Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/15/2020

Politics and Policy

Former Vice-President Joe Biden has named Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry as co-chairs of his climate task force.  A group of former climate policy staffers for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is pushing his comprehensive climate plan with both congressional Democrats and Biden.  A group called Climate Power 2020, a joint effort of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club, will focus on bringing the Democrat’s climate message to swing states.  And on the other side of the aisle, a new group called “C3 Solutions” seeks to unleash clean energy innovation.  Those interested in why we have made so little progress in reducing CO2 emissions will find a guest post at Carbon Brief of interest.  In it the author writes: “[E]ach shift in target framing has opened the door to new hopes of future technological solutions…These promises both respond to, and enable, continued delays in mitigation, yet rarely deliver in practice.  We call them ‘technologies of prevarication’.”  Another researcher calls the hope in future technologies “technological optimism”, with the same outcome – delay in action.

The Trump administration is not planning specific financial aid to oil producers, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Axios Wednesday, but the House coronavirus relief bill neither blocks such aid nor provides aid for renewable energy.  A coalition of oil producing states has asked for stimulus funds to hire laid off energy workers to plug abandoned wellsThe Guardian reported that fossil fuel companies and coal-powered utilities stand to gain from the Federal Reserve’s $750 billion coronavirus bond buyback program.  FERC has rejected a request from several states to pause approvals for new energy infrastructure projects such as natural gas pipelines.  EPA will propose changes to its decades-old methodology for measuring costs and benefits in Clean Air Act rulemakings, which if finalized could stymie efforts by future administrations to combat climate change.  Chief executives and other representatives from more than 330 businesses are calling on federal lawmakers to build a better economy following COVID-19 by including resilient climate solutions.  In an effort to stimulate its economy after the coronavirus shutdown, China will spend almost $1.5 billion to install 200,000 EV chargers throughout the country, 20,000 of which will be public chargers.

Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund is excluding several of the world’s biggest commodities firms from its portfolio for their use and production of coal.  Five years ago, the $1.1 billion Rockefeller Brothers Fund divested from fossil fuels.  Now the fund has outpaced financial benchmarks, defying predictions of money managers.

An article in Nature Climate Change states “A concerning body of evidence already indicates that climate hazards, which are increasing in frequency and intensity under climate change, are likely to intersect with the COVID-19 outbreak and public health response.  These compound risks will exacerbate and be exacerbated by the unfolding economic crisis and long-standing socioeconomic and racial disparities, both within countries and across regions, in ways that will put specific populations at heightened risk and compromise recovery.”

Climate and Climate Science

Daisy Dunne at Carbon Brief prepared a Q&A around the question of whether climate change and biodiversity disturbance could influence the risk of diseases being transmitted from animals to humans.  Logging and mining operations have accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest during the coronavirus pandemic.  A new study in Nature Communications warns that mosquitos carrying diseases such as dengue, Zika, and yellow fever would likely colonize parts of southern Europe by 2030.

NOAA has agreed with the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service that, globally, April was the second warmest April on record, as was January through April the second warmest such period.  An El Niño-like weather system that has been dormant for millennia in the Indian Ocean could be restarted by warming sea-surface temperatures associated with climate change.

A pulse of unusually warm air, one of many observed in recent years, is surging toward the North Pole, paving the way for the Arctic ice melt season to begin.  This is particularly concerning this year because scientists have reported that a landslide in a fjord in Prince William Sound, about 60 miles east of Anchorage, could be triggered by an earthquake, prolonged heavy rain, or a heat wave, thereby causing a massive tsunami.  From 1996 to 2018, the grounding line along the western flank of Denman Glacier in East Antarctica retreated 3.4 miles.  The grounding line is the point at which a glacier last touches the seafloor before it begins to float and its retreat increases the potential for the glacier to undergo rapid and irreversible deterioration.

New research from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory suggests that by 2050 roughly one-third of the U.S. population could feel the impacts of one or more extreme weather events annually.  During the first decade of this century, the Upper Missouri River Basin was the driest it’s been in 1,200 years because of rising temperatures linked to climate change that reduced the amount of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and North Dakota.

According to a new report from the World Resources Institute, while regenerative agriculture can improve soil health and yield some valuable environmental benefits, it is unlikely to achieve large-scale emissions reductions from farming.


According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, even though overall demand is expected to drop.  On Monday, the Department of the Interior announced the approval of the $1 billion Gemini Solar Project in Nevada, a complex set to mix 690 MW of solar PV with a 380 MW/1,400 MWh battery storage component.  Unfortunately, the U.S. clean energy sector has lost 17% of its work force, or nearly 600,000 jobs, because of stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Yet, while the pandemic has put some new projects on hold, the underlying strengths of renewables remain strong, and analysts expect their economic advantage over fossil fuels will increase in the long term.

BMW plans are to invest more than $32 billion into research and development for hydrogen fuel-cell technology.  Jack Ewing of The New York Times wrote of what is coming for the auto industry under the headline “The Pandemic Will Permanently Change the Auto Industry”.

The Canadian-based space company GHGSat will set up a center to analyze the emissions of greenhouse gases around the globe, starting with methane, which it is already measuring.  A new analysis by scientists working with the Environmental Defense Fund has found that Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry leaked seven times more methane in 2017 than state reporting for the year indicates.  It also found that the conventional natural gas industry leaked an even larger amount of methane, despite producing a mere 2% of the state’s gas.  An independent analysis of six large European corporations that have pledged to drastically cut CO2 emissions has found that none are yet aligned with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Cobalt is an important component in lithium-ion batteries, so as demand for them increases, demand for cobalt increases as well.  This raises concerns about the way it is mined and processed.  Late this month Tesla is expected to announce a new battery that will rely on low-cobalt and cobalt-free chemistries, and the use of chemical additives, materials, and coatings that will reduce internal stress and enable them to store more energy for longer periods.  These innovations are expected to allow Teslas to sell profitably at the same or lower prices than gasoline vehicles.  There was an interesting article in The Economist (free if you register) about wireless charging of electric vehicles.  Most applications to date have been for trucks and buses, but cars may not be that far off.

Perovskites are crystalline materials which can have high efficiencies of converting solar energy into electricity.  Unfortunately, they are not yet used in commercial solar cells for a variety of reasons.  Maddie Stone has a really good article in Grist reviewing the promise and status of perovskites in easy to understand language.

In Virginia news, utility regulators are preparing to reopen a popular program that allowed local governments, school systems, and churches to get their energy from non-utility solar developers.  The Botetourt County Planning Commission endorsed a plan Monday for the proposed wind turbines atop North Mountain to be increased in height from 550 ft to a maximum 680 ft, thereby allowing the number of turbines to be decreased.  A federal judge declined to lift his temporary ban on a permitting process for the crossing of streams and wetlands by oil and natural gas pipelines, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline.


Climate scientist Kerry Emanuel has been elected as a foreign member of the UK’s Royal Society.  At National Geographic, two social scientists posit that to challenge misguided beliefs about science, you might try satire.  Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook have a new publication, “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook”.  Ron Charles reviewed Lydia Millet’s cli-fi novel A Children’s Bible for the Washington Post.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda collected twelve books on climate activismScience News staff members reviewed several climate change books published this year.  DW surveyed six of the most sustainable meat alternatives.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post interviewed Shahzeen Attari, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, who studies the way people perceive their personal energy use and the decisions they make in their daily lives.  In preparation for what will likely be a hot summer, Sara Peach offered advice on “How to spot the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.”

Closing Thought

Consider the views of first-year college student Grace Lagan who wrote in The Guardian: “As a young person I’ve come to realize the power of hope in difficult times.”

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.