Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/21/2020

Politics and Policy

When it comes to coping with and preparing for the impacts of sea level rise, Miami and Miami Beach get most of the press.  As a consequence, we tend to overlook the many other coastal cities faced with similar problems.  The Washington Post addressed this by publishing an article about Boston that made clear just how complicated the issue is.  In an opinion piece in the same newspaper, New Orleans architects and planners Steven Bingler and Martin C. Pedersen argue that one option that must be considered for coastal cities is retreat.  President Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget would slash funding for the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers, eliminating all $38 million for research to help wildlife and humans “adapt to a changing climate.”  Mandy Gunasekara, who urged President Trump to exit the Paris climate agreement as the EPA’s top air-policy adviser, is poised to return to the agency as its next chief of staff.

Democratic presidential candidates discussed climate change for about 15 minutes during the Wednesday night debate in Las Vegas.  Marianne Lavelle of Inside Climate News summarized what the candidates had to say.  Also on Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund ranked Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar last among the candidates on their plans to address climate change, giving each a score of 1 out of 10.  Vox published a list of five things to know about how Bernie Sanders plans to deal with the climate crisis as president.  Rather than focusing on curtailing fossil fuel use, as the Democrats do, Republican lawmakers want to continue their use, but employ carbon capture and storage technology.  The plan was immediately condemned by the powerful Club for Growth PAC and elicited grumbles from a handful of Republican lawmakers.  Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said Monday that he plans to spend $10 billion of his own fortune to help fight climate change.  A new study from the Pew Research Center found that the partisan divide over climate change is the largest it has ever been.

Sarah Vogelsong provided a list of “Ten Things to Know about the [Virginia] Clean Economy Act.”  If state Senators act on either of two bills from the House, Virginians would be allowed to buy 100% renewable energy from competitive service suppliers — no matter what programs their utilities offer.  On his blog, James A. Bacon examined a report from Rocky Mountain Institute assessing Dominion’s plans to become net-zero by 2050.  In a move to protect its ski slopes and growing economy, Utah has created a long-term plan to address the climate crisis.  Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer asserted that in the past few years, the American Petroleum Institute and its allies have begun working at the local level, fighting against climate-friendly policies in at least 16 different states.

A study published in the journal Nature Energy cautioned that the negative impacts associated with climate change are insufficiently accounted for in financial markets, raising the possibility of a severe recession in response to serious climate problems.  A commission, convened by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the journal Lancet, found that every country in the world is failing to shield children’s health and their futures from intensifying ecological degradation and climate change.  The Fifth National Climate Assessment is scheduled for release in 2022, about halfway through President Trump’s potential second term.  Planning for the report is already underway, with a project leader expected to be chosen within a few months.  The White House stands to have an influential role in the report’s construction through the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Climate and Climate Science

According to NOAA scientists, January 2020 recorded the highest global average temperature for January in 141 years of record keeping.  In a stirring photo-essay for The New York Times, Damien Cave wrote of “The End of Australia as We Know It.”  At National Geographic, Madeline Stone explained how climate change may have caused the locust plague in East Africa.  She also described the various factors and events that may have led to record or near-record temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula,.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, concluded that “natural” emissions of fossil methane are lower than had been thought.  Assuming that estimates of total fossil methane emissions are correct, this suggests that emissions of fossil methane from coal, oil, and gas operations are larger than previously thought.  Some take issue with that assumption.  A second study, published in Science, found that “minimal” methane was emitted from permafrost and geologic seepage as Earth was emerging from the last ice age.

In a 2016 book, naturalist E. O. Wilson proposed that half of Earth be set aside for natural systems.  Now many people, both scientists and non-scientists, are working to bring that idea to fruition.  Two scientific studies of the number of insects splattered by cars have revealed a huge decline in abundance at European sites in two decades.  Scientists and conservationists have warned that if high ocean temperatures in the region do not drop in the next two weeks, the Great Barrier Reef could experience its third major coral bleaching incident in five years.  In addition, climate change could destroy nearly all remaining coral reefs by the end of the century, according to research released Monday at the AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting 2020 in San Diego.

In an article in the journal Science, two USGS researchers wrote “The Colorado River Basin loses progressively more water to evaporation, as its sunlight-reflecting snow mantle disappears.”  As a result, the annual-mean discharge has been decreasing by 9.3% per °C of warming.  Because of heavy rains, major flooding occurred in central Mississippi and southern Tennessee.  In addition, Storm Dennis caused widespread flooding across England, Wales and Scotland.

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is the current that carries warm water north and cold water south, maintaining the mild climate in the UK and northern Europe.  While there have been some studies that suggest the AMOC is slowing, exactly what is happening is unclear.  Wired presented a summary of the research efforts underway to better understand the AMOC.


At Yale Environment 360, journalist Lois Parshley explored the question of whether small modular nuclear reactors have a place in the power mix of the future.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly evaluate how to develop, build and operate small modular nuclear reactors, which TVA is considering building near ORNL.  In the wake of the shutdown of many of its nuclear energy plants, Japan is implementing a 4-D energy transition, creating a distributed, decarbonized, decentralized, and digitized grid.

Tensions are high in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways and demonstrating on streets and highways.  The CBC provided background on the controversy.  In the U.S., FERC delayed a vote on a similar proposed natural gas pipeline and marine export terminal in Oregon.  In California, utilities argue that ramping up the production of renewable natural gas and blending it with normal natural gas in pipelines can reduce GHGs faster and cheaper than electrifying buildings.  David Roberts examined this argument at Vox.

New reports from the Brattle Group and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with the ClimateWorks Foundation examined the feasibility and costs of meeting the climate goals of the six New England states and California, respectively.  E&E News characterized it as a “steep path.” 

Delta Air Lines said on Friday that it will invest $1 billion over the next decade in initiatives that would limit the impact of global air travel, which accounts for roughly 2% of global CO2 emissions, on the environment.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced a goal for biofuels to make up 30% of U.S. transportation fuels by 2050.

Power-generating capacity from renewable energy — including solar, wind and utility-scale hydropower — has doubled in the U.S. since 2010, according to a new report from BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.  As we move into a new decade, the question is whether the growing U.S. energy storage industry will be able to maintain its current path of rapid growth.  Ricardo F. Rodriguez of Navigant Research argued that all signs suggest that it will.


In a YouTube video, MIT students perform “Heal! — A Battle Poem for the Climate and Its Defenders.”  On a related note, students are stepping up the pressure on universities to pull investments from fossil fuel industries.  Peter Sinclair has released another video, this one about BlackRock’s warning to the investment community of the risks associated with climate change.  Jenny Offill has a new cli-fi book entitled Weather.  Offill tells the story in a series of discrete units that Vox describes as working like Zen koans.  The Guardian published an edited excerpt from The Future We Choose, a new book by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, the architects of the Paris Climate Accords.  New to the cli-fi genre?  Then you might benefit from an introduction written by Jennifer Hijazi for E&E News.  Michael Svoboda has compiled a list of books about hope in a time of climate change.  Greta Thunberg has set up a foundation “to promote ecological and social sustainability.”  In The New York Times Magazine, Charles Homans, the politics editor, wrote about the dashcam video recorded by a fire truck belonging to the Dunmore Rural Fire Brigade in Australia.  He called it the “video that finally tells the truth about climate change.”  At The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich wrote about efforts to reduce the carbon footprints of live concerts and music festivals.  The Guardian has revealed that according to a yet-to-be published study at Brown University, “a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots.”

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.