Climate Change Blog (8)

By Carl Howard posted 12-28-2017 03:55 PM

Climate Change Blog (8)

Good news! In Blog 7 I reported that with regard to the tax bill both the House and Senate versions promoted fossil fuels and rolled back incentives supporting renewable energy. But the final bill continues some of the tax credits supporting further development of renewables, mostly wind, solar and electric vehicles. These last-minute reconciliation changes reflect the growing political clout of the wind and solar industries, which now provide more than 7% of US electricity and are two of the fastest-growing energy sources. But for now I will flag the fact that at least one issue remains that could negatively affect a key financing tool used for wind and solar projects. I'll keep you posted.

For years, Congress has offered tax credits for wind and solar projects that can offset 30%t or more of the total costs. When combined with the falling costs of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels, these incentives can make new wind and solar cheaper than running existing fossil-fuel plants in parts of the country.

Several Republican senators, including Charles Grassley of Iowa and Dean Heller of Nevada, opposed roll-backs that would have affected their states. Wind turbines provide over one-third of Iowa's electricity. Grassley, a climate change skeptic, is a staunch defender of wind power. Tesla is building a major battery factory in Nevada and Heller has argued that the electric-vehicle credits are needed to support a fledgling industry.

Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was on the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate bills. Ohio has become a major manufacturer of wind turbine components, and the state has over 105,000 jobs relating to clean-energy.

The intense scrutiny toward the tax bill highlights how much the recent growth in renewable energy still depends, to some extent, on policy choices. Solar installations in the United States declined this fall due in part because of political uncertainty. Trump is contemplating new tariffs on solar imports that could raise the price of photovoltaic panels (as he continues to promote fossil fuels, see Blog 7).

The administration has made no secret of wanting to roll back tax preferences for solar and wind, arguing that those industries should have to compete on their own merit. As if the fossil fuel industry were not receiving billions of dollars each year in subsidies. 

Congress does not plan on subsidizing renewable energy indefinitely. Under tax legislation passed in 2015, the credits for wind will phase out by 2020 and for solar by 2022.

The tax bill makes one other major change to energy policy by opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling, a longtime goal of Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Updating other Blog 7 mentions, the unprecedented CA wildfires burn on while Erie, PA received record-breaking snowfall (5' 5" over three days), Detroit reached its historic low temperature and the entire North East had near record low temperatures to close 2017. Overseas, the Philippines was hit by a major tropical storm killing over 100 people, stranding 1,000s and destroying dozens of homes and structures. 

Recent Studies:

In other good news recent studies conclude that transitioning the world to 100% renewable electricity is entirely feasible based on existing technology and would be more cost-effective than the current system which relies primarily on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The transition could be done by 2050 and it could reduce the per megawatt-hour cost to $61 from $82 (2015). The holdup now is purely political. The more cost falls, the more such technology will spread.   

Solar power and battery storage are critical parts of the transition. In electric vehicles, where the size and weight of the batteries remain an issue, those factors are not critical when sited on land. The globe's electricity mix by 2050 could consist of solar photovoltaics (69%), wind energy (18%), hydropower (8%) and bioenergy (2%).

By following this path, greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector may decline to zero (that’s the goal, anyway) and drastically reduce total losses in power generation. The renewable energy transition would create 36 million jobs by 2050, 17 million more than today. If we are to have a chance of meeting the essential Paris goal (limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, 2.7 Fahrenheit)(recall from Blog 1 that we've already warmed 1.4 degrees F since the Industrial Revolution and that warming is occurring now faster than ever) then we must conclude that there is no reason to invest one more dollar in fossil or even nuclear power production. Renewable energy provides cost-effective power supply (without producing waste that will remain radioactive for 1,000s of years and require costly containment and protection from terrorists). All plans for further expansion of coal, nuclear, gas and oil have to cease. Investments need to be channeled to renewable energy and the necessary infrastructure for storage and grids. Everything else will lead to unnecessary costs and increasing global warming.

Such a path would reduce global GHG emissions from about 11 Gigatons (11 billion tons) in 2015 to zero emissions (as close as possible) by 2050 or earlier. The world population is expected to grow from 7.3 to 9.7 billion and global electricity demand for the power sector may increase from 24,310 terawatt-hours (24,310 trillion watt hours) in 2015 to around 48,800 TWh by 2050. There is no way to meet the Paris goal if fossil fuel helps meet this demand.

But will such a major change by 2050 occur and if so is 2050 soon enough? Data is over-whelming in support of the proposition that Climate Change is happening faster than expected, and its effects more extreme than predicted. Because of the effective 'Chicken Littling" of Al Gore during the 2000 election, and due to aggressive attacks on CC scientists, predictions regarding CC have erred on the conservative side. But facts are facts when it comes to science. 

In Blog 1 I urged you to read the IPCC Reports. In 2014 it formally declared that observed warming was "extremely likely" to be mostly caused by human activity. This year the US Global Change Research Program stated: "There is no convincing alternative explanation."

Many of the world's leading scientific authorities have issued similar assessments. The Royal Society warned that we've been underestimating the risks of warming not overestimating them. The American Meteorological Society issued its annual study of extreme weather events and said that such events would not have been possible without the influence of human-caused GHG gas emissions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said recent melting of the Arctic was not moderating and was more intense than at any time in recorded history.

The Royal Society researchers warned that there hasn't been nearly enough done to protect millions of vulnerable people worldwide from the expected increase in heat waves. This is a deadly tragedy in the making. Around 350 million people in places like Karachi, Kolkota, Lagos and Shanghai are likely to face deadly heat waves every year by 2050—even if nations are able to rein in GHG emissions enough to reach the Paris goal. There is no reason to believe we will meet that target.

Globally, building resilience has been far too slow and inadequate. As a result, the cost of dangerous and damaging storms is counted in 1,000s of deaths annually and hundreds of billions of dollars in lost homes, infrastructure and livelihoods.

Another potentially horrific occurrence I mentioned earlier is the increasing chance that global warming will affect a key North Atlantic current that carries ocean heat from the tropics toward western Europe. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current may weaken by 37% by 2100, which could alter European climate and food production. Other oceanic and air currents likely will affect the climate world-wide and early indications are that this is happening.

Recent reports strengthen predictions made earlier as well: increasing risk that ocean acidification will rapidly and significantly alter many ecosystems and food webs; crops grown in high-CO2 conditions could be less nutritious, leading to mineral deficiencies; commonly accepted wet-areas-wetter and dry-areas-drier scenario has regional nuances with important implications for local water management and food production and planning; and, scientists are finding more links between melting Arctic sea ice and weather extremes like the heat waves, droughts and blizzards we have been experiencing.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program reported that 

changes in ocean ecosystems go far beyond rising sea levels. Ocean acidification is increasing, as is oxygen loss, raising the risk of serious ecological and economic consequences. I trust you are all keeping in mind the pyramid I discussed in Blog 1 and how all of the above is rapidly cutting out the four blocks supporting Homo Sapiens and human civilization.

Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann (read his book The Madhouse Effect) said "We are seeing increases in extreme weather events that go well beyond what has been predicted or projected in the past. We're learning that there are factors we were not previously aware of that may be magnifying the impacts of human-caused climate change." Among those are "subtle mechanisms involving the behavior of the jet stream that may be involved in explaining the dramatic increase we've seen in floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires." "Increasingly, the science suggests that many of the impacts are occurring earlier and with greater amplitude than was predicted." 

"We have literally, in the space of a year, doubled our assessment of the potential sea level rise we could see by the end of this century. That is simply remarkable. And it is sobering," he said.

In general, there should be more monitoring of global warming impacts, but all those programs are threatened under the current administration, Mann said. "Continued funding to support research is critical," "and here, again, we encounter a very unfavorable political environment where fossil fuel-beholden politicians that run the White House and Congress are doing everything they can to defund and suppress research on climate change science and impact assessments."

Year End Thoughts:

As 2017 ends the macro-conditions globally are as I’ve described them above, and in prior Blogs. The challenges are immense. Despite the clear science and the clear and present danger of Climate Change, mankind continues to emit GHG into the atmosphere which undermines the four essential blocks upon which we all depend. We have the information we need to motivate us to change, we have the physical, financial and technological capability to make the kinds of changes that might avert more of the horrors we have experienced and the catastrophe we are told will come. To fail to take effective action would be the very definition of tragedy, and stupidity. American leadership is important but lacking at the federal level. Prior Blogs have described much of the great work being done in the US and abroad by individuals, corporations, universities, mayoral groups, Republican caucuses, and others. It is now up to each one of us to make new year resolutions to do what we can do to ensure that we each do our part. Each of us has a carbon footprint and living the way we all do, our footprint is significant. Beyond that, we each can contribute in many ways to organizations and individuals who work on our behalf to bring about the kinds of changes that are necessary.

This need not be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t be. It is essential that we contribute to elections on the local, regional, state and national levels to ensure that elected officials understand the issues and are committed to addressing them as they relate to Climate Change. Consider contributing to candidates running in the mid-term elections in other states that are important to this effort. If we do not adequately address these issues, little else will matter. The kinds of disruptions and harm from the impacts of CC have the potential to thoroughly disrupt our way of life, our well-being, and certainly that of our children.

Thank you for reading my Blogs and best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

Carl Howard

All views expressed above are my own.

Follow me on Twitter where I will forward to you breaking news and the latest reports relevant to Climate Change: @HowardCarl