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Weekly Roundup 1-5-2018

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Jan. 5, 2018 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

Policy and Politics

In the past, I’ve linked to articles about the House Climate Solutions Caucus, which maintains an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.  In a very thought-provoking article in E&E News, Zack Colman examined the views of the climate community about the Caucus.  There is a debate within the climate advocacy community about the best way to motivate people to act on climate change: make them aware of the dire consequences of inaction or give them hope that the problem can be solved.  Inspired by a recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, Guardian columnist Lucia Graves addressed this issue.  In collaboration with Reveal, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PRX, Tegan Wendland of WBUR investigated the plight of people in coastal Louisiana who are threatened by flooding, by can’t afford to relocate without state aid, for which there is no money.

Last year President Trump disbanded a panel that was to prepare an addendum to the National Climate Assessment on the local impacts of climate change.  Now Columbia University has hired a panel member, who will reconvene much of the panel to prepare the report.  Because they were considered to be “potential burdens” to energy development, the Interior Department recently rescinded an array of policies designed to elevate climate change and conservation in decisions on managing public lands, waters, and wildlife.  On Thursday, the Trump administration unveiled a controversial proposal to permit drilling for oil and gas in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, including in protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.  Meanwhile, a tax on oil companies that generated around $500 million a year to fund the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was allowed to expire this week.

The Paris Climate Agreement is based on the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by each country.  Numerous analyses have shown that those NDCs are insufficient to keep warming below 2°C.  Now, four researchers have analyzed the NDCs and argue that five major gaps need to be addressed if they are to become the long-term instrument for international cooperation on climate change.  Another aspect of climate science that could impact planning and policy decisions is attribution science, which is growing more robust in its ability to determine whether a particular extreme weather event was influenced by climate change.  Chelsea Harvey of E&E News has reviewed the status of attribution science and its implications for such things as liability.  If you periodically use Google to search for information on climate change you should be aware of how denier groups are using the search engine to spread their disinformation.

Climate

In a fascinating essay in The Guardian, Benjamin Franta, a Ph.D. student in the history of science at Stanford University, revealed that the oil industry was warned by Edward Teller in 1959 about the dangers of CO2 emissions.

The weather is really cold right now in the eastern U.S., colder than we normally experience.  This raises the question of whether the current weather pattern has been influenced by climate change.  Several articles addressed that question this week, among them one by the Associated Press and another by Henry Fountain at The New York Times.  Likewise, a study in England examined the link between the warming Arctic and changes in British weather.  Andrew Freedman explained the term “bomb cyclone”, used to describe the winter storm.  Finally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released an infographic addressing the impacts of climate change on extreme weather.

The three factors that determine our perception of temperature are dry-bulb temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed.  A recent paper in Nature Climate Change reported on modeling studies that examined those factors to determine just how comfortable (or uncomfortable) we’ll be as Earth warms.  Another study, by scientists from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, found that if we continue emitting CO2 at current rates, by the 2070s high wet-bulb temperature readings (which reflect the combined effects of heat and humidity) that now occur maybe once a year could prevail 100-250 days of the year in large parts of the world.

One consequence of global warming is that the atmosphere holds more water vapor, thereby increasing precipitation in some places.  One of those places is Queen Maud Land, in East Antarctica, as documented in a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.  In that case, the precipitation is in the form of snow, which contributes to the buildup of ice sheets, partially counteracting their loss to the sea.  This raises the question of just how much such ice buildup reduces sea level rise from melting Antarctic glaciers.

The Paris Climate Agreement adopted a goal of limiting global average temperature rise due to climate change to 2°C, with an aspirational goal of 1.5°C.  Now a new paper in Nature Climate Change has concluded that there are substantial benefits to meeting the aspirational goal.  The authors found that aridification would emerge over about 20 to 30% of the world’s land surface if the temperature increase was 2°C, but the affected area would be reduced by two-thirds if warming was limited to 1.5°C.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European Union monitoring center, said on Thursday that 2017 was the second hottest year on record.  It was also the hottest year without an El Niño event.  Last year was also a bad one for hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires, as reviewed by James Temple at MIT Technology Review.  As a result, the insurance industry had to pay out around $135 billion, the most ever, according to reinsurer Munich Re.  They also said that total losses, including those not insured, were $330 billion, the second highest ever.

A major study on coral bleaching was published Thursday in the journal Science.  It was the first to examine bleaching world-wide and found that the global proportion of coral being hit by bleaching per year rose from 8% in the 1980s to 31% in 2016.  Furthermore, it found that while the average reef bleached severely once every 25 or 30 years at the beginning of the 1980s, by 2016 the recurrence time was just 5.9 years.  As if that weren’t bad enough, another paper in the same issue of Science reported that ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950, while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold.  Low oxygen levels are caused by a combination of high water temperatures, due to global warming, and fertilizer runoff.

Energy

The Arctic blast that has caused temperatures to plunge in the U.S. has revived arguments about which fuel source is the best for electricity generation under these circumstances.

Virginia-based Dominion Energy is buying SCANA Corp., the South Carolina company whose subsidiary, SCE&G, was building the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project.  The acquisition would leave SCANA as a subsidiary of Dominion.  Dominion Energy also completed a 71.4 MW solar energy facility in South Carolina, the state’s largest.

The Appalachia Development Group has received approval for the first of two applications for a $1.9 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan to build an underground natural gas liquids storage hub in Appalachia, at a site to be determined.  The American Chemistry Council, a trade group for the chemical industry, estimates the facility could attract up to $36 billion in new chemical and plastics industry investment and create 100,000 new area jobs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit late in December that will allow the Mountain Valley Pipeline to make 383 stream crossings and 142 passes through wetlands in six Virginia counties.  Three days later, the National Park Service issued a right of way for the pipeline to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 136, not far from U.S. 221 in Roanoke County.

A Republican representative to the Florida House of Representatives has filed a bill to investigate and value the use of solar-plus-storage systems as a power source during natural disasters.  It will establish a pilot program to “encourage and demonstrate the effectiveness of distributed energy generation and energy storage technologies to provide for the energy needs of critical disaster resilience facilities located in areas of critical state concern during a natural disaster or declared state of emergency,

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus