July 31 2018

July 31 2018

tropical rainforests linked to U.S. agriculture,”next generation” nuclear power, solar power in South Carolina, California meets its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target

Although investment in renewable energy is booming, Grist reports that investment in fossil fuels grew in 2017. Grist also has a review of “next generation” nuclear power, which describes a very active environment for research and development in this field. Decarbonizing our economy will be much more difficult if we cannot use nuclear power, but nuclear’s contribution is projected to decline as the current fleet of large, pressurized water reactors are uneconomical to build or to keep operating beyond their design lifetimes. While the Grist article focuses on entrepreneurs excited about new nuclear technologies, some very well-respected analysts are much less sanguine about the prospects of “next generation” nuclear. Dave Roberts at VOX reviews a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that concludes these technologies are unlikely to contribute to our electricity supply by mid-century.

An op-ed in the Washington Post describes water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, a city that has been facing the possibility of running out of water. Only one third of residents are achieving government conservation targets of 23 gallons of water per person per day, despite public shaming of egregious water use by the Mayor. The author notes how the apartheid system can still be seen in the water problem, as the modern water infrastructure was never extended to the historically black townships where half the City’s residents live but consume only 5% of the water. The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on the impact of water scarcity on women in rural India (a rural woman walks an average of 3 to 12 miles a day just to fetch water).

Trees release a lot of water vapor through the process of transpiration from their leaves. Yale Environment 360 has a fascinating report on the growing understanding of the link between terrestrial rainfall and distant tropic forest basins such as the Amazon and the Congo. For example, much of the water in the Nile, the world’s longest river, originates as rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands. Scientists are now suggesting that an important source of that rainfall is the Congo Basin, which means that deforestation in the Congo can impact water availability in Egypt. Indeed, scientists recently warned that disruption of the water cycle due to large-scale tropical deforestation “could pose a substantial risk to agriculture in key breadbaskets halfway round the world in parts of the U.S., India, and China.”

The New York Times reports that climate change is a great threat to the famed cedars of Lebanon. A generation ago it typically rained or snowed 105 days a year in the mountains of Lebanon, but there were just 40 days of rain and only a month of snow cover this past winter. InsideClimate News has a thoughtful portrait of ranchers in Divide county (northwestern North Dakota), as they deal with drought and consider if the climate of their region is changing.

Scientific American reviews the challenge of reducing carbon emissions by the cement industry. Cement manufacture represents about seven percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and this is projected to rise in the future. The World Cement Association recently held its first-ever global climate change forum, and there are many different strategies and techniques being investigated to lower the sector’s emissions.

Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times reviews the growing evidence of expanding heat waves in southern California. An article at Axios describes the records set during the early July 2018 heat wave in California, and interviews leading scientists about the role human emissions played in this weather event.

The Washington Post has an excellent op-ed from Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University describing the post-WWII rise of the American economy due to a partnership in science between the federal government, universities and private entities. This was an explicit strategy pursued by our political leaders that paid great dividends, but it was undercut by Ronald Reagan and subsequent Republican leaders attacking “big government,” and this has led to the Trump administration’s active disdain for science.

This 2014 article in Medium is a review of land loss in southern Louisiana. The author notes that while the actual shape of Louisiana is changing due to land loss, the maps of the state are not. The authors develop an updated map of the state, in which the famous “boot appears as if it came out on the wrong side of a battle with a lawnmower’s blades.” The state has an enormous economic and existential stake in this loss of land (equal to a football field an hour), and the lack of accurate maps is an indication of Louisiana’s unwillingness to grapple with its future.

In a Charleston Post and Courier op-ed, former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis reviews the recent discussion of climate change in his state’s gubernatorial runoff debate. He notes that “candidates say silly things to us about climate change not because they’re dumb, but because they think we’re dumb. But we’re not dumb, and they’ll start saying smart things to us when we prove to them that we’re ready to think.”

InsideClimate News reports on the remarkable growth of solar power in South Carolina. The state adopted a “net-metering” policy (like many other states), allowing customers to sell their excess electricity back to the utility at retail rates, a key feature to make solar adoption economical for homeowners. The state placed a cap on the program at 2% of a utility’s peak power production, and the cap has been reached several years in advance of expectations. Curtailing this popular program is creating a political conflict (something similar happened in Nevada, where the Governor ended up reinstating the program in the face of a political backlash).

Documenting a remarkable achievement, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced that the state has met the targets of its ground-breaking global warming law four years early. The Global Warming Solutions Act (also known as AB 32) required the state to cut emissions to 1990 levels — 431 million metric tons — by 2020. According to CARB, in 2016 the state emitted 429 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. A Los Angeles Times editorial recounts the doomsday predictions by the bill’s opponents (companies fleeing the state, job losses, rolling blackouts), pointing out these predictions did not come true and the state’s economy continued to flourish. In addition, the voters had to reject a 2010 initiative sponsored by the oil industry to rescind the law. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Sweden has announced it will reach its 2030 renewable energy target late this year, due to the extraordinary growth of wind power.