Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/6/2020

Politics and Policy

At a hearing Thursday before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler defended President Trump’s proposed 26% cut to the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget.  Even though they were voluntary, stricter energy efficiency building codes were just dropped from a major energy package making its way through the Senate because the National Association of Home Builders opposed it.  Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) proposed an amendment to that bill to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are strong greenhouse gases.  The White House raised objections.  An official at the Interior Department embarked on a campaign that has inserted misleading language about climate change into the agency’s scientific reports, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The EU Commission adopted a proposal for a European “climate law” that would commit the EU to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.  The regulation requires approval from parliament and member states.  Politico described the five political battles that must be won to gain that approval.  A group of activist youth called the proposal “surrender” and a dozen member countries called for the EU to draw up a climate target for 2030 “as soon as possible.”  The proposal also launched the process to enact a new tax on products from countries, such as the U.S., that aren’t working to reduce their CO2 emissions.

Dino Grandoni of The Washington Post presented “The four biggest differences between the Biden and Sanders climate plans” while MIT Technology Review had a more comprehensive comparison.  Attorneys for 21 youth climate activists are petitioning for a ruling from all 11 judges of the 9th Circuit after two judges on a three-judge panel ruled they cannot sue the federal government for failure to act on climate change.

Under its new governor, Florida, which is on the front lines of climate change impacts and is still controlled by Republicans, is changing its stance on climate issues.  The question is, can they get President Trump to change his mind?  A study by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that flood disclosure laws can help communities avoid flood damage by making floodplain development less lucrative.  At The Progressive, Laurie Mazur envisioned how infrastructure could be reconfigured to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.  Farm organizations, which have historically resisted calls to accept the anthropogenic nature of climate change, have adopted a new phrase for use with their members, “climatic events,” which can mean anything between weather and climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature suggests that trees in the Congo Basin of central Africa are losing their capacity to absorb CO2 and that the decline may have been underway for a decade.  These findings parallel similar findings in the Amazon, but trailing that decline by 10 to 20 years.  They suggest that by mid-century, the remaining uncut tropical forests in Africa, the Amazon, and Asia will release more CO2 than they take up.  A more detailed account of the study can be found here.  As if that weren’t bad enough, the world’s largest tropical peatlands could be destroyed if plans go ahead to drill for oil under the Congo basin.  In addition, deforestation of lands occupied by isolated indigenous tribes in the Brazilian Amazon more than doubled between July 2018 and July 2019 to the highest rate in more than a decade, according to a new report released on Tuesday.  Climate Home News published an account of one family’s decision to burn the trees on their land in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in Western Brazil and start raising cattle.  Torrential rains deluged the coast of Sao Paulo state in Brazil early Tuesday, causing massive mud slides.

The extreme fires that razed parts of Australia late last year were 30% more likely because of human-induced climate change, says an international group of climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution project who have analyzed the disaster.  Record sea-surface temperatures in much of the Great Barrier Reef region have intensified the risks that coral bleaching already underway could develop into another mass bleaching event.  It is likely that the high sea temperatures will linger into March.

The journal Scientific Reports has retracted a paper claiming that climate change is due to solar cycles rather than human activity.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that adding iron to Earth’s oceans is not likely to result in the increased removal of CO2 from the atmosphere due to greater growth of phytoplankton.  

Europe’s average temperature for December through February was 6.1°F above the 40-year average, breaking the previous record by more than 2°F.  In the U.S., temperatures were above average for every state but Alaska.  Many parts of the world are likely to experience above-average temperatures over the next few months, even without an El Niño effect, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.  New data from the USA National Phenology Network showed that in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and northern Florida, spring arrived more than three weeks earlier than average, and earlier than at any point in the last 39 years.

According to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, uncurbed climate change could cause half of the world’s sandy beaches to vanish by the end of the century.  An article in Science examined the role of climate change in weather “blocking” by the jet stream.  According to a January paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the amount of warming associated with contrails from commercial airline flights could be reduced significantly by slightly changing their altitude.


General Motors has introduced its new electric vehicle (EV) battery that allows extended range and will be cheaper to produce than today’s batteries.  The new battery cells are soft, flat pouches, which allows the battery pack to have a greater variety of shapes.  In addition, the batteries use less cobalt, which makes them less expensive.  The world’s best-selling cargo van – Ford Transit – will debut an all-electric version for the U.S. and Canada for the 2022 model year.  Buyers of plug-in hybrid cars should be aware that the gasoline engine may turn on while in EV mode when certain energy-intensive operations are performed.  The U.S. vehicle fleet hit a record for fuel efficiency in 2018 averaging 25.1 mpg in real-world driving as it rose 0.2 mpg, the EPA said.

The UK’s CO2 emissions fell by 2.9% in 2019 and nearly 30% over the last decade despite a growth in GDP, according to a new analysis by climate policy website Carbon Brief.

Robert Harding and Amanda Levin of NRDC examined the 2019 power sector data released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) to generate a state-by-state comparison of the move toward cleaner energy.  Dan Gearino at Inside Clean Energy summarized national trends from the EIA report about the surge in wind and solar energy.  More than 5% of all K-12 schools in the U.S. produce solar energy — double what it was just three years ago.  Greentech Media predicted that more than $200 billion in capital expenditures for offshore wind will be spent between 2020 and 2025.

In a new twist on pumped storage, a California developer wants to move water back and forth between two abandoned open pit mines as a way of storing solar energy.  Others aren’t sold on the idea.  Officials in Monterey County California approved a massive clean-energy battery farm project spearheaded by Tesla and PG&E that officials say would be the largest of its kind in the world.  A huge green hydrogen plant will be constructed in the northern Netherlands as a part of a Royal Dutch Shell partnership with Dutch gas company Gasunie.  The green hydrogen plant will be powered by a new offshore wind farm near Groningen province.

New York Magazine business writer Malcolm Harris attended a meeting of the Shell Scenarios team and wrote “These companies aren’t planning for a future without oil and gas, at least not anytime soon, but they want the public to think of them as part of a climate solution.  In reality, they’re a problem trying to avoid being solved.”  One thing the oil and gas industry is counting on in its business model is more plastics.


At Yale Climate Connections, Daisy Simmons presented trailers for seven climate-related films from the 2020 Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, CA.  Amy Brady interviewed Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author Anne Charnock about her new novel, Bridge 108.  To observe Women’s History Month, Yale Climate Connections presented a selection of new and recent books on how women’s lives will be affected by climate change and how women are changing the politics and prospects for action.  Speaking of women and climate science, David Suzuki presented an interesting bit of history about Eunice Newton Foote and her contribution to the field.  Patti Wetli contrasted our responses to climate change and to the coronavirus.  Naomi Seibt, a 19-year-old German YouTuber whom conservatives have dubbed the “anti-Greta,” expressed support last Friday for a Canadian alt-right commentator at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

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.