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Weekly Roundup 9-8-2017

The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending Sept. 8, 2017 follows.  Please forward the URL to anyone you think might be interested.

Once again, hurricanes were the major news items this week, with three hurricanes simultaneously in the Atlantic for the first time in seven years.  Irma was moving through the Caribbean and heading toward Florida as I wrapped up this week’s Roundup.  Ironically, its formation and strength may have been associated with the failure of El Niño to form in the Pacific.  Many are concerned that multiple large hurricanes represent the new normal.  Writing at Inside Climate News, Sabrina Shankman addressed six questions about Irma, Harvey, and climate change, including whether the U.S. had experienced a hurricane “drought”.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post examined the question of the “drought” in more detail while Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic explained the difficulties of hurricane forecasting.  Nothing seems to have swayed climate change deniers, who remained steadfast in their denial.  Climate scientist Michael Mann and colleagues wrote an opinion piece in the Post calling for sensible policies to protect citizens in the face of climate change and two Stanford scientists published an opinion piece in The New York Times outlining the lessons we should learn from HarveyAxios presented an interesting graphic summarizing all of the Atlantic hurricanes over the past 30 years.  It helps put things in perspective.  Finally, writing at the World Resources Institute, Christina Chan and James DeWeese discussed how Houston can rebuild with resilience.  Such ideas may prove important for many cities.

As hurricanes continued to dominate the news, it is interesting to note that a paper in the journal Climatic Change estimated the fraction of the current rises in global average temperature and sea level that can be attributed to the CO2 and methane emissions from the 90 major fossil fuel and cement producing companies.  In an accompanying commentary, Henry Shue, Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Relations, and Senior Research Fellow Emeritus at Merton College, Oxford, concludes that "The time has come for the major carbon producers to face the reality of the unsafe products they persist in marketing and the safer world they could help to create.  Otherwise, they risk turning themselves into enemies of humanity."  Two of the authors of the paper wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian calling for the fossil fuel industry to pay for the impacts of storms like Harvey.  If hurricanes exacerbate your climate anxiety, then you should read Eve Andrews article in Grist about how to manage it.

If you can stand to read it, the article by Washington Post investigative reporter Robert O’Harrow, Jr. will tell you a lot about the people who worked to get the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord.  Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16 to 14 to restore funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change in the State Department appropriations bill.  The House’s version of the State funding bill does not fund the U.N. climate agency, so the two will have to negotiate regarding the final outcome.  President Trump has nominated three-term Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to oversee NASA, a job that often goes to astronauts or scientists.  He faces a contentious Senate confirmation over his past comments dismissive of climate change as a man-made problem.  If you would like some positive political news, then read this article about the respectful approach taken by Citizens’ Climate Lobby in its work on behalf of a carbon fee and dividend as a solution to climate change.

Climate

If you have a child (or grandchild) in school who is beginning to learn about climate and climate change, then you might look at this article about teachers and the challenges they face teaching about it.  The article mentions some really good resources that you might pass on. 

The libertarian Niskanen Center filed an amicus brief in the 9th Circuit Court case Juliana vs United States, or the “Children’s Climate Case.”  The brief supports the lower court’s finding under the public trust doctrine and argues that the government’s responsibility extends to climate change.

A new paper published in the journal Science Advances reported on the fate of parasites in a warming world.  The study found that many parasites could face extinction, which sounds like a good thing, except that the loss of parasites could destabilize many of the world’s ecosystems.  On the subject of ecosystems, a study carried out by experts from the British Antarctic Survey found that as the Antarctic seafloor warms over the next century, four out of five marine species living there are predicted to decline in numbers.

While California has experienced its hottest summer on record, at least 81 large fires were blazing across 1.5 million acres of the U.S. West, from Colorado to California and north to Washington.  Meanwhile, across the Canadian border, British Columbia has already had a record-breaking fire season.  This raises the question of whether climate change is making the wildfire season longer and more intense through increased drought.  Certainly, this year’s flash drought is having a big impact on agriculture across Montana and North Dakota.

Previously, I have provided articles about a link between climate change and the Syrian civil war.  The evidence for such a link came from a 2015 paper that suggested that a severe drought beginning in 2006 acted as a catalyst for the conflict by sparking vast waves of migration, and that climate change made such droughts in the region more than twice as likely.  Now, a new paper in Political Geography disputes that link, finding that there is "no clear evidence" that human-driven climate change contributed to the 2006 drought.

Initial figures suggest that Greenland may have gained a small amount of ice over the 2016-17 year.  If confirmed, this would mark a one-year blip in the long-term trend of year-on-year declines over recent decades.

Energy

Jaguar Land Rover announced that all new cars produced from 2020 will have only hybrid and electric drive trains.  The article also contains a section on the state of electric cars.  Nissan has introduced a new version of the all-electric Leaf.  It is rated for 248 miles in Japan, 235 miles in Europe, but only 150 miles in the US, due to different range tests for electric vehicles in different countries.  And next month Tesla plans to unveil an electric big-rig truck with a working range of 200 to 300 miles, Reuters has learned.  Meanwhile, Scotland announced plans to end the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2032 and fast-track the development of a country-wide charging network for electric vehicles.

A 4.5GW solar-thermal project planned in the Tunisian desert would send electricity to Malta, Italy, and France using submarine cables in the largest energy export project since the abandoned Desertec initiative.

A new poll by researchers at the University of Michigan found strong support among Americans for net metering policies for homeowners with solar panels or wind turbines. 

Fully 80% of energy company respondents to a survey indicated that they are currently implementing or considering energy storage to defer grid investments.  When people think about energy storage, they typically think about batteries and indeed, a record number of such systems was installed in the second quarter of this year.  However, under certain applications thermal energy storage makes more sense than batteries, even though it is less well known.  Writing for Greentech Media, Julian Spector provided an interesting tutorial on the technology.  One method not covered in Spector’s article is storing excess energy as heat in silicon, but it is discussed in this article.  Another type of energy storage is conversion of excess electricity to hydrogen, which is covered here.

Air conditioning is expected to use a greater amount of energy as the world warms and more people use it.  Thus, it is heartening to note that Stanford engineers have come up with a simple, passive radiative system to improve air conditioning efficiencyThis short article gives a more complete picture of its construction.

Early next year, a tanker owned by Maersk and a passenger ship owned by Viking Line will be outfitted with rotor sails developed by Norsepower Oy Ltd., based on an idea of German engineer Anton Flettner in the early 20th century.  If all goes as expected, the sails will reduce fuel consumption by around 10%.

Les Grady
R. A. Bowen Professor Emeritus