Welcome to the first Weekly Roundup of 2020. Perhaps the best way to start is to consider the words of climate scientist Ben Santer, written on New Years Eve.
Politics and Policy
In a unanimous decision, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA rejected a permit needed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to build a compressor station in Union Hill, VA, a community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. Federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines, and other major infrastructure projects, according to a Trump administration plan that would weaken the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In a related action, President Trump proposed changes to NEPA that would redefine what constitutes a “major federal action” to exclude privately financed projects that have minimal government funding or involvement, such as pipelines and other energy infrastructure. As a result, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Francis Rooney (R-FL) sent a letter to the entire House, urging their colleagues to oppose the proposed changes.
The head of the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday warned that Americans risk choosing the “wrong path” in the 2020 presidential election if they vote for a candidate seeking to fight climate change by banning drilling. Three members of Extinction Rebellion Scotland boarded a gas mining rig in the port of Dundee in an attempt to stop it from heading out to the North Sea. There are still pipeline standoffs going on, these between gas companies and Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and they have resulted in a ruling by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Meanwhile, in the U.S., federal agencies are required by law to work with Native American tribes that might be affected by oil and gas projects, but they often don’t. Critics of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers see a concerted effort to shift blame, protect conservative leaders, and divert attention from climate change in the debate about the bush fires.
During the 2017-2018 election cycle in the U.S., oil, gas, and coal industry lobbying and campaign donations totaled $359,165,917, whereas the renewable energy industries spent $26,204,224. BlackRock, the world’s largest investor, has joined Climate Action 100+, an influential pressure group calling for the biggest polluters to reduce their CO2 emissions. At Vox, Laura McGann had a message for Boomers: “You can still be heroes in the story of climate change.” On Wednesday, House Democrats released a white paper that outlined their vision for sweeping climate legislation that would push the U.S. to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Surprisingly, it did not call for an economy-wide price on carbon emissions. Because buildings are a major source of urban greenhouse gas emissions, numerous cities across the U.S. are passing laws or formulating regulations aimed at decreasing the energy use of existing buildings.
In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), Jochen Bittner of Die Zeit in Germany argued that moving away from nuclear energy could turn out to be one of the gravest mistakes of the Merkel era. In the U.S., a line item in the recently passed $1.4 trillion budget provides NOAA with at least $4 million to study the impacts of placing materials in the stratosphere to counter global warming, i.e., geoengineering. In the last of a four-part series, David Roberts discussed how carbon-capture-and-utilization could be used to build a circular economy around carbon.
Climate and Climate Science
More than three-quarters of the Australian continent experienced the worst fire weather conditions on record last month as 2019 set new benchmarks for heat and dryness across the country. Carbon Brief compiled a summary of the media response to one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons on record. The piece includes an appraisal of the links between climate change, the nation’s recent extreme temperatures, and the fires. Amid the ongoing bushfire crisis, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison rejected criticism of his government’s climate change policies. Climate Home News reported that the fires will cost billions of dollars for recovery efforts, while Vox examined the origin of the estimate that around a billion animals had been killed. Furthermore, many species are expected to go extinct because of habitat loss. While the world has been focused on the Australian fires, space research agency INPE released data showing that the number of fires in the Amazon rainforest grew 30.5% in 2019 from 2018. Inside Climate News reported that scientists say we’re witnessing how global warming can push forest ecosystems past a point of no return because some of the burned forests won’t recover in today’s warmer climate. An important issue following a fire, is what to do with a burned forest. Should it be cut and replanted, or should regrowth be allowed to occur naturally?
If you would like a short review of the major climate research published in 2019, Yale Climate Connections has one written by Dana Nuccitelli. Chelsea Harvey asked climate researchers across a variety of disciplines about the biggest priorities and hottest topics for the 2020s. The number of billion-dollar climate- and weather-related disasters in the U.S. more than doubled in the last decade, with costs soaring above $800 billion, according to a U.S. government report released on Wednesday. Democratic Republic of Congo is one of several central African countries to be hit by severe flooding in recent months, which researchers have attributed to increasingly intense and unpredictable weather linked to global warming.
European scientists on Wednesday confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record for Earth, behind 2016, which had a strong El Niño event. Shrubs and grasses are springing up around Mount Everest and across the Himalayas. Although little is known about the impact of plant growth in the Himalayas, studies of increased vegetation in the Arctic found that they delivered a warming effect in the surrounding landscape.
A new study, published in the journal Nature, has found a link between the amount of Arctic sea ice and the melting of permafrost, with less sea ice leading to greater melting. Another paper in Nature reported that it was unable to replicate studies that found that acidified sea water negatively influenced some aspects of fish behavior.
Scientists think they’ve uncovered a tipping point in the deforestation of landscapes across Earth: Once an area loses half its forest, the rest of the forest is often swift to fall.
Led by an 18% drop in coal-fired electricity generation, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 2.1% in 2019, according to the Rhodium Group. Inside Climate News had a good analysis of the emissions drop with graphs for each sector of the economy. Texas generated more energy from renewable sources in 2019 than from coal, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. E&E News published a discussion of five energy fights to watch in 2020.
In the “hopeful” column, researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new copper- and iron-based catalyst that uses light to convert CO2 to methane. If the new catalyst can be improved further, it could help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, as well as provide a new method of energy storage.
Phoenix-based Nikola Motors is acquiring a battery start-up whose technology could double the distance a battery-electric vehicle can travel between charges, while cutting battery costs in half. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has been chosen as the preferred turbine supplier for the 2.64 GW Dominion Energy Virginia Offshore Wind project.
As one might expect, MIT is conducting a significant amount of work on energy and its conservation. This month it reported on efforts to reduce energy loss through windows, while last month it explained the various types of renewable energy generation. Renovation of existing houses is an excellent way to cut the carbon footprint of housing. Ensia examined how this can be done.
In the “Oh, good grief” column, according to Gilbert et al., the extraction of oceanic methane hydrates has the potential to supply the world with more than 1 million exajoules of energy, equivalent to thousands of years of current global energy demand. It also has the potential to greatly exacerbate climate change.
At The Correspondent, meteorologist and writer Eric Holthaus provided “a story about our journey to 2030 – a vision of what it could look and feel like if we finally, radically, collectively act to build a world we want to live in.” Manohla Dargis, co-chief film critic at the NYT reviewed the movie Earth. Amy Harder has posted at Axios “10 energy and climate issues to watch in 2020”. Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker, addressed the question, “What will another decade of climate crisis bring?”. As we seek to adapt to climate change during the 2020s, we can obtain information from the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE), a collection of more than 2,000 vetted resources on climate adaptation compiled since 2010 by EcoAdapt, a nonprofit based in Washington state.
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.