Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/3/2020

Special Event: Chautauqua Institution

The theme at the Chautauqua Institution this week was climate change.  Because of COVID-19 all of the lectures and other activities were moved online, instead of in-person.  If you go to https://assembly.chq.org/ you can start a 90-day free trial, which provides plenty of time to see what happened this week, as well as what will be going on this summer.  Once you are in, go to the Assembly and then scroll down to “Weekly Themes” where Climate Change will be the first one.  Click on it to go to the video library.  The main lectures are “Government, Economics, and the Climate”; “The Ocean and the Climate”; “How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases” (which was super); and “The State of Global Environmental Action.”  There are lots of other videos from the week to explore.  Enjoy the Chautauqua experience virtually.

Politics and Policy

Carbon Brief has updated its tracker of government “green stimulus” measures launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Preliminary findings from a study by 14 research groups showed that as of 1 July, more public money commitments in response to COVID-19 went to fossil fuels than to cleaner energies in the U.S. and several others.  The 36 countries that sit on the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed to postpone the date airlines have to start paying for carbon credits to offset a portion of their climate impact. 

Prominent environmentalists and Democratic activists said Facebook is “allowing the spread of climate misinformation to flourish, unchecked” and urged the company’s external oversight board to intervene.  At her blog, climate reporter Emily Atkin described the actions of the natural gas industry when trying to defeat the all-electric housing plan of the town of San Luis Obsipo, CA.  The group claiming status as a ratepayer advocacy group in its attempt to get FERC to override state net-metering rules has finally revealed the identity of one of its members.

On Thursday, Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, said in a statement that “The message is very clear: in the absence of much faster clean energy innovation, achieving net-zero goals in 2050 will be all but impossible.”  House Democrats’ “Climate Crisis Action Plan” lays out a blueprint for moving the U.S. toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  At Vox, David Roberts discussed its twelve policy “pillars”.  House Democrats passed a $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan that would increase funding to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges while setting aside funds for broadband, schools, and hospitals.  In response, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “Naturally this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate.”  In an essay in The Guardian, Columbia University professor and Nobel laureate in economics Joseph Stiglitz argued for investing in the green economy.  Ireland’s new coalition government has set an ambitious goal to deliver steep greenhouse gas emission cuts every year to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.  The collapse of oil and gas prices has had a major negative impact on countries that depend on the industry for a large percent of their income, providing a preview of what can happen as the world moves away from fossil fuels.  In The Atlantic, the former U.S. Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs argued that the international community must be prepared to manage the fallout from such change in those countries.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has issued a new series of maps that compare the views of Democrats and Republicans on several aspects of climate change.  In a commentary for the Orlando Sentinel, the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship argued that conservatives should follow the example set by President Reagan, who, when faced with the destruction of the ozone layer, listened to the scientists, weighed all the facts, and chose to act.  Top House Republicans are backing a climate policy framework, the “American Climate Contract”, outlined by the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative youth climate group.

Climate and Climate Science

Recently, I’ve provided links to articles noting that many of the newest climate models project higher future warming than older models.  A frequently offered explanation lies in how they incorporate clouds.  Now, CBS News Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli has examined clouds and why they are so complex at Yale Climate Connections.  At Carbon Brief, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather has provided an explanation of how the rise and fall of atmospheric CO2 levels influenced the ice ages.

Climate change will make it much harder for tropical plants around the world to germinate, with temperatures becoming too hot for the seeds of 20% of them by the year 2070.  Also, a new study in the journal Science found that with medium-level climate change, by the end of the century the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes will be too hot for about 40% of the world’s fish species when in their spawning or embryonic life stages.

Miami just experienced its hottest week on record, rounding out its warmest first half of the year ever observed.  Two out of every three days this year have featured a broken record of some sort somewhere in South Florida.  Also, a potentially historic heat wave is expected to hit more than two-thirds of the continental U.S. in the first several weeks of July.  The Northeast U.S. is the fastest warming region among the contiguous 48 states.  An examination of temperature reconstructions during the Holocene Epoch (the last 12,000 years) revealed that Earth started cooling about 6,500 years ago, but all of it has been erased by the warming since 1850.

An exhaustive report released Monday by the First Street Foundation shows that nationally, there are at least 6 million households that are unaware they’re living in homes that have a 1% chance of flooding each year.  Furthermore, the chance is increasing each year due to climate change.

Scientists said on Monday that the South Pole is one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, with surface air temperatures rising since the 1990s at a rate that is three times faster than the global average.

Energy

At Inside Climate News, Dan Gearino took issue with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette’s op-ed about coal in the Harrisburg, PA, Patriot-News.  Two more utilities, in Arizona and Colorado, are moving to accelerate closure of coal plants and replace them with renewable energy backed by batteries, joining a broader push in both states to shift to more cost-effective clean energy.

During the first half of this year, solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric generation together produced 55.8% of Germany’s electricity.  German lawmakers have finalized plans for the country’s long-awaited phase-out of coal as an energy source, which will make them the first major economy to phase out both coal and nuclear energy.  Battery manufacturer Varta will receive $338 million of German government funding to develop large format lithium-ion cells.

Utilities that are transitioning away from coal are starting to view the creation of a natural gas “bridge” to renewable energy as an unnecessary step.  The assumed useful life of utility-scale solar projects now averages 32.5 years, up from 21.5 years in 2007, thereby helping lower the levelized cost of energy from them.  More than 500 residential energy storage batteries will be aggregated into a virtual power plant by utility Portland (Oregon) General Electric.

The UK business secretary gave the green light on Wednesday evening to the 1.8 GW Norfolk Vanguard windfarm project, which will be more than 40 miles off the Bacton coast of England.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dominion Energy and its partner Ørsted have completed installation of the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot located 30 miles off Virginia Beach.

Norwegian oil firm Equinor plans to build a plant in Britain to produce hydrogen from natural gas in combination with carbon capture and storage, so-called blue hydrogen.  With the EU set to announce its long-term hydrogen strategy in mid-July, one question has emerged at the heart of the debate: Should blue hydrogen be excluded from the plans?  China has developed its latest draft of the regulations that will govern the storage and transportation of hydrogen for powering vehicles.  The Economist published a very clear-eyed evaluation of the potential role of hydrogen in a carbon-free economy.

Potpourri

In her “Climate Curious” column at the Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan addressed the link between climate change and racial justice.  The Economist has a new series of “The world if” articles, focusing on climate change.  Each of the eight pieces is fiction, but “grounded in historical fact and real science”.  In a video at Inside Climate News, author James Edward Mills addresses the idea that access to nature and outdoor recreation are critical, underappreciated environmental justice issues.  Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau’s film 2040 has been called the “most upbeat documentary about climate change” in several years.  It is available for pay-for-view streaming until the end of July.

Closing Thought

How two nuns helped Southern Co. wake up to climate change.

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.