Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/19/2020

Politics and Policy

Researchers at the University of Oxford surveyed 80,000 people in 40 countries to learn what they think about climate change.  In cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency (IEA) launched its Sustainable Recovery Plan in a “World Energy Outlook Special Report.”  The report lays out a series of measures that the agency says would ensure 2019 was the “definitive peak” for global emissions.  The Guardian quoted Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA as saying “This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound.”  If you’re curious about what the rest of the world is doing to promote a “green recovery” from the economic slowdown associated with the coronavirus, you might want to check out Carbon Brief’s new interactive tracker, which will be updated on a regular basis.

A very thought-provoking opinion piece at The Hill outlined a strategy that the U.S. could follow to meet the triple challenges of the slow demise of the post-World War II international order; America’s massive inequality, poor public health, and economic insecurity; and climate change.  House Democrats unveiled a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan Thursday that includes $70 billion for clean energy projects.  In addition, a group of 180 Democratic lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) asking for congressional action to help the “decimated” clean energy sector.  Ignoring objections from coastal residents, politicians, and government agencies, the Trump Administration is moving forward with its intent to conduct seismic tests for oil off the Atlantic Coast.  The American Council on Renewable Energy and Americans for a Clean Energy Grid on Wednesday launched a campaign to build support for a stronger U.S. electrical transmission system, including upgrades to interregional lines and the development of a nationwide, high-voltage direct current network.  The Democratic National Committee’s council on climate change irked party leadership when it published policy recommendations this month that ventured beyond presidential candidate Joe Biden’s plan, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Never heard of the Transportation Fairness Alliance?  Then you should read this piece at DeSmog that discusses them.  Mississippi’s House and Senate have passed legislation placing new penalties on protests against fossil fuel infrastructure, making them the 13th state to do so in the past three years; the governor is expected to sign the legislation into law.  Efforts to undermine climate change science in the federal government, once orchestrated largely by President Trump’s political appointees, are now increasingly driven by midlevel managers.

One impact of all of the things that have been happening lately is an increasing awareness of environmental justice issues.  For example, the National Black Environmental Justice Network is relaunching.  In a Q&A at Inside Climate News, Robert Bullard, often called the father of environmental justice, said he is more hopeful about the future of environmental justice than ever.  Still, from New York to Los Angeles, Minneapolis to the Gulf Coast, people of color are suffering disproportionately from pollution, callous government, and climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

Following a May that tied for the hottest on record, the U.S. is heading into a potentially blistering summer, with hotter than normal temperatures expected across almost the entire country into September, NOAA researchers said on Thursday.  This raises the question of how cities will cope with the dangerous combination of high temperatures, COVID-19, and high unemployment.  Meanwhile, wildfires are raging across parts of the desert Southwest and California, where scant rainfall, sweltering temperatures and wind are combining to create ideal conditions for rapid fire spread.  A prolonged heatwave in Siberia is “undoubtedly alarming”, climate scientists have said.  The freak temperatures have been linked to wildfires, a huge oil spill and a plague of tree-eating moths.

As reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists have discovered that summer sea ice in the Weddell Sea area of Antarctica has decreased by an area twice the size of Spain in the last five years, with implications for the marine ecosystem.  In addition, around the world, glaciers are melting.  Consequently, climatologists and chemists are collecting and storing ice core samples for future analysis.

Americans are growing increasingly concerned about health risks linked to global warming, according to a newly released survey from Ipsos alongside Yale and George Mason researchers.  People living in the world’s tropical forest regions, from Brazil to Indonesia, face heightened risk to their health this year from a potentially deadly combination of forest fires and the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists warned on Wednesday.  According to research published Thursday in JAMA Network Open, pregnant women in the U.S. exposed to high temperatures or air pollution are more likely to have children who are premature, underweight or stillborn, and African-American mothers and babies are harmed at a much higher rate than the population at large.  Columbia Journalism Investigations and the Center for Public Integrity investigated the CDC’s “Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative” to determine what they have done to help localities prepare for and respond to the impacts of increasing temperatures on citizens’ health.  Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone reported on their investigation.

In the coming decades, the Arctic Ocean will absorb significantly more CO2 than has been predicted by climate models, according to new research published in the journal Nature.  The increased rate of ocean acidification, combined with other rapidly changing chemical conditions, could ultimately disrupt the entire Arctic food chain.

According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, climate change models have underestimated the amount of CO2 that will be emitted from thawing permafrost by as much as 14% because they don’t account for photomineralization of the released organic matter.


BP has released the 69th edition of its annual “Statistical Review of World Energy”, covering calendar year 2019.  Carbon Brief’s examination of the report revealed that renewables were the largest source of new energy in 2019, although there were still record highs for oil and gas consumption, and for CO2 emissions.  Gains for wind and solar, combined with a fall in coal output, meant that low-carbon electricity generation matched coal-fired generation for the first time.  On the other hand, the IEA warned that next year the world’s oil demand could climb at its fastest rate in the history of the market, and may reach pre-crisis levels within years, unless new green policies are adopted.  To the surprise of scientists studying them, global CO2 emissions have rebounded very quickly as countries have opened up their economies after the shutdowns in response to the novel coronavirus.

At BBC “Future Planet”, Lowana Veal examined a number of techniques being used in Iceland to remove CO2 from their industrial processes, many spurred by the unusual geology of the island.  Without major new subsidies from the American public, technologies for capturing heat-trapping CO2 from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants will remain uneconomical.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced plans Tuesday to develop a port and staging area to construct wind turbines for installations along the Eastern Seaboard.  The governor’s goal is for New Jersey to be the focal point for the off-shore wind industry in the mid-Atlantic region.  However, according to an interview with Dominion Energy’s vice president of generation construction, Mark Mitchell, Norfolk, VA, hopes to fill that role.  One day, someone will want to build U.S. offshore wind farms with floating turbines, in which case they may well use 3-D printing to build the anchors.

On Monday, the Supreme Court removed one hurdle for developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), but the natural gas project remains in legal limbo as a host of other obstacles stand in the way of construction.  Nevertheless, on Tuesday Dominion Energy asked FERC for two more years to complete the ACP, which the company now expects to enter service in early 2022.  In a special report, Reuters catalogued a litany of horror stories about methane leaking from abandoned oil and gas wells.  On a positive note, Dominion Energy is investing in systems to capture methane and other gases from the digestion of manure on dairy farms, clean it, and use the resulting green methane in natural gas systems.

Green-energy investing will account for 25% of all energy spending in 2021 and, for the first time ever, surpass spending on traditional fuel sources like oil and gas, Goldman Sachs predicted in a Tuesday note.  According to a study from the California Energy Commission, hydrogen prices in the U.S. are headed downward and could be as affordable as gasoline within the next five years.  Decarbonizing hydrogen will take time, thought, and investment, but Europe’s industry says it is committed.


Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video at Yale Climate Connections, this one about the flooding events that have occurred around the country recently as a result of increased rainfall intensity.  High school students from the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn were among the grand-prize winners in the NPR Student Podcast Challenge for their episode about climate change and environmental racism.  “At War with the Dinosaurs” is a new documentary that explores the future of hydrogen fuel cells.  You’ve probably heard of “Climate Stripes”, created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins using annual temperature anomalies (the difference from long-term average).  Now, Climate Central has made them available for all 50 states and many cities.

Closing Thought

I’m ending this week with Bill McKibben’s column from The New Yorker, which provides a ray of hope as well as a shot in the arm from his interview with Jane Fonda about her weekly series of civil-disobedience actions that she calls Fire Drill Fridays. 

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.