Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/1/2019

Politics and Policy

Following weeks of violent protests in Chile, President Sebastian Piñera said the country would not host the COP25 climate summit in December.  The next day, Spain offered to host the meeting in Madrid.  A new report from the European Environment Agency said the EU is nearly on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.  However, a “Significant increase in efforts [is] needed over the next decade” to reach the 2030 goals.  The U.S. did not participate in the Green Climate Fund meeting last Friday in which 27 countries pledged nearly $10 billion to assist poorer nations in combatting climate change.  They were unable to make up for the shortfall caused by the lack of U.S. participation.

On Monday, more than a dozen automakers filed a legal intervention siding with the White House’s effort to revoke the right of California and other states to enact tougher emissions rules than those set by the federal government.  Rather than freezing CAFE standards for five years at 2020 levels, the U.S. EPA may issue a rule by year’s end requiring automakers to sell new cars that reduce carbon emissions by 1.5% a year through 2025.  Top House Republicans are talking through how to proceed with their own climate change legislation, but it remains to be seen how far they’ll be willing to go.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality is about ready to release its how-to tool kit for solar developers to guide them in making their property attractive to pollinators and birds by planting native plants.

A secret agreement has allowed America’s homebuilders to make it much easier to block changes to building codes that would require new houses to better address climate change, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times (NYT).  CBC News addressed the issue of population control as a strategy for fighting climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

California is burning again, driven by Santa Ana and Diablo winds.  Jason Samenow and Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post had a good explanation of those winds and how climate change might influence them.  The fires caused Bill McKibben to ask: “Has the climate crisis made California too dangerous to live in?”  In addition, California resident and NYT columnist Farhad Manjoo ruminated over the future of his state.  Meanwhile, members of the Sunrise Movement used the fires as a focus of protests in the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to express their frustration about the level of congressional inaction on climate change so far.

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by damage to tropical rainforests around the world are being underestimated by a factor of six, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.  Although organic farming has many positive impacts on the environment, yields are lower than conventional farming, meaning that more land is required.  According to a new study in Nature Communications, the greenhouse gas emissions from that additional land more than offset the benefits from organic farming.

Research by Climate Central has shown that rising sea levels could, within 30 years, push chronic flooding higher than land currently occupied by 300 million people, mostly in coastal Asia.  In 2015, nations around the world agreed to pursue a set of sustainable development goals, but worsening climate change may be putting them out of reach, a top UN official said.

As a result of Earth’s warming, the amount of sea ice that blankets the Gulf of St. Lawrence is shrinking at a rate of roughly 12% per decade, increasing the exposure of shore lines of islands like Magdalen to increasing erosion and collapsing cliff faces.  The annual fall bowhead whale migration along the north coast of Alaska and Canada is late, raising concern for native people who depend on them for winter food.  At Inside Climate News, Sabrina Shankman examined the links to climate change.  Arctic seas, along with the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, are acidifying faster than any other marine waters on the planet.

Scientists gathered for a “High Mountain Summit” at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, discussed the fact that mountain-sourced water supplies are becoming less predictable as warmer temperatures melt glaciers, change precipitation patterns, and alter river levels.  A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported the surprise finding that glacial rivers sequester CO2 by chemical weathering due to the high concentrations of silicate silt particles present.  Current methods of CO2 accounting don’t consider this sink.


In a new paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, MIT engineers described an entirely new method for removing CO2 from a stream of air.  Although the technique could revolutionize the field of carbon capture, there are a number of nontechnical barriers preventing the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage.  Another research paper, this one in Joule, presented an advance in electric vehicle battery charging that could allow enough charge to travel 200 miles to be applied in just 10 minutes.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that the development of floating offshore wind turbines could enable offshore wind to meet the entire electricity demand of several key electricity markets several times over.  Although little of it is offshore, the U.S. is now home to more than 100 GW of wind energy capacity, second only to China, a new report from the American Wind Energy Association said Thursday.  The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Monday released for public comment its last environmental analysis of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Project in Wyoming.  It will be the largest wind farm in the U.S., with up to 3 GW of capacity from 1,000 turbines.

The U.S. coal company Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.  Honda has announced that it will sell only hybrid and electric vehicles in Europe by 2022, three years earlier than previously planned.  In its annual Southeast Asia outlook, the IEA warned that the region could become a net importer of fossil fuels in the next few years, increasing carbon emissions in the region.

A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute has found that by the middle of the 2020s, hybrid ‘portfolios’ of batteries and renewable energy will economically outperform existing gas power plants.  Furthermore, such portfolios are already cost-competitive with building new ones.  A new study from Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment will help planners in different regions of the U.S. determine which type of renewable energy would bring the most benefit to their region.  The benefits varied by region.  On Thursday, Dominion Energy announced plans to build a 150 MW solar park in Prince George County, Virginia, and send its output to a data center facility.  A group representing some of Virginia’s largest employers, including Walmart, says Dominion Energy has too many carbon-emitting facilities in its renewable energy portfolio plan and that the utility is stifling renewable energy market growth.

Driven in part by Colorado’s stringent methane standard, a growing cadre of scientists and entrepreneurs is working to develop and deploy novel technologies to address the growing issue of methane leaks across the natural gas supply chain.  The UK plans to phase out subsidies to power plants that use wood pellets as fuel.  This has given hope to activists in North Carolina who hope to shut down the wood pellet industry, arguing that electricity generated with wood pellets is not really carbon neutral.


Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has turned down the Nordic Council’s 2019 Environmental Award, stating that rather than awards, “What we need is for our politicians and the people in power [to] start to listen to the current, best available science.”  Fareed Zakaria reviewed Rachel Maddow’s new book Blowout, concluding that it “is a brilliant description of many of the problems caused by our reliance on fossil fuels.  But it does not provide a path out of the darkness.”  If you want to get more involved in a national movement to increase action on climate change, SueEllen Campbell has compiled a list of organizations to consider.  Two editors at The Conversation summarized what the “experts” recommend that we do to fight the climate crisis.

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.