Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/11/2019

Politics and Policy

On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren detailed a new environmental justice plan aimed at bolstering and protecting vulnerable communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.  The need for such a plan was illustrated by a study of FEMA’s buyout program published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.  At The New York Times, Lisa Friedman looked at why young climate activists are not impressed with either former Vice President Joe Biden’s climate plans or his climate record.  U.S. mayors are seeking to go over President Trump’s head and negotiate directly at next month’s UN climate change conference in Santiago.  Senate Democrats plan to use the Congressional Review Act to try and repeal the Trump Administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan.  Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, eight EU states have called on the bloc’s incoming top climate official to raise the CO2 reduction target for 2030 to 55% from 40%.

Virginia ranked 29th in the 2019 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard released earlier this month by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  This caused reporter Elizabeth McGowen to write “If Virginia is ever to bust loose from its middle-of-the-pack state ranking on energy efficiency, its regulated utilities must be the prime movers and shakers.”  In a letter to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper dated Thursday, Drew Shindell, Nicholas Professor of Earth Science at Duke University, said that the state should place a “permanent moratorium” on new natural gas infrastructure in the state, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).  Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Dominion Energy Inc of a lower court ruling that halted construction of the ACP.  Nick Martin of The New Republic sees new pipelines coming everywhere. 

In a study released on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) joined a chorus of other studies calling for a price on carbon emissions.  The IMF study found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2°C, although others have recommended a much higher tax.  The Vice Chairman of the Board of Swiss drug company Roche said business must set more ambitious goals for reining in human impact on climate and the environment.  A poll conducted by YouGov Blue and Data for Progress sought to determine voters’ reactions to some of the recent proposals by Democratic candidates for fighting climate change.  Robinson Meyer reviewed the findings at The Atlantic.

Two new reports from the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University addressed the question of how to decarbonize industrial heat, i.e., the heat used to do things like make steel, glass, or cement.  The first report is about the current state of industrial heat technology (decarbonizing is hard) whereas the second addresses policy recommendations for decarbonizing the sector (a carbon tax only ranked fifth among the policies).

Climate and Climate Science

Scientists in Siberia have discovered regions with very high atmospheric methane concentrations.  The methane is coming from melting permafrost.  One source is under the East Siberian Sea and is releasing so much methane that the sea looks like it is boiling in some places.

The New York Times has published detailed maps of total transportation-based CO2 emissions and emissions per capita for many metropolitan areas around the U.S., based on data from Boston University’s “Database of Road Transportation Emissions”.  The Times also had an article about the formation of ghost forests along the mid-Atlantic coast, caused by the migration inland of salt water as a result of sea level rise and a decreased flow of fresh water as a result of drought.

Two recent articles, one last month in Scientific Reports and one this week in Science Advances, shed light on the forces causing accelerated melting of the glaciers in Antarctica.  Be sure to watch the video, in which Ian Howat of Ohio State University does a good job of explaining what is happening.  More rapid melting is also occurring in Greenland, contributing at least 25% of sea level rise.  Science has a rather lengthy article about efforts in Greenland to better understand the melting there, thereby improving scientists’ ability to predict how rapidly sea level will rise.  There is also an interesting video associated with this research.  In South America, nearly 30% of Peru’s glaciers have melted away since 2000, threatening a critical source of drinking water and irrigation for millions of people downstream, according to a new study published in the journal The Cryosphere.  Unfortunately, such melting of mountain glaciers is happening all over the world with similar consequences, as detailed in the new IPCC report on oceans and the cryosphere. 

The National Audubon Society released a new report on Thursday detailing how the ranges of 389 North American birds will change as Earth warms.  Brad Plumer of The New York Times used that report to examine what will happen to the state birds of several states.  A new paper in the journal Science has found that by 2050, up to 5 billion people may be at risk from diminishing ecosystem services, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

NOAA announced that September 2019 tied for the second-warmest September on record in the Lower 48 states.  In addition, hundreds of weather stations from the Mississippi River to the East Coast broke high temperature records for the period Oct. 1-3.  The records weren’t confined to the U.S., however, with records also being set in Europe.

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, scientists found that some coral colonies damaged by oceanic warming from climate change can regrow and fill out the empty skeletons they left behind.  The process is slow, however, suggesting that its success will depend on the frequency of ocean warming events.


This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to the pioneers of the lithium-ion battery.  NASA recently received an all-electric aircraft, the X-57 Maxwell, that will undergo testing in the coming months with the first flight expected in 2020.  British inventor Sir James Dyson said that the company that bears his name is scrapping its plans to build an electric car, even though its engineers had developed a “fantastic” one.

A new report from the Center for American Progress noted that the U.S. needs to get to 65% renewable electricity by 2030 to be on track for 100% renewables in 2050, the level scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  The report also looks at what needs to happen in key sectors to meet that goal.  Many think wind power will supply the majority of U.S. renewable energy.  Philip Warburg reviewed the history of wind power in the U.S.

In order to reduce the risk of forest fires during periods of high winds, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. began cutting electricity to 800,000 customers in California this week.

In the U.S. all utility scale facilities combining renewable energy with energy storage use alternating-current coupling.  Now, utilities are studying direct-current coupling, which requires less equipment and promises to be less expensive.


The Guardian has launched a new series entitled “The polluters”.  The first article was published Wednesday and reveals the 20 companies whose exploitation of the world’s fossil fuel reserves can be linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965.  George Monbiot had an opinion piece to accompany the article.  At the New Yorker, Bill McKibben wrote that in order to make progress, Americans need to stop believing in the fable that the U.S. has already made great progress in cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions.  Michael Svoboda presented summaries with links of 12 reports about climate change, its impacts, and building resilience against them at Yale Climate Connections.  Jane Fonda is moving to Washington, DC, for four months to engage in civil disobedience over climate change on the Capitol steps each Friday.  A new wave of climate protests hit cities around the world this week—this time aimed at shocking people with civil disobedience, fake blood on the pavement, and bodies lying in the streets under signs that read: “Stop funding climate death.”  “Carbon Ruins” is a museum exhibit that looks back on the fossil fuel age from the perspective of 2050 after global net-zero CO2 emissions had been achieved.

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.