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Weekly Roundup 1-27-2017

Your Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending January 27, 2017 follows.  Please forward it to anyone you think might be interested.  For an archive of prior posts visit the CAAV website.  It also contains news of events in the Central Shenandoah Valley as well as activities in which CAAV is involved.

As might be expected, much of the news related to climate and energy this week has focused on the Executive Branch and the often contradictory signals about what the Trump Administration (TA) will/won’t do to/about government climate science and related activities.  Since there is so much confusion and press about what is happening, I will limit the number of items I include on this subject.  One example of contradictory signals had to do with climate change information on EPA’s website.  As reported by Robin Bravender and Hannah Hess for E&E News (and reprinted by Science), at first EPA employees were told to scrub all such information from the website, but then were told not to do so.  The Washington Post also covered the story, with a little more historical perspective.  On Wednesday, the lawyers for the 21 children suing the federal government, the fossil fuel industry, and related trade associations hit them with a legal preservation notice.  If a judge agrees, they would all be prohibited from deleting files, taking down websites, etc. without archiving them first.  One development that is in line with the worst fears of anyone concerned about the climate is that computer scientist David Gelernter, a Yale University professor, is being considered for the role of science adviser in the TA.  For this, and other reasons, some leaders of U.S. scientific societies are concerned about the policies of the TA and the keepers of the Doomsday Clock have advanced it forward 30 seconds, making it the closest it has been to midnight since 1953.  There has also been much speculation about what the TA can do about environmental regulations issued by the Obama Administration.  Coral Davenport of The New York Times interviewed several lawyers and legal scholars about this question and has a good summary.  Also, a new tool launched by the Columbia Law School is tracking every step the TA takes to roll back or eliminate existing federal rules on climate change and energy.

In response to the policies of the TA, a new People’s Climate March is being planned for Washington DC by a steering committee of more than two dozen organizations.  Bill McKibben recently wrote about the march in Rolling Stone magazine.

In December there was an interesting infographic online about the reliability of news sources that I missed, but which you will probably find interesting.  While I take some comfort in fact that many of my sources come from the center and upper center, I also must note one of the comments: “The definition of irony: Getting info on what news to trust from an image sharing site...”  The source of the infographic is here.

Climate

A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe, has found that extreme weather cost Europe more than $378 billion and ended the lives of 85,000 people over the last three decades.  Furthermore, during the 1980s, the damages averaged about $8.2 billion a year, but by the 2000s the figure had risen to $14.7 billion a year.  While the EEA expressed caution about how much of this could be attributed to climate change, it warned that weather was likely to get worse as the global temperature continues to rise.  In particular, it stated that Europe’s Atlantic-facing countries will suffer heavier rainfalls, greater flood risk, more severe storm damage, and an increase in “multiple climatic hazards.”

Scientists in Sweden have discovered a complex chain of events that increases the level of methylmercury in estuaries and oceans as global temperatures rise in response to climate change.  The increased levels of methylmercury, in turn, increase the level of mercury in fish, thereby elevating human exposure to mercury.  The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

A new study published in Global Challenges: Climate Change has found that “inoculation” may provide the key to effectively debunking misinformation.  The study provides a key message for those fighting against the growing “post-truth”, “alternative facts” culture: facts by themselves are insufficient, but explaining the flaws underpinning associated misinformation can help weaken its effect and increase public acceptance of the facts.

NOAA has released a new technical report on projected sea level rise written by scientists at NOAA, USGS, EPA, and Rutgers University.  The purpose of the report is to update sea level rise projections used by coastal planners in the U.S.  Since the last report in 2012, the increased understanding of sea level rise suggests that under a worst-case scenario, climate change could raise the oceans an average of more than 8 feet by 2100, about 20 inches more than the previous estimate.  Tom Avril reports on what this might mean for the Jersey Shore.

Most articles I link to about Arctic ice are rather coldly analytical (no pun intended).  But in a beautifully written piece for Hakai Magazine, Eli Kintisch describes what changes in the shoreline ice in northern Canada mean to the 1400 residents of Nain, the largest community in Newfoundland and Labrador’s self-governing Nunatsiavut territory.

Energy

In contrast to other projections, BP’s Energy Outlook for 2017 predicted that in spite of growth in electric cars and renewable energy, oil demand will still be rising in 2035 because of rising prosperity in emerging Asia.  In addition, the report predicted that global energy demand will grow nearly a third by 2035 and that fossil fuels will still account for 75% of the energy mix, although renewables will be the fastest-growing energy source in coming years.  Carbon Brief had an analysis of how BP’s Energy Outlook has changed over the years.

Just 27% of Americans surveyed this month by the Pew Research Center said they thought the U.S. should prioritize expanding the coal, oil, and gas industries, while 65% thought alternatives like wind and solar should be the priority.  However, adding more renewable energy sources to the grid presents significant challenges, as this article about the Midwest illustrates.  Unfortunately, instead of trying to solve those challenges, some politicians in Indiana appear to be trying to kill rooftop solar.  A new bill in the Indiana legislature would not only eliminate net metering, it would mandate a “buy all, sell all” solar model, in which homeowners with solar panels must sell all the electricity they generate to their power provider at wholesale price and then buy all the electricity they use at retail cost.  Since such a model doesn’t recognize any of the benefits provided to utilities by resident-owned solar panels, let’s hope it gets shot down.

The Long Island Power Authority approved the nation’s largest off-shore wind farm on Wednesday.  It will be between the eastern tip of Long Island and Martha’s Vineyard, although it will not be visible from the former and barely visible from the latter.  The initial phase of the project will have only 15 turbines, but the site contains sufficient space for 200.  Speaking of off-shore wind energy, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind has unveiled its new 9 MW wind turbine, which broke the energy generation record over a 24 hour period.  Meanwhile, in the Midwest, the proximity of regional transmission lines appears to be a big factor in the siting of new wind farms.

Although the findings are primarily associative, an increasing number of scientific studies is suggesting that exposure to ultra-small particles of air pollution from automobiles and other combustion sources can increase the risk of dementia.  This, in turn, suggests that there might be additional benefits associated with moving away from fossil fuels.

On Tuesday, President Trump invited TransCanada to reapply for a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline and on Thursday they did so.  At the same time, President Trump signed an executive order instructing the Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).  The Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault II warned the TA that the legal issues around the DAPL are not subject to change "simply by the president’s whim," and that the executive order shows a "disregard for tribal diplomatic relations and the potential for national repercussions."  Bill McKibbon had an op-ed piece in The New York Times on President Trump’s actions.

The DOE has released its 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report.  Unfortunately, the news reports that I’ve seen so far appear to have misinterpreted some of the numbers relative to renewable energy, so I haven’t linked to them.  On a related topic, Paul McDivitt at Ensia has an interesting opinion piece asserting that many news articles tend to inflate the contribution of renewables to total electricity generation.  It is a cautionary tale worth reading.

A new paper in the Journal of Radiological Protection reports that the radiation exposure received by the citizens of Date, Japan, following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, was only 15% of that estimated using airborne radiation surveys by helicopter.  Date is 36 miles from Fukushima.

ExxonMobil has added Dr. Susan K. Avery, a physicist and atmospheric scientist, and former president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to its Board of Directors.  She has served on the United Nations Secretary General's scientific advisory board, the National Research Council Global Change Research Program Advisory Committee, and advisory committees with NASA, NOAA, and the National Science Foundation.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus