Energy & Environment

February Warmest Month on Record

Eco Watch: “February ​shattered the global ​satellite temperature records to become the warmest ​above average month in recorded history. While not yet confirmed by official datasets, this new finding is particularly notable as it comes from one of the two satellite datasets frequently referenced by climate deniers.”

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“Last month was likely somewhere between 1.15°C and 1.4°C warmer than average, marking the fifth straight month that global average temperatures were more than 1°C above average.”

Climate Carbon Budget Could Soon Max Out

Climate Central: “If the world hopes to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, humanity must emit less than half the carbon dioxide than previously thought in the coming years, a new study shows.”

“In order to keep global warming to no more than 2°C (3.6°F) — the basis for the Paris climate agreement struck last year — scientists have devised a ‘carbon budget‘ for how much carbon can be emitted before warming crosses into catastrophic territory.”

“Their estimates range from about 590 gigatons (1 gigaton is 1 billion metric tons) to 2,390 gigatons … But the 2°C mark could be hit sooner as the globe warms and a more realistic budget ranges from 590 gigatons to 1,240 gigatons of carbon dioxide emission after 2015, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Nature Climate Change.”

“’At current rates, the carbon budget would thus be exhausted in about 15 to 30 years,’ said lead author Joeri Rogelj, a research scholar at the Energy Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.”

Republican Lawmakers Receive Failing Grades on Environmental Report Card

Think Progress: “Congress’ annual environmental scorecard is out, and it doesn’t look good for Republican lawmakers and some presidential candidates.”

“The League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard gave House Republicans an average score of 3 percent, while Senate Republicans got just 5 percent. Republican Presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) both got scores of zero, as they issued what the report calls the “anti-environment vote” every time throughout 2015.”

“The 2015 scorecard describes a Republican-led Congress that the report calls ‘the most anti-environmental Congress in our nation’s history.’”

 

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How Republicans Could Get Behind Climate Change

Jeremy Deaton, writing in Think Progress, examines whether political convergence on climate change is possible.

“’A lot of the narrative [put forward by environmentalists] plays out as one of costs, punishment and constraints,’ said Lynn Scarlett, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior under George W. Bush … ‘When you get to solutions that sort of transcend what has become kind of a symbolic umbrella, you start to see common ground.’”

“The social science largely supports this. If conservatives and liberals differ on climate change, it’s because they disagree about the role of government in the market.”

“There are, however, a limited number of policies that find support on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives may balk at what they see as federally-imposed limits on industry, like the Clean Power Plan, but they believe in the promise of American innovation. So even while climate change remains contentious, clean energy does not.”

“Scarlett believes lawmakers should prioritize renewable energy. Invest in research and development. Modernize the electric grid.”

“If there is hope for a grand climate bargain, Scarlett believes it will be found in tax reform. Republicans have long aimed to lower the corporate income tax. Scarlett says conservatives and libertarians may welcome a revenue-neutral carbon tax if the proceeds are used to offset a reduction in the corporate tax rate.”

The impact of a carbon fee.

EPA Reports an Increase in U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Hill: “American greenhouse gas emissions increased by less than 1 percent in 2014, according to new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data released this week.”

“In the draft version of the EPA’s annual greenhouse gas report, the agency said emissions in the U.S. increased by 0.9 percent between 2013 and 2014 after a 2.2 percent increase the previous year.”

“The EPA blamed the increase on higher fossil fuel consumption in the energy and transportation sectors.”

“In all, the U.S. accounted for 6,873 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent in 2014. That figure is still about 7.5 percent less than emissions in 2005, the baseline used for Obama administration greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

Spike in Methane Eliminates Climate ‘Benefit’ of Fracked Gas

The Guardian: “There was a huge global spike in one of the most potent greenhouse gases driving climate change over the last decade, and the U.S. may be the biggest culprit, according a new Harvard University study.”

“The United States alone could be responsible for between 30-60% of the global growth in human-caused atmospheric methane emissions since 2002 because of a 30% spike in methane emissions across the country, the study says.”

“The research shows that emissions increased the most in the middle of the country, but the authors said there is too little data to identify specific sources. However, the increase occurred at the same time as America’s shale oil and gas boom, which has been associated with large amounts of methane leaking from oil and gas wells and pipelines nationwide.”

“With the US responsible for as much as 60% of global methane emissions growth, it’s critical that the country reduce natural gas use as quickly as possible, said Robert Howarth, a Cornell University ecologist and methane researcher.”

“’There is simply no way to do that by reducing carbon dioxide emissions alone because of lags in the climate system,’ he said. ‘Even with major carbon dioxide emission reductions starting now, the planet would reach 1.5C in 12 years and 2C in 35 years. But the planet responds much more rapidly to methane, so a reduction in methane emissions now would slow the rate of global warming immediately.’”

Supreme Court’s Action on Obama’s Climate Plan: Opportunity or Disaster?

Michael Gerard, writing in Yale Environment 360 argues that the Supreme Court’s stay on Obama’s Clean Power Plan is “one of the most environmentally destructive actions the court has ever taken.”

“By acting as it did, the Supreme Court shut down the most important actions being taken by the United States to address the greatest environmental challenge ever faced … almost no one expected the Supreme Court to halt the preliminary planning work; after all, the first compliance period does not begin until 2022. The Clean Power Plan was the centerpiece of the U.S. pledges at the Paris climate conference last December, and there was immediate fear that the stay would give other countries an excuse to back off on fulfilling their own pledges.”

David Victor, however, argues that the Court’s action creates an opportunity: “Troubles with the Clean Power Plan will create an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate how countries can deal with the reality that in every nation it will be difficult to plan precisely the necessary deep reductions in warming pollution. It is in the United States’ acute national interest to show how the system established in Paris can bend and adjust, rather than break, in the face of challenges like the one presented last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“In updating the world on what’s actually happening within the United States, the government can point to the many other policies that remain in place even if the Clean Power Plan gets stalled — such as the extension of tax incentives for renewable power, which was part of the budget deal reached between the Obama administration and Congress last December.”

America’s Teachers Are Confused About Climate Change

City Lab: “Given the topic’s partisan grip in the U.S., with many conservatives unlikely to trust mainstream news outlets, early education has a huge role to play, too. That’s a problem, according to a new study in the journal Science, because many middle- and high-school teachers are confused about climate change themselves.”

Researchers “conducted what they call the ‘first nationally representative survey of science teachers focused on climate change’ … The researchers found that most teachers devoted only about an hour or two of class time to climate change … But the quality of that education was often as poor as the quantity: only 54 percent of teachers emphasized the consensus view among scientists that modern warming is the result of human activity and not likely due to natural causes.”

“Instead, a considerable share of teachers (roughly 31 percent) offered students the mixed message that current climate change is caused by both humans releasing greenhouse gases and natural shifts in temperature. The survey found that one in 10 teachers denied the human source of global warming in the classroom—only telling students that it’s the result of nature. Another 5 percent offered no causal explanation for climate change at all.”

“A key problem, according to the researchers, is that teachers themselves seem to be ‘unaware of the extent of scientific agreement.’”

 

Is the Solar Boom Real?

MIT Technology Review: “By all accounts, 2016 should be a great year for solar power providers.”

“But investors are not feeling the love. This week shares of U.S. solar leader SolarCity tumbled to a new low, while several other solar companies also took a pounding. Last month Nevada introduced sharp cutbacks in its program for net metering—the fees paid to homeowners with rooftop solar installations for excess power they send back to the grid …. Across the country, as many as 20 other states are considering such changes, which would dramatically alter the economics of rooftop solar.”

“The rosier projections for grid parity usually assume that both net metering fees from utilities and government subsidies will continue … Without subsidies, the picture looks a lot bleaker. If each state added a $50 per month fixed charge to solar owners’ bills—a change that many big utilities are fighting for—solar would be at grid parity in only two states.”

“All the recent turbulence aside, it’s likely that solar’s longer-term future in the U.S. remains bright. Renewable portfolio standards, the state-level mandates that establish minimum renewable-energy requirements, will drive the addition of 89 gigawatts of new solar capacity over the next 10 years … Solar prices will continue to fall; a study by Oxford University researchers, published last month in Research Policy, found that annual price declines of 10 percent will continue well into the next decade, enabling solar to supply 20 percent of global energy needs by 2027. And falling costs and wider availability of solar systems coupled with energy storage will enable solar households to store energy for later use, making rooftop solar more economical on its own—regardless of whether it ever reaches true grid parity.”

Despite SCOTUS Decision to Stay Climate Plan, Stakeholders Forge Ahead

Inside Climate News: “Not all states are suspending work on the Clean Power Plan despite the Supreme Court’s bombshell decision [last] Tuesday to put a temporary hold on the tight new rules that are at the heart of the Obama administration’s climate policies.”

“Officials from more than a dozen states said they will continue the work they had already begun to comply with the plan. That includes meeting with stakeholders, modeling energy and emissions scenarios and writing early drafts of implementation schemes that would fulfill the plan’s requirement for states to steeply cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants over the next several decades to combat global warming.”

“‘We haven’t taken our foot off the gas pedal,’ said John Quigley, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.”

“The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will hold a previously scheduled stakeholder meeting on Friday, Mike Dowd, director of the agency’s air division, told InsideClimate News.”

Mary Anne Hitt in Eco Watch argues that the Supreme Court’s decision won’t stop “the steady progress of the Sierra Club and our allies to retire coal plants and replace them with clean energy. As we outlined in a report released late last year, our strategy gives us a pathway to meet our climate targets, even as the Clean Power Plan makes its way through the courts.”

