Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Scott Pruitt steps down as EPA head after ethics, management scandals
- Extreme heat sets records across the northern hemisphere
- ‘Noisy democracies’ block climate progress for Shell
- Macron gathers world's top sovereign funds to send climate signal
- Scientists reveal radical plan to store carbon dioxide deep under the seabed
- Scott Pruitt Exits, Sticking You With the Tab
- A carbon tax that could put money in your pocket
- Evolving Relative Importance of the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic in Anthropogenic Ocean Heat Uptake
There is widespread global news coverage of the resignation yesterday of Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who, as the Washington Post describes, “relentlessly pursued President Trump’s promises of deregulation at the Environmental Protection Agency”. The Post explains that Pruitt “resigned on Thursday after controversies over his lavish spending, ethical lapses and management decisions eroded the president’s confidence in one of his most ardent Cabinet members”. A near-daily drip feed of revelations and scandals over recent months finally led Trump to tweet that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation. The New York Times, which broke many of the stories about Pruitt’s behaviour, has produced a detailed “guide to our coverage”. Reuters says Pruitt has been “instrumental last year in lobbying Trump to withdraw the US from the global 2015 Paris climate accord to combat global warming”. It adds: “But Pruitt lost favor with Trump’s inner circle after a string of controversies including first-class travel at taxpayer expense, lavish spending on security, the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office and accusations that he used his position to receive favours, such as a discounted rental on a high-end condo from an energy lobbyist’s wife.” The Hill has published a timeline of the Pruitt’s controversies, as well as the full transcript of his resignation letter, in which he says: “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service.” InsideClimateNewsnotes that an “ex-coal lobbyist” called Andrew Wheeler, Pruitt’s deputy at the EPA, has temporarily taken over the role. It adds: “The job of carrying out Trump’s environmental agenda will now pass to Wheeler, the deputy EPA administrator, who prior to his work for the nation’s largest underground coal mining company, Murray Energy, was a top aide to one of Congress’s most prominent climate science deniers, Senator James Inhofe.” DeSmog has detailed profile of Wheeler. The Hill also has a profile under the headline: “Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA’s new acting chief?” MailOnline looks on social media and has fun rounding up the “hilarious memes mock[ing] scandal-hit Scott Pruitt after the disgraced cabinet official quits the EPA”. The Atlantic asks whether Pruitt was able to “remake the EPA”, as he has intended: “The agency is smaller, poorer, and less driven by science. But ‘I don’t think there is a big Pruitt legacy,’ one legal scholar said.” The Guardian notes how long Trump stuck by Pruitt, despite the endless barrage of controversies and scandals: “Even some Republicans, who had grown tired of defending Pruitt’s daily controversies, celebrated the news of his departure.” BBC News reports that Pruitt sought to blame his resignation on the “unrelenting attacks” on him. But it adds: “Mr Pruitt is the subject of at least a dozen investigations into his conduct.”
Following yesterday’s frontpage cover story in the Times about the number of heatwaves currently affecting many countries in the northern hemisphere, the Financial Times says that “record-breaking temperatures [have been] recorded in the US, Canada, Europe and the Middle East”. It explains that “these meteorological events are linked by the behaviour of the jet stream, the band of fast winds blowing west to east in the upper atmosphere”. It adds: “In April, two international research teams published studies suggesting that global warming would intensify changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation in ways that accelerate the trend towards hotter summers. Even without these changes, global warming is bound to intensify heatwaves, said Rob Thompson, a meteorological researcher at the University of Reading.” Yahoo News UK runs with the headline, “Temperatures worldwide hit record levels – and global warming IS to blame”, citing Dr Friederike Otto of the University of Oxford, who researched last summer’s heatwave. She says: “Summers keep getting hotter. Heatwaves are far more intense than when my parents were growing up in the 1950s. If we do nothing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the kind of extreme heat we saw this past summer will be the norm when my young son is a grown man.” Sky News runs with the headline, “Proof of global warming? Historical heat records broken across globe.” However, it does not answer its own question. Separately, the FT reports that “on the UK mainland, unlike in previous heatwaves, water companies said they have no plans to restrict water usage and that reservoirs are currently well stocked”. Bloomberg reports that in the US “electricity demand across the eastern power market run by PJM Interconnection LLC reached 144,557 megawatts Tuesday afternoon – the highest since 12 August, 2016 – as people blasted their air conditioners and fans to keep cool”. The Metro says that “19 die and roads melt as global heatwave hits 54C”. Reuters reports that “hundreds of thousands of people across a wide swathe of western and central Japan were evacuated from their homes on Friday as torrential rains pounded the nation, flooding rivers, setting off landslides and leaving at least two people dead”. Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that forecasters in the US have “cut their estimate of storm activity during the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, citing cooler ocean temperatures and the likely formation of a weak El Niño”.
The Times covers remarks made by Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive, during a visit to London in which he said that it is easier to make progress on climate change in countries such as China than in “noisy democracies” such as the UK. He complained that the world was spending too much time and effort arguing about how to tackle global warming instead of taking action. He added: “In places like China it works very well, governments work very gratefully with us and adopt really incredibly pragmatic and powerful policies, sensible, etc. Here, there are more participants in the debate, let me put it that way.” The Times reports that he also suggested that NGOs opposed Shell’s calls to work on carbon capture for industry because it was “convenient” to disagree publicly even though they would privately accept it was necessary. The Guardian focuses on Van Beurden’s remark that he backed calls for the UK to bring forward its 2040 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. He said it it would provide clarity and make it easier for companies like Shell to make investment decisions and also shift consumer attitudes. Meanwhile, the Financial Times, Reuters and the Times (in another article) report that he said it would be “foolhardy” for Shell to to set itself hard targets to reduce carbon emissions as it risked exposing the energy giant to legal challenges.
Reuters reports that sovereign wealth funds managing more than $2tn are to lay out a strategy today in Paris to pressure companies to be more climate-friendly, according to French officials. President Emmanuel Macron is championing the initiative, says Reuters, which will “bring together the heads of six sovereign funds to thrash out a pro-environment investment framework”. The guidelines, which funds will ask the companies they invest in to meet, are expected to influence other big asset managers, say Macron’s advisers.
MailOnline report a new study which suggests that liquid CO2 could be injected beneath the seafloor, where it “could form hydrates that create a ‘cap’ that prevents it from leaking into the ocean”. The website explains that scientists in China have simulated the method under 22 different scenarios, with variations in pressure and temperature to mimic real-world conditions. The new study, published in Science Advances, builds on previous investigations that have shown liquid CO2 under high pressure and low temperatures spurs the production of hydrates.
The New York Times is one of many leading US newspapers to run editorials marking the resignation of scandal-hit Scott Pruitt. It says: “Mr Pruitt’s departure did not come as a total shock. Word around Washington in recent weeks was that the stench of corruption wafting from EPA headquarters was getting to be too much even for Mr Trump. Someone in the White House no doubt noticed that, with the midterms approaching, Mr Pruitt was not playing well with any voter who retains some common sense…In the end, Mr Pruitt was driven from office for having abused his position so outrageously. But if Mr Trump continues down the same policy paths, as seems likely, Mr Pruitt’s more lasting legacy, along with the president’s, will be an overheated planet and shortened life spans.” An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle fears that his successor Andrew Wheeler “could be even more effective at enabling further plunder on a national scale”. USA Today says: “In reality, the former Oklahoma attorney general leaves a disastrous policy legacy on top of his disastrous personal one. Pruitt, who questions the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is driving global warming, pushed Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord. That ill-considered decision leaves America as the odd country out among the world’s nations, even as parts of the planet experience extreme, record-shattering heat.” The Boston Globe says: “Scandal finally caught up with Scott Pruitt, and few are sorry to see him go. But it’s the fact that such a cartoonishly corrupt politician lasted as long as he did that is the real marker of how this administration and its Congressional enablers work.” The Miami Herald says: “Good riddance to the ethically challenged Pruitt — who brandished his abuse of power as if it were a badge of honour…Unfortunately his departure will not derail the administration’s anti-environment campaign. The new boss might be less ethically tone-deaf, but, basically, will be as bad as the old boss.” In the Los Angeles Times, John Healey writes: “Scott Pruitt was a human ethical lapse. The fight to replace him will be political gold for Democrats.” In the Guardian, Richard Wolffe writes: “So farewell, Saint Scott. You were the Worst. EPA administrator. Ever.”
An editorial on the Chicago Tribune endorses a new bipartisan effort in the US to tackle rising emissions: “A growing group of farsighted pragmatists are…trying to find a middle ground between the entrenched adversaries. They have a proposal for combating global warming with something for both sides. And though getting current Republican and Democratic officeholders to unite behind it seems impossible, the advocates have managed to win the support of such environmental groups as the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International as well as oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP. Former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott and former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen are part of a new organization called Americans for Carbon Dividends.”
Ocean uptake of human-driven warming over the past 15 years has mostly occurred in the Southern Ocean, based on Argo float observations. This agrees with CMIP5 models, where the Southern Ocean accounts for 72% of global heat uptake, while the contribution from the North Atlantic is only 6%. Aerosols preferentially cool the Northern Hemisphere, and the effect on surface heat flux over the North Atlantic opposes the greenhouse gas effect in nearly equal magnitude. Aerosols are projected to decline in the near future, reinforcing the greenhouse effect on the North Atlantic heat uptake. As a result, the Southern Ocean will be joined by increased relative contribution from the North Atlantic due to substantial AMOC slowdown in the 21st century. In the RCP8.5 scenario, the percentage contribution to global uptake is projected to decrease to 48% in the Southern Ocean and increase to 26% in the northern North Atlantic.
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