Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/26/2020

Politics and Policy

In an opinion essay in The New York Times, Paul Bodnar and Tamara Grbusic of the Rocky Mountain Institute warned that the government’s spending on climate-related disaster recovery is a “rapidly rising fiscal threat”.  Also in the Times, John Schwartz examined the question of whether the Supreme Court ruling on gay and transgender rights will strengthen the argument for using the Clean Air Act to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.  In an interesting article at Vox, David Roberts examined the latest poll of public opinion on climate change and clean energy by the Pew Research Center.  Because of a quiet decision by Facebook, the CO2 Coalition and other groups that attack consensus climate science can share content that climate scientists have labeled as misleading because Facebook will consider it “opinion” and therefore immune to fact-checking.  A tug of war between preserving living-wage, unionized coal jobs and addressing climate change is playing out across the country at every level of government, pitting environmental and clean energy interests against unions and fossil fuel companies.    

The state of Minnesota sued ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and three Koch Industries entities on Wednesday over climate change, claiming they knew about the impacts fossil fuels would have on the environment and misled the public.  On Thursday, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine sued ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, asserting that they have engaged in a multimillion-dollar campaign over decades to deceive District consumers about the effects of fossil fuels on climate change.  

On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to adopt a new Advanced Clean Trucks regulation that requires everything from small delivery vans to 18-wheelers to transition away from diesel engines to less polluting electric motors powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, beginning with the 2024 model year.  Nevada will be the latest state to adopt California’s low-and zero-emission vehicle rules following similar announcements by Washington in March and Minnesota and New Mexico in September.  President Trump’s Interior Department has approved about half as many wind and solar energy projects on federal lands as the Obama administration had at the same point in its first term, according to a report published on Thursday by the Center for American Progress.  Over the past five years, more U.S. cities have started setting and acting upon renewable energy goals by signing deals that move their own municipal operations away from fossil-fueled electricity and toward renewable energy.    

Joe Biden further consolidated the support of mainstream environmentalists by scoring the endorsement of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund on Wednesday.  A report released Tuesday by a think tank founded by Stacey Abrams, the Southern Economic Advancement Project, offers a road map for the South to catch up to the rest of the country in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Also on Tuesday, Environment America unveiled an effort to establish residential solar mandates, similar to the requirement that went into effect this year in California, in 10 states across the country.  A working paper from the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy Institute at Haas found that, when controlling for year, income, household size, and city of residence, Black renters paid $273 more per year for energy than white renters between 2010 and 2017; Black homeowners paid $408 more.  A national coalition to address the challenges of the working poor released a sweeping legislative platform in a three-hour virtual rally last Saturday, including proposals to address mass incarceration, health care, wealth inequality, and climate change.  A “green bank” is a nonprofit institution that uses public money to help businesses invest in solar panels, wind farms, and energy-efficient building retrofits.  Although several states have developed state-level green banks, there is renewed interest in establishing a national one to help stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Climate and Climate Science

The thermometer hit 38°C (100.4°F) in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, a likely record.  Such warming has several impacts, as discussed by Matt Simon at Wired

Although 90% of the U.S. public is in favor of planting trees to fight climate change, two new studies published this week show how misplaced hopes for tree-planting have been.  Jeff Goodell examined those studies and reviewed the history of the tree planting idea at Rolling Stone.  A study published in Nature Geosciences, explored the consequences of more than 80,000 land purchases by private companies made from 2000 to 2018 across 15 countries in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, finding that they accelerated tropical deforestation.

With rising temperatures, the world’s food supplies are at risk, with decreasing yields in key staple crops.  Researchers and innovators are looking at more resilient crops and farm animals — from heat-resistant wheat, to drought-resistant rice, to Naked Neck chickens that stay cooler.  Somaliland is drying out faster now than at any time during the past 2,000 years.  As a result, pastoral life has failed, forcing hundreds of thousands of people off the land and into makeshift camps for Internally Displaced People.

According to research published in the journal Global Change Biology, droughts across the mountains and plains of Wyoming can cut the spring growing season from four months to two.  That dries up nutrient-rich green grasses and shrubs, just when they are needed most by migrating mule deer to replenish body fat after the winter and to rear their young.

Research published in Geophysical Research Letters suggests that the use of aerosols to reflect sunlight and cool the planet could weaken storm tracks in the temperate latitudes in both hemispheres, thereby reducing the severity of winter storms but also stagnating weather systems in the summer, which could lead to more intense heat waves, increases in air pollution, and changes in ocean circulation.

Energy said on Tuesday that it will launch a $2 billion venture capital fund that will focus on technology investments to reduce the impact of climate change and support sustainable development.  David Iaconangelo at E&E News addressed the question of whether this will really help clean energy.  Amazon also said that activities tied to its businesses emitted 51.17 million metric tons of CO2 last year, the equivalent of 13 coal-fired power plants running for a year.  That’s up 15% from 2018, when 44.4 million metric tons were emitted.

Satellites are becoming increasingly popular for detecting methane leaks from pipelines and other natural gas infrastructure, and they are finding significant leaks all over the world.  British power company Drax is partnering with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) to test solvents developed by MHI for their ability to capture CO2 from the flue gas from power plants burning biomass.

On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co. announced a new goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.  A paper in the journal Joule provided a comprehensive estimate of fuel costs during the 15-year life of an EV compared to a gasoline model car, with specifics for each state.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has pledged $100 million in funding for the development of an industry-ready, heavy-duty, hydrogen-powered, fuel-cell truck.  Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a new direct borohydride fuel cell that achieves an operating voltage twice that of hydrogen fuel cells, thereby widening the number of possibilities that could be powered by fuel cells.  A new report released by The Brattle Group this week established that there could be anywhere from 10 to 35 million EVs on the road by 2030, and the U.S. electric power sector would need to invest between $75-125 billion to be able to serve 20 million.

The U.S.’s three separate power grids largely operate independently and exchange very little power, thereby preventing all sorts of efficiencies.  Last week, an effort was launched to address that: the Macro Grid Initiative, which seeks to expand and upgrade the nation’s transmission network.  With fewer and fewer fossil generators left in the UK generation mix, and with more and more renewables, the grid is under strain.  But more than 100 large wind farms are now providing grid services to balance out the variable nature of renewables.

China has nearly 250 GW of coal-fired power plants now under development, more than the entire coal power capacity of the U.S., a new study said on Thursday, casting doubt on China’s commitments to cutting fossil fuel use.  Oil and gas giants, mining interests, and coal-fired power plants have all received financial and regulatory relief as governments around the world enact pandemic recovery plans.  These moves threaten to create a dirty, high-carbon legacy that long outlasts the current crisis.


The authors of a new paper published in WIREs Climate Change explained the actors and factors behind online misinformation and why social networks are such fertile ground for misinformation about climate change to spread.  The coronavirus pandemic and climate change are both collective action problems; unfortunately, some Americans have trouble accepting the actions required to deal with such problems.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell provided links to a number of articles about the common ground shared by activists for a livable climate, racial justice, climate justice, and environmental justice.  At the same site, Michael Svoboda brought together twelve books for our armchair travel this summer.  At Burning Worlds, Amy Brady interviewed poet Susan Barba about her new book, Geode.  A team from James Madison University earned first-place honors in the “project development” category at this year’s DOE’s Collegiate Wind Competition.

Closing Thought

This week, listen to a 17 minute conversation between Vicki Robin and Bill McKibben.

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.