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Weekly Roundup 11-17-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Nov. 17, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday next week, the next Weekly Roundup will come out on December 1.

Policy and Politics

The Trump administration used its only public forum at the U.N. climate talks in Bonn on Monday to promote fossil fuels and nuclear energy, prompting Michael Bloomberg to tweet, "Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit”.  Meanwhile the UK and Canada launched a global alliance of 20 countries committed to phasing out coal for electrical energy production.  Environmental writer Elizabeth Kolbert provided her take on the activities of the Trump administration.  One of the accomplishments of the Paris Climate Agreement was the concept that all nations had a responsibility to fight climate change and should contribute what they could, “in light of different national circumstances”.  There has been a movement in Bonn to walk that back and divide the world’s countries into two groups, which many countries, both developed and developing, oppose.  French president Emmanuel Macron promised to replace the $2 million annual donation withdrawn by the U.S. from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

There is a civil war brewing within the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  At issue is whether they should support withdrawal of the 2009 endangerment finding for CO2 and other greenhouse gases that is the basis for the Clean Power Plan.  In a chilling article in The Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report on a closed-door meeting of climate change deniers who were critiquing the Trump administration on its dismantling of environmental regulations.  Almost as chilling is Robinson Meyer’s article in The Atlantic, in which he says that most progressive voters “trust that Democrats have a legislative plan to resolve [the] climate crisis, and that the party only needs to be granted control of Congress to pass it.  But nothing of a similar scale exists, and some of the Senate’s most vocal Democrats on the issue resist formulating one.”  Some good news: U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R FL), who started the House Climate Solutions Caucus, and May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, were presented with this year’s John F. Kennedy New Frontier Awards on Thursday evening at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

In a very informative New Yorker article about atmospheric CO2 removal, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote: “Carbon-removal plants could be built anywhere, or everywhere.  Construct enough of them and, in theory at least, CO2 emissions could continue unabated and still we could avert calamity.  Depending on how you look at things, the technology represents either the ultimate insurance policy or the ultimate moral hazard.”  Speaking of insurance and hazards, the major insurance companies recently said that the potential damage from severe weather events may become so unpredictable that it is impossible to model, which is an unacceptable risk to them.  The issue of damages from climate change has been important at COP23, causing Julie-Anne Richards of the Climate Justice Programme to say “A climate damages tax on the fossil fuel industry is one way to reverse the injustice of climate change, and ensure the fossil fuel industry pays for its damage – not poor people.” 

Climate

Solar radiation management (SRM) is one form of geoengineering, whose objective is to decrease the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface, thereby cooling the planet and buying time for reduction of CO2 emissions.  Now a new paper in Nature Communications has found that if aerosols were released just from the northern hemisphere, other parts of the world could face an increase in droughts, hurricanes, and storms.

According to a new paper published in Nature Scientific Reports, better soil management could boost carbon stored in the top layer of the soil by up to 1.85 Gt/year, about the same as the carbon emissions of transport globally.  Another paper, this one in the journal Nature Communications, concluded that by adopting organic farming practices, in combination with other changes, the projected world population in 2050 could be fed without increasing the amount of land under cultivation, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  This paper was met with skepticism by the agricultural community.

A new study by NASA scientists, published in Science Advances, reported that public officials in charge of preparing for sea level rise need to consider the melting rate of specific glaciers, not just their aggregate impact.  This is because as glaciers melt, they become lighter, which impacts gravitational forces in their vicinity, thereby influencing whether nearby land masses rise or fall.  Speaking of melting glaciers, scientists have long known that West Antarctica has many more melting glaciers than East Antarctica.  Now a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that West Antarctica receives more heat from within the Earth than East Antarctica.  In Sunday’s Washington Post, Bill McKibben had a review of Jeff Goodell’s book The Water Will Come.

On Wednesday, Carbon Action Tracker released a report prepared by three independent European research groups, saying that current policies meant the world was headed for warming of 3.4°C by 2100, down from 3.6°C it predicted a year ago.  Unfortunately, even if all countries adhere to their pledges under the Paris Climate Agreement, global temperature rise will exceed 3°C.  Deutsche Welle examined what five cities would experience under such a situation.

A modeling study published in Nature Geoscience found that with business-as-usual climate change, mid-latitude storms could travel further before reaching their maximum intensity and, as a result, countries further from the equator, including the UK and the U.S., could face more frequent and more intense storms during winter months.

The extreme rains that inundated the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey were made more likely by climate change, according to a new study by MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The work also suggested that such extreme flooding events will become more frequent as Earth continues to warm.

Energy

After three years of almost flat emissions, global CO2 output is expected to rise in 2017.  Much of that rise is due to increased CO2 emissions by China.  Somini Sengupta of The New York Times analyzed the apparent contradiction between China’s desire to lead on climate change and its continued reliance on coal.  However, coal-fired power capacity across China will be capped at 1,100 gigawatts by 2020 as they work to increase transmission capacity to make better use of their renewable energy.  Increasing the use of hydrogen in power generation, transportation, heating, and industry could deliver around 20% of the total carbon emission cuts needed to limit global warming to safe levels by mid-century, according to a report released at COP23 by the Hydrogen Council.

A growing number of insurance companies increasingly affected by the consequences of climate change are selling holdings in coal companies and refusing to underwrite their operations.  However, none of the major U.S. insurers such as Berkshire Hathaway, AIG, and Liberty Mutual have taken action.  In an effort to make its sovereign wealth fund less vulnerable to a permanent drop in oil prices, Norway has proposed dropping oil and gas companies from its benchmark index, which would mean cutting its investments in those companies.

The supply surge from U.S. shale oil and gas will beat the biggest gains seen in the history of the industry, the International Energy Agency predicted in its annual World Energy Outlook.  By 2025, the growth in American oil production will equal that achieved by Saudi Arabia at the height of its expansion, and increases in natural gas will surpass those of the former Soviet Union.  The report also projected that renewable energy is likely to grab a bigger share of the market in the coming decades, generating more electricity than coal by 2040.  Zeke Hausfather provided an in-depth summary of the report at Carbon Brief

On Thursday evening Tesla introduced its new long-haul truck, which will travel 500 miles at 60 mph on a single charge and accelerate to 60 mph in 5 sec empty and 20 sec fully loaded.  Bloomberg analyzed the truck and what it will take to succeed, particularly given the rivals that are already working hard.

According to 50 States of Grid Modernization, a new policy update from the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, in the third quarter of 2017, there were 184 actions on grid modernization proposed, pending, or enacted across 33 states and the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering new safety rules for small modular nuclear reactors.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus