Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/12/2020

Politics and Policy

On Wednesday, two House committees injected environmental justice into the larger national conversation about racism in America.  The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change heard that communities of color suffer disproportionate effects from pollution and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  The Natural Resources Committee hosted a forum on post-pandemic environmentally focused economic growth that touched heavily on racial disparities.  Even though clean energy has resulted in many new jobs, there is racial inequity within the industry.  At The Washington Post, Dino Grandoni reported on the impacts of recent Trump administration cutbacks of environmental regulations on communities of color.  Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is considering a plan that would expand drilling into some of northern New Mexico’s last available public lands, threatening the desecration of sacred Native American sites.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has released a new report “Politics & Global Warming” based on their most recent national survey completed in April.  Economist Stephanie Kelton, a leading proponent of “modern monetary theory” (MMT), has a new book about it.  Brian Kahn, managing editor of Earther, interviewed her about MMT and how it provides a path forward on climate change and other big issues.  (MMT is at the heart of the Green New Deal.  If you are like me and were unaware of it, I encourage you to read the interview.)  Rocky Mountain Institute has developed a new stimulus strategy that comprises four priorities: create jobs and grow the economy; support public health and reduce air pollution; enhance economic, energy, and climate resilience; and decarbonize.  A new study from UC, Berkeley, and GridLab concluded that the U.S. could transition to 90% renewable energy by the year 2035.  The changeover would cost no more than what the utility industry will spend during the next 15 years anyway and create a half million new high value jobs.  In addition, the wholesale cost of electricity would be 13% less than it is today.  At Bloomberg Green, Michael Bloomberg argued for leaders who recognize the opportunity to build a better, smarter future and can remake a devastating crisis into a turning point.  Also, Dorothy Gambrell and colleagues presented 26 ways to launch a clean energy future out of the pandemic recovery.  At Yale Environment 360, Professor David Victor of UC, San Diego, made the case for why Europe must lead the global green recovery.  On a related topic, Sonja van Renssen of Foresight: Climate and Energy examined the role of central banks in the energy transition, with particular reference to the European Central Bank.

The Trump administration is taking the first steps toward lifting restrictions on the financing of advanced nuclear energy projects for export by the Development Finance Corporation, thereby helping provide reliable, emission-free power to developing countries, while also helping the U.S. nuclear industry compete with China and Russia.  Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday vetoed a bill that would have stiffened penalties for trespassing on pipelines, levees, and a long list of other facilities in the state. 

The difference between President Trump and former Vice-President Biden on the environment is larger than their perceived differences to voters over race relations, the economy, and health care, according to recent polling.  A second term for President Trump would mean a more aggressive dismantling of environmental policy and an expansion of the fossil fuel industry, according to energy advisers who work closely with the White House.  U.S. taxpayers could be responsible for billions of dollars in climate-related property losses as the government backs a growing number of mortgages on homes in the path of floods, fires, and extreme weather.

Climate and Climate Science

Carbon dioxide emissions have rebounded around the world as lockdown conditions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have eased.  Emissions had fallen by a quarter when the lockdowns were at their peak, and are still down relative to 2019 levels, but only by 5% on average globally.  Be sure and look at the graphic of emission reductions at the Global Carbon Project.  On the subject of CO2 emissions, scientists who sampled dry streambeds at 200 locations around the world were surprised to find significant emissions from them, independent of location, climate zone, or type of waterway.

If you follow the weather, you are probably aware of times when the weather gets “stuck” and we get extended periods of clear blue skies or gray cloudy ones.  When that happens, the TV weather may refer to a “blocking” pattern.  Carbon Brief examined blocking weather events and asked whether climate change is causing more of them.  In a study published in the journal Climatic Change, researchers used the emerging science of climate change attribution to determine that at least $67bn of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 can be attributed directly to climate breakdown.

Nizhnyaya Pesha, on the Northwest fringes of Russia above the Arctic Circle, recorded a temperature of 30°C (86°F) on Tuesday afternoon, although temperatures there do not usually climb that high until July or August, if at all.  It is possible this early warming of the Arctic is due the reduction in sulfate aerosol emissions associated with the reduced energy use caused by COVID-19.

Brazil’s space research agency reported that 3,911 sq. miles of deforestation occurred in the Amazon from August 2018 through July 2019; a rise of 34.4% over the same period a year earlier.  Their government has renewed for 30 days a presidential decree allowing the deployment of the military to combat rising deforestation.  Based on new data for 2019 released by the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute, Mongabay updated its analysis of forest loss since 2002.  As efforts grow to store more CO2 emissions in forests, one sector has been overlooked — small, family-owned woodlands, which comprise 38% of U.S. forests.  Now, a major conservation initiative is aiming to help these owners manage their lands for maximum carbon storage.

Although the Four Corners region began 2020 with a strong snowpack, after an exceptionally dry spring, drought has set in and is predicted to linger into summer, with forecasts of yet more heat waves, wildfire, and water supply shortages.  A recent study in Science concluded that global warming is responsible for about half the severity of the emerging megadrought.


Global investment in new clean energy capacity rose 1% last year to $282.2 billion according to research by the UN Environment Program and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  In terms of capacity, 184 GW of new clean energy was added last year, up 12% from 2018.  Unfortunately, most clean energy technologies worldwide are not advancing rapidly enough to meet the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement, according to a new analysis by the International Energy Agency.  Some oil and gas companies claim to be investing in renewables, but this chart by Axios shows what is really happening.

Dan Gearino at Inside Climate News presented a detailed examination of Germany’s failure to address CO2 emissions from the transportation sector.  Ford Motor Co. plans to have all-electric versions of the Ford F-150 pickup and Ford Transit van to market by mid-2022.  The world’s 14 biggest carmakers are on course to miss globally agreed upon climate targets, a leading sustainable finance think tank said on Wednesday, urging investors to do more to pressure boards to change their production plans.  Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL), the Chinese company that makes electric-car batteries for Tesla and Volkswagen, is ready to produce a battery that lasts 16 years and 1.24 million miles, and would cost about 10% more than the batteries now inside EVs.

At Green Tech Media, Justin Gerdes had an interesting article outlining the issues associated with transforming buildings to all-electric operation.

The coronavirus pandemic and a very mild winter in the northern hemisphere have put global natural gas demand on course for the biggest annual fall on record, the International Energy Agency said.  In the U.S., the Energy Information Administration said Tuesday that electricity consumption will drop by a record 5.7% in 2020 due to business closures for coronavirus-linked lockdowns.  Thanks to the pandemic, Britain reached an energy milestone on Wednesday by going two months without any generation of electricity from burning coal.

Researchers at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy studied nine states to identify which peaker plants have the greatest potential to be replaced by clean energy alternatives, such as battery storage.  One finding was that many in the northeastern U.S. are old, inefficient, and burn oil, making them ripe for replacement. 


Beth Gardiner interviewed activist Elizabeth Yeampierre, who sees the fights against climate change and racial injustice as deeply intertwined.  At The New York Times, Somini Sengupta put together a reading list about climate change and social inequities.  Also at the NYT, Jack Davis reviewed the new book, Disposable City, Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Change, by Mario Alejandro Ariza.  Travel to India with Joanna Slater to determine whether it can chart a low-carbon future.  Jenny Valentish reviewed the documentary “The Weather Diaries”, which premiered June 10 at the Sydney film festival, as part of their all-digital on-demand program, which runs until June 21.

Closing Thought

Last week I put Black climate expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s perspective from The Washington Post in the first paragraph of the Roundup.  This week, I’m closing with the bits that got left on the cutting room floor, thanks to Emily Atkin at Heated.

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.