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Weekly Roundup 7-28-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending July 28, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.  I’ll be taking most of August off, so the next Roundup will be for the week ending Sept. 1.

A week ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report about the sidelining of science by the Trump administration.  This week, CAAV member Dave Pruett wrote about the report on Huffington Post.  Perhaps illustrating the point, two prominent skeptics published commentaries this week.  Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, in an article in the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal, argued that the benefits of climate change “are often ignored and under-researched.”  He then listed a variety of “benefits.”  Zahra Hirji at Buzz Feed News had some thoughts on Smith’s ideas.  Justin Haskins, executive editor and research fellow at The Heartland Institute published a commentary in The Blaze giving six reasons he is a climate change skeptic.  Writing in Forbes, Ethan Siegel argued that Haskins’ reasons are “demonstrable falsehoods”.  President Trump is expected to nominate a coal lobbyist and an energy industry attorney for a pair of key posts at the EPA.  Stanford University researcher Benjamin Franta traced the history of the movement to obstruct action on climate change.  Meanwhile, John Holdren, chief science adviser to former president Barack Obama, weighed in on the “red-team/blue-team” idea proposed by EPA head Scott Pruitt.  He called it a “kangaroo court.” 

Richard Heinberg, of the Post Carbon Institute, often writes thought-provoking but scary essays, which is what he has done in this post.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily halted the children’s climate change lawsuit against the Trump administration, following the administration’s petition for a rare review of the district court’s decision to allow the case to move forward.  On Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the state’s new cap and trade legislation into law.  Brad Plumer provided an analysis in The New York Times of what exactly the new law entails.  The U.S. Senate will soon be considering legislation to modernize the nation’s energy policy.  The big question is, how will that square with what the House just passed.  Climate scientist Michael Mann reviewed Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.  Another climate scientist, Kevin Trenberth, recently received the Roger Revelle medal from the American Geophysical Union.

Climate

Some time back I mentioned a new book entitled Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by environmentalist, author, and entrepreneur Paul Hawken.  Yale Environment 360 has an interview with him that explores why he and his team undertook Project Drawdown.  He said they took on the project because with global warming, we have been “focusing too much on the problem instead of the solution.”  Drawdown presents solutions.  Continuing on a positive note, Yale Climate Connections has an interesting article about the many roles the arts play in getting the message out about climate change.

Greenland has been getting a lot of snow this summer.  Andrea Thompson has an interesting piece on Climate Central that explains what is happening there.  Despite that new snow, scientists are still concerned about the darkening of the glaciers by algal growth and thus are studying it.  Arctic sea ice has about 50 days to go before it reaches its minimum extent for the year, but it already has declined sufficiently to cover less area than the average minimum extent in the 1980s.  On the other side of Earth, scientists have discovered one of the events contributing to the melting of Antarctica’s ice shelves.  Apparently, changes in winds along the East Antarctic coast cause sea levels to drop near the coastline, which sets off large-scale waves that travel along the coastline. When these waves hit the steep topography off the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, they pull warm water toward the coast and under the ice shelves.  And speaking of Antarctica, NASA has just released a thermal infrared image of iceberg A68, which recently broke free of the Larsen C ice shelf.  As part of its “Long Read” program, The Guardian has published a piece by Avi Steinberg about NASA’s ten-year old aerial program to document changes in the ice caps on both poles.

The Paris climate agreement set a target of keeping global warming below 2°C compared to preindustrial temperatures.  It did not, however, define “preindustrial.”  Now, a new study published in Nature Climate Change has found that the definition is very important.  If it is defined as late 18th century, rather than late 19th century, that would significantly decrease the budget for future CO2 emissions.  In case you’ve been wondering about summer temperatures during the 21st century, they have indeed been getting warmer, as illustrated by some interesting graphics from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, suggests that “extreme” El Niño events, like the one experienced in 2015/16, could become more frequent as global temperatures rise.  Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, extreme El Niño events could happen twice as often, occurring on average every 10 years.

Most of you are aware of the need to limit nutrient runoff into our streams as a way to minimize algal blooms and their associated dead zones in lakes and coastal regions.  According to a new study published in the journal Science, accomplishing that will become harder as global temperatures increase.  The culprit?  The more extreme rainfall events expected as the world warms.  They will cause greater discharge of nutrients into streams and rivers.

Peatlands store a lot of carbon, preventing it from being released to the atmosphere as CO2.  Surprisingly, relatively little is known about how many peatlands exist on Earth, where exactly they are, and how they function.  Luckily, the scientific community is learning more about them.

Energy

Author, columnist, and commentator Michael Lewis wrote about the Department of Energy and its transition to the Trump administration in a comprehensive piece in Vanity Fair.  You might follow Joe Romm’s frequent advice and put your “head vise” on before reading this article.

Nuclear fusion has the promise of providing the world with limitless electricity, but is so complex that so far it has proven to be impossible to achieve.  This has not kept several organizations from trying, though.  A significant step was recently achieved by Google and Tri Alpha Energy when they developed a new computer algorithm that has significantly speeded up experiments on plasmas.  Of course, today’s nuclear power plants use nuclear fission.  Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins provided 14 reasons while those power plants should not be subsidized.

A study, released on Tuesday by the Energy and Policy Institute, revealed that forty years ago electric utility officials told Congress that the looming problem of climate change might require the world to back away from coal-fired power plants.  Renewable electricity generation will have to increase by 50% by 2030 to meet state requirements for wind, solar and other sources of renewable power, according to a new report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  So how will electric utilities continue to make money in an age of renewable energy?  Well, if the plans of American Electric Power Co. are any indication, it will be by owning the wind and solar farms, as well as the transmission lines, thereby folding them into their rate bases.

Jason Mathers had an interesting blog post about electric vehicles on EDF’s Climate 411.  Getting an independent electric car company up and going is an incredibly difficult task, suggesting few are likely to succeed.  One that apparently is succeeding is Proterra, Inc., an electric bus company that opened its second factory on Wednesday in Los Angeles.  Its first is in Greenville, SC.  And on the subject of automobiles, all sales of new gasoline and diesel cars will cease in the UK by 2040.

In previous Roundups I have provided links to articles about floating wind turbines.  BBC had an update Sunday on the installation of the turbines off the coast of Scotland, which will serve as a test bed for the technology.  Carbon Brief examined the technology in detail.  Speaking of wind turbines, a new engineering analysis has shown that onshore windfarms could be built in the UK for the same cost as new gas-fired power plants and would be nearly half as expensive as nuclear power plants.  In addition, Europe added 6.1GW of new wind power capacity during the first half of the year.  Getting wind farms approved in the U.S. is a bit more difficult than in Europe, it appears.  Ocean City, MD city officials are concerned about the visual effects of a proposed wind farm, even though it will be 17 miles from land.

Aquion Energy, maker of energy storage batteries based on a novel electrolyte with a chemical composition similar to seawater, is back in business following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing earlier this year.

A consortium of Japanese companies plans to launch the world's first hydrogen supply chain demonstration project, part of the country's goal of becoming a "hydrogen society".  Toyota is one of the companies invested in hydrogen fuel cell technology for their vehicles.  At the same time, however, they are also investigating solid-state battery technology for EVs, which would allow them to charge in minutes.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus