Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/13/2019

Politics and Policy

Greta Thunberg spoke at COP25, saying: “Finding holistic solutions is what the COP should be all about, but instead it seems to have turned [into] some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition.  Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double-counting emissions reductions, and moving emissions overseas, and walking back on their promises to increase ambitions, or refusing to pay for solutions or loss and damage.  This has to stop.”  As of Wednesday evening, things were not going well at COP25, with major divisions appearing on Thursday.  So far, the largest countries have been unwilling to declare stronger commitments to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, whereas 73 small and developing countries have signaled their intention to enhance their climate plans.  One sticky point is carbon trading.  At Climate Home News Dennis Clare argued that there are many problems associated with the technique.  In addition, BuzzFeed News has obtained a draft proposal which they say the U.S. is circulating regarding the question of climate liability.  It suggests ways to limit the power of the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage” – a way of addressing the loss and damage caused by climate change, particularly in developing nations.  On the other hand, the European Commission introduced the European Green Deal, in which nearly every major aspect of the European economy would be re-evaluated in light of the imperatives of the climate emergency.  Poland, however, will be allowed to work toward carbon neutrality at its own pace.

In a letter to the Lancet Planetary Health journal, a group of scientists has warned that livestock production must reach its peak within the next decade in order to meet climate goals.  Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.  In a move that will cost consumers $14 billion a year in higher energy costs and add to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Trump administration rolled back energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs.  Amid growing concerns about climate change, GM rolled out the next generation of its big truck-based SUVs, which are larger and heavier.  The UK is seeing a similar problem.

New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager ruled that ExxonMobil did not break state securities laws when describing to shareholders how it analyzed the effect of future greenhouse gas regulations on the company’s bottom line.  Two Virginia lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan effort on Thursday to reinstate the authority of the State Corporation Commission to review electricity base rates and set profit levels for Dominion Energy.  Mountain Valley Pipeline will pay $2.15 million for the environmental damage it has caused so far in building a natural gas pipeline through Southwest Virginia, while facing additional penalties for any new violations that may occur.

Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz argued in The Guardian that “environmental sustainability can be achieved only in tandem with efforts to achieve greater social justice.”  The Sunrise Movement and World War Zero, initiated by John Kerry, represent two very different approaches to mobilization on climate change.  David Roberts at Vox compared the two.  John Kerry paired up with Rep. Ro Khanna (D, CA) to write an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT) entitled “Don’t Let China Win the Green Race.”  College Republicans across the country are calling on the GOP to back a conservative climate action plan.  Thousands of people rallied in Sydney, Australia, to protest against inaction on the climate crisis, after months of bushfires and hazardous smoke in New South Wales and Queensland.

Climate and Climate Science

NOAA released its “Arctic Report Card” for 2019.  The past six years have been the warmest ever recorded in the Arctic, causing it to undergo a profound shift and start releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost.  According to an article in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, not all of the recent rise in atmospheric methane is from melting permafrost, however.  Rather, some is natural in origin, coming from the Sudd wetlands in South Sudan, which received a large pulse of water from East African lakes.

The latest data from Climate Tracker show that even under the current national pledges to slow global warming, the Earth’s temperature will warm by 2.8° C by 2100, whereas if we continue with current policies it will warm to 3°C.  Climate scientist James Hansen posted a new essay on his website.

Based in part on her experience aboard the MOSAiC Arctic expedition, Daisy Dunne took a detailed look at a key question: when will Arctic sea ice disappear?  Juliet Eilperin profiled an Alaskan village that has benefited financially from the oil production in Alaska, but must now come to grips with the devastation occurring because of climate change.  Ice is being lost from Greenland seven times faster than it was in the 1990s, and the scale and speed of ice loss is much higher than was predicted in the last IPCC report.  While we hear a lot about what is happening in Alaska and Greenland, we don’t hear so much about Iceland.  WBUR’s “Here and Now” visited there to change that.

According to a national poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans broadly accept climate science, but many are fuzzy on the details.  Researchers at the McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania have designed a series of maps of the U.S. for an online collection named The 2100 Project: An Atlas for A Green New Deal.  It tries to visualize how climate change will impact the U.S.  Eliminating food waste can have a big, positive impact on the climate.  Amelia Nierenberg discussed strategies for doing that.

According to an international study, a quarter of the world’s population is at risk of water supply problems as mountain glaciers, snow-packs, and alpine lakes are diminished by global warming and rising demand.  On average, the oxygen content of the world’s oceans declined by 2% between 1960 and 2010 as a result of global warming.


Denmark is pursuing plans to build one or more artificial islands surrounded by offshore wind turbines with a capacity of 10 gigawatts.  The purpose of the islands is to allow conversion of excess wind power into renewable fuels, such as hydrogen.  Connecticut on Thursday selected Vineyard Wind’s 804-megawatt Park City project as the winner in a major offshore wind solicitation, setting up the seaport city of Bridgeport to become a significant hub for the emerging U.S. market.  The world’s first commercial airplane powered entirely by batteries made its inaugural test flight outside of Vancouver on Tuesday morning.

In MIT Technology Review, James Temple examined why greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and what nations must do to reverse the trend.  Maxine Joselow had a thought-provoking piece in Scientific American looking at “The Carbon Cost of Online Shopping.”  According to a new report from Principles for Responsible Investment, policies designed to combat climate change could permanently slash the value of companies around the world by up to $2.3 trillion.

Congestion in the newly expanded Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s electric transmission system threatens to significantly slow wind and solar development in the region.  The number of Virginia schools that have added solar panels has tripled in the last two years, according to a new report.

Greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use now exceed coal emissions in the U.S. and Europe and gas is now the primary driver of emissions growth worldwide.  Brazil will push to expand oil drilling in its massive oil and gas find off its coast in spite of growing global concerns about climate change.  A glut of cheap natural gas is wreaking havoc on the energy industry.  Two reporters from the NYT used infrared imaging to detect methane leaks from oil and gas facilities in West Texas.  Dominion Energy announced Wednesday that it is partnering with Vanguard Renewables to develop and operate manure-to-methane conversion facilities at dairy farms across the U.S.  A group of 18 states, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that blocked construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline under the Appalachian Trail.

A report released Wednesday by the National Farmers Union in Canada concluded that some elements of old-fashioned mixed farming can be combined with the latest technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Severe droughts in southern Africa have reduced electricity production from hydroelectric dams.


Greta Thunberg was named Person of the Year by Time “For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads.”  Rebecca Solnit had an opinion piece in The Guardian in which she said, in part: “We must expand our imaginations and act on that bigger understanding of our place in the world and our impact on the future.”  In The Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan addressed the question of the greenest way to travel.  If you are thinking of buying carbon offsets to make your travel carbon neutral, then you might want to read this article.  Bud Ward reviewed some of the high and low points for climate change in 2019 while SueEllen Campbell compiled four interesting sign projects about climate change, both at Yale Climate Connections.  Grist came up with 79 climate-friendly gifts for the holiday season.  Michael Svoboda compiled a list of twelve books on climate change and the environment.  Climate change communicator Katharine Hayhoe talked with Texas Observer reporter Megan Kimble about the things that give her hope.  While individual actions to combat climate change are important, they are insufficient and may even hamper efforts to bring about needed systemic change.

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.