August 31 2018

August 31 2018

a dirty power plan, Kentucky’s expensive coal-fired electricity, disease danger days rise in El Paso, heading toward “hot house’ earth, algal blooms impact Florida, Interior Secretary blames “environmental terrorist groups” for California fires

In Salon former Sierra Club President Carl Pope reviews the Trump administration proposal to replace Obama’s Clean Power Plan with a program that will “freeze modernization of the nation’s power sector, let pollution kill more Americans, require the use of unnecessarily expensive coal power, and increase climate risk.” This is despite the fact “that 25 states will exceed their maximum potential emission reduction goals under the rule and 16 more are on track to meet those goals.” Philip Bump notes in the Washington Post that the Trump administration is taking this action just as evidence of the rise of extreme weather is everywhere (heat, fires and now the thickest ice in the arctic breaking apart [as reported in the Guardian]). He concludes that Trump’s actions “paint a picture of a country that’s living through climate change and deciding not to do anything about it.” Or, as USA Today editorializes, “The Trump administration is committed to saving coal, when what it really needs to do is save the planet.”

In the New York Times Brad Plumer notes that the Trump administration proposal is reducing the estimated cost of carbon emissions from around $50 (the Obama administration’s estimate that many economists conclude is too low) to less than $10. This change will have to be defended in court, where the Trump administration experienced a string of defeats in August (I guess evidence is a pesky annoyance for the deregulistas). Michael Gerrard of Columbia University summarizes the inadequacy of the Trump plan in the New Yorker, “It’s like shooting an elephant with a water pistol.”

InsideClimate News reports on rising electricity rates in eastern Kentucky coal country. The combination of the downturn in the coal economy, declining electricity usage and complete reliance on coal-fired power plants is creating an economic crisis for many residents and communities in this region (rates for customers of Kentucky Power have doubled in the last 12 years). President Trump traveled to West Virginia coal country and told lies about the industry and its future.

Climate Central reports on the rise of disease danger days in El Paso, TX, when the conditions are optimal for transmission of disease by mosquitoes. Transmission of mosquito-borne diseases depends on several different temperature-dependent factors, including how long the mosquitoes live, how many mosquitoes there are and how much they’re biting. Meanwhile, the El Paso Times reports the first confirmed case of West Nile virus this year. The Daily Breeze notes that Aedes mosquitoes, the genus that transmits the viruses that cause yellow fever, zika, dengue and chikungunya, have now invaded southern California.

InsideClimate News reports on the likely increase in many regions of “rain-on-snow” storms that generate intense flooding. An example of this type of event is the rainfall in the Feather River watershed that threatened Oroville Dam, leading to the evacuation of 188,000 people and estimated repair costs of $870 million. Another is the 2013 flood that swamped Calgary and Canmore (damage estimated at $4.6 billion), the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history. Also, the 1997 New Year’s Eve flood in Carson City, Nevada, affected half the city’s residents and cost at least $5 million, about 6 percent of the city’s total annual budget. More winter rain is also changing the physics of avalanches, and complicating our ability to predict them (Switzerland is currently revising its avalanche hazard maps using new climate data to accurately reflect risks). Meanwhile, preliminary data from the National Weather Service in Hawaii indicates that Hurricane Lane, which hit Hawaii last week, dropped over 50 inches of rain in some locations, making it the third highest storm total in the United States since 1950.

The Washington Post reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said “environmental terrorist groups” are largely responsible for the severity of wildfires by preventing the government from properly managing forests. While forest thinning and other steps to remove accumulated fuel are helpful, there are no experts who think such strategies alone can counter the impacts of climate change. Zinke is not only wrong, but by labeling “environmentalists” as “terrorists” he continues the Trump administration’s crusade to divide Americans and foment dangerous and misguided anger just at a time we all need to be working together. Sad.

The Washington Post reports on how “heat belt” cities are dealing with summer temperatures that are already rising and predicted to rise much more through this century. Football teams are practicing at dawn, cool roofs are proliferating and misters are being installed at bus stops. Just looking at the map showing current and future heat in the country is worth it.

Dave Roberts at VOX reviews a recent study highlighting the benefits of creating a single national electrical grid by more effectively connecting the three existing U.S. grids. While the results show enormous future benefits of this effort, including the project paying for itself, there are many political and social barriers that must be overcome (particularly around transmission line construction). Roberts notes that, just like for climate change, we’re not acting like “very good ancestors.”

The Economist describes the enormous political challenge associated with reducing the use of coal in India. Despite the current government’s commitment to renewable power, coal is used to generate 75% of India’s electrical power, and “mining it and turning it into power accounts for a tenth of India’s industrial production.” Science News has a great article examining the vulnerability of Asian mega-cities to sea level rise, focusing on Mumbai.

The Guardian summarizes a recent study that examines 15 possible mechanisms where global temperature increases become self-sustaining (also called “tipping points”). For example, warming arctic soils to the point where melting permafrost contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that causes more permafrost melting and warming. The study concludes that activation of these mechanisms will lead to a “hot house” earth even if we meet our most ambitious emission reduction goals, making our current civilization unsupportable (a future pondered by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone). The authors of the study conclude “that social and technological trends and decisions occurring over the next decade or two could significantly influence the trajectory of the Earth for tens to hundreds of thousands of years and… lead to conditions that resemble planetary states that were last seen several millions of years ago, conditions that would be inhospitable to current human societies and to many other contemporary species.”

We have already activated one tipping point, where the loss of arctic ice in the summer warms the arctic ocean and causes more ice to melt. Understanding this tipping point is what allowed the Charney Committee of the National Academy of Sciences and the Jason Committee of the Department of Defense to predict in the late 1970s that the arctic would warm faster than temperate regions, which is what has occurred. ScienceDaily describes recent work demonstrating that arctic soils that are under shallow lakes are particularly susceptible to releasing methane as warming occurs.

The Washington Post examines recent studies concluding that flooding frequency is beginning to impact coastal real estate markets, with a focus on Charleston, South Carolina. The article highlights the experience of one homeowner who originally tried to sell her home for $1.1 million, but after dropping the price and receiving no offers she ended up getting a permit to demolish it.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in seven counties due to an intense algae bloom that is impacting marine resources, tourism and human health. An article in the Washington Post notes that fertilizer runoff into coastal waters is the key source of the problem, but warmer waters caused by climate change are also a likely contributor. Climate Central describes the link between algal blooms and climate change (more info here in the Washington Post). An article in Nature notes the increasing frequency of marine heatwaves (high temperatures of ocean surface waters) that have profound effects on marine ecosystems. Meanwhile, the Post reports that ocean temperatures in San Diego are the highest ever measured (going back 100 years).

The Guardian reports on a new study examining the growing evidence that weather systems are “getting stuck,” increasing the frequency of heatwaves (i.e., Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010), droughts (the “ridiculously resilient ridge” that drove California’s drought) and extreme downpours (Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Hurricane Lane in Hawaii). This phenomenon is being linked to the reduced temperature gradient between the equator and the poles, as polar areas are warming faster than temperate regions. Climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf has a summary and perspective on the changing jet stream in Politico.

From the “you can’t make this stuff up” department: Media Matters reports that Infowars, the infamous conspiracy-promoting site of Alex Jones, has posted a video in which a contributing author (supported by a UC Davis Asian American studies professor!) uses a video from a UFO sighting page to make an argument that an “energy wave or beam or what have you” was fired from Antarctica in an attempt to split up Hurricane Lane as it approached Hawaii (or perhaps “dissipate” the hurricane… it is impossible to tell exactly what these people are talking about). These nutcases then suggest that the purpose of John Kerry’s trip to Antarctica two years ago was to inspect the facility that houses this energy beam, and that there “might be a direct line” that connects the facility (which doesn’t exist) to the Obama Foundation. The video then moves into climate science denial, with the speaker noting that while Democrats are suggesting that “you’re not allowed to drive a car, no one’s talking about these existing weather control devices.”

InsideClimate News reports on the remarkable growth of the wind power industry in the United States, as the country’s wind energy capacity has tripled since 2008. By the end of 2017 there were almost 90 MW of installed capacity that produced 6.3% of the nation’s electricity. A new report concludes that the Atlantic region’s offshore wind potential is four times greater than its current electricity consumption, reaffirming that that the east coast of the U.S. is an enormous renewable energy resource. There is currently only one offshore wind facility operating in the U.S., but prices have dropped 25% over the last five years and it is widely expected that this industry will grow rapidly in the coming years.

Jimmy Kimmel, in conjunction with Americans for Whatever the F**k It Takes, have created a public service announcement to help President Trump understand the threat of climate change before it’s too late.