“With grassroots power and market forces on our side, the U.S. will remain on track to meet our Paris commitments in the electric sector.”

Which Key Issue was Ignored at Last Night’s Democratic Debate?

Think Progress: “When it comes to climate change and energy issues, both Democratic and Republican primary debates ignore them, even now, as a matter of routine.”

“This was bizarrely true again Thursday night after the PBS/Facebook-sponsored debate in Madison, Wisconsin between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. This week, the Supreme Court surprisingly dealt what could be a significant blow to a speedy national response to climate change when it held up the Obama administration’s centerpiece in its plan to cut carbon pollution and transition to a renewable energy, the Clean Power Plan.”

“The repercussions of the Supreme Court’s decision will likely stretch beyond Obama’s term and pose one of the first challenges for the new president. Yet neither Gwen Ifill nor Judy Woodruff, the night’s moderators, asked the candidates about the Clean Power Plan, nor anything broader about the energy or environment.”

“The broader trends affecting climate policy, such as the decline of the coal industry and the expansion of renewable energy as prices drop, make it feasible to think that the U.S. can continue to cut its carbon emissions even while the Clean Power Plan sorts out its legal hurdles.”

“The next president will have the ability to use the levers of executive power to either hasten these trends or stand in their way.”

Solar Energy is Ballooning Across the U.S.

Think Progress: “Solar energy is ballooning across the United States with California and Massachusetts leading the way, according to a Solar Foundation report unveiled Wednesday. The U.S. solar industry now employs slightly over 200,000 workers, representing a growth of 20 percent since November of 2014. What’s more, last year the industry added workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy.”

Total solar jobs by state.

Total solar jobs by state. Credit: The solar foundation

“’We are seeing solar in Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky, all over the place. Arkansas in fact just broke ground on their first community solar project,’ said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation.”

“California has five times more solar jobs than Massachusetts, the second highest ranking state. That’s not surprising to Luecke, ‘but for the first time Massachusetts hit the 15,000 mark. Between the two of them they have 50 percent of all the solar jobs.’”

“Solar companies expect to expand nearly 15 percent this year, and hire about 240,000 new workers. According to the report, that job growth is 13 times faster than the U.S. workforce as a whole. The exponential growth of solar energy is happening as coal use declined 25 percent in the United States since 2005. Moreover, solar technology is becoming cheaper. Since 2010, U.S. average installation costs declined 35 percent for residential use, and 67 percent for utility-scale installation.”

Economic Growth Decouples From Energy Consumption

Think Progress: “In a stunning trend with broad implications, the U.S. economy has grown significantly since 2007, while electricity consumption has been flat, and total energy demand actually dropped.

“The U.S. economy has now grown by 10% since 2007, while primary energy consumption has fallen by 2.4%,” reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) in its newly-released 2016 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.”

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“The decoupling of GDP growth from energy and electricity consumption has been a key reason the United States has been able to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions since 2005. In particular, flat electricity demand has meant that the explosive growth in renewables and natural gas power has come directly at the expense of dirty coal.”

“The key driver of the decoupling of electricity use and GDP growth is energy efficiency policy and investment. BNEF notes that in 2014 (the most recent year we have data for), ‘Natural gas and electric utility spending on efficiency reached $6.7bn, up 8.1% from the $6.2bn seen in 2013; Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) investment topped $6.4bn.’ The ESPC funding is generally distinct from the utility funding and ‘mainly focused on public buildings.’”

“Largely unheralded, ‘The key policy story of the past decade has been the uptake of EERS [Energy Efficiency Resource Standards] in US state targets and decoupling legislation among US states.'”

Does the Future of the Climate Depend on the Supreme Court?

Zoe Carpenter in The Nation: Here’s the bad news about the Supreme Court’s decision to issue a stay ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan: “Although the justices did not explain their order, the 5-4 decision indicates that the majority think the challengers have a decent chance of winning their case.”

What’s remarkable about the stay is that the Supreme Court chose to step in even before lower courts had a chance to review the case … Just a few weeks ago a federal appeals court refused to block the plan, a move that was interpreted as a victory for the Obama administration. That court will hear oral arguments in early June, though it’s likely the Supreme Court will decide the fate of the plan. Until it does, states won’t be required to comply.”

Joe Romm in Think Progress: “If the Roberts court ultimately decides to kill the rule 5-4 then that decision will immediately become the leading contender for the worst Supreme Court decision in U.S. history. After all, if the nations of the world ultimately don’t avoid catastrophic warming and if the U.S. is seen as bearing a significant portion of the blame — two entirely plausible outcomes — then future generations and historians will be judging the Court’s decision while suffering in a world with a climate that has been irreversibly ruined for centuries.”

“That means the future of the climate will depend on the future shape of the Supreme Court and whoever wins the presidency this year. Yes, once again, this is the most important election ever for the climate.”