Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday, Jan 31

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Democrats Ignore Climate Change in State of the Union Rebuttal

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was the only one to bring up global warming after the second-hottest year on record.


Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) delivers the Democratic rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday (Credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
The Democratic Party omitted any mention of climate change in its rebuttal Tuesday to President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address.

In his speech Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) didn’t bring up global warming, sea-level rise, or the surge in global greenhouse gas emissions, which threaten to become worse as the Republican White House ramps up fossil fuel production to unprecedented levels.

The 37-year-old former prosecutor and grandson of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who was assassinated in 1968, lamented the Trump administration’s “all-out war on environmental protection,” made a passing reference to a “coal miner,” and lionized Americans with the courage to “wade through floodwaters, battle hurricanes, and brave wildfires and mudslides to save a stranger.”

Yet, like Trump, the Democrat neglected critical milestones in the climate crisis in his speech.  Last year marked the world’s second-hottest year on record.  The U.S. racked up a record $306 billion in climate-related damages.  And fossil fuel emissions hit an all-time high as the rate of carbon dioxide pollution began increasing for the first time in three years.

Read more at Democrats Ignore Climate Change in State of the Union Rebuttal

Can Climate Change Feed Extremism?

Flag at sunset (Credit: yaleclimateconnections.org) Click to Enlarge.
Global warming is not just an environmental problem.

Goodman: “It is one of the most serious national security challenges we face.  This is a risk issue.”

Sherri Goodman is a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and a former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security.  She says that in many countries, climate change is already affecting people’s lives.

Goodman: “With rising seas, increasing temperatures, more extreme weather events, more weather variability in general from droughts to floods, it’s creating conditions that make it harder for people to provide food, have clean water, and shelter, and be healthy.”

She says the struggle to meet basic needs can make people desperate and can breed religious and political extremism.  But improving food and water security can help build and maintain social stability in places that struggle with conditions like drought and extreme heat.

So, Goodman says, fighting the impacts of global warming goes hand-in-hand with preventing extremism.

Read original at Can Climate Change Feed Extremism?

Nuclear Power in Crisis:  We Are Entering the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning

Nuclear power is in crisis ‒ as even the most strident nuclear enthusiasts acknowledge ‒ and it is likely that a new era is fast emerging, writes Jim Green, editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.   After a growth spurt from the 1960s to the ’90s, then 20 years of stagnation, the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning is upon us.


Chapelcross nuclear power plant in Scotland was decommissioned in 2007 (Credit: theenergycollective.com) Click to Enlarge.
Last year was supposed to be a good year for nuclear power ‒ the peak of a mini-renaissance resulting from a large number of reactor construction starts in the three years before the Fukushima disaster.  The World Nuclear Association (WNA) anticipated 19 reactor grid connections (start-ups) in 2017 but in fact there were only four start-ups (Chasnupp-4 in Pakistan; Fuqing-4, Yangjiang-4 and Tianwan-3 in China).

The four start-ups were outnumbered by five permanent shut-downs (Kori-1 in South Korea; Oskashamn-1 in Sweden; Gundremmingen-B in Germany; Ohi 1 and 2 in Japan).
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One indication of the industry’s desperation has been the recent willingness of industry bodies (such as the US Nuclear Energy Institute) and supporters (such as former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz) to openly acknowledge the connections between nuclear power and weapons, and using those connections as an argument for increased taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power and the broader ‘civil’ nuclear fuel cycle.  The power/weapons connections are also evident with Saudi Arabia’s plan to introduce nuclear power and the regime’s pursuit of a weapons capability.

There were no commercial reactor construction starts in China in 2017 (though work began on one demonstration fast neutron reactor) and only two in 2016

The biggest disaster for the nuclear industry in 2017 was the bankruptcy filing of Westinghouse ‒ which also came close to bankrupting its parent company Toshiba ‒ and the decision to abandon two partially-built reactors in South Carolina after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion.  As of January 2018, both Westinghouse and Toshiba are still undergoing slow and painful restructuring processes, and both companies are firmly committed to exiting the reactor construction business (but not the nuclear industry altogether).

Another alarming development for the nuclear industry was the slow-down in China.  China Nuclear Engineering Corp, the country’s leading nuclear construction firm, noted in early 2017 that the “Chinese nuclear industry has stepped into a declining cycle” because the “State Council approved very few new-build projects in the past years”.

There were no commercial reactor construction starts in China in 2017 (though work began on one demonstration fast neutron reactor) and only two in 2016.  The pace will pick up but it seems less and less likely that growth in China will make up for the decline in the rest of the world.
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The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning
The ageing of the global reactor fleet isn’t yet a crisis for the industry, but it is heading that way. In many countries with nuclear power, the prospects for new reactors are dim, and rear-guard battles are being fought to extend the lifespans of ageing reactors that are approaching or past their design date.

Read more at Nuclear Power in Crisis:  We Are Entering the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning

UN Makes Open Call for Ideas on Fighting Climate Change

A new portal poses three pressing climate questions, with governments to take part in open talks with those who present answers in May.


 The conference center in Bonn where climate talks will take place in May (Photo Credit: UN Climate Change) Click to Enlarge.
Researchers, campaigners, business leaders, and members of the public have an unprecedented chance to influence UN climate talks in 2018.

In a radical opening up of the process, groups and individuals will present their ideas on climate action directly to government representatives during a meeting in Bonn this May.

The plans are led by Fiji, which holds the rotating presidency of the talks. They draw on Pacific “talanoa” storytelling traditions in a bid to make the process more inclusive.

In an exclusive interview, Fiji’s chief climate diplomat Nazhat Shameem Khan told Climate Home News that one of the major criticisms of the UN process was the lack of connection between those taking action and the UN diplomats.

“Dialogue is the way to start to bridge that gap, both philosophically and substantively,” said Shameem Khan.

In recent years, civil society and businesses have been increasingly encouraged to convene side events at UN climate talks and build coalitions for action.  However, this has largely happened in isolation to intergovernmental negotiations on the legal agreements.

Fiji’s concept for the May meeting is unusual in the extent to which it brings the two worlds together.  There are to be three working groups to address the questions:
  1. Where are we?
  2. Where do we want to go?
  3. How do we get there?
Anyone with answers, whether they represent a government or only themselves, has been invited to submit materials through a portal launched on Friday.  This will stay open all year, as part of the “Talanoa dialogue” culminating in a political moment in Katowice, Poland, in December.

“As long as its relevant to the three questions and as long as the discussions are constructive, they are going to be uploaded,” said Shameem Khan.  “The fact that there is this important input from non-state actors, that is very good not just for increasing levels of passion and dedication, but also I think for focus in the discussion.”

Read more at UN Makes Open Call for Ideas on Fighting Climate Change

Scandinavia Is Home to Heavy-Duty Electric Construction Equipment & Truck Development

NASTA is Norway’s largest distributor of construction equipment, specializing in Hitachi products. In cooperation with several partners, including Siemens and Sintef, it is developing its own 30 inch (76 cm) zero emissions excavator which will feature battery and fuel cell technology. The first prototype will be built on the chassis of an existing Hitachi excavator. (Credit: nasta.no) Click to Enlarge.
Companies in Scandinavia are pushing the development of electric construction equipment and medium-duty trucks forward.  In Norway two companies are working on electric earth moving equipment and in Sweden, Volvo Trucks has announced it will begin selling electric medium-duty delivery trucks in 2019.





Read more at Scandinavia Is Home to Heavy-Duty Electric Construction Equipment & Truck Development

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tuesday, Jan 30

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Rapid Wind and Solar Cost Declines Keep Pushing Fossil Fuel Further from Profitability.  How Low Can They Go?

U.S. utility-scale electric generation capacity retirements 2008-2020 (Credit: EIA) Click to Enlarge.
Rapid cost declines made renewable energy the United States’ cheapest available source of new electricity, without subsidies, in 2017.  In many parts of the U.S., building new wind is cheaper than running existing coal, while nuclear and natural gas aren’t far behind.  As renewable energy costs continue their relentless decline, they keep pushing fossil fuels further from profitability – and neither trend is slowing down.

This dynamic is apparent in the decade spanning 2008-2017, where nearly all retired U.S. power plants were fossil fuel generation, and was capped by utilities announcing 27 coal plant closures totaling 22 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2017.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts coal closures will continue through 2020, potentially setting an all-time annual record in 2018.

Despite Trump Administration actions to improve fossil fuel economics and reduce renewable energy competitiveness, updated levelized cost of energy (LCOE) data and new renewable energy projects show clean energy continues beating fossil fuels on economics, at a faster pace and in more locations than ever before.  So just how low can renewable prices go?

Read more at Rapid Wind and Solar Cost Declines Keep Pushing Fossil Fuel Further from Profitability.  How Low Can They Go?

Young Climate Activists Sue Colombian Government


Young Colombian activists, ranging in age from seven to 26, have sued their government for its deforestation policies. (Credit: De Justicia) Click to Enlarge.
More than two dozen young Colombians have filed a lawsuit against their government for its failure to curb deforestation, arguing it is violating their constitutional rights to a healthy environment by eliminating a carbon sink vital in the fight against climate change, Reuters reported.

The lawsuit, the first climate change litigation in South America, is the latest example of an increase in climate-based legal challenges around the world. Several California cities and New York City have recently filed lawsuits against oil companies for their role in driving climate change; a group of children in the U.S. are suing the government for its decades of pro-fossil fuel policies, which they contend have violated their constitutional rights to “life, liberty, and property;” and two years ago, the Netherlands’ government was ordered by a federal court to reduce its carbon emissions.

Colombia, which has a swath of rainforest the size of Germany and England combined, has a goal of zero-net deforestation by 2020.  But despite this pledge, forest loss has increased in recent years, rising 44 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to Reuters.

“Deforestation is threatening the fundamental rights of those of us who are young today and will face the impacts of climate change the rest of our lives,” the 25 Colombian plaintiffs, whose ages range from seven to 26, said in a joint statement.  “We are at a critical moment given the speed at which deforestation is happening in the Colombian Amazon.  The government’s lack of capacity and planning, as well as its failure to protect the environment, makes the adoption of urgent measures necessary.”

Read more at Young Climate Activists Sue Colombian Government

Natural Gas Killed Coal – Now Renewables and Batteries Are Taking Over

Evolution of the American power grid mix since 1960. (Illustration Credit: Carbon Brief) Click to Enlarge.
Over the past decade, coal has been increasingly replaced by cheaper, cleaner energy sources. US coal power production has dropped by 44% (866 terawatt-hours [TWh]).  It’s been replaced by natural gas (up 45%, or 400 TWh), renewables (up 260%, or 200 TWh), and increased efficiency (the US uses 9%, or 371 TWh less electricity than a decade ago).

In other words, of the 866 TWh of lost coal power production, 46% was picked up by natural gas, 43% by increased efficiency, and 23% by renewables.

Natural gas is an unstable ‘bridge fuel’
While the shift away from coal is a positive development in slowing global warming by cutting carbon pollution, as Joe Romm has detailed for Climate Progress, research indicates that shifting to natural gas squanders most of those gains.  For example, a 2014 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that when natural gas production is abundant, it crowds out both coal and renewables, resulting in little if any climate benefit. Part of the problem is significant methane leakage from natural gas drilling.
...abundant gas consistently results in both less coal and renewable energy use […] the quantity of methane leaked may ultimately determine whether the overall effect is to slightly reduce or actually increase cumulative emissions […] only climate policies bring about a significant reduction in future emissions from US electricity generation … We conclude that increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.
Read more at Natural Gas Killed Coal – Now Renewables and Batteries Are Taking Over

Warming Temperatures May Cause Birds to Shrink

House Sparrow (Credit: Audubon Field Guide) Click to Enlarge.
Biologists have known for a long time that animals living in colder climates tend to have larger bodies, supposedly as an adaptation to reduce heat loss.  However, understanding how temperature affects animals has gained new importance thanks to climate change.  A new study from The Auk:  Ornithological Advances uses European House Sparrows, which have spread into a variety of climates in Australia and New Zealand since their introduction in the mid-19th century, to show that this trend in birds might actually be due to the effects of high temperatures during development -- raising new alarms about how populations might be affected by global warming.

Macquarie University's Samuel Andrew and his colleagues captured and measured approximately 40 adult House Sparrows at each of 30 locations across Australia and New Zealand.  They found that maximum temperatures during the summer, when the birds breed, were a better predictor of adult body size at each location than winter minimum temperatures.  This adds support to the idea that excessive heat during development may affect birds' growth throughout their lives, raising concerns that increasing summer temperatures due to climate change could drive down the average adult body size, with potential effects on the birds' fitness.
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"This paper is an important addition to a growing body of work that is changing our understanding of the relationships between climate and body size.  The big question generated by these results is the extent to which the observed relationship is the outcome of adaptive evolutionary differences among sites as opposed to direct developmental responses to different temperatures.  Interestingly, some of these same authors just published experimental evidence for a direct effect of temperature on growth in another bird species," adds Whitman College's Tim Parker, an expert who was not involved with the research.  "This is not a new idea, but it has been largely ignored by those who have assumed that most morphological variation in birds is due to evolved adaptive variation.  We need more work on the direct effects of temperature variation on development in endotherms."

Read more at Warming Temperatures May Cause Birds to Shrink

Monday, January 29, 2018

Monday, Jan 29

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Half of California’s Vegetation Is at Risk If Emissions Continue at Current Rates

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current levels, roughly half of California’s vegetation will become highly climatically stressed by the end of the century, according to a new study published in the journal Ecosphere.  The stress could threaten the stability of many of the state’s most valuable ecosystems, such as California’s agricultural hub, the Central Valley, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The research found that 61,190 to 75,866 square miles of plants are at risk under current rates of emissions, representing 45 to 56 percent of the state’s natural vegetation. At a more local level, as much as 68 percent of the lands surrounding Los Angeles and San Diego are at risk, the study said.

The study, which examined 30 different vegetation types across the state, warns that these estimates are conservative since they don’t take climate change-fueled increases in wildfire risk or insect attacks into account. Instead, the study only looks at changes in climatic conditions, such as precipitation, drought, and rising temperatures.

The scientists did say that if nations cut their emissions enough to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) or below, the target of the Paris Climate Agreement, it would cut these impacts in half, with just a quarter of the state’s vegetation at risk.

Read more at Half of California’s Vegetation Is at Risk If Emissions Continue at Current Rates

Global Warming Poses Substantial Flood Risk Increase for Central and Western Europe

Europe is expected to see a considerable increase in flood risk in coming years, even under an optimistic climate change scenario of 1.5°C warming compared to pre-industrial levels.  A study assesses flood impacts for three scenarios -- of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C warming -- and finds that most of Central and Western Europe will experience substantial increase in flood risk at all warming levels, and the higher the warming, the higher the risk.  Damage from floods across Europe is projected to more than double, from a 113% average increase if warming is kept to 1.5°C, to 145% under the 3°C scenario.
Europe is expected to see a considerable increase in flood risk in coming years, even under an optimistic climate change scenario of 1.5°C warming compared to pre-industrial levels.

A study assesses flood impacts for three scenarios -- of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C warming -- and finds that most of Central and Western Europe will experience substantial increase in flood risk at all warming levels, and the higher the warming, the higher the risk.

Damage from floods across Europe is projected to more than double, from a 113% average increase if warming is kept to 1.5°C, to 145% under the 3°C scenario.

Read more at Global Warming Poses Substantial Flood Risk Increase for Central and Western Europe

Electric Vehicle Battery Factory Race Heats Up in Europe

NorthVolt battery cell factory RD center (Credit: NorthVolt) Click to Enlarge.
“In February 2016 Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche ruled out investing in battery-cell production for electrified powertrains because supply was already exceeding demand.  ‘The dumbest thing we could do is to add to that overcapacity,’ he said,” as reported by Automotive News Europe on January 2, 2017.

“Less than a year later, Volkswagen Group is signaling the exact opposite concern as it sizes up contenders for one of its biggest contracts in recent history:  cell supplier for cars that will be underpinned by its forthcoming MEB electric platform.  ‘The capacity is not there.  Nobody has the capacity,’ Thomas Sedran, VW’s head of group strategy, said last month of the six largest global cell suppliers competing for the contract.”

What a difference a year makes!  Or perhaps one automaker had a bad estimate of coming demand?  Or perhaps it’s a marketing and communications game?

Mercedes has partnered with SK Innovation and abandoned its own in-house efforts, but as recently as last year, it appeared to take a multiple-source approach.

“Daimler quit making its own cells in December 2015 when it shut down its Li-Tec unit in Germany, citing costs,” Automotive News Europe added.  “Zetsche said that Daimler had the best cell available but that this advantage was worthless because customers couldn’t feel the difference.  Today, Daimler ‘pursues a competitive multiple supplier strategy’ for cells and will concentrate instead on building the pack around them at its Accumotive division in Kamenz, Germany, where it is constructing a second plant.  ‘The intelligence of the battery does not lie in the cell but in the complex battery system,’ Zetsche said.

A major South Korean manufacturer, Reuters noted in August 2017 that “SK Innovation supplies batteries to Mercedes-Benz, South Korea’s Kia Motors as well as China’s BAIC Motor Corp.”

Other reporting from November 2017:  “The South Korean EV battery maker said it is set to break ground on a 840 million-won plant in Hungary in February.  The 430,000-square-meter plant is capable of producing EV cells with a combined 7.5 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year, beginning in 2020.”  That factory entailed an investment of approximately $777 million.

Read more at Electric Vehicle Battery Factory Race Heats Up in Europe

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday, Jan 28

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Reckoning with Climate Change Will Demand Ugly Tradeoffs from Environmentalists — and Everyone Else - by David Roberts

Being a climate hawk is not easy for anyone.

Climate change is a crisis.  Serious damages are already underway, there’s enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to ensure more damages to come, and if carbon emissions continue unchecked, species-threatening damages become a non-trivial risk.

Lots of people acknowledge this.  But it’s one think to acknowledge it and another to really take it on board, to follow all the implications wherever they lead.  Very few people have let the reality of the situation sink in deep enough that it reshapes their values and priorities.  Being a consistent climate hawk, it turns out, is extremely difficult.

Let’s take a look at an example of what I’m talking about, and then pull back to ponder the broader problem.

Zero-carbon energy vs. environmentalists in New England
The operators of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant, the only remaining nuclear plant in Massachusetts, recently announced that they would close the plant no later than June 2019.  It has long been plagued with maintenance and safety issues, and nuclear is having a hard time competing in wholesale energy markets.

Pilgrim is a 690 megawatt plant that has been producing 5.12 terrawatt hours of energy per year — around 4.1 percent of the New England region’s energy.  (These numbers are courtesy of Jesse Jenkins, an energy analyst and MIT PhD candidate, whose tweet thread got me thinking.)

That represents an enormous amount of carbon-free energy about to vanish from the grid, which any climate hawk must surely view with alarm.

Take the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club (SCM).  It proclaims that “climate change is an existential threat.”  But it is not fighting to find new ownership or better safety procedures for the Pilgrim plant, or ways for the plant to be compensated for the lack of CO2 it produces (as in New York).  It advocates that Pilgrim be closed immediately.

OK, well, Pilgrim is a pretty poor performer, safety-wise, so maybe it’s best to replace it as quickly as possible with clean energy.

So how about this idea?  As part of an effort to clean the grid, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has proposed the Northern Pass transmission line, which would bring around 9.45 TWh/year of hydroelectric energy down from dams in Quebec.  That would replace the lost Pilgrim energy and add more carbon-free energy to boot.

SCM ... opposes that too.  “Not only will we be contributing to ecological destruction on a massive scale,” it writes, “we will be furthering the exploitation of the indigenous people of Canada.”

Well then, what does MSC propose doing to replace all that energy from Pilgrim?  Simple:  it advocates getting all that power from renewables.  But there are two problems with that.

First, it would cost more than hydro.  Lots more.  Jenkins pulls together a rough comparison: 
JesseJenkins
Final corrected cost comparison:
-NPV of 20 years of Quebec Hydro MWhs + Northern Pass transmission line construction: ~$4.7-5.9b
-Equivalent MWh from utility-scale solar PV: ~$9b (assuming no grid upgrades)
-Equivalent MWh from rooftop PV: ~$27b (assuming no grid upgrades)
You can quibble about the exact numbers (check the thread for more discussion), but the point is that existing nuclear and hydro are both extremely cheap. Closing off both possibilities raises the cost of decarbonization substantially.

Second, even if New England citizens were willing to pay that much more for energy, even if procurement and construction went perfectly and the region were covered in solar panels, that energy would be replacing the energy lost from Pilgrim (and rejected from Quebec) rather than adding to it.  There would be less progress toward decarbonization in Massachusetts than otherwise possible.

And it wouldn’t even be a one-to-one replacement.  Because it is variable, a MW of sun or wind does not play the same role as a MW or nuclear or hydro; it would have to be backed up by lots of natural gas (or oil).

Yes, it will be possible some day to run an energy grid almost entirely on wind and solar, using demand-shifting and energy storage for the role natural gas (the dominant energy source in the state) plays today.  But Massachusetts needs energy soon, and of the options available, natural gas is the cheapest and most available, so that is, in practice, what’s likely to fill the gap.

In short, losing Pilgrim (and rejecting Northern Pass) would almost certainly result in a net increase in New England carbon emissions.  This isn’t speculation — something similar already happened:  when the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant closed in 2014 (amid promises from environmentalists that it would be replaced by renewables), the region’s energy-sector emissions subsequently increased by 5 percent, after years of decline.

Read more at Reckoning with Climate Change Will Demand Ugly Tradeoffs from Environmentalists — and Everyone Else

Why Climate Change Is Worsening Public Health Problems

Men in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, collect water on Nov. 11, 2017. Years after Hurricane Matthew nearly devastated Haiti, its vulnerability only increases. (Credit: Reuters/Martinez Casares) Click to Enlarge.
Around the world, the health care debate often revolves around access.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, recently announced:  “All roads lead to universal health coverage.”  Discussions for how to translate this vision into a road map for action is central to the agenda of the WHO’s executive board meeting this week in Geneva.

 Yet focusing on access is not enough.  The imperative for access must be paired with a frank acknowledgment that climate change is making communities around the world more vulnerable to ill health.  A 2017 commission of The Lancet, a leading health research journal, tracked the effects of climate change on health and found evidence of harms “far worse that previously understood.”

Even as we move to close the access gap, a string of natural disasters in late 2017, including successive hurricanes and widespread forest fires, threaten to widen the vulnerability gap.

As a global health professional (Sosin) and a cultural anthropologist (Kivland), we have witnessed how the global exchange of health technology, expertise and aid has contributed to dramatic gains in the delivery of health care in Haiti and other settings, especially around infectious diseases.  Yet climate change threatens to undermine the health gains in vulnerable communities across the globe.

As firsthand witnesses to sharp health disparities globally, we argue that world leaders need to insist that any health care strategy must address the social and environmental vulnerabilities driving poor health in the first place.

The health burden of climate change
Climate scientists argue that global warming is exacerbating extreme weather events.  And natural disasters are often the source of health crises, particularly in fragile settings.  Consider the case of Puerto Rico.  The official death toll of the storm was estimated at 64; however, later reports have estimated that the disruption of health care services contributed to upwards of 1,052 deaths on the island.

Lagging recovery efforts have exposed how natural disasters deepen the relationship between socio-economic inequality and health disparity.  In Puerto Rico, where poverty rates are double those of the poorest continental state, people already struggling with illnesses such as diabetes and kidney disease have seen their conditions worsen as the long-crumbling health care system is overwhelmed with patients and neglected by the mainland government.

Read more at Why Climate Change Is Worsening Public Health Problems

The Trouble with Trump Leaving Climate Change to the Military - by David Roberts

An adaptation-only climate strategy will be ugly indeed.


The Army helped distribute food and water in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Late last week, the Pentagon released the unclassified summary version of America’s new National Defense Strategy.  For the first time since 2008, it makes no mention of climate change.

The administration didn’t cite climate change in its National Security Strategy release in December, either.  After that, a bipartisan group of 106 lawmakers begged Trump to reconsider, but at this point, there is no reason to think he or his appointees plan to listen.  At least formally, they plan to ignore climate change in security and military policy.

This neglect has prompted a great deal of agita in the climate community, where the nexus of climate change and national security is intensely studied.  It would be strategically disastrous for the US military to ignore climate change.  Practically speaking, it cannot.

James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral now serving as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, succinctly lays out the reasons the military can’t ignore climate change in this piece.  Scarcity of water and other resources will drive dislocation and conflict, he writes.  Coastal Naval bases are in danger of being inundated by rising seas; the Arctic is melting and opening new areas of geopolitical conflict; the rising cost of climate impacts will squeeze the military budget; and responding to severe weather events will reduce military readiness.

The military is taking climate change seriously because it has to.  Unlike its Commander in Chief, it is not involved in a reality show — it has to deal with actual reality.

When I contemplate the military’s approach to climate change, however, I don’t worry so much that Trump will stop or derail it.  Concern about adapting to climate change is already deeply embedded in the military.  It would take sustained, focused effort to root it out, and thus far the administration has not distinguished itself in the area of sustained, focused effort.

A more likely outcome is that Trump continues to lay waste to domestic regulations and international cooperation on climate, leaving the US with a de facto military-only climate policy.  This is something close to a dystopian outcome, especially if it catches on as the post-denial conservative position on climate.

That’s my worry:  that the terminal gridlock of US domestic politics will leave us with climate policies that do little but prepare us to dominate a more violent and unequal world.

The Department of Defense is still operating under Obama’s Directive 4715.21, which establishes an elaborate, cross-service effort to assess and respond to concerns over “climate adaptation and resilience.”

Climate concerns are expressed in incredibly strong terms in the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law in December by none other than Trump himself (though his administration had little role in shaping it).  The NDAA also establishes a broad review of the vulnerability of military bases and facilities to climate change.

And the concern has sunk into the professional military class.  Trump’s own secretary of defense, James Mattis, was frank about the threat of climate change in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” he wrote.

Trump’s nominee to oversee Navy facilities, Phyllis Bayer, testified to the same committee that she agrees with Mattis and that rising seas and other climate impacts are a top threat to the service.  Trump’s nominee to oversee Air Force installations echoed the warning about “the increasing severity of weather events and sea level rise due to climate change.”

Read more at The Trouble with Trump Leaving Climate Change to the Military

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Saturday, Jan 27

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Utilities Bury More Transmission Lines to Prevent Storm Damage

Facing hurricanes and public opposition to overhead lines, utilities are paying extra to go underground.


Buried Power: A crew from New River Electrical buries 800 meters of transmission cables at a substation in Connecticut.  (Photo Credit:  New River Electrical) Click to Enlarge.
In the past six months, transmission lines have been destroyed by hurricanes in Puerto Rico, singed by wildfires in California, and bitterly opposed by residents in Utah and Pennsylvania who want to stop utilities from building more.

Such problems have grid operators literally thinking deeper.  Increasingly, utilities in the United States and elsewhere are routing power underground.  Puerto Rico’s grid rebuild is a prime example:  A proposal, crafted by an industry-government consortium late last year, calls for “undergrounding” transmission to harden a power system still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Much of the plan’s outlay for transmission—US $4.3 billion—would create hardy overhead circuits interspersed with underground cables in areas where gusts could snap even the strongest lines and towers.  A $601 million line item also provides for a buried high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cable around the territory’s southeast corner, where most big storms strike first.  This underground bypass would create a secure path from the island’s most efficient power plants to the heavily populated area around San Juan.

By heading below ground, transmission grids are following a path laid by their lower-voltage cousins—distribution grids.  In some cities, power distribution occurs entirely out of sight.  This is possible thanks to specialized cables, whose metal conductors are wrapped in cross-linked polyethylene, a heat—stable insulator, as well as metal and polymer layers providing electrical shielding, impermeability to water, and puncture resistance.

Utilities have been slower to bury transmission because of the expense, according to power consultant Ken Hall, a former transmission and distribution director at the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based utility trade group.  Transmission lines operate at higher power levels than distribution lines and generate more heat, which is harder to dissipate underground.

Doing it properly can mean burying up to a dozen cables at a time to carry the current, and specifying thick copper conductors that have lower resistance and generate less heat than the cheaper aluminum employed in overhead lines.  Each cable must be shipped in roughly 1-kilometer-long links and stitched together on-site, adding further to the tab.

Tally it all up, says Hall, and underground transmission costs roughly 5 to 10 times as much per kilometer as overhead circuits.  “Every utility in the United States has underground distribution.  But not every utility has underground transmission,” he notes.
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In the United States utilities have promised to bury lines along nearly one-third of the ­long-disputed 309-kilometer Northern Pass ­project—a set of AC and HVDC links meant to deliver more Canadian hydropower to the northeastern United States.  The intent was to eliminate the “visual impacts” of tall towers and suspended lines on New Hampshire’s White Mountains, which are popular with tourists.  State regulators will vote on the project in February.

Read more at Utilities Bury More Transmission Lines to Prevent Storm Damage

New Jersey, Virginia Take Steps Toward Joining East Coast Carbon Market

As Trump rolls back federal climate policies, states are taking up the challenge to control greenhouse gas emissions themselves.


New Jersey's new governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, plans to bring his state back into RGGI, the East Coast's carbon trading market. (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
With federal policies to control greenhouse gas emissions in limbo, more states are taking steps toward putting a price on carbon pollution.

New Jersey moved closer to re-joining the East Coast's carbon cap-and-trade system this week when the state Senate's Environment and Energy Committee passed a bill to restore the state's role in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI, the nation's first cap-and-trade program, launched in 2009.

Newly elected Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to support the bill.  His predecessor, Chris Christie, had pulled the state out as he positioned himself to run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Virginia, another swing state where Democrats have strengthened their hand, is also looking to join RGGI.  If that happens, the addition would increase the size of the carbon market by more than 40 percent due to the large number of coal-fired power plants in the state.  But legislative action there on carbon emissions hit a stumbling block in a committee vote this week, indicating that political support there is shakier.

Read more at New Jersey, Virginia Take Steps Toward Joining East Coast Carbon Market

A Primer for Understanding Climate Science

MIT Professor Kerry Emanuel explains the science behind climate change, as well as the associated risks and how to quantify them.


"Climate Science and Climate Risk: A Primer" by Kerry Emanuel is written for nonscientists. (Image Credit: Oceans at MIT) Click to Enlarge.
Climate science and threats from climate change have been hot topics of conversation amongst the public as well as business and political leaders.  And despite the fact that more than 90 percent of climate scientists attribute the majority of global mean temperature increase over the last few decades to human activity and warn that continued warming poses risks for mankind, doubt and misconceptions remain pervasive.  This ultimately hampers efforts to improve the scientific field around climate and to develop effective solutions and policies to mitigate risks. 

Now, a primer from Kerry Emanuel, climate scientist and hurricane expert in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences’ (EAPS) Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate (PAOC), explains how climate metrics and dynamics are evaluated, and why climate action today is important for our future.  Addressing some common questions about the field of study, Emanuel summarizes evidence for anthropogenic climate change, confronts some of the stickier questions behind uncertainty in climate projections, and discusses particular risks entailed by climate change and how they are quantified.

Emanuel worked with Larry Linden, an MIT alum and president of the Linden Trust, on how best to structure the scientific information and provide a socioeconomic case for climate action.  Using accessible language, they decided to write it for an audience of intelligent nonscientists who want to learn more about the science.  “What he’s [Linden] really trying to do is to get business leaders in particular, and some political leaders like moderate republicans to advance this issue,” Emanuel says.  “Larry thought it would be handy to have a climate primer to help people like these get the background they need to persuade others.”

Read more at A Primer for Understanding Climate Science

Is Nuclear Power Really that Expensive? - By Nathanael Johnson

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.  (Credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
There are dozens of dimensions in the arguments for and against nuclear energy as a source of clean electricity.  But there’s one aspect that trumps all the rest:  cost.

We don’t have to wade into the fights over safety or waste disposal if we can just compare the price of nuclear to the price of renewables.  Nuclear averages between $112 and $183 per megawatt hour; utility-scale solar and wind ranges from $30 to $60 per MWh.  Nuclear simply isn’t worth the money, right?  Not so fast.  Those numbers include the cost of building a new plant, which is really what makes nuclear expensive.  What if we’re talking about existing nuclear, instead?

I’ve never been able to figure out the price of existing nuclear generation, because smart people I respect use wildly different numbers.  So I set out to discover what was going on.  As I asked around about this, I focused on one power plant as a case study:  Diablo Canyon, which provides 9 percent of California’s power and has been slated for closure in 2024.  The anti-Diablo crowd says it would be cheaper to close it down and spend the money we save on wind and solar.  Pro-Diablo enviros say that the plant is cheap since it’s already built.

So, who’s right?
Anti-nuclear environmentalists are right that Diablo Canyon will be cheaper to shut down rather than keep open in the long term.  But pro-nuclear environmentalists are right that it’s political choices that will make the plant expensive.

Let me explain:

Right now, Diablo Canyon power is cheap, but that’s likely to change
Lucas Davis, an energy economist at University of California at Berkeley, told me that because Californians have already paid for Diablo Canyons construction, the cost of producing electricity is probably around $27 per megawatt hour — the cost of salaries, fuel, waste management, and all the other operating expenses.  That’s pretty cheap!  Pro-Diablo people like to quote some version of that price.

However, costs will rise if it doesn’t shut down in 2024 as planned.  A California regulatory committee has required the plant to build a multi-billion dollar water-recycling system, so that it doesn’t kill fish eggs when it draws water out of the ocean.  Building the cooling towers to reuse the water would drive up prices.  Anti-Diablo people like to quote some version of a price (like $70 MWh) that includes this.

The other economic bullet aimed at Diablo Canyon is renewable energy.  Californians aren’t using any more electricity each year, and the state keeps subsidizing more renewable power.  As any economics student knows, adding supply without expanding demand leads to lower prices.  That’s making it harder for older power plants to compete.

Read more at Is Nuclear Power Really that Expensive?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday, Jan 26

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

North of Lake Tahoe, the Pika Has Gone Locally Extinct

The animal is vulnerable to hotter summer temperatures.


Pika (Credit: Mark Knapp/ChavoBart Digital Media) Click to Enlarge.
The region north of Lake Tahoe, California used to provide the perfect habitat for a cute, rabbit-like critter called a pika.  But not anymore.

Stewart:  “Pikas have gone locally extinct within that area.”

That’s Joseph Stewart at the University of California-Santa Cruz.  For the last several years, he’s searched a 64 square mile area, looking for signs of Pikas and finding none.

Stewart:  “It’s the largest area of pika extirpation documented in in the modern era.”

He says global warming is to blame.  Pikas are adapted for the cold, with high metabolisms and thick fur covering them from the bottoms of their feet to the insides of their ears.

Stewart:  “These same adaptations that allow them to survive during the wintertime also make them very vulnerable to overheating in the summertime.”

So as summers get warmer, pikas spend more time hiding underground to escape the heat and less time foraging for the food that keeps them alive through the winter.

He says the disappearance of pikas in this area is just one example of how climate change threatens wildlife.

Stewart:  “If we don’t rein in climate change pollution, about one in six species on earth are vulnerable to extinction this century.”

Read original at North of Lake Tahoe, the Pika Has Gone Locally Extinct