Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/19/2017

President Donald Trump’s threat to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement united envoys from much of the rest of the world gathered in Bonn, Germany, making them unusually cooperative in reaching a deal.  Meanwhile, Republican governors Philip Scott of Vermont and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts urged U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to ensure the United States does not withdraw from the agreement.  However, at the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, AK, last minute changes to the intergovernmental declaration requested by the U.S. weakened it, according to a document obtained by Inside Climate News.  President Trump is planning to nominate a non-scientist to the top scientific position at the Department of Agriculture.  The Trump administration is seeking to indefinitely postpone a decision on litigation over the Clean Power Plan (CPP), but a coalition of environmental groups, states supporting the CPP, clean energy groups, and sympathetic utilities filed separate briefs on Monday asking the court to issue a ruling in the lawsuit.  In spite of the positions of the Trump administration, don’t despair; National Geographic has provided six reasons why climate progress will continue.

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe directed the Department of Environmental Quality to begin assembling regulations to reduce carbon emissions from Virginia power plants.  On Wednesday, Ted Halstead, head of the Climate Leadership Council and champion of the “Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends”, released a video of a TED talk that he taped in April.  The Carbon Tax Center has provided an edited transcript of the talk along with a link to the video.  Perhaps the time is getting ripe for a carbon tax, at least at the state level, as legislators in at least five states have introduced proposals that would place a price on carbon in the form of a tax or fee.

Climate

In a report published Thursday in the journal Earth’s Future, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany stated that a proposal to mitigate climate change by planting fast-growing trees and plants that can be burned for electricity, with the carbon they release being captured and stored, is not “realistic and feasible.”

Justine Gillis of The New York Times accompanied a Columbia University team of scientists on an aerial expedition to Antarctica late last year and has written a three part series about why the expedition went.  The graphics and video are very interesting, but did not work in Chrome for me, although they did in Microsoft Edge.  I did not try other browsers.  Theory predicts that Earth’s poles should warm faster than the global average as CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase.  Observations show that this is true for the Arctic, but not for the Antarctic.  There are several possible reasons for this, but new research, published in the journal Earth Systems Dynamics, suggests that an important one is the higher elevation of Antarctica.  Robert McSweeney of Carbon Brief summarized the new research and explained how it fits with other possible explanations.  Finally, a new paper in the journal Current Biology documented an increase in moss growth in Antarctica, demonstrating that the impacts of global warming there are not limited to ice melt.

New research published in the journal Scientific Reports warns that just a small amount of sea level rise can double the risk of coastal flooding from large waves and storm surge.  The most at-risk areas are in the low latitudes, where tidal ranges are smaller, making sea level rise proportionally more significant.

Trees are very good at removing CO2 from the atmosphere; the problem lies in their death and decay, which sends the CO2 back to the atmosphere.  But, what if one could harvest the wood (sustainably) and use it in a way that tied up its carbon for a long time?  According to Canada’s Wood Innovation and Design Centre, there is; use it in wooden skyscrapers, substituting wood for carbon-intensive concrete and steel.  Speaking of trees, a study, published in Science Advances on Wednesday, has found that about three-quarters of tree species common to eastern American forests have shifted their population centers west since 1980. More than half of the species studied also moved northward during the same period.  The reasons for the westward movement are unclear.

In the report released on Tuesday, scientists from UC Davis and CalTrout, a conservation group, warned that nearly half of California’s types of native salmon, steelhead, and trout will go extinct within 50 years unless environmental trends, including climate change, are reversed.  Meanwhile, on the other coast, Ted Williams wrote at Yale Environment 360 about Delaware Bay, which provides a case study in how warming oceans, more severe storms, and sea-level rise are impacting estuaries around the world.

Scientists have only recently discovered that coral reefs around the Chagos Archipelago, a collection of around 60 small islands in the Indian Ocean, have undergone significant bleaching and death, similar to what occurred on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia in 2016.  Concerning the latter, a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that there is an 87% chance that sea surface temperatures as high as those recorded in 2016 could occur around the reef in any given year in a 2°C warmer world.

Two recent studies, one in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change and the other in the journal Environmental Research Letters, have both concluded that climate change will have major negative impacts on the yields of staple grain crops between now and the end of the century.  In a study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists found that climate change and associated season creep are throwing off the migratory patterns of songbirds and possibly jeopardizing their survival.  Nine species are having a particularly difficult time adapting to the new circumstances.

Both NASA and NOAA have reported that April 2017 was the second hottest April on record.  In addition, NOAA has reported that the year-to-date ranks as the 2nd-warmest January through April period, behind the same time period last year.

Energy

Even though lithium-ion batteries are the current mainstay for applications from cell phones to electric vehicles, they have drawbacks, such as the flammability of the electrolyte and the sourcing of lithium.  Consequently, there is great interest in an alternative.  Now, scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have discovered a way around a major problem associated with zinc-based batteries, which have several advantages over lithium-ion batteries, potentially clearing the way for their commercialization.  On the subject of batteries, Tesla and Vermont utility Green Mountain Power are offering home backup batteries for a very low monthly cost because the utility will receive grid benefits through use of Tesla’s GridLogic software.

India’s cabinet approved plans on Wednesday to build 10 nuclear reactors with a combined electrical generating capacity of 7,000 MW.  This is in addition to an installed nuclear capacity of 6,780 MW and another 6,700 MW under construction for completion by 2021-22.  This is occurring in spite of the apparent decline of nuclear energy in the West.  With a few caveats, utility owner Southern Co. agreed to take the lead from bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co. on building two nuclear reactors at its Vogtle power plant in Georgia as soon as next month.

