Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/24/2020

Politics and Policy

On Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands on their Doomsday Clock to 100 sec. before midnight, the time of the metaphorical end of life on Earth.  This is the first time that the clock setting has been less than 2 min. since it was established in 1947.  The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) contains a cornucopia of free-trade provisions for oil and gas companies.  One environmentalist calls it “a climate failure any way you look at it.”  In a letter on Wednesday to OMB, Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, argued that the Trump administration’s plan to cut back future increases in fuel-efficiency standards “if finalized in its present form, will lead to vehicles that are neither safer, nor more affordable or fuel-efficient.”  The Trump administration on Wednesday approved a right-of-way grant allowing for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline across 44 miles of BLM land in Montana. 

An article in The Guardian stated “Though the climate crisis is creating conditions where workers are facing hotter temperatures on a more frequent basis, there are no federal safety protections for workers in extreme temperatures, and only three states, California, Washington and Minnesota, have heat stress workplace protection standards.”  A study published in the journal Climate found that neighborhoods with higher temperatures were often the ones subjected to discriminatory, race-based housing practices nearly a century ago.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that the world needs to prepare for millions of people being driven from their homes by the impact of climate change.  Furthermore, governments must take into account the risks of climate change when considering a refugee’s claim for asylum, the UN Human Rights Committee has ruled.

Amy Harder of Axios sat down with some House Republicans to discuss their climate plans.  With the Axios article as background, here is an opinion piece that deserves a read, as does this interview with Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN).  However, Kate Aronoff, a staff writer for The New Republic remains skeptical.  On Tuesday, Florida lawmakers advanced a proposal that would create a statewide Office of Resiliency and establish a task force to begin looking into how best to protect the state’s 1350 miles of coastline from rising oceans.  A group of state lawmakers from North and South Carolina want to deregulate the states’ electricity markets by allowing competition for power production.  Both states are regulated monopolies with Duke Energy or Dominion Energy as their suppliers.  Reuters has compiled summaries of the climate change policies of the top eight Democrat presidential contenders.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump was pushing U.S. fossil fuels while the other heads-of-state and business leaders were seeking climate solutions, although the latter were vague about what exactly they would do and how quickly.  Prior to Davos, Robert J. Samuelson had an interesting column about the limitations on investors fighting climate change.  Writing about the Davos meeting, Marianne Lavelle of Inside Climate News wrote about Trump, “But the more he’s talked [about climate change], the less clear it’s been to many people whether he knows enough about the science to deny it.”  On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin mocked Greta Thunberg (causing her to hit back), prompting Philip Bump at The Washington Post to query environmental economist Gernot Wagner of New York University.  Meanwhile, a book-length report, published by the Bank for International Settlements, in Basel, Switzerland, signaled that climate change risks could be the overriding theme for central banks in the decade to come.  

Climate and Climate Science

The bushfires in southeastern Australia this season have burned about eight times as much land as the 2018 fires in California, which covered nearly two million acres and were the worst in that state’s recorded history.  As a result the Australian fires are contributing to one of the biggest annual increases in the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere since record-keeping began more than 60 years ago.  The human cost of the bushfires increased Wednesday when three U.S. firefighters were killed in the crash of their Lockheed C-130 Hercules plane.  The fires, however, which have directly affected more than half of all Australians, have also served to energize Australia’s environmental and climate movement.  Nevertheless, climate change deniers in Australia’s Parliament are still in control.

Now that all of the official climate data from 2019 are in, Carbon Brief published its annual “State of the Climate” report.  As part of its “Climate Solutions” series, Washington Post reporter Ben Guarino wrote about efforts to plant a trillion new trees on Earth.  Two weeks ago, I provided a link to an article about the appropriation of $4 million to NOAA to study geoengineering.  This week there was an article about what NOAA will do with the money.

Atmospheric concentrations of HFC-23, a greenhouse gas nearly 13,000 times more potent than CO2, rose faster than ever over a three-year period starting in 2015, a new study in Nature Communications has found. The findings suggest that China and India may not be living up to recent pledges to dramatically reduce emissions of the pollutant.

The latest generation of climate models, referred to as CMIP6, are showing higher climate sensitivity (amount of warming in °C associated with a doubling of CO2e in the atmosphere) than previous models.  Drastic fluctuations in climate could cause significant deterioration to tens of thousands of steel-girder bridges built across the U.S. after World War II.

Climate change is aggravating an erosion crisis in Nigeria that is wrecking buildings, roads, and farmland; damage may cost up to $100 million a year.  It is also causing permafrost to thaw all over the Arctic.  Environmental writer Ed Struzik visited the Canadian Arctic to learn the impacts.  New research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that Arctic sea ice cannot “quickly bounce back” if climate change causes it to melt.


At Foresight: Climate and Energy, energy analyst Serge Colle of Ernst & Young Global Limited addressed the question of whether the potential gains for energy companies outweigh the risks of an accelerated transition to renewable energy.  Oil and gas companies put their own survival at risk if they fail to adapt to providing clean-energy solutions to the world, the International Energy Agency said in a report Monday.  Arizona Public Service, the state’s biggest electricity provider, announced Wednesday that it will seek to produce all of its power from carbon-free sources by 2050.  According to Energy Information Administration data released Tuesday, wind and solar will make up 32 of the 42 GW of new capacity additions expected to start commercial operation in the U.S. in 2020, dwarfing the 9.3 GW of natural-gas-fired plants to come online this year.

According to a report by scientists from Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology, the energy storage industry will grow to employ millions by 2050, fueling a renewables jobs boom as fossil fuel industries shed millions of workers.  You may have heard of Redox Flow Batteries for utility-scale energy storage, but know little about them.  Well, Energy Storage News has a primer on them.

A study, published in the journal Energy Policy, found that carbon emissions from China’s aviation sector could almost quadruple by 2050.

Incoming BP CEO Bernard Looney plans to expand the company’s climate targets and adopt broader carbon emissions reduction goals that will likely include emissions from fuels and products sold to customers rather than just those from BP’s own operations.  After spending nearly $13 million to defeat a carbon-pricing ballot measure in 2018, BP launched a public relations campaign last weekend to promote putting a price on carbon pollution in Washington state.  Meanwhile, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Clean Air Act cannot be applied to companies that sell or distribute natural gas but do not directly release CO2 by burning the fuel.  An article in The Economist stated “The question is no longer ‘whether’ Big Oil has a big role to play in averting the climate crisis. It is ‘when’.”  On the other hand, two historians of science argued that Congress must use its power to investigate Big Oil, just as it once investigated Big Tobacco.

Winchester Medical Center will soon have one of the largest solar power systems of any hospital in Virginia, a move that will save an estimated $3.25 million in electric utility bills over the next 30 years.


The Washington Post has a “Climate Curious” column, where readers can submit questions about climate change.  This week’s column addressed the question of “What does ‘dangerous’ climate change really mean?”  Peter Sinclair has a new video; this one about the fires in Australia (where he lives), which are thought to be a sign of a fundamental change in its climate.  The last decade was the worst on record for economic losses from natural disasters, amounting to $3 trillion – over a trillion more than the previous decade, insurance broker Aon said on Wednesday.  If you enjoy using simulators to help you think about big questions, then you may be interested in the “En-Roads Climate Change Solutions Simulator” developed jointly by the MIT Sloan School of Management, Climate Interactive, and Ventana Systems.  Amy Brady interviewed Norwegian author Maja Lunde about her cli-fi novel, The End of the Ocean.  Makoto Shinkai’s new anime film, Weathering with You, features climate change as the backdrop of a story about two teenagers.  It was reviewed by David Sims in The Atlantic.

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.