Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/10/2020

Politics and Policy

Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) has suspended his campaign for the Democratic nominee for president (You can read or watch his speech ICYMI.) and some climate activists have said that former Vice President Joe Biden will have to work hard and be bolder on climate change to fill the void left by Sanders’ departure.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication just had a paper published in the journal Energy Policy.  It explored and contrasted the reasons Republicans and Democrats support renewable energy.

In an opinion piece in Scientific American, author and activist Solomon Goldstein-Rose wrote “Rather than [trying to] convince other nations to ‘do their part,’ the U.S. should develop clean energy technologies and make them cheap enough for everyone to adopt.”  At Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce examined what might happen after the coronavirus pandemic: Some policy experts think that victory over the virus will generate an appreciation for what government, science, and business can do to tackle climate change, but others believe the economic damage caused by the virus will set back climate efforts for years to come.  Nature published an interview with a co-chair of the IPCC working group on the physical science of climate change about how the scientists are coping with the pandemic as they try to finish their report by next year.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit restored a regulation that had prohibited businesses from upgrading to HFCs in large refrigeration systems as they discontinued use of ozone-depleting refrigerants.  The regulation requires that they upgrade to refrigerants, such as hydrofluoroolefins, that have small greenhouse effects.  The Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama-era automotive fuel economy standards will face challenges in the courts.  Rebecca Beitsch of The Hill examined the many grounds on which it can be challenged.

Chile has committed to peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, in an updated national plan presented virtually to the UN climate chief on Thursday.

Climate and Climate Science

A new study, published in the journal Nature, addressed the question of when the effects of climate change will begin to overwhelm ecosystems.  The results suggest that unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions would expose tropical ocean ecosystems to potentially catastrophic temperature rise by 2030 and tropical forests by 2050.  A study published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal found that the ability of the North Atlantic to take up and sequester CO2 appears to be smaller than has been assumed in climate modeling.  The average level of methane in the atmosphere increased last year by the highest amount in five years, according to preliminary data released by NOAA on Sunday.  Exxon Mobil is testing new equipment to reduce methane emissions at 1,000 sites in the Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

Two weeks ago, I linked to an article about the latest bleaching event at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  An article this week reported that the bleaching was the most widespread outbreak ever witnessed.  Graham Readfearn of The Guardian spoke to Australian scientists about what could be done to save the reef.  Their replies caused him to write: “What seems clear is that without some human intervention, the magic of the world’s greatest coral reef system will be lost.”  Unlike other coral reefs around the world, those in the Gulf of Aqaba appear to be “content” with the increasing ocean temperatures.

The UK government’s advisers on the economic value of the natural environment (Natural Capital Committee) said that badly-planned tree planting could increase greenhouse gas emissions.  The destruction of forests into fragmented patches is increasing the likelihood that viruses and other pathogens will jump from wild animals to humans, according to a paper published this month in the journal Landscape Ecology.

Some populations of robins are starting their northward migration about five days earlier per decade, in order to keep up with the rapid changes that global warming is bringing to their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska.  New research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that their flights follow trails of melting snow.  Climate change is remaking the Himalayan region, pushing mountain dwellers in northern Nepal, home to the world’s highest peaks, to build new settlements at lower altitudes.

In a paper that has been accepted and is awaiting publication in Environmental Research Letters, scientists reported that the observed frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather has more than doubled in California since the early 1980s.


OPEC, Russia, and other countries reached a tentative agreement on Thursday to temporarily cut oil production by 10 million barrels a day — about 23% of their production levels — in May and June.  A new forecast from DOE’s Energy Information Administration says that the U.S. is likely to become a net importer of crude oil and petroleum products later this year.  The massive ConocoPhillips Willow project is moving full speed ahead at the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The public comment period is currently open.  In a very strongly worded opinion piece in The Guardian, Bill McKibben called out those responsible for the start of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S.

Building a new nationwide transmission system to carry renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is needed will require government regulators at all levels to work together, as demonstrated by recent experiences.  Sooner or later, changes are coming to our electrical grids, depending upon how forward thinking our electric utilities are.  One concept is a “virtual power plant”, which is under trial in Basalt Vista, a new affordable housing project in the small town of Basalt, CO, just north of Aspen.  Daniel Oberhaus explained what its all about at Wired.  In South Australia, home batteries delivered significant revenues from their first six months of participation in a virtual power plant to help balance the grid.  Such grid balancing can also be achieved using the uninterruptable power supplies at data centers. 

German utility Uniper has signed a cooperation deal with Siemens to look at using H2 at its gas-fired power plants and producing the H2 with power from its wind turbines.  On Wednesday. Norway approved Equinor’s $466 million plan to build floating offshore wind turbines to provide electricity to North Sea oil and gas platforms.

Dan Gearino’s “Inside Clean Energy” newsletter had two important items this week.  The first concerned a ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that struck down a surcharge by the major electric utilities that inflated the bills of rooftop solar customers sufficiently to make the economics of installing solar panels questionable.  The second dealt with a report in Applied Energy about how industrial energy use could be made carbon free. 

According to a new analysis by Carbon Tracker of 6,696 existing coal-fired power plants worldwide and 1,046 in the pipeline, 46% will be unprofitable this year, up from 41% in 2019.  Renewable energy represented nearly three-quarters of new electricity generation capacity built worldwide in 2019, an all-time record, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.  In addition, utility-scale renewables produced more power than coal in the U.S. for the first time on a quarterly basis in the first three months of 2020.  While the oil and gas sector is generally pessimistic about its outlook during and after the pandemic, the renewable energy sector is more optimistic, as described by Ivan Penn at The New York Times.  However, all is not good for clean energy at present, as indicated by E&E News’s examination of clean energy’s job crash.


Grist has set up “Climate 101” on its website to provide “hands-on activities, videos, and discussion questions” about climate change to help parents who are having to home-school their kids for the first time.  The Conversation presented five ways to teach children about climate change.  Guardian journalist Jonathan Watts joined a Greenpeace scientific expedition in Antarctica and wrote about his experiences.  The newspaper also presented photographs by the two winners of the Getty Images Climate Visuals grant competition.  James Hansen is using this time of social distancing to finish his new book, entitled Sophie’s Planet.  He is making the chapters available in draft as he completes them.  The Preface and Chapter 1 can be accessed here.  Even though only one or two have the environment as their cause, I thought we might end on a positive note by focusing on the work of 12 amazing kids from around the world.

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.