Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/20/2017

Policy and Politics

California recently enacted the Buy Clean California Act, which will serve as a first attempt to address the question of how best to handle the emissions imbedded in goods transferred over state lines or national borders.  The act requires the state to set a maximum “acceptable lifecycle global warming potential” for different building materials, such as steel, glass, and insulation, and prohibits the purchase of materials with imbedded emissions above that potential.  It is odd, therefore, that the oil produced in California has a carbon footprint almost equal to that of the oil from the Alberta tar sands.  Perhaps cleaning it up would have as big an impact as the Buy Clean California Act.  Speaking of California, five of the state’s biggest newspapers published editorials clearly connecting the dots between this year’s out-of-control wildfire season and climate change.

Beginning on Nov. 6, representatives from the nearly 200 countries that signed the Paris Climate Accord will gather in Bonn, Germany, for the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The U.S. plans to send a small delegation, but what exactly they will do there is unclear.  In contrast to President Trump’s actions, at the opening of the Communist Party congress in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China has taken a “driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change.”  DOE Secretary Rick Perry evidently wants the U.S. to drive backwards.  In response, eight former members of FERC, including five former chairmen, have filed a letter with the commission opposing his proposal that would give coal and nuclear power plants credit for resilience, so that they would have a better chance of beating solar, wind, and natural gas competitors.  EPA is also looking backwards, having removed dozens of online resources that could help local governments adapt to climate change.  Not to be outdone, GOP leaders in the House and Senate explored ways to expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) through budget rules that allow them to pass major policy changes on simple majority votes.  For example, on Thursday the Senate rejected an amendment that sought to block the Energy and Natural Resources Committee from raising revenue through drilling in ANWR.  Finally, if you wish President Trump would resign and let Mike Pence take over, you might consider that he was a strong proponent of the “No Carbon Tax” pledge that led to the scuttling of cap and trade legislation in 2009.

Seth Heald, Chair of the Virginia chapter of Sierra Club, wrote the cover article of the Nov./Dec. issue of Environment.  The subject is climate silence and moral disengagement, a problem that prevents us from having open and candid conversations about the impending climate crisis.  Upon reading it, my wife commented: “Best article I’ve read in a long time…”.  Peter Sinclair has another video at Yale Climate Connections, this one on climate change communication.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch published a three-part series about Dominion Energy and its impact on Virginia politics.  Blogger Ivy Main offered her take on the series.

Climate

A new study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that the abundance of flying insects in nature reserves all across Germany has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years.  Although the cause of the decline is unclear, it is thought that climate change may have played a role.

Phoenix, Arizona’s, hot season — when temperatures exceed 100°F — starts an average of almost three weeks earlier than it did 100 years ago and lasts two to three weeks longer in the fall.  This has many people hurting and has the city working on ways to reduce the heat island effect, such as planting trees and painting roofs white.

A giant polynya, an ice-free zone surrounded by sea ice, with an area of almost 30,000 square miles appeared in September off of Antarctica.  Scientists are uncertain whether its appearance is related to climate change, but it is releasing a lot of heat from the ocean into the atmosphere.

In a moving piece in The Atlantic about Puerto Rico, author Vann R. Newkirk II wrote: ”Maria blew through the island in a matter of hours, but what was left behind wasn’t just traditional hurricane damage. The storm uncovered and intensified long-term environmental challenges that have long blighted Puerto Rico and now threaten its future.  And securing a viable future for the island will mean more than just rebuilding what was lost from the wind and rain—it will require addressing those challenges in sustainable ways.”  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Bruce Lieberman reviewed ways in which Puerto Rico’s electrical system could be made more resilient.

According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, planting trees, restoring peatlands, and managing land better could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  However, managing CO2 through forests can be tricky, as illustrated by the results of a NASA study.  During the 2015 El Niño event, atmospheric CO2 concentrations surged because of increased emissions from three tropical forest regions, each of which responded to the rising temperatures in very different ways.  But then, there are some who argue that increased CO2 levels will be beneficial because of its stimulatory effect on plant growth.  The bulk of evidence, however, suggests that increased temperatures and altered rainfall patterns will result in a net negative effect.

Solar radiation management (SRM) is a very controversial form of geoengineering to manage climate change.  Most research being done on it is happening in wealthy nations, but now a fund is being set up to provide grant money to scientists in developing nations to investigate the potential impacts of SRM on their countries.

Energy

Even though the number of people without electricity around the world has shrunk by 600 million since 2000, over a billion people still lack access.  A new report on energy access by the International Energy Agency has found that the number will shrink by a third by 2030, with 60% being supplied by renewables.  If the world commits to universal access by 2030, 90% of the additional two-thirds will be supplied by renewables.

On Wednesday, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the Scottish grid.  The 30 MW installation will be coupled with a 1MWh lithium-ion battery to help regulate power delivery and optimize output.  The wind farm employs several innovative technologies, both in the anchoring devices and the turbines.  On a related topic, you’ve heard of the Jones Act and the necessity to wave it to expedite emergency relief to Puerto Rico.  Now Emma Foehringer Merchant has written about how it is hindering development of the U.S. offshore wind industry.  In a rather poetic essay, Paula Cocozza explored various aspects of the wind and our attempts to harness it.

Solar panels have proliferated in California, flooding the grid with power in the middle of the day when the sun’s out, and then quickly vanishing after sunset.  This making it increasingly difficult to maintain the reliability of the transmission system.  Now First Solar Inc. has proposed a pricing scheme that it claims will help solve the problem.  On the subject of solar panels, ConnectDER is a new technology that allows rooftop solar panels to be connected to the grid without the installer having to enter the home and rework the service panel, thereby reducing installation costs.

Late in the day on Friday of last week, FERC issued its approval of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines.  On Monday of this week, the U.S. State Department approved a permit covering a three-mile segment of Enbridge Inc’s Line 67 crude oil pipeline, allowing the company to nearly double capacity of the Alberta Clipper pipeline.  An Indigenous activist from the Secwepemc Nation in central British Columbia was in Europe this week to deliver a message to European banks based on a report by the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade.  She warned that the Secwepemc Nation will oppose expansion of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline through their “unceded” territory.

A new study, published on Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, used airplane surveys to measure methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta, Canada.  It found that the oil and gas industry could be emitting 25 to 50% more methane than previously believed.  According to energy experts at UK-based Wood Mackenzie, world demand for gasoline will peak by 2030, thanks to the impact of electric cars and more efficient internal combustion engines.

On several occasions I have provided links to articles about battery chemistries that are alternatives to lithium-ion.  Writing for Greentech Media, Jason Deign explored the possibility that the huge size of the lithium-ion infrastructure will make it impossible for alternative technologies to survive in the marketplace, even when they are less expensive, technologically superior, and more environmentally friendly.

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

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Matthew Wade

Matt.10.17.17

Matt Wade at the October 17 CAAV meeting.

About the biggest thing to happen lately in the world of Virginia Clean Cities (VCC) is the allocation of $14 million from the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement to establish a network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Virginia. This dramatic expansion of the state’s EV infrastructure stands to support and encourage putting a million EVs on the state’s roads over the next decade.

But this was an aside to the discussion Matt Wade, Deputy Director of VCC, brought to the CAAV meeting on Tuesday, October 17 as our invited Coalition Building partner of the month. Matt brought us up to speed on the current use of ethanol in fuels for gasoline engines. Ninety-seven percent of all fuels at the pumps are at least a 10% blend of ethanol with gasoline (E10). All cars made since 2001 can use E15, a fuel blend with 15% ethanol. E85-enabled vehicles have a yellow gas cap and can accept any blend up to 85% ethanol.

The use of ethanol in gasoline offers a locally made product that utilizes the carbon short term cycle and therefore reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

E85pumpsSince 2015, VCC has been involved with the Mid-Atlantic Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership which was granted $5.8 million in federal funds to expand the number of E15 and E85 fueling stations in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC. Waynesboro and Mt. Jackson each have an E85 pump at a Sheetz Store. These are the closest to Harrisonburg. Find them all here.

Hopewell, VA, on the James River about 20 miles south of Richmond is home to the only ethanol plant on the east coast. It operates 24 hours a day using corn grown by Virginia and Maryland farmers.

Thanks to Matt for his work on climate-friendly transportation and for sharing his enthusiasm for clean air with CAAV.

– Adrie Voors, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, October 2017

Photo below is from the Harrisonburg July 4, 2017, celebration at Turner Pavilion. CAAV and VCC along with members of Renew Rocktown showed off EVs and staffed tables with information about renewable and clean energy initiatives.

vcc.caav.7.4.17


Most months, 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 10/13/2017

Policy and Politics

On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed the notice starting the process of scrapping the Clean Power Plan, arguing that it exceeds the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act.  In contrast, on Thursday the UK released its “Clean Growth Strategy”, setting out how it hopes to meet the nation’s legally binding climate goals.  In a portent of things to come, EPA’s decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan was based on an analysis that greatly reduced the “social cost of carbon” by limiting the benefits of combating climate change to the U.S. alone and sharply increasing the discount rate used to calculate the “opportunity cost” of fighting climate change.

An unusual coalition of business and environmental groups opposes DOE’s plan to boost nuclear and coal power plants, and are pressuring the Trump administration to scrap it.  An energy policy think tank also opposes itFrontline has released a documentary entitled War on the EPA, which details the Trump administration’s effort to cater to the fossil fuel industry’s demands and roll back environmental regulations.  In spite of the actions of the Trump administration, the states of the U.S. Climate Alliance are moving forward with plans and actions to reduce their carbon emissions.  And, the recent ten-year extension of California’s cap and trade program gives it important stability.

President Trump has nominated Barry Meyers, the CEO of AccuWeather, to serve as the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere, which oversees NOAA.  Mr. Myers has served as CEO of AccuWeather since 2007, but is not a scientist.  Trump also has nominated Kathleen Hartnett-White, a former chairperson of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which plays a central role in the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Climate

A commentary paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters argues that the temperature limits in the Paris Agreement should be understood as changes in long-term global averages attributed to human activity, which exclude natural variability.  Two of the three authors of the paper had a guest post at Climate Brief to further explain the implications of their paper.  Many scientists believe that it will be impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C, or even 2°C, without removing CO2 from the atmosphere, which is one type of geoengineering.  While CO2 removal is not controversial, other forms of geoengineering are, so a conference was held this week in Berlin to discuss what the emerging field of geoengineering might mean for the planet.  Daisy Dunne of Carbon Brief attended and summarized the proceedings.

A new paper in Geophysical Research Letters reported that the Dotson ice shelf, which receives ice from the Kohler and Smith glaciers in Antarctica, is not melting uniformly on its underside, which may speed up its disintegration.  Be sure to watch the short video.

The impacts of climate change take many forms.  Melting ice and permafrost in the Arctic are causing all sorts of problems for coastal villages, requiring expensive actions to protect or relocate them.  Further south, in Japan, the increasing frequency of intense rainstorms has officials concerned that the huge system they have built to protect Tokyo from flooding may not be enough to contain future deluges.

The destructive and deadly wildfires in California are being driven by the Diablo winds, which normally occur this time of year and are a result of the unique geography of California, Nevada, and Utah.  While the impacts of climate change on the winds are uncertain, it is likely that the prolonged drought, followed by a wet winter and a hot dry summer, has contributed to the devastation.  This has caused some to conclude that wildfires will only get worse.  Relatedly, more than half of Americans are linking extreme weather and climate change (either mostly or in part).

Energy

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to eliminate the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit, both of which greatly benefit wind and solar energy.  David Roberts, writing at Vox, has done a deep dive into the federal subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives in the U.S.  The findings might surprise you.  On a global scale, according to a report from Oil Change International, funding for fossil fuel projects from the six main international development banks totaled at least $5bn in 2016.  A second report, from analysts at E3G, found that some funding agencies have given similar levels of funding to fossil fuels as to climate-friendly energy projects.  The funding agencies strongly disagreed with the analyses in the reports.

The Washington Post’s Peter Holley listed three developments that make him think 2017 may go down as the year that electric vehicles (EVs) became an industry-wide inevitability.  He then went on to list five ways a shift to EVs will affect our economy and our society.  Certainly, China is counting on EV production as a key component in their plan to transform the country into a high-tech industrial power.  India wants all new passenger car sales to be electric by 2030, but it faces many hurdles in achieving that goal.  Meanwhile, Paris authorities have announced that they plan to prohibit all gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars from the city by 2030.

Toshiba has developed a new anode for its Super Charge ion Battery that allows it to store twice as much electricity per unit weight as the original version.  If incorporated into a compact EV, it would allow for a range of 186 mi after just six minutes of ultra-rapid charging, which is around three times the range offered by a standard, similarly charged lithium-ion battery.  Amazon was granted a patent for roving drones that can latch onto EVs and extend their range with an infusion of energy.

Barclay’s Bank has examined what the boom in EVs, along with gains in fuel efficiency, might mean for oil demand.  Their research suggests that by 2025 oil demand could drop by an amount almost equal to Iran’s total production, and if EVs seize a third of the car market by 2040, the drop in demand would be nearly as much as Saudi Arabia produces.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that wind power generation over some ocean areas can exceed wind power generation on land by a factor of three or more.

Using data up to May 2017 published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Carbon Brief has prepared interactive maps for all states in the U.S. showing the type and capacity of electric power generating facilities.  They have also analyzed the information, including planned facilities.  Also this week, an analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 19% of coal-fired power plants are economically unviable compared to alternative energy sources such as renewables and gas.

Royal Dutch Shell will purchase a top European operator of electric vehicle charging stations, Netherlands-based NewMotion, in a push to roll out the technology at many of its 45,000 service stations around the world.  Virginia has issued a request for proposals to create a statewide, public, EV charging network while Colorado and six other western states plan to install fast charging stations along eleven interstate highways.  All of these developments will require adaptation from the electric power industry according to a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Research on carbon-capture and storage is still moving forward and has reduced the cost of the technology from $100 per metric ton to around $40 per metric ton.  As part of the tax overhaul, advocates would like to increase the carbon-capture tax credits from $10 or $20 per metric ton, depending on use, to $35 or $50.

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 10/6/2017

Policy and Politics

On Thursday, President Donald Trump named Andrew Wheeler, a coal industry lobbyist and former congressional staffer, as his pick for deputy administrator of the EPA.  Reuters reported that reaction to the nomination was “mixed”.  The EPA will propose repealing the Clean Power Plan, according to an EPA document seen by Reuters.  The agency now intends to issue what it calls an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input as it considers “developing a rule similarly intended to reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel electric utility generating units.”  The New York Times has additional information, including some background.  The CPP joins a long list of environmental regulations (many related to climate change) that the Trump administration has overturned (or tried to).  In contrast, on Thursday Stephen Badger, Chairman of the food company Mars, Inc., published an Op-Ed in The Washington Post that concluded with “This is a call to action for all in business to double down in support of the Paris agreement and the sustainable development goals.”

The Department of Interior was in the news this week.  First, a group that, without invitation, listened-in remotely to an invitation-only Bureau of Land Management meeting and webinar gave their notes to The Washington Post.  Among the items discussed was how to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that has been called an environmental Magna Carta, to facilitate fossil fuel development.  In addition, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was expected to issue a proposal to delay a BLM rule requiring oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands to capture methane that would otherwise be vented or burned off, using a different legal provision than the one blocked by a federal judge on WednesdayJoel Clement, a senior Interior Department official, resigned on Wednesday, stating in his resignation letter to Zinke “You and President Trump have waged an all-out assault on the civil service by muzzling scientists and policy experts like myself.”  You can read his full letter here.  Meanwhile, the Department of Energy announced additional loan guarantees for construction of the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia and asked FERC to adopt new regulations concerning the way in which base-load power plants (i.e., coal and nuclear) recover costs.  However, E&E News reported that energy industry experts disputed the claim of the need for such action.

Climate

Yale Climate Connections presented a sobering video of glaciology professor Jorgen Peder Steffensen of the Neils Bohr Institute in Denmark discussing the risks of abrupt climate change.  The most disturbing revelation is that we simply don’t know what will trigger abrupt events like those that occurred in the past.  Even without abrupt changes, however, climate change represents an extreme threat to the future of wildlife, according to Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation.  A new paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reported on a comprehensive seabed mapping project of Greenland.  A major finding of the study is that the Greenland ice sheet is far more exposed to the warming oceans than previously known.  In fact, more than half of Greenland’s ice lies in or flows through areas that could be influenced by warming seas, accelerating their melting.

On September 22, Australia experienced its hottest September day since records began more than a century ago, reaching an average maximum temperature across the continent of 92.2°F, breaking the previous record set nine years ago.  In a special climate statement, the Bureau of Meteorology said climate change played a role.  Even worse, a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that even if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting average global warming to 2°C is met, summer heat waves in major Australian cities are likely to reach highs of 122°F by 2040.

Zeke Hausfather at Carbon Brief examined how well climate models have projected future warming and concluded: “Climate models published since 1973 have generally been quite skillful in projecting future warming.  While some were too low and some too high, they all show outcomes reasonably close to what has actually occurred, especially when discrepancies between predicted and actual CO2 concentrations and other climate forcings are taken into account.”

Data published on Thursday by the EPA showed that greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S.’s largest industrial facilities fell 2% in 2016, to 2.99 billion tonnes, led by a large cut from the power sector.  On the other hand, an analysis by an Australian think-tank revealed that Australia’s annual emissions reached an all time high.

Scientists at the U.S. Marine Biological Laboratory, with contributions from scientists at the Universities of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, conducted a 26-year study in the Harvard Forest of the impact of soil warming on CO2 emissions from the soil.  The results supported projections of a long-term, positive, carbon feedback loop wherein warming leads to more carbon emissions, which increases warming, leading to more emissions, etc.

The Associated Press analyzed 167 years of federal storm data and found that no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, this many days of hurricanes in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.

A report released Tuesday by the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford found that cattle fed on grass release more greenhouse gas emissions than are offset through soil carbon sequestration by root growth associated with the plants on which they feed.  In other words, grass-fed beef is “in no way a climate solution”, according to the lead author of the report.

Writing at Yale Environment 360 about the connection between climate change and increased wildfires, Nicola Jones stated: “Globally, the length of the fire weather season increased by nearly 19 percent between 1978 and 2013, thanks to longer seasons of warm, dry weather in one-quarter of the planet’s forests.  In the western United States, for example, the wildfire season has grown from five months in the 1970s to seven months today.”

Energy

The International Energy Agency issued a new forecast indicating that global renewable energy capacity will rise by 43% by 2022.  This forecast is largely driven by increasing expansion of solar energy in China and India.  The report also said that in 2016, almost two-thirds of new power capacity came from renewables.  Illustrating this is the increased interest in battery-backed local energy systems, such as solar, in response to the recent spate of hurricanes.

A new study, published in the journal Nature Energy, found that, at recent oil prices of $50 per barrel, tax preferences and other subsidies at the state and federal level push nearly half of new, yet-to-be-developed oil investments into profitability, potentially increasing U.S. oil production by 17 billion barrels over the next few decades.  Using that oil would put the equivalent of 6 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.  This is one of the reasons Tim McDonnell argued in The Washington Post that the solution to climate change is in the U.S. tax code.

For the past two weeks, I have included articles about the decision of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in the Suniva/SolarWorld America solar panel trade case.  This week, Bloomberg Technology reported that the trade dispute has stalled solar-energy projects across the U.S.  However, Bloomberg Technology also reported that “[g]rowing demand for more resilient power supplies will spur $22.3 billion of global investment in battery-backed local energy systems over the next decade, according to Navigant Research.”  Also Ivy Main wrote about a new study by the Solar Foundation that showed that over 50,000 jobs could be created in Virginia if it commits to building enough solar energy in the next five years to provide just 10% of its electricity supply.

Two items from Rocky Mountain Institute dealt with energy efficiency in homes and the real estate market.  One was about an mpg-like rating for homes that are for sale.  It provides insights into things like the expected cost of maintaining the home, the environmental impact of the home, and how comfortable the home is likely to be.  The other explained how residential property assessed clean energy (R-PACE) financing could be used to allow people to buy net-zero energy homes with no additional upfront costs.

On Monday General Motors announced that it would rollout at least 20 all-electric vehicles by 2023, including two within the next 18 months.  The new models will be a mix of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  In addition, Ford Motor Co has formed a team to accelerate global development of electric vehicles.  A current impediment to adoption of battery electric vehicles is a lack of charging stations and charging time.  This situation is changing, however, with a big push underway to install more stations with fast chargers.

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.

Time For U.S. To Choose The Future

Daily News-Record, October 2, 2017
H. Bishop Dansby, Opinion (Open Forum)

energy-1989341_960_720Progress in addressing climate change is, of course, held up by the interests vested in coal, oil and natural gas energy resources, and by those who fear that we cannot replace these energy sources without damaging the economy.

Coal, oil and natural gas are natural resource-based sources of energy. The prices of those products has tended to stay flat with some temporary spikes. Technology-based energy, by great contrast, will tend to go down in price over time.

We are not accustomed to thinking in terms of tech-based energy, but we have had some forms of it for a long time, such as nuclear and hydroelectric power. Today, we also have solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and eventually we’ll have fusion. These will not consume natural resources, except in the more limited way of fabricating technology. The “fuel” of tech-based energy is intellectual and informational. While the need to reduce greenhouse gases has hastened the rate at which we transition from natural resource-based energy to tech-based energy, we will reap the benefits to quality of life and standard of living earlier.

If the Apple iPhone X were implemented in vacuum tubes in 1957, the transistors alone would have cost $150 trillion in today’s currency (one and a half times today’s global annual product), taken up a hundred-story square building two miles long and wide, and drawn 150 terawatts of power — 30 times the world’s current generating capacity.

The last factoid is worth reemphasizing. A single computer in 1957 matching the computing power of today’s iPhone would have required 30 times the electricity generation capacity of the whole world!

The Apple iPhone is a metaphor of the future. We can have a higher standard of living for less cost while consuming fewer resources and using less energy. The necessity of mitigating climate change may be hastening arrival of the future, but the good news is that we will have this new world sooner rather than later.

The technologies that will reduce greenhouse emissions, including solar power, electric vehicles, advanced batteries, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, 3-D printing, net zero energy buildings, and increased energy efficiency are creating a world consistent with the Apple iPhone metaphor.

Hanging onto fossil energy will put America more in step with North Korea than with the world of the future. Need I note that the U.S. is the only country in the world not part of the Paris Climate Agreement?

Although much of our private sector and many state and local governments are embracing the future of green energy, the federal government is dismantling environmental protections and propping up energy industries of the past. Meanwhile, China and Europe and the other 192 nations that entered the Paris Climate Agreement are choosing the future.

Mr. Dansby lives in Keezletown.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/29/2017

The big news this week about Hurricane Maria is that aid has been incredibly slow getting to people on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  The devastation in both territories, in combination with their ongoing financial crises, has caused speculation about increased migration to the U.S., and what its effects might be, both for the islands and for U.S. cities receiving the migrants.  An article in Vox looked at how the large amount of rain associated with this season’s hurricanes is a sign of climate change.  Conversely, an article in The Atlantic explains why it is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion about long-term changes in hurricane activity.  On a related note, a new study from the Universal Ecological Fund concluded that the costs to the U.S. of stronger hurricanes, hotter heat waves, more frequent wildfires, and more severe public-health issues will reach almost $1 billion a day within a decade.  On a more positive note, some see the destruction of the power grids on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as an opportunity to redo them with less reliance on imported fuel oil and diesel.

In a chapter released ahead of the publication of next month’s World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund has told rich countries they must do more to help poor nations cope with climate change or suffer from the weaker global growth and higher migration flows that will inevitably result.  Meanwhile, suggestions that the U.S. might reduce its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement have sparked outrage from developing countries.  In other international news, Ontario has joined California’s cap-and-trade program limiting CO2 emissions.  Quebec joined the program earlier.

The Trump administration is expected to release its plans for replacing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan ahead of an Oct. 7 court deadline.  The announcement is expected to have several key parts: a legal analysis detailing why they think the rule wasn’t justified; an economic analysis showing why they think it overestimated benefits and downplayed costs; and a signal about what the administration is planning to put in place of the Clean Power Plan.  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivered a string of comments this week that caused conservation groups and public lands advocates to conclude that the Trump administration does not view renewable energy development as a priority.  He also is unhappy with the failure of Department of Interior employees to buy into the Trump administration plans to expand fossil fuel production from public lands.

Climate

Last week I devoted a paragraph to a new paper in Nature Geoscience that examined the possibility of limiting global warming this century to 1.5°C.  I indicated in that paragraph that several articles in the popular press misinterpreted some of the results in the paper and provided links to fact-checks of those articles.  Now, in a guest post at Carbon Brief, the authors of the original paper respond and “explain what the article did, and did not, do”.

A new study, published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management, found that global methane emissions from agriculture are 11% larger than previous estimates have suggested.  However, when Carbon Brief asked about the impact of this finding on the chances of holding global warming to 1.5°C, they were told that it would be marginal.

The Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica has calved another large iceberg, its fifth since 2000, increasing concern among scientists for the stability of the glacier.  Also, a new article in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters reported that four glaciers that feed into Marguerite Bay, on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, have speeded up because water temperatures in the bay have increased, accelerating melting.

A new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society provided additional evidence concerning the “warm Arctic, cold continents” hypothesis, although the continent is this case is Eurasia, not North America.

An article in the journal Science reported that forest areas in South America, Africa, and Asia, which have historically played a key role in absorbing greenhouse gases, are now releasing 0.425 Gt carbon annually, which is more than all the traffic in the U.S.  This story of the Paiter-Suruí tribe, who live in the Amazon forest on the border between the Brazilian states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso, is a tragic case study of why preservation of forests is so difficult.

A new analysis by the World Weather Attribution group found that the scorching temperatures across Europe’s Mediterranean nations this summer were made at least 10 times more likely by climate change.  They also analyzed the heatwave that struck southeast France, Italy and Croatia in early August and found it was made at least four times more likely.

Energy

Last week I included an article about the decision of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in the Suniva/SolarWorld America solar panel trade case.  The hearing for potential remedies is set for Oct. 3, after which the ITC will make a recommendation to the president.  SolarWorld America is not waiting for Trump’s decision, however.  On the basis of the ITC ruling, it announced that it will immediately increase production and hire more workers.  Nevertheless, most of the solar industry is opposed to the decision and predicts dire consequences if tariffs are imposed.  Utility Dive presented a summary of the positions being taken in the case, while GreenTech Media offered six ways to boost U.S. solar panel manufacturing without imposing a tariff.

Global emissions of CO2 remained static in 2016, due to less coal burning and increasing renewable energy, according to data published on Thursday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.  The Washington state Department of Ecology has denied a water quality permit to a company that wants to build a coal export terminal near the city of Longview.

The Indian government has pledged to provide solar power and battery storage by the end of 2018 to the 300 million people without power in rural and remote towns and villages.  And speaking of renewable energy, many people still think it is too expensive, particularly for developing countries.  Well, in her newest video, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe tackles that misconception.  A new study in Environmental Research Letters found that the benefits of renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) substantially outweigh their costs.

Two articles about H2-fuel cell vehicles appeared this week, one in The Economist and the other in Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN).  The Economist article concentrated on comparing fuel cells to battery-powered and traditional internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, whereas the C&EN article focused more on how fuel cells operate.  Neither article, however, addressed the issue of how the production method for the H2 impacts the carbon footprint of the vehicle, which is a shame.  Speaking of battery-powered cars, British inventor Sir James Dyson, the billionaire who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner, announced plans to build an electric car that will be “radically different” from current models and go on sale in 2020.  Traditional auto manufacturers appear to see 48V mild hybrids as a bridge to more efficient vehicles, because such systems can easily be added to conventional power trains.  Finally, Rocky Mountain Institute announced that based on the experience of seven participating trucks that drove a combined 50,107 miles during a 17-day event, it is possible for long-haul trucks to achieve 10 mpg using technologies available on the market today.

In an effort to spur an industry that has flourished in Europe but sputtered in the U.S., a bipartisan team of senators is proposing a 30% investment tax credit for the next 3 GW of offshore wind built in U.S. waters.  So, what are the issues surrounding offshore wind energy?  Last week, a panel at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, convened as part of Climate Week NYC, addressed that question.  Sarah Fecht summarized the discussion.

Remarks by a Dominion Energy executive suggest that the developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline plan to extend it into South Carolina.  The pipeline will deliver natural gas, composed primarily of methane.  On the topic of methane, ExxonMobil said on Monday that it will take a series of steps to cut methane emissions from its U.S. onshore oil and gas production.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/22/2017

For the second time in two weeks, a hurricane (this time Maria) hit the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other islands in the Caribbean, causing major damage to Puerto Rico’s electrical power system.  One thing unique about this year is that four hurricanes in a row have undergone “rapid intensification”, which makes it difficult to properly warn people.  Consequently, Eric Holthaus at Grist wondered if we had entered a new era of tropical storms, while climate scientist Kerry Emanuel argued that our policies have added to the cost of such disastersThe Washington Post fact-checker examined President Trump’s claim that “We’ve had bigger storms than this” when questioned about Harvey and Irma.  While the political climate may make it hard to discuss the impacts of climate change on hurricanes and other storms, one area that people are talking about is resiliency planning and implementation.

In a speech to the U.N. general assembly, British prime minister Theresa May argued that Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement ranks alongside North Korea’s nuclear missile tests as a threat to global prosperity and security.  Meanwhile, Nicaragua announced it will sign the Paris agreement, leaving the U.S. and Syria as the only two countries not participating in the global accord.  On the other hand, President Trump has indicated he might stay in if he can negotiate a better deal for the U.S.  The question is, just how will he do that, particularly in light of French President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that the agreement “will not be renegotiated.”  Brad Plumer of The New York Times addressed the question of what the states can do to fight climate change in the face of President Trump’s plans.

Speaking at a climate change conference hosted by former Secretary of State John Kerry at Yale University, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called for a “price on carbon.”  Also, Arizona Senator John McCain delivered recorded remarks calling for the federal government to act on climate change.  On the other hand, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has asked the Heartland Institute for a list of researchers who have a “non-alarmist” approach to climate science and some of the possible candidates for positions on EPA’s Science Advisory Board have questioned mainstream climate research.

Climate

A new paper in Nature Geoscience examined the possibility of limiting global warming this century to 1.5°C.  In it, the authors state “limiting warming to 1.5°C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation.”  In a guest column at Carbon Brief, senior author Richard Millar concluded “Our results indicate that based on the current understanding of the Earth system, the window for achieving 1.5°C is still narrowly open. If very aggressive mitigation scenarios can be implemented from today onwards, they may be sufficient to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.”  A number of climate scientists were surprised by the results and think that they need additional study to be fully understood.  Unfortunately, some articles in the popular press ignored the main conclusion and focused on another aspect of the work to claim that climate models are overestimating the amount of warming associated with a given level of CO2 emissions.  In a “Factcheck” column at Carbon Brief, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather countered that claim, explaining why it is incorrect, as did Millar and another author of the Nature Geoscience article in a Guardian article.  Finally, four climate scientists critiqued one of the misleading papers at Climate Feedback.

Preliminary figures from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center indicate that Arctic sea ice for 2017 reached its minimum extent on September 13.  The area covered was 4.64 million sq km, the eighth lowest in the satellite record.  According to the UK Met Office, after slightly slowing from 1999-2014, global average surface temperature is once again rising more quickly, due to a “flip” in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from its cool phase to its warm phase.  Meanwhile, Australia had its warmest winter on record.

An article in the journal Science Advances argued that Earth appears to be on course for the start of a sixth mass extinction of life by about 2100 because of the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere.

The New York Times posted answers to 17 questions about climate change that you might find of interest.  However, in a farewell column, journalist Justin Gillis said that the biggest question of all concerning our future climate is how much carbon we will pump into the atmosphere before we take climate change seriously.

Ever heard of kernza, a perennial wheat variety?  I hadn’t, until I listened to this 1.5-minute clip from Yale Climate Connections.  Sounds like it has some very important climate benefits.

