August 15 2019

August 15 2019

automakers strike a deal with California, NASA should study the home planet, we’re still building in the path of sea level rise, small change in fossil-fuel subsidies would be big

In a remarkable development, the State of California and several major automakers have reached a voluntary agreement to continue to pursue higher fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles to be sold in California (and, by extension, the other states that abide by California standards). Margo Oge, former EPA Transportation Chief who was deeply involved in negotiating the current federal standards under President Obama, has an excellent description of the agreement and its implications in Forbes (with more background information here and here). The automakers have grown increasingly uneasy with the Trump Administration’s proposal to freeze auto-efficiency standards next year, which would would represent an incredible blow to efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. The administration’s anti-regulation zealotry, combined with the desires of the oil industry, have resulted in the creation of a proposed standard that would damage our auto industry’s ability to compete in what is now a global marketplace for automobiles. Thirty U.S. Senators have called upon General Motors and 13 other automakers to join this agreement.

The New York Times reports on the rise of deforestation in Brazil under the leadership of President Jair Bolsonaro, who is also slashing enforcement against violators. Approximately 20 percent of human-caused carbon emissions are the result of deforestation (and the subsequent burning and decomposition of trees), and higher rates of tropical deforestation will make it impossible to meet climate goals. An editorial in the Washington Post summarizes the problem.

A former Deputy Administrator of NASA makes the case in a Washington Post op-ed that assigning NASA the mission of manned space flight is a misguided waste. This mission is not supported by the public, and pales in comparison to the need to study our home planet. She argues for monitoring and experimentation to improve the projections of climate models. She further recommends creating a “climate corps” of young scientists who could engage in public service by assisting communities understand their vulnerabilities and develop plans for building resilience to the future climate. Meanwhile, a National Park Service climate scientist has come forward to describe in the Guardian how she was hounded out of a job by Trump administration officials who wanted her to change her scientific conclusions.

An op-ed in the Mercury News describes how policy changes in California have driven the decline of coal-fired electricity in the state. Coal comprised 18.2% of California’s electricity mix in 2008, but this had fallen to 3% by 2018. The 3% essentially represents electricity from one coal-fired power plant in Utah that will be retired in the next five years, bringing California to 0% coal-fired electricity. The Los Angeles Times reports on the growth of solar power in the southern central valley of California, where large solar projects are being planned and built on fallowed farm land. This effort is attempting to expand California’s solar capacity on “degraded” lands, rather than impacting pristine desert lands where other resource conflicts arise.

Reflecting on the growing sentiment for climate action, an article in the Hill summarizes the recent flurry of bipartisan bills related to implementing a carbon fee in the U.S. An op-ed in the New York Times describes how many Republican legislators are in the “climate closet,” but are getting close to coming out as they recognize a growing political risk of climate-science denial.

An article in the Atlantic summarizes recent research that concludes nothing resembling modern-day global warming has happened on Earth for at least the past 2,000 years. This work, confirming and expanding previous research, proves conclusively that the denier talking points about current observed temperature changes being analogous to those during the “little ice age” or the “Medieval warm period” are bunk. Those were regional phenomena, not globally coherent changes as is the current warming.

Heat in the northern hemisphere this summer is causing massive ice melt and contributing to large fires, reports the Guardian (Grist notes a scientific report that this year’s “unprecedented” arctic fires have emitted as much carbon to the atmosphere as did the entire country of Belgium last year). Alaska experienced its hottest July ever, as did the planet. Also melting is the permafrost in Siberia, and the New York Times describes how this is altering the lives and towns of the people of Yakutia in northern Siberia. An article in the Guardian considers how the people of Greenland are experiencing climate change. The authors found Greenland inhabitants have a lot of concern about climate change as they watch their landscape change quickly, with anxiety, grief and frustration widespread.

The New York Times reports on the growth of building in coastal areas likely to flood in the future, with the State providing a view on this research from South Carolina (both stories are based on the new report, Ocean at the Door, by Climate Central and Zillow). Local governments do not act to restrict this building as it provides increased tax revenues. Meanwhile, parts of Yazoo county in Mississippi have been underwater for five months due to high flows of the Mississippi River. The Guardian reports that residents are wondering if anybody cares about this except them. CBS has an in-depth video story of the damage done to farming communities along the Missouri River due to the floods this spring.

In the last issue, I noted that the State of Ohio passed legislation that provides subsidies to nuclear and coal power plants and reduces requirements to shift to renewables and encourage energy efficiency, which do not seem like a very good ideas to me. Dave Roberts at Vox and Steve Clemmer at the Union of Concerned Scientists describe why it is even worse than I thought. An article in Utility Dive argues that this bill is probably bad for the nuclear industry as well as the climate.

WIRED reports on social science research documenting how political ideology influences whether people accept climate science as true. While people express high confidence in science (higher even than the military), this support declines dramatically among Republicans (but not Democrats) if climate science is considered separately. The New York Times reports on changing attitudes among Republican voters about climate change, particularly younger voters. A reporter who spent a year covering climate change for the Guardian in the American South concludes that attitudes are not shifting fast enough in this part of the country.

The Atlantic has an interesting interview about whether climate change could trigger a global financial crisis, and what the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks could do to reduce this possibility. In the wake of a fatal accident in Encinitas, California, where a coastal landslide killed three women on a beach, the Guardian reviews coastal erosion as a problem exacerbated by sea level rise.

An article in the Guardian describes the conclusions of a recent report that switching just 10-30% of subsidies currently going to fossil fuels to renewables would pay for our transition to a low-carbon economy. Almost $400 billion is spent directly subsidizing fossil fuels worldwide, compared to only $100 billion on renewables. The International Monetary Fund estimates that when the environmental and health costs of fossil-fuel use are included, annual subsidies are $5.1 trillion.

As Wisconsin’s largest solar project comes online this summer, Energy News has a great story about the origins of this project. Originally pursued by Organic Valley dairy as part of its commitment to operate with 100% renewable power, the project spread to include 10 locations and 13 municipalities in three states. A great lesson to us all that we can make a difference in our communities while we also try to change national policy and leadership.