south, Miami-Dade County is facing even larger problems, particularly to its water supply.  At Bloomberg Businessweek Christopher Flavelle examined the threats and the potential costs to adapt to them.  On the other side of the world, Bangladesh, already grappling with the Rohingya crisis, now faces a devastating migration problem as hundreds of thousands face an impossible choice between coastlines battered by sea level rise and urban slums.

Energy

A new report from Deloitte — entitled “New market. New entrants. New challenges.” — suggests that the market for pure electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles is fast approaching a “tipping point” that should drive soaring sales over the next decade.  Furthermore, it predicts that globally the cost of ownership for EVs will match gasoline and diesel models by 2024.  Nevertheless, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency reminded the attendees that the growth in EV sales will have little impact on oil demand for the foreseeable future because it is being driven by trucks, the petrochemical industry, and planes.  BP said on Thursday it had invested in Chinese start-up PowerShare, which links electric vehicle drivers to charging points and helps power suppliers balance distribution.  Utility and auto executives, state and local government officials, and environmentalists gathered in Chicago Wednesday for a summit aimed at overcoming barriers to EV adoption in the Midwest.  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed a sweeping executive order aimed at increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles in Colorado, a move that’s expected to mean more EVs will be available for purchase in the state and sets Colorado on a path to be aligned with California’s standards.  Cities that have purchased electric buses are reporting difficulty with the buses’ battery life when the weather is too hot or too cold, as well as difficulties on routes with hills.

The latest S&P Global Market Intelligence data show that 49 GW of new power generation capacity will be added in the U.S. in 2019, with 45% from wind and 22% from solar.  We will also see the retirement of nearly 6 GW of coal.  New information from Texas grid operator ERCOT showed that carbon-free resources made up more than 30% of its 2018 energy consumption.  The largest share of credit goes to the state’s massive wind farms, which provided 18.6% of 2018 energy.  A new report by the World Resources Institute has found that while progress has been made toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, progress has been insufficient to allow global greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2020.  At Forbes, Jude Clemente argued that China’s coal reliance is not falling nearly as fast as some like to claim.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Eric Luo, president of China’s GCL System Integration Technology Co, a maker of solar panels, said the global solar power industry is about to lose a major competitive windfall as prices of Chinese-made solar panels begin to recover after a collapse last year.  Solar panel prices are already stabilizing and he expects them to rebound by 10 to 15% as the industry consolidates.  Agrivoltaics employs photovoltaic arrays that are raised far enough off the ground and spaced in such a way that some crops can still grow around and beneath the panels, or cattle can graze.

Projections from the Energy Information Administration suggest that by 2050, U.S. CO2 emissions from energy use will decline only about 2.5% as oil and gas production expand.

Legal delays on key environmental permits for the $7 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) are starting to impact the pipeline’s owners – and raise concerns among investors.  A U.S. appeals court will let the Trump administration pull back a contested permit authorizing the ACP to cross under the Blue Ridge Parkway, allowing the National Park Service to reconsider the authorization and consult with other agencies.

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 1/18/2019

Policy and Politics

Growing tension between the world’s major powers is the most urgent global risk and makes it harder to mobilize collective action to tackle climate change, according to a report prepared for next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  “Imposing a cost on carbon is the most economically efficient way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” yet public support is an “obstacle” to this, argue three experts on climate policy and climate economics, in the journal Nature. However, “opposition can dissipate once the benefits become clear”, they say.  In letter published Wednesday evening in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), forty-five top economists from across the political spectrum, including 27 Nobel laureates in economics, all four living former chairs of the Federal Reserve, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors, and two former Treasury Secretaries, called for the U.S. to put a tax on carbon, saying it is by far the best way for the nation to address climate change.  Last week, 626 environmental groups sent a letter to every member of Congress calling on them to support the Green New Deal.  However, six of the largest, most influential environmental advocacy groups didn’t sign it.  In its present form, the Green New Deal is very proscriptive regarding clean energy, prompting David Roberts to opine that that is one fight that should be avoided right now.  Daisy Simmons listed six things everyone should know about it at Yale Climate Connection.

Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, stated during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he would continue the administration’s aggressive reversal of environmental rules.  The Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan would increase greenhouse gas emissions in much of the U.S. more than doing nothing at all, according to new research.  Across the country, cities are implementing new housing and transit laws that have a secondary effect of lowering their emissions of greenhouse gases.  In The New York Times, senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin wrote about the four key issues determining climate change’s impact on the economy.  A new Pentagon report identifies significant risks from climate change at scores of military bases and says the Defense Department is taking protective measures against the threat.  But members of Congress, who requested the report, said it lacks the detail they were looking for.

While the Trump administration envisions energy and mineral exploration as part of the future of the land removed from Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, because of poor economics it is uncertain whether anyone will lease the land.  In a controversial move, President Trump issued an executive order on the Friday before Christmas that expands logging on public land in the West on the grounds that it will curb deadly wildfires.  Last week the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection reopened a public comment period for modifications to a combined state and federal permitting process that Mountain Valley must complete before it can dig trenches through streams and wetlands for its pipeline.

A modeling study published in Nature Communications found that there is a 64% chance of holding global warming to less than 1.5°C if no new fossil fuel infrastructure is built and all existing such infrastructure is replaced by zero-carbon alternatives at the end of its useful life.  Executives at the major U.S. automakers are pressing the Trump administration and California to agree on standards for fuel efficiency and carbon emissions through 2025.  On Thursday Virginia’s State Corporation Commission rejected most of Dominion Energy’s $6 billion proposal to modernize its electrical grid, stating that the cost to customers was too high.  One of the most conservative legislators in the Virginia General Assembly has proposed using the proceeds from the sale of electricity from solar arrays at schools to help finance badly needed repairs at many schools.  Ivy Main posted her annual compilation of climate and energy bills files with the Virginia General Assembly this year.

With “This Land,” artist David Opdyke melds art and activism, hoping to inspire urgent changes in the perception of climate change.  On BBC Culture, Diego Arguedas Ortiz explored climate fiction by addressing the question: “Can imagined futures of drowned cities and solar utopias help us grasp the complexity of climate change?”.  Last year, academic political theorists Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann published a book entitled Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future.  Isaac Chotiner interviewed them for The New Yorker.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell had a short piece highlighting two upbeat articles on strategies for combatting climate change that came out while I was taking Christmas break.  Also, SueEllen Campbell teamed up with philosopher, writer, and climate activist Kathleen Dean Moore to write an inspiring piece about why they won’t quit pushing for climate action.

Climate

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the rate of ice loss from Antarctica has accelerated since 1979 and is now six times larger than it was then.  Furthermore, the rate of ice loss from East Antarctica is much larger than had previously been thought.  Another study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, found that vast areas of permafrost around the world warmed significantly over the past decade, intensifying concerns about accelerated releases of methane and CO2 as microbes decompose the thawing organic soils.  The disintegration of permafrost is also causing big problems for communities and military installations in the Arctic by damaging roads and other infrastructure as the land destabilizes and erodes.  In addition, mountain glaciers around the world are also melting, threatening water supplies for millions of people.  NYT journalist Henry Fountain and photographer Ben Solomon visited Kazakhstan to report on the Tuyuksu glacier, which is rapidly melting.

The same group of scientists that reported last week that the oceans were warming 40% faster than they were five years ago, reported this week that 2018 was the warmest year on record for the oceans.  Furthermore, the top five years of ocean heat content have come in the last five years.  Carbon Brief presented its “State of the Climate” report for 2018.

Research published on Wednesday in the journals Science Advances and Global Change Biology examined the future of coffee plants and found that 60% of the world’s coffee species are at risk of extinction in the wild due to climate change, habitat loss, and the spread of diseases and pests.  Scientist Brad Lister returned to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years and found that 98% of ground insects and 80% of leaf canopy insects had vanished.  The most likely cause is global warming.

Rising global temperatures could lead to many more deaths a year than the 250,000 predicted by the World Health Organization just five years ago, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Speaking of rising temperatures, Australia has been in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave this week.

An ambitious report on the global food system from a commission convened by the medical journal The Lancet calls for a radical change in food production.  “The dominant diets that the world has been producing and eating for the past 50 years are no longer nutritionally optimal, are a major contributor to climate change, and are accelerating erosion of natural biodiversity,” The Lancet‘s editors wrote in a commentary accompanying the report, released Wednesday.

Energy

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest power company, intends to file for bankruptcy as it faces tens of billions of dollars in potential liability because of the wildfires that devastated parts of the state over the past two years.  This could have big impacts in the clean energy world.

China put just over 43 GW of new solar generation capacity into operation in 2018, down 18% from a year earlier.  Florida Power & Light Co. announced a major solar plan Wednesday, vowing to install more than 30 million solar panels in Florida by 2030.  In 2019, more renewable energy will be added to the U.S. grid than fossil fuel-based energy, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration.  A scathing new report from the Rachel Carson Council examines the wood pellet biofuel industry, specifically operations in North Carolina, and its “severely adverse” environmental and health effects.  Wood pellet producer Enviva called the report misleading and factually incorrect.

A former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday cast doubt about whether nuclear technology can be used to combat climate change, calling it “old technology.”  Nuclear power has also remained terribly expensive.

Last week I linked to one of the articles that reported that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.4% in 2018.  Part of that increase was caused by increased air traffic, with demand for jet fuel rising 3%.  On the subject of greenhouse gas emissions, Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic sought answers to the question of whether those emissions were following the worst case scenario proposed in the 2014 IPCC report.

Volkswagen has selected Chattanooga, Tennessee as its first North American manufacturing facility for electric vehicle (EV) production, which will require an investment of $800 million and create 1,000 new jobs.  GM is shifting 75% of its powertrain engineers from internal-combustion engines to electric vehicle development as it prepares to unleash of wave of EVs under the Cadillac brand.  Carbon dioxide emissions from EVs are 40% lower than internal combustion engine vehicles, even when the EVs are charged using electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, according to research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Unfortunately, right now, according to Nexus Media, car companies aren’t even trying to sell EVs.  The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it is launching a research center on lithium battery recycling in an effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources for the metal that is used in electric vehicles and electronics.

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 1/11/2019

Policy and Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up ExxonMobil’s latest attempt to block Massachusetts’ investigation into whether the oil giant misled the public and investors about climate change.  The decision clears the way for state Attorney General Maura Healey to force the company to turn over records.  If you would like to read a recap of how the fossil fuel industry got the media to think climate change was debatable, Amy Westervelt provided one at The Washington Post.

President Trump has formally nominated Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist who has led the EPA in an acting capacity for six months, to serve as EPA administrator.  Meanwhile, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the EPA to release about 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and 25 Trump officials, including Wheeler.  Nations that abandon the Paris Climate Agreement will ultimately be worse off economically despite some GDP benefits from reneging, according to a new analysis by researchers with the Brookings Institution.

One change with the new Congress is the appointment of a new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL).  USA Today interviewed her about her plans for the committee, given its restrictions.  Former Congressman Ryan Costello, a moderate Republican from southeastern Pennsylvania, has joined Americans for Carbon Dividends as managing director.  He warned that Republicans are at risk of losing more seats in Congress if they don’t start offering real solutions to climate change.  Washington Governor Jay Inslee is considering running for president with a campaign centered on climate change.  He has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry should he run.

Signs are emerging that a significant shift is under way in the response to climate change, dividing it into two related, but distinct, priorities: working to curb greenhouse gases to limit the odds of worst-case outcomes later this century, while simultaneously boosting resilience to current and anticipated climatic and coastal hazards.  Hundreds of environmental organizations signed a letter Thursday backing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in the U.S.  The groups, led by organizations like Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, told members of the House in the open letter that lawmakers should pursue the Green New Deal.  The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-0 in favor of a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, allowing construction of a 54,000-horsepower natural gas compressor station in a historic African-American community.  Prior to the vote, two former board members maintained that the information available to the board from the utility and staff was inaccurate.  The permit for the compressor station requires the use of technology that will minimize the leakage of methane and other volatile organic compounds.

On Tuesday, Carbon Brief published its annual analysis of the climate-related papers that garnered the most attention in the media last year.  Rob Hopkins had a very interesting interview with artist James McKay at Resilience.  McKay works with engineers, scientists, and ordinary citizens to help them visualize what a low carbon future will look like.  Through his work, McKay has gone from being pessimistic about the future to being wildly optimistic.  Jonathan Watts interviewed climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe for The Guardian.  When asked how much she thought the world will warm, she replied “I hope with all my heart that we stay under 1.5°C, but my cynical brain says 3°C.  Perhaps the reality will be somewhere between my head and my heart at 2°C.”  At Quora, Hayhoe addressed the question “What do the most viable climate solutions look like, and how should they be implemented?”.  Forbes republished her answer.  If you’ve been wondering what it takes to do research on climate in the Arctic, you can read what Kristen Pope learned when she went to Greenland with climate scientist Elizabeth Thomas.  Richard Heinberg had a light-hearted (?) look at the Concretaceous and Hellocene periods of the Anthropocene.

Climate

According to a new report released Tuesday by the independent economic research firm Rhodium Group, U.S. CO2 emissions rose an estimated 3.4% in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years, suggesting that it will be very difficult for the U.S. to meet its pledge under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  In an essay at Yale Climate Connections, Dana Nuccitelli argued that innovation to lower CO2 emissions will only be successful when the costs of the fossil fuels leading to those emissions reflect their impacts on the climate.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40% faster, on average, than reported five years ago in the 5th Assessment Report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The authors discussed the significance of their findings in a guest post at Carbon Brief.  The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said on Monday that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record.  Antarctic sea ice is “astonishingly low” this year, raising concerns about the impacts of ocean water on ice shelves.  In a “long read” at The Guardian, Dahr Jamail discussed the impacts of shrinking glaciers and thawing permafrost.

Refugia are areas of relative climate stability that provide a safe haven for certain species during periods of unfavorable climates.  Scientists are working to identify refugia so that they may be protected, thereby providing a haven for plants, animals, etc. as our climate changes.  Unfortunately, as reported in the journal Global Change Biology, just 5% of the Earth’s land surface is currently unaffected by humans.

During 2018 The Weather Channel published a series of articles under the heading “Exodus: The Climate Migration Crisis” that examined the stories of people all over the world being displaced by climate change.  The articles are compiled here.

Climate change and pollution are teaming up to increase the number of jellyfish in the world’s oceans, causing a variety of problems, including increased stings at Australian beaches.  In addition, coral disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent, severe, and widespread around the globe.  Many factors are contributing to the problem, including pollution and nitrogen runoff from fertilizers and coastal sewer and septic systems, but a key culprit is thought to be steadily increasing ocean temperatures.

Energy

Chevron and Occidental are investing in Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company aiming to commercialize technology that captures CO2 emissions directly from the atmosphere.

In Colorado, wind power paired with a few hours of battery storage is now cheaper than the cost of operating existing coal-fired power plants.  The same is true of solar PV, and in many cases, solar PV paired with battery storage.  With excellent wind and solar resources, Texas is a national leader in renewable energy.  It also has its own power grid, which makes it a good location for testing the incorporation of large amounts of wind and solar power in its energy mix.  Economist Michael Greenstone wrote that with a moderate price on carbon, some advanced nuclear technologies could be competitive with natural gas combined cycle power plants.

Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles increased by 81% in 2018 in the U.S., with Tesla Model 3 leading EV sales and Toyota Prius Prime leading plug-in hybrid sales.  Bloomberg maintains, however, that new battery technology will be required for EVs to take over.

On Monday French rail multinational Alstom and UK rolling stock operating company Eversholt Rail Group unveiled the design for a new hydrogen fuel cell train that will begin to replace trains that still run on diesel by 2022.

“60 Minutes” on CBS presented a segment about Marshall Medoff, an 81-year-old eccentric inventor from Massachusetts who toiled in isolation with no financial support for more than a decade to develop a method for breaking down cellulose, making its sugars available for biofuel production.

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.