Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/22/2020

Politics and Policy

The Economist focused on the links between the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.  It explained how “the pandemic both reveals the size of the challenge ahead and also creates a unique chance to enact government policies that steer the economy away from carbon at a lower financial, social and political cost than might otherwise have been the case.”  Bloomberg reported: “European Commission President Ursula Von Den Leyen is set to transform her Green Deal strategy to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, into a coronavirus economic rescue plan that’ll rapidly drive private investment and create jobs across the continent…”  On a related front, on Wednesday, the European Commission released a proposed biodiversity strategy whereby at least 30% of EU land and seas will be protected by 2030 to halt the decline of plant and animal species and restore carbon sinks to address climate change.  Australia’s government on Thursday released a new plan to tackle climate change, targeting the use of gas, hydrogen, batteries, and carbon capture, while avoiding the contentious issue of setting a carbon price.  On the other hand, a cross-society collection of groups have banded together to warn that Australia’s prosperity depends on eradicating greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the U.S., things are not as forward looking.  For example, the Trump administration is starting to reduce royalty payments and suspend leases for oil companies drilling on federal lands, while at the same time imposing retroactive rent on wind and solar generators.  Democrats are not blameless.  Clean energy companies and advocates are blasting them for neglecting to give the industry any help in the House pandemic relief bills, even as the sector reports hundreds of thousands of job losses.  During last week’s “LEAD on Climate 2020”, organized by the nonprofit Ceres and supported by other sustainability-focused business groups, executives from 333 companies met with 51 Representatives and 37 Senators from both parties in a virtual lobby day.  According to documents shared with The Washington Post, the Trump administration ignored warnings from EPA career staff that its new auto fuel economy rule has serious flaws.  Fuel-economy improvements in U.S. “light-duty” vehicles have saved 17 Gt of CO2 since 1975, according to a new study in the journal Energy Policy.

Although China had been on track to meet its 2020 carbon emission goals prior to the pandemic, those goals are now in danger because the government is looking to heavy industry and carbon-intensive projects to shore up its coronavirus-stricken economy.

Americans’ positions on climate change have remained largely unshaken by the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, according to a new national survey that showed acceptance of the reality of global warming at record highs in some categories.  Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project.

Climate and Climate Science

According to a new paper in Nature Communications, scientists have completed the first survey of algal blooms on top of the snow on the Antarctic Peninsula, with almost 1,700 blooms of green algae being found.  Studies are planned to determine the algae’s impact on surface albedo.  Rising ocean temperatures will alter the distribution and life cycles of Antarctic krill in the coming decades, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the odds of major tropical cyclones around the world — Category 3, 4 and 5 storms — are increasing because of human-caused global warming.  The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be unusually active, according to a seasonal outlook from NOAA.  In Asia, the most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade came ashore with a storm surge of 15 meters, killing at least 82 people, officials said. 

A new study published in Science has found that as long as global warming is limited to 2°C, tropical rainforests will be able to soak up “high levels” of CO2, provided they are left intact.  However, if temperature increases exceed 2°C, the ability of the forests to store CO2 will decline rapidly.  Deforestation in Brazil’s section of the Amazon in the first four months of the year was up 55% from a year ago, with the result that Brazil could produce 10-20% more greenhouse gases in 2020, in contrast to the rest of the world, which will drop because of the coronavirus.

According to a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, the combination of drought and heat waves that caused the dust bowl in the U.S. in the 1930s, which occurred with a frequency of once every 100 years then, is now likely to occur once every 40 years, or 2.5 times more likely.  Furthermore, the occurrence will become even more likely as global average temperatures rise.

Rising sea levels over the past 120 years are a result of man-made climate change and not variations in the Earth’s orbit, a study in the journal Science Advances has found.


Scientists with the Global Carbon Project reported that daily emissions of CO2 dropped by as much as 17% globally in early April as the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The study also projects that total emissions for 2020 will probably fall between 4 and 7% compared with last year.  New data from the International Energy Agency released Wednesday reaffirms earlier forecasts of lower wind and solar installations globally in 2020 due to coronavirus impacts.  Grist queried five experts on the future of renewable energy in the U.S. in a time of COVID-19.  Modeling by the Finnish energy firm Wartsila found that solar capacity reaching up to 4.3 times peak load in sunny regions, and wind capacity of up to 2.1 times peak load in windy regions, would form the basis of a least-cost all-renewables resource mix in regions across the U.S.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the U.S. has lost 594,300 clean energy jobs, according to a report issued last week by BW Research Partnership.  Of that total, 413,500, or 70% of the losses, were in energy efficiency.  While the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a short-term drop in CO2 emissions, the economic impacts of the pandemic are likely to cause a delay in or cancelation of capital projects planned to meet long-term CO2-reduction goals, particularly in the European chemical industry.

Siemens Gamesa on Tuesday launched the largest wind turbine ever publicly announced, a 14 MW model with a 222-meter rotor diameter meant for offshore wind farms.  This puts Siemens Gamesa back in first place in the rankings for the largest offshore turbines on the market.  In order to reduce emissions by 70% from 1990s levels by 2030, Denmark plans to build two “energy islands” totaling 4 GW of offshore wind capacity.  At Greentech Media, Karl-Erik Stromsta brought us up to date on Dominion’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project.  North Carolina has taken the first step toward establishing an offshore wind industry by issuing a request for proposals to analyze the state’s ports and manufacturing supply chain for their potential suitability.

The switch from coal to gas has driven down U.S. electricity emissions over the last decade. But the opposite has happened in Virginia, where a massive build-out of natural gas power plants has negated CO2 reductions associated with coal retirements.  In a guest column in the Virginia Mercury, Chris Meyer and John Semmelhack make the case for electrifying Virginia by replacing the use of gas for home heating, cooking, and water heating.

A zinc-air hybrid flow battery can store multiple days’ worth of energy, doesn’t degrade, can’t possibly explode, and is up to five times cheaper than lithium-ion, according to its developer, Zinc8, which is preparing to pilot the technology in New York state.  A new study, published in the journal Applied Energy, shows that used electric vehicle batteries could still have a useful and profitable second life as backup storage for grid-scale solar photovoltaic installations, where they could perform for more than a decade in this less demanding role.

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests.  Automakers and analysts believe the pandemic will accelerate the move away from automobiles with gas-powered engines, with many more countries switching to electric vehicles around 2023-24.  In its latest effort to revive the U.S.’s nuclear industry, the Department of Energy (DOE) proposes to select and help build two new prototype nuclear reactors within 7 years. The reactors would be the centerpiece of DOE’s new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.


In his New Yorker column this week, Bill McKibben provided links to an introductory video and a simulation model that you can play with to see the effects different policy options have on future global average temperatures.  Looks like a really interesting simulator.  Kristen Pope brought us up to date on the ice-bound MOSAiC Arctic expedition.  At The Arts Fuse, editor-in-chief Bill Marx asked “Why are America’s stages afraid of dealing with the climate crisis?”  Kendra Pierre-Louis compiled a list with excerpts of “The Hot Ten Climate Songs.”  The Tyee interviewed director Liz Marshall about her new documentary Meat the Future, the subject of which she describes as the “genesis phase of something that could change the world.”  S. David Freeman, who worked in energy policy under three presidents, ran some of the nation’s largest public utilities, and combined a deep understanding of energy issues with a passion for renewable energy and conservation, died on May 12th in Reston, Va. He was 94.

Closing Thought

Eve Turow-Paul and Sophie Egan founded the Food for Climate League, a new nonprofit organization, to redefine sustainable eating and help businesses, nonprofits, and governments promote food that’s good for both humans and the planet.

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.