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Weekly Roundup 5-5-2017

Because of the meeting of Elders Climate Action in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and Friday of last week, and the People’s Climate March on Saturday, I was unable to prepare a Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending April 28, 2017.  The Roundup for the week ending May 5 follows.  Because of a commitment this Friday, the Roundup only covers the news through Thursday.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

In case you were unable to attend the People’s Climate March, you might be interested in reading this article about it.  Environmentalist Paul Hawken, has a new book entitled Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reduce Global Warming, in which he offers 100 reasons to hope.  KQED’s Devin Katayama spoke with Hawken about his book.  There was a new development this week in the children’s lawsuit against the federal government.  In March, the Trump administration requested that the federal district court in Oregon allow the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the trial order before the trial even takes place.  On Monday U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin recommended denial of that request.

The New York Times has a new Op-Ed columnist, Bret Stephens, late of The Wall Street JournalWikipedia describes him as being known for “his contrarian views on climate change.”  His first column, “Climate of Complete Certainty,” created quite a stir, including a reaction from a group of climate scientists, but generated a thoughtful response from Andrew Revkin, whose work Stephens mentioned, as well as from climate scientist Ken Caldeira.  They are worth reading.  Meanwhile, writing at Huffington Post, Kate Sheppard discussed the many conservative groups working against climate change.

On Friday of last week, President Trump won a court ruling making it easier for him to rescind the Clean Power Plan.  On the same day, Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Colette Honorable said she will leave the board when her term expires in June.  Currently, only two of the five board positions are filled.  President Trump is appointing Daniel Simmons to head the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  Like several other new appointees, Simmons has questioned the very things his department is charged with doing.  An "unabashed nerd and unapologetic advocate for science and reason" will seek the nomination to challenge Lamar Smith (R, TX) for his seat in Congress.  Meanwhile, the EPA has taken down its climate change website, saying in a statement: "The process, which involves updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership, is intended to ensure that the public can use the website to understand the agency's current efforts."  On Monday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to start formulating a new five-year plan for drilling rights sales in the Arctic Ocean, the mid- and south-Atlantic Coast, and the entire Gulf of Mexico.  On Tuesday, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, petitioned the EPA to reconsider the endangerment finding, which is the basis for the agency’s efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.  The bipartisan budget compromise reached by Congress over the weekend salvaged funding for both the EPA and clean energy research done by the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.  On Wednesday, twelve members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus introduced the Climate Solutions Commission Act.  Finally, a group of carbon tax supporters started running TV ads with the goal of swaying conservatives to the cause.

Climate

So, just what is the consensus within the scientific community on human-caused global warming?  Writing in The Guardian about a commentary in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society by Andy Skuce and coauthors, Dana Nuccitelli (one of the coauthors) argues “It’s most accurate to say that 97% of relevant peer-reviewed studies agree that humans are causing global warming, 99.9% of climate papers don’t reject that theory, and those who deny the overwhelming consensus are peddling misinformation.”

Two papers were published in scientific journals in the past two weeks dealing with trends in the global temperature record.  One, published in Environmental Research Letters, used statistical analysis to answer two questions: (1) whether the high temperatures of the last three years suggest that the rate of warming has increased and (2) whether the preceding years tell us that the rate has slowed.  They concluded that the answer to both questions was no.  Rather, warming has continued at a constant rate since the 1970’s with random, stationary, short-term variability superimposed upon it.  The other, published in Nature, investigated the existence of the so-called hiatus from 1998-2012.  Writing in The Guardian, Graham Readfearn summarized the findings thusly: “So what to make of it all?  The short version is that global warming didn’t stop, scientists knew global temperatures would wobble around and climate scientists aren’t always the best communicators.”

Weekend Edition Sunday had a piece on the Nenana Ice Classic in Alaska, which is a festival celebrating the breakup of the ice on the Tanana River at the town of Nenana.  If you guess the exact date and time of the breakup, you could win big bucks.  Well, this year the breakup occurred at noon on May 1 and you can see a graph of the breakup dates for the 101 years measurements have been made.  Speaking of ice in the north, The New York Times had an article about the impacts of melting sea ice on shipping lanes in the Arctic ocean.

The next decade will be critical in containing global warming to the limits the world has set itself, European researchers warn in the journal Nature Communications.  Furthermore, at least one of the targets stipulated in the Paris Climate Agreement may be unrealistic, according to a second team of European researchers, writing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The death toll caused by extreme rainfall and floods in the South and Midwest U.S. rose to 20, as the impacts of a major slow-moving storm that ravaged the region over the weekend continued to be felt.  In states from Oklahoma to Indiana, record-setting rainfall, tornadoes, and a late-season blizzard wreaked havoc on crops, roads, buildings, and infrastructure.  In addition, April was the 29th month in a row that record high temperatures exceeded record low temperatures in the U.S.

We have known for some time that the narrow strip of tidal marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves along the edge of our oceans are very important.  Now a study published in Frontiers in Ecology in the Environment suggests that with proper management, these zones can be even more effective at storing carbon.  Unfortunately, another study, published in Global Change Biology, has found that coastal marine food webs could be in danger of collapse as a result of rising CO2 levels, which cause both warming and ocean acidification.

Energy

The Guardian published a three-part series on the Keystone XL pipeline route and the people living along it: Part I, Part II, Part III.

In the past I have linked to articles about problems associated with the new nuclear power plants under construction in Georgia and South Carolina and the associated bankruptcy of Westinghouse.  Reuters has an analysis of what went wrong.  Meanwhile, according to a new study by the Global Nexus Initiative, the U.S. is losing global influence to Russia and China by allowing its nuclear power industry to stagnate.

The U.S. wind industry installed 2,000 MW of capacity in the first quarter of 2017, making it the biggest first quarter since 2009.  In addition, there are 9,025 MW of wind projects under construction and an additional 11,952 MW in advanced development, all trying to take advantage of the federal production tax credit that is being phased down from 2017 through 2019.  On Monday, Block Island Power Company began receiving electricity from the U.S.’s first off-shore wind farm and shut down its diesel generators.  Nevertheless, the big question is whether off-shore wind can also be an important part of the energy mix for the coastal U.S.  On-shore wind, on the other hand is well established, to the point that Iowa’s largest utility is investing $3.6 billion in new wind turbines, with the goal of producing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.

On several occasions I have linked to articles about the use of wood biomass as fuel for generating electricity and the controversy surrounding it.  Now, the bill to keep the federal government until the end of the fiscal year directs the agriculture and energy departments to work with the EPA to establish “clean and simple policies” that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy” in most circumstances.

During FY2016/17, India added 6,990 MW of coal-based power capacity, while also adding 5,413 MW of wind energy capacity and 5,526 MW of solar power capacity.  At the end of FY2016/17, the share of renewable energy in India’s total installed capacity was 17.5%.  Also, China added 7,210 MW of solar PV in the first quarter of the year, roughly 70 MW more than in Q1 2016, according to figures from China’s National Energy Administration.

A report by Canada’s National Energy Board said that the country generated 66% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2015, with hydroelectric power accounting for roughly 60% of electricity supply.  And speaking of hydroelectric power, it is surging on the U.S. west coast because of record precipitation this winter.  This has caused California gas demand to drop 34%, which has driven gas prices down.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus