Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/20/2020

Politics and Policy

Of course, the main thing dominating the news this week is the new coronavirus and its impacts.  Laurence Tubiana, a former French diplomat who was instrumental in brokering the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, said that governments must not let the pandemic derail action on climate change.  Our government, as well as others, is working on stimulus packages to help reduce the financial fallout associated with the virus.  Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, said such stimulus packages marked a critical moment for governments to “shape policies” in line with climate action.  One industry asking for money is the airline industry, raising the question of whether any assistance should be tied to conditions.  Democrats are voicing concern that the White House may pursue broad relief for the oil and gas industry in the stimulus package.  They are also pushing to add climate change provisions to any stimulus.  Kathy Castor, chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, has announced that the Committee is postponing the release of the framework of its plan to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions. 

Even though CO2 emission rates have fallen as a result of the pandemic, analysts are concerned about what will happen as a result of stimulus packages as infection levels begin to drop.  In the longer term, although the direct impact on health in many developing nations has so far been small, many are worried about how the global health and economic impacts of COVID-19 will influence the climate ambitions of developing countries.  The COP26 climate summit planned for Glasgow in November may have to be delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.  A coalition of green groups has canceled three days of nationwide protests in April that were to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

A federal judge last week rejected an argument from the Trump administration that sought to invalidate California’s cap-and-trade program.  DOE said on Thursday it will buy up to 30 million barrels of crude oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by the end of June as a first step in fulfilling President Trump’s directive to fill the reserve to help domestic crude producers.  The world’s largest investment banks have funneled more than $2.66tn into fossil fuels since the Paris agreement in 2015, new figures show, prompting warnings they are failing to respond to the climate crisis.  Unfortunately, shareholder efforts to influence companies’ approaches to issues related to climate change have suffered blows from both financial regulators and a federal judge in recent weeks.  The Interior Department has received over 230 nominations for oil and gas leases across southern Utah, some of which are within 0.5 miles of Canyonland N.P. and 1.5 miles of Arches N.P. 

In a conversation with Elizabeth McGowan, NRDC attorney Gillian Giannetti, a self-described “FERC nerd,” explained the legal issues behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline case now before the U.S. Supreme Court.  On Thursday FERC approved a controversial natural gas pipeline and marine export terminal project at Coos Bay in Oregon.  Unusual coalitions in Congress are interested in reforming the Natural Gas Act — a 1938 law that regulates interstate natural gas pipelines.  The Heartland Institute is ousting its president, Frank Lasée, after being buffeted by financial turbulence that led to significant layoffs.  For about 12 minutes in Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate, former Vice-President Biden and Senator Sanders addressed their climate change proposals.  In The New York Times, Lisa Friedman wrote: “In interviews with two dozen activists and voters who consider the planet’s warming their top issue, almost all said they worried that Mr. Biden has not made the issue a sufficient priority or been specific enough about his plans.” 

Climate and Climate Science

The organizers of a climate research expedition in the frozen Arctic Ocean have canceled a series of research flights after the Norwegian government imposed travel restrictions as part of its efforts to fight the coronavirus.  An article that came out Wednesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reported that Greenland lost an extraordinary 600 billion metric tons of ice by the end of the summer last year, although some was recovered as winter set in because of new snowfall.  At Hakai Magazine, Erin McKittrick wrote about why acidification is a worse problem in the Beaufort Sea than in warmer water bodies.

Chlorofluorocarbon chemicals, which were once widely used as refrigerants and as components in foam insulation, are strong greenhouse gases.  Because they also destroy the ozone in the stratosphere, they were banned by the Montreal Protocol.  Nevertheless, according to a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, their emissions into the atmosphere from 2000 to 2020 were equivalent to 25 billion metric tons of CO2.

A new analysis, published in Nature Sustainability, looked at how protecting and replenishing soils – both in agricultural and natural landscapes – could combat global warming.  It found that if techniques to improve soil carbon were employed at the maximum assumed level worldwide, they could remove up to 5.5bn metric tons of CO2 each year, an amount just under the U.S.’s emissions.  As the planet grows warmer, the effects of heat stress on organisms trying to survive outside the temperature envelope within which they evolved is becoming increasingly evident.  At Yale Climate Connections, Bruce Lieberman explored the pros and cons of planting trees to address climate change.  According to satellite imagery from INPE, Brazil’s space agency, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon in January and February was 70% higher than during the same period in 2019. 

There is an interesting article in Rolling Stone about human climate migration that makes the important points that most will occur within a given country and that significant migration is already occurring.

Wildfires burned 890,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) last year in the mainland U.S., a sharp drop from the previous two years when wildfires burned an average of 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres), and the lowest burn area since 2004.  The U.S. trend in 2019 does not change long-term patterns, experts said, and likely resulted from anomalies such as heavy precipitation that left forests and grasslands wetter than normal.  As if COVID-19 weren’t enough, a third of the U.S. is at risk of flooding this spring, according to the spring flood outlook released by the National Weather Service on Thursday.


In an article about coal at Vox, David Roberts wrote: “…in the U.S. and across the world, coal power is dying.  By 2030, it will be uneconomic to run existing coal plants.  That means all the dozens of coal plants on the drawing board today are doomed to become stranded assets.”  Driven largely by a plunge in coal-fired power generation, German greenhouse gas emissions fell by 6.3% last year, the steepest reduction recorded since 2009.  In The Netherlands the amount of electricity produced from coal fell from 27 billion kWh to 17 billion kWh last year.

A group of gas grid operators, oil firms, and utilities is planning a green H2 pipeline to supply industrial customers in northwest Germany.

The Inside Clean Energy newsletter had three interesting articles this week.  One was about the impact of COVID-19 on forecasts of U.S. solar installations this year, another was about a large new solar project in Ohio, and the last about the decision to keep a nuclear power plant operational in Pennsylvania because that state joined RGGI.  The grass-roots backlash against large solar farms has become so widespread that the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a move to combat mounting negativity, last year developed and disseminated a manual that includes information on navigating community sensitivities.  According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2019 Year-in-Review report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie, solar grew by 23% in 2019 from 2018 and accounted for 40% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S., its highest share ever and more than any other single source of electricity, with 13.3 GW installed.  However, things likely won’t be as good this year because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The SEIA president said their projection of 47% growth in 2020 will be ratcheted down in the coming weeks and months.

Technology provider Lilac Solutions, which has a proprietary ion exchange technology, is partnering with resource developer Controlled Thermal Resources to open a pilot plant to extract lithium from geothermal brine run-off.  Sponsored by Senator Angus King (I-ME), the “Battery and Critical Mineral Recycling Act of 2020” calls on Congress to allocate $150 million over the next five years to support research on “innovative” battery recycling approaches and to help establish of a national collection system for spent batteries.

According to UBS analysts, while lower oil prices could negatively impact EV sales in the U.S., that is not likely to happen in China and the EU because factors other than cost are driving the markets there.  If you’re a truck fan, you might be interested in another article reviewing where we are in the evolution of the electric truck, both battery and fuel cell.


Ecologists working in Wollemi National Park in New South Wales, Australia, are using helicopters to airdrop carrots and sweet potatoes to wallabies, whose food supply was wiped out by the massive bushfires.  Peter Sinclair has another “This Is Not Cool” video at Yale Climate Connections.  This one shows how several climate scientists are handling the emotional and personal feelings associated with the potential adverse effects of climate change.  At The Guardian, John Vidal addressed the question: “Is our destruction of nature responsible for COVID-19?”.  One of Fritjof Capra’s books, The Web of Life (1996), had a profound effect on me.  Thus it was interesting to see that he and futurist Hazel Henderson had written an article together entitled “Pandemics — Lessons Looking Back from 2050”.  Zibby Owens reviewed the memoir by Greta Thunberg’s family, Our House Is on Fire, for the Washington Post

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.