Harvey and Irma may not be 2017’s deadliest U.S. disaster.  Rather, over the last 30 years, increasingly broiling summer heat has claimed more American lives than flooding, tornadoes, or hurricanes, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.  This raises the question of the link between climate change and extreme weather.

Energy

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has voted 4-0 in favor of proceeding with the Suniva solar panel trade case, having seen enough evidence to convince them that imports are the major cause of injury to U.S. solar manufacturers.  The verdict of the four commissioners means the case will now proceed to the ‘remedy’ phase whereby the ITC will decide what measures, such as tariffs on imported panels, to recommend to the White House, which has the final say.  This article, while primarily about a Wall Street lender, provides some background on the importance of this decision.  And speaking of solar, roofing manufacturer GAF has introduced its own solar roof.

On Tuesday, a coalition of global corporations (EV100 Coalition) launched a campaign to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles.  On the subject of electric vehicles, Mercedes-Benz plans to start producing them in Alabama as part of a $1 billion expansion, which includes a massive new battery production facility near the auto assembly plant.  Electric-bus startup Proterra set a world record by test-driving an electric bus for 1,100 miles on a single charge.  The previous world record was 632 miles for an electric bus and 1,013 for an electric car.  As sales of electric cars and electrical storage systems increase, so will the demand for lithium, an important component of modern battery technology.  This raises the question of the environmental and human costs of lithium mining.  Unfortunately, the answer is not all that encouraging.

A team of engineers from Australian National University has identified 22,000 potential pumped hydro energy storage sites across Australia.  Those sites can be developed to allow up to 100% renewable energy in the Australian grid.  Speaking of storage, a test and demonstration facility operated by South Africa’s main utility Eskom will test Primus Power’s flow batteries.  Primus Power’s EnergyPod2 system utilizes zinc-bromine flow batteries, which can store energy for longer periods than lithium-ion batteries.

In the wake of President Trump’s announcement that he was going to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, many cities pledged to reduce their carbon emissions anyway.  In order to do that, most will have to step up enforcement of their energy efficiency codes for buildings and/or adopt stricter codes.  Sixty-two of the world’s 100 largest companies consistently cut their emissions on an annual basis between 2010 and 2015, with an overall 12% decline during that period, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  In a commentary at HuffPost, Carl Pope, former head of the Sierra Club, summarized U.S. progress on cutting carbon emissions, in spite of the Trump administration.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has taken an important step in regulating the electric power industry in the state by requiring utilities to include the “social costs’’ of carbon when planning future energy resources.  A new report released by Oil Change International, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club examines how a new wave of gas pipeline construction threatens to shunt serious risks and costs onto utility ratepayers.  In addition, a federal appeals court in Denver told the Bureau of Land Management that its analysis of the climate impacts of four gigantic coal leases was economically “irrational” and needs to be done over.

Westinghouse Electric Company has announced that it is exiting the nuclear reactor construction business.

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.

Fred Kniss

F.Kniss.9.19.17.an

Fred Kniss

We were delighted to have Eastern Mennonite University Provost Fred Kniss as our Steering Committee speaker this month.  He brought a surprise in the form of Doug Graber Neufeld of the EMU Biology Department, who has recently been named Director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS).  CAAV committee members have been greatly anticipating more information about how the Center is developing, and what the role of the Center is expected to become.  We learned all that and a great deal more that has transpired in the past year from Dr. Kniss who has been the interim director for the CSCS.

A very important meeting was held last spring and several important partners have joined on the CSCS venture.  Right now those include not only the founding collaborators (EMU, Goshen College, and Mennonite Central Committee), but also representatives from various other Anabaptist stakeholder groups, including Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Mennonite Mission Network, Everence, and the Mennonite Creation Care Network.

Begun with a generous gift from EMU alumnus Ray Martin, as a “visible statement to the larger world that Mennonites are serious about climate change,” the Center is intended to advance thinking and action in faith communities to mitigate climate change through fostering research, innovation, education and collaboration to promote sustainable living on earth in the context of environmental justice and creation care.

Dr. Kniss pointed out that a sustainability component is already a part of all majors at EMU.  An energy audit by Siemens Corp. found little at the university to critique, as they have been working on energy efficiency and renewable energy for years, installing the first solar panels on their library before other universities in the area found that impetus.   They have completed a broad survey of 33,000 Mennonites, starting with clergy, on behaviors and practices.  They describe the results in terms of Yale University’s  “Six Americas” with the 6,000 responses in categories ranging from “alarmed” about climate change to “dismissive”, but were pleased to learn that Mennonites already appear more concerned than other faith groups or Americans in general in surveys of a similar nature.

A big question for both staff and the oversight board is the role of advocacy in the Center.  This is a school where students and donors don’t all agree, and there will have to be work to bring them along. Also should they focus on mitigation (the founding donor’s intent) or, at this point, adaptation or both, since the climate has already changed in many parts of the world?  Should they focus on one or two things where they might have a real impact, or spread resources more widely?–focus on their own efforts or on supporting those of others?  These are big and important questions, and it is obvious that the necessary focus and study—and probably a lot of prayer—have been put into beginning to discern the answers that will guide the future of the Center.  We congratulate all those who have brought the Center this far in a very short time, and feel thankful for major help in the endeavor to fight Climate Change in still beautiful but increasingly challenged Earth.

D.Graber.9.19.17.anNew CSCS Director Doug Graber Neufeld (photo at right) had just one remark to make at the end of the meeting.  He has recently returned from a two year sabbatical and research period in Kenya, and says “There are no climate change deniers there”.

There is a wonderful website at www.sustainableclimatesolutions.org where many questions may be answered; you are encouraged to check it out.  A lovely and informative brochure is also available upon request.

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

Most months, 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 9/15/2017

On Saturday, ministers and representatives of up to 30 major economies will convene in Montreal for the first climate talks since the U.S. announced its plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  In what some described as a changing of the climate guard, the meeting was co-convened by the EU, China, and Canada.  After the U.S. withdrew its financial support for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Canada and other nations increased their contributions to ensure funding.  Working Group 1 of the IPCC has revealed the chapter outline for the 6th Assessment Report, due in 2021-22.  In advance of the annual UN General Assembly meeting in NYC, President Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is planning to meet with top energy and climate officials from major foreign countries.  Another indicator of change is a new report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, which found that more than 1,200 global businesses are moving to embrace a carbon price as a way to analyze current business practices and prepare for the future when global carbon pricing is the norm.  Finally, Environmental Defense Fund attorney Ben Levitan discussed four facts about climate law and science that help counter the distortions from EPA administrator Pruitt.

Early this week, the news was again dominated by a hurricane, this time Irma.  I am providing a link to Carbon Brief’s summary of media reaction, rather than trying to cover the articles.  Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) came under criticism for not doing more to prepare his state for the consequences of climate change.  Alexander Burns of The New York Times wrote that some in Congress think the conversation on climate change is shifting in the wake of Harvey and Irma, in spite of Scott Pruitt’s comments that talking about climate change now would be “very, very insensitive.”  In Bloomberg Politics Jennifer Dlouhy wrote “Research shows monster storms may only harden people’s position, underscoring already entrenched beliefs about the role humans play in warming the planet,” and in The Washington Post, researchers Llewelyn Hughes and David Konisky said “Our research shows that people who experience severe weather are only modestly more likely to support the types of efforts we need to build resilience to climate change.”  Perhaps this is due in part by the way the press has handled climate change and its impacts.  Indeed, Peter Dykstra commented on the total lack of the “C-word” during the otherwise excellent TV coverage of Harvey and Irma.  Meanwhile, in an interesting article at Nieman Reports, Michael Blanding wrote about how some “news outlets are bringing innovation, urgency and new audiences to stories on climate change.”

Climate

Last week I provided links to articles about how climate change is impacting hurricanes.  This week, Chris Mooney of The Washington Post considered some less-discussed hurricane attributes that could plausibly change in a warming world: season length, regions of formation and intensification, intensification rate, and storm size.  Also, Chelsea Harvey considered the impacts of declining coral reefs on the damage caused by wave action against the shore line.

A new paper, published in Nature, reported that two-thirds of the glacial ice in Asia’s high mountains could vanish by 2100 if we continue to emit CO2 at current rates.  Those glaciers provide water to at least 800 million people living in Asia.  On the other hand, if steps are taken to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial times, only one-third of the glacial ice will be lost.  Another paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), asserts that the loss of mountain ice creates a host of problems for the people who live downstream.  Meanwhile, in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, the largest concentration of glaciers in the American Rocky Mountains is melting.  Unfortunately, the Wind River glaciers remain some of the least understood ice sheets in North America.

Writing in Eos, the magazine of the American Geophysical Union, a group of scientists argued that ocean heat content and sea level rise are much better indicators of global warming than average surface air temperature, primarily because they are much less subject to natural variability.  And speaking of “natural”, climate scientists Katherine Hayhoe explained in a new video why natural cycles can’t explain current warming.

There have been many studies on the impact of rising CO2 levels on plant yields, i.e., the amount of grain produced per acre, but there have been few on how rising CO2 impacts the nutritional quality of the plants.  Politico senior food and agriculture reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich wrote an interesting article about this question and the quest of a mathematician to study it.  Although the answer to the question is uncertain, it is now beginning to receive more attention.  Meanwhile, a new paper in PNAS, by authors associated with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, reports that some plants appear to become more efficient at using water as atmospheric levels of CO2 increase.

Another new paper in PNAS by authors associated with Scripps Institution of Oceanography has asserted that there is a 5% chance that the impacts of climate change within the 30 years will be catastrophic, meaning that most people would have trouble adapting.  In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, the senior author stated that few people would get on an airplane if they thought there was a 5% chance it would crash.

The costs of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017, taking wildfire suppression from 15% to 55% of the Forest Service budget.

After running for a decade beyond its planned life, the satellite-based Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), which has helped scientists track the melting of ice around Earth, is nearly out of fuel and will soon make its final science run, NASA announced late Thursday.  In a rather long article in The New York Times Magazine, Jon Gertner explored the various satellites employed by NASA and NOAA to keep track of what is happening with our weather and climate, while also examining the potential impacts of federal budget cuts on the programs dependent on those satellites.

Energy

Carbon Tracker Initiative has issued a new report that found that energy consumers in the US could be paying an extra $10bn a year by 2021 to prop up ageing coal-fired power plants.  Interestingly, Dominion Energy is listed as facing the highest percent of potentially stranded assets of any U.S. electric utility.  Meanwhile, in the UK, off-shore wind won contracts at record-lows of $76 per MWh, making them among the cheapest new sources of electricity generation there, joining onshore wind and solar, with all three cheaper than new gas-fired power plants.  Note, that’s a 50% decline since a similar auction two years ago.

In a new report released Thursday, the U.S. Energy Information Agency projected that worldwide emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels would grow 16% by the year 2040 from the levels of 2015.  The report shows coal on a 20-year-long plateau, natural gas plentiful and growing, wind and solar growing rapidly in percentage terms but not fast enough to bring emissions down in absolute terms, and petroleum holding its own as the main source of energy for transportation, despite the arrival of electric vehicles.

Two lawsuits, one filed in Virginia and the other in the District of Columbia, are challenging FERC’s eminent domain authority under the Natural Gas Act.  They, along with other potential lawsuits in other jurisdictions, address the question of what constitutes a public necessity.  The outcomes may have impacts far beyond the natural gas pipelines involved.  North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has delayed until mid-December its decision on whether to permit the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection has rescinded its water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  And on the subject of pipelines, the Minnesota Department of Commerce recommended this week that a major tar sands oil pipeline should not be expanded and that the old, existing line should be shut down because the state’s refineries don’t need additional crude oil.  Minnesota was just one of several states closely examining new pipelines.

In its 2011 SunShot Initiative, the Obama administration set the goal of reducing the cost of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems by 75% by 2020.  The Trump administration recently announced that the goal has been met.  While the rest of the solar industry is doing well, GTM Research has forecast that residential solar PV will experience its first down year ever in 2017, shrinking by 3% compared to 2016.  There are several reasons for this, as explained by Julia Pyper.

GE Renewable Energy unveiled its largest onshore wind turbine this week, a 4.8 MW turbine that can generate enough electricity at low to medium wind speeds for the equivalent of 5,000 homes.

