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Weekly Roundup 12-15-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Dec. 15, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

In order to fully enjoy the Christmas and New Year festivities, I’m taking a break for a couple of weeks.  The next Weekly Roundup will cover the week ending January 5, 2018.

Policy and Politics

Under the guise of enhancing “environmental stewardship around the world,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with officials in Morocco about their interest in importing natural gas from the U.S.  Environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers, and some industry experts noted that EPA has no formal role in overseeing natural gas exports.  Last week I included an article about Pruitt’s plans for the “red team/blue team” debate on climate science.  Well, this week, those plans were put on hold.  Since Pruitt took over as administrator of the EPA in March, more than 700 employees have either retired, taken voluntary buyouts, or quit.  The largest number was in the Department of Research and Development.  John Abraham had a column in The Guardian arguing that the Trump administration is being shortsighted by cutting funding for climate research.  Making good on French President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to provide research funding for climate scientists working in the U.S. who are worried about the political climate here, the French government unveiled a list of 18 “laureates”, 13 of them working in the U.S., who have won grants to conduct research in France.  Also on Tuesday, in concert with the One Planet conference in Paris to mark the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, the EU announced funding of €9bn for action on climate change.  The funds will be focused on sustainable cities, clean energy and sustainable agriculture. 

On Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard arguments concerning the Trump administration’s request for a writ of mandamus to halt the climate change lawsuit brought by 21 children.  An administration attorney claimed that the discovery requests in the case were “burdensome” and that litigating the case could distract the executive branch from carrying out “its constitutional duties.”  Award-winning poet Megan Hunter published her first novel this month, entitled The End We Start From, and it is a work of climate fiction.  In an interview with Amy Brady, she said “I think that hope is actually essential if we are to take action: If there is no hope for the planet then there is no point doing anything.  And hope…[is] about recognizing the essentially unknown nature of the future…”

California and Washington state joined Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Chile on Tuesday in an agreement to step up the use of a price on CO2 emissions as a central economic policy to slow climate change.  A new paper in the journal Climatic Change reported on a survey of Republican attitudes about climate changeClifford Klaus had an interesting piece in The New York Times about the people of Converse County, Wyoming, and their attitudes about energy and President Trump.  They would be very happy with Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to boost coal.  In a report released on Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office said that the Pentagon must do more to prepare its overseas bases for the impacts of climate change.

Climate

Attribution studies were in the news this week.  Two dealt with Hurricane Harvey and its impacts.  As published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, scientists at the World Weather Attribution project calculated that the record rainfall experienced in Houston was made three times more likely because of climate change.  Furthermore, if we continue with business-as-usual CO2 emissions, rainfall events on the same scale as Hurricane Harvey’s downpour could become up to ten times more likely by 2100.  The results are supported by the second study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which found that Harvey’s rainfall was made 3.5 times more likely by climate change.  In a first for the American Meteorological Society's annual report on the role of climate change in extreme weather events, their 2016 report, released this week, included three events that would not have happened without the increase in CO2 level in the atmosphere.  Previous reports had never determined that events could not have occurred under "natural" conditions.  Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich summarized five cases from the report at The New York Times.  A number of additional attribution studies were presented at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in New Orleans and they were summarized by Joel Achenbach at The Washington Post.  In addition, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit issued a report examining the climate change links of all extreme weather events that have occurred since the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Also at the AGU meeting, Jeremy Mathis, director of the Arctic Research Program at NOAA, unveiled the Arctic Report Card 2017.  The report stated that the decline of Arctic sea ice is “outside of the range of natural variability and unprecedented” in the past 1,450 years and that the speed at which Arctic surface temperatures are rising is unprecedented in (at least) the past 2,000 years.  Indicative of the changes in Alaska, some temperature readings in Barrow (now known as Utqiagvik) were automatically deleted from the data record because they were so high they looked like outliers. 

A paper published in the journal Earth’s Future examined potential sea level rise associated with the melting of Antarctic glaciers.  The paper reported on the first modeling study to take into consideration two new mechanisms that could lead to rapid collapse of the Antarctic ice sheets: disintegration of floating ice shelves and mechanical failure of tall ice cliffs facing the sea.  The study found that under a business-as-usual emissions scenario sea level could rise by 3 to 8 feet by the year 2100, much higher than projected by the last IPCC report.  Climate Central released a new version of their sea level rise maps to reflect the new findings.

Concerns are growing that because of increasing CO2 levels, wheat, rice, and other staple crops could deliver less of some minerals and protein in decades to come than they do today.  In 2017, three reports highlighted what changes in those crops could mean for global health.

In the past I have provided links to articles about “negative emissions” technologies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and the necessity for their use to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Wired has published a long investigative piece about “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage”, or BECCS, which is one of those technologies.

Energy

New research, published in Nature Energy, measured the full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of various electricity sources out to 2050. It showed that the carbon footprints of solar, wind and nuclear power are many times lower than coal or gas with carbon capture and storage.  This remained true after accounting for emissions during manufacture, construction and fuel supply.  Even though Florida is called the “sunshine state”, it gets most of its electricity from gas-fired power plants, with relatively little from solar.  The Center for Public Integrity had a rather long investigative piece about the electric power industry there.  It also released a report on the relationship between the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. government.

National Australia Bank says it will halt all lending for new thermal coal mining projects, although it will continue providing finance for coal projects already on its books.  Meanwhile, in Paris the World Bank announced on Tuesday that after 2019 it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas projects.  In response to the “Powering Past Coal Alliance,” which was launched by Canada and the UK, the Trump administration has proposed the “Clean Coal Alliance” to encourage cooperation on technologies that reduce the carbon footprint of coal.  It has not yet begun recruiting members.

Two recent research papers, one in Nature Geoscience and the other in Nature Scientific Reports, demonstrate clearly the perversity of nature.  The first paper, reporting on a modeling study, found that as Earth warms, wind patterns in the midlatitudes of the Northern Hemisphere will change and diminish somewhat, having a negative impact on wind energy installations.  The second paper reported on a study of wind energy potential in key regions of China from 1979 through 2015, and found that it had declined by about 10%.

According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report, 2,031 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) solar generation were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of the year, resulting in the market’s smallest quarter in two years.  Global installations of solar PV panels are set to reach 108 GW next year according to forecasts by IHS Markit Ltd.  They project that the rate of installations will require a large percentage of global panel manufacturing capacity, driving prices up and making the economics of some projects questionable.

Babies born to mothers living near fracking sites have a higher chance of being underweight, according to new research published this week in the journal Science Advances, which surveyed data on more than 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013. 

Toyota Motor Corp. has strengthened its partnership with battery producer Panasonic Corp.  They will work together on solid-state batteries for electric vehicles (EVs), among other things.  As EVs replace cars powered by internal combustion engines, one thing that will change is the auto repair shop, simply because EVs have far fewer parts to break down.

Akshat Rathi continued his series in Quartz about “The Race to Zero Emissions.”  You can read Part 5 here, Part 6 here, Part 7 here, and Part 8 here.  In addition, he has provided a game to test your ability to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus