Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/15/2019

Politics and Policy

Working with the Rhodium Group, Columbia University economists completed a study of a fee-and-dividend type carbon tax and found that it would slash American carbon pollution by almost 40% within a decade.  Meanwhile, the political arm of the Climate Leadership Council is launching a digital ad campaign to sell a carbon tax.  Transportation accounts for over a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, much of that from cities.  Consequently, cities around the world are struggling with how to control vehicles and their impact.

If you are a sustainability investor you might be interested in a new paper in Palgrave Communications by researchers at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment within the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard who studied where to invest in more renewable energy infrastructure.  Studies at the University of Buffalo have found that it is possible to make buildings more resilient to the impacts of climate change while also reducing their contributions to its cause.

On Monday, former coal executive Don Blankenship announced he will make a 2020 White House bid as a Constitution Party candidate.  Although young voters are attracted to Bernie Sanders’ climate plans, others say they are “technically impractical, politically unfeasible, and possibly ineffective.”  In a joint project organized by Inside Climate News, reporters across the Midwest explored how communities are responding to climate change.  A new report from Climate Transparency said that Canada’s plan to meet its greenhouse-gas emissions targets is among the worst in the G20, whereas Australia’s response to climate change is one of the worst.  As if to prove the point, Australia’s government appeared pretty dysfunctional in the face of the brush fires.

According to ProPublica, although California’s cap-and-trade program has helped it meet some initial, easily attained benchmarks, experts are increasingly worried that it is allowing the state’s biggest polluters to conduct business as usual, and even increase their emissions.  An estimated 80% of Britain’s peat bogs have been damaged or destroyed, leading to the release of significant amounts of the CO2 that had been stored in.  Because bogs are such important carbon sinks, efforts are now underway to learn more about bog ecosystems and how to restore large boggy areas.

Climate and Climate Science

According to a major new study, published in The Lancet, climate change poses an unprecedented health risk to children and is already having “persistent and pervasive” effects that will last throughout their lives.  Australian weather forecasts for the next three months said that there is just a 25% chance that the country’s east coast, where brush fires are raging, will receive average rainfall.  A group of former fire chiefs said the government’s refusal to discuss climate change issues was impeding preparations for large-scale fires.

During an “acqua alta” event on Wednesday, St Mark’s Basilica in Venice was flooded for only the sixth time in 1,200 years.  Four of those floods have occurred within the past 20 years.  The mayor attributed the severe flooding to climate change, but there are many reasons Venice floods.  Yale Climate Connections discussed new efforts by scientists to study the risk potentials associated with multiple climate change events, such as when a drought and heat wave occur together.

At Yale Climate Connections Sara Peach addressed the question: “How is climate change affecting autumn?”.  And on a similar topic, Alejandra Borunda of National Geographic discussed the weird fall weather the U.S. has been experiencing lately.  On longer time scales, numerous areas have seen greater climate volatility recently.  Big, destructive hurricanes are hitting the U.S. three times more frequently than they did a century ago, according to a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

This year, the algal bloom in Lake Erie was among the most severe and toxic since scientists began keeping track in the early 2000s.  Tony Briscoe, an environmental reporter with the Chicago Tribune, wrote about the many factors, including climate change, that have contributed to such blooms.

The intensity of ice generation in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan exceeds that of any single place in the Arctic Ocean or Antarctica, and the sea ice reaches a lower latitude than anywhere else on the planet.  Unfortunately, it is in one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, which is slowing down ice production.  This, in turn, is causing cascading effects in the North Pacific.  Science presented the most interesting video I have seen yet depicting Arctic sea ice loss.  In addition to extent, it also incorporates age.  A new study published in PNAS has found that loss of snow and ice cover are the main reasons for a reduction in the Arctic’s ability to reflect heat, not soot as had been previously thought.  Switzerland is responsible for just 0.1% of global CO2 emissions, yet the Alps are warming twice as fast as the global average, causing many problemsInside Climate News had a good article by Bob Berwyn using new research to explain the factors driving ice loss from Antarctica.  In addition to the warm waters eating away the bottoms of the ice shelves, “atmospheric rivers” are causing more surface melting.


On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued its World Energy Outlook for 2019.  It contains both good news and bad news.  The good news: more use of fossil fuel-free energy.  The bad news: increasing energy demand.  In addition, the IEA revealed that methane leakage from coal mines could be having an impact on climate equivalent to that of the shipping and aviation industries combined.  Although its Outlook is widely read, the IEA is often criticized by clean energy advocates.  If you want to do something else to help lower your CO2 emissions you might consider switching the time that you run your dishwasher, clothes dryer, and other high-demand electrical appliances from daytime to nighttime.

A research team, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, has reported that China’s CO2 emissions from its energy sector are expected to increase this year and next, driven by rising oil and gas consumption instead of by coal.  The African Development Bank will not fund a coal-fired power plant project in Kenya and has no plans to finance such plants in future, senior officials said.  Also, the European Investment Bank said Thursday that it will stop financing fossil fuel energy projects from the end of 2021.

Tesla will “build batteries, powertrains and vehicles” at its European gigafactory, which company CEO Elon Musk has tweeted will be in the Berlin area of Germany.  In an effort to boost the sales of electric vehicles (EVs), manufacturers are shifting their focus to the high-performance, rather than environmental, features of the cars.  On the other hand, a 2018 survey of U.S. consumers found that they would prefer phasing out gas-guzzlers sooner, rather than later.  E&E News has just reported on the “Electric Road Trip,” an 8,000-mile journey in an electric car and an investigation into how electric transportation will change America.  Many cities want to add electric buses to their bus fleets, but the capacity to build them is limited, resulting in hundreds of backlogged orders in the U.S.  One downside of EVs is the deterioration of the batteries over time.  Thus engineers and DIYers are looking for ways to use the residual storage capacity of the batteries once they have reached the end of  their useful automotive life.

Thirteen cities and one county in California have enacted new zoning codes encouraging or requiring all-electric new construction.  Faced with such electrification of buildings, one natural gas utility is proposing to add renewable biogas to its pipelines.  This raises questions, such as, how viable a business model this is and will it help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Japanese officials have announced a new $2.7 billion project that will include 11 solar plants and 10 wind farms to be built on abandoned or contaminated lands in Fukushima prefecture.  Virginia Gazette published an article about the state of solar farms in Virginia.


William E. Rees, professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia, said not to call him a pessimist, but rather a realist.  In a two-part series (Part I; Part II) he explained why “the world needs to face some hard facts that suggest we are headed toward catastrophe.”  A survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 63% of Georgia voters think the country is not doing enough to address climate change.  When you want to take a break and watch a film you can choose from the “Top 10 sustainability films of all times” compiled by The Hill.  Jeff Peterson, who worked at the EPA, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and White House Council on Environmental Quality, has a new book out: A New Coast: Strategies for Responding to Devastating Storms and Rising Seas.  He published an article on The Daily Climate about ways coastal communities can prepare for storms and rising seas.  The winners and shortlisted photos in the Climate Visuals 2019 photography awards were presented at The Guardian.  Authors Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope think “The climate silence that had long pervaded so much of the media has been broken.”

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.