Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/17/2020

Politics and Policy

The latest survey (November 2019) from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has found that the “Alarmed” segment of U.S. society is at an all-time high (31%), nearly tripling in size since October 2014.  Ivy Main has filed her first two posts about clean energy bills before the Virginia legislature (Part I, Part II).  In an interview by Elizabeth McGowan, Kristie Smith of the Virginia Conservation Network talked about the Virginia Clean Economy Act.  Ivy Main discussed that act, as well as the Green New Deal Act, at the Virginia Mercury.  James Temple took a cleared-eye view of all of the big infrastructure projects that will be required to adapt to climate change, concluding that we can’t achieve a set of cohesive national goals “if we simply allow cities and citizens to prioritize their individual concerns.”

A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the children’s climate lawsuit, which was trying to force the federal government to take action to address the climate crisis, ruling 2 to 1 that they must look to the political branches for action, rather than the courts.  Among 20 of the most powerful people in government environmental jobs, most have ties to the fossil fuel industry or have fought against the regulations they now are supposed to enforce.  The World Economic Forum’s annual risks report found that, for the first time in its 15-year history, the environment filled the top five places in the list of concerns likely to have a major impact over the next decade.  The European Commission has set out a plan to invest €1tn in climate action, towards its aim of net-zero emissions by 2050.  Data gathered by the UN’s climate body shows that 114 countries have produced more ambitious plans for cutting emissions or have signaled their intention to do so this year.  A new UN proposal calls for national parks, marine sanctuaries and other protected areas to cover nearly one-third or more of the planet by 2030 as part of an effort to stop a sixth mass extinction and slow global warming.  Australia’s vulnerability to climate change is aggravated by its geography because it is surrounded by developing countries that do not have the resources, skills, knowledge, and infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of climate change, leading to the potential for environmental refugees.

Close on the heels of the announcement of the Democrat’s CLEAN Future Act, which is still under development, Republicans are working on their own climate plan.  According to a climate plan unveiled Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is pledging to slash carbon pollution by 50% in the U.S. economy by 2030, with full decarbonization by 2050.  Microsoft has promised to be “carbon negative” within the decade and to use its technology, money, and influence to drive down carbon emissions across the economy.  At The Hill, Shahir Masri and Robert Taylor posited that a consensus is emerging in support of a national climate program to drastically reduce emissions, spur investments in clean energy, and provide protection and economic justice for families coping with increased energy costs.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance published the organization’s predictions for what the year 2020 will bring for the low-carbon transition in energy, transport, commodities, and sustainability.  Although written for a UK audience, Chris Goodall’s article about a carbon tax addresses many questions associated with the policy.  Eric Niiler at Wired examined the question of whether carbon offsets really work.

Four coastal Louisiana tribes that claim the U.S. government has violated their human rights by failing to take action on climate change submitted a formal complaint Wednesday to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.  Several Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee slammed bipartisan legislation to gradually reduce the use of heat-trapping chemicals in air conditioners and refrigerators, arguing the measure would raise costs for consumers.  E-mails obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council under a federal Freedom of Information Act request revealed a closely coordinated effort between industry and the Justice Department’s environmental division to block climate lawsuits by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.  The NHTSA and the EPA submitted proposed rules for 2021 through 2026 model years auto fuel efficiency to the White House’s OMB. 

Climate and Climate Science

Reports from NASA and NOAA confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record and that the past decade was the hottest on record.  Perhaps more importantly, the ocean heat content in 2019 was the hottest on record.  Robinson Meyer shared his thoughts about the significance of those events in The Atlantic.  In a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, a group of scientists concluded that the massive die-off of sea birds in 2014 through 2016 in the Pacific was caused by a record-breaking ocean heat wave that triggered systemic changes throughout the ocean ecosystem.  Leatherback turtles are making longer journeys, in some cases nearly twice as long as usual, from nesting to feeding grounds, because of rising ocean temperatures and changing sea currents.

Dana Nuccitelli explained how climate change has influenced Australia’s unprecedented fires.  An Australian forest expert worries that Australia is on the brink of a “major ecological shift.”  At Vox, Umair Irfan explained why Australia has always had weird weather and how climate change is influencing it.

Carbon Brief published an analysis of the ten climate papers most featured in the media in 2019.  A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reported that with a single day of global weather observations, scientists can now detect evidence of climate change. 

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rose 85% in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to a data-based warning system from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

Two articles this week dealt with ecological grief.  In The New York Times, author Emma Marris provided a five-step plan for dealing with it, while at The Guardian, several scientists revealed how they are coping with a profound sense of loss.

Energy

After Hurricane Maria, several companies and non-profits (one with financial assistance from people in Harrisonburg) donated solar panels and batteries to community centers and critical infrastructure in Puerto Rico.  Adele Peters of Fast Company visited after the earthquake and wrote about how the solar facilities fared.  If you are interested in large-scale energy storage for stabilizing an electrical grid with a lot of renewable energy input, this review article from last week will serve as a good tutorial on the subject.

According to a report by BloombergNEF, burning hydrogen for electricity could work economically in some countries by 2050 if the price on carbon rises to $55 per ton of CO2.  A bigger issue than the combustion of hydrogen will be the production, transportation, and storage of the gas.  Last year saw the global hydrogen fuel sector add more than 1 GW of new capacity for the first time.  U.S. investments in renewable energy set a record in 2019.

A report by the northeast regional advocacy group Acadia Center said that emissions from the power plants covered by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) were down 47% from 2009 to the end of 2017 – outpacing the rest of the nation by 90%.  The gross domestic product of the RGGI states also grew by 47% over the same period – outperforming the rest of the country, which grew by 31%.  In 2019, U.S. power companies retired or converted roughly 15.1 GW of coal-fired electricity generation, second only to 2015 when 19.3 GW were retired.  On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and Germany’s four coal-producing states unveiled details of their plan to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2038 at the latest.

In 2020, holistically-planned livestock grazing and regenerative land management practices will be brought to nearly 2,400 acres of solar farms to create carbon sinks, restore biodiversity and soil health, and add to the environmental, social, and economic benefits of solar farms.

The U.S. isn’t the only country where the public is in love with SUVs, causing a dilemma for auto manufacturers facing tougher fuel economy standards.   At E&E News, David Ferris examined four questions that will determine whether the 2020s will be the electric vehicle decade.  The International Code Council, which sets voluntary guidelines for new homes, voted to approve a new provision that will make all new homes built in the U.S. “EV-ready.”  Waynesboro will be in the first group of Virginia cities to receive electric school buses under a plan devised by Dominion Energy.

Potpourri

The BBC will have a year-long series of special programming and coverage on climate change.  David Roberts examined the growing use of wood in the construction of multistory buildings as a way to minimize greenhouse gases in the building industry.  Jane Fonda held her last “Fire Drill Friday” last week.  Two Harrisonburg climate activists were there to participate.  Lennox Yearwood Jr. and Bill McKibben urged people to “follow the money” in their fight against fossil fuels.  A study published in the journal Environmental and Resource Economics found that the installation of rooftop solar panels in a neighborhood increased the share of neighbors who believe human action is the primary cause of climate change.  YouTube has been “actively promoting” videos containing misinformation about climate change, says Time, reporting on findings released Thursday by campaign group Avaaz.  Rupert Murdoch’s younger son, James, and his activist wife, Kathryn, attacked the climate denialism promoted by News Corporation (the global media group) and by the Fox News Channel overseen by James’ older brother, Lachlan.  The Washington Post reviewed “Weathering with You,” an animated feature from Japanese writer-director Makoto Shinkai.  If you like video games, you might be interested in “The Climate Trail” (free and ad-free) by William Volk that can be played on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows, and “Cranky Uncle” by John Cook that is still in prototype, but should be available soon for both iOS and Android phones.

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.