According to Energy Department budget documents obtained by Axios, the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which funds research on advanced vehicles and other aspects of clean energy, would face a roughly 70% cut in 2018, while the Fossil Energy Research and Development program, which conducts research on carbon capture and storage, would face a 55% cut.  However, on Thursday six Republican senators, four of whom are appropriators, sent President Trump a letter stating in part: “We urge you to continue to invest in the Department of Energy’s research and development programs in fiscal year 2018.”  In spite of efforts by the Trump administration to reduce initiatives on renewable energy, it will almost certainly fail to bring jobs back to coal country or dramatically boost coal production, according to a report released by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Are they finally coming?  Neal Boudette of The New York Times examined fuel cell cars and the filling stations required to keep them going.  One thing he didn’t mention, however, is the source of the hydrogen, which may not necessarily be green.  Speaking of disruptive technologies, Stanford economist Tony Seba forecast that the entire market for land transport will switch to electrification within eight years.  While this may not happen as early as he predicted in the West, it may come closer to happening in China and India.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency provided seed grant funding for 12 large-scale solar energy farms and all 12 have now leveraged that funding to become fully financed.  In addition, they have received all regulatory and grid connection approvals required for them to move forward with construction.  When completed, the 12 solar farms will provide enough electricity to power 150,000 homes.  On the topic of renewable energy, China and India have surpassed the U.S. to become the two most attractive countries for renewable energy investment.  Furthermore, they are set to beat their pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement, according to an updated analysis of their climate policies.

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.

Brenda Mead

CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month:  Brenda Mead, Director of Valley Conservation Council

BrendaMeadBrenda Mead comes to the Valley Conservation Council with lots of useful experience, wisdom and energy to burn.

She’s on a mission to get younger people into leadership roles…something all of us associated with nonprofits need to keep in steady view.  Two new hires lately fit the bill: one in marketing, another in land trust issues.

Valley Conservation Council is a land trust.  They work to preserve clean streams and farmland and the biodiversity they bring with them. With those come the bucolic viewscapes typical of the Shenandoah Valley.  They do that by acquiring conservation easements from those who love the land enough to place acreage into legally binding status.  In turn, VCC has a perpetual obligation to manage the conservation values of the land or the riparian buffers of streams, to protect soil and water and all the intrinsic values those entail.  Often the land is co-held with state soil and water conservation districts.  They do have a few “whole farm” easements, but many more riparian easements with 50ft. buffers along a stream through the land.  A familiar easement in Harrisonburg is the riparian buffer along Black’s Run in Purcell Park.  With the help of partners, the stream has been restored to natural curves that handle the occasional flooding better, and heavily planted with native streamside trees and shrubs.  CAAV helped several years ago in straightening young trees knocked over soon after they were planted by the force of flood water and debris it carried.

It’s not a simple operation.  It requires financial reserves sufficient for legal defense in case of a challenge, and also continuity of the trust, even if VCC should hit hard times and go out of existence.  Challenges most often occur when the original donors are deceased, and an heir (or purchaser) is not in sympathy with the intention.  Subdivision of the property or addition of more impervious surfaces affecting streams add major challenges requiring negotiation.

Responsible management requires regular, usually annual, monitoring visits.  Occasionally a new owner has not read the paper work, and doesn’t know about the requirements—and may object vigorously, requiring delicate handling.

With the gift of the easement comes a tax advantage.  If a parcel is worth $100,000 without an easement, and after acquiring one is worth $75,000, there is a $25,000 difference which is an allowed charitable deduction.  At the state level, tax preferences also grant tax credits, and allows the sale or transfer of those credits, but there are caps on both amounts and timing of awards.  One additional advantage comes with selling development easement rights to a government entity, such as a county.  When the county takes ownership, the easement becomes permanent.

With Dominion’s eagerness to traverse easements with new pipelines have come very attractive offers to the owners.  Dominion is offering a land trade to purchase land elsewhere in exchange for allowing a pipeline route.  In Highland Co., of eight easements, the owners of six have accepted Dominion’s offer, although the county does not agree that the deal is any advantage to the community. There will be new jobs, but only short-term for installation, and most of those jobs will be filled by people from elsewhere experienced in pipeline work. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation with a similar mission to the VCC is fighting back; VCC also plans to be around to do their work, regardless of the challenges.

Brenda says VCC is a 501c-3 nonprofit and welcomes donations.  They also welcome partnerships in the work of fulfilling their responsibilities to land and water.  Currently they have active partnerships with the Friends of Middle River, Friends of the North Fork, Shenandoah Valley Pure Water Forum, and the Battlefield Foundation.  You can also be added to their E-news list, if you wish.  Sign up!

– Anne Nielsen, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, May 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 5/12/2017

On Wednesday, the Senate voted down the Congressional Review Act resolution to eliminate the Obama administration rule on methane emissions from public lands.  Three Republicans joined every Democrat to preserve the rule.  However, after the vote Kate MacGregor, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals, said that the rule is one the department “will suspend, revise or rescind.”  On Wednesday evening, at a meeting of Arctic nations in Alaska, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an agreement recognizing the Paris Climate Agreement, but said President Trump was not rushing to decide whether to leave or weaken U.S. commitments to it.  Rather, he will wait until after the G7 meeting in late May to announce whether the U.S. will pull out of it.  The Chinese have indicated that there will be repercussions if the U.S. pulls out but Joseph Curtin, a member of the Irish Government’s Climate Change Advisory Council, thinks that “It may be better for the US to leave now, and re-join when it is ready to behave like a responsible global citizen.”  President Trump has nominated two people to be commissioners at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  One is Sen. Mitch McConnell’s energy adviser and the other is a Pennsylvania utility commissioner.  “A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change,” is no longer accessible from the EPA website, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.  In her article about it, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, provided a link to it at an archival website.

On several occasions, I have linked to articles mentioning the need for employing “negative emissions” technologies to hold global warming below 1.5°C, and perhaps even 2°C.  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Daniel Grossman examined the pros and cons associated with proposed technologies.  While adaptation and mitigation have been the focus of past climate change talks, “loss and damage” will be a major focus of this year’s talks in Bonn.  Carbon Brief explained what that term means and how it may be addressed.  Politics intruded on climate science in Australia. The scientists fought back, led by John Church, a leading world expert on sea level rise.  A cautionary tale for the U.S.?

