Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/27/2020

Politics and Policy

The coronavirus stimulus bill that was passed by the Senate and House this week and signed by President Trump on Friday afternoon contained bad news for the wind and solar industries, but at least contained a little bit of good news in that the $3 billion to buy oil for the strategic reserve was eliminated.  While the virus has had a huge impact on the economy, slowing it greatly, one thing that it hasn’t impacted is the Trump administration’s timeline for rolling back environmental regulations, which many career scientists disagree with.  In addition, the administration will ease enforcement of environmental regulations covering polluting industries to help them cope with impacts from the coronavirus outbreak.  As emergency managers plan for the upcoming natural disaster season, they have another challenge: how to prevent disaster relief shelters from becoming breeding grounds for COVID-19.

While health is foremost in all of our minds, it is interesting to note that two of the amicus briefs filed in the children’s lawsuit were from two former Surgeons General and from leading experts in public health and medicine and organizations representing thousands of health professionals.

In a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, the future of the Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.  On Thursday, California adopted a new emissions target for its electricity sector that would double the state’s clean energy capacity over the next decade and halt the development of new natural gas power plants.

Two lifelong conservative voters who work with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and RepublicEn had a message for GOP lawmakers: “Stop playing with small ball climate solutions.”

Climate and Climate Science

National Geographic’s special Earth Day 50th anniversary edition features a “verdant Earth” on the front cover and a “browner Earth” on the back cover, reflecting the uncertainty we face in our fight against climate change.  Inside the magazine, Emma Marris presents the optimistic view of the outcome of the battle, while Elizabeth Kolbert presents the pessimistic view.

A study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters revealed that Denman Glacier in East Antarctica has retreated about 3 miles over the last 22 years.  This suggests that the glaciers in East Antarctica may not be as stable as previously thought and pose an increased threat of sea level rise.  At the other end of the globe, meltwater from Greenland is pouring into the North Atlantic, impacting the Atlantic conveyer belt that carries warm water northward and cold water southward.  While a new study published in Science on Wednesday decreases the fear that the meltwater will stop the circulation entirely, it found that its strength dropped sharply before rebounding during periods of peak warming in three recent interglacials.  Such a drop would likely strongly impact the climate in Europe.

The Australian governmental agency responsible for the Great Barrier Reef has confirmed that the reef has suffered its third mass coral bleaching episode in five years.  Smoke from Australia’s bush fires killed hundreds of people and sent thousands to hospitals and emergency rooms, according to a new study published Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia.  According to a new paper in the journal Current Biology, marine species are migrating towards the earth’s poles to escape rising ocean temperatures near the equator.

A study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that more than 500 million people are likely to be hit by heat stress above safe levels if global average temperatures rise 1.5°C above pre-industrial times, almost 800 million at 2°C of warming, and 1.2 billion at 3°C.  Project Drawdown released its “2020 Drawdown Review”, which examined the costs and savings associated with holding the global temperature increase to 1.5°C.  Without even accounting for the savings associated with improved public health and avoided climate damages, keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C would result in a global net economic savings of $145 trillion.

According to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, if the U.S. grain belt were to be hit by a severe four year drought, the effects would ripple out around the world, hitting hard those countries that depend on food imports.  At Inside Climate News, Georgina Gustin argued that climate change will force agriculture into new areas, which will mean more conversion of natural habitat into crop land, thereby increasing human/animal contact and the transfer of animal viruses like the novel coronavirus to humans.  At Yale Climate Connections, Kristen Pope provided a sampling of some of the climate-related threats to wildlife around the globe.

Energy

Carbon Brief has published a major update of its map of the world’s coal-fired power plants, based on the latest “Global Coal Plant Tracker” from Global Energy Monitor.  Also, according to the Monitor, coal-fired power plant development worldwide declined for the fourth year running in 2019.  Of course, China is the world’s largest user of electricity derived from coal.  Thus, whether the decline will continue depends largely on their 14th Five Year Plan, which covers the period 2021-2015.  A new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production suggests that coal mining may be a bigger contributor to levels of atmospheric methane than the oil and gas industries, with emissions set to grow considerably in the coming years.

The world’s wind power capacity grew by 19% in 2019, after a year of record growth for offshore windfarms and a boom in onshore projects in the U.S. and China.  Because the offshore wind industry is in its infancy in the U.S., the interruptions associated with the coronavirus are hitting it at a critical time.  The question is, just how disruptive will they be? 

Companies are selecting Detroit as a perfect location for the design and assembly of electric commercial vehicles, like delivery vans and shuttle/school buses.  According to data from AutoForecast Solutions seen by Reuters, North American production of SUV models by GM and Ford will outpace production of traditional cars by more than eight to one in 2026, and 93% of those SUVs are expected to be gas-fueled.  A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, found that electric vehicles produce less CO2 than gasoline-powered vehicles across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and the manufacture of the vehicles outweighs the benefits.

Europe’s energy storage boom stalled last year due to a slowdown in large-scale schemes designed to store clean electricity from major renewable energy projects.  A recent report from IDTechEx observed that “While the stationary energy storage market is currently dominated by Li-ion batteries, redox flow batteries (RFBs) are slowly being adopted with an increasing number of projects all over the world.”  Rather than using batteries, another way to smooth out short-term variations in the supply-demand balance of electricity generation is to use flywheels, as explained in The Conversation.

Rosatom, a Russian state company, is financing and building nuclear power plants across the world, reaping for Moscow both profits and geopolitical influence that will last for decades.  The UK is trying to figure out the best way to make home heating “net-zero” CO2 emitting by 2050.  One way is to convert their natural gas distribution system from methane to H2The Guardian examined the various aspects of the question and it provides useful lessons for the U.S.

Potpourri Because of the coronavirus-caused shut-downs across the U.S., a coalition of youth-led organizations that had planned massive marches for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day next month are now planning a three-day livestream event instead.  Bill McKibben argued in The New Yorker that lessons learned from fighting the coronavirus could help in the battle against climate change, as did Beth Gardiner at Yale Environment 360.  Several other people also wrote articles comparing the response to the coronavirus to the response to climate change, but I found the one by Joseph Majkut of the Niskanen Center to be most interesting.  Greta Thunberg announced on Tuesday that she and her father, Svante, had symptoms of COVID-19 and that while hers were mild, her father felt far worse and had a fever.  Stephen Rodrick had a very interesting profile of Thunberg in Rolling Stone that goes much more deeply than others have.  By the way, a drawing of Greta is on the cover of the print edition.  Publisher Jann Wenner devoted his editorial to “The Price of Greed.”  Amy Brady had two interviews with authors, one this week, and one last week that I missed.  This week she spoke with Bjorn Vassnes, author of Kingdom of Frost, which reveals how, in an age of climate change, a shrinking cryosphere could mean catastrophe for over a billion people.  Last week she interviewed Alex Irvine, author of Anthropocene Rag, a novel dealing with the relationship between climate change and artificial intelligence.

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.