Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/20/2019

Politics and Policy

After the widely denounced outcome at COP25, E3G’s Quentin Genard and Jennifer Tollmann wrote: “In the absence of a climate-active US, all eyes are on Europe and whether it can bring the world’s biggest emitter – China – along with it.”  On the other hand, at BloombergNEF, senior contributor Michael Liebreich wrote two optimistic essays entitled “Peak emissions are closer than you think – and here’s why,” and “Climate wars episode IV – a new hope for the 2020s?”.  At The New York Times (NYT), Justin Gillis and Sonia Aggarwal looked at history to assess the U.S. capability for meeting the clean energy challenge.    

During the Democratic debate Thursday night, the candidates described climate change as an existential threat and said tackling it was a cause that could bring the country together.  Andrew Yang had an answer to the question of relocation in the face of climate impacts.  If elected president in 2020, Michael Bloomberg would target an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions from electricity production by 2028 using only actions that can be taken by a president, acting alone, within a president’s term.  The plan presumes no legislative help.  Inside Climate News analyzed the climate positions of nine Democratic presidential candidates, as well as that of President Trump.  Writing in Buzz Feed News, Elizabeth Warren outlined how she would kick off the Green New Deal (GND) in the first 100 days of her presidency, if elected.  At Scientific American, Professor Marilyn A. Brown and graduate student Majid Mamadi addressed the question of whether a GND would add or kill jobs.  Andrew Yang has been advocating for the use of thorium-fueled nuclear reactors, rather than uranium-fueled ones.  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has investigated the validity of his claims.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaboration among 12 mid-Atlantic and northeast states, as well as Washington, D.C., released its first draft proposal for lowering vehicle emissions earlier this week.  A federal judge on Tuesday ruled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was liable for damage caused by its decision to retain floodwaters upstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs during Hurricane Harvey, a move that caused severe and widespread flooding to homes and businesses on the far-west outreaches of the Houston region.  The Indianapolis Star had a profile of Carmel, IN, Republican mayor Jim Brainard and what he has done to reduce the carbon footprint of the city.

In the massive federal spending package that Congress passed this week, lawmakers slashed most of the tax credit extenders that analysts saw as this Congress’ best opportunity to accelerate renewable energy and cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, on Thursday, issued an order that likely will tilt the market to favor coal and natural gas power plants in the nation’s largest power grid region.  It effectively will force state-subsidized solar and wind electricity providers to raise prices.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a preliminary site permit this week sought by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for a small modular reactor near Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Climate and Climate Science

It is hard to imagine having a national average high temperature of 107.4°F, but that is what Australia had on Wednesday (Dec. 18), setting a new record for the second day in a row.  Australia and the contiguous 48 states of the U.S. are about the same size, but Australia is around 14° latitude closer to the equator.  In addition, wildfires were raging in southeastern Australia, where two firefighters were killed.  As if that were not enough, The Guardian reported that the Aboriginal people living in the town of Alice Springs in the center of Australia may need to become the nation’s first climate refugees as rising temperatures make life increasingly difficult.  In a report released on Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences found that since 2000 changes in climate have reduced the revenue of Australian cropping farms by a total of $1.1bn a year.

The decade from 2010-2019 was the hottest on record globally, with eight of the ten warmest years since measurements began occurring within it.  Although no El Niño is predicted for 2020, England’s Met Office predicted that it will be one of the hottest years on record globally.  Chris Mooney and colleagues at The Washington Post published a history of the worldwide network of weather stations that are used to determine the global average temperature.

The waters off California are acidifying twice as rapidly as elsewhere on Earth, according to a study published Monday in Nature Geoscience, which suggests that climate change is likely hastening and worsening chemical changes in the ocean.

In an editorial in the journal Science Advances, Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University and Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, both Amazon experts, warned that deforestation and other fast-moving changes in the Amazon threaten to turn parts of the rainforest into savanna, devastate wildlife, and release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere.  Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon for the period from January to November 2019 was 83% larger than in the same period in 2018.  In an essay at Mongabay, Taran Volckhausen argued that the Paris Climate Accord will be impossible to implement if tropical forest loss isn’t stopped.  At Yale Climate Connections, Will McCarthy examined just what constitutes an old-growth forest.

A large-scale analysis of bird migrations in the contiguous U.S. confirmed that birds’ seasonal long-distance flights are happening earlier than they did a quarter of a century ago, probably due to climate change.


Global demand for coal fell this year for the first time in two years as Europe and the U.S. turned their backs on coal-fired power plants in favor of gas and renewable energy.  Nevertheless, demand is expected to remain stable until 2024 as growth in Asia offsets weaker demand from Europe and the U.S., the International Energy Agency said on Tuesday.  On the other hand, India has been aggressively pivoting away from coal-fired power plants and towards electricity generated by solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.  Last weekend, Goldman Sachs updated its rules about when and how it would underwrite fossil-fuel projects.  It will no longer finance oil exploration or drilling in the Arctic, new thermal coal mines, mountaintop-removal mines, or coal-fired power plants.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s primary power grid, is on track to have more than 20% of its power provided by renewables in 2019.  This is raising questions about whether it can continue to provide reliable supplies as the percent of renewables continues to increase.  Since August, TVA has persuaded more than 80% of the power companies that distribute its electricity to agree to 20-year contracts—a much longer timeframe than its past agreements.  Because TVA has only modest plans to decrease its carbon footprint over that time period, the new contracts could hamper its customers in utilizing renewable energy.

IBM said on Wednesday that it has created a battery design that uses materials extracted from seawater and requires no cobalt.  It is partnering with the research wing of Mercedes-Benz, battery electrolyte supplier Central Glass, and battery manufacturer Sidus for the commercial development of the new design.

A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailed the use of satellite imagery to detect leaks from oil and gas facilities, using a 2018 gas well blowout in Ohio as a case study.  A study published Monday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, compared several different scenarios for curbing methane from electricity generation in order to meet a target for 2030 of a 32% cut in CO2-equivalent emissions relative to 2005 levels.

China’s solar panel manufacturers, forecast to meet half of global demand by the mid-2020s, are ramping up overseas sales to stave off closure after the elimination of government subsidies pushed domestic installations to a five-year low.  The U.S. residential solar market reached record highs in the third quarter of 2019, with 712 MW of solar installed.  Overall, the U.S. market added 2.6 GW of solar photovoltaics in the third quarter, swelling total U.S. solar capacity to 71.3 GW.  Technology firms are buying more than half the solar-generated electricity produced in Virginia, and a state official expects the industry to drive increasing demand for clean energy resources.


Climate scientist and communicator Katharine Hayhoe is a finalist for Texan of the Year.  Robin McKenna wrote about three ways to market climate science to reach skeptics.  Greta Thunberg has been named one of the 10 most influential people in science in 2019 by the scientific journal Nature and Hulu plans a documentary about her to air in 2020.  At Yale Climate Connections Sara Peach provided resources to help answer the question “Where should I move to be safe from climate change?”.  Adeline Johns-Putra provided brief descriptions of the seven most crucial climate change novels.  Susan Shain provided a list of five climate-related documentaries with brief descriptions at the NYT.  The Yale Program in Climate Change Communication has completed a new survey on Americans’ attitudes about climate change.  Among the findings, 59% understand that global warming is mostly human-caused whereas 30% think it is due mostly to natural causes.  Young activists say they’re seeing more “youth-washing” as the global youth climate movement gains momentum.

I’ll be taking the next two weeks off for the Christmas and New Year holidays.  The next Roundup will cover the week ending January 10, 2020.

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.