Climate

Although the report was issued in March, it is worth noting again that the Medical Society Consortium has documented the ways in which climate change is already affecting our health, reminding us that it is not just something that will impact future generations.  In another example of the immediate impacts of climate change, at least 17 communities across the U.S. are being forced to relocate.

The West African Sahel is the arid belt of land stretching from the Atlantic to the Red Sea that separates the Sahara Desert from the African savanna.  According to a new paper in the journal Nature, climate change is upsetting rainfall patterns in the region, making catastrophic storms three times more frequent.

You are probably aware that glaciers are melting all over the world because of human-caused climate change.  What you may not be aware of are the many impacts that melting glaciers can have.  Renee Cho has summarized them for “State of the Planet” at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  One place where glaciers have been melting is in Glacier National Park.  A study of its 37 ‘named’ glaciers and two others on U.S. Forest Service land found that only 26 should be classified as glaciers as the other 13 are now too small to count.  Even though I have linked to several articles about the glaciers in West Antarctica, I found the article about Thwaites Glacier by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone to be particularly interesting.

In the Alaskan tundra, permafrost is melting, leading to an increase in CO2 emissions due to microbial decomposition of stored organic matter.  A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science reported that the increase in CO2 emissions exceeds the uptake of CO2 associated with the greening of the tundra from warmer temperatures.

A new paper in Geophysical Research Letters has stated that observed declines in ocean oxygen content are “most likely due to the changes in ocean circulation and mixing associated with the heating of the near-surface waters and the melting of polar ice.”  In addition, the paper stated that “The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound.”  Another paper in the same journal investigated the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, a cycle that lasts 10-30 years and affects how much heat is absorbed in the Pacific.  They found that it was in its “cool,” or negative, phase from 2000-2014, but started to switch to its positive or “warm” phase in 2014.  This suggests that Earth will experience accelerated warming for the next 10 to 20 years and could hit the 1.5°C threshold as early as 2025, although some scientists questioned the authors’ assumptions.

Climate justice issues are front and center in Atlantic City, NJ, where Climate Central has found that the impacts of coastal flooding are being borne primarily by low income and socially vulnerable populations.

Energy

Dutch officials have opened a 600 MW offshore wind farm, with 150 turbines 53 miles out in the North Sea.

The Maryland Public Service Commission has given the go-ahead for two off-shore wind projects.  U.S. Wind, a subsidiary of Italian energy and construction company Toto Holdings SpA, plans to build 62 turbines at least 14 miles off the coast of Ocean City, while Skipjack Offshore Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind Holdings LLC, plans to erect 15 turbines at least 20 miles off the coast.  On the subject of wind turbines, a Swedish study has found that each on-shore wind turbine kills 10-15 bats annually and has proposed a remedy.

India will install an estimated 8.8GW of solar energy in 2017 according to the consulting and market research firm Bridge to India.  Meanwhile, in India’s desert state of Rajasthan, power companies Phelan Energy and Avaada Power each offered to charge 4.2¢/kWh of electricity generated from a solar farm they hope to build at an energy park.  Last year’s previous record lowest bid was 6.9¢/kWh.  India’s largest thermal coal power generator currently charges around 5.1¢/kWh.

In March, President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to amend or withdraw the coal leasing program moratorium instituted by the Obama administration.  On Tuesday, the attorneys general of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington filed a lawsuit over implementation of that order, saying it was done without environmental review.  Meanwhile, the coauthor of a Columbia University study on coal’s decline in the U.S. has said “It’s unlikely that those market factors that have reduced coal production over the last five years are going to change in a way that will lead to a recovery in coal production in the years ahead.”

Both China and India have adopted policies that encourage a rapid transition to electric vehicles and this will have a major impact on the long-term demand for gasoline in those countries.

Greenpeace estimates that every hour, China erects a new wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.  According to Beth Gardiner at National Geographic, there are three reasons for this: (1) China’s air pollution is terrible, (2) it fears the impacts of climate change, and (3) it wants to dominate the clean energy market.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a new report entitled Clean Energy Momentum, Ranking State Progress.  California is a clear winner, followed by Vermont.  Virginia, on the other hand, fell from 17th to 20th in installed solar capacity, although Governor Terry McAuliffe signed 11 new renewable energy bills into law.  Meanwhile, a report from GTM Research attempted to make sense of the chaotic residential solar market.  Speaking of energy use, a new study has found that U.S. residential energy use has begun to fall, primarily as a result of energy-efficient lighting.

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.

Fighting Climate Change in the Courts

TheLaw.5.4

US Marshalls like Wyatt Earp helped clean up the lawless old West—can Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) lawyers help clean up the chaos of climate change? Can a small group of kids (Our Children’s Trust) and their lawyers demand their, and our, right to a livable planet?

We can meet, we can march, we can lobby, write letters, sign petitions, and put up solar panels. But when it comes right down to it, we live in a nation governed by the rule of law, “of the people, for the people, by the people,” and when laws are unjust, or when just laws are attacked by special interests, we also have recourse through the courts.
The “SELC believes that everyone in this region deserves to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a healthy environment. This nonprofit organization gets consistently impressive results because we know how to work effectively in all three branches of government—and at the national, regional, state, and local levels—to create, strengthen, and enforce the laws and policies that determine the beauty and health of our environment.“

Speaker Will Cleveland has worked on Virginia’s Clean Power Plan, uranium mining, solar power, retiring outdated coal burning plants, biomass energy, and the power of energy efficiency among other issues, in his years at SELC so he can address almost any problem you’d like to bring up.

Our Children’s Trust elevates the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for the benefit of all present and future generations …”
Recently U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken declared “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

“The decision means that the youth, age 9-20 and from all over the U.S., now have standing because their rights are at stake, and now their case (Juliana vs U.S.) is headed to trial.”

See short films about the case and some of the youth involved and learn the background and current status of this groundbreaking lawsuit.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017
6:30 – 8:00PM
Massanutten Regional Library
174 S. Main St., Harrisonburg

Hosted by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/5/2017

In case you were unable to attend the People’s Climate March, you might be interested in reading this article about it.  Environmentalist Paul Hawken, has a new book entitled Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reduce Global Warming, in which he offers 100 reasons to hope.  KQED’s Devin Katayama spoke with Hawken about his book.  There was a new development this week in the children’s lawsuit against the federal government.  In March, the Trump administration requested that the federal district court in Oregon allow the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the trial order before the trial even takes place.  On Monday U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin recommended denial of that request.

The New York Times has a new Op-Ed columnist, Bret Stephens, late of The Wall Street JournalWikipedia describes him as being known for “his contrarian views on climate change.”  His first column, “Climate of Complete Certainty,” created quite a stir, including a reaction from a group of climate scientists, but generated a thoughtful response from Andrew Revkin, whose work Stephens mentioned, as well as from climate scientist Ken Caldeira.  They are worth reading.  Meanwhile, writing at Huffington Post, Kate Sheppard discussed the many conservative groups working against climate change.

On Friday of last week, President Trump won a court ruling making it easier for him to rescind the Clean Power Plan.  On the same day, Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Colette Honorable said she will leave the board when her term expires in June.  Currently, only two of the five board positions are filled.  President Trump is appointing Daniel Simmons to head the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  Like several other new appointees, Simmons has questioned the very things his department is charged with doing.  An “unabashed nerd and unapologetic advocate for science and reason” will seek the nomination to challenge Lamar Smith (R, TX) for his seat in Congress.  Meanwhile, the EPA has taken down its climate change website, saying in a statement: “The process, which involves updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership, is intended to ensure that the public can use the website to understand the agency’s current efforts.”  On Monday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to start formulating a new five-year plan for drilling rights sales in the Arctic Ocean, the mid- and south-Atlantic Coast, and the entire Gulf of Mexico.  On Tuesday, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, petitioned the EPA to reconsider the endangerment finding, which is the basis for the agency’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.  The bipartisan budget compromise reached by Congress over the weekend salvaged funding for both the EPA and clean energy research done by the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.  On Wednesday, twelve members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus introduced the Climate Solutions Commission Act.  Finally, a group of carbon tax supporters started running TV ads with the goal of swaying conservatives to the cause.

Climate

So, just what is the consensus within the scientific community on human-caused global warming?  Writing in The Guardian about a commentary in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society by Andy Skuce and coauthors, Dana Nuccitelli (one of the coauthors) argues “It’s most accurate to say that 97% of relevant peer-reviewed studies agree that humans are causing global warming, 99.9% of climate papers don’t reject that theory, and those who deny the overwhelming consensus are peddling misinformation.”

Two papers were published in scientific journals in the past two weeks dealing with trends in the global temperature record.  One, published in Environmental Research Letters, used statistical analysis to answer two questions: (1) whether the high temperatures of the last three years suggest that the rate of warming has increased and (2) whether the preceding years tell us that the rate has slowed.  They concluded that the answer to both questions was no.  Rather, warming has continued at a constant rate since the 1970’s with random, stationary, short-term variability superimposed upon it.  The other, published in Nature, investigated the existence of the so-called hiatus from 1998-2012.  Writing in The Guardian, Graham Readfearn summarized the findings thusly: “So what to make of it all?  The short version is that global warming didn’t stop, scientists knew global temperatures would wobble around and climate scientists aren’t always the best communicators.”

Weekend Edition Sunday had a piece on the Nenana Ice Classic in Alaska, which is a festival celebrating the breakup of the ice on the Tanana River at the town of Nenana.  If you guess the exact date and time of the breakup, you could win big bucks.  Well, this year the breakup occurred at noon on May 1 and you can see a graph of the breakup dates for the 101 years measurements have been made.  Speaking of ice in the north, The New York Times had an article about the impacts of melting sea ice on shipping lanes in the Arctic ocean.

The next decade will be critical in containing global warming to the limits the world has set itself, European researchers warn in the journal Nature Communications.  Furthermore, at least one of the targets stipulated in the Paris Climate Agreement may be unrealistic, according to a second team of European researchers, writing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The death toll caused by extreme rainfall and floods in the South and Midwest U.S. rose to 20, as the impacts of a major slow-moving storm that ravaged the region over the weekend continued to be felt.  In states from Oklahoma to Indiana, record-setting rainfall, tornadoes, and a late-season blizzard wreaked havoc on crops, roads, buildings, and infrastructure.  In addition, April was the 29th month in a row that record high temperatures exceeded record low temperatures in the U.S.

We have known for some time that the narrow strip of tidal marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves along the edge of our oceans are very important.  Now a study published in Frontiers in Ecology in the Environment suggests that with proper management, these zones can be even more effective at storing carbon.  Unfortunately, another study, published in Global Change Biology, has found that coastal marine food webs could be in danger of collapse as a result of rising CO2 levels, which cause both warming and ocean acidification.

Energy

The Guardian published a three-part series on the Keystone XL pipeline route and the people living along it: Part I, Part II, Part III.

In the past I have linked to articles about problems associated with the new nuclear power plants under construction in Georgia and South Carolina and the associated bankruptcy of Westinghouse.  Reuters has an analysis of what went wrong.  Meanwhile, according to a new study by the Global Nexus Initiative, the U.S. is losing global influence to Russia and China by allowing its nuclear power industry to stagnate.

