Download Adobe Reader

Weekly Roundup 5-12-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending May 12, 2017 follows.  Because last week’s Roundup only covered the news through Thursday, I have included articles from May 5 as well.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted down the Congressional Review Act resolution to eliminate the Obama administration rule on methane emissions from public lands.  Three Republicans joined every Democrat to preserve the rule.  However, after the vote Kate MacGregor, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals, said that the rule is one the department “will suspend, revise or rescind.”  On Wednesday evening, at a meeting of Arctic nations in Alaska, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an agreement recognizing the Paris Climate Agreement, but said President Trump was not rushing to decide whether to leave or weaken U.S. commitments to it.  Rather, he will wait until after the G7 meeting in late May to announce whether the U.S. will pull out of it.  The Chinese have indicated that there will be repercussions if the U.S. pulls out but Joseph Curtin, a member of the Irish Government’s Climate Change Advisory Council, thinks that “It may be better for the US to leave now, and re-join when it is ready to behave like a responsible global citizen.”  President Trump has nominated two people to be commissioners at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  One is Sen. Mitch McConnell’s energy adviser and the other is a Pennsylvania utility commissioner.  “A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change,” is no longer accessible from the EPA website, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.  In her article about it, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, provided a link to it at an archival website.

On several occasions, I have linked to articles mentioning the need for employing “negative emissions” technologies to hold global warming below 1.5°C, and perhaps even 2°C.  Writing at Yale Climate Connections, Daniel Grossman examined the pros and cons associated with proposed technologies.  While adaptation and mitigation have been the focus of past climate change talks, “loss and damage” will be a major focus of this year’s talks in Bonn.  Carbon Brief explained what that term means and how it may be addressed.  Politics intruded on climate science in Australia. The scientists fought back, led by John Church, a leading world expert on sea level rise.  A cautionary tale for the U.S.?

Climate

Although the report was issued in March, it is worth noting again that the Medical Society Consortium has documented the ways in which climate change is already affecting our health, reminding us that it is not just something that will impact future generations.  In another example of the immediate impacts of climate change, at least 17 communities across the U.S. are being forced to relocate.

The West African Sahel is the arid belt of land stretching from the Atlantic to the Red Sea that separates the Sahara Desert from the African savanna.  According to a new paper in the journal Nature, climate change is upsetting rainfall patterns in the region, making catastrophic storms three times more frequent.

You are probably aware that glaciers are melting all over the world because of human-caused climate change.  What you may not be aware of are the many impacts that melting glaciers can have.  Renee Cho has summarized them for “State of the Planet” at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  One place where glaciers have been melting is in Glacier National Park.  A study of its 37 ‘named’ glaciers and two others on U.S. Forest Service land found that only 26 should be classified as glaciers as the other 13 are now too small to count.  Even though I have linked to several articles about the glaciers in West Antarctica, I found the article about Thwaites Glacier by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone to be particularly interesting.

In the Alaskan tundra, permafrost is melting, leading to an increase in CO2 emissions due to microbial decomposition of stored organic matter.  A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science reported that the increase in CO2 emissions exceeds the uptake of CO2 associated with the greening of the tundra from warmer temperatures.

A new paper in Geophysical Research Letters has stated that observed declines in ocean oxygen content are “most likely due to the changes in ocean circulation and mixing associated with the heating of the near-surface waters and the melting of polar ice.”  In addition, the paper stated that “The impact of ocean deoxygenation may be profound.”  Another paper in the same journal investigated the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, a cycle that lasts 10-30 years and affects how much heat is absorbed in the Pacific.  They found that it was in its “cool,” or negative, phase from 2000-2014, but started to switch to its positive or "warm" phase in 2014.  This suggests that Earth will experience accelerated warming for the next 10 to 20 years and could hit the 1.5°C threshold as early as 2025, although some scientists questioned the authors’ assumptions.

Climate justice issues are front and center in Atlantic City, NJ, where Climate Central has found that the impacts of coastal flooding are being borne primarily by low income and socially vulnerable populations.

Energy

Dutch officials have opened a 600 MW offshore wind farm, with 150 turbines 53 miles out in the North Sea.

The Maryland Public Service Commission has given the go-ahead for two off-shore wind projects.  U.S. Wind, a subsidiary of Italian energy and construction company Toto Holdings SpA, plans to build 62 turbines at least 14 miles off the coast of Ocean City, while Skipjack Offshore Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind Holdings LLC, plans to erect 15 turbines at least 20 miles off the coast.  On the subject of wind turbines, a Swedish study has found that each on-shore wind turbine kills 10-15 bats annually and has proposed a remedy.

India will install an estimated 8.8GW of solar energy in 2017 according to the consulting and market research firm Bridge to India.  Meanwhile, in India’s desert state of Rajasthan, power companies Phelan Energy and Avaada Power each offered to charge 4.2¢/kWh of electricity generated from a solar farm they hope to build at an energy park.  Last year’s previous record lowest bid was 6.9¢/kWh.  India’s largest thermal coal power generator currently charges around 5.1¢/kWh.

In March, President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to amend or withdraw the coal leasing program moratorium instituted by the Obama administration.  On Tuesday, the attorneys general of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington filed a lawsuit over implementation of that order, saying it was done without environmental review.  Meanwhile, the coauthor of a Columbia University study on coal’s decline in the U.S. has said “It’s unlikely that those market factors that have reduced coal production over the last five years are going to change in a way that will lead to a recovery in coal production in the years ahead.”

Both China and India have adopted policies that encourage a rapid transition to electric vehicles and this will have a major impact on the long-term demand for gasoline in those countries.

Greenpeace estimates that every hour, China erects a new wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.  According to Beth Gardiner at National Geographic, there are three reasons for this: (1) China’s air pollution is terrible, (2) it fears the impacts of climate change, and (3) it wants to dominate the clean energy market.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a new report entitled Clean Energy Momentum, Ranking State Progress.  California is a clear winner, followed by Vermont.  A report from GTM Research attempted to make sense of the chaotic residential solar market.  Speaking of energy use, a new study has found that U.S. residential energy use has begun to fall, primarily as a result of energy-efficient lighting.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus