Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/20/2019

Joni and I are pretty well settled in our new home, so it is time for me to return to compiling the Roundup each week.  I would like to send a big Thank You! to Joy Loving for filling in for me while I was occupied with other things.  I greatly appreciate it.

Politics and Policy

The Trump administration on Thursday officially revoked California’s authority to set its own emission standards but the state filed a lawsuit on Friday and is preparing for a lengthy legal battle over the issue.  Also on Thursday, Senate Democrats released a report outlining dozens of times the Trump administration has censored or minimized climate science at agencies across the federal government.

The U.N. is convening a climate summit on Monday, September 23, in part to determine whether the world’s nations can muster the resolve to slash carbon emissions as rapidly as scientists say is needed.  Only countries that have promised meaningful new pledges will be allowed to speak, muzzling the U.S.  In advance of that summit, an international group of experts has published the Exponential Roadmap: the 36 most viable solutions to halve greenhouse gas emissions globally by 2030.  They also say that strong civil society movements are needed to drive such change.  Unfortunately, humanity doesn’t have a very good track record, as illustrated in a feature for Nature, where Jeff Tollefson “shows how little progress nations have made towards limiting greenhouse-gas emission”.  He also compares current pledges to what would be needed to meet global climate goals and highlights the gap between these insufficient aims and current progress.  Nevertheless, Bill McKibben could still paint a hopeful picture of the future, as could Jeff Goodell.

Climate Home News deputy editor Megan Darby had a feature entitled “Net-zero: the story of the target that will shape our future.”  A group of more than 500 major institutional investors, which together manage $35 trillion in assets, called Thursday for governments to boost efforts to tackle climate change, warning that failure to do so could have serious economic consequences.  In addition, on Wednesday over 200 investors representing some $16.2 trillion under management called on companies to do their part in halting the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order calling on state agencies and public institutions to create a plan that will make Virginia’s electric grid solely dependent on carbon-free energy sources by 2050.  On the same day, Duke Energy announced that it would accelerate its carbon reduction goals and hoped to hit “net zero carbon emissions” by 2050.  The New Democrat Coalition, made up of moderate congressional Democrats worried about the infeasibility of passing sweeping climate legislation like the Green New Deal, released an 11-page outline of principles on Wednesday, along with a list of bills to back them up.


A solid majority of American teenagers is convinced that humans are changing Earth’s climate and believe that it will cause harm to them personally and to other members of their generation.  Inspired by sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, students and others all over the world participated in the Global Climate Strike on Friday.  Bill McKibben gave 23 reasons for participating.  Thunberg and three other teenagers appeared before the House Climate Crisis Committee and a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Wednesday, with Thunberg telling the lawmakers to “listen to the scientists.”  McKibben also had a rather long piece in The New Yorker in which he addressed the question “What if the banking, asset management, and insurance industries moved away from fossil fuels?”  The Economist devoted its September 19 print edition primarily to climate change.  In an editorial to accompany the issue, the editors state that “to conclude that climate change should mean shackling capitalism would be wrong-headed and damaging.” 

Climate and Climate Science

The summer of 2019 was tied with that of 2016 as the hottest on record in the Northern Hemisphere, according to NOAA data released Monday, with a temperature anomaly of 2.03°F (1.13°C) above the 20th-century average.  What’s remarkable about 2019′s record warmth is that it came in the absence of a strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean.  Globally, the June-through-August period was the second warmest such period on record with an average that was 1.67°F (0.93°) above the 20th-century average.

Two new modeling studies published in the journal Nature provided a more optimistic view of the future.  One showed that it should be possible to rapidly shut down coal-fired power plants lacking air pollution control devices without causing a spike in global warming due to the reduction of aerosol emissions.  The other suggested that the need for negative emissions (i.e., removal of CO2 from the atmosphere) to hold temperature increases below 1.5°C is an artifact of the logic employed in modeling studies.  Using the logic framework presented in the study, the authors show that the need to rely on negative emission scenarios will likely be much less than previously thought.

Another paper in the most recent issue of Nature reported on the growth in thickness and area of giant ice slabs beneath the surface snow at middle elevations in Greenland.  They prevent meltwater from percolating into the deeper snow and hasten its runoff to the sea.  As a consequence, Greenland is contributing two to three times as much meltwater to sea level rise than previously thought.

An intensifying marine heat wave in the northeastern Pacific Ocean has raised concerns about a repeat of “The Blob,” which last occurred in 2013-2015, suppressing the growth of small organisms at the base of the ocean food chain and causing wide-spread disruption of fisheries and wildlife.

In Scientific American, Emily Holden wrote: “…the impact of the climate crisis—for patients, doctors and researchers—is already being felt across every specialty of medicine, with worse feared to come.”


Dominion Energy on Thursday announced plans to build the nation’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Virginia — a 220-turbine installation that would power 650,000 homes at peak wind.  Presently, the only off-shore wind farm in the U.S. is next to Block Island in Rhode Island.  Dan Drollete Jr., the editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, visited to see how this experiment in the transfer of European technology has gone.  On a related topic, NIMBY attitudes are having a negative impact on the siting of renewable energy projects.

China’s total planned coal-fired power projects stand at 226.2 GW, the highest in the world and more than twice the amount of new capacity on the books in India, according to data published by environmental groups on Thursday.  Saudi Aramco, is trying to rebrand itself as being environmentally conscious, but it has a long history of obstructionism on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Oil-backed groups have challenged electric companies’ plans to build charging stations across the country, according to utility commission filings reviewed by Politico, waging regulatory and lobbying campaigns against the proposals as a way to fight electric vehicles.

On Thursday, CEO Jeff Bezos pledged to make the company net carbon neutral by 2040 and to buy 100,000 electric delivery vans from U.S. vehicle design and manufacturing startup Rivian Automotive LLC.

Worldwide CO2 emissions from commercial flights are rising up to 70% faster than predicted by the UN, according to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation.

E&E News asked “Is U.S. shale facing an ‘unmitigated disaster’?”  Experts say the shale oil/gas industry could be headed off a financial cliff and environmental groups are asking who will clean up thousands of wells drilled miles beneath the surface if businesses go bust.  We don’t just rely upon gas and oil for the fuels to power our vehicles.  They also serve as the feedstock and power source for the processes that make the products, from pharmaceuticals to shampoo, that are inherent to modern life.  Robert Service explored the question of how we will make those things as we begin to leave hydrocarbons in the ground.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.