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 and dentist Dr. Steve Gardner, a trained Climate Reality presenter, will hold a public presentation and conversation on our changing climate. It’s a chance for friends, neighbors, and colleagues to hear the truth of what’s happening to our planet. A chance to learn how we’ll overcome this existential threat together. A chance to turn truth into real action and bold solutions. 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  

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/1/2019

Politics and Policy

Following weeks of violent protests in Chile, President Sebastian Piñera said the country would not host the COP25 climate summit in December.  The next day, Spain offered to host the meeting in Madrid.  A new report from the European Environment Agency said the EU is nearly on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.  However, a “Significant increase in efforts [is] needed over the next decade” to reach the 2030 goals.  The U.S. did not participate in the Green Climate Fund meeting last Friday in which 27 countries pledged nearly $10 billion to assist poorer nations in combatting climate change.  They were unable to make up for the shortfall caused by the lack of U.S. participation.

On Monday, more than a dozen automakers filed a legal intervention siding with the White House’s effort to revoke the right of California and other states to enact tougher emissions rules than those set by the federal government.  Rather than freezing CAFE standards for five years at 2020 levels, the U.S. EPA may issue a rule by year’s end requiring automakers to sell new cars that reduce carbon emissions by 1.5% a year through 2025.  Top House Republicans are talking through how to proceed with their own climate change legislation, but it remains to be seen how far they’ll be willing to go.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality is about ready to release its how-to tool kit for solar developers to guide them in making their property attractive to pollinators and birds by planting native plants.

A secret agreement has allowed America’s homebuilders to make it much easier to block changes to building codes that would require new houses to better address climate change, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times (NYT).  CBC News addressed the issue of population control as a strategy for fighting climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

California is burning again, driven by Santa Ana and Diablo winds.  Jason Samenow and Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post had a good explanation of those winds and how climate change might influence them.  The fires caused Bill McKibben to ask: “Has the climate crisis made California too dangerous to live in?”  In addition, California resident and NYT columnist Farhad Manjoo ruminated over the future of his state.  Meanwhile, members of the Sunrise Movement used the fires as a focus of protests in the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to express their frustration about the level of congressional inaction on climate change so far.

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by damage to tropical rainforests around the world are being underestimated by a factor of six, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.  Although organic farming has many positive impacts on the environment, yields are lower than conventional farming, meaning that more land is required.  According to a new study in Nature Communications, the greenhouse gas emissions from that additional land more than offset the benefits from organic farming.

Research by Climate Central has shown that rising sea levels could, within 30 years, push chronic flooding higher than land currently occupied by 300 million people, mostly in coastal Asia.  In 2015, nations around the world agreed to pursue a set of sustainable development goals, but worsening climate change may be putting them out of reach, a top UN official said.

As a result of Earth’s warming, the amount of sea ice that blankets the Gulf of St. Lawrence is shrinking at a rate of roughly 12% per decade, increasing the exposure of shore lines of islands like Magdalen to increasing erosion and collapsing cliff faces.  The annual fall bowhead whale migration along the north coast of Alaska and Canada is late, raising concern for native people who depend on them for winter food.  At Inside Climate News, Sabrina Shankman examined the links to climate change.  Arctic seas, along with the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, are acidifying faster than any other marine waters on the planet.

Scientists gathered for a “High Mountain Summit” at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, discussed the fact that mountain-sourced water supplies are becoming less predictable as warmer temperatures melt glaciers, change precipitation patterns, and alter river levels.  A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported the surprise finding that glacial rivers sequester CO2 by chemical weathering due to the high concentrations of silicate silt particles present.  Current methods of CO2 accounting don’t consider this sink.

Energy

In a new paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, MIT engineers described an entirely new method for removing CO2 from a stream of air.  Although the technique could revolutionize the field of carbon capture, there are a number of nontechnical barriers preventing the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage.  Another research paper, this one in Joule, presented an advance in electric vehicle battery charging that could allow enough charge to travel 200 miles to be applied in just 10 minutes.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that the development of floating offshore wind turbines could enable offshore wind to meet the entire electricity demand of several key electricity markets several times over.  Although little of it is offshore, the U.S. is now home to more than 100 GW of wind energy capacity, second only to China, a new report from the American Wind Energy Association said Thursday.  The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Monday released for public comment its last environmental analysis of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Project in Wyoming.  It will be the largest wind farm in the U.S., with up to 3 GW of capacity from 1,000 turbines.

The U.S. coal company Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.  Honda has announced that it will sell only hybrid and electric vehicles in Europe by 2022, three years earlier than previously planned.  In its annual Southeast Asia outlook, the IEA warned that the region could become a net importer of fossil fuels in the next few years, increasing carbon emissions in the region.

A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute has found that by the middle of the 2020s, hybrid ‘portfolios’ of batteries and renewable energy will economically outperform existing gas power plants.  Furthermore, such portfolios are already cost-competitive with building new ones.  A new study from Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment will help planners in different regions of the U.S. determine which type of renewable energy would bring the most benefit to their region.  The benefits varied by region.  On Thursday, Dominion Energy announced plans to build a 150 MW solar park in Prince George County, Virginia, and send its output to a data center facility.  A group representing some of Virginia’s largest employers, including Walmart, says Dominion Energy has too many carbon-emitting facilities in its renewable energy portfolio plan and that the utility is stifling renewable energy market growth.

Driven in part by Colorado’s stringent methane standard, a growing cadre of scientists and entrepreneurs is working to develop and deploy novel technologies to address the growing issue of methane leaks across the natural gas supply chain.  The UK plans to phase out subsidies to power plants that use wood pellets as fuel.  This has given hope to activists in North Carolina who hope to shut down the wood pellet industry, arguing that electricity generated with wood pellets is not really carbon neutral.

Potpourri

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has turned down the Nordic Council’s 2019 Environmental Award, stating that rather than awards, “What we need is for our politicians and the people in power [to] start to listen to the current, best available science.”  Fareed Zakaria reviewed Rachel Maddow’s new book Blowout, concluding that it “is a brilliant description of many of the problems caused by our reliance on fossil fuels.  But it does not provide a path out of the darkness.”  If you want to get more involved in a national movement to increase action on climate change, SueEllen Campbell has compiled a list of organizations to consider.  Two editors at The Conversation summarized what the “experts” recommend that we do to fight the climate crisis.

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.

Run Down on Local Candidates’ Stands on Climate Change

CAAV Steering Committee member Sally Newkirk drew up this quick list of where the candidates stand on Climate Change. Most of the information came directly from the candidates’ websites.


District 20 House of Delegates:

Jennifer Lewis:

  • Opposes both the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines.
  • Supports reforming the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
  • Doesn’t accept money from Dominion or Appalachian Power.
  • Supports moving towards a 100% clean and renewable energy future.
  • Endorsed by Sierra Club and Clean Virginia.

