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Weekly Roundup 6-9-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending June 9, 2017 follows.  Please forward the Roundup to anyone you think might be interested.  For an archive of prior posts visit the CAAV website.  It also contains news of events in the Central Shenandoah Valley as well as activities in which CAAV is involved.

Although it is an opinion piece and should be read as such, the blog post by Jerry Taylor of the Libertarian Niskanen Center lays out clearly the irrationality of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.  As to why that irrationality prevailed, several authors expressed opinions: Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money, in The New Yorker; Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton in The New York Times; and Naomi Oreskes in The Guardian.  Also, Marianne Lavelle, writing at Inside Climate News, analyzed the five shades of climate denial on display at the White House.  The article has a great graphic.  Pushback against the decision has come from many places, with 12 states, 279 cities, and hundreds of companies, universities, and organizations vowing to meet the U.S. pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by the year 2025.  Michael Bloomberg promised to provide up to $15 million of his own money to pay the U.S. share of the operating costs of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.  On Tuesday, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law aligning itself with the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Paris Agreement.  In addition, the U.S.’s top diplomat in China resigned his position over the withdrawal and a former EPA administrator said that if the U.S. is going to withdraw, it should just get out of the way and not interfere in future negotiations regarding the agreement.

In an interview on Breitbart News on Monday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt voiced support for a “red team-blue team” exercise to debate key climate science issues.  Marianne Lavelle fact-checked his defense of President Trump’s withdrawal from Paris, while The World Resources Institute fact-checked President Trump on climate finance.  On Tuesday, President Trump nominated Jeffrey Bossert Clark to serve as the Justice Department's top environmental lawyer.  Bossert has repeatedly challenged the scientific foundations of U.S. climate policy and was part of a legal team that represented BP in lawsuits stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.  It is worth noting that as of June 6 President Trump had only nominated persons to fill 7 of 46 top science posts that require Senate confirmation.

Climate

In his announcement of his plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, President Trump claimed the Agreement would avoid just 0.2°C of warming.  Writing at Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather analyzed that assertion, providing evidence that it is incorrect and that the Agreement would avoid around 1°C of warming compared to a business-as-usual scenario.  Carbon Brief also analyzed the impact of the U.S. withdrawal on future global temperatures.

A new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, has found that along all of the US coastline, the average risk of a 100-year flood will increase 40-fold by 2050 under a business-as-usual emissions scenario.  However, the range of increases was from 1- to 1314-fold, depending on location.

Polar bears must continually move to stay in their territory because of the constant movement of the sea ice beneath them.  As sea ice has thinned due to global warming, it has begun to move faster.  This requires the bears to move faster, expending more energy.  As a result, they must find more food, and this is a challenge.  And speaking if Arctic ice, Annie Sneed interviewed two experts to learn how changes in this northern region are driving the oceans to new heights.

Research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that increasingly strong summer storms in the midwestern U.S. will penetrate the stratosphere and result in the increased depletion of ozone, thereby reducing its protection against UV radiation in sunlight.  Another paper in PNAS studied the impacts of Greenland melting, under a business-as-usual emission scenario, on the flow of the Gulf Stream, and its subsequent effect on weather in the Sahel of Africa.  They found that with a meter or more of sea level rise, a significant decrease in precipitation would occur in the western Sahel, with up to a 30% reduction in rainfall between the years 2030 and 2060.  This would have a devastating effect on agriculture.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances found that the probability of India experiencing a major heatwave with over 100 deaths has increased by 146% since 1960, despite just a 0.5°C increase in average temperatures in India.

Another study, this one in Environmental Research Letters, has found that many places on Earth face new climates as temperatures rise.  At 2°C of warming, about 21% of Earth’s land area would see climates that are different from anything observed anywhere today.  At 1.5°C of warming, this drops to about 15%, but at 4°C of warming this increases to more than a third of the global land surface (34-44%).

Energy

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that meeting the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement is technically feasible with existing technologies and those in development, without the need for breakthrough innovation.  However, this requires “net zero” emissions by 2060, resulting in many fossil-fueled power plants being closed before they reach the end of their natural life, causing lost earnings and creating “stranded assets”.  The IEA also said that only three out of 26 assessed technologies - electric vehicles, energy storage and mature variable renewables (solar PV and onshore wind) - are on track to meet climate targets.

One of the things that has been driving the cost of wind energy down is the increasing capacity of offshore wind turbines.  The latest increase has come from Vestas, which launched a 9.5 MW offshore turbine this week.  Another factor decreasing costs is increased reliability.  In the 1990s, the expected lifetime of offshore wind parks was only 15 years; now it is closer to 25 years.  A new report from McKinsey & Company has found that several factors are driving down the cost of offshore wind energy in Europe, making it at grid parity without subsidies.  Meanwhile, on Tuesday in London, the energy ministers from Germany, Denmark, and Belgium joined chief executives from 25 companies to issue a statement pledging to work together to install 60 GW of new offshore wind power next decade, more than five times existing capacity.

President Trump’s budget has proposed cuts of 36.5% in nuclear research, 58% in fossil fuel technology, and 35% in science and energy innovation.  It has also proposed elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy.  Now, a group of business leaders has urged Congress to “invest in America’s economic and energy future by funding vital programs in energy research and development at the Department of Energy.”  Trump’s budget also called for a 77% cut in carbon capture and storage research funding.  Coal company executives are calling on Congress to save that program as well.  A new report from the CNA Military Advisory Board has warned that the U.S. has fallen behind its rivals in developing new, clean energy technology, posing a major risk to long-term security.  Finally, both President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt are on record warning the American people that if coal power continues to decline, the lights could go out.  However, experience and research suggest that is an exaggeration.

There will likely always be a need for liquid fuels, such as for airplanes.  One idea is to create those fuels by taking CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into fuel.  Then, when the fuel is burned the CO2 will be returned to the atmosphere, from which it can be removed again to form more fuel.  The problem with this scheme is the energy required to convert the CO2 and the high costs of the catalysts involved.  Now, Swiss researchers have found a way to convert CO2 using sunlight and a catalyst made of inexpensive copper and tin, and at twice the efficiency of previous efforts.

The U.S. solar market added 2,044 MW of new capacity in the first quarter of 2017, with utility-scale system prices dropping below the $1 per watt barrier for the first time.  However, industry analysts have forecast that U.S. solar installations will fall 16% this year.

If you’ve been thinking of buying an electric vehicle (EV) or a plug-in hybrid, the Union of Concerned Scientists has a new version of its report on EV global warming emissions.  If you have a particular vehicle in mind, you can check out its emissions with their EV emissions tool.

The first quarter of 2017 was the biggest in history for the U.S. energy storage market, according to GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association’s latest report.  At the June 6 meeting of Tesla shareholders, Elon Musk announced that the company would be building at least 10 more Gigafactories.  But what do you use if the amount of energy that must be stored is larger than batteries can provide?  Diane Cardwell reviewed the options in The New York Times, with great graphics by Andrew Roberts.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus