Despite renewables growth, there has never been an energy transition

Despite renewables growth, there has never been an energy transition

SOURCE: Axios

DATE: August 17, 2018

SNIP: Since 2010, the costs of producing electricity from solar photovoltaic systems have decreased by more than 80%. Wind and solar now vie with natural gas to provide new electricity generating capacity. To some, these trends signal the world’s latest energy transition: away from fossil fuels and toward a renewable future.

The big picture: These historical changes in the energy system, however, have been a matter of addition, not transition. Although the percentage shares of biomass, coal and oil in our energy supply have fallen with the rise of alternatives, their total use continues to grow. The world has never experienced an energy transition.

See also: Decarbonization: It Ain’t That Easy at Resources for the Future.

US interior secretary’s school friend crippling climate research, scientists say

US interior secretary’s school friend crippling climate research, scientists say

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: August 17, 2018

SNIP: The US interior department administers over $5.5bn in funding to external organizations, mostly for research, conservation and land acquisition. At the beginning of 2018, interior secretary Ryan Zinke instated a new requirement that scientific funding above $50,000 must undergo an additional review to ensure expenditures “better align with the administration’s priorities”.

Steve Howke, one of Zinke’s high-school football teammates, oversees this review. Howke’s highest degree is a bachelor’s in business administration. Until Zinke appointed him as an interior department senior adviser to the acting assistant secretary of policy, management and budget, Howke had spent his entire career working in credit unions.

[T]he policy, which has been in place for six months, is already crippling some research. One of the largest programs affected is the Climate Adaptation Science Centers, a network of eight regionally focused research centers located at “host” universities across the country.

“Funneling every grant over $50,000 to a single political appointee from departments that range from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the [US Geological Survey] to the Bureau of Reclamation suggests a political micromanagement approach,” said David Hayes, an interior deputy secretary in the Obama and Clinton administrations who now directs the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law. He described it as “political interference” that is “both unprecedented and pernicious”.

“It’s hard to have any conclusion other than the administration is looking to steer the science in a political direction,” Hayes said. Many scientists affiliated with the climate adaptation centers concurred.

Europe’s freak weather, explained

Europe’s freak weather, explained

SOURCE: Politico

DATE: August 16, 2018

SNIP: We’ve all become increasingly used to reports of extreme weather over the past few years. But this summer’s raft of dramatic weather events is significant: Not only does it show what warming can do, it points to the potential large-scale trouble that lurks in the disruption of the planet’s winds and ocean currents.

That global warming leads to more heat extremes is not rocket science and has been confirmed by global data analysis. We’re seeing five times more monthly heat records — such as “hottest July on record in California” — now than we would in a stable climate.

It’s not just that the weather is doing what it always does, except at a higher temperature level. Rather, there is growing evidence that the dynamics of weather itself are changing.

This is currently one of the hottest topics in climate research. The basic idea is that the jet stream — a band of high winds around the Northern Hemisphere that significantly influences our weather in the mid-latitudes — is changing.

This phenomenon has been confirmed by data: Researchers showed in 2015 that the jet stream has actually slowed down significantly in recent decades and undulates more. The cause is probably the strong warming of the Arctic, as the jet stream is driven by the temperature contrast between the tropics and the Arctic. Because this temperature difference is getting smaller and smaller, the jet stream is weakening and becoming less stable.

The weaker summer circulation means fewer weather changes, so the weather is becoming more persistent.

But the atmosphere is not the only player that can change its flow patterns. The ocean circulation may also have played a role, in particular the Gulf Stream System.

Climate change does not just mean that everything is gradually getting warmer: It is also changing the major circulations of our atmosphere and ocean. This is making the weather increasingly weird and unpredictable.

Trump’s team offers a new vision for Utah’s former Grand Staircase: Nearly 700,000 acres would be open to mining or drilling

Trump’s team offers a new vision for Utah’s former Grand Staircase: Nearly 700,000 acres would be open to mining or drilling

SOURCE: Salt Lake Tribune

DATE: August 15, 2018

SNIP: Most of the lands removed from southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be available to coal mining and oil or gas drilling under federal draft plans released Wednesday, putting nearly 700,000 acres in play that otherwise would have been off-limits to mineral extraction.

The Bureau of Land Management’s “preferred” vision for these vast stretches in Kane and Garfield counties imposes the fewest restrictions of the four alternatives studied under an environmental analysis, prompting renewed charges from green groups that President Donald Trump’s controversial order reducing the monument by half was designed to sacrifice irreplaceable natural values in the name of his quest for U.S. “energy dominance.”

“The lands Trump tried to cut out of the Staircase have an ‘open for business’ sign on them. Off-road vehicles, coal mining, drilling and other activities that without a doubt would destroy monument objects would be allowed,” said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Even in areas that remain in the monument, the plan would drive down protections to the lowest common denominator that would result in damage to culture sites, paleontological resources, and riparian areas and wilderness.”

The agency posted thousands of pages of analysis for the plans that outline new management programs for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, as well as a 98-page minerals report for Staircase that details the rich deposits of coal, oil and gas, tar sands and other minerals under the former monument’s 1.9 million-acre footprint.

The San Onofre nuclear plant is a ‘Fukushima waiting to happen’

The San Onofre nuclear plant is a ‘Fukushima waiting to happen’

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times

DATE: August 15, 2018

SNIP: Southern California Edison is keeping 3.6 million pounds of lethal radioactive waste at the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant in San Clemente.

The waste poses a significant threat to the health, safety and economic vitality of the region’s more than 8 million residents. But Edison’s plan for storing it is unnerving at best.

The idea is to bury the spent fuel on site, about 100 feet from the ocean and just a few feet above the water table. Edison has already begun transferring the waste from cooling pools into specially designed steel canisters. The containers are prone to corrosion and cracking, and cannot be monitored or repaired.

But flawed storage containers are just one of many worrisome aspects of the scheme. San Onofre sits on an active earthquake fault, in an area where there is a record of past tsunamis. It is close to Interstate 5, the railroad line that Amtrak runs on, and the Marines’ Camp Pendleton.

The ocean is expected to keep rising over the next few decades, bringing seawater closer to the canisters. If hairline cracks or pinholes in the containers were to let in even a little bit of air, it could make the waste explosive.

And although San Onofre is in a no-fly zone, it is not being guarded with radar and surface-to-air-missiles, as nuclear aircraft carriers are. It is protected by a handful of guards carrying pistols.

This leaves the site susceptible to terrorist attacks. San Juan Capistrano Councilwoman Pam Patterson warned President Trump of this vulnerability at a roundtable meeting in May. She reminded him that, in 2001, terrorists were targeting nuclear power plants in addition to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Patterson also pointed out that some of the 9/11 terrorists received their flight training at San Diego’s Montgomery Field, only 50 miles from San Onofre, which is itself only 62 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The power plant, she told Trump, is a “Fukushima waiting to happen.”

When it was discovered that San Onofre’s reactor was so flawed that the plant had to be shut down, the former prime minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, testified in San Diego. He said that if the radioactive cooling pools at Fukushima had caught fire, he was prepared to evacuate not only Tokyo, with its population of 9 million people, but also the larger metropolitan area of 38 million, including regions 160 miles away from the plant. Martial law would have been declared.

Had the fire proved uncontainable, Kan said, nobody would have been able to move back to the region for 100,000 years. “The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake,” Kan told a British newspaper later. “Something on that scale, an evacuation of 50 million, it would have been like a losing a huge war.” His words echoed those of Mikhail Gorbachev, who once remarked that a second explosion at Chernobyl would have rendered Europe uninhabitable.

As waters rise, coastal megacities like Mumbai face catastrophe

As waters rise, coastal megacities like Mumbai face catastrophe

SOURCE: Science News

DATE: August 15, 2018

SNIP: Even if humankind manages to limit the release of carbon dioxide enough to keep global warming to an average 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — which is highly unlikely — seas will still rise by a global average of about 20 centimeters by 2050, if not more. That’s enough to more than double the frequency of flooding in the tropics, where Mumbai is located, according to a 2017 paper in Scientific Reports.

Global losses from coastal flooding may surpass $1 trillion annually by 2050 unless coastal cities prepare, Hallegatte’s team says. That projection is actually conservative, because it doesn’t include damage from other climate-related flood risks such as heavier rains and stronger storms.

“For an individual, it doesn’t matter if the water is coming from sea rise or a storm surge or the clouds, a flood is a flood,” Hallegatte says. “Cities should be looking … at one-meter sea level rise, at least. Because the cost of failure is so big, you need to have a plan for the worst-case scenario.”

“This is a battle that we are currently losing,” says Princeton University climatologist Michael Oppenheimer, a coordinating lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on oceans, cryosphere and climate change, due out in September 2019. “Sea level rise and the flood heights are only going to increase …for the foreseeable future.”

The annual monsoon, the seasonal shift in winds that brings flooding rains to Mumbai, adds an extra layer of uncertainty to projecting how much flooding will accompany sea rise, he says. The future of this South Asian weather system has been difficult to predict, thanks in part to the mysterious influence of the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool. It’s Earth’s largest region of warm surface seawaters spanning the midocean region between the western Pacific and the eastern Indian oceans. That warmth partly fuels monsoon storm clouds.

Still, most studies suggest that the monsoon rains will increase. “Uncertainty is not an excuse [for inaction] at this point,” Oppenheimer says. “People need to get moving.

Canada’s British Columbia wildfires prompt state of emergency

Canada’s British Columbia wildfires prompt state of emergency

SOURCE: BBC News

DATE: August 15, 2018

SNIP: A state of emergency has been declared by the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) as it battles more than 560 wildfires.

It will be in place across the entire western province for at least 14 days.

Hot and dry conditions, with a risk of thunderstorms in some parts of BC, are expected to continue over the coming days.

This is the second year in a row the province has battled significant wildfires on parts of its territory.

Over 3,000 people are under evacuation orders and another 18,700 are under evacuation alerts.

Fires are active throughout entire parts of the province.

Garbage from Washington state’s booming pot industry clogs gutters, sewers and landfills

Garbage from Washington state’s booming pot industry clogs gutters, sewers and landfills

SOURCE: Spokesman Review

DATE: August 14, 2018

SNIP: Washington state’s penchant for getting high is trashing the place.

Plastic “doob tubes” and small Mylar bags used to package pot are moldering in gutters, bleaching out in landfills and bobbing in waterways.

Concentrated nutrients and fertilizers left over from cannabis growing operations are being dumped in public sewers and making their way past wastewater treatment plants into Puget Sound. And millions of pounds of weed harvest waste that could be composted are instead getting trucked to landfills.

“We’re seeing a lot of marijuana packaging in our public spaces,” said Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, which organizes litter cleanups. “Cannabis packaging is adding to our load, which then gets washed into our lakes and Puget Sound.”

Florida declares a state of emergency as red tide kills animals and disrupts tourism

Florida declares a state of emergency as red tide kills animals and disrupts tourism

SOURCE: Washington Post and DeSmogBlog

DATE: August 14, 2018

SNIP: Florida’s governor this week made official what residents of southwest Florida already knew: The bloom of toxic algae that has darkened gulf waters is an emergency. The red tide has made breathing difficult for locals, scared away tourists, and strewn popular beaches with the stinking carcasses of fish, eels, porpoises, turtles, manatees and one 26-foot whale shark.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) late Monday declared a state of emergency in seven counties stretching from Tampa Bay south to the fringe of the Everglades. Scott promised $1.5 million in emergency funding.

Citizens in retirement communities are reporting respiratory distress from the vapors of the microscopic red-tide organism called Karenia brevis. A recent study found a 50 percent spike in hospital visits due to respiratory problems during red-tide blooms.

Rick Bartleson, a research scientist with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said water samples offshore show lethally high concentrations of algae.

There’s no fish left. Red tide killed them all,” he said. “All of our concentrations of red tide are still high and would still kill fish if they were out there.”

[T]he incidences of red tides seem to have increased since the 1950s and 1960s. Climate change could be a factor; warmer waters, up to a certain point, are congenial to algal growth. The Gulf of Mexico’s surface temperature has warmed by about two degrees Fahrenheit since 1977.

There’s a more direct human handprint on the current crisis: Florida’s landscape and the flow of water have been radically altered by agriculture, canals, ditches, dikes, levees and the sprawling housing developments that have sprouted as the state’s population has boomed. Bartleson said Lee County used to be 50 percent wetlands and is now about 10 percent wetlands.

In the old days, he said, rainwater slowly filtered into the aquifer or seeped into estuaries. Now it rushes rapidly, unfiltered, into rivers and bays and into the gulf, typically loaded with agricultural nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which feed the algae.

Hurricane Irma struck the state head-on last September, and the red-tide bloom began about a month later. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was forced to release massive amounts of nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee to prevent the overtopping of the venerable Hoover Dike.

Those nutrients fueled green algae in the inland canals and rivers and flowed through the Caloosahatchee River into the shallow waters along the Gulf Coast. It is plausible that fueled the red-tide bloom.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, a deputy district engineer for the Corps, addressed and took questions from a crowd of more than 300. She explained that when the lake’s water level approaches 15 feet above sea level, the Corps must release water. A major rain storm could lead to catastrophic flooding and the loss of lives and property.

Climate Model Predicts Faster Warming for the North Atlantic Ocean

Climate Model Predicts Faster Warming for the North Atlantic Ocean

SOURCE: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

DATE: August 14, 2018

SNIP: Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have predicted faster rates of warming than previously predicted for the North Atlantic Ocean in a recent paper published in the Journal of Climate. This warming could disrupt major oceanic cycles and have worldwide impacts on climate systems.

The researchers modeled scenarios based on possible future greenhouse gas and aerosol emission rates. One likely scenario focuses on future decline in aerosols and continued increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Aerosols are minute particles suspended in the atmosphere. Some scatter sunlight, thereby actually acting as cooling agents.

The aerosol cooling effect is about 50 percent of the warming effect of anthropogenic carbon dioxide at present. Aerosols released from human activities are pollutants, however, and their health concerns have triggered worldwide efforts to curb emissions. An aerosol decline could spark an interesting catch-22: Because of their cooling effect, this decline would accelerate ocean warming that is already being caused by increasing carbon dioxide emissions–most notably initiating major warming in the North Atlantic.

With a decrease in cooling aerosols, which are concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere, over time the ocean would need to absorb more heat. The researchers predict that the North Atlantic’s share of the uptake could increase from 6 percent to about 27 percent.