Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/17/2020

Politics and Policy

Former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a proposal Tuesday to transform the nation’s energy industry, pledging to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 and spend $2 trillion to turbocharge the clean energy economy.  In a speech Wednesday, President Trump displayed just how far apart he and Biden are ideologically on infrastructure and environmental matters.  As might be expected, the oil and gas lobby was not thrilled with several parts of Joe Biden’s new climate plan.  Author David Wallace-Wells interviewed Washington Governor Jay Inslee about Biden’s embrace of so many of Inslee’s ideas about tackling climate change.  Some of the world’s leading climate scientists have written to EU leaders demanding they act immediately to avoid the worst impacts of the unfolding climate and ecological emergency.  Their letter said that the response to COVID-19 has made it clear that “…the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, neither from the politicians, media, business nor finance.”

On Wednesday, the White House finalized its rollback of one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act.  Later that day a federal judge in California blocked the rollback of a rule requiring reduction of methane emissions from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands.  The administration has been systematically underestimating the damage caused by carbon pollution according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.  At Yale Environment 360, Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow Jonathan Mingle wrote: “The demise or delay of several major oil and gas pipelines in recent weeks, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, demonstrate how the Trump administration’s zeal for fossil fuel projects and flaunting of environmental laws has backfired and handed key victories to environmentalists.”  A lower court last week ordered the temporary shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, but an appeals court on Tuesday stalled that order.

Official dietary advice across the world is harming both the environment and people’s health, according to scientists who have carried out the most comprehensive assessment of national dietary guidelines to date.  C40 Cities, a network of mayors committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, has released a report arguing that urban economies need to prioritize green investments in order to create a more resilient society that can withstand global shocks.  COVID-19 is having a climate impact as commuters reject mass transit and embrace their cars.  At the Virginia Mercury, Sarah Vogelsong examined the question of how a network of electric vehicle charging stations in Virginia should be developed and managed, by the regulated electric utilities or a competitive marketplace.  Two clean energy advocates, CAAV Steering Committee member Sally Newkirk and Virginia Sierra Club’s Seth Heald, are challenging incumbents in electric utility co-op board elections this summer. 

On Thursday, FERC unanimously rejected a petition from the New England Ratepayers Association to declare all state solar net-metering policies illegal.  Some states and cities have adopted carbon neutrality goals, requiring the phase out natural gas.  Using New England as a case study, Emily Pontecorvo examined the complex interrelated questions that must be addressed while doing so.  Results from a study published in Environmental and Resource Economics showed that countries with carbon prices on average had annual CO2 emissions growth rates that were about two percentage points lower than countries without a carbon price.  Biomass currently represents almost 60% of the EU’s “renewable energy”, more than solar and wind power combined.  This makes it important that the biomass burned to get that energy is appropriate, so the EU is working on stricter sustainability criteria for bioenergy.  Ironically, in the U.S., the EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring that burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, thereby loosening the sustainability criteria.

Climate and Climate Science

Papers published in the journals Earth System Science Data and Environmental Research Letters by researchers with the Global Carbon Project reported that from the 2000-2006 period to 2017, methane emissions from fossil fuel production and use increased by nearly 15% to 108 million tons per year while emissions from agriculture increased by almost 11% to 227 million tons per year.

Both NASA and NOAA agree that the first half of 2020 was the second hottest on record, trailing the first half of 2016 by only 0.05°C.  They also estimated that 2020 has a 36% chance of becoming the hottest year on record and a 99.9% chance of being among the top five.  According to a new report from NOAA, the increase in high-tide flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the U.S. since 2000 has been “extraordinary.”

Researchers with the World Weather Attribution project have determined that the prolonged January-to-June heat wave across the Siberian Arctic was made at least 600 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  On the subject of heat, science editor David Shukman wrote at the BBC about impacts of extreme heat on humans and the role of “wet bulb globe temperature” as a guideline to recognizing unsafe conditions.  The official weather observing station in Death Valley, CA reached 128°F on Sunday, the hottest temperature anywhere on Earth since 2017 and only 1°F behind what experts say is likely the hottest temperature ever recorded.

The impact of climate change on wildfires is complex.  At Carbon Brief, Daisy Dunne examined how wildfires around the world are changing, the influence of global warming on them, and how risks might multiply in the future.

According to a paper published in the journal Nature, grinding up basalt rock and spreading the resulting powder across agricultural fields can accelerate Earth’s natural rate of CO2 absorption by “enhanced rock weathering.”


The International Energy Agency has issued its latest “Clean Energy Innovation” report, which seeks to determine whether the tools available for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions are capable of doing so.  David Roberts did a good job of dissecting and summarizing the report at Vox.

In his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week, Dan Gearino covered several topics, two of which I found to be particularly interesting.  The lead article is about energy company PacifiCorp and their move toward more clean energy, an undertaking that requires them to satisfy regulators in a very diverse array of states.  The second article addressed the topic of what to do with solar panels when they reach the end of their useful life and referenced a paper that recently appeared in the journal Nature Energy

In 2019, California utilities implemented preventative blackouts as a way to eliminate the risk of grid equipment sparking fires.  Greentech Media examined the use of microgrids as an alternative strategy for reducing risk.  Also, a recent study by California’s three investor-owned utilities found that solar backed by four hours of storage can achieve nearly 100% reliability during the daytime.  Dutch scientists collaborated with the power company Liander to study the impacts of clouds on electricity production by solar panels and found that the highest power peaks occurred under partly cloudy conditions.  Rocky Mountain Institute issued a new report on reimagining grid resilience as we transform our electrical energy system.  And for a tutorial on changing energy markets, you might read this article by Gordon Feller.

Data on the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories, cargo ships, controlled burns and every other human source on Earth could soon be part of the public domain, according to “ClimateTrace”, a consortium of technology companies and climate change nonprofits.  Recently, companies in the oil industry have announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  While the pledges sound impressive, many are misleading and misrepresent how much the oil giants are changing.  In fact, no company has committed to shrink its oil output this decade.

The continued availability of lithium is essential to the development of electric vehicles, electricity storage, and multiple other activities dependent on lithium-ion batteries.  Although most lithium is obtained by mining today, the oceans contain a vast amount of it, although at very low concentration.  Now scientists at Stanford University have devised a technique for extracting lithium from seawater, although it will require additional development before it can be applied.


Economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz reviewed Bjorn Lomborg’s new book False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, concluding with “…Lomborg’s work would be downright dangerous were it to succeed in persuading anyone that there was merit in its arguments.”  MacArthur Fellow and National Academy of Sciences member Peter Gleick reviewed Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, stating “In short, what is new in here isn’t right, and what is right isn’t new.”  In July 2018, sustainability leadership professor Jem Bendell (Univ. of Cumbria, UK) self-published an article entitled “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” after its rejection by a sustainability policy journal.  The article has been downloaded more than 600,000 times and has significantly impacted the ideology and strategy of climate movement organizations like Extinction Rebellion (ER).  Now, three young scientist members of ER have reviewed the science and conclusions of “Deep Adaptation” and found them to be deeply flawed.  U.S. ranchers are upset with Burger King over a video it released touting the benefits of lemongrass as a dietary additive for reducing methane emissions from cattle.  David Kaiser, who steered the Rockefeller Family Fund into a pitched confrontation with Exxon Mobil, died on Wednesday at a family home on Mount Desert Island, ME.

Closing Thought

Catherine Coleman Flowers is a senior fellow of environmental justice and civic engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, a rural development manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, and the only Black woman to serve on the Biden task force on 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.