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Weekly Roundup 5-19-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending May 19, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested. 

President Donald Trump’s threat to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement united envoys from much of the rest of the world gathered in Bonn, Germany, making them unusually cooperative in reaching a deal.  Meanwhile, Republican governors Philip Scott of Vermont and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts urged U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to ensure the United States does not withdraw from the agreement.  However, at the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, AK, last minute changes to the intergovernmental declaration requested by the U.S. weakened it, according to a document obtained by Inside Climate News.  President Trump is planning to nominate a non-scientist to the top scientific position at the Department of Agriculture.  The Trump administration is seeking to indefinitely postpone a decision on litigation over the Clean Power Plan (CPP), but a coalition of environmental groups, states supporting the CPP, clean energy groups, and sympathetic utilities filed separate briefs on Monday asking the court to issue a ruling in the lawsuit.  In spite of the positions of the Trump administration, don’t despair; National Geographic has provided six reasons why climate progress will continue.

On Wednesday, Ted Halstead, head of the Climate Leadership Council and champion of the “Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends”, released a video of a TED talk that he taped in April.  The Carbon Tax Center has provided an edited transcript of the talk along with a link to the video.  Perhaps the time is getting ripe for a carbon tax, at least at the state level, as legislators in at least five states have introduced proposals that would place a price on carbon in the form of a tax or fee.

Climate

In a report published Thursday in the journal Earth’s Future, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany stated that a proposal to mitigate climate change by planting fast-growing trees and plants that can be burned for electricity, with the carbon they release being captured and stored, is not “realistic and feasible.”

Justine Gillis of The New York Times accompanied a Columbia University team of scientists on an aerial expedition to Antarctica late last year and has written a three part series about why the expedition went.  The graphics and video are very interesting, but did not work in Chrome for me, although they did in Microsoft Edge.  I did not try other browsers.  Theory predicts that Earth’s poles should warm faster than the global average as CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase.  Observations show that this is true for the Arctic, but not for the Antarctic.  There are several possible reasons for this, but new research, published in the journal Earth Systems Dynamics, suggests that an important one is the higher elevation of Antarctica.  Robert McSweeney of Carbon Brief summarized the new research and explained how it fits with other possible explanations.  Finally, a new paper in the journal Current Biology documented an increase in moss growth in Antarctica, demonstrating that the impacts of global warming there are not limited to ice melt.

New research published in the journal Scientific Reports warns that just a small amount of sea level rise can double the risk of coastal flooding from large waves and storm surge.  The most at-risk areas are in the low latitudes, where tidal ranges are smaller, making sea level rise proportionally more significant.

Trees are very good at removing CO2 from the atmosphere; the problem lies in their death and decay, which sends the CO2 back to the atmosphere.  But, what if one could harvest the wood (sustainably) and use it in a way that tied up its carbon for a long time?  According to Canada’s Wood Innovation and Design Centre, there is; use it in wooden skyscrapers, substituting wood for carbon-intensive concrete and steel.  Speaking of trees, a study, published in Science Advances on Wednesday, has found that about three-quarters of tree species common to eastern American forests have shifted their population centers west since 1980. More than half of the species studied also moved northward during the same period.  The reasons for the westward movement are unclear.

In the report released on Tuesday, scientists from UC Davis and CalTrout, a conservation group, warned that nearly half of California’s types of native salmon, steelhead, and trout will go extinct within 50 years unless environmental trends, including climate change, are reversed.  Meanwhile, on the other coast, Ted Williams wrote at Yale Environment 360 about Delaware Bay, which provides a case study in how warming oceans, more severe storms, and sea-level rise are impacting estuaries around the world.

Scientists have only recently discovered that coral reefs around the Chagos Archipelago, a collection of around 60 small islands in the Indian Ocean, have undergone significant bleaching and death, similar to what occurred on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia in 2016.  Concerning the latter, a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that there is an 87% chance that sea surface temperatures as high as those recorded in 2016 could occur around the reef in any given year in a 2°C warmer world.

Two recent studies, one in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change and the other in the journal Environmental Research Letters, have both concluded that climate change will have major negative impacts on the yields of staple grain crops between now and the end of the century.  In a study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists found that climate change and associated season creep are throwing off the migratory patterns of songbirds and possibly jeopardizing their survival.  Nine species are having a particularly difficult time adapting to the new circumstances.

Both NASA and NOAA have reported that April 2017 was the second hottest April on record.  In addition, NOAA has reported that the year-to-date ranks as the 2nd-warmest January through April period, behind the same time period last year.

Energy

Even though lithium-ion batteries are the current mainstay for applications from cell phones to electric vehicles, they have drawbacks, such as the flammability of the electrolyte and the sourcing of lithium.  Consequently, there is great interest in an alternative.  Now, scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have discovered a way around a major problem associated with zinc-based batteries, which have several advantages over lithium-ion batteries, potentially clearing the way for their commercialization.  On the subject of batteries, Tesla and Vermont utility Green Mountain Power are offering home backup batteries for a very low monthly cost because the utility will receive grid benefits through use of Tesla’s GridLogic software.

India's cabinet approved plans on Wednesday to build 10 nuclear reactors with a combined electrical generating capacity of 7,000 MW.  This is in addition to an installed nuclear capacity of 6,780 MW and another 6,700 MW under construction for completion by 2021-22.  This is occurring in spite of the apparent decline of nuclear energy in the West.  With a few caveats, utility owner Southern Co. agreed to take the lead from bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co. on building two nuclear reactors at its Vogtle power plant in Georgia as soon as next month.

According to Energy Department budget documents obtained by Axios, the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which funds research on advanced vehicles and other aspects of clean energy, would face a roughly 70% cut in 2018, while the Fossil Energy Research and Development program, which conducts research on carbon capture and storage, would face a 55% cut.  However, on Thursday six Republican senators, four of whom are appropriators, sent President Trump a letter stating in part: “We urge you to continue to invest in the Department of Energy’s research and development programs in fiscal year 2018.”  In spite of efforts by the Trump administration to reduce initiatives on renewable energy, it will almost certainly fail to bring jobs back to coal country or dramatically boost coal production, according to a report released by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Are they finally coming?  Neal Boudette of The New York Times examined fuel cell cars and the filling stations required to keep them going.  One thing he didn’t mention, however, is the source of the hydrogen, which may not necessarily be green.  Speaking of disruptive technologies, Stanford economist Tony Seba forecast that the entire market for land transport will switch to electrification within eight years.  While this may not happen as early as he predicted in the West, it may come closer to happening in China and India.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency provided seed grant funding for 12 large-scale solar energy farms and all 12 have now leveraged that funding to become fully financed.  In addition, they have received all regulatory and grid connection approvals required for them to move forward with construction.  When completed, the 12 solar farms will provide enough electricity to power 150,000 homes.  On the topic of renewable energy, China and India have surpassed the U.S. to become the two most attractive countries for renewable energy investment.  Furthermore, they are set to beat their pledges to the Paris Climate Agreement, according to an updated analysis of their climate policies.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus