Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/17/2020

Politics and Policy

The latest survey (November 2019) from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has found that the “Alarmed” segment of U.S. society is at an all-time high (31%), nearly tripling in size since October 2014.  Ivy Main has filed her first two posts about clean energy bills before the Virginia legislature (Part I, Part II).  In an interview by Elizabeth McGowan, Kristie Smith of the Virginia Conservation Network talked about the Virginia Clean Economy Act.  Ivy Main discussed that act, as well as the Green New Deal Act, at the Virginia Mercury.  James Temple took a cleared-eye view of all of the big infrastructure projects that will be required to adapt to climate change, concluding that we can’t achieve a set of cohesive national goals “if we simply allow cities and citizens to prioritize their individual concerns.”

A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the children’s climate lawsuit, which was trying to force the federal government to take action to address the climate crisis, ruling 2 to 1 that they must look to the political branches for action, rather than the courts.  Among 20 of the most powerful people in government environmental jobs, most have ties to the fossil fuel industry or have fought against the regulations they now are supposed to enforce.  The World Economic Forum’s annual risks report found that, for the first time in its 15-year history, the environment filled the top five places in the list of concerns likely to have a major impact over the next decade.  The European Commission has set out a plan to invest €1tn in climate action, towards its aim of net-zero emissions by 2050.  Data gathered by the UN’s climate body shows that 114 countries have produced more ambitious plans for cutting emissions or have signaled their intention to do so this year.  A new UN proposal calls for national parks, marine sanctuaries and other protected areas to cover nearly one-third or more of the planet by 2030 as part of an effort to stop a sixth mass extinction and slow global warming.  Australia’s vulnerability to climate change is aggravated by its geography because it is surrounded by developing countries that do not have the resources, skills, knowledge, and infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of climate change, leading to the potential for environmental refugees.

Close on the heels of the announcement of the Democrat’s CLEAN Future Act, which is still under development, Republicans are working on their own climate plan.  According to a climate plan unveiled Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is pledging to slash carbon pollution by 50% in the U.S. economy by 2030, with full decarbonization by 2050.  Microsoft has promised to be “carbon negative” within the decade and to use its technology, money, and influence to drive down carbon emissions across the economy.  At The Hill, Shahir Masri and Robert Taylor posited that a consensus is emerging in support of a national climate program to drastically reduce emissions, spur investments in clean energy, and provide protection and economic justice for families coping with increased energy costs.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance published the organization’s predictions for what the year 2020 will bring for the low-carbon transition in energy, transport, commodities, and sustainability.  Although written for a UK audience, Chris Goodall’s article about a carbon tax addresses many questions associated with the policy.  Eric Niiler at Wired examined the question of whether carbon offsets really work.

Four coastal Louisiana tribes that claim the U.S. government has violated their human rights by failing to take action on climate change submitted a formal complaint Wednesday to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.  Several Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee slammed bipartisan legislation to gradually reduce the use of heat-trapping chemicals in air conditioners and refrigerators, arguing the measure would raise costs for consumers.  E-mails obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council under a federal Freedom of Information Act request revealed a closely coordinated effort between industry and the Justice Department’s environmental division to block climate lawsuits by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.  The NHTSA and the EPA submitted proposed rules for 2021 through 2026 model years auto fuel efficiency to the White House’s OMB. 

Climate and Climate Science

Reports from NASA and NOAA confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record and that the past decade was the hottest on record.  Perhaps more importantly, the ocean heat content in 2019 was the hottest on record.  Robinson Meyer shared his thoughts about the significance of those events in The Atlantic.  In a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, a group of scientists concluded that the massive die-off of sea birds in 2014 through 2016 in the Pacific was caused by a record-breaking ocean heat wave that triggered systemic changes throughout the ocean ecosystem.  Leatherback turtles are making longer journeys, in some cases nearly twice as long as usual, from nesting to feeding grounds, because of rising ocean temperatures and changing sea currents.

Dana Nuccitelli explained how climate change has influenced Australia’s unprecedented fires.  An Australian forest expert worries that Australia is on the brink of a “major ecological shift.”  At Vox, Umair Irfan explained why Australia has always had weird weather and how climate change is influencing it.

Carbon Brief published an analysis of the ten climate papers most featured in the media in 2019.  A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reported that with a single day of global weather observations, scientists can now detect evidence of climate change. 

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rose 85% in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to a data-based warning system from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

Two articles this week dealt with ecological grief.  In The New York Times, author Emma Marris provided a five-step plan for dealing with it, while at The Guardian, several scientists revealed how they are coping with a profound sense of loss.

Energy

After Hurricane Maria, several companies and non-profits (one with financial assistance from people in Harrisonburg) donated solar panels and batteries to community centers and critical infrastructure in Puerto Rico.  Adele Peters of Fast Company visited after the earthquake and wrote about how the solar facilities fared.  If you are interested in large-scale energy storage for stabilizing an electrical grid with a lot of renewable energy input, this review article from last week will serve as a good tutorial on the subject.

According to a report by BloombergNEF, burning hydrogen for electricity could work economically in some countries by 2050 if the price on carbon rises to $55 per ton of CO2.  A bigger issue than the combustion of hydrogen will be the production, transportation, and storage of the gas.  Last year saw the global hydrogen fuel sector add more than 1 GW of new capacity for the first time.  U.S. investments in renewable energy set a record in 2019.

A report by the northeast regional advocacy group Acadia Center said that emissions from the power plants covered by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) were down 47% from 2009 to the end of 2017 – outpacing the rest of the nation by 90%.  The gross domestic product of the RGGI states also grew by 47% over the same period – outperforming the rest of the country, which grew by 31%.  In 2019, U.S. power companies retired or converted roughly 15.1 GW of coal-fired electricity generation, second only to 2015 when 19.3 GW were retired.  On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and Germany’s four coal-producing states unveiled details of their plan to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2038 at the latest.

In 2020, holistically-planned livestock grazing and regenerative land management practices will be brought to nearly 2,400 acres of solar farms to create carbon sinks, restore biodiversity and soil health, and add to the environmental, social, and economic benefits of solar farms.

The U.S. isn’t the only country where the public is in love with SUVs, causing a dilemma for auto manufacturers facing tougher fuel economy standards.   At E&E News, David Ferris examined four questions that will determine whether the 2020s will be the electric vehicle decade.  The International Code Council, which sets voluntary guidelines for new homes, voted to approve a new provision that will make all new homes built in the U.S. “EV-ready.”  Waynesboro will be in the first group of Virginia cities to receive electric school buses under a plan devised by Dominion Energy.

Potpourri

The BBC will have a year-long series of special programming and coverage on climate change.  David Roberts examined the growing use of wood in the construction of multistory buildings as a way to minimize greenhouse gases in the building industry.  Jane Fonda held her last “Fire Drill Friday” last week.  Two Harrisonburg climate activists were there to participate.  Lennox Yearwood Jr. and Bill McKibben urged people to “follow the money” in their fight against fossil fuels.  A study published in the journal Environmental and Resource Economics found that the installation of rooftop solar panels in a neighborhood increased the share of neighbors who believe human action is the primary cause of climate change.  YouTube has been “actively promoting” videos containing misinformation about climate change, says Time, reporting on findings released Thursday by campaign group Avaaz.  Rupert Murdoch’s younger son, James, and his activist wife, Kathryn, attacked the climate denialism promoted by News Corporation (the global media group) and by the Fox News Channel overseen by James’ older brother, Lachlan.  The Washington Post reviewed “Weathering with You,” an animated feature from Japanese writer-director Makoto Shinkai.  If you like video games, you might be interested in “The Climate Trail” (free and ad-free) by William Volk that can be played on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows, and “Cranky Uncle” by John Cook that is still in prototype, but should be available soon for both iOS and Android phones.

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 1/10/2020

Welcome to the first Weekly Roundup of 2020.  Perhaps the best way to start is to consider the words of climate scientist Ben Santer, written on New Years Eve.

Politics and Policy

In a unanimous decision, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA rejected a permit needed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to build a compressor station in Union Hill, VA, a community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War.  Federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines, and other major infrastructure projects, according to a Trump administration plan that would weaken the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  In a related action, President Trump proposed changes to NEPA that would redefine what constitutes a “major federal action” to exclude privately financed projects that have minimal government funding or involvement, such as pipelines and other energy infrastructure.  As a result, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Francis Rooney (R-FL) sent a letter to the entire House, urging their colleagues to oppose the proposed changes. 

The head of the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday warned that Americans risk choosing the “wrong path” in the 2020 presidential election if they vote for a candidate seeking to fight climate change by banning drilling.  Three members of Extinction Rebellion Scotland boarded a gas mining rig in the port of Dundee in an attempt to stop it from heading out to the North Sea.  There are still pipeline standoffs going on, these between gas companies and Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and they have resulted in a ruling by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., federal agencies are required by law to work with Native American tribes that might be affected by oil and gas projects, but they often don’t.  Critics of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers see a concerted effort to shift blame, protect conservative leaders, and divert attention from climate change in the debate about the bush fires.

During the 2017-2018 election cycle in the U.S., oil, gas, and coal industry lobbying and campaign donations totaled $359,165,917, whereas the renewable energy industries spent $26,204,224.  BlackRock, the world’s largest investor, has joined Climate Action 100+, an influential pressure group calling for the biggest polluters to reduce their CO2 emissions.  At Vox, Laura McGann had a message for Boomers: “You can still be heroes in the story of climate change.”  On Wednesday, House Democrats released a white paper that outlined their vision for sweeping climate legislation that would push the U.S. to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Surprisingly, it did not call for an economy-wide price on carbon emissions.  Because buildings are a major source of urban greenhouse gas emissions, numerous cities across the U.S. are passing laws or formulating regulations aimed at decreasing the energy use of existing buildings

In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), Jochen Bittner of Die Zeit in Germany argued that moving away from nuclear energy could turn out to be one of the gravest mistakes of the Merkel era.  In the U.S., a line item in the recently passed $1.4 trillion budget provides NOAA with at least $4 million to study the impacts of placing materials in the stratosphere to counter global warming, i.e., geoengineering.  In the last of a four-part series, David Roberts discussed how carbon-capture-and-utilization could be used to build a circular economy around carbon.

Climate and Climate Science

More than three-quarters of the Australian continent experienced the worst fire weather conditions on record last month as 2019 set new benchmarks for heat and dryness across the country.  Carbon Brief compiled a summary of the media response to one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons on record.  The piece includes an appraisal of the links between climate change, the nation’s recent extreme temperatures, and the fires.  Amid the ongoing bushfire crisis, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison rejected criticism of his government’s climate change policies.  Climate Home News reported that the fires will cost billions of dollars for recovery efforts, while Vox examined the origin of the estimate that around a billion animals had been killed.  Furthermore, many species are expected to go extinct because of habitat loss.  While the world has been focused on the Australian fires, space research agency INPE released data showing that the number of fires in the Amazon rainforest grew 30.5% in 2019 from 2018.  Inside Climate News reported that scientists say we’re witnessing how global warming can push forest ecosystems past a point of no return because some of the burned forests won’t recover in today’s warmer climate.  An important issue following a fire, is what to do with a burned forest.  Should it be cut and replanted, or should regrowth be allowed to occur naturally?

If you would like a short review of the major climate research published in 2019, Yale Climate Connections has one written by Dana Nuccitelli.  Chelsea Harvey asked climate researchers across a variety of disciplines about the biggest priorities and hottest topics for the 2020s.  The number of billion-dollar climate- and weather-related disasters in the U.S. more than doubled in the last decade, with costs soaring above $800 billion, according to a U.S. government report released on Wednesday.  Democratic Republic of Congo is one of several central African countries to be hit by severe flooding in recent months, which researchers have attributed to increasingly intense and unpredictable weather linked to global warming.

European scientists on Wednesday confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record for Earth, behind 2016, which had a strong El Niño event.  Shrubs and grasses are springing up around Mount Everest and across the Himalayas.  Although little is known about the impact of plant growth in the Himalayas, studies of increased vegetation in the Arctic found that they delivered a warming effect in the surrounding landscape.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, has found a link between the amount of Arctic sea ice and the melting of permafrost, with less sea ice leading to greater melting.  Another paper in Nature reported that it was unable to replicate studies that found that acidified sea water negatively influenced some aspects of fish behavior.

Scientists think they’ve uncovered a tipping point in the deforestation of landscapes across Earth: Once an area loses half its forest, the rest of the forest is often swift to fall.

Energy

Led by an 18% drop in coal-fired electricity generation, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 2.1% in 2019, according to the Rhodium Group.  Inside Climate News had a good analysis of the emissions drop with graphs for each sector of the economy.  Texas generated more energy from renewable sources in 2019 than from coal, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.  E&E News published a discussion of five energy fights to watch in 2020.

In the “hopeful” column, researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new copper- and iron-based catalyst that uses light to convert CO2 to methane.  If the new catalyst can be improved further, it could help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, as well as provide a new method of energy storage.

Phoenix-based Nikola Motors is acquiring a battery start-up whose technology could double the distance a battery-electric vehicle can travel between charges, while cutting battery costs in half.  Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has been chosen as the preferred turbine supplier for the 2.64 GW Dominion Energy Virginia Offshore Wind project.

As one might expect, MIT is conducting a significant amount of work on energy and its conservation.  This month it reported on efforts to reduce energy loss through windows, while last month it explained the various types of renewable energy generation.  Renovation of existing houses is an excellent way to cut the carbon footprint of housing.  Ensia examined how this can be done.

In the “Oh, good grief” column, according to Gilbert et al., the extraction of oceanic methane hydrates has the potential to supply the world with more than 1 million exajoules of energy, equivalent to thousands of years of current global energy demand.  It also has the potential to greatly exacerbate climate change.

Potpourri

At The Correspondent, meteorologist and writer Eric Holthaus provided “a story about our journey to 2030 – a vision of what it could look and feel like if we finally, radically, collectively act to build a world we want to live in.”  Manohla Dargis, co-chief film critic at the NYT reviewed the movie Earth.  Amy Harder has posted at Axios “10 energy and climate issues to watch in 2020”.  Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker, addressed the question, “What will another decade of climate crisis bring?”.  As we seek to adapt to climate change during the 2020s, we can obtain information from the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE), a collection of more than 2,000 vetted resources on climate adaptation compiled since 2010 by EcoAdapt, a nonprofit based in Washington state.

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.

Editorial Missing Point On Climate Change

Daily News-Record, December 31, 2019
Open Forum: Leslie Grady Jr.

The headline of the Dec. 7 editorial was “China Biggest Climate Change Culprit.” While it is true that China is currently the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide ( CO2), is it really the biggest culprit? One definition of culprit is “the cause of a problem.” The severity of climate change is directly proportional to the cumulative human- caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. By the end of 2018 the U. S. had emitted 24.8% of that CO2, whereas China had emitted 13.5%. Thus, on the basis of what is actually driving climate change, we are about twice as responsible as China. Of course, there is no single culprit; we are all responsible, although those in developing countries are much less so.

China is a paradox; it is both the largest emitter of CO2 and the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. As of the end of 2018, China had installed 175 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity, or 32.3% of global capacity, versus 62.2 GW ( 11.5%) for the U. S. Also, China had installed 211 GW (35.7%) of wind power capacity, versus 96.7 GW (16.3%) for the U. S. Finally, 2.24 million plug- in electric vehicles had been sold in China by the end of 2018, whereas 1.13 million had been sold in the U.S. While it is unfortunate that China is still building coal-fired power plants, one can’t argue that it is ignoring the need to address the climate crisis.

U. S. CO2 emissions indeed dropped by about 14% between 2000 and 2018, although the reduction was primarily the result of the fracking revolution, rather than policy. Economics led many utilities to close aging coal-fired power plants and replace them with gasfired plants, thereby cutting their emissions in half.

Regarding the Paris Climate Agreement, the editorial states: “… while this country was to be held to strict limits on carbon emissions, China’s commitment was virtually voluntary.” In fact, all commitments under the Paris agreement are voluntary and set by the countries themselves. Furthermore, the agreement is not legally binding and does not penalize nations that fail to meet their commitments.

The U. S. agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25% below 2005 levels by 2025, while China said it would peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest. Because of the emissions reductions due to the natural gas boom, the U.S. could have easily made significant progress toward its commitment had not the Trump administration withdrawn from the agreement. As it is, because of our withdrawal, Carbon Action Tracker rates our progress as “Critically Insufficient.” the lowest rating. China’s commitment is rated as “Highly Insufficient,” the next to lowest, primarily because it is not consistent with holding warming to 1.5 degrees C. Indeed, China needs to do much more, as do we.

Rather than blaming China for the climate crisis, the author of the editorial needs to ask: Why doesn’t the U.S., the world’s strongest economy, do more to help solve a problem that it played a large part in creating?

Leslie Grady Jr. lives in Harrisonburg.

Copyright 2019 Daily News-Record 12/31/2019

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/20/2019

Politics and Policy

After the widely denounced outcome at COP25, E3G’s Quentin Genard and Jennifer Tollmann wrote: “In the absence of a climate-active US, all eyes are on Europe and whether it can bring the world’s biggest emitter – China – along with it.”  On the other hand, at BloombergNEF, senior contributor Michael Liebreich wrote two optimistic essays entitled “Peak emissions are closer than you think – and here’s why,” and “Climate wars episode IV – a new hope for the 2020s?”.  At The New York Times (NYT), Justin Gillis and Sonia Aggarwal looked at history to assess the U.S. capability for meeting the clean energy challenge.    

During the Democratic debate Thursday night, the candidates described climate change as an existential threat and said tackling it was a cause that could bring the country together.  Andrew Yang had an answer to the question of relocation in the face of climate impacts.  If elected president in 2020, Michael Bloomberg would target an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions from electricity production by 2028 using only actions that can be taken by a president, acting alone, within a president’s term.  The plan presumes no legislative help.  Inside Climate News analyzed the climate positions of nine Democratic presidential candidates, as well as that of President Trump.  Writing in Buzz Feed News, Elizabeth Warren outlined how she would kick off the Green New Deal (GND) in the first 100 days of her presidency, if elected.  At Scientific American, Professor Marilyn A. Brown and graduate student Majid Mamadi addressed the question of whether a GND would add or kill jobs.  Andrew Yang has been advocating for the use of thorium-fueled nuclear reactors, rather than uranium-fueled ones.  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has investigated the validity of his claims.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaboration among 12 mid-Atlantic and northeast states, as well as Washington, D.C., released its first draft proposal for lowering vehicle emissions earlier this week.  A federal judge on Tuesday ruled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was liable for damage caused by its decision to retain floodwaters upstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs during Hurricane Harvey, a move that caused severe and widespread flooding to homes and businesses on the far-west outreaches of the Houston region.  The Indianapolis Star had a profile of Carmel, IN, Republican mayor Jim Brainard and what he has done to reduce the carbon footprint of the city.

In the massive federal spending package that Congress passed this week, lawmakers slashed most of the tax credit extenders that analysts saw as this Congress’ best opportunity to accelerate renewable energy and cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, on Thursday, issued an order that likely will tilt the market to favor coal and natural gas power plants in the nation’s largest power grid region.  It effectively will force state-subsidized solar and wind electricity providers to raise prices.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a preliminary site permit this week sought by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for a small modular reactor near Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Climate and Climate Science

It is hard to imagine having a national average high temperature of 107.4°F, but that is what Australia had on Wednesday (Dec. 18), setting a new record for the second day in a row.  Australia and the contiguous 48 states of the U.S. are about the same size, but Australia is around 14° latitude closer to the equator.  In addition, wildfires were raging in southeastern Australia, where two firefighters were killed.  As if that were not enough, The Guardian reported that the Aboriginal people living in the town of Alice Springs in the center of Australia may need to become the nation’s first climate refugees as rising temperatures make life increasingly difficult.  In a report released on Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences found that since 2000 changes in climate have reduced the revenue of Australian cropping farms by a total of $1.1bn a year.

The decade from 2010-2019 was the hottest on record globally, with eight of the ten warmest years since measurements began occurring within it.  Although no El Niño is predicted for 2020, England’s Met Office predicted that it will be one of the hottest years on record globally.  Chris Mooney and colleagues at The Washington Post published a history of the worldwide network of weather stations that are used to determine the global average temperature.

The waters off California are acidifying twice as rapidly as elsewhere on Earth, according to a study published Monday in Nature Geoscience, which suggests that climate change is likely hastening and worsening chemical changes in the ocean.

In an editorial in the journal Science Advances, Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University and Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, both Amazon experts, warned that deforestation and other fast-moving changes in the Amazon threaten to turn parts of the rainforest into savanna, devastate wildlife, and release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere.  Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon for the period from January to November 2019 was 83% larger than in the same period in 2018.  In an essay at Mongabay, Taran Volckhausen argued that the Paris Climate Accord will be impossible to implement if tropical forest loss isn’t stopped.  At Yale Climate Connections, Will McCarthy examined just what constitutes an old-growth forest.

A large-scale analysis of bird migrations in the contiguous U.S. confirmed that birds’ seasonal long-distance flights are happening earlier than they did a quarter of a century ago, probably due to climate change.

Energy

Global demand for coal fell this year for the first time in two years as Europe and the U.S. turned their backs on coal-fired power plants in favor of gas and renewable energy.  Nevertheless, demand is expected to remain stable until 2024 as growth in Asia offsets weaker demand from Europe and the U.S., the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday.  On the other hand, India has been aggressively pivoting away from coal-fired power plants and towards electricity generated by solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.  Last weekend, Goldman Sachs updated its rules about when and how it would underwrite fossil-fuel projects.  It will no longer finance oil exploration or drilling in the Arctic, new thermal coal mines, mountaintop-removal mines, or coal-fired power plants.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s primary power grid, is on track to have more than 20% of its power provided by renewables in 2019.  This is raising questions about whether it can continue to provide reliable supplies as the percent of renewables continues to increase.  Since August, TVA has persuaded more than 80% of the power companies that distribute its electricity to agree to 20-year contracts—a much longer timeframe than its past agreements.  Because TVA has only modest plans to decrease its carbon footprint over that time period, the new contracts could hamper its customers in utilizing renewable energy.

IBM said on Wednesday that it has created a battery design that uses materials extracted from seawater and requires no cobalt.  It is partnering with the research wing of Mercedes-Benz, battery electrolyte supplier Central Glass, and battery manufacturer Sidus for the commercial development of the new design.

A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailed the use of satellite imagery to detect leaks from oil and gas facilities, using a 2018 gas well blowout in Ohio as a case study.  A study published Monday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, compared several different scenarios for curbing methane from electricity generation in order to meet a target for 2030 of a 32% cut in CO2-equivalent emissions relative to 2005 levels.

China’s solar panel manufacturers, forecast to meet half of global demand by the mid-2020s, are ramping up overseas sales to stave off closure after the elimination of government subsidies pushed domestic installations to a five-year low.  The U.S. residential solar market reached record highs in the third quarter of 2019, with 712 MW of solar installed.  Overall, the U.S. market added 2.6 GW of solar photovoltaics in the third quarter, swelling total U.S. solar capacity to 71.3 GW.  Technology firms are buying more than half the solar-generated electricity produced in Virginia, and a state official expects the industry to drive increasing demand for clean energy resources.

Potpourri

Climate scientist and communicator Katharine Hayhoe is a finalist for Texan of the Year.  Robin McKenna wrote about three ways to market climate science to reach skeptics.  Greta Thunberg has been named one of the 10 most influential people in science in 2019 by the scientific journal Nature and Hulu plans a documentary about her to air in 2020.  At Yale Climate Connections Sara Peach provided resources to help answer the question “Where should I move to be safe from climate change?”.  Adeline Johns-Putra provided brief descriptions of the seven most crucial climate change novels.  Susan Shain provided a list of five climate-related documentaries with brief descriptions at the NYT.  The Yale Program in Climate Change Communication has completed a new survey on Americans’ attitudes about climate change.  Among the findings, 59% understand that global warming is mostly human-caused whereas 30% think it is due mostly to natural causes.  Young activists say they’re seeing more “youth-washing” as the global youth climate movement gains momentum.

I’ll be taking the next two weeks off for the Christmas and New Year holidays.  The next Roundup will cover the week ending January 10, 2020.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/13/2019

Politics and Policy

Greta Thunberg spoke at COP25, saying: “Finding holistic solutions is what the COP should be all about, but instead it seems to have turned [into] some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition.  Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double-counting emissions reductions, and moving emissions overseas, and walking back on their promises to increase ambitions, or refusing to pay for solutions or loss and damage.  This has to stop.”  As of Wednesday evening, things were not going well at COP25, with major divisions appearing on Thursday.  So far, the largest countries have been unwilling to declare stronger commitments to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, whereas 73 small and developing countries have signaled their intention to enhance their climate plans.  One sticky point is carbon trading.  At Climate Home News Dennis Clare argued that there are many problems associated with the technique.  In addition, BuzzFeed News has obtained a draft proposal which they say the U.S. is circulating regarding the question of climate liability.  It suggests ways to limit the power of the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage” – a way of addressing the loss and damage caused by climate change, particularly in developing nations.  On the other hand, the European Commission introduced the European Green Deal, in which nearly every major aspect of the European economy would be re-evaluated in light of the imperatives of the climate emergency.  Poland, however, will be allowed to work toward carbon neutrality at its own pace.

In a letter to the Lancet Planetary Health journal, a group of scientists has warned that livestock production must reach its peak within the next decade in order to meet climate goals.  Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.  In a move that will cost consumers $14 billion a year in higher energy costs and add to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Trump administration rolled back energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs.  Amid growing concerns about climate change, GM rolled out the next generation of its big truck-based SUVs, which are larger and heavier.  The UK is seeing a similar problem.

New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager ruled that ExxonMobil did not break state securities laws when describing to shareholders how it analyzed the effect of future greenhouse gas regulations on the company’s bottom line.  Two Virginia lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan effort on Thursday to reinstate the authority of the State Corporation Commission to review electricity base rates and set profit levels for Dominion Energy.  Mountain Valley Pipeline will pay $2.15 million for the environmental damage it has caused so far in building a natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia, while facing additional penalties for any new violations that may occur.

Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz argued in The Guardian that “environmental sustainability can be achieved only in tandem with efforts to achieve greater social justice.”  The Sunrise Movement and World War Zero, initiated by John Kerry, represent two very different approaches to mobilization on climate change.  David Roberts at Vox compared the two.  John Kerry paired up with Rep. Ro Khanna (D, CA) to write an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT) entitled “Don’t Let China Win the Green Race.”  College Republicans across the country are calling on the GOP to back a conservative climate action plan.  Thousands of people rallied in Sydney, Australia, to protest against inaction on the climate crisis, after months of bushfires and hazardous smoke in New South Wales and Queensland.

Climate and Climate Science

NOAA released its “Arctic Report Card” for 2019.  The past six years have been the warmest ever recorded in the Arctic, causing it to undergo a profound shift and start releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost.  According to an article in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, not all of the recent rise in atmospheric methane is from melting permafrost, however.  Rather, some is natural in origin, coming from the Sudd wetlands in South Sudan, which received a large pulse of water from East African lakes.

The latest data from Climate Tracker show that even under the current national pledges to slow global warming, the Earth’s temperature will warm by 2.8° C by 2100, whereas if we continue with current policies it will warm to 3°C.  Climate scientist James Hansen posted a new essay on his website.

Based in part on her experience aboard the MOSAiC Arctic expedition, Daisy Dunne took a detailed look at a key question: when will Arctic sea ice disappear?  Juliet Eilperin profiled an Alaskan village that has benefited financially from the oil production in Alaska, but must now come to grips with the devastation occurring because of climate change.  Ice is being lost from Greenland seven times faster than it was in the 1990s, and the scale and speed of ice loss is much higher than was predicted in the last IPCC report.  While we hear a lot about what is happening in Alaska and Greenland, we don’t hear so much about Iceland.  WBUR’s “Here and Now” visited there to change that.

According to a national poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans broadly accept climate science, but many are fuzzy on the details.  Researchers at the McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania have designed a series of maps of the U.S. for an online collection named The 2100 Project: An Atlas for A Green New Deal.  It tries to visualize how climate change will impact the U.S.  Eliminating food waste can have a big, positive impact on the climate.  Amelia Nierenberg discussed strategies for doing that.

According to an international study, a quarter of the world’s population is at risk of water supply problems as mountain glaciers, snow-packs, and alpine lakes are diminished by global warming and rising demand.  On average, the oxygen content of the world’s oceans declined by 2% between 1960 and 2010 as a result of global warming.

Energy

Denmark is pursuing plans to build one or more artificial islands surrounded by offshore wind turbines with a capacity of 10 gigawatts.  The purpose of the islands is to allow conversion of excess wind power into renewable fuels, such as hydrogen.  Connecticut on Thursday selected Vineyard Wind’s 804-megawatt Park City project as the winner in a major offshore wind solicitation, setting up the seaport city of Bridgeport to become a significant hub for the emerging U.S. market.  The world’s first commercial airplane powered entirely by batteries made its inaugural test flight outside of Vancouver on Tuesday morning.

In MIT Technology Review, James Temple examined why greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and what nations must do to reverse the trend.  Maxine Joselow had a thought-provoking piece in Scientific American looking at “The Carbon Cost of Online Shopping.”  According to a new report from Principles for Responsible Investment, policies designed to combat climate change could permanently slash the value of companies around the world by up to $2.3 trillion.

Congestion in the newly expanded Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s electric transmission system threatens to significantly slow wind and solar development in the region.  The number of Virginia schools that have added solar panels has tripled in the last two years, according to a new report.

Greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use now exceed coal emissions in the U.S. and Europe and gas is now the primary driver of emissions growth worldwide.  Brazil will push to expand oil drilling in its massive oil and gas find off its coast in spite of growing global concerns about climate change.  A glut of cheap natural gas is wreaking havoc on the energy industry.  Two reporters from the NYT used infrared imaging to detect methane leaks from oil and gas facilities in West Texas.  Dominion Energy announced Wednesday that it is partnering with Vanguard Renewables to develop and operate manure-to-methane conversion facilities at dairy farms across the U.S.  A group of 18 states, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that blocked construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline under the Appalachian Trail.

A report released Wednesday by the National Farmers Union in Canada concluded that some elements of old-fashioned mixed farming can be combined with the latest technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Severe droughts in southern Africa have reduced electricity production from hydroelectric dams.

Potpourri

Greta Thunberg was named Person of the Year by Time “For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads.”  Rebecca Solnit had an opinion piece in The Guardian in which she said, in part: “We must expand our imaginations and act on that bigger understanding of our place in the world and our impact on the future.”  In The Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan addressed the question of the greenest way to travel.  If you are thinking of buying carbon offsets to make your travel carbon neutral, then you might want to read this article.  Bud Ward reviewed some of the high and low points for climate change in 2019 while SueEllen Campbell compiled four interesting sign projects about climate change, both at Yale Climate Connections.  Grist came up with 79 climate-friendly gifts for the holiday season.  Michael Svoboda compiled a list of twelve books on climate change and the environment.  Climate change communicator Katharine Hayhoe talked with Texas Observer reporter Megan Kimble about the things that give her hope.  While individual actions to combat climate change are important, they are insufficient and may even hamper efforts to bring about needed systemic change.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/6/2019

Politics and Policy

The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change began meeting in Madrid this week.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Alice Bell of the climate change charity, Possible, gave a brief preview of the COP meetings.  A delegation from the U.S. Congress said the U.S. will take action on greenhouse gases and engage with other countries on the climate emergency despite President Trump’s rejection of international cooperation.  A main issue to be resolved at COP25 is how the carbon markets in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement will be handled, since they are highly controversial.  The World Meteorological Organization released its annual state of the global climate report at COP25.  Henry Fountain used that occasion to summarize the impacts of Earth’s warming.  University of Oxford public policy professor Thomas Hale wrote about the tendency for climate politics to become increasingly existential as both climate change and decarbonization advance over the next decades.

Given the predictions of sea level rise this century, one problem coastal governments will face is deciding which properties they can afford to defend and which they can’t.  Facing that dilemma is coming sooner than expected for officials of Monroe County, in the Florida Keys.  Unfortunately, their job is made more difficult by the tendency of people living in flood-prone areas to underestimate the danger they face.  All of this is intertwined with the struggles of the insurance industry to adjust to the increased risk they face and the response of regulators to that adjustment.

A new report published by Greenpeace International said that restoring oceans’ ecosystems would boost their capacity to absorb heat and store carbon, helping to mitigate the impacts of increased atmospheric CO2 levels.  Compliance with new regulations associated with fighting climate change will cost companies worldwide nearly $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years, according to an estimate by German insurer Allianz SE.

On Monday the Senate confirmed Dan Brouillette to lead the Department of Energy.  On Sunday, former Secretary of State John Kerry announced the formation of a new bipartisan climate alliance, called “World War Zero.”  Made up of world leaders, military brass, and Hollywood celebrities, the goal of the group is to push for public action to combat climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

Several sources reported on a study published in Geophysical Research Letters.  It examined how accurately computer models published between 1970 and 2007 projected Earth’s temperature as CO2 and other greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere.  As the authors stated in their “Plain Language Summary”, “We find that climate models published over the past five decades were generally quite accurate in predicting global warming in the years after publication…”  I’ve provided a link to an article by David Roberts at Vox because the first part gives a good synopsis of the study, while the latter part provides a deeper dive for those who are interested.  A new generation of computer models is now being used in studies for the next IPCC report.  For those who are interested in the modeling efforts, Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief has prepared an explainer.

An analysis of 70,716 bird specimens from 52 North American species collected over 40 years shows birds are shrinking as the world warms, according to a paper published in the journal Ecology Letters.  According to the World Meteorological Organization, the average temperatures for the five-year (2015-2019) and 10-year (2010-2019) periods ending this year are almost certain to be the highest on record.  New research, published Wednesday in Science Advances, showed that just ten atmospheric river events caused nearly half the flood damage in the western U.S. over the past forty years, adding up to billions of dollars of damage. 

A new study, also published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, reported that the Arctic has warmed by 0.75°C (1.35°F) in the last decade alone while Earth as a whole has warmed by nearly the same amount, 0.8°C, over the past 137 years.  In addition, another study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds on the surface of Greenland that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year, thereby lubricating it and causing its more rapid movement toward the sea while the meltwater is flowing under it.  As a consequence, current models likely underestimate future sea level rise.  Another new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that thinning in the ring of floating ice around Antarctica is driving the loss of ice from the interior of the continent.

The issue of climate tipping points was back in the news, with a new paper in Nature warning that the risks are now much more likely and much more imminent than they had been thought to be eleven years ago when the same group of researchers evaluated them.  Graham Readfearn wrote about the Nature article in his column in The Guardian.  One possible tipping point involves the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, or AMOC, which helps regulate temperatures and weather around the world.  Its flow has dropped 15% over the past decade.

At COP25 in Madrid, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that whereas around 10 million people a year are displaced by river flooding today, the number could surge to as many as 50 million a year by the end of the century if governments do not step up action to tackle climate change.  Climate-fueled disasters such as wildfires, cyclones, and floods were the main reason that people were forced to flee their homes in the last decade, according to a new report from Oxfam.  Overall, these events have displaced more than 20 million people around the globe.  Such events are affecting our mental health, even if we aren’t directly impacted by them.  Since the federal government isn’t acting to reduce the causes of climate change, it’s a good thing it is funding programs to teach resiliency.

Energy

According to an estimate from the Global Carbon Project (GCP), total CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry will likely total 36.8 billion tons in 2019, 0.6% higher than in 2018, setting a new record.  Climate Brief provided a detailed analysis of the GCP report.  Umair Irfan of Vox republished a fascinating animation from an earlier Climate Brief post that illustrates how the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from various countries have varied over time from the 19th century until now.  The China paradox: it burns about half the coal used globally each year, yet it’s also the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles.  According to a new report, the number of insurers unwilling to ensure coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time U.S. companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuel projects.

A paper published Tuesday in Environmental Research Letters reported that natural gas use is growing so fast, its CO2 emissions over the past six years were greater than the decline in emissions from the falling use of coal.  In a “Perspective” piece in The New England Journal of Medicine, three physicians wrote: “…we consider expansion of the natural-gas infrastructure to be a grave hazard to human health.”  Grist and bioGraphic teamed up to produce an extensive article about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, featuring the people and places that will be impacted.  The illustrations in the two sources are slightly different.

Federal nuclear regulators granted controversial 20-year license extensions to two aging reactors at Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant, which means they could operate for a total of 80 years.  Washington State Ferries, which runs the second-largest ferry system in the world, is switching from diesel to batteries, a move that will eliminate current annual consumption of almost 20 million gallons of diesel fuel.  If you like futuristic ideas you might be interested in this article from Wired about the increasingly feasible idea of beaming concentrated solar energy from space to Earth.

General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem said on Thursday they will invest $2.3 billion to build an electric vehicle battery plant near Lordstown, Ohio, creating one of the world’s largest battery facilities.  Electric vehicle start-up Lucid Motors is beginning construction of its production factory in Casa Grande, Arizona.  Hyundai Motor announced that it plans to invest about $17 billion between 2020 and 2025 on electric and autonomous vehicles.

Yale Climate Connections published an overview of energy storage techniques.  On Monday, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2030, offsetting the schools’ greenhouse gas emissions with more renewable energy and other steps.

Potpourri

Climate strikers took to the streets of Washington, DC on Friday, targeting the headquarters of the World Bank.  Giving Tuesday occurred this week, so Sigal Samuel of Vox prepared “a list of six of the most high-impact, cost-effective, and evidence-based organizations [you might consider donating to].  (I’m not including bigger-name groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund or the Sierra Club, because most big organizations are already relatively well-funded.)”  Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video, this one about wind energy replacing coal as baseload power.  In the “Climate Fwd: newsletter” from the New York Times, Kyla Mandel provided helpful information about how to decrease the carbon footprint of your Christmas lights.  The Editorial Board of The Washington Post published a sobering editorial about humanity’s “bleak” future unless we act more quickly on climate change.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/22/2019

Politics and Policy

I’ve decided to start with two sobering articles from our neighbors to the north, both published in The Tyee.  The first makes the point that we can’t stop the climate crisis just by switching to renewable energy.  The second two-part article starts by addressing the same issue, but then laying out “11 realistic responses to the climate crisis.”  (Part I; Part II).  If these articles get you down, you might consider what Cara Buckley has to say.

At Inside Climate News, Marianne Lavelle addressed the question of why, given his credentials as a climate warrior, climate activists aren’t excited by a run for president by Michael Bloomberg.  Democrats unveiled the “100 Percent Clean Economy Act,” the first significant legislation in their effort to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren all have different proposals for decarbonizing U.S. transportation.  Republicans are beginning to come forward with proposals for climate legislation, as evidenced by this opinion piece and interview.  However, author and professor Thor Hogan argued that action on climate change will only come with Democratic victories in 2020.

Some regulators are arguing for mandatory disclosure of climate change risks to investors and regulators.  As a consequence, companies that analyze such risk have become attractive for investors.  Yale Environment 360 looked at the complex policy issue of moving people away from rising seas by examining the experiences of people in one New Jersey community on the Delaware Bay.  Last year Virginia Beach, VA, became one of a small but growing number of communities willing to say no to real estate developers who wanted to build houses in an area prone to flooding.  The developers sued; the city won.  Copenhagen’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025.  Jonathan Watts wrote eloquently about a meeting of diverse people in a remote community in the Amazon basin.  They comprise a nascent alliance of traditional communities, climate activists, and academics who are re-imagining what the world’s greatest forest was, what it can be, and who can best defend it.  That makes it particularly sad to note that development, most of it illegal, destroyed more than 3700 square miles of Brazilian Amazon rainforest in the year ending in July.

Wisconsin became the latest state to enact an ALEC-patterned bill providing severe penalties for those who trespass near oil and gas pipelines in order to protest.  On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court was to consider whether to take up climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation suit against conservative magazine National Review.  California and 22 other states sued the EPA last Friday, asking a federal court to block the Trump administration from stripping California of its authority to set its own fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks.  Starting in 2020, California will only buy from automakers that recognize the state’s legal authority to set emissions standards.  In a comprehensive article in Energy Transition magazine from the Rocky Mountain Institute, Christian Roseland examined the big question of how best to design cities for urban mobility

Climate and Climate Science

On Wednesday, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its Climate Change Resilience Index, which measures the preparedness of the world’s 82 largest economies.  They found that based on current trends, the fallout of warming temperatures would shave off 3% of global GDP ($7.9 trillion) by 2050.  The impact varied by region, with the developing world fairing worst.  Of course, when considering studies quantifying future economic impacts, one must bear in mind that it is difficult to project impacts resulting from circumstances that are unprecedented.  That is the conclusion from a new report published by the London School of Economics based on a collaborative study involving three prestigious institutions.  As a result, future impacts are likely to be underestimated.

Fire seasons around the world are growing longer, making it more difficult for countries to share resources, such as the large tanker planes that dump large quantities of water on the flames.  Although multiple factors are involved, one reason for the fire in Australia is thought to be an intensification of the Indian Ocean dipole

An article in the journal Science Advances reported that one-third of vascular plant species in Africa are potentially threatened with extinction and another third are likely rare, potentially becoming threatened in the near future.  I’ve put in several articles in the past about coral bleaching and how it has increased as temperatures have increased.  Now Chris Mooney and several photographers and videographers have presented a report in The Washington Post about what scientists are doing to help save coral reefs.  A potentially deadly disease affecting marine mammals, including seals and sea otters, has been passed from the North Atlantic Ocean to the northern Pacific as a result of the melting of the Arctic sea ice.

Diaa Hadid and Abdul Sattar had a very interesting piece about the farmers in the Harchi Valley in Pakistan’s highlands who have a complex relationship with the Ultar glacier, which is melting.  You’ve probably heard about the research ship that was purposely frozen into the Arctic sea ice as part of the year-long project MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate).  Daisy Dunn of Carbon Brief spent the first six weeks with them and here is the first of four planned articles covering the scientist’s research.

According to data released this week by NOAA, 2019 is likely to be Earth’s second- or third-warmest calendar year on record since modern temperature data collection began in 1880.  A study recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters suggests that by 2050, on average globally, urban heat island warming will probably be equivalent to about half the warming caused by climate change. 

Energy

On Thursday, Tesla unveiled its all-electric pickup truck, the Cybertruck.  Ford is now taking deposits for its new all-electric Mustang Mach-E.

To accommodate increased population growth and to build stronger economies, African nations are turning to more coal-fired power plants.  In addition to increased greenhouse gas emissions, more power plants mean more conventional air pollutants.  According to a recent study in Environmental Science and Technology, that pollution will cause tens of thousands of premature deaths.  Countries around the world reduced their coal-fired power plant capacity by 8GW in the 18 months to June 2019 because old plants were retired faster than new ones were built.  But over the same period, China increased its capacity by 42.9GW.  Of even greater concern is that within China, coal and electricity industry groups are pushing for an even bigger increase in the country’s overall coal power capacity.  Furthermore, China is also financing around a quarter of all proposed coal-fired power plants outside its borders.

In this year’s “Production Gap” report, the UN Environment Programme warned about a major discrepancy between planned fossil fuel production and efforts aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C.  Planned production by 2030 is about 50% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. 

Maine is moving forward with Aqua Ventus, a demonstration project with one or two wind turbines that would be the first floating offshore wind installation in the country.  In an effort to facilitate marine traffic through areas with offshore wind turbines, the five New England leaseholders have proposed a uniform turbine layout with 1 nautical mile spacing between turbines.  Balsa wood is a key component of many wind turbine blade cores because it is both strong and lightweight.  Unfortunately, there is currently a shortage of balsa, slowing the production of turbine blades.  The growth of wind energy in Germany has slowed for a variety of reasons.  Are there lessons to be learned for the U.S.?  Global wind speeds are picking up after decades of stalling, creating the potential for wind turbines to increase average output 37% in the next five years, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Heliogen is a start-up energy company that uses a field of mirrors and artificial intelligence to concentrate sunlight and create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, and glass, as well as to drive other industrial processes, such as making hydrogen.

Potpourri

On Monday, The Washington Post unveiled Climate Solutions, a line of coverage that explores the people and organizations focused on tackling climate change.  Just in time for Thanksgiving, Susan Shain compiled a list of places you can go to get the facts about climate change.  A professor at an Arkansas university presented an essay about how he learned to sidestep politics while teaching climate science.  His message is relevant to all of us.  Bill McKibben had an essay in The Guardian entitled “The climate science is clear: it’s now or never to avert catastrophe.”  He and Tamara Toles O’Laughlin wrote in Yes! magazine that big oil should have to compensate poor people and people of color for the suffering they have experienced and will experience as a result of climate change.  Writing in Ensia, Laalitha Surapaneni argued that we shouldn’t waste time trying to change the minds of climate deniers.  Rather, we should invest it in motivating passive allies to act.  An Israeli company claims to have developed an economic way to convert household garbage into a thermoplastic that can be formed into usable products.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/15/2019

Politics and Policy

Working with the Rhodium Group, Columbia University economists completed a study of a fee-and-dividend type carbon tax and found that it would slash American carbon pollution by almost 40% within a decade.  Meanwhile, the political arm of the Climate Leadership Council is launching a digital ad campaign to sell a carbon tax.  Transportation accounts for over a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, much of that from cities.  Consequently, cities around the world are struggling with how to control vehicles and their impact.

If you are a sustainability investor you might be interested in a new paper in Palgrave Communications by researchers at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment within the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard who studied where to invest in more renewable energy infrastructure.  Studies at the University of Buffalo have found that it is possible to make buildings more resilient to the impacts of climate change while also reducing their contributions to its cause.

On Monday, former coal executive Don Blankenship announced he will make a 2020 White House bid as a Constitution Party candidate.  Although young voters are attracted to Bernie Sanders’ climate plans, others say they are “technically impractical, politically unfeasible, and possibly ineffective.”  In a joint project organized by Inside Climate News, reporters across the Midwest explored how communities are responding to climate change.  A new report from Climate Transparency said that Canada’s plan to meet its greenhouse-gas emissions targets is among the worst in the G20, whereas Australia’s response to climate change is one of the worst.  As if to prove the point, Australia’s government appeared pretty dysfunctional in the face of the brush fires.

According to ProPublica, although California’s cap-and-trade program has helped it meet some initial, easily attained benchmarks, experts are increasingly worried that it is allowing the state’s biggest polluters to conduct business as usual, and even increase their emissions.  An estimated 80% of Britain’s peat bogs have been damaged or destroyed, leading to the release of significant amounts of the CO2 that had been stored in.  Because bogs are such important carbon sinks, efforts are now underway to learn more about bog ecosystems and how to restore large boggy areas.

Climate and Climate Science

According to a major new study, published in The Lancet, climate change poses an unprecedented health risk to children and is already having “persistent and pervasive” effects that will last throughout their lives.  Australian weather forecasts for the next three months said that there is just a 25% chance that the country’s east coast, where brush fires are raging, will receive average rainfall.  A group of former fire chiefs said the government’s refusal to discuss climate change issues was impeding preparations for large-scale fires.

During an “acqua alta” event on Wednesday, St Mark’s Basilica in Venice was flooded for only the sixth time in 1,200 years.  Four of those floods have occurred within the past 20 years.  The mayor attributed the severe flooding to climate change, but there are many reasons Venice floods.  Yale Climate Connections discussed new efforts by scientists to study the risk potentials associated with multiple climate change events, such as when a drought and heat wave occur together.

At Yale Climate Connections Sara Peach addressed the question: “How is climate change affecting autumn?”.  And on a similar topic, Alejandra Borunda of National Geographic discussed the weird fall weather the U.S. has been experiencing lately.  On longer time scales, numerous areas have seen greater climate volatility recently.  Big, destructive hurricanes are hitting the U.S. three times more frequently than they did a century ago, according to a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

This year, the algal bloom in Lake Erie was among the most severe and toxic since scientists began keeping track in the early 2000s.  Tony Briscoe, an environmental reporter with the Chicago Tribune, wrote about the many factors, including climate change, that have contributed to such blooms.

The intensity of ice generation in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan exceeds that of any single place in the Arctic Ocean or Antarctica, and the sea ice reaches a lower latitude than anywhere else on the planet.  Unfortunately, it is in one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, which is slowing down ice production.  This, in turn, is causing cascading effects in the North Pacific.  Science presented the most interesting video I have seen yet depicting Arctic sea ice loss.  In addition to extent, it also incorporates age.  A new study published in PNAS has found that loss of snow and ice cover are the main reasons for a reduction in the Arctic’s ability to reflect heat, not soot as had been previously thought.  Switzerland is responsible for just 0.1% of global CO2 emissions, yet the Alps are warming twice as fast as the global average, causing many problemsInside Climate News had a good article by Bob Berwyn using new research to explain the factors driving ice loss from Antarctica.  In addition to the warm waters eating away the bottoms of the ice shelves, “atmospheric rivers” are causing more surface melting.

Energy

On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued its World Energy Outlook for 2019.  It contains both good news and bad news.  The good news: more use of fossil fuel-free energy.  The bad news: increasing energy demand.  In addition, the IEA revealed that methane leakage from coal mines could be having an impact on climate equivalent to that of the shipping and aviation industries combined.  Although its Outlook is widely read, the IEA is often criticized by clean energy advocates.  If you want to do something else to help lower your CO2 emissions you might consider switching the time that you run your dishwasher, clothes dryer, and other high-demand electrical appliances from daytime to nighttime.

A research team, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, has reported that China’s CO2 emissions from its energy sector are expected to increase this year and next, driven by rising oil and gas consumption instead of by coal.  The African Development Bank will not fund a coal-fired power plant project in Kenya and has no plans to finance such plants in future, senior officials said.  Also, the European Investment Bank said Thursday that it will stop financing fossil fuel energy projects from the end of 2021.

Tesla will “build batteries, powertrains and vehicles” at its European gigafactory, which company CEO Elon Musk has tweeted will be in the Berlin area of Germany.  In an effort to boost the sales of electric vehicles (EVs), manufacturers are shifting their focus to the high-performance, rather than environmental, features of the cars.  On the other hand, a 2018 survey of U.S. consumers found that they would prefer phasing out gas-guzzlers sooner, rather than later.  E&E News has just reported on the “Electric Road Trip,” an 8,000-mile journey in an electric car and an investigation into how electric transportation will change America.  Many cities want to add electric buses to their bus fleets, but the capacity to build them is limited, resulting in hundreds of backlogged orders in the U.S.  One downside of EVs is the deterioration of the batteries over time.  Thus engineers and DIYers are looking for ways to use the residual storage capacity of the batteries once they have reached the end of  their useful automotive life.

Thirteen cities and one county in California have enacted new zoning codes encouraging or requiring all-electric new construction.  Faced with such electrification of buildings, one natural gas utility is proposing to add renewable biogas to its pipelines.  This raises questions, such as, how viable a business model this is and will it help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Japanese officials have announced a new $2.7 billion project that will include 11 solar plants and 10 wind farms to be built on abandoned or contaminated lands in Fukushima prefecture.  Virginia Gazette published an article about the state of solar farms in Virginia.

Potpourri

William E. Rees, professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia, said not to call him a pessimist, but rather a realist.  In a two-part series (Part I; Part II) he explained why “the world needs to face some hard facts that suggest we are headed toward catastrophe.”  A survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 63% of Georgia voters think the country is not doing enough to address climate change.  When you want to take a break and watch a film you can choose from the “Top 10 sustainability films of all times” compiled by The Hill.  Jeff Peterson, who worked at the EPA, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and White House Council on Environmental Quality, has a new book out: A New Coast: Strategies for Responding to Devastating Storms and Rising Seas.  He published an article on The Daily Climate about ways coastal communities can prepare for storms and rising seas.  The winners and shortlisted photos in the Climate Visuals 2019 photography awards were presented at The Guardian.  Authors Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope think “The climate silence that had long pervaded so much of the media has been broken.”

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/8/2019

Politics and Policy

On Monday the Trump administration filed the paperwork with the U.N. to officially withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which cannot occur until Nov. 4, 2020.  In response 24 state governors pledged to uphold the agreement.  At The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer attributed the withdrawal to Trump’s belief in “carbonism.”  Ahead of President Trump’s action, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quietly updated its position on the Agreement to support it.  Thomas Fuller and Coral Davenport had an extensive piece in The New York Times (NYT) that examined how the policies of the Trump administration are hampering California’s efforts to fight climate change.  Meanwhile, a new study by the energy research company Vibrant Clean Energy has found that Colorado can decarbonize its entire state economy while still providing reliable, affordable power.  Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the U.S. where people drive much more than in other countries.  Consequently, Michael Hobbes finds it odd that none of the Democratic presidential contenders has put forth meaningful proposals for dealing with the issue.

The Natural Resources Defense Council announced Tuesday that it has hired Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under President Barack Obama, as its new president and chief executive.  The Senate’s bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus added six new members on Wednesday.  Like the House’s Caucus, members must join two-by-two, with one member from each party.  On Thursday, President Trump formally nominated Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, a former vice president of Ford Motor Co and Louisiana state energy regulator, to head the Department of Energy (DOE).  Fifteen states and a coalition of seven environmental and consumer groups sued DOE on Monday, challenging a decision to eliminate energy efficiency standards for many types of lighting.

Wall Street is incorporating a new risk metric when evaluating companies: climate resiliency.  The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco held the system’s first-ever climate research conference on Friday.  A report published by the Universal Ecological Fund assessed the initial commitments made by the 184 countries that agreed to the Paris Climate Accord in 2015.  They found that only 36 countries made pledges that could conceivably reach the IPCC’s goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.  With sea level rise increasing, coastal communities are facing greater and greater risk.  At Yale Climate Connections, Jan Ellen Spiegel presented some strategies that could help them prepare.

For Prof. Narashimha Rao of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, climate change, at its most essential, is a justice issue.  His research shows that reducing inequality would improve our ability to mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change, and provide for a more stable climate future.  Profs. Ryan Gunderson and Diana Stuart addressed the question of whether corporations should lead climate action and concluded that “Waiting for voluntary corporate actions in a system that still prioritizes profits above all else is simply too slow and may never be effective.”  Umair Irfan of Vox wrote that this week’s legislative elections in Virginia will make it much easier for Governor Ralph Northam to move forward on climate-related initiatives, such as having Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  However, to do so, Virginia’s government must break its bonds with corporate giant Dominion Energy.

Climate and Climate Science

Author Eugene Linden published an opinion piece discussing the various ways in which climate scientists have underestimated the speed at which changes in the climate can occur.  Coincidentally, for the first time, a group of scientists has published an analysis calling climate change an “emergency,” stating that “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to ‘tell it like it is.’”  The analysis, published in the journal BioScience, was spearheaded by five scientists and was signed onto by an additional 11,258 from around the world.  The five page summary analysis may be read here.

October was the warmest such month on record globally, narrowly edging out October 2015 for the top spot, according to a new analysis from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.  The Taku Glacier north of Juneau, Alaska, one of the world’s thickest mountain glaciers, has started to retreat as temperatures rise.

A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience examined the complex question of how higher temperatures and CO2 concentrations will affect the availability of water.  In addition, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that greenhouse gas emissions until 2030 pledged under the Paris Climate Agreement lock in 1 m of sea-level rise in the year 2300, even without any additional emissions.

A study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, has projected that by 2100 under business‐as‐usual greenhouse gas emissions, the total abundance of emperor penguins will decline by 81% relative to its initial size, regardless of dispersal abilities.  In contrast, if the Paris Agreement objectives are met, viable emperor penguin refuges will exist in Antarctica.  As a result, the global population is projected to decline by 31% under Paris-1.5°C and 44% under Paris-2°C, before rebounding somewhat.  The phocine distemper virus (PDV) has plagued marine mammals for decades in the North Atlantic Ocean, but now it has shown up in the North Pacific Ocean.  Infected seals from Europe traveled through passages along Northern Russia that had been opened up by lower sea ice levels, allowing the virus to be transmitted to the North Pacific.

Energy

Data on the sources of power in the National Electricity Market in Australia showed that at 11:50 am on Wednesday, renewables were providing 50.2% of the power to Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia – the five states served by the market.  Early next year, one of the first power projects that combine solar and wind generation with battery storage is planning to start up in northern Queensland state.  The project aims to provide more information on how to firm-up intermittent renewable power so that the lights stay on when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.  New Zealand has adopted a legally-binding target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  With its economy growing, but with no space for large solar farms, no place to construct hydropower dams, and a dwindling natural gas supply, Bangladesh plans to build 29 coal-fired power plants in the next 20 years, increasing coal’s contribution to its power supply from 2% to 35%.  Both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the International Energy Agency are predicting major declines for fossil fuels and nuclear power alongside strong growth in renewables by 2022 in the U.S.

In an interview with the Energy News Network, Joe Woomer, vice president of grid and technical solutions for Dominion Energy’s Power Delivery Group, talked about the industry’s transformation.  Apex Clean Energy is seeking an amended permit from the Botetourt County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors to allow them to increase the height of the proposed wind turbines on North Mountain to 700 ft.

A paper in the journal Science Advances describes a passive system capable of cooling things down by 23°F without using any power.  BBC News reviewed the current status of nuclear fusion as a source of energy.  The world depends on chemical production to form the ammonia at the heart of modern agriculture.  The process for making ammonia has been around for over 100 years and produces large quantities of CO2 — about 1% of all human emissions.  Now a paper in the journal Joule describes a new process that can cut the CO2 emissions in half.

A new research paper in the journal Nature describes how NASA scientists were able to use airborne spectrophotometry to detect and quantify methane emissions from point sources in California.  A key finding was that just 10% of the emitters were responsible for 60% of the total methane emitted, suggesting that major reductions can be achieved by correcting a relatively small number of emitters.  A new report from Carbon Tracker found that none of the major oil and gas companies are on track to be aligned with Paris by 2040.  Combined, they must cut production by 35% if nations are the meet the collective ambitions of the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to below 2°C.  In spite of that, the NYT reports that a surge of oil production is coming as a result of activities in Brazil, Canada, Norway, and Guyana.

China plans to lead the world in electric vehicle production with an associated infrastructure for vehicle charging.  Toyota has made its hybrid owners unhappy by siding with President Trump on the fuel-economy standards issue.  Lordstown Motors Corp. has bought a massive assembly plant that General Motors shut down earlier this year in Ohio.  The company will use it to build a new electric pickup truck that will be marketed to commercial customers.

The U.S. has become only the second country in the world with 100 GW of operational wind capacity, following China.  More than a quarter of that capacity is in Texas.  A preliminary study suggests that the Block Island Wind Farm has improved fishing in the area by acting as an artificial reef, causing greater fish species diversity.

Potpourri

At The Conversation, Anitra Nelson and Brian Coffee discussed the principles of ecological economics and explained its role in future planning in the face of climate change.  Economist Mark Jaccard has a new book out, entitled A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress.  He was interviewed about it by Nathanael Johnson at Grist.  Amy Brady interviewed Kassandra Montag, author of the new cli-fi book After the Flood.  In an article in Columbia Journalism Review about media coverage of climate change, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope wrote: “While much work still needs to be done, climate coverage does seem to have turned a corner.  The climate silence that had long pervaded so much of the media has been broken.”

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.

Turn Truth into Action

24 Hours of Reality Presentation by Steve Gardner
Thursday, November 21 | 5-6:30pm
Pale Fire Brewing Co.
217 S Liberty St, Harrisonburg

You’ve seen the headlines. You know the climate crisis is devastating the Earth. You want to know what we can do. What you can do. You’re not alone – and we think it’s time for answers. 

So, on Thursday, November 21, Harrisonburg will be part of 24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action, a global conversation on the truth of the climate crisis and how we solve it. 

Well-known former Harrisonburg resident Steve Gardner is a retired dentist who has been trained by the Climate Reality Project started by Al Gore. Not only a Master Naturalist, but a committed activist, in September of this year Steve completed a 600 mile long bike trip along the crest of the Blue Ridge to raise awareness of climate change. He is eager to share his passion in his hometown. Steve’s easy-going style and the relaxed setting makes this challenging issue easier to talk about. Join Steve as we all think about “Truth in Action” and what that means for us. Now, while we still have time.  

Peanuts and pretzels will be provided as snacks!

Hosted by Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, the Shenandoah Group of the Virginia Sierra Club, and Pale Fire Brewing Company  


Dr. Steve Gardner appeared on WHSV’s Bob Corso’s 1on1 on November 20, 2019. Find the interview here.