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Weekly Roundup 4-21-2017

Your Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending April 21, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

Although it is a couple of weeks old, I thought this article about the healing powers of nature was worth sharing with you.  I also just learned about the new book by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope entitled Climate of Hope.  From the book’s website: “In Climate of Hope, Bloomberg and Pope offer an optimistic look at the challenge of climate change, the solutions they believe hold the greatest promise, and the practical steps that are necessary to achieve them.”  I just picked up a copy at a local bookstore and look forward to reading it.  Hannah Rothstein, a Berkeley-based artist, has reimagined some iconic National Park posters in 2050.  Warning, they’re not pretty.  If you have had a frustrating discussion with a climate change denier, you might be interested in this article about an AskReddit discussion that asked former climate deniers what changed their minds.  Take four minutes and watch this powerful video featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about science and science-denial.  The editor of the journal Nature Communications devoted this month’s editorial to the threat fake news poses to action on climate change.  Finally, Bloomberg has added a section called “Climate Changed.”

The main political news this week was the meeting that didn’t happen.  The group of Trump advisors that was going to meet to prepare a recommendation on whether the U.S. should stay in the Paris Climate Accord, didn’t.  The meeting hasn’t been rescheduled.  Nevertheless, other countries are quite interested in what we plan to doCarbon Brief interviewed Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, about the ramifications of the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Accord, among other things.  Energy Secretary Rick Perry directed his department to conduct a study of the U.S. electric grid, causing concern within the renewable energy industry.  Also, changes to the DOE website downplay the climate benefits of each form of technology and distance the agency from the idea that they might be used to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, instead emphasizing their economic advantages.  During the congressional recess Republican lawmakers have been receiving heat at town hall meetings over their positions on climate change.  A group of 11 Republican state attorneys general is protesting an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil Corp. violated consumer protection laws when selling fossil fuel products while failing to reveal information about the effects of burning them on the global climate.  Their argument is that the “debate” over whether carbon emissions cause climate change is not settled.

Climate

NOAA scientists have determined that the average global temperature in March was 56.8°F (13.8°C), second only to last year's record, which was boosted by a strong El Niño.  This was the first time the Earth was more than 1°C (1.8°F) warmer than normal without an El Niño.  NASA scientists also concluded that March 2017 was the second hottest on record.  Meanwhile, the U.S. (lower 48) is in the middle of the warmest period ever recorded.  A new study published in Nature Communications examines changes in solar activity and CO2 levels over the past 420 million years. It found that unless we change, by mid-century we will be causing the fastest climate change in approximately 50 million years.

A pair of papers in the journal Nature provide a new understanding of how water moves across Antarctica’s ice sheets and shelves through a network of interconnected lakes and rivers.  The authors suggest that this transport could make ice shelves increasingly vulnerable to collapse as melt rates accelerate under future climate change.  On the other hand, in at least one instance, a drainage system appears to be stabilizing an ice shelf rather than weakening it.  The Arctic is melting as well.  Writing for Bloomberg, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi are presenting a three-part series entitled “How a Melting Arctic Changes Everything.”  Part I, “The Bare Arctic” came out this week.

A new study by the Berlin thinktank Adelphi and commissioned by the German foreign office investigated the links between insurgency and terrorism in a warming world.  Their conclusion: climate change will fuel acts of terrorism and strengthen recruiting efforts by terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram.  The New York Times Magazine published a new world map that overlays human turmoil with climate turmoil, illustrating the striking correlation between the two.  This is one of six articles in this “climate issue.”

A paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reported on a study of possible migration patterns in the U.S. in response to sea level rise by 2100.  Surprisingly, the study suggested that many migrants will move to inland locales in different states, not just in the state where they originally resided.  This suggests that inland states will also be impacted by sea level rise and should plan for it.

Between 2004 and 2012 deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell from 11,000 square miles per year to 1,700 square miles, causing many to think that the deforestation problem had been solved.  Unfortunately, deforestation has trended upwards since 2012, with a sharp 29% increase in the rate of clearing in 2016.  As explained by Philip Fearnside, a Brazilian ecologist who has worked in the Amazon for more than 30 years, the forces acting to cause deforestation are many and complex.

NOAA has a new interactive map that shows how planting zones have changed due to climate change.  Cassie Kelley at EcoWatch explained the map and presented a graphic showing how the zones have changed.  Generally, the zones have moved northward.  Growing zones have also changed in the Arctic, bringing woody shrubs to regions that haven’t had them.  As a consequence, beavers are also moving north, which is having a variety of effects on the ecosystem.

Energy

The small Danish island of Samsø, population 3750, has received a lot of attention because it became energy independent 10 years ago using a mixture of wind, solar, and biomass.  What is really interesting about this achievement is that it was attained by conservative farmers.

Writing at Think Progress, Mark Hand reviewed the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the idea that it could take actions that favor the climate.

In 2016, for the first time, more than 100,000 people in the United States were employed in some manner by the wind industry, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the American Wind Energy Association.  A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists that ranks states on their recent clean energy momentum finds leaders in states led by Republicans and Democrats alike.  Currently the largest offshore wind turbine has a generation capacity of 8MW, but projects slated for completion by 2025 will have turbines with capacities between 13 and 15 MW, allowing them to deliver electricity at market prices without subsidies.

A report from the European Commission, prepared by the German research group Öko-Institut e.V., has found that mechanisms that allow countries to offset emissions by purchasing credits linked to green-energy projects in another country via an international market are unlikely to actually reduce emissions and should be phased out.  Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center, a former climate change denier who is now a strong advocate for a carbon tax as a way to reduce emissions, countered anti-tax arguments in a blog post on Thursday.

Southern California Edison has installed a unique system that uses gas turbines in combination with 10MW lithium-ion battery storage units to cover peak loads during summer evenings when solar production is shutting down but electricity demand is up.  The hybrid system reduces greenhouse emissions and cooling water use.  Nevertheless, in the long-term, gas-fired power plants will either have to capture and store their carbon emissions, or they will have to be shut down.  In an earlier Roundup I linked to an article about the partnership between researchers at Colorado State University and Google Street View to map pervasive natural-gas leaks.  Well, this article provides more details about their joint venture.

If you are like me, you may have wondered how we (the U.S.) could have invented solar panels and yet now only have a 2% market share of global solar panel sales.  Well, a new paper in Science Advances studied that question and has some answers that might surprise you, such as financialization of our economy.

Four of the five states with the most net zero energy schools underway in 2016 were in the South — despite low power rates and few policy incentives.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus