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Weekly Roundup 3-31-2017

Your Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending March 31, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

The big political news this week was President Trump’s executive order reversing the efforts of the Obama administration to fight climate change.  As might be imagined, this order was covered heavily in the news.  Science reprinted an article from E&E News outlining the main content of the order and Carbon Brief staff compiled a comprehensive summary of news around this actionVox reprinted the executive order annotated by Emily Hammond, a professor of energy, environmental, and administrative law at George Washington University.  Less than 24 hours after the order was signed, a coalition of environmental groups sued the Trump administration in Federal court over the order.  The White House announced that a decision on whether to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement will be made before the G7 Conference on May 26.  The Sierra Club and five other conservation groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday to undo President Trump's approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.  On Wednesday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing entitled "Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method," which became a bit heated.  Two of the witnesses urged Congress to fund “red teams” to challenge the findings of the IPCC.  If you have a couple of hours to spend, you can watch the hearing here.  The Heartland Institute is sending a packet of “educational” material, including their booklet “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” to more than 200,000 K-12 science teachers in the U.S.  President Trump has cited a study by the Heritage Foundation that claims the costs of complying with the Paris Climate Agreement are too high and the benefits too low.  A review of the document by the World Resources Institute found that Heritage did not provide credible estimates of either costs or benefits of climate action.  At The New York Times, Coral Davenport compiled statements by officials in the Trump administration denying the established science of human-caused climate change.  On Friday, The Washington Post published more detailed information about the proposed cuts to EPA and the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Yale Environment 360 had two interesting articles this week.  Marc Gunther presented an overview of the “small yet growing number of Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians [who] are starting to push for action on climate.”  Several commentaries on President Trump’s executive order speculated that China would now become the world’s leader on addressing climate change.  While that may well occur, it is important to keep in mind China’s larger environmental impact.  William Laurance, who is a Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, wrote a piece expressing his opinion about that impact.

Climate

A new paper in Nature Climate Change examined the practice of “managed retreat” away from changing shore lines or flooding rivers as one form of adaptation to climate change.  In a special guest column at Carbon Brief, lead author Miyuki Hino summarized their findings.  CNN columnist John Sutter told the story of the people of Shifmaref, Alaska, who would like to move their village in response to the rapidly eroding coastline, but so far have been unable to.  Be sure to watch the short video that accompanies the article.

A review article by an international team of scientists in the journal Science examined the changing geographical distribution of plant and animal species in response to climate change and concluded that such changes affect “ecosystem functioning, human well-being, and the dynamics of climate change itself.”  This mass movement of species is the biggest since the peak of the last ice age, about 25,000 years ago, with land-based species moving poleward by an average of 10 miles per decade, and marine species by 43 miles per decade.

The Arctic continues to be unseasonably warm, with temperatures 5-7°F above “normal.”  This will cause large impacts on the sea ice, which is already experiencing thinning and early breakup.  In light of the record low sea ice extents reported last week, Carbon Brief interviewed three polar scientists and asked them to put those records in perspective.  According to a new study published Friday in the journal Nature Communications, ice caps and glaciers along the coast of Greenland passed a tipping point in 1997, and since then have been melting three times faster than before.

A new paper in the journal Nature Scientific Reports links the persistent weather events that have been occurring recently to human-caused climate change.  The warming Arctic has altered the northern-hemisphere jet stream, making it more susceptible to stalling under certain temperature conditions, leading to persistent, extreme summer weather events such as the 2003 European heatwave, the Pakistan flood and Russian heatwave in 2010, the 2011 Texas drought, and the recent unprecedented drought in California.  The paper showed that the conditions needed to stall the jet stream position are significantly more likely because of global warming.

One consequence of Trump’s energy policy will be a delay in slowing and reversing the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere.  Therefore, attention is turning to geoengineering as a way to slow global warming even in the face of increasing CO2 concentrations.  This led to a series of articles on the subject in The Guardian.  First was a news article about experiments being planned by a team of scientists at Harvard.  It was then followed by a post by an independent journalist, which appears to be an opinion piece, to which the Harvard scientists responded.

Another technology that has been touted for its potential to sequester carbon in the soil is the application of biochar, which is a stable, non-decomposing form of charcoal.  Opinions about biochar appear to vary widely, with those in the industry touting it as a climate change solution, and others, not so sure.  Now DeSmog has released a six-part report, entitled “Biochar: Climate Change Solution or False Hope?”, that examines both the technology and the industry around it.

Energy

While most news organizations have been focused on the drama in Washington, DC, lots of things have been happening at the state level about renewable energy, both pro and con.  Inside Climate News prepared a summary of that activity.

Westinghouse Electric filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, hit by billions of dollars of cost overruns at four nuclear reactors under construction in South Carolina and Georgia.  Chris Martin and Chris Cooper told the story of Westinghouse’s big gamble at Bloomberg while Brad Plumer at Vox asked if radical innovation could save the nuclear power industry.  Meanwhile, in Virginia, Dominion is moving forward with its plans to build a third reactor at North Anna.  In the UK, EDF has been given approval to begin construction on the Hinkley C nuclear power plant and in France, construction continues on ITER, or the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, for the study of nuclear fusion, the ultimate energy source.

In past Roundups I have linked to articles about President Trump’s decision to reopen the CAFE standards issue for light trucks and autos.  Amory Lovins, chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, took issue with this decisionThe New York Times had a good infographic showing the impact of a rollback of the CAFE standards, the Clean Power Plan, and other actions on meeting our Paris pledge.

The International Renewable Energy Agency has estimated that global renewable energy capacity exceeded 2,000GW for the first time in 2016.  Growth was 8.7% for the year, including 71GW of new solar energy, 51GW of wind capacity, 30GW of hydropower, 9GW of bioenergy, and just under 1GW of geothermal energy capacity.  Looking ahead, Sweden's state-owned utility, Vattenfall, plans invest $1.94 billion in onshore and offshore wind power during 2017-2018.

A paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters provided the first comprehensive life-cycle analysis of how a global switch to low-carbon energy sources might impact both human and ecological health.  They found that low-carbon energy sources had less impact on both.  Somewhat surprisingly, they also found that biomass fuels have a large environmental impact, providing additional evidence in the controversy over that fuel.  On a related note, an analysis of DOE jobs data by the Sierra Club revealed that nationally, clean energy jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs by more than 2.5 to 1 in the U.S.

Ikea’s Midwest distribution center near Joliet, IL, will have the state’s largest rooftop solar array with almost 9,000 panels and a capacity of 2.91MW.  The output will be consumed on-site and is part of the company’s goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2020.  In spite of Ikea, Bloomberg Markets said that U.S. rooftop solar is facing consolidation as growth is slowing nationally.

Last month Avangrid Renewables won the right to erect a windfarm offshore of Kitty Hawk, NC.  However, as Elizabeth Ouzts recently wrote in Southeast Energy News, because of a number of factors, it could be 2025 before the facility is built.  Looking to a future with more renewables, mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM has conducted modeling studies to assess grid reliability with less coal and nuclear generation and more natural gas and wind power.  They found that grid reliability would not decline with up to 20% renewables.  Early in 2017, Utility Dive surveyed more than 600 electric utility professionals across the U.S. to compile their 4th annual State of the Electric Utility Survey. The results indicate that utilities expect to source more power from renewables, distributed resources, and natural gas in the coming years, with coal continuing to decline.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus