Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/17/2017

Political news continues unabated.  The President unveiled his budget proposal for 2018.  Luckily, this is more of a philosophical statement than a concrete budget proposal because it is a disaster for science at all levels, as can be seen in this departmental-level summary.  Commentary can be found in the following for EPA, NOAA, NASA, and DOEThe Washington Post had a summary of all climate-related cuts while Climate Central analyzed the impacts on energy programs and Bloomberg Politics documented all of the independent agencies and programs that would be eliminated.  Finally, Science presented reactions from a number of sources.  As you read about the budget, remember that Congress controls the purse strings.  Last week I linked to an article about former staff of Senator James Inhofe joining Scott Pruitt’s staff at EPA.  This week, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis had more information about that in The Washington Post.  Meanwhile, according to Reuters, the Trump administration has been contacting U.S. energy companies to ask them about their views on the Paris Climate Accord.  In addition, President Trump vowed to reopen the review of the 2025 CAFE standards for autos and light trucks while meeting with auto executives in Detroit.  Earlier in the week, the auto industry filed suit against the EPA to overturn their final determination last year on the standards.  Nevertheless, the leaders of two dozen Fortune 500 companies and roughly 1,000 others signed a letter addressed to Trump and Congress stating that “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk” and scientists pushed back hard against the statements by Scott Pruitt about climate change.

On Wednesday, 17 House Republicans introduced a resolution that acknowledges the negative impacts of climate change and calls on the House to work on solutions for mitigation and adaptation.  You can read the resolution here.

Climate

An important news article came out during the evening of March 9, but I missed it and didn’t include it last week.  Unfortunately, it is disturbing news; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is undergoing another significant bleaching episode, which is unprecedented and could lead to widespread death of the coral.  As a consequence, a week-long survey of the entire reef is being done this week to better assess the extent of the current bleaching event.  Robert McSweeney at Carbon Brief has a good retrospective of the previous three bleaching events.  Also, this week the results of a study by an international team of scientists of prior bleaching was published in the journal Nature.  It concludes that the only way to save the reef is to stop global warming.  As if the coral bleaching wasn’t enough, Australia has also suffered from a massive die-off of mangrove forests, making their coastline more susceptible to erosion.

According to a new paper in the journal Science Advances, the extreme air pollution over Chinese cities is not just due to local emissions from their coal-fired power plants.  It is also due to climate change, which is causing Arctic sea ice to melt and snow falls to increase over Siberia, thereby altering winter weather patterns and making periods of stagnant air more common, trapping the air pollution.

Eleven national medical organizations have banded together to form the Medical Society Consortium on Climate Health to help accelerate the transition to a clean energy society.  Because doctors are seeing first-hand the impacts of climate change on people’s health, they thought it was important for them to speak out on the issue.  You can download their report here.  In addition to our physical health, climate change also impacts our mental health, as documented in this piece.

NOAA has announced that for the second year in a row, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased at a rate of 3 ppm/year, bringing the level to about 405 ppm.  The rate of increase is the highest ever recorded.  Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency announced that global energy-associated CO2 emissions were constant for the third year in a row.

One side effect of a more global economy is a greater role for aviation, from rapid transport of critical products to increased tourist travel.  Many passengers have been concerned about the carbon footprint of their air travel, causing them to buy offsets for the emitted CO2.  A bigger problem, however, lies in the other emissions, which can have an impact on climate change several times greater than that of CO2.  Jocelyn Timperley has provided an “explainer” about those emissions at Carbon Brief.  Meanwhile, a new paper in the journal Nature reports that during cruise conditions jet aircraft burning a 50:50 blend of traditional jet fuel and biofuel produced 50–70% fewer particles, which are part of the “other emissions” problem.

A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that between 30 and 50% of the decline in summer sea ice in the Arctic since 1979 may be due to natural processes, with the remainder (50 to 70%) due directly to human-caused global warming.  The natural process of most importance is the air circulation over the Arctic, which helps distribute the heat associated with increased greenhouse gases.

Energy

Another example of innovation in energy storage comes from Germany where the state of North-Rhine Westphalia will turn the Prosper-Haniel coal mine into a 200 MW pumped-storage hydroelectric facility when it closes in 2018.  They will build a water reservoir on the surface above the mine.  When wind turbines and solar farms cannot produce enough electricity to meet demand, water will flow from the reservoir down shafts to a depth of 3,300 ft where it will turn turbines to generate the needed power before flowing into old mine tunnels.  Then when the wind turbines and solar farms are producing more electricity than needed, the excess will be used to pump the water back to the surface.  Would this work in southwestern Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and other Appalachian states?  Speaking of energy storage, will Tesla solve South Australia’s energy crisis with 100 MW of batteries?

The American Wind Energy Association in partnership with Navigant Consulting has issued a report examining the impacts of wind energy on the U.S. economy.  At the end of 2016 the wind industry had an installed capacity of over 82,000 MW and is expected to install another 35,000 MW and drive $85 billion in economic activity over the next four years.  Avangrid Renewables, the Spanish energy conglomerate that was the developer and operator of the Amazon Wind Farm in North Carolina, has won the lease to build an off-shore wind farm 24 to 49 miles off the coast of North Carolina near Kitty Hawk.

The mayors of thirty cities jointly asked automakers for the cost and feasibility of providing 114,000 electric vehicles for a variety of applications from police cruisers to street sweepers.  The intent is to provide electric vehicle manufacturers with reliable demand in the face of Trump administration policies.  Meanwhile, a quiet battle is going on at the state level over incentives for buying an electric vehicle and China is considering decreasing its quotas for electric vehicles required of its domestic car manufacturers.

U.S. rooftop solar installations increased 19% in 2016, which looks good until you consider that the average growth rate year-over-year from 2012 to 2015 was 63%.  Several factors were responsible for the decline, but the national solar association expects to see continued growth in both utility-scale and rooftop solar installations.  One driver of demand for both wind and solar is expected to be power purchase agreements with corporate users, according to Moody’s Investors Service.  On the subject of solar, a new study from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, called Consumer Driven Technologies, found that 80% of survey respondents were willing to forgo net metering provided the excess electricity they produced from their residential solar PV system went to their communities to provide clean energy for everyone.  Unfortunately, in India the promise of solar power has not been met as attempts at using distributed electricity in rural villages via solar panels and batteries have fallen prey to theft and equipment failure.

President Trump’s budget proposal includes funds to restart the licensing for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, although Nevada lawmakers pledge fierce opposition to it.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology examined methane leakage from gas-fired power plants and refineries.  It found that methane leakage was 2-120 times higher for power plants and 11-90 times higher for refineries than calculated from data provided by facility operators.

On several occasions, I have provided links to articles about the difficulty developers of electrical transmission lines are having acquiring right-of-way for their projects.  This is essentially stranding renewable energy generated in the west or Midwest, preventing it from getting to markets in the east, where it is needed.  Now a new proposal to rejuvenate and electrify rail lines in the U.S. has as one component the use of the rail corridors as routes for electrical transmission lines.  The entire proposal is called Solutionary Rail.

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.

Great Tide Rising

Great Tide Rising:  Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a time of Planetary Change
Kathleen Dean Moore

GTRI’m writing this review in the hopes that it might actually motivate someone to read this book.  It’s on the same caliber as Joanna Macy’s work.  Kathleen turns out to be another really good friend that you are so glad you met so please do make the effort to meet her.

She is comforting in her beautiful nature writing vignettes that give breathing room between her intense doses of clarity, which is what the title promises.  She is one of us and is more than.  I so enjoyed the trip through her brain and its thoughtful, knowledgeable progression of logic.  Her perceptions give voice to much that many of us may have felt but not expressed and she does this with love and eloquence.  Certainly there is anger and despair; I love that she occasionally cusses, but she keeps going to get to a realistic, useful resting place of thought and a solid springboard for action.

Kathleen lays the responsibility of our current situation at the feet of the fossil fuel industry and calls their business plan ‘a moral monstrosity on a cosmic scale’.  She says we can’t help but be complicit in this and that our fear of being seen as hypocrites is immobilizing and probably the biggest reason for public silence on climate change.

She talks about the traditional deniers, those that state their denial due to loyalty, economic self-interest or political strategy.  They attack the science of climate change and thus take the risk of looking stupid or stubborn.  But it avoids the truth that by supporting denial they are morally reprehensible.  She goes on to talk about the new deniers that deny that action can help and that the odds against preventing business as usual are so overwhelming all efforts are useless.  She argues otherwise.

Kathleen also argues against adaptation and states we should be using all our efforts toward mitigation.  She calls on scientists to live up to their responsibility to speak out in ways that prompt healthy social change and that to do any less is an abdication of one’s responsibility as a scientist who is entrusted with the truth.

Her pages are filled with humor and surprise.  They are also filled with a call for a new set of ethics, of what it means to be smart and happy, how we need courageous, relentless citizenship to change the ‘dysfunctional values married to catastrophic leadership’.  When asked ‘What can one person do?’  she responds by saying ‘stop being one person’, become part of a community of caring.  She discusses creative disruption and includes art, investigative journalism and direct action among her examples.  To her, civil disobedience is an act of love.

I hope this whets your appetite for more.  Please let me know if you read it or want to be part of a discussion group as you read it.  Reading this book is like having a life coach that CSunderstands, explains, encourages and expects.

– Cathy Strickler, founder, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
cathystrickler4 [at] gmail.com

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/10/2017

Each week, while putting the Roundup together, I try to include as much positive news as I can, even though there always seems to be far more negative news.  Please don’t let that get you down.  On Friday evening as I was reading The Book of Joy, which is Douglas Abrams’ account of an extended conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I came across this passage, and I offer it as a kind of antidote to the negative.  The Dalai Lama said “When bad things happen they become news… Then we can feel that there is not much hope for our future… All these things happen, but they are unusual, which is why they become news.”  He then talks about good things that happen and continues “But this is so common that none of it becomes news… When we look at the news, we must keep this more holistic view… We must have a sense of proportion and a wider perspective.  Then we will not feel despair when we see these sad things.”  You are also invited to the monthly meeting of the CAAV-sponsored Apocaloptimists on the last Tuesday of each month at the Harrisonburg Mennonite Church at 7:00 pm.

On Thursday morning, speaking on CNBC, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made one of his strongest statements yet rejecting the science of human-caused climate change, a statement that is in direct opposition to information on EPA’s own website.  The Editorial Board of The Washington Post responded to Pruitt’s comments in a strong editorial and his office was deluged with phone calls.  He also questioned whether EPA has the authority to regulate CO2.  Speaking of Pruitt, last week I mentioned that he had named Ryan Jackson, a former staff member of Senator James Inhofe, as his chief of staff.  He has also named other Inhofe staff members to his staff.  Byron Brown, will serve as Jackson’s deputy.  Andrew Wheeler, is a finalist to be Pruitt’s deputy, but requires Senate confirmation.  You can go here for a list of proposed cuts to the EPA budget and to Inside Climate News for an analysis of their impacts.  Also, The Washington Post had an analysis of the impact of the proposed cuts to NOAA’s budget on coastal communities.  Since the election, activists have been archiving climate and other scientific data from government websites, but this has turned out to be a more difficult task than originally thought.  On the international scene, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that the finance ministers of the G20 nations may scale back the funding pledges of their nations made under the Paris Climate Accord.

It has been said that the public only begins to understand a problem after the arts become involved.  Well, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson has been doing his part to move that along.  First it was with his Science in the Capital trilogy, which brings the impacts of climate change to Washington, DC.  Now it is New York 2140, which takes place in New York City after sea level has risen 50 ft.  It will be out March 14.

Climate

The young people’s lawsuit against the federal government about climate change was back in the news this week.  The Trump Administration filed a motion to overturn a ruling by a federal judge in November that cleared the lawsuit for trial and filed a separate motion to delay trial preparation until that appeal is considered.  Meanwhile, in South Africa the government lost its first climate change lawsuit when the country’s highest court ruled against its plans to build a coal-fired power plant.

NOAA announced on Wednesday that February was the second warmest on record in the U.S., trailing only February 1954 by 0.2°F.  The average temperature was 41.5°F, over 7°F above normal.  East of the Rocky Mountains, it was the warmest February ever recorded.  A study by World Weather Attribution found that thanks to climate change, the warm February was at least three times more likely now than it was 120 years ago.  Furthermore, around 1900, this type of persistent heat was a 1-in-160 year event, whereas today it is a 1-in-12 year event.  The New York Times has some very interesting graphics.

An important new study was published in Science Advances on Friday documenting the heat uptake by the oceans using the extensive data from the Argo float program.  The results showed that the world’s oceans have taken up around 13% more heat than had been estimated previously.  They also showed that heat uptake was not uniform, with 59% being stored in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans, even though they make up less than 50% of the ocean area.

For some time now, a favorite meme among those not concerned about climate change is that it will be beneficial to humankind by increasing agricultural productivity.  Well, a 26-year study by the Australian national science organization CSIRO has challenged that claim.  Rather, the researchers found that while wheat growers made significant productivity gains over the study, they were off-set by the negative effects of climate change, so that yields stayed constant.  On a similar note, many have claimed that higher atmospheric CO2 levels will lead to more carbon storage due to greening of the planet.  That may well be true, if all other nutrients are supplied in excess, but a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that in phosphorus-limited soils (which are common in the tropics and subtropics) forests will store around 10% less carbon than expected.

A new paper in the journal Nature Communications reports that by 2030, if CO2 emissions continue unabated, over half of the world’s ocean will be exposed to more than one source of stress, affecting everything from plants to whales.  By 2050, that figure rises to around 86% of the ocean.  This does not bode well for the large percent of Earth’s population that depends on the oceans for its protein.

In a news release on Tuesday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which tracks sea ice trends, warned that further losses of satellite capabilities may cause sea ice observations to be compromised until 2023.  A study in Nature Climate Change has found that a 2°C rise in global mean temperature would lead to a 39% risk that ice will disappear from the Arctic Ocean in summers, although it is almost certain to survive with just 1.5°C of warming.

Energy

This one is very intriguing, but as an environmental engineer who worked with microorganisms in a variety of municipal and industrial applications, I’d like to see a complete energy and carbon balance before I fully buy in.  Nevertheless, the idea of using bacteria, instead of cement with its high carbon footprint, to bind aggregate together into “concrete” bricks is a really interesting one.  Meanwhile, Swiss researchers have shown that ceramic materials can be made without heating by starting with nanoscale calcium carbonate powder and applying pressure.  Let’s hope they both pan out because their potential benefits are great.

In an article on Yale Climate Connections, Bruce Lieberman argues that no matter what President Trump does, the long-term outlook for employment in the coal industry looks bleak.  Market forces are just too strong in other directions.  Coal use in the UK dropped 52% in 2016 due to both market forces and a carbon tax, while CO2 emissions declined by 6%, according to a report published last Friday by Carbon Brief.

Tesla Inc. has completed a solar project on the island of Kauai in Hawaii that incorporates batteries so that the utility can sell solar power in the evening, as well as during the day.  This will displace 1.6 million gallons of diesel fuel per year that is currently used to power generators to provide power at night.  On the subject of solar, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association announced that the U.S. solar market is expected to nearly triple in size over the next five years.  In addition, worldwide, 76 GW of solar power was installed in 2016, up from 50 GW in 2015.  Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity.

The costs of off-shore wind continue to drop in Europe, making it much more competitive in the energy market place.  According to Bloomberg, the price of building an offshore wind farm has fallen 46% in the last five years, and 22% last year alone.  That, plus the entry of Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil ASA, and other oil and gas giants, with their experience building structures at sea, into the business suggests that even the U.S. will see expanded off-shore wind development.

Alaskan villages are employing on-shore wind turbines connected to microgrids to supply their electricity at lower costs than the diesel generators they used to use.  The lessons learned could be helpful to remote villages everywhere.  Also, surprisingly, Georgetown, TX, in the heart of oil and gas country, is one of the first U.S. cities to be powered entirely by renewable energy.

All but 10% of Royal Dutch Shell’s oil-sands interests will be sold to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.  Shell will continue to operate the Scotford upgrader, which converts heavy oil to lighter liquids for easier transport, and the Quest carbon capture and storage project.  Shell also announced that progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions from its refineries and chemical plants will determine 10% of executives’ bonuses.  Meanwhile, Shell’s CEO has said that the oil and gas industry risks losing public support if progress is not made in the transition to cleaner energy.

In earlier Weekly Roundups I had linked to articles about auto executives asking the Trump Administration to roll back the 2025 fuel efficiency standards.  Now, 12 Senate Democrats have said that it is “critical” that the rules be left in place.  In addition, Jody Freeman, a professor at Harvard Law School and counselor to Former President Obama on energy and climate change in 2009-10, has provided background about the standards and laid out arguments for their retention.

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.

CAAV Steering Committee Seeking New Members

LesandJoyatRally3.4.17.600

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is hoping to fill three vacancies in their steering committee. With a mission of limiting “human impact on climate in order to protect the future of Earth and its inhabitants,” our efforts are wide-ranging.

We have twice monthly meetings to share our sub-committee work and discuss direction and actions. Currently with 12 members, the CAAV steering committee would welcome new energy and ideas from individuals interested in getting more involved.

But you don’t have to be a steering committee member to help out. Everyone is invited to attend our meetings and join our sub-committees or form their own.

For more information and/or to express an interest in joining the steering committee, contact Cathy Strickler: cathystrickler4 [at] gmail.com or Joni Grady: jonigrad [at] gmail.com

 

 

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/3/2017

Ryan Jackson, who worked for the Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) for more than a decade and was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has been hired as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s chief of staff.  The Trump administration’s 2018 budget blueprint calls for deep cuts in the EPA budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs, according to details of a plan reviewed by The Washington Post.  Climate change initiatives are among the programs to be eliminated entirely.  The budget blueprint also calls for a decrease in NOAA’s budget, with steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs.  According to The New York Times, the White House is “fiercely divided” over president Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.  Steve Bannon is urging Trump to pull out, but is being opposed by secretary of state Rex Tillerson, the president’s daughter Ivanka and a “slew of foreign policy advisers and career diplomats”.  On Wednesday the Senate confirmed Ryan Zinke’s nomination to lead the Interior Department by a 68 to 31 vote.  On Thursday they voted 62 to 37 to confirm Rick Perry as energy secretary.

Climate

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has a released a new version of their Climate Opinion Maps.  These maps are really interesting because they allow you to look at opinion data at the county and city level.  They also provide information at the congressional district level, which clarifies why your representative responds as he/she does.

You may recall that a few weeks back I included links about the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), the parameter that would be used to put a price on carbon should we decide to do so.  Well, on Tuesday, the Subcommittee on Environment and Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Science Committee held a hearing to examine the SCC.  Joseph Majkut, Director of Climate Science at the Niskanen Center, a Libertarian think tank that is concerned about climate change, wrote a very interesting analysis on the Center’s climate blog of the issues involved in determining an appropriate value for the SCC.  Dana Nuccitelli of Skeptical Science also had thoughts about estimating the SCC.

The Australian state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, Australia’s largest city, has experienced the hottest summer on record, with temperatures of 118.7°F on February 11-12.  Analysis by a team from World Weather Attribution and the University of New South Wales found the record average heat was 50 times more likely because of climate change.  In addition, such heat would have occurred once every 500 years in the past, but now can be expected to occur once every 50 years.  And speaking of a warmer world, a new paper in Nature Climate Change reports that snow will melt more slowly.  This, in turn, will have serious consequences for water availability in areas that rely heavily on the snowpack as a water source.  Finally, Amanda Paulson at CSM Inhabit presented six questions (and answers) about how climate influences weather.

Although it will be short while before data analysis is complete, it appears almost certain that the minimum summer sea ice extent around Antarctica will reach a record low this year.  Meanwhile, verification and analysis of Antarctic temperatures during 2015 are now complete, revealing that March 24 of that year set a new record high of 63.5°F at an Argentine research base near the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula.

Climate Central has completed an analysis of meteorological winter 2016-2017 (Dec., Jan., and Feb.), which is now over, and has found that 84% of 1500+ weather stations studied experienced a warmer than average winter, whereas 16% experienced a cooler than average winter.  Furthermore, 8% of the weather stations reported the hottest winter on record, while 0.4% reported the coldest.  Andrew Freedman at Mashable addressed the question of why it has been so warm.  The warm winter has led to an early spring in many parts of the U.S.  The National Phenology Network, is cooperation with USGS, has a set of maps, updated daily, showing how early spring has arrived in each state this year.

Burger King has been buying animal feed produced in soy plantations formed  by burning tropical forests in Brazil and Bolivia, according to a new report by Mighty Earth, which says that evidence gathered from aerial drones, satellite imaging, supply-chain mapping, and field research shows a systematic pattern of forest-burning.  The New York Times had a more detailed report on the deforestation, including on-the-ground accounts by their reporters.  A paper in the journal Nature Plants analyzed the greenhouse gas impacts of bread production, looking at all steps in the supply chain.  The authors found that fertilizer production contributed 43% of global warming potential, the largest of any step.

According to a new paper in the journal Geology by researchers from the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, permafrost decay is affecting 52,000 square miles in northwest Canada, sending large amounts of carbon-rich mud and silt into streams and rivers.  Similar large-scale landscape changes are evident across the Arctic, including in Alaska, Siberia, and Scandinavia.

Energy

Let’s start off the Energy section with some optimistic news about batteries that use oxygen from the air in their charge/recharge cycles.  Batteries of this type have the potential for being less expensive with higher energy density than current batteries, making them good candidates for backup power storage for solar and wind installations.  In the meantime, lithium-ion battery arrays are going to be used at two wind farms in Texas.  They are slated to come on-line by the end of 2017.

Another form of renewable energy, which I have included previously but which is not as developed as wind and solar, is ocean energy.  Writing on the website of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Renee Cho provided an overview of the technology, with a description of each of the techniques being considered.  Even though this article was posted on February 14, I have included it because it provides such a complete picture of the technology.

IKEA is installing a 470,000-square-foot solar array on its new Midwestern distribution center, which, once completed, will be the largest solar rooftop in the state of Illinois.  And speaking of solar panels, check out Business Insider’s photo report on Tesla’s alternative to traditional solar panels for residential installations.

Last summer EPA announced new regulations to restrict methane emissions from new or modified oil and gas operations.  At the same time, they sent out an information request to existing facilities asking for them to provide information about their emissions and how they were seeking to control them.  On Thursday, EPA withdrew that request.

Arizona has been a solar battle ground for the past five years, with major fights between electric utilities and rooftop solar advocates over the rates for households and businesses with solar installations.  Now an agreement has been reached between Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest public utility, and a group of solar interests, which, if approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission, will allow solar to remain a viable option in the state.  Nevertheless, solar advocates expressed dissatisfaction with the agreement.  On the subject of renewable energy and battles with traditional electric utilities, are you familiar with the “clean energy paradox”?  If not, then you might find “A World Turned Upside Down” in The Economist to be interesting.  It explains the complexities of adding renewable energy to traditional power grids, including why renewables can be “bad news for the vertically integrated giants that grew up in the age of centralized generating by the gigawatt.”

A forecast by China’s National Energy Administration predicts that China’s CO2 emissions in 2017 will drop 1% from 2016, making it the fourth consecutive year of either zero growth or a decline in the country’s emissions, despite its continued increase in energy consumption.  This decoupling is due to large deployment of renewable energy.  In contrast, Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution jumped 3.4% in 2015-16, compared to 2014-2015, as coal use continued to rise after the scrapping of their carbon price.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., 8.7 GW of electric generating capacity by wind and 7.7 GW of solar capacity were added in 2016, along with 9 GW of natural gas capacity and 1 GW of nuclear, offsetting 12 GW of coal and natural gas retirements, for a net increase of 15 GW, the largest increase since 2011.  Furthermore, off-shore wind energy companies point out that installing large turbines along the Atlantic coast will help create thousands of jobs, boost domestic manufacturing, and restore U.S. energy independence.

It is becoming more common for states to assess a fee for electric vehicles.  A stated reason is that the owners of electric vehicles do not pay road taxes, which are normally levied against gasoline and diesel fuel.  However, a Koch brothers initiative is also working to initiate fees on electric vehicles.  David Roberts argued in Vox that our broken federal gas tax is a major underlying cause of these levies.

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.

Adventures in Advocacy

door-1574304_960_720Do you know that Representative Bob Goodlatte’s local staff has regular “open door meetings” for area constituents in several communities?  Here’s a link to the schedule:  http://goodlatte.house.gov/constituent-services/open-door-meetings.htm.  Here’s what happened when I went to one of these meetings recently.

I dropped by the Grottoes Town Hall and spent an hour speaking to Debbie Garrett, District Director for the Congressman, who works in the Staunton office.  I gave her a one-pager of talking points and then covered the gist of them through a very cordial conversation.  Because there was no one else there, she and I had plenty of time to “just chat”.

I began with a “Thank you” for the Congressman’s recent support of federal legislation to provide funding for the mental ill (one of my personal interests).  After that, I mentioned that I had looked at the web site, seeking to understand Mr. Goodlatte’s position on environmental matters.  I pointed out that, despite specific items touting his support of and actions about fossil fuel energy matters, I found nothing about renewable energy (RE) or energy efficiency (EE), even though the web site says he belongs to the RE and EE Caucus.  And I commented specifically on the absence of his positions on the importance of conserving natural resources or of addressing the realities of climate change.  I added that, while I don’t know whether he believes that climate disruption is at least partly the result of human activities, I do believe that, as a representative in a state whose coastline and other areas are experiencing negative effects from the changing climate, he should at the very least understand and promote ways to mitigate their risks to VA, which I see as matters of fact and not conjecture.

Because our discussion was not very time-constrained, I was also able to tell Debbie about the Congressman’s constituents’ interest in solar energy, as evidenced by the many solar co-ops that have happened in the 6th District since spring 2014.  I also noted the economic benefits to VA that can result from greater use of solar power.  I made the point that the interest in and desire for RE options is NOT partisan.  Neither is the desire for clean air, access to clean, safe drinking water, and protection of land and its resources, property rights, and the freedom to choose one’s energy sources.

Finally, I shared with Debbie the gist of what I wanted and expected the Congressman to do (my “asks”).  I list them below.

  • Demonstrate Commitment to and Leadership for increased RE and EE to promote jobs that are stable, non‑outsourceable, and well-paying.
  • Join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.
  • Work with groups such as RepublicEn, headed by former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis.
  • Hold Town Hall Meetings allowing real dialogue between the Congressman and his constituents (Last minute telephone conference calls do not accomplish this.).
  • Support Fee and Dividend legislation that provides a market-driven way to reduce US dependence on fossil fuels and is revenue-neutral.

joyincircle-250My visit with Debbie was a good experience and I found her to be a good listener.  I plan to go again.

– Joy Loving, February 2017

Joy is member of the CAAV steering committee and leader of Solarize efforts in the valley.

Please note that Congressman Goodlatte’s Harrisonburg office is open most weekdays if you don’t want to wait for an “open door” meeting:
Harrisonburg Office
70 North Mason Street
Harrisonburg, VA 22802
Phone: (540) 432-2391

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/24/2017

On Wednesday, the Center for Media and Democracy released over 7,500 pages of emails from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s time as Oklahoma Attorney General after that office turned them over to a state court in Oklahoma.  They revealed several instances of close coordination between his former office and oil interests in Oklahoma.  Both The Washington Post and The New York Times also covered the story.  In addition, there are contradictions between Pruitt’s Senate testimony and statements in an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his swearing in that have caused some to sense a “bait and switch.”  Mike Catanzaro was recently appointed as President Donald Trump’s top energy aide.  Writing on Desmog, Steve Horn reviews his history and writings on climate and energy.  President Trump is expected to sign an executive order calling for the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.  But as explained by Brad Plumer on Vox, “… crafting a new rule will take many months, if not years, and Pruitt will face a slew of procedural and legal hurdles in trying to undo Obama’s plan.”

Scott Pruitt’s appointment, along with the activities of Rep. Lamar Smith (R, TX), chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has some climate scientists concerned about future harassment.  Thus, it is encouraging that the National Academy of Sciences has called for continuing support of the U.S. Global Change Research Program following a new review of their activities.  Nevertheless, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has just reported that the 114th Congress was the most polarized on environmental issues in the 46-year history of the LCV scorecard, which does not bode well for environmental votes in the new Congress.  It is within this atmosphere that the March for Science is being planned for April 22, Earth Day, on the Mall in Washington, D.C.  Although the planned march has drawn criticism and concern from some, Rush Holt, chief executive of AAAS, has emphasized that the march is “for science rather than against anyone.”

Climate

New research, published in the journal Science Advances, has asserted that six marine “hotspots” of exceptional biodiversity are being impacted negatively by warming sea temperatures, weakening ocean currents, and industrial fishing, putting them at risk of losing many of their species.

The flooding in California this week has been attributed to the arrival of “atmospheric rivers” from the Pacific.  With respect to the effect of climate change on those “rivers”, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain has said “There is now quite a bit of evidence that future droughts here will be warmer and more intense, yet will be interrupted by increasingly powerful ‘atmospheric river’ storms capable of causing destructive flooding.”  Further east, the flow of the Colorado River has dropped more than 19% during the drought gripping the river basin since 2000.  A study published in the journal Water Resources Research has concluded that about one-third of the decline is due to a warming atmosphere induced by climate change.  How people in the Colorado River basin deal with the problem is an important indicator of how we will adapt to climate change.  Zack Colman visited southeastern Nevada to see how they are coping with the changes.

The U.S. Geological Survey has just announced that the record warm February temperatures in the U.S. are another symptom of climate change.  One bit of evidence of the link to climate change is that there were many more record daily high temperatures than record lows – 5,294 versus 84 through Feb. 20.  This has prompted Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic to ask “Is It Okay to Enjoy the Warm Winters of Climate Change?”.  If you are interested in the psychology of climate change, Yale Climate Connections has provided a list of books and reports on the subject.

It is summer in Australia, really summer, with temperatures in Sydney reaching 117°F.  As has happened elsewhere, this has reduced the number of people who deny human-caused climate change.  According to Simon Bullock, senior campaigner on climate change at Friends of the Earth, “Sadly, people are now seeing and experiencing climate change in their own lives.  No amount of media misinformation from climate deniers can alter that.”  Another place where people are “experiencing climate change in their own lives” is La Paz, Bolivia, a high-altitude city whose water previously came from glaciers.  Now that the glaciers are gone, they face severe challenges.  Leslie Kaufman described how the city is coping.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has issued a new report, “The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges,” in which they warn that countries must undertake “major transformations” in the way they grow and distribute food if future widespread starvation is to be avoided.  Some of the challenges are increasing population, the shifting of diets from grain to meat-based, groundwater depletion, and climate change.  Meanwhile, the U.N. has issued an urgent plea for funds to help avert starvation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

In October, almost 200 countries signed the Kigali Amendment as an update to the Montreal Protocol, agreeing to reduce their reliance on hydrofluorocarbons in refrigeration and air conditioning because of their strong global warming potential.  After considering thousands of options, scientists have narrowed the list of candidate replacements to 27, all of which have problems, according to a new paper in Nature Communications.

A 2013 World Bank report ranked Boston as the eighth most vulnerable major city in the world to property damage from rising seas, among 136 studied, with much of the waterfront only a foot above sea level during high tide.  Consequently, studies are underway to determine the most feasible way to protect the city from future sea level rise, including building a large sea barrier.

Energy

The burning of biomass in large power plants to generate electricity was back in the news this week with the release of a report by the UK’s Chatham House asserting “Although most renewable energy policy frameworks treat biomass as though it is carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, in reality this cannot be assumed, as biomass emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels.”  Jocelyn Timperley of Carbon Brief has examined the main arguments of the report and concluded that “The debate over biomass [burning]is unlikely to be resolved soon.”

Two lobbying groups representing auto manufacturers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Automobile Manufacturers, sent letters to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, urging him to roll back the 2025 fuel economy standards established by the Obama administration.  Environmentalists objected.  Nevertheless, at about the same time, Royal Dutch Shell Plc announced that it will build seven fueling stations for hydrogen cars in California through a partnership with Toyota Motor Corp.

A 4.6 MW, community-based project in Red Lake Falls, MN will be the country’s first commercial integrated solar-wind hybrid power generation facility.  It will use two 2.3 MW wind turbines and 1 MW of solar panels.  The wind turbines will provide peak energy in winter and the solar panels will provide peak energy in summer.  On the topic of renewable energy, there is a very interesting editorial in the British magazine The Economist dealing with the impacts of renewable energy on the conventional electricity industry.  It provides some important insights into why some electricity providers are fighting renewable energy.

The U.S. started exporting liquefied natural gas last year and is increasingly piping more natural gas to Mexico while importing less gas via pipeline from Canada.  According to the Energy Department, the U.S. will likely become a net exporter of gas next year and a net exporter of total fossil energy products shortly after 2020.

Economics is the main cause of the closing of coal-fired power plants, and as long as natural gas continues to be cheap, that is likely to continue.  Thus, it is not surprising that President Trump’s election hasn’t slowed the pace of closings for those plants.  A case in point is the Navajo Generating Station that I wrote about last week.  Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Evan Halper characterized its closure as the first major test of “Trump’s vision for a coal industry resurgence.”

Computing technology can contribute to the success of wind energy installations by adding smart intelligence to machines, helping them operate more efficiently, and alerting developers about needed maintenance.

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.

Remy Pangle

remy2-21-17

CAAV Coalition-Building speaker 2/21/17: Remy Pangle

The steering committee had a real earful today of great news from Remy and the Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University.  This high energy person is well suited to her job of helping to push renewable energy forward against all odds.

 

An interesting new development is their program of loaner solar panels in “Wind for Schools”  in which educators devise educational displays employing the panels, with the plans for electrical connections to ensure it works.  One cleverly designed function runs fans in an outdoor play area, mounted on uprights of a large covered sandbox. They have about a dozen panels still available for loan if you have some bright ideas!

The Center’s education/outreach/research and deployment wing is becoming more diverse in its focus, as they add solar and energy efficiency to their bag of tricks.  They operate regional wind challenges in Middle and High school competitions as well, with cash prizes to encourage students and their teachers.  There is another competition for college students.

Do check out the Center for Wind Energy’s website, which is lavish with enticing ideas and applications, including events for homeowners, professional certification and training for solar installers and energy auditors.  There is even help available in crafting new ordinances for governmental uses of alternative energy and energy efficiency measures.

New work involving research on distributed wind for onsite electrical generation (mostly rooftop)  under one megawatt is particularly exciting, involving new types of turbines, as well as larger projects on state-owned facilities in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Virginia Department of Transportation, etc.  Revolving loan programs are under development, but there are questions still to be resolved.  Dominion will remain the provider, but there is progress.

As with many other great ideas, the key to development of wind energy in the US depends on good policies.  Tax credits have been helpful, but that funding is has been intermittent and too short term for big projects.  While distributed wind electrical generation is currently found mostly in the midwest and overall deployment in the US is small, there is potential for up to 30% of total electrical generation by 2050, with plenty of good places in Virginia, including offshore.  Dominion continues to be a brake on this form of renewable energy as well, and there presently isn’t much movement on wind development in Virginia.  They lost funding for their advanced wind plan for offshore, but still own the leases.  They may lose those rights as well if they don’t act soon.

Among frequently asked questions is that of impact on bird populations. At this point, land bird kills by wind turbines are less problematic than by feral cats, skyscrapers and other buildings. Current evidence from Europe suggests that avoidance of offshore turbines by birds is frequent, and deaths are fewer. Population health of all indigenous wildlife must be considered in planning, but with proper siting, kills can be greatly reduced.  Regarding impact on bats, it has been learned that bats feed most heavily when winds are still and insects more abundant.  As little electricity is generated under those conditions, simply turning turbines off when wind speeds are low can reduce bat kills by as much as 80%.

Major factors involved in feasibility studies of wind development include winds, space, topography, proximity to transmission lines, proximity to substation and high kilovolt lines, environmental impacts, wildlife, aesthetic issues, and presence/absence of forest cover.  Projects that have been proposed and prospected include the Highland Wind Project which has been on hold for years, and the Rocky Forge Project in Botetourt County which is awaiting state approval, but sidetracked by a suit from nearby Rockbridge County on aesthetic grounds.   It is a bald mountain only used for hunting with good winds that would generate about 150 jobs in construction and 5-7 permanent jobs afterward, with an estimated $25 million in economic benefits to the area.

Remy encourages contact for her help in working with curriculum development or applications—or a great program for your organization!  Contact her at   panglerm@jmu.edu

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, February 21, 2017

Each month, the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/17/2017

Dr. Will Happer, an emeritus professor of physics at Princeton University, is being considered for the position of science adviser or director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Trump Administration.  Andrew Revkin has an interesting and enlightening interview with him at ProPublica.  On Friday, the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as Administrator of EPA by a vote of 52 to 46.  According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, a complicated legal battle would await the Trump administration if it tried to withdraw from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the treaty under which the Paris Climate Agreement lies.  Finally, let’s hope Jason Samenow (and the rest of us) doesn’t regret his article in The Washington Post entitled “NASA is defiantly communicating climate change science despite Trump’s doubts.”

Climate

Preliminary data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center have shown that sea ice around Antarctica has shrunk to the smallest annual extent on record.  The smallest annual extent is typically reached in mid to late February during summer in the southern hemisphere.  This year, sea ice extent contracted to 883,015 square miles on Feb. 13, which is slightly smaller than the previous low of 884,173 square miles recorded on Feb. 27, 1997.  Satellite records date back to 1979.  In 2005 ice loss from the glaciers on the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Canada was almost equally split between calving glaciers and surface melt.  By 2015, however, 90% was due to surface melting.  In fact, according to a study just published in Environmental Research Letters, surface melt increased from 3 gigatons a year to 30 gigatons a year over that period because of warming air temperatures.

A new paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature by scientists from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany, found a decline of more than 2% in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010.  Because oxygen is not evenly distributed in Earth’s oceans, the 2% overall decline means there is a much larger decline in some regions than in others.  The study attributes less than 15% of the oxygen loss to warmer ocean temperatures, which create lower solubility.  The rest was attributed to other factors, such as a lack of mixing.

At the end of last week, a powerful low-pressure storm system in the northern Atlantic helped carry warm air up to the Arctic, sending temperatures at the North Pole more than 36°F above the 1979-2000 average.  It was the third such warming event this winter, whereas 50 to 60 years ago, such events only occurred once or twice a decade.  In addition, record warmth was being recorded in the central U.S. and Australia.

Peter Sinclair has released an interesting new video in which he examines the ability of models to forecast what will happen as the climate changes.  It was featured by Yale Climate Connections on Wednesday.  Also, if you missed his video “Standing Up for Science” you can see it hereSinclair recently received a Friend of the Planet award from the National Center for Science Education, as did the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Geoff Summerhayes, from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), Australia’s financial regulator, has warned that climate change poses a material risk to the entire financial system, and has urged companies to start adapting.  Summerhayes said “Some climate risks are distinctly ‘financial’ in nature. Many of these risks are foreseeable, material and actionable now.”  Meanwhile, managers of 16 funds with assets totaling more than $2.8 trillion called for the G20 economies to phase out fossil fuel subsidies within the next three years to avert a catastrophe.  On the other hand, writing on Yale Environment 360, Mark Gunther examines the question “Why Won’t American Business Push for Action on Climate?”.

At the single-day Climate and Health Meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, the main theme was that climate change is poised to unleash an unprecedented, global public health crisis, although the participants left a little room for hope.  You can watch a recording of the meeting here.

In a meta-analysis of 130 studies reported between 1990 and 2015, scientists found that 47% of mammals and 24.4% of birds on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species are negatively impacted by climate change – a total of about 700 species.  The analysis was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Energy

The members of the EU Parliament narrowly approved an overhaul of the EU emissions trading scheme in hopes of balancing greater cuts in greenhouse gases with protection for energy-intensive industries.  Environmental organizations denounced the legislation for not going far enough in strengthening the cuts.  The legislation will now enter negotiations between the European parliament, commission, and council, which represents member states.  Here in the U.S., Charles Komanoff of the Carbon Tax Center had an essay in The Nation about the carbon tax proposal put forth last week by the Climate Leadership Council.  Central to any carbon tax is the social cost of carbon.  Carbon Brief walks you through what it is, how it is calculated, and why it is so important.  Meanwhile, a coalition of conservative groups, including American Energy Alliance, Heritage Action for America, and Americans for Tax Reform, is asking for a meeting with high-level White House officials to rebut last week’s meeting and presentation by members of the Climate Leadership Council.  It appears, however, that members of the coalition are out of step with almost half of Trump voters.

In advance of their upcoming U.S. Solar Market Insight 2016 Year in Review report, set to be released on March 9, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) announced that the U.S. solar industry installed 14,626 MW of solar photovoltaics in 2016.  This is a 95% increase over the amount installed in 2015.  Nevertheless, U.S. renewable energy capacity still lags way behind that of the EU and China.  For example, of the 24,500 MW of new electrical generating capacity built across the EU in 2016, 21,100 MW – or 86% – was from wind, solar, biomass and hydro.  Here in Virginia, Dominion is investing more than $800 million in solar power, with some 398 MW of solar generation either completed or under development.

On Monday, the utilities that own the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona decided to decommission the plant at the end of their lease agreement with the Navajo Nation in December 2019.  This is decades earlier than expected and is the result of low natural gas prices.  On the subject of coal, President Trump on Thursday signed legislation ending the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation to protect waterways from coal mining waste.  Federal regulators said the rule would have protected about 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over two decades.  Warren Cornwall presented an analysis of what the rule’s demise will mean.

Thanks to generous tax incentives, plug-in electric vehicle sales reached 37% of market share in Norway during January 2017.  In the U.S., automakers played the jobs card in appealing to President Trump to reconsider greenhouse gas standards for vehicles instituted during the Obama administration.

Calling the decision “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law,” the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes filed a motion on Tuesday asking the court to reverse an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline that the Army Corps of Engineers granted.  That easement lifted the final hurdle for the project’s completion.  According to Patrick A. Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, “The strongest possible argument is that the Trump administration, with no change in facts, no change in conditions, reversed the government’s position.”  Still, legal experts considered the motion to be a longshot.  Meanwhile, TransCanada Corp filed an application with Nebraska authorities on Thursday to route its Keystone XL pipeline through the state.

As required by an agreement with the UN, on Tuesday the EPA issued its draft report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2015.  It will be available for public comment until March 17, allowing the final report to be released April 15, 2017.  In 2015, greenhouse gas emissions were the lowest they have been since 1992.  Unfortunately, emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases, are rising.  Since much of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the oil and gas industry, understanding where the wells are in the U.S. is instructive.  Luckily, Tim Meko and Laris Karklis have presented maps showing where it all comes from.

Wind power was in the news this week.  On Sunday, the Southwest Power Pool (which coordinates the flow of electricity on the high voltage power lines from Montana and North Dakota to New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana) met more than 50% of its electrical demand from wind for a brief period.  This was the first time on any North American power grid.  On the other side of the world, in an effort to save its oil reserves for sale, Saudi Arabia plans to install almost 10 GW of wind and solar energy by 2023.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/10/2017

Scott Pruitt is drawing up plans to repeal climate rules, cut staffing, close offices, and permanently weaken the regulatory authority of the EPA, which he has been nominated to lead.  As a result, on Monday almost 500 former EPA employees sent an open letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell explaining why they oppose making Pruitt administrator of the agency.  The New York TimesCoral Davenport explored how Pruitt might go about his task, using interviews with senior former EPA officials.  In addition, Eric Roston at Bloomberg, examined how EPA’s history and structure might limit Pruitt’s actions.  If you are too young to remember what the U.S. was like before the EPA, then you may want to read this introduction to Documerica.

According to Politico, George David Banks, a former George W. Bush climate aide, is expected to join the National Security Council as an adviser to President Trump on international energy and environmental issues.  He would work with the State Department to help shape the approach to climate change negotiations, including whether the U.S. should remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord.  And according to E&E News, Mike Catanzaro, an energy lobbyist who’s worked on environmental issues in the executive branch and both chambers of Congress, is expected to become special assistant to the president for energy and environmental issues in the National Economic Council.

Climate

You may recall that in 2015 Thomas R. Karl of NOAA and eight coauthors (seven of whom were from NOAA) published a paper in the journal Science correcting the sea surface temperature record to bring older measurements taken in ship engine rooms into line with more recent measurements taken with buoys and other modern techniques.  The paper received a lot of press because the impact of the corrections was to eliminate the “global warming hiatus” that apparently occurred during the first 15 years of the 21st century.  This caused outrage on the part of those who question whether climate change is occurring.  Now the paper is back under the microscope because of an article published over the weekend in the British paper The Mail on SundayE&E News, the Associated Press, and The Guardian had good coverage of the events while Carbon Brief presented a guest post by climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, who fact-checked the article that appeared in the Mail on Sunday.  The bottom line: the science is sound, but some NOAA data handling protocols may have been breached.  There were two good posts on RealClimate related to this incident.  One was about living in a time of fake news and “alternative facts.”  The other presented NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt’s views on the challenges of science communication in a politicized world.

Robert McSweeney at Carbon Brief reported on two new papers that appeared in scientific journals this week.  One, published in Current Biology, concerns African penguins.  Warming sea surface temperatures and overfishing have made food scarce in the usual feeding areas for the penguins.  Unfortunately, young penguins instinctually head north and west for food, while the fish are shifting south and east, setting up an “ecological trap” for the penguins.  The other, published in Nature, concerns the impact of changes in ocean circulation patterns on the amount of CO2 they take up.  It found that weakening circulation patterns since 2000 have resulted in an increase in CO2 uptake, but the authors caution that there is no guarantee this will continue in the future.

Towns and cities in the mid-Atlantic region could see more than 160 high tide floods every year by 2045, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS One.  That’s up from once-a-month flooding in the region now.  In addition, high tide floods along southeastern shorelines are expected to strike more than 100 times a year.

A new paper, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, used satellite data and climate change projections for the middle of this century to estimate how climate change will impact the frequency of large wildfires.  The study suggests that there will be a 35% increase in the days with high danger of large fires across the world, with some regions seeing even larger increases, such as the western states of the U.S., southeastern Australia, the Mediterranean region, and southern Africa.  In addition, a paper in the journal Nature suggested that a warming climate will fundamentally change the chemistry of mountain soils by shifting the balance of nutrients, visibly disrupting fragile, high-elevation ecosystems of grasses, flowers, and trees within decades.  That, in turn, will substantially alter the way these sensitive ecosystems function.

Authors of a new book entitled Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations examined the history of climate and human health and concluded that “The main general conclusion to be made about climatic impacts on health and survival during the Holocene is this: whether in the Arctic, temperate regions, or the tropics, the climatic comfort zone that sustains food and water supplies, stability of ecosystems, and other basic needs is confined within a narrow range of temperatures and a particular pattern of seasonal rainfall.”  That does not bode well for life in the Anthropocene.

Energy

Members of the Climate Leadership Council met Wednesday with White House officials to discuss the idea of imposing a national carbon tax, rather than using federal regulations, to address climate change.  The plan appears to be patterned after the Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.  It comprises four elements: a gradually increasing carbon tax, carbon dividends for all Americans, border carbon adjustments, and significant regulatory rollback.  In an op-ed in The New York Times, members of the Council stated “…an ideal climate policy would reduce carbon emissions, limit regulatory intrusion, promote economic growth, help working class Americans and prove durable when the political winds change.  We have laid out such a plan…”  Nevertheless, the proposal by the group of elder statesmen in the Republican Party “is already meeting entrenched opposition from within their own party.”  Brad Plumer of Vox has an analysis of the carbon tax proposal.  In his article, he states “Every few years, various economists and wonks will try to sell the Republican Party on a carbon tax as a conservative solution to climate change.  And so far, these campaigns have attracted public support from … exactly zero elected Republicans in Washington.”  While this may be technically correct, it apparently ignores the 12 Republican members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which is exploring policy options for addressing climate change.  Finally, opposition from most Republicans should come as no surprise since the energy industry spent $160 million on federal candidates during the last election cycle, with 80% of it going to Republicans.  In addition, it spends $300 million a year lobbying Congress, deploying three lobbyists per member.

On Wednesday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline formal permission to lay pipe under a Missouri River reservoir in North Dakota and the developer has resumed work.  Phillip Ellis, a spokesperson for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm representing the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, stated that they will file litigation against the Army Corps within days, but legal experts have said the tribe faces long odds in convincing any court to halt work on the pipeline.  Also on Wednesday, former interior secretary Sally Jewell said that the Corps of Engineers was “reneging” on its commitment to other federal agencies and tribal leaders to conduct a thorough environmental review of the pipeline.

According to a report released on Tuesday by the solar advocacy group The Solar Foundation, jobs in the U.S. solar industry grew 25% last year to include more than 260,000 workers.  In addition, a new report released Wednesday by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that Americans spent less of their average annual household income on energy in 2016 than ever before. Furthermore, retail electricity prices fell 2.2% in real terms from 2015.

Wind, solar, biomass and hydro made up 86% of new power added to Europe’s electricity grids last year.  As a result, wind power now contributes 16.7% of Europe’s total power capacity.  In the U.S., during the last quarter of 2016 wind passed hydropower dams to become the largest source of renewable electricity, according to a new study by the American Wind Energy Association, making wind the fourth-largest energy source overall.  And in China, installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity more than doubled last year, rising to 77.42 GW with the addition of 34.54 GW over the course of the year.

California’s three largest utilities have filed proposals with the state’s public utilities commission that would allocate up to $1 billion in new spending to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification.”  The money would come from surcharges on utility bills submitted by all three companies to their subscribers.  The goal is to remove as many medium and heavy duty diesel powered vehicles from the roadways as possible.  Electric vehicle (EV) sales numbers in the U.S. for 2016 were recently released.  Following a 5% decline in sales from 2014 to 2015, U.S. EV sales increased by 37% in 2016.  More than half of all EV sales took place in California.

Recently The Guardian held a roundtable on the future of wind and solar power with participants from several organizations with an interest in energy.  The consensus was that the Trump Administration will have little impact on the prospects for renewable energy because the strength of the renewables sector is driven by decreasing costs and increasing interest among both the public and businesses.  Meanwhile, the nuclear power industry is having to revamp its arguments for government support in light of the views of the Trump Administration about climate change.

If Europe’s 300 coal-fired power plants run to the end of their natural lifespans, the EU nations will exceed their carbon budget for coal by 85%, according to a new report by Climate Analytics.  It says the EU would need to stop using coal for electricity generation by 2030 to meet its Paris climate pledges.

A new paper in the journal Science describes an almost science-fiction like way to increase the cooling of objects, thereby increasing their efficiency in cooling applications.  The technique applies “passive cooling”, which increases the rate of infrared radiation to space without the input of mechanical or electrical energy.  It is papers like this that give me hope that humankind can solve the climate change problem.

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.