John Avoli:

  • No comments on our environment except to project that farmers want clean air and water.

District 25 House of Delegates

Jennifer Kitchen:

  • Supports the Green New Deal.
  • Opposes Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Chris Runion:

  • No issues stated on anything. Expressed a desire to maintain conservative status quo.

District 26 House of Delegates

Tony Wilt:

  • Nothing stated on Environment
  • Voted along party lines to stifle distributed solar.

Brent Finnegan:

  • Opposes pipelines.
  • Supports a green economic plan.
  • Supports Virginia Solar Freedom Bill.
  • Wants to adopt “better than federal motor vehicle standards”.
  • Supports a just and equitable carbon tax.

District 24 State Senate Race

Emmett Hanger:

  • Nothing on climate.
  • Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
  • Advocates expanding State Parks.
  • Introduced and passed bill removing solar panels from being taxed as personal property.

Annette Hyde:

  • Believes in protecting water and air for future generations.
  • Virginia should be moving away from fracked gas.
  • Supports a bill that expands distributed solar through tax credits, rebates and low interest rates.

District 26 State Senate Race

Mark Obenshain:

  • Talks about “energy independence”
  • Supports clean coal, wind energy, biomass and offshore drilling.

April Moore:

  • Climate Change is her number 1 issue.
  • Wants to bring more green technology jobs to the Valley.
  • Supports moving toward a clean and renewable energy future.

CAAV Comments to US Forest Service

CAAV Comments on Draft Forest Service Environmental Assessment for North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project

by Joy Loving, on behalf of CAAV, submitted 10/25/2019

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a local grassroots non-profit organization whose volunteer Steering Committee members focus and act on a variety of issues that are connected to the current climate crisis.  We are located in the Central Shenandoah Valley.  CAAV’s mission is to limit the impact of humans on Earth’s climate and minimize the effects of inevitable climate change in order to protect the future for Earth and its inhabitants.  The vision of CAAV is to create and nurture climate action in our Shenandoah Valley community so that we can become a regional leader in promoting climate change mitigation and resilience.  Our goals are to 1) train and mobilize community members to engage in local and regional efforts that promote climate change mitigation and resilience and 2) achieve policies and legislation that enable and advance the systemic changes required to promote climate stabilization and resilience.  CAAV’s website is:  https://climateactionallianceofthevalley.org/.

As such, we are concerned with many aspects of natural and human behavior that in some way affect the viability of our air, water, land, health (human and wildlife), and plants.  For this reason, we are offering our comments on the Forest Service’s (FS) Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project in Rockingham County, Virginia and Pendleton County, West Virginia.  CAAV does not represent itself as having expertise in forest management.  Rather, we offer our thoughts and recommendations guided by general principles of good stewardship of our natural resources, of which North Shenandoah Mountain’s acreage is clearly an important part.  We have reviewed the FS’s descriptions of the Project Purpose and Activity.  We note that the proposed restoration and other actions would occur on about 7% of the planning area.

Following are the considerations we believe the FS must both keep in mind and adhere to in carrying out the restoration and management efforts it envisions. 

  • In general CAAV is supportive of integrated resource management that “[i]ncludes timber harvesting, prescribed fire, road decommissioning, aquatic habitat improvements, wildlife habitat improvements, and nonnative invasive species”, provided that such activities do not have unintended consequences that ultimately do more harm to the forest than good.  We question whether the described project design [“to move the existing conditions within the North River Ranger District towards desired conditions described in the 2014 Revised Forest Plan for the George Washington National Forest (Forest Plan)] will yield the most beneficial results given advancements in the science of forest management and climate-change-related environmental impacts that have arisen since 2014.  At a minimum, the FS should document both the advancements and the impacts and address if/how the 2014 plan continues to be optimal.
  • Current relevant scientific consensus on any proposed action should inform and drive FS analysis and decisions around the necessity, location, and extent of any actions, including tree and plant removal, new plantings (including species, varieties, density, and quantity).  Any deviation from this consensus must be documented, including likely consequences; these will be important historical records for future FS actions and decisions.  For example, given what we understand is science to the contrary, should this project attempt to simplify the structural complexity of long-lived but not yet fully developed forest tree species only a century after most of the area was deforested?  If the FS believes it should, then the reasons should be clearly and publicly stated along with a clear plan for monitoring results and remediation if/when clearly necessary.
  • To the extent that the FS will “provide open canopy conditions through timber harvest and prescribed burning”, it must understand and consider the implications of prior de-forestations of the area that have occurred.  For example, where soil loss has occurred from logging and burning, nature needs long periods of time to restore forest stability and function.  The FS must determine, prior to such activities, the extent of soil compaction and degradation and the implications of the loss of leaf litter.  If the FS concludes that the anticipated gains outweigh the negatives, then the reasons should be clearly and publicly stated along with a clear plan for monitoring results and remediation if/when clearly necessary.
  • Overwhelmingly, scientists stress the criticality of preserving and restoring natural, native forests to mitigating the impacts of climate change.  Science also says that deforestation and forest degradation are major contributors to increased carbon dioxide. Thus questions arise as to the carbon emission amounts that the FS anticipates resulting from each of its planned actions and what effect do those amounts have given the lost carbon sequestration from the loss of the trees burned or timbered, especially from what mature trees would sequester if allowed to grow older?  It is our understanding that mature and old trees in temperate, deciduous forests are better at soil storage of carbon than other systems.   Other questions arise relative to proposed burns and timber harvesting, such as what are the projected effects on overall forest balance, a complex and ongoing occurrence from natural forces, especially given that this aspect of forests is so crucial to both carbon sinking and the nature and variety of the many plant and animal species that forests support. Tinkering with these natural processes can alter their innate ability to rebuilt soil, soil that burning and harvesting would likely degrade or even remove from the environment. Most proposed FS actions would result in a “simplified” forest structure.  So the draft EA proposes is not only silent about how much CO2 will be emitted through burning, logging, and soil disturbance, but the proposed actions, presumably intended to “manage” the many acres addressed in the draft may have the negative effects of upsetting the forest’s natural processes that are the basis of its structure and stability.  The FS must understand, quantify, and publicly provide the anticipated impacts on CO2 emissions and sequestration before it proceeds with finalizing and implementing the plan.
  • Clearly, there are situations in which controlled and even repeated deliberate burning of large parts of national forests may be justified.  Two arguments in favor of proactive burning are to remove built-up forest floor debris and to allow for native species to have a better environment in which to flourish.  On the other hand, timber harvesting will leave excessive debris behind.  And, without careful analysis of the proposed areas to be harvested, with appropriate limits on the age, size, and type of trees to be included and excluded, as well as adequate management of logging processes to insurance compliance with requirements, the intended results may not be realized.  If the FS believes the “leftovers” from timber harvesting would not pose a threat because of our relatively humid climate, the question arises as to why naturally occurring forest floor debris that is naturally occurring would pose such a threat.  The draft EA does not adequately explain the FS’s approach to prescribed burning, especially in terms of this seeming contradiction.  Nor is the draft clear as to how the FS will determine which areas “need” prescribed burning or timber harvesting.  Prior to undertaking either, in any part of the coverage acreage, the FS needs to fully understand, quantify, and publicly provide the anticipated impacts on the overall forest structure and balance of these activities prior to undertaking them.
  • Questions also arise about the effects on the forest system from the proposed activities of using “herbicides to treat non-native invasive plant species … and native plant competitors”, creating 2.15 miles of new roads, doing 19.1 miles of reconstruction (presumably repair and upgrade of existing roads), performing 25- 30 miles of “maintenance”, decommissioning 15 miles of roads, and building 15 miles of temporary roads.  Assuming these activities are essential, they will clearly be destructive of various, but unidentified (in the draft) parts of the ecosystems within and outside the forest areas in which they happen.  Even the many other activities that appear to be, and are arguably, both beneficial and necessary could have deleterious effects.  Examples include protecting riparian habitat, restoring fire‑dependent plant communities, applying thinning and regeneration treatments, and acting to create or expand habitats for existing species.  It is also not clear that other proposed activities (such as prescribed burns and timber harvesting) will not have unintended consequences such as habitat destruction of these or other animal or plant species or a negative re-balancing from the new species components that result. The FS must explicitly anticipate these effects and establish mitigation and restoration efforts that will precede and follow their occurrences, as well as plan for and budget ongoing assessment and management of any effects.

Thanks to Chris Bolgiano for her input. More about the project and its environmental assessment here.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/26/2019

Joy Loving prepared this week’s edition, with assistance from Les Grady.

Politics and Policy

The Washington Post’s (WaPo) Editorial Board believes that “There’s an effective and progressive solution for climate change. [They ask] Why won’t Democrats embrace it?”  The authors argue that “The science does not change because politicians deny that humans are warming the planet. Likewise the economics do not change because politicians find them ideologically or politically inconvenient.”  The Hill reports that “Trump prepares to formally withdraw US from Paris Climate Accord”. Vice notes that “This Alaskan Forest Eats a Ton of Carbon. The Trump Administration Wants to Let Loggers Cut It Down.

It’s as big as the entire state of West Virginia.”

The Hill prints a joint op-ed by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.):  “New Senate caucus will seek bipartisan solutions to address the climate challenge”.  Grist asks “Congress is losing a major Republican climate hawk. What now?”  Francis “Rooney is the current co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives whose main objectives are to educate members of Congress about climate change and to push for climate legislation….”  Rooney just announced he’s leaving the House of Representatives.  A CCL spokesperson “cited recent polling that shows growing support for carbon taxes and a Green New Deal among young Republicans. And he said that Republicans from districts that have been touched by extreme weather and other climate-tinged events are wising up to the fact that voters support climate action.”

Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) says that the recent election in our northern neighbor yielded a winner beyond the politicians:  “The big election winner? The carbon tax”.  Jules Kortenhorst of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) believes “The next US administration has the chance to strike the greatest climate bargain of all time. For less than $3/ton of CO2 abated, the next US government could economically retire the nation’s coal plants and buy back the planet’s future – all while saving US consumers billions.”  In an opinion piece for Utility Dive, Jacob Susman, a partner at Mission Driven Capital Partners, argues that “We’re already paying a carbon price — let’s invoice those responsible and collect the dividends instead”.

Politico reports that “USDA inspector general launches climate change investigation”.  At issue is whether “the department has been routinely burying its work on climate change, even as farmers and ranchers are increasingly dealing with its harmful effects.”  Grist has a story about fired members of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee who nonetheless “reconvened to review the latest science and offer recommendations for new air quality regulations… [and later] issued a letter warning that current regulatory limits pose a threat to public health and urging stricter standards to limit particulate pollution, which has been linked to increased risk of a host of heart and respiratory diseases.”  This item in the Allegheny Front says “Pennsylvanians Tell EPA, We Need More Controls on Methane, Not Less”.

The Atlantic has a story about ocean acidification:  “The Worst Day in Earth’s History Contains an Ominous Warning.  One of the planet’s most dramatic extinctions was caused in part by ocean acidification, which has become a problem in our own era.”  The story explores the similarities between the massive extinction that happened after the huge asteroid slammed into Earth, particularly the effects on oceans.  Ocean acidification played an important role in three mass extinctions, suggesting that we should be paying more attention to the acidification going on now.

Climate and Climate Science

The Associated Press reports that the “South Pole’s ozone hole shrinks to smallest since discovery”. The shrinkage “is more due to freakish Antarctic weather than efforts to cut down on pollution,” according to NASA.  WaPo also covered this story.

The Guardian recently pledged to “give the climate crisis the attention it demands.”  Here are 3 recent examples of its coverage:

  1. Renewable energy to expand by 50% in next five years – report”.  “The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are rolling out at their fastest rate in four years.”
  2. ‘Racism dictates who gets dumped on’: how environmental injustice divides the world”.  The paper’s “new environmental justice reporter, Nina Lakhani, asked five luminaries of the movement to explain “environmental justice”…. They reveal why, alongside global heating and the extinction crisis, it is one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
  3. Alex Preston reviews Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer review – a life-changing book.

This somewhat wonky but interesting reporting by ScienMag on a University of California Irvine study sheds light on how “Plant physiology will be major contributor to future river flooding”.  As if “precipitation anomalies caused by atmospheric warming” isn’t enough of a problem, because “[p]lants get more water-efficient and leak less underground soil moisture out through their pores in a carbon-rich atmosphere,”… there is … more soil moisture stored up underground, so … climate models predict rainfall events will saturate the ground and more rain will run off into rivers.”  A new study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that climate change is making stronger El Niños, which change weather worldwide and heat up the planet.

Anchorage (AK) Daily News describes how “A Western Alaska village, long threatened by erosion and flooding, begins to relocate”.  National Geographic also covers this story.  The CBC says that “Climate change has turned permafrost into a carbon emitter [and] Social Sharing [and] Tundra plants can’t absorb enough carbon in summer to make up for carbon released in winter”. A paper that was published Monday in Nature Climate Change reported that the amount of CO2 released as a result of thawing permafrost was almost twice as much as that taken up by plant growth, making the Arctic a net emitter of CO2Deutsche Welle (DW) also covers the effects of the climate crisis on indigenous Alaskan peoples in “Alaska: Climate change threatens indigenous traditions”. 

Reuters reports that “Climate change hampers progress on fighting epidemics: Global Fund”.  Grist reports on a “New study [that] pinpoints the places most at risk on a warming planet”.  “As many as five billion people will face hunger and a lack of clean water by 2050 as the warming climate disrupts pollination, freshwater, and coastal habitats…. People living in South Asia and Africa will bear the worst of it.”  WaPo interviews Al Gore about his latest climate-related presentation, this one a stark warning “of a looming food crisis caused by climate change”.  The Intercept interviews Bill McKibben about his new book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?  Ozy has a story about Germany’s Minister for Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection who “Believes Trees Will Save Germany — If She Can Save the Trees”. Michigan Radio (NPR station) has a story headlined:  “Without widespread cultural change, the climate crisis won’t be solved, says UM expert”. The New York Times publishes an opinion piece by Naomi Orestes and Nicholas Stern titled “Climate Change Will Cost Us Even More Than We Think”.  Bloomberg also covered this story.

Energy

In a recent Executive Order, “Governor Ralph Northam Signs Executive Order to Expand Access to Renewable Energy, Support Clean Energy Jobs of the Future”.  The Richmond Times Dispatch headlined the story “State to buy energy from solar, wind projects to power government”.  And so did the Roanoke Times with this item:  “Plans for wind farm in Botetourt County move forward”.  Yale Environment 360 has this related item:  “Small Adjustments to Wind Turbines Can Reduce Impacts on Birds, New Study Finds”.  A recent study in the journal Energy Science found that changes to wind turbine design, such as making them taller with shorter blades, could decrease bird mortalityUtility Dive says “Virginia signs largest state renewable energy contract in US with 420 MW Dominion deal”.  The arrangement “aims to help the state meet new clean energy goals.  Combined with previously announced solar projects, electricity produced by the new wind and solar resources will help meet the equivalent of 45% of the state government’s annual energy use.”

Nearly a third of the Earth’s electricity will come from renewables by 2024, according to the International Energy Agency.  However, they warned that the expansion will still be “well short” of what’s required to meet aggressive goals aimed at fighting climate change.  A bipartisan group of 231 mayors sent a letter to Congress urging them to pass the Renewable Energy Extension Act (HR 3961/S. 2289), a five-year extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit.  Here’s a utility rate request that’s pretty unusual:  Camden News reports that “South Arkansas electric utility seeks rate reduction”.  Why?  “Ouachita Electric Cooperative is preparing to ask state regulators to lower rates for its 7,000 members in five south Arkansas counties. The decrease is fueled by advances in solar power and other efficiencies the utility has created.”  More good news from Ensia:  “New report: Efficiency can cut U.S. energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050”.

The Roanoke Times says that “Work on Mountain Valley Pipeline is winding down” but not because of the coming winter.  “Mountain Valley has lost three sets of key permits — all suspended because of the pipeline’s impact on the environment — that have fallen like slow-motion dominoes for a project that was supposed to be done by now.”  In another recent piece, the Times reports “Another delay, cost increase for Mountain Valley Pipeline”.  The Virginia Mercury has this recent headline, echoing the same stories:  “Mountain Valley Pipeline’s cost rises to $5.5 billion, completion pushed to 2020”.  The Post and Courier asks:  “Will SC need gas pipeline like it needed abandoned coal, nuclear plants?”  The piece questions Dominion Energy’s CEO’s wish to “to bring the [Atlantic Coast Pipeline into South Carolina]… if the demand is there”, concluding “It might turn out that we really do need additional natural gas capacity. Or it might turn out that we need another natural-gas pipeline about as much as we needed the coal plant and the nuclear reactors.”

Maritime transport is a large contributor to CO2 emissions.  This Guardian article reports in “Winds of change: the sailing ships cleaning up sea transport” that “Clean transport is the missing link, as many so-called sustainable or ethical goods are currently carried on ships that pollute the air and sea,” and that several shipping companies are increasing their transport of “sail cargo”.  Grist tells the story of “DREAMBOATS [and how] Space-age sails, bionic hulls, clean fuels drawn from the oceans themselves — the shipping industry is poised for transformation … if the stars align.”

The cost gap between electric and gas model cars is beginning to shrink, according to Rachelle Petusky, the manager of research and market intelligence for Cox Automotive Mobility.  And that shift is going to accelerate.

The Guardian has this opinion piece about New York State’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil.  Discussing how mis- and dis-information campaigns have slowed the public’s grasp about the dangers of carbon pollution, the authors reference their report, “America Misled: How the Fossil Fuel Industry Deliberately Misled Americans About Climate Change”.  They conclude:  “Exposing and explaining the techniques of denial are crucial steps in neutralizing disinformation… from any source. Once people know the ways they can be deceived, disinformation no longer has power over them…. But it’s not enough to offer information – we also have to expose disinformation, so that people understand what we have been up against.” Inside Climate News also writes about this trial and about “Former Exxon Scientists Tell[ing] Congress of Oil Giant’s Climate Research Before Exxon Turned to Denial”. UPI reports on another lawsuit on the same issue: “Supreme Court declines to issue stay in Baltimore suit against oil companies”.  Inside Climate News says Massachusetts has also sued ExxonMobil “Over Climate Change, Accusing the Oil Giant of Fraud”.  Politico has a story explaining how “Researchers can now link weather events to emissions – and to the companies responsible. A string of lawsuits is about to give “attribution science” a real-life test.”

Weather Internal (WI) reports that “Government Loophole Gave Oil Companies an $18 Billion Windfall”.  Excerpting from a New York Times story, WI quoted:  “The United States government has lost billions of dollars of oil and gas revenue to fossil-fuel companies because of a loophole in a decades-old law, a federal watchdog agency said…, offering the first detailed accounting of the consequences of a misstep by lawmakers that is expected to continue costing taxpayers for decades to come.”

Potpourri

NBC News has a story (and video) about a Columbia University light exhibit that lets “visitors … imagine what life would be like under 10 feet of water as humanity is confronted by the effects of climate change.”  Thompson Reuters has a somewhat related story:  “As climate impacts hit, cities are still struggling to prepare, researchers warn”.

From ted.com comes this 6:25 minute video about one marine biologist’s love of parrotfish, their unusual lifecycle and behaviors, and the news that humans have overfished them and that their habitat—the coral reefs—may not be around in 30 years unless we do something to stop their destruction.

BBC News has pictures that illustrate the dramatic loss of glacier ice in Iceland since the 1980s.  CNN reports on the wildfires raging in California.

On November 7, the “Byron Allen’s Weather Channel to host Special on Climate Change’s Impact on Black Communities With Presidential Candidates”.  The Weather Channel “will air 2020: Race to Save the Planet, a one-hour, primetime special featuring conversations with the network’s meteorologists and nine presidential candidates on climate change and produced in partnership with The Climate Desk, a media consortium.”

NOTE:  Solar United Neighbors/VA announces its 2019 Solar Congress, to be held in Williamsburg on November 16.  The list of topics includes basic solar information, electric vehicles and solar, advancing rooftop solar policy in VA, organizing to advance solar on the local level, battery storage and solar, equity in solar, organizing for solar in rural electric cooperatives, solar for schools/churches/non-profits, solar workforce development, and the business case for solar.  To learn more and register, visit this link.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/18/2019

Politics and Policy

President Donald Trump confirmed that U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will step down from his Cabinet post at the end of the year.  Trump also announced that he would nominate Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette to succeed Perry.  Following on the heels of a federal appeals court ruling that stayed a key permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered that all work on the pipeline stop, except for stabilization and restoration activities.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published a report regarding the financial risk of climate change to low- and moderate-income communities.  The risk is dire, but the report proposes actions that could alter the behavior of financial institutions and local governments, pushing them to better prepare for climate change.  Unlike most Republican-led state governments, Florida has a chief resilience officer, whose job it is to prepare the state for the types of risk considered in the Fed report.  Climate risk has a big impact on the insurance industry, which raises the question of whether it can survive.  At WBUR, Robin Young discussed this question with The Economist finance correspondent Matthieu Favas.  Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, told The Guardian, “Companies and industries that are not moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt…”

Climate change will not be on the agenda at next year’s Group of Seven (G-7) summit hosted by the U.S. at Trump National Doral near Miami.  John D. Macomber of the Harvard Business School examined the options for building (or rebuilding) in an age of climate change.  An editorial in The Economist addressed how national carbon-cutting goals should be expressed.  One example was the necessity to include imbedded-carbon from imports in the calculations.  Forty-five percent of carbon emissions come from making things.  A new report argues that the best way to address them is to shift to a circular economy.  At Yale Environment 360, Fen Montaigne interviewed William Moomaw of Tuft’s University who is a proponent of “proforestation”, leaving older and middle-aged forests intact because of their superior carbon-sequestration abilities.

Umair Irfan and David Roberts at Vox asked the Democratic presidential candidates six climate-related questions that haven’t been asked at the debates.  Nine responded.  The answers can be found here.  If you don’t have time to read their responses, Grist had the highpoints.  Climate change is often listed as a driver of conflict, particularly in regions of the world where water is scarce.  But, is it?  John Vidal addressed that question in Ensia, ending with a quote from a recent paper in Nature: “Across the experts, best estimates are that 3–20% of conflict risk over the past century has been influenced by climate variability or change.”  However, Vidal said, “… they also wrote that the risk of conflict is likely to increase as climate change intensifies.”

Climate and Climate Science

Carbon Brief has published its third quarterly “State of the Climate” report for this year.  So far, it looks like 2019 will be the second warmest year on record, even though there was no El Niño.  Switzerland’s glaciers have lost a tenth of their volume in the past five years alone — a rate of melting that is unprecedented in more than a century of observations.  Even before the impacts of 2019 had occurred, 92% of Greenlanders thought that climate change is happening, but only 52% thought it is human-caused.  National Geographic had an interesting retrospective piece about how scientists discovered that the ice dams that hold back Greenland’s glaciers are being melted from the bottom by warm sea water.

A study published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B found that forest birds take their cue for nesting from nighttime temperatures in the spring.  Consequently, as climate change causes temperatures to rise, the breeding patterns of birds are being altered.  A study published in the journal Nature found that toxic algal blooms are increasing across the world as temperatures rise.  The study was based on 30 years of NASA data.  Driven in part by climate change, species turnover has increased in many ecosystems as species better adapted to current conditions displace traditional ones.

Qatar has already seen average temperatures rise more than 2°C above preindustrial times, which means it is experiencing some very hot temperatures.  In addition, Qatar is very humid, because of its location in the warm Persian Gulf.  Consequently, Qatar is air conditioning the outdoors, which is one reason it has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rate in the world.  Far away from Qatar, in South America, the Xingu River is one of the Amazon River’s largest tributaries, but more than a third of its drainage basin, a region bigger than New York State, is now deforested.  This makes the basin a perfect laboratory in which to study the impact of deforestation on climate and the remaining rainforest.

Two new papers, one in Nature Communications and the other in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined how two important diseases will spread in response to global warming and land use.  The first study looked at Ebola and concluded that as temperatures warm, Ebola will move to other parts of Africa as the bats that harbor the virus move.  The second looked at malaria, finding that deforestation significantly increases its transmission. 

According to this year’s global hunger index, climate change is driving alarming levels of hunger in the world, undermining food security in the world’s most vulnerable regions.  In the U.S., farmers are increasingly experiencing the impacts of severe weather, yet the Department of Agriculture spends just 0.3% of its $144 billion budget helping them adapt to climate change.

Energy

This week’s “Climate Fwd: Newsletter” from The New York Times had an interesting article about heat pumps and the energy that they save.  One item that the author didn’t mention is that the cleaner your electricity gets, the cleaner the heat pump gets, as opposed to a furnace, which will always emit greenhouse gases.

According to the NYT, some of the major oil and gas “companies have significantly increased their flaring, as well as the venting of natural gas and other potent greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere, according to data from the three largest shale-oil fields in the United States.”  The Daily Climate published an op-ed piece by Derrick Z. Jackson, a Union of Concerned Scientists Fellow in climate and energy, about the efforts by the natural gas industry to paint itself green.  Although green hydrogen is still very much in its infancy, investors and policymakers are starting to take note.  Consequently, Green Tech Media took a brief look at ten countries beginning to move on this potentially important energy source.

Volvo Cars is targeting a 40% reduction in the carbon footprint of each car it manufactures by 2025 and aims to become fully climate neutral by 2040.  Toward that end, it introduced its first fully electric vehicle, a battery-powered version of its small SUV, the XC40.  Ford announced on Thursday it has developed a 12,000-strong charging station network, called the FordPass Charging Network, that its future electric-vehicle owners will be able to take advantage of.  In a two-part series, Utility Dive and Smart Cities Dive explored the question of how cities and utilities are preparing for the expected increase of electric vehicles in the transportation mix.  (Part I; Part II)

By 2022, 30% of the electricity consumed by state agencies and institutions in Virginia will come from renewable sources, under a new agreement between the Commonwealth and Dominion Energy.  The 12-MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project being developed by Dominion Energy and Orsted US received federal approval of two important permits.  An analysis by Carbon Brief revealed that during the third quarter of 2019, UK electricity production by solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower beat out production by fossil fuels for the first time.  Although many U.S. electric utilities are promising net zero carbon emissions by 2050, most plan to rely heavily on coal and natural gas for decades.  That means continuing increases in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.  In an opinion piece in the NYT, Justin Gillis wrote “What the events in California and Miami and Houston tell us is that we are living through the risks of an altered climate now, not a hundred years from now.  Expect the situation to keep getting worse for the rest of your life.”

In an interview with Reuters, Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell, expressed concern that some shareholders could abandon them due partly to what he called the “demonization” of oil and gas and “unjustified” worries that its business model is unsustainable.  “Despite what a lot of activists say, it is entirely legitimate to invest in oil and gas because the world demands it,” he said.  To illustrate that point, India is investing $60 billion to build a national gas grid and import terminals by 2024 in a bid to cut its carbon emissions.  So how can we rein in oil and gas?  The Guardian presented eight ideas.  Calm has returned to the streets of Quito after Ecuador’s government agreed to reinstate fuel subsidies following eleven days of nationwide, violent protests.

Potpourri

Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition movement, has a new book entitled From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want.  At The New Yorker, Rachel Riederer reviewed two new books dealing with the “stark inequality of climate change”: This Land Is Our Land by Jedediah Purdy and The Geography of Risk by Gilbert Gaul.  Although written from an Australian perspective, Iain Walker and Zoe Leviston’s article about the three forms of climate change denial is equally applicable to the U.S.  There was an interesting article in the NYT entitled “How Guilty Should You Feel About Flying?”.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda continued his summary of recent climate-related reports released so far this year.

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.

Electric Vehicles Are Punishingly Overtaxed in Virginia

In response to James A. Bacon’s post How Should We Tax Electric Vehicles? on October 15, 2019, on his Virginian public policy website Bacon’s Rebellion.

The original post, published on October 18, is HERE.

by Alleyn Harned

In an October 15th post, James Bacon asked the question: How should we tax electric vehicles?

Bacon’s bottom line is reasonable, and it is worth noting that electric vehicles (EVs) and clean fuels already pay more than their fair share in Virginia with equivalent or excessive taxes, according to Consumer Reports. It is easy to agree with Bacon’s ideas of user fees and externalities, where EVs also pay, and where pollution externalities are integrated into state fee structures.

However, Virginia has not ignored the transportation revenue potential of EVs and reaps a high tax on these vehicles. Since the McDonnell administration, electric vehicles been assessed a punishing $64 a year fee in order to gather an approximate amount of revenue equivalent to somewhat more than traditional vehicles pay in gas tax. This fee has been used by the oil industry to justify high fees nationwide.

A recent Consumer Reports study in September showed that now in many states, electric-car fees often cost far more than what owners of gasoline-powered cars pay in gas tax. Virginia’s fee is 5% higher, even though EVs and clean fuel vehicles have great benefit to the Commonwealth through emissions reduction.

I suggest we should tax electric vehicles no greater than gasoline and diesel vehicles. Other financing mechanisms are great, but punishing cleaner vehicles fueled by domestic energy creates an unbalanced playing field favoring high cost oil.

Bacon suggests calculating and adjusting downward for cleaner air for both pollution and direct CO2 emissions from gasoline combustion and indirect emissions via the electric grid, any such calculations would have to be revisited periodically to reflect the greening of the grid. By this measure, the carbon fee today should be 60% higher on gasoline than on grid electricity, though further discounts could be tied to time of use charging, bringing electricity to zero emissions or negative emissions with GHG sequestration sources.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicles produce very low emissions in Virginia if you compare grid fuel to gasoline emissions.

Electric vehicles are cleaner for the air, with significant health benefits beyond the CO2 reductions. They generate no tailpipe pollution when operating, and pollution from electricity generation can be mitigated with improvements to the grid, timing of charging, and lower cost renewables like Dominion Energy’s announced 2.6-gigawatt wind project which can charge these vehicles at night. Virginia for the most part is not coal intensive, with peak coal back in 1990’s. We are now using coal for less than 10% of our electric energy mix. Renewables like solar and wind are also now lower in cost than coal.

Beyond air quality, I suggest the Commonwealth consider reducing these punishing fees and incentivizing clean fuel vehicles like EVs because clean fuel vehicles are good for Virginia’s energy, economic, and environmental security.

Virginia produces nearly no oil in the state, but we spend around $33 million a day on 13 million gallons of imported gasoline and diesel, an enormous shifting of wealth from Virginians to oil-producers out of the state and in other countries. We produce many things that can produce electricity. This importation of highly polluting oil energy is an enormous drain on Virginia’s economy.

The United States just sent 1,000 troops, likely including Virginians, to Saudi Arabia to help defend Saudi oil. We maintain a fleet in the Strait of Hormuz to facilitate oil shipments. This international military investment is an externality that could be tracked and budgeted into the federal or state motorfuels tax of billions of our dollars.

Electric vehicles are affordable for all people today. Beyond Teslas, most EVs cost well under the $39,000 average price for a new car – with LEAF and Bolt available in VA under $30,000, and the Tesla 3 landing at $39,000 – the average price for a new car. Virginia-headquartered Volkswagen and Audi are planning a future with heavy electric vehicle investments. Ford and Shell just announced major partnership in advance of Ford’s new electric vehicles. Good used EVs are available for around $12,000. You can find new Nissan LEAFs posted for $18,900 and Prius Primes for $22,000 in Virginia on http://www.electrifyyourrideva.org .

Because electricity is low cost (about $1 per gallon equivalent) and vehicles can travel many miles on each $0.12 kilowatt of Virginia-made clean energy, driving electric pencils out to save $10k over 10 years in fuel costs. Fueleconomy.gov lets you see how much it would take to get each EV to 25 miles. Between fuel and initial cost in Virginia, a great EV total cost of ownership over 10 years is half that of the average new vehicle in the U.S.

Bacon is right to raise the discussion on user fees (miles) and externalities (pollution). The comments raised about a Vehicle Miles Traveled fees are sound and worth reviewing. Other states like Washington are phasing in a VMT over 10 years. EVs, which produce zero tailpipe emissions and use cleaner local energy, currently do pay greater than their fare share today in support of Virginia’s roads.

Alleyn Harned is director of Virginia Clean Cities.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/11/2019

Politics and Policy

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren detailed a new environmental justice plan aimed at bolstering and protecting vulnerable communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.  The need for such a plan was illustrated by a study of FEMA’s buyout program published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.  At The New York Times, Lisa Friedman looked at why young climate activists are not impressed with either former Vice President Joe Biden’s climate plans or his climate record.  U.S. mayors are seeking to go over President Trump’s head and negotiate directly at next month’s UN climate change conference in Santiago.  Senate Democrats plan to use the Congressional Review Act to try and repeal the Trump Administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan.  Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, eight EU states have called on the bloc’s incoming top climate official to raise the CO2 reduction target for 2030 to 55% from 40%.

Virginia ranked 29th in the 2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard released earlier this month by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  This caused reporter Elizabeth McGowen to write “If Virginia is ever to bust loose from its middle-of-the-pack state ranking on energy efficiency, its regulated utilities must be the prime movers and shakers.”  In a letter to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper dated Thursday, Drew Shindell, Nicholas Professor of Earth Science at Duke University, said that the state should place a “permanent moratorium” on new natural gas infrastructure in the state, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).  Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Dominion Energy Inc of a lower court ruling that halted construction of the ACP.  Nick Martin of The New Republic sees new pipelines coming everywhere. 

In a study released on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) joined a chorus of other studies calling for a price on carbon emissions.  The IMF study found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2°C, although others have recommended a much higher tax.  The Vice Chairman of the Board of Swiss drug company Roche said business must set more ambitious goals for reining in human impact on climate and the environment.  A poll conducted by YouGov Blue and Data for Progress sought to determine voters’ reactions to some of the recent proposals by Democratic candidates for fighting climate change.  Robinson Meyer reviewed the findings at The Atlantic.

Two new reports from the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University addressed the question of how to decarbonize industrial heat, i.e., the heat used to do things like make steel, glass, or cement.  The first report is about the current state of industrial heat technology (decarbonizing is hard) whereas the second addresses policy recommendations for decarbonizing the sector (a carbon tax only ranked fifth among the policies).

Climate and Climate Science

Scientists in Siberia have discovered regions with very high atmospheric methane concentrations.  The methane is coming from melting permafrost.  One source is under the East Siberian Sea and is releasing so much methane that the sea looks like it is boiling in some places.

The New York Times has published detailed maps of total transportation-based CO2 emissions and emissions per capita for many metropolitan areas around the U.S., based on data from Boston University’s “Database of Road Transportation Emissions”.  The Times also had an article about the formation of ghost forests along the mid-Atlantic coast, caused by the migration inland of salt water as a result of sea level rise and a decreased flow of fresh water as a result of drought.

Two recent articles, one last month in Scientific Reports and one this week in Science Advances, shed light on the forces causing accelerated melting of the glaciers in Antarctica.  Be sure to watch the video, in which Ian Howat of Ohio State University does a good job of explaining what is happening.  More rapid melting is also occurring in Greenland, contributing at least 25% of sea level rise.  Science has a rather lengthy article about efforts in Greenland to better understand the melting there, thereby improving scientists’ ability to predict how rapidly sea level will rise.  There is also an interesting video associated with this research.  In South America, nearly 30% of Peru’s glaciers have melted away since 2000, threatening a critical source of drinking water and irrigation for millions of people downstream, according to a new study published in the journal The Cryosphere.  Unfortunately, such melting of mountain glaciers is happening all over the world with similar consequences, as detailed in the new IPCC report on oceans and the cryosphere. 

The National Audubon Society released a new report on Thursday detailing how the ranges of 389 North American birds will change as Earth warms.  Brad Plumer of The New York Times used that report to examine what will happen to the state birds of several states.  A new paper in the journal Science has found that by 2050, up to 5 billion people may be at risk from diminishing ecosystem services, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

NOAA announced that September 2019 tied for the second-warmest September on record in the Lower 48 states.  In addition, hundreds of weather stations from the Mississippi River to the East Coast broke high temperature records for the period Oct. 1-3.  The records weren’t confined to the U.S., however, with records also being set in Europe.

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, scientists found that some coral colonies damaged by oceanic warming from climate change can regrow and fill out the empty skeletons they left behind.  The process is slow, however, suggesting that its success will depend on the frequency of ocean warming events.

Energy

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to the pioneers of the lithium-ion battery.  NASA recently received an all-electric aircraft, the X-57 Maxwell, that will undergo testing in the coming months with the first flight expected in 2020.  British inventor Sir James Dyson said that the company that bears his name is scrapping its plans to build an electric car, even though its engineers had developed a “fantastic” one.

A new report from the Center for American Progress noted that the U.S. needs to get to 65% renewable electricity by 2030 to be on track for 100% renewables in 2050, the level scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  The report also looks at what needs to happen in key sectors to meet that goal.  Many think wind power will supply the majority of U.S. renewable energy.  Philip Warburg reviewed the history of wind power in the U.S.

In order to reduce the risk of forest fires during periods of high winds, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. began cutting electricity to 800,000 customers in California this week.

In the U.S. all utility scale facilities combining renewable energy with energy storage use alternating-current coupling.  Now, utilities are studying direct-current coupling, which requires less equipment and promises to be less expensive.

Potpourri

The Guardian has launched a new series entitled “The polluters”.  The first article was published Wednesday and reveals the 20 companies whose exploitation of the world’s fossil fuel reserves can be linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965.  George Monbiot had an opinion piece to accompany the article.  At the New Yorker, Bill McKibben wrote that in order to make progress, Americans need to stop believing in the fable that the U.S. has already made great progress in cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions.  Michael Svoboda presented summaries with links of 12 reports about climate change, its impacts, and building resilience against them at Yale Climate Connections.  Jane Fonda is moving to Washington, DC, for four months to engage in civil disobedience over climate change on the Capitol steps each Friday.  A new wave of climate protests hit cities around the world this week—this time aimed at shocking people with civil disobedience, fake blood on the pavement, and bodies lying in the streets under signs that read: “Stop funding climate death.”  “Carbon Ruins” is a museum exhibit that looks back on the fossil fuel age from the perspective of 2050 after global net-zero CO2 emissions had been achieved.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/4/2019

Politics and Policy

In contrast to most proposed legislation for a carbon tax, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the best strategy for applying one is to start high (e.g., over $100/ton or more), rise for a few years, and then fall gradually.  David Roberts examined the implications of that suggestion.  Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s largest coal and natural gas producing states, is starting the process to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  On Wednesday, Citigroup issued a report entitled “Managing the Financial Risks of Climate Change,” in which it said that financial regulators must transform how they account for the economic risks of a climate change.  Perhaps the failure to do so is why the majority of the world’s 50 largest banks have not made commitments to respond to the risks of climate change and continue to finance fossil fuels.

Because there were no new commitments from the big emitters at the recent UN Climate Action Summit, many considered it to be a failure.  However, dozens of announcements on climate action were made over the three-day summit.  With a view toward accountability, Climate Home News published a (non-exhaustive) list of initiatives, promises, and goals.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Professor Alex Rosenberg of Duke University explained why climate change is such a hard problem to solve, introducing the concept of PPE in the process.

On Monday, the White House announced that President Trump intends to nominate James Danly to be a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  But he broke with a decades-old tradition by not nominating a Democrat along with Danly.  A nonpartisan taskforce of former government officials has warned that the treatment of science by the Trump administration has hit a “crisis point”.  The Trump administration’s recent revocation of California’s authority to set its own tailpipe emission standards was seen by many as an assault on states’ rights.  E&E News had an article entitled “Meet the ‘NIMBY people’ trying to kill solar.”  A report from the Rhodium Group shows that passing a few tax incentives for electric cars, nuclear plants, and renewable power could lead to big carbon cuts.  An article in The Hill stated “The Trump administration, in its push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is arguing the project should go forward because ‘there is not a climate crisis.’”

A growing body of evangelical leaders is ramping up pressure on Republican lawmakers to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, breaking from some evangelicals’ long skepticism of climate change.  On the NBC News website, researcher Malka Older argued that the U.S. government must recognize the economic threat caused by extreme weather associated with climate change and prepare for it.  On Tuesday, a coalition of New England and mid-Atlantic states, known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, took a first step toward limiting transportation emissions across 13 states.  After the recent rash of fire and extreme weather events, the Federal Reserve’s regional banks are digging deeper into how Earth’s warming will impact U.S. businesses, consumers, and the country’s $17 trillion banking system.

Climate and Climate Science

High temperature records were set all over the southeastern U.S. on Wednesday.  A new study by World Weather Attribution found that since 1900, the chances of receiving the amount of rain dumped on Southeast Texas by Tropical Storm Imelda has more than doubled, while the amount of rainfall in such an event has increased by about 18%.

Salt water continues to move farther inland in Florida’s Biscayne Aquifer (Miami-Dade County), although at a slower rate, according to new U.S. Geological Survey mapping.  In Australia, parts of northern and inland New South Wales, along with southern Queensland, have been in drought since 2016, severely depleting river and lake levels, threatening water supplies for many towns and cities.

Throughout the last 500 million years, the period when complex animal life has existed on Earth, the carbon cycle has been in balance for more than 99% of the time, but not now.  National Geographic went along with scientists to learn more about the huge peat deposit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the scale of which was only recognized a few years ago.  Because of the amount of carbon it contains, it must remain intact.

An iceberg slightly larger than Oahu, Hawaii, broke off this week from the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica.  The loss of Arctic ice is making it very difficult for polar bears to feed, causing their future to be uncertain.  The Washington Post published a photo-essay on Thursday about the impacts of the melting permafrost in Siberia. 

Coral bleaching occurs during ocean heat waves as a result of corals ejecting the algae with which they live in symbiosis.  If bleaching events occur in rapid succession, the corals can be killed.  Now, new research published in the journal Scientific Reports provides hope by suggesting that corals may be able to cope with these stressful events by controlling which algae reside within them.

Energy

A good deal of press has been given to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a component of any plan to hold the global average temperature increase below 1.5°C.  CCS will require the development of a complex infrastructure but there currently is no economic incentive for doing so.  Some propose, however, that we first focus on carbon capture and utilization (CCU), in which economic benefits are gained through use of the captured carbon.  David Roberts is publishing a four-part series at Vox explaining how CCU might serve as an on-ramp for eventual large-scale application of CCS.  Part 1 was published September 4 and presented a brief introduction to the need for CCS and the various types of CCU that might help get it going.  Part 2 was published October 2 and focused on the largest industrial use of captured CO2: enhanced oil recovery.  Parts 3 and 4 will appear later.  It may be too early to judge whether it will pan out, but scientists and engineers in Canada believe they have developed a way to extract in situ hydrogen from tar sands, while leaving the carbon in the ground.  The hydrogen would provide a clean energy source.

The powering past coal alliance (PPCA), which seeks to establish a global coal phase-out by 2050 at the latest, now has 91 members, all vowing to end the construction of new coal-fired power plants by 2020.  On the other hand, the New South Wales government is considering legislation that could limit the ability for planning authorities to rule out coal mine projects on the basis of the climate change impact of emissions from the coal once it is burned.  China plans to shut a total of 8.66 GW of obsolete coal-fired power capacity by the end of this year, the National Energy Administration said.  In the U.S., a group backed by anonymous donors launched a campaign on Monday to promote the benefits of cheap, abundant natural gas against what it called “radical” proposals like the Green New Deal that would phase out use of the fossil fuel.  On the other hand, opponents of new natural gas pipelines are arguing that their builders are misusing eminent domain.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue of whether the Atlantic Coast Pipeline can cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued permits for the construction and operation of four new solar projects that will generate a total of 192 MW of electricity.  A modeling study conducted by the Greenlink Group found that adding at least 49 GW of solar energy through 2050 would save Virginia consumers money.

The largest windfarm in the world will have a combined capacity of 3.6 GW and will be located at Dogger Bank off the coast of Yorkshire in the North Sea.  The turbines will be GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X, which have a capacity of 12 MW each and stand 853ft tall with blades that extend 351ft.  The vast majority of offshore wind farms employ turbines fixed to the ocean floor, but waters off the coast of California are too deep for that technology.  Floating turbines offer a solution, but only a few have been tried, all in Europe.  Utility Dive examined the possibility of employing floating turbines in California.  Bloomberg Businessweek examined why it is so hard to get an offshore wind farm built in the U.S. and the A.P. addressed Trump’s dislike for the industry.

At Energy Storage News, Stefan Hogg addressed the need for lithium-ion battery recycling and the challenges facing the industry in developing a system.

Potpourri

On September 20, David Wallace-Wells began publishing a series of interviews at Intelligencer, part of New York Magazine.  The series is entitled “The State of the World: A series about climate change” and comprises in-depth interviews with climate leaders about their views on the future of Earth’s climate.  A list of the interviewees can be found here.  Another article from mid-September that I want to call to your attention focused on the psychological impact of climate change on children.  On that same theme, PBS News Hour presented an article advising how to talk to your children about climate change.  Yale Climate Connections has reposted two short essays from The Conversation by Australian scientists working on the Great Barrier Reef, one near the end of his career, the other near the start of hers.  At The Tyee, Professor Jennifer Ellen Good addressed the link between continual economic growth and climate change, concluding that the news media ignore the clear connection.  On Monday in Harrisonburg, Innovation Hub aired a segment entitled “Fools for Fossil Fuels: A History of Climate Change Inaction.”  Three scientists have been named MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Fellows for their work related to climate change.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has updated its “Climate Opinion Maps,” including a new question on whether the President should do more to address global warming.

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.

Community Perspective: Climate Strike

Harrisonburg’s The Citizen | September 30, 2019

A contributed Perspectives piece by Joy Loving

What a wonderful two days Harrisonburg citizens have just had! On September 20 and 27, our youth came together at Court Square loudly and seriously to say they’re worried about their futures. And they want the “adults in the room” to help them save those futures. I hear they’re planning a third climate strike later this fall.

Having been part of a group of adults who worked with students from Harrisonburg High School, EMU, JMU, and Turner Ashby High School who organized the two events, I found the experience profoundly inspiring and energizing. Although I’ve worked with others on many projects to educate legislators and citizens about our climate emergency, never have I witnessed so many determined youngsters working cooperatively to get their message across. And I’m so pleased that local media covered both events.

The Second Climate Strike was followed the next day by the International Festival. This annual coming together of so many community members was just as inspiring as what the students did the day before. The “joie de vivre” on Saturday was evident on all the faces I saw. I was fortunate to speak with many attendees while volunteering for several local organizations who serve and work to improve our community—Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Renew Rocktown, Earth Day Every Day, and Skyline Literacy. To a person, everyone was friendly, curious, and clearly happy to be enjoying the event.

It’s gratifying to know that events like these happen in the area. And I express my sincere thanks to all the students and volunteers who made them happen.

Joy Loving lives in Grottoes.

Find the original version in The Citizen HERE.