Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/22/2019

Politics and Policy

I’ve decided to start with two sobering articles from our neighbors to the north, both published in The Tyee.  The first makes the point that we can’t stop the climate crisis just by switching to renewable energy.  The second two-part article starts by addressing the same issue, but then laying out “11 realistic responses to the climate crisis.”  (Part I; Part II).  If these articles get you down, you might consider what Cara Buckley has to say.

At Inside Climate News, Marianne Lavelle addressed the question of why, given his credentials as a climate warrior, climate activists aren’t excited by a run for president by Michael Bloomberg.  Democrats unveiled the “100 Percent Clean Economy Act,” the first significant legislation in their effort to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren all have different proposals for decarbonizing U.S. transportation.  Republicans are beginning to come forward with proposals for climate legislation, as evidenced by this opinion piece and interview.  However, author and professor Thor Hogan argued that action on climate change will only come with Democratic victories in 2020.

Some regulators are arguing for mandatory disclosure of climate change risks to investors and regulators.  As a consequence, companies that analyze such risk have become attractive for investors.  Yale Environment 360 looked at the complex policy issue of moving people away from rising seas by examining the experiences of people in one New Jersey community on the Delaware Bay.  Last year Virginia Beach, VA, became one of a small but growing number of communities willing to say no to real estate developers who wanted to build houses in an area prone to flooding.  The developers sued; the city won.  Copenhagen’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025.  Jonathan Watts wrote eloquently about a meeting of diverse people in a remote community in the Amazon basin.  They comprise a nascent alliance of traditional communities, climate activists, and academics who are re-imagining what the world’s greatest forest was, what it can be, and who can best defend it.  That makes it particularly sad to note that development, most of it illegal, destroyed more than 3700 square miles of Brazilian Amazon rainforest in the year ending in July.

Wisconsin became the latest state to enact an ALEC-patterned bill providing severe penalties for those who trespass near oil and gas pipelines in order to protest.  On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court was to consider whether to take up climate scientist Michael Mann’s defamation suit against conservative magazine National Review.  California and 22 other states sued the EPA last Friday, asking a federal court to block the Trump administration from stripping California of its authority to set its own fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks.  Starting in 2020, California will only buy from automakers that recognize the state’s legal authority to set emissions standards.  In a comprehensive article in Energy Transition magazine from the Rocky Mountain Institute, Christian Roseland examined the big question of how best to design cities for urban mobility

Climate and Climate Science

On Wednesday, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its Climate Change Resilience Index, which measures the preparedness of the world’s 82 largest economies.  They found that based on current trends, the fallout of warming temperatures would shave off 3% of global GDP ($7.9 trillion) by 2050.  The impact varied by region, with the developing world fairing worst.  Of course, when considering studies quantifying future economic impacts, one must bear in mind that it is difficult to project impacts resulting from circumstances that are unprecedented.  That is the conclusion from a new report published by the London School of Economics based on a collaborative study involving three prestigious institutions.  As a result, future impacts are likely to be underestimated.

Fire seasons around the world are growing longer, making it more difficult for countries to share resources, such as the large tanker planes that dump large quantities of water on the flames.  Although multiple factors are involved, one reason for the fire in Australia is thought to be an intensification of the Indian Ocean dipole

An article in the journal Science Advances reported that one-third of vascular plant species in Africa are potentially threatened with extinction and another third are likely rare, potentially becoming threatened in the near future.  I’ve put in several articles in the past about coral bleaching and how it has increased as temperatures have increased.  Now Chris Mooney and several photographers and videographers have presented a report in The Washington Post about what scientists are doing to help save coral reefs.  A potentially deadly disease affecting marine mammals, including seals and sea otters, has been passed from the North Atlantic Ocean to the northern Pacific as a result of the melting of the Arctic sea ice.

Diaa Hadid and Abdul Sattar had a very interesting piece about the farmers in the Harchi Valley in Pakistan’s highlands who have a complex relationship with the Ultar glacier, which is melting.  You’ve probably heard about the research ship that was purposely frozen into the Arctic sea ice as part of the year-long project MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate).  Daisy Dunn of Carbon Brief spent the first six weeks with them and here is the first of four planned articles covering the scientist’s research.

According to data released this week by NOAA, 2019 is likely to be Earth’s second- or third-warmest calendar year on record since modern temperature data collection began in 1880.  A study recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters suggests that by 2050, on average globally, urban heat island warming will probably be equivalent to about half the warming caused by climate change. 


On Thursday, Tesla unveiled its all-electric pickup truck, the Cybertruck.  Ford is now taking deposits for its new all-electric Mustang Mach-E.

To accommodate increased population growth and to build stronger economies, African nations are turning to more coal-fired power plants.  In addition to increased greenhouse gas emissions, more power plants mean more conventional air pollutants.  According to a recent study in Environmental Science and Technology, that pollution will cause tens of thousands of premature deaths.  Countries around the world reduced their coal-fired power plant capacity by 8GW in the 18 months to June 2019 because old plants were retired faster than new ones were built.  But over the same period, China increased its capacity by 42.9GW.  Of even greater concern is that within China, coal and electricity industry groups are pushing for an even bigger increase in the country’s overall coal power capacity.  Furthermore, China is also financing around a quarter of all proposed coal-fired power plants outside its borders.

In this year’s “Production Gap” report, the UN Environment Programme warned about a major discrepancy between planned fossil fuel production and efforts aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C.  Planned production by 2030 is about 50% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. 

Maine is moving forward with Aqua Ventus, a demonstration project with one or two wind turbines that would be the first floating offshore wind installation in the country.  In an effort to facilitate marine traffic through areas with offshore wind turbines, the five New England leaseholders have proposed a uniform turbine layout with 1 nautical mile spacing between turbines.  Balsa wood is a key component of many wind turbine blade cores because it is both strong and lightweight.  Unfortunately, there is currently a shortage of balsa, slowing the production of turbine blades.  The growth of wind energy in Germany has slowed for a variety of reasons.  Are there lessons to be learned for the U.S.?  Global wind speeds are picking up after decades of stalling, creating the potential for wind turbines to increase average output 37% in the next five years, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Heliogen is a start-up energy company that uses a field of mirrors and artificial intelligence to concentrate sunlight and create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, and glass, as well as to drive other industrial processes, such as making hydrogen.


On Monday, The Washington Post unveiled Climate Solutions, a line of coverage that explores the people and organizations focused on tackling climate change.  Just in time for Thanksgiving, Susan Shain compiled a list of places you can go to get the facts about climate change.  A professor at an Arkansas university presented an essay about how he learned to sidestep politics while teaching climate science.  His message is relevant to all of us.  Bill McKibben had an essay in The Guardian entitled “The climate science is clear: it’s now or never to avert catastrophe.”  He and Tamara Toles O’Laughlin wrote in Yes! magazine that big oil should have to compensate poor people and people of color for the suffering they have experienced and will experience as a result of climate change.  Writing in Ensia, Laalitha Surapaneni argued that we shouldn’t waste time trying to change the minds of climate deniers.  Rather, we should invest it in motivating passive allies to act.  An Israeli company claims to have developed an economic way to convert household garbage into a thermoplastic that can be formed into usable products.

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.