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Weekly Roundup 9-22-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Sept. 22, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested. 

For the second time in two weeks, a hurricane (this time Maria) hit the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other islands in the Caribbean, causing major damage to Puerto Rico’s electrical power system.  One thing unique about this year is that four hurricanes in a row have undergone “rapid intensification”, which makes it difficult to properly warn people.  Consequently, Eric Holthaus at Grist wondered if we had entered a new era of tropical storms, while climate scientist Kerry Emanuel argued that our policies have added to the cost of such disastersThe Washington Post fact-checker examined President Trump’s claim that “We’ve had bigger storms than this” when questioned about Harvey and Irma.  While the political climate may make it hard to discuss the impacts of climate change on hurricanes and other storms, one area that people are talking about is resiliency planning and implementation.

In a speech to the U.N. general assembly, British prime minister Theresa May argued that Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement ranks alongside North Korea’s nuclear missile tests as a threat to global prosperity and security.  Meanwhile, Nicaragua announced it will sign the Paris agreement, leaving the U.S. and Syria as the only two countries not participating in the global accord.  On the other hand, President Trump has indicated he might stay in if he can negotiate a better deal for the U.S.  The question is, just how will he do that, particularly in light of French President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that the agreement “will not be renegotiated.”  Brad Plumer of The New York Times addressed the question of what the states can do to fight climate change in the face of President Trump’s plans.

Speaking at a climate change conference hosted by former Secretary of State John Kerry at Yale University, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called for a "price on carbon.”  Also, Arizona Senator John McCain delivered recorded remarks calling for the federal government to act on climate change.  On the other hand, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has asked the Heartland Institute for a list of researchers who have a "non-alarmist" approach to climate science and some of the possible candidates for positions on EPA’s Science Advisory Board have questioned mainstream climate research.

Climate

A new paper in Nature Geoscience examined the possibility of limiting global warming this century to 1.5°C.  In it, the authors state “limiting warming to 1.5°C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation.”  In a guest column at Carbon Brief, senior author Richard Millar concluded “Our results indicate that based on the current understanding of the Earth system, the window for achieving 1.5°C is still narrowly open. If very aggressive mitigation scenarios can be implemented from today onwards, they may be sufficient to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.”  A number of climate scientists were surprised by the results and think that they need additional study to be fully understood.  Unfortunately, some articles in the popular press ignored the main conclusion and focused on another aspect of the work to claim that climate models are overestimating the amount of warming associated with a given level of CO2 emissions.  In a “Factcheck” column at Carbon Brief, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather countered that claim, explaining why it is incorrect, as did Millar and another author of the Nature Geoscience article in a Guardian article.  Finally, four climate scientists critiqued one of the misleading papers at Climate Feedback.

Preliminary figures from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center indicate that Arctic sea ice for 2017 reached its minimum extent on September 13.  The area covered was 4.64 million sq km, the eighth lowest in the satellite record.  According to the UK Met Office, after slightly slowing from 1999-2014, global average surface temperature is once again rising more quickly, due to a “flip” in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from its cool phase to its warm phase.  Meanwhile, Australia had its warmest winter on record.

An article in the journal Science Advances argued that Earth appears to be on course for the start of a sixth mass extinction of life by about 2100 because of the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere.

The New York Times posted answers to 17 questions about climate change that you might find of interest.  However, in a farewell column, journalist Justin Gillis said that the biggest question of all concerning our future climate is how much carbon we will pump into the atmosphere before we take climate change seriously.

Ever heard of kernza, a perennial wheat variety?  I hadn’t, until I listened to this 1.5-minute clip from Yale Climate Connections.  Sounds like it has some very important climate benefits.

Harvey and Irma may not be 2017's deadliest U.S. disaster.  Rather, over the last 30 years, increasingly broiling summer heat has claimed more American lives than flooding, tornadoes, or hurricanes, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.  This raises the question of the link between climate change and extreme weather.

Energy

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has voted 4-0 in favor of proceeding with the Suniva solar panel trade case, having seen enough evidence to convince them that imports are the major cause of injury to U.S. solar manufacturers.  The verdict of the four commissioners means the case will now proceed to the ‘remedy’ phase whereby the ITC will decide what measures, such as tariffs on imported panels, to recommend to the White House, which has the final say.  This article, while primarily about a Wall Street lender, provides some background on the importance of this decision.  And speaking of solar, roofing manufacturer GAF has introduced its own solar roof.

On Tuesday, a coalition of global corporations (EV100 Coalition) launched a campaign to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles.  On the subject of electric vehicles, Mercedes-Benz plans to start producing them in Alabama as part of a $1 billion expansion, which includes a massive new battery production facility near the auto assembly plant.  Electric-bus startup Proterra set a world record by test-driving an electric bus for 1,100 miles on a single charge.  The previous world record was 632 miles for an electric bus and 1,013 for an electric car.  As sales of electric cars and electrical storage systems increase, so will the demand for lithium, an important component of modern battery technology.  This raises the question of the environmental and human costs of lithium mining.  Unfortunately, the answer is not all that encouraging.

A team of engineers from Australian National University has identified 22,000 potential pumped hydro energy storage sites across Australia.  Those sites can be developed to allow up to 100% renewable energy in the Australian grid.  Speaking of storage, a test and demonstration facility operated by South Africa’s main utility Eskom will test Primus Power’s flow batteries.  Primus Power’s EnergyPod2 system utilizes zinc-bromine flow batteries, which can store energy for longer periods than lithium-ion batteries.

In the wake of President Trump’s announcement that he was going to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, many cities pledged to reduce their carbon emissions anyway.  In order to do that, most will have to step up enforcement of their energy efficiency codes for buildings and/or adopt stricter codes.  Sixty-two of the world’s 100 largest companies consistently cut their emissions on an annual basis between 2010 and 2015, with an overall 12% decline during that period, according to a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  In a commentary at HuffPost, Carl Pope, former head of the Sierra Club, summarized U.S. progress on cutting carbon emissions, in spite of the Trump administration.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has taken an important step in regulating the electric power industry in the state by requiring utilities to include the “social costs’’ of carbon when planning future energy resources.  A new report released by Oil Change International, Public Citizen, and the Sierra Club examines how a new wave of gas pipeline construction threatens to shunt serious risks and costs onto utility ratepayers.  In addition, a federal appeals court in Denver told the Bureau of Land Management that its analysis of the climate impacts of four gigantic coal leases was economically "irrational" and needs to be done over.

Westinghouse Electric Company has announced that it is exiting the nuclear reactor construction business.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus