Politics and Policy
Many articles this week addressed the intersection of climate and racism. Here are a few that caught my eye: Black climate expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s perspective in The Washington Post addressed how “Racism derails our efforts to save the planet;” Somini Sengupta’s “Climate Fwd:” newsletter in The New York Times was devoted to a conversation with black climate activists about the connections between racism and climate change; author and activist Keya Chatterjee’s opinion piece at the Thomas Reuters Foundation news site declared “The climate crisis is, at its core, a racial injustice crisis;” a group of journalists at Inside Climate News reported on the way in which a variety of climate groups responded; and Claire Elise Thompson’s compilation of comments from five environmental justice leaders at Grist presented a variety of ideas on the issue. You might also be interested in an anti-racist reading list.
The U.S. is far behind other industrialized nations on environmental performance and now ranks 24th in the world, according to a new analysis by Yale and Columbia universities. Hungary has set a climate neutrality goal for 2050, in a law passed by parliament on Wednesday, signaling support for the EU net zero emissions strategy. There were several articles this week about the weakening of environmental regulations under the Trump administration. One concerned a report by a group of former EPA employees called “Save EPA”, which wrote “Virtually all the changes that Trump has made have one thing in common: They help polluters and harm the public, now and in the future.” A second, an article at Yale Climate Connections, asserted that “Most Trump environmental rollbacks will take years to be reversed.” A third reported that President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines, and other projects, given the current economic “emergency.” Also on Thursday, EPA released a proposed overhaul of how major clean air rules are written by changing the cost-benefit analysis process. In addition, on Monday the EPA announced that it had limited states’ ability to block the construction of energy infrastructure projects by revising the rules whereby permits are issued under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Finally, The administration proposed fast tracking logging on public lands, introducing two proposals that would limit the environmental review of new projects.
The Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis of the Democratic National Committee is pressing Joe Biden to back a plan to spend up to $16 trillion to speed the country away from fossil fuels. In a rare collaboration on climate change, four senators (two from each party) on Thursday introduced a bill that would direct the Agriculture Department to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners use CO2-absorbing practices to generate carbon credits that could be sold on offset markets. However, there is great uncertainty over the efficacy of regenerative agriculture, as well as how to certify the amount of CO2 offset. Meanwhile, House Democrats rolled out a nearly $500 billion infrastructure bill Wednesday aimed at updating America’s aging transportation system.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts vs. EPA held that greenhouse gases were pollutants that could be regulated under the 1970 Clean Air Act. At Inside Climate News, Sam Evans-Brown, of New Hampshire Public Radio provided a history of the ruling and looked at threats to it from the Trump administration. On Thursday, the Edison Electric Institute, the primary industry group for U.S. investor-owned utilities, confirmed that it is staying neutral on a controversial petition asking FERC to effectively declare net metering illegal. On Monday, sustainable finance nonprofit Ceres released a new report entitled “Addressing Climate as a Systemic Risk: A call to action for U.S. financial regulators.”
Climate and Climate Science
According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), severe rainfall that once happened every hundred years in North America now happens every 20 years, and events that once happened every 20 years now happen every five. An E&E News analysis of federal flood insurance payments showed that flooding in the U.S. disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods. Research published in Geophysical Research Letters examined rainfall-based drought using the latest generation of climate models and found that in the future southwestern Australia and parts of southern Australia will see longer and more intense droughts. The number of people exposed to water stress could double by 2050 if population growth is high and efforts are not made to limit warming to 2°C. Furthermore, even if warming is held below 2°C and population growth is low, the number of people exposed to water stress could still rise by 50% by 2050.
Although the coronavirus pandemic slowed CO2 emissions, the reduction was insufficient to stop the amount in the atmosphere from increasing. Consequently, the amount in May 2020 hit an average of slightly greater than 417 ppm, the highest monthly average value ever recorded. Furthermore, a recent paper in AGU Advances revealed that the ocean is so sensitive to changes in the atmosphere, such as declining greenhouse gas emissions, that it immediately responds by taking up less CO2.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered its most extensive coral bleaching event in March, with scientists fearing that it is not going to recover to what it was even five years ago, much less thirty years ago. In addition, warming ocean temperatures and acidification are threatening the survival of glass sponge reefs unique to the waters of the Pacific Northwest. In the Chesapeake Bay, as seagrasses photosynthesize, they form tiny crystals of calcium carbonate, which they hoard both inside and on the surface of their leaves. As the external crystals wash off and flow down the bay, they help to neutralize the acidifying water.
Scientists with the Copernicus Climate Change Service announced on Friday that Earth had its hottest May ever last month, as 2020 is set to be among the hottest years ever, with a higher than 98% likelihood it will rank in the top five. An analysis of weather records by Brian Brettschneider of the Capital Weather Gang at The Washington Post revealed that summers in Canada and the U.S. have increased by an average of seven days over the past 30 years, whereas winters have decreased by 15 days.
The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists published in the PNAS. More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years. A study published in the journal Science examined the ability of mangroves to withstand sea level rise and found that without significant reductions in CO2 emissions, by 2050 mangroves would be unable to keep up with the rate of sea level rise, causing their extinction.
At E&E News, Benjamin Storrow wrote: “Climate researchers increasingly believe 2019 may represent the world’s peak output of carbon dioxide, with a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and a rapid expansion of renewable energy putting a cap on emissions years earlier than expected.” A report from financial thinktank Carbon Tracker asserts that the coronavirus outbreak could trigger a $25tn collapse in the fossil fuel industry, thereby posing “a significant threat to global financial stability”. On the other hand, some analysts think that the current contraction may result in a strengthening of the major oil and gas companies through acquisition of wells and reserves at bargain basement prices. Massachusetts’ Attorney General asked the state’s public utilities regulator to probe the future of the natural gas industry as the state moves away from burning fossil fuels. The Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Institute, along with Mothers Out Front and Physicians for Social Responsibility, have issued a report summarizing 20 years of studies on the impact of gas stoves on indoor air quality and calling for regulators to issue indoor air quality guidelines.
The International Renewable Energy Agency said that if energy companies replaced 500 GW of their most expensive coal-fired power plants with new solar power projects or onshore wind farms, they could save up to $23bn every year and wipe out 5% of global carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, if floating wind turbine technology were widely adopted, the industry would have the technical potential to eventually supply the equivalent of 11 times the world’s demand for electric power. For this to be realized, however, both technical and economic problems must be overcome.
In a new study published in the journal Joule on Tuesday, scientists reported that two-sided sun-tracking solar panels produce an average of 35% more energy than immobile single-panel systems and are 16% more cost-efficient.
At The Conversation, Tom Baxter, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Aberdeen, made the case for battery-powered passenger cars being more energy efficient than cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Germany said it will require all filling stations to offer electric car charging to help remove range anxiety and boost consumer demand for EVs. General Motors is developing an electric van aimed at business users, joining a growing list of carmakers planning EVs for the same segment. Norsk Hydro and Northvolt have set up a joint venture that will focus on the recycling of both battery materials and aluminum from Norway’s electric vehicle sector.
A metal organic framework (MOF) is a human-made substance that contains a very large surface area per unit volume. This gives them a large potential for absorbing things from air. Now, engineers at Monash University in Australia have devised an MOF with the ability to take up large quantities of CO2 and then release it in concentrated form for storage, all with very low energy requirement.
At The Tyee, Andrew Nikiforuk wrote “Normal has become a pathological state. After the random normlessness of this pandemic, I don’t want to go back to normal either. Or its idiotic child, ‘the new normal.'” A new documentary was released on June 5, World Environment Day. It is from Australia and is entitled 2040. According to a post on RealClimate, it is focused on hope and rational thinking. You can watch the trailer here.
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.