The U.S. wind industry installed 2,000 MW of capacity in the first quarter of 2017, making it the biggest first quarter since 2009.  In addition, there are 9,025 MW of wind projects under construction and an additional 11,952 MW in advanced development, all trying to take advantage of the federal production tax credit that is being phased down from 2017 through 2019.  On Monday, Block Island Power Company began receiving electricity from the U.S.’s first off-shore wind farm and shut down its diesel generators.  Nevertheless, the big question is whether off-shore wind can also be an important part of the energy mix for the coastal U.S.  On-shore wind, on the other hand is well established, to the point that Iowa’s largest utility is investing $3.6 billion in new wind turbines, with the goal of producing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.

Ivy Main had a new blog post about Dominion Virginia Power’s updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), for which the press release promised thousands of MW of new solar power and a dramatically lower carbon footprint.  A close reading of the IRP led her to disagree with that assessment.  Appalachian Power also updated its IRP, calling for the addition of 500 MW of universal solar energy, and 1,350 MW of wind energy by 2031.  It also expects 123 MW of rooftop solar energy to come from customers in the next 15 years.

During FY2016/17, India added 6,990 MW of coal-based power capacity, while also adding 5,413 MW of wind energy capacity and 5,526 MW of solar power capacity.  At the end of FY2016/17, the share of renewable energy in India’s total installed capacity was 17.5%.  Also, China added 7,210 MW of solar PV in the first quarter of the year, roughly 70 MW more than in Q1 2016, according to figures from China’s National Energy Administration.

A report by Canada’s National Energy Board said that the country generated 66% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2015, with hydroelectric power accounting for roughly 60% of electricity supply.  And speaking of hydroelectric power, it is surging on the U.S. west coast because of record precipitation this winter.  This has caused California gas demand to drop 34%, which has driven gas prices down.

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.

Cornelius Frantz

Cornelius.4.18.17Those attending the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s steering committee meeting on April 18 had the pleasure of hearing from Vine & Fig gardens manager Cornelius Frantz. He has been here less than a year and already making great strides to create edible food forests and composting opportunities accessible to area residents.

CAAV steering committee member Charlie Strickler introduced Cornelius having gotten acquainted with him during many hours of driving together last winter to spend time at Standing Rock to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

With roots in Michigan, stints in Seattle and Pittsburg, and three years in Sarajevo, Bosnia working for the Mennonite Central Committee, Cornelius brings a diverse background to his endeavors here. Connecting with Vine & Fig’s work to
create “… sustainable systems that care for the earth, empower people, educate and inspire, and build the foundation for a nonviolent lifestyle,” he uses phrases like “voluntary poverty,” “downward mobility,” and “questioning cultural burdens,” as good things to strive toward. He lives in the Vine & Fig house on N. Main St. with his wife Shauna. He pedals the compostables from the Food Co-op and the Little Grill up to three times a week to the Vine & Fig gardens to enrich the soil there for the extensive gardens which he is transitioning to perennial crops through permaculture design processes.

Along with some recent graduates of a weekend-long fruit tree school held at Vine & Fig last February, Cornelius hopes to create a demo edible forest garden on some unused Harrisonburg Parks and Rec property along Blacks Run and establish a tree nursery to supply other neighborhoods and churches with perennial food orchards. To that end the group has been grafting fruit and nut trees.

Cornelius has identified 12 potential sites to host combination fruit gardens and compost collection sites to nourish the gardens.

There are many challenges to accomplishing his goals, but we’ll be rooting for him and his hard work to help make our community more resilient and equitable.

– Adrie Voors, for the CAAV Coalition-Building Committee, April 29, 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 4/21/2017

Although it is a couple of weeks old, I thought this article about the healing powers of nature was worth sharing with you.  I also just learned about the new book by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope entitled Climate of Hope.  From the book’s website: “In Climate of Hope, Bloomberg and Pope offer an optimistic look at the challenge of climate change, the solutions they believe hold the greatest promise, and the practical steps that are necessary to achieve them.”  I just picked up a copy at a local bookstore and look forward to reading it.  Hannah Rothstein, a Berkeley-based artist, has reimagined some iconic National Park posters in 2050.  Warning, they’re not pretty.  If you have had a frustrating discussion with a climate change denier, you might be interested in this article about an AskReddit discussion that asked former climate deniers what changed their minds.  Take four minutes and watch this powerful video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about science and science-denial.  The editor of the journal Nature Communications devoted this month’s editorial to the threat fake news poses to action on climate change.  Finally, Bloomberg has added a section called “Climate Changed.”

The main political news this week was the meeting that didn’t happen.  The group of Trump advisors that was going to meet to prepare a recommendation on whether the U.S. should stay in the Paris Climate Accord, didn’t.  The meeting hasn’t been rescheduled.  Nevertheless, other countries are quite interested in what we plan to doCarbon Brief interviewed Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, about the ramifications of the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Accord, among other things.  Energy Secretary Rick Perry directed his department to conduct a study of the U.S. electric grid, causing concern within the renewable energy industry.  Also, changes to the DOE website downplay the climate benefits of each form of technology and distance the agency from the idea that they might be used to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, instead emphasizing their economic advantages.  During the congressional recess Republican lawmakers have been receiving heat at town hall meetings over their positions on climate change.  A group of 11 Republican state attorneys general is protesting an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil Corp. violated consumer protection laws when selling fossil fuel products while failing to reveal information about the effects of burning them on the global climate.  Their argument is that the “debate” over whether carbon emissions cause climate change is not settled.

Climate

NOAA scientists have determined that the average global temperature in March was 56.8°F (13.8°C), second only to last year’s record, which was boosted by a strong El Niño.  This was the first time the Earth was more than 1°C (1.8°F) warmer than normal without an El Niño.  NASA scientists also concluded that March 2017 was the second hottest on record.  Meanwhile, the U.S. (lower 48) is in the middle of the warmest period ever recorded.  A new study published in Nature Communications examines changes in solar activity and CO2 levels over the past 420 million years. It found that unless we change, by mid-century we will be causing the fastest climate change in approximately 50 million years.

A pair of papers in the journal Nature provide a new understanding of how water moves across Antarctica’s ice sheets and shelves through a network of interconnected lakes and rivers.  The authors suggest that this transport could make ice shelves increasingly vulnerable to collapse as melt rates accelerate under future climate change.  On the other hand, in at least one instance, a drainage system appears to be stabilizing an ice shelf rather than weakening it.  The Arctic is melting as well.  Writing for Bloomberg, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi are presenting a three-part series entitled “How a Melting Arctic Changes Everything.”  Part I, “The Bare Arctic” came out this week.

A new study by the Berlin thinktank Adelphi and commissioned by the German foreign office investigated the links between insurgency and terrorism in a warming world.  Their conclusion: climate change will fuel acts of terrorism and strengthen recruiting efforts by terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram.  The New York Times Magazine published a new world map that overlays human turmoil with climate turmoil, illustrating the striking correlation between the two.  This is one of six articles in this “climate issue.”

A paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reported on a study of possible migration patterns in the U.S. in response to sea level rise by 2100.  Surprisingly, the study suggested that many migrants will move to inland locales in different states, not just in the state where they originally resided.  This suggests that inland states will also be impacted by sea level rise and should plan for it.

Between 2004 and 2012 deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell from 11,000 square miles per year to 1,700 square miles, causing many to think that the deforestation problem had been solved.  Unfortunately, deforestation has trended upwards since 2012, with a sharp 29% increase in the rate of clearing in 2016.  As explained by Philip Fearnside, a Brazilian ecologist who has worked in the Amazon for more than 30 years, the forces acting to cause deforestation are many and complex.

NOAA has a new interactive map that shows how planting zones have changed due to climate change.  Cassie Kelley at EcoWatch explained the map and presented a graphic showing how the zones have changed.  Generally, the zones have moved northward.  Growing zones have also changed in the Arctic, bringing woody shrubs to regions that haven’t had them.  As a consequence, beavers are also moving north, which is having a variety of effects on the ecosystem.

Energy

The small Danish island of Samsø, population 3750, has received a lot of attention because it became energy independent 10 years ago using a mixture of wind, solar, and biomass.  What is really interesting about this achievement is that it was attained by conservative farmers.

Writing at Think Progress, Mark Hand reviewed the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the idea that it could take actions that favor the climate.

In 2016, for the first time, more than 100,000 people in the United States were employed in some manner by the wind industry, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the American Wind Energy Association.  A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists that ranks states on their recent clean energy momentum finds leaders in states led by Republicans and Democrats alike.  Currently the largest offshore wind turbine has a generation capacity of 8MW, but projects slated for completion by 2025 will have turbines with capacities between 13 and 15 MW, allowing them to deliver electricity at market prices without subsidies.

A report from the European Commission, prepared by the German research group Öko-Institut e.V., has found that mechanisms that allow countries to offset emissions by purchasing credits linked to green-energy projects in another country via an international market are unlikely to actually reduce emissions and should be phased out.  Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center, a former climate change denier who is now a strong advocate for a carbon tax as a way to reduce emissions, countered anti-tax arguments in a blog post on Thursday.

Southern California Edison has installed a unique system that uses gas turbines in combination with 10MW lithium-ion battery storage units to cover peak loads during summer evenings when solar production is shutting down but electricity demand is up.  The hybrid system reduces greenhouse emissions and cooling water use.  Nevertheless, in the long-term, gas-fired power plants will either have to capture and store their carbon emissions, or they will have to be shut down.  In an earlier Roundup I linked to an article about the partnership between researchers at Colorado State University and Google Street View to map pervasive natural-gas leaks.  Well, this article provides more details about their joint venture.

If you are like me, you may have wondered how we (the U.S.) could have invented solar panels and yet now only have a 2% market share of global solar panel sales.  Well, a new paper in Science Advances studied that question and has some answers that might surprise you, such as financialization of our economy.

Four of the five states with the most net zero energy schools underway in 2016 were in the South — despite low power rates and few policy incentives.

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 4/14/2017

I thought some of you might be interested in this site for climate change podcasts.

On the political front, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been facing increasing criticism from the right for his refusal to challenge EPA’s endangerment finding, which provides the legal basis for all climate change regulations.  Meanwhile, at a Pennsylvania coal mine on Thursday, Pruitt spoke as part of a new public relations campaign, gathering together the Trump administration’s EPA priorities into an effort called “Back 2 Basics,” which does things like reconsider the rule limiting the discharge of heavy metals in wastewater from coal-fired power plants.  Elsewhere on Thursday, Pruitt said the Paris Climate Agreement “…is something we need to exit in my opinion.”  On Monday, G7 energy ministers failed to agree on a statement supporting the Paris climate accord after the US delegation said it was reviewing its position.  On Tuesday, China, Brazil, India and South Africa urged industrialized countries to honor financial commitments made in Paris in 2015 to help developing countries fight against global climate change.  Younger Republicans increasingly say they believe climate change is a human-caused problem and that Americans have a responsibility to act on it, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation review of college Republican clubs across the U.S.

Climate

Carbon Brief has updated its data dashboard, summarizing key indicators on our climate, atmosphere, oceans, and cryosphere.  NOAA now has its Climate Explorer online.  It is a collaborative effort of several agencies and lets you look at both historical data and projections for two future emission scenarios for locations all over the U.S.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration has signaled a desire to eliminate funding for the NASA satellites that provide the type of data used to construct those images.  Henry Fountain discussed the concerns of climate scientists about such cuts.

A new study published in Nature Climate Change compared the amount of permafrost likely to be lost with 1.5°C warming to that likely lost with 2°C warming and found that the difference was an area equivalent to that of Mexico.  Although not quantified, the release of larger amounts of CO2 and methane would also result from the greater warming.  Meanwhile, a freezer malfunction at the University of Alberta in Edmonton caused ice cores from across the Canadian Arctic to melt, destroying them and the scientific information they contained.  Although this article about the impacts of climate change on Glacier National Park is over a week old, I thought the story it told is well worth its inclusion this week.

Using helicopter borne instruments, scientists have been able to measure the depth and configuration of the ice in the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland.  Their findings show that the glacier extends farther below sea level than previously realized and that the depth increases the farther inland the glacier extends, forming a grounding with a “retrograde” slope.  This means that the glacier is susceptible to melting from warm sea water against its face and that the area exposed increases the more the glacier melts and retreats, leading to accelerating melting over time.  Another large Greenland glacier, the Petermann, has apparently developed a new crack in its floating ice shelf that could contribute to a future break, releasing a large ice island like those released in 2010 and 2012.  Mashable compiled a group of stunning photos from the Arctic and paired them with an interesting essay by Andrew Freedman about the fate of Arctic ice.

Most research on melting glaciers in Antarctica has been carried out in the western part of the continent, which contains only about 10% of the ice.  Now researchers are learning more about eastern Antarctica, thanks to better airborne sensors and a successful cruise along parts of the coastline.  Writing in Nature, Jane Qiu has summarized the surprising, and disturbing, new findings by the scientists.

Although the reason is not well understood, liana vines are proliferating in the world’s tropical rainforests and are having a negative impact on the storage of carbon by the trees.  Because climate models do not account for this effect, they may be overestimating the amount of carbon storage that will occur in the future.

Scientists just completed a 5,000 mile aircraft survey of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in which they found that 900 miles of its 1,400 mile length experienced severe bleaching at some point during the past two years.  Having two years of back-to-back bleaching greatly raises the possibility that the affected sections will die.  The 2017 bleaching occurred in the absence of an El Niño event, raising questions about the ability of the reef to recover.

Energy

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, has found that to keep global warming below 1.5°C the world economy would need to achieve net zero carbon emissions before 2040.  Net zero means that any CO2 emissions would be removed from the atmosphere, either through natural systems or carbon capture and storage (CCS).  To put the difficulty of achieving that into perspective, you might want to check out the World Resources Institute’s latest release of its CAIT Climate Data Explorer.

The Petra Nova CCS project at a coal fired power plant in Texas is now capturing 90% of the CO2 released from its combustion.  Meanwhile, the Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture Project, operated by ethanol giant Archer Daniels Midland, has launched.  It couples CCS technology with biochemical ethanol production, thereby removing CO2 from the atmosphere, making it an early application of BECCS.  Carbon capture technology is also being applied by NET Power, only they are applying it to a unique gas turbine design.  Brad Plumer at Vox has analyzed the possible future of CCS during the Trump administration.

You may recall that in an earlier Roundup I linked to an article about President Trump announcing that his administration would reevaluate EPA’s CAFE standards for light trucks and cars.  Associated with that is the question of whether California will continue to be granted a waiver to issue its own standards.  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Bruce Lieberman provided the history of the California standards and the state’s willingness to fight to retain them.  On Tuesday, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers stated that it hoped to reach a deal with California and the Trump administration on the standards.  On another front in California, a state appeals court upheld the California Air Resources Board’s cap-and-trade program for controlling CO2 emissions.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated via Twitter on Thursday that the company will unveil a concept version of an electric semi-truck in September.  In addition, a Tesla pickup is also in the works and will be unveiled in 18 to 24 months.  But, the big question is still whether the cars and trucks of the future will be powered by batteries or by fuel cells.  If this new development in battery technology turns out to really be the breakthrough that it appears to be, then batteries may beat out fuel cells for cars.  It will also have a major impact on the energy storage field.

Although we tend to hear less about the shift from coal to renewable energy in India than in China, a significant shift has been occurring.  This piece by Keith Schneider chronicles the cancellation of plans for Ultra Mega Power Projects.  An example of circumstances driving the shift is the recent winning bid to build a 250 MW solar PV facility, which set a new record low for India at the equivalent of 5¢/kWh.  It should be noted, however, that China effectively controls the global solar panel market, and this can cause cascading effects on solar employment all over the world.

If you have ever wondered why the Southeast U.S. has so few wind farms, then this essay by Lyndsey Gilpin at Inside Climate News is for you.  Speaking of wind farms, Texas is the top state for wind energy jobs.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said energy-related CO2 emissions in 2016 from petroleum and natural gas increased 1.1% and 0.9%, respectively, while coal-related emissions decreased 8.6%, leading to an overall 1.7% decline in energy-related CO2 emissions.

On Tuesday, Advanced Microgrid Solutions announced it is working with Walmart to install behind-the-meter batteries at 27 stores in Southern California to balance on-site energy production and use, and to provide flexibility to utilities.  Speaking of batteries for energy storage, their size and weight combine to make it logical to build them near the facilities where they will be used.

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.

What a Wonderful World Earth Day Celebration

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Despite the gloomy forecasts for life on Earth, we have much to celebrate! Join the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley for a program of live music, dance, readings, poetry, song, images of beautiful places, and a walk in Court Square for Tree identification.

All to honor our planet home and the lovely habitat it provides for all living things.
Free and for all ages.

Saturday, April 22, 2017
1:00-2:30pm at Massanutten Regional Library, 174 S. Main Street, Downtown Harrisonburg

Hosted by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley with support from the Shenandoah Group of the Virginia Sierra Club

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/7/2017

In a bit of good news, the U.S. House Climate Solutions Caucus has increased its membership by 10, bringing the total to 34, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.  Nevertheless, many in the House view those colleagues with skepticism.  Still, there are some Republicans who doubt President Trump’s climate policies, as do three quarters of the public.  In a real “in-your-face” move, the Bureau of Land Management changed the banner on its home page from backpackers looking at the sunset in the mountains to a huge coal seam.  In the courts, environmental groups, led by the Environmental Defense Fund, and 17 Democratic states are fighting the Trump administration’s request that a federal appeals court put on hold its case regarding the Clean Power Plan.  Meanwhile, Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, continued to attack climate scientists, saying Wednesday that people raising red flags about climate change have ulterior motives beyond wanting to protect the environment: “It is all posturing for their own purposes, including a desire to control people’s lives or get another government grant or an academic promotion.”  In a Yale Environment 360 interview, climate scientist Kevin Trenberth talks about why scientists need to continue to speak out.  Finally, if you like out-of-the-box prognostications, you may be interested in Brad Plumer’s ideas on the climate surprises that might be in store during Trump’s presidency.

Climate

Although it didn’t come out this week, I thought you might be interested in this article about Paul Hawken’s new book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming, which will be released April 18.  Also, Chicago Review of Books Senior Editor Amy Brady interviewed Kim Stanley Robinson, author of New York 2140, a new climate fiction book mentioned recently.  On the subject of the arts and climate change, another artist who works with climate themes has been profiled.  Check out this piece about Zoria Forman’s hauntingly beautiful drawings of ice.  Also, the Geological Society of America recently published a paper featuring the work of photographer James Balog, who has documented the retreat of glaciers around the world.  Finally, Justin Nobel had a touching essay at National Geographic on changes in the snowy region of Japan.

Two scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, MD have spent the last two years studying 114 years of environmental data around the Chesapeake Bay to document the impacts of climate change on the Bay.

Carbon Brief has updated its chart showing the times remaining before the carbon budgets for 1.5°C, 2.0°C, and 3.0°C are exhausted if we continue to emit at current rates.  The allowable budget to have a 66% chance of staying below 1.5°C will be exhausted in 4.1 years.  And speaking of CO2, a new paper in the journal Nature Communications reported on studies to determine its atmospheric concentration during the past 420 million years.  The authors found that until humans started burning fossil fuels with the start of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations had been fairly stable for the past 20 million years.  Now CO2 levels are higher, causing plant growth to accelerate.  Furthermore, 50 million years ago CO2 concentrations were much higher (600 ppm or more) and a new paper in Nature has reported that Antarctic temperatures were much warmer, allowing palm trees to grow there.

Have you been uncertain about how and why the “discount rate” influences the social cost of carbon, i.e., the costs associated with the release of a ton of CO2 to the atmosphere?  If so, then this piece from the New York Times by Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, may be helpful.  When it comes to the economics of the market place, a very important component is hedging against risk.  John Sutter of CNN, among others, has said that we must view climate change from the same perspective.

Three recent studies have examined climate change impacts on ecosystems and the creatures that live in them.  Taken together they suggest that most species on Earth are being impacted by climate change, some for the good, but some for the bad.  How it all turns out will depend largely on how we respond.

A new study, published this week in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, has found that flight turbulence during transatlantic flights could increase significantly under climate change.  Furthermore, fuel and maintenance costs for air carriers could increase.  The author of the paper explained its broader significance at Carbon Brief.

In most oceans of the world, water gets colder as you go deeper.  Historically, this has not been true in the Arctic Ocean, where denser, saltier water flowing north from the Atlantic Ocean tends to sink beneath the colder, less salty water covered by ice.  That is now changing, according to a new paper in Science, which found that the warmer Atlantic-originating water is rising and melting sea ice from the bottom.

Energy

David Roberts at Vox has attempted to answer two important questions about the goal of 100% renewable energy: Is it the right goal, and is it even possible.  Which, raises another question, is an electric or hybrid electric air craft possible or desirable.  Zunam Aero thinks the answer to both questions is yes.

U.S. renewable energy production grew 7% between 2015 and 2016, but electricity from coal decreased 18%, reaching its lowest level since 1978 according to the Energy Information Administration.  Globally, 139GW of renewable capacity was installed in 2016, an 8% increase over the previous year, according to a new report from the UN Environment Program and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The Washington Post had an interesting article in their Sunday edition about the solar energy projects in Chile’s Atacama Desert.  Chile hopes to become “A Solar Saudi Arabia”.  Across the Atlantic, in Africa, the demand for electricity is growing rapidly.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the potential for wind and solar generation to meet that demand and found that it could do so, with proper siting and interconnectedness.  Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency issued a report stating that the use of renewable energy helped Europe reduce its CO2 emissions by about 10% in 2015.  In the U.S., however, some states are continuing to adopt policies to limit rooftop solar development; also see here and here.  It is interesting to note, though, that the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is adding solar panels to its roof.

During the past three weeks, E&E News posted a series of articles about energy storage.  The articles were “Energy storage is America’s industry to lose”, “Is energy storage the next jobs creator?”, and “Where the energy storage industry is happening now.”  On the subject of storage, South Australia’s desire to build a 100MW energy storage system has generated a lot of interest, and not just from battery manufacturers.  Thermal storage is also being proposed.

I’ve recently linked to articles about the new wind energy lease off the shore of North Carolina.  One thing that the leasee must consider before starting construction of a windfarm is how the electricity generated will be transmitted to shore and to market.  Another point of interest concerns the number of jobs that would be associated with a strong offshore wind energy industry in the U.S.

One of the objections to the rule requiring companies to monitor for methane leaks at oil and gas facilities is that the equipment is expensive and labor-intensive.  Now, IBM scientists and engineers, working with researchers at Harvard and Princeton universities, have devised a miniature sensor chip that continuously monitors for methane.  Will this be the key that allows continuous, autonomous monitoring at reasonable cost?  A recent study of the environmental impacts of a tar sands oil pipeline found that the carbon emissions associated with tar sands oil are around 21% larger than the emissions associated with an average U.S. refinery mix.

The leaders of two large U.S. coal companies are urging the Trump administration not to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, arguing that their interests are better served by the U.S. having a place at the bargaining table.  In addition, a Reuters survey of 32 utilities indicates that the bulk of them have no plans to alter their multi-billion dollar, years-long shift away from coal, suggesting demand for the fuel will keep falling.

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.