February 28 2019

February 28 2019

fossil-fuel power plants closing in California and Tennessee, electric vehicles advancing in Norway, our exceptional drought is over (for now), let’s not worry about “fake moos”

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has decided to close three natural-gas power plants earlier than expected as part of its effort to reduce carbon emissions, according to the Los Angeles Times. InsideClimate News reports that, despite pleas from Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, President Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Tennessee Valley Authority Board voted to close two large coal-fired power plants. The plants have outlived their useful lifetimes, and TVA will reduce cost to ratepayers by closing them down. The support from the President was attributed to the fact that the source of coal for the plants is Murray Energy, owned by Trump supporter Robert Murray. These plant closures are the type of actions that will be required to help achieve emissions reduction goals.

The New York Times reports on how the Swiss are planning for the impact of melting glaciers on hydropower, which currently provides 60% of Switzerland’s electricity. Thinking ahead, they have identified a suitable spot for a hydroelectric facility below the Oberaletsch glacier’s leading edge, but it is currently covered by up to 650 feet of ice. This site is projected to be the end of a lake by mid-century, and engineers have proposed tunneling up to the site to connect the future lake to a power plant. This is an excellent example of planning with climate change in mind.

Axios reports on the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) occurring in Norway, where demand for EVs has exceeded their supply. Last year, over one-third of new cars sold were EVs, and consumers may wait over a year for their new car. This shift is attributed to a variety of programs to encourage switching to EVs, combined with the positive experience of EV owners. The New York Times looks at how much the U.S. could reduce carbon emissions by adopting seven aggressive policies from around the world (including Norway’s EV program).

The Washington Post reviews the recent evidence that hurricanes are strengthening much more quickly than in the past as the ocean warms due to climate change. From 1982 to 2009 the percentage of Atlantic storms that rapidly intensified tripled, and researchers think their results would have been even more dramatic if the last several years had also been part of their study (e.g., Hurricanes Michael, Irma, Maria, Harvey and Florence).

The first hearing held by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology under new chair, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), focused on climate change, reports the Washington Post. What was remarkable is that most of the Republicans on the Committee indicated that they accept the conclusion that humans are causing climate change, a significant shift in public posture that reflects changing attitudes among voters.

Yale e360 continues its excellent five-part series on the Colorado River with a look at water planning and conservation in Phoenix. The city has taken extraordinary measures to conserve and reuse water, and per capita use of water has declined by 30% over the last 20 years. Phoenix still faces water supply challenges due to climate change, including the projected reduction of diversions from the Colorado. This reality is further complicated by the denial of climate change by many state and local politicians.

An op-ed at CNN by Columbia Professor Geoff Heal notes that implementing the Green New Deal is not as expensive as one might think (less than 0.2% of GDP). The key point is that we need wise investment in infrastructure to drive the transition; building what we’ve always built won’t be productive in our climate-changed world. The Atlantic reviews the concept of a Green New Deal in a historical context as a renewal of American industrial policy.

The Guardian reports on the real estate market in south Florida, which is still booming ($68 million will get you a new penthouse) despite the obvious threat of sea level rise. Awareness that this market is unsustainable is growing, however, and when the shift comes it is going to be painful (I noted in a previous post that the market is like a game of musical chairs). One developer is quoted saying, “I’m worried we’re one bad storm away from a rush for the exits.” The New York Times has an op-ed about investments underway to make the City of Miami more resilient to sea level rise (one author is the mayor). Also in the Guardian is an article about how climate change (including the impacts from Hurricane Michael last year) is causing a re-thinking about crop selection among farmers in northern Florida.

An op-ed in the New York Times considers the actual climate path we are on (3-4°C warming by 2100), and concludes that it is, in fact, time to panic. The author argues that fear is an important motivator for humans. The Times profiles 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who told attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos that she wants them to panic. A Times editorial describes the value of the Green New Deal.

The Los Angeles Times reports that snow levels in the Sierra Nevada have already surpassed normal for the April 1 benchmark due to our abnormally wet February (which is getting wetter this week!). None of the state is now considered to be in exceptional drought conditions, compared to 41% in that condition in 2015.

Marshall Shepherd (past President of the American Meteorological Society) has a great piece in Forbes reviewing 11 common claims made by those who dismiss climate change. This is an excellent and concise review of some of the most common and erroneous statements about climate change and climate science. In a separate article in Forbes, Dr. Shepherd argues that climate change is the real national emergency, as does Dave Roberts at VOX, who also places the context of “moderation” around climate action in proper context (e.g., moderation is not the proper response to an emergency).

Seth Meyers notes that given our climate change emergency, some of the criticism of the draft Green New Deal is absurd, and points out that we don’t need to worry about “fake moos.”