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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...