In New York City, Daimler AG unveiled its new Fuso eCanter, an electric light-duty truck produced under the Mitsubishi Fuso brand.  Daimler is supplying a fleet to several New York City non-profits and United Parcel Service Inc. has signed on as the first commercial customer in the U.S.  At the Frankfurt auto show, Volkswagen AG announced that it plans to build electric versions of all 300 models in the 12-brand group’s lineup by 2030.  Also at the show, Mercedes Benz announced that it would begin selling the GLC F-Cell in the U.S. by late 2019.  The car is a plug-in hybrid, except that instead of an internal combustion engine it has a hydrogen-powered fuel cell for hybrid operation.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/8/2017

Once again, hurricanes were the major news items this week, with three hurricanes simultaneously in the Atlantic for the first time in seven years.  Irma was moving through the Caribbean and heading toward Florida as I wrapped up this week’s Roundup.  Ironically, its formation and strength may have been associated with the failure of El Niño to form in the Pacific.  Many are concerned that multiple large hurricanes represent the new normal.  Writing at Inside Climate News, Sabrina Shankman addressed six questions about Irma, Harvey, and climate change, including whether the U.S. had experienced a hurricane “drought”.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post examined the question of the “drought” in more detail while Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic explained the difficulties of hurricane forecasting.  Nothing seems to have swayed climate change deniers, who remained steadfast in their denial.  Climate scientist Michael Mann and colleagues wrote an opinion piece in the Post calling for sensible policies to protect citizens in the face of climate change and two Stanford scientists published an opinion piece in The New York Times outlining the lessons we should learn from HarveyAxios presented an interesting graphic summarizing all of the Atlantic hurricanes over the past 30 years.  It helps put things in perspective.  Finally, writing at the World Resources Institute, Christina Chan and James DeWeese discussed how Houston can rebuild with resilience.  Such ideas may prove important for many cities.

As hurricanes continued to dominate the news, it is interesting to note that a paper in the journal Climatic Change estimated the fraction of the current rises in global average temperature and sea level that can be attributed to the CO2 and methane emissions from the 90 major fossil fuel and cement producing companies.  In an accompanying commentary, Henry Shue, Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Relations, and Senior Research Fellow Emeritus at Merton College, Oxford, concludes that “The time has come for the major carbon producers to face the reality of the unsafe products they persist in marketing and the safer world they could help to create.  Otherwise, they risk turning themselves into enemies of humanity.”  Two of the authors of the paper wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian calling for the fossil fuel industry to pay for the impacts of storms like Harvey.  If hurricanes exacerbate your climate anxiety, then you should read Eve Andrews article in Grist about how to manage it.

If you can stand to read it, the article by Washington Post investigative reporter Robert O’Harrow, Jr. will tell you a lot about the people who worked to get the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord.  Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16 to 14 to restore funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change in the State Department appropriations bill.  The House’s version of the State funding bill does not fund the U.N. climate agency, so the two will have to negotiate regarding the final outcome.  President Trump has nominated three-term Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to oversee NASA, a job that often goes to astronauts or scientists.  He faces a contentious Senate confirmation over his past comments dismissive of climate change as a man-made problem.  If you would like some positive political news, then read this article about the respectful approach taken by Citizens’ Climate Lobby in its work on behalf of a carbon fee and dividend as a solution to climate change.

Climate

If you have a child (or grandchild) in school who is beginning to learn about climate and climate change, then you might look at this article about teachers and the challenges they face teaching about it.  The article mentions some really good resources that you might pass on.

The libertarian Niskanen Center filed an amicus brief in the 9th Circuit Court case Juliana vs United States, or the “Children’s Climate Case.”  The brief supports the lower court’s finding under the public trust doctrine and argues that the government’s responsibility extends to climate change.

A new paper published in the journal Science Advances reported on the fate of parasites in a warming world.  The study found that many parasites could face extinction, which sounds like a good thing, except that the loss of parasites could destabilize many of the world’s ecosystems.  On the subject of ecosystems, a study carried out by experts from the British Antarctic Survey found that as the Antarctic seafloor warms over the next century, four out of five marine species living there are predicted to decline in numbers.

While California has experienced its hottest summer on record, at least 81 large fires were blazing across 1.5 million acres of the U.S. West, from Colorado to California and north to Washington.  Meanwhile, across the Canadian border, British Columbia has already had a record-breaking fire season.  This raises the question of whether climate change is making the wildfire season longer and more intense through increased drought.  Certainly, this year’s flash drought is having a big impact on agriculture across Montana and North Dakota.

Previously, I have provided articles about a link between climate change and the Syrian civil war.  The evidence for such a link came from a 2015 paper that suggested that a severe drought beginning in 2006 acted as a catalyst for the conflict by sparking vast waves of migration, and that climate change made such droughts in the region more than twice as likely.  Now, a new paper in Political Geography disputes that link, finding that there is “no clear evidence” that human-driven climate change contributed to the 2006 drought.

Initial figures suggest that Greenland may have gained a small amount of ice over the 2016-17 year.  If confirmed, this would mark a one-year blip in the long-term trend of year-on-year declines over recent decades.

Energy

Jaguar Land Rover announced that all new cars produced from 2020 will have only hybrid and electric drive trains.  The article also contains a section on the state of electric cars.  Nissan has introduced a new version of the all-electric Leaf.  It is rated for 248 miles in Japan, 235 miles in Europe, but only 150 miles in the US, due to different range tests for electric vehicles in different countries.  And next month Tesla plans to unveil an electric big-rig truck with a working range of 200 to 300 miles, Reuters has learned.  Meanwhile, Scotland announced plans to end the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2032 and fast-track the development of a country-wide charging network for electric vehicles.

A 4.5GW solar-thermal project planned in the Tunisian desert would send electricity to Malta, Italy, and France using submarine cables in the largest energy export project since the abandoned Desertec initiative.

A new poll by researchers at the University of Michigan found strong support among Americans for net metering policies for homeowners with solar panels or wind turbines.  For those without solar panels, Dominion Energy Virginia will offer the opportunity to buy solar-generated electricity from community-based solar facilities.  The company has also identified two sites, a long-closed coal mine in Wise County and a 4,100-acre site in Tazewell County, for possible pumped hydroelectric storage facilities and has paused development of a fifth reactor at its North Anna nuclear power plant.

Fully 80% of energy company respondents to a survey indicated that they are currently implementing or considering energy storage to defer grid investments.  When people think about energy storage, they typically think about batteries and indeed, a record number of such systems was installed in the second quarter of this year.  However, under certain applications thermal energy storage makes more sense than batteries, even though it is less well known.  Writing for Greentech Media, Julian Spector provided an interesting tutorial on the technology.  One method not covered in Spector’s article is storing excess energy as heat in silicon, but it is discussed in this article.  Another type of energy storage is conversion of excess electricity to hydrogen, which is covered here.

Air conditioning is expected to use a greater amount of energy as the world warms and more people use it.  Thus, it is heartening to note that Stanford engineers have come up with a simple, passive radiative system to improve air conditioning efficiencyThis short article gives a more complete picture of its construction.

Early next year, a tanker owned by Maersk and a passenger ship owned by Viking Line will be outfitted with rotor sails developed by Norsepower Oy Ltd., based on an idea of German engineer Anton Flettner in the early 20th century.  If all goes as expected, the sails will reduce fuel consumption by around 10%.

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.