Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/24/2020

Politics and Policy

The Black Lives Matter movement is having an impact on the “big greens”, causing them to look deeply into their history and inclusivity, as well as their unconscious marginalization of minority employees.  When Alaska’s all-white Congressional delegation branded opposition to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge as a form of racial discrimination last month, they were accused by Native organizers of fomenting a hypocritical and misleading narrative.  The Tesoro High Plains Pipeline was ordered shut down after 67 years of operation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for trespassing on land owned by Native Americans.  The Three Percenters, a loosely organized group of far-right militants, appear to have established a significant presence in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield.

The Democratic National Committee released a draft of its 2020 policy platform on Wednesday; Dharna Noor discussed the parts related to climate change at Earther.  Even if Joe Biden wins in November and the Democrats manage to take the Senate, there will still be a giant hurdle facing a climate bill: the Senate filibuster.  Democratic lawmakers are privately talking about their strategies for undoing Trump’s environmental and public health rollbacks should they win in November.  Progressive Democrats led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Friday introduced a bill to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, among other things.  Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is sponsoring a bill that would ensure health care coverage for coal workers who lose their jobs as the country shifts to cleaner forms of energy, as well as cover higher education costs for the coal miners and their families.  Climate scientist Allison Crimmins argued at Vox for the creation of a cabinet level Department of Climate.  A U.S. federal district court ruled that California’s coordination with Quebec in a cap and trade carbon emissions market is constitutional.  The Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and four others have been arrested in connection with an alleged $60 million bribery scheme involving a controversial law passed last year that bailed out two nuclear power plants while gutting subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

EU leaders reached a recovery deal on Tuesday that included devoting nearly €550 billion to green projects over the next seven years, although some were concerned about the lack of precise guidelines on how the money can be spent.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, discussed an issue that has concerned me for some time: “Legal strategies that have derailed pipelines can also be turned against clean energy projects urgently needed to combat climate change.”  Morgan Stanley is the first U.S.-based global bank to join the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials, an international collaboration that aims to “standardize carbon accounting for the financial sector” by tracking how banks’ and investment firms’ assets are contributing to climate change.  A letter from pension funds and other investors representing almost $1 trillion in assets urged the Federal Reserve, the SEC, and other financial regulators to act on climate-change concerns to avoid economic disaster.  At the Independent, Louise Boyle reported on the proliferation of misinformation about climate change on Facebook.

The EPA on Wednesday proposed new regulations to reduce CO2 emissions from air travel, but the proposal would simply adopt 2017 emissions standards from the International Civil Aviation Organization, which most U.S. airlines already meet.  On Thursday EPA took action to bolster the struggling uranium mining industry that environmentalists warn risks contaminating the West’s limited water supplies.  Emails, recently made public in a lawsuit that 15 states brought against the EPA, suggest that the agency rescinded a reporting requirement on methane at the request of the president of the Western Energy Alliance just weeks after President Trump took office.  A new analysis published in the medical research journal BMJ found that 95% of the world’s dietary guidelines are incompatible with at least one of the goals set by international climate and public health agreements, and that 87% aren’t compatible with emissions pathways to limit global warming to below 2°C.

Climate and Climate Science

A very long review article was published this week in the journal Reviews of Geophysics.  The subject was climate sensitivity, i.e., the warming that would occur from a doubling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  A major conclusion is that the likely range of sensitivity values has been decreased to 2.6–4.1°C.  (If you have read your allocation of free articles at the NYT, then you can read about the study here, here, or here, none of which is paywalled.)

ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine jointly investigated the question of “Where Will Everyone Go?” as climate conditions change to the point that they will no longer support agriculture and people are forced to move or starve.  Another article in the magazine examined the impacts of the 50-year, $50 billion Louisiana Coastal Master Plan on the people of Plaquemines Parish, illustrating the conflicting interests associated with adaptation to sea level rise.

Scientists have, for the first time, discovered an active leak of methane gas from the sea floor in Antarctica.  As reported in the journal Nature, researchers have found evidence of ice loss from Wilkes Basin in eastern Antarctica during a climate warming event 400,000 years ago, which suggests that parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet could be lost to modern warming trends.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that as the climate warms, birds are not only breeding earlier, but their breeding windows are also shrinking—some by as many as 4 to 5 days. This could lead to increased competition for food that might threaten many bird populations.  In addition, a new study in Nature Climate Change found that under a “business-as-usual” CO2 emissions scenario, most polar bear subpopulations would either be certain, or very likely, to experience declines in reproduction and cub survival by the end of the century.

Ice cover across the entire Arctic Ocean is currently at its lowest mid-July extent on record.  New research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans shows that maximum wave heights across the Arctic Ocean, which encompasses the Beaufort Sea, could be upward of six meters higher on average within this century, leading to even more erosion and flooding of indigenous villages.  Virginia coastal communities in 2019 saw two to five times more nuisance flooding than the national average.


Green energy, which includes wind, solar, hydro, and bioenergy, generated 40% of EU electricity in the first half of 2020, compared to fossil fuels generating 34%.  Europe has a long history with hydroelectric power, but there are questions about its appropriate role in a carbon-free energy future.

A number of articles recently have touted hydrogen as a major component in the UK’s low carbon future.  Tom Baxter, a Senior Lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Aberdeen took issue with that assessment.  American industrial gas giant Air Products & Chemicals announced its intention to construct a massive green hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia that would be powered by 4 GW of the country’s wind and solar energy and produce 650 tons of hydrogen per day.

Five wholesale electric power market executives agree that natural gas will continue to play an essential role on the electric power grid.  A $350 million natural gas project spanning much of eastern Virginia has been put on hold by Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, in part due to environmental justice concerns.

New York on Tuesday issued a request for proposals for up to 2.5 GW of offshore wind capacity.  The Georgia Public Service Commission agreed on Tuesday to let Georgia Power, the state’s largest electric utility, accept bids for a new 50 MW biomass generation plant.  There is a new organization called the Good Energy Collective that is making the progressive case for advanced nuclear power.  Four of its five board members are women, as are its cofounders.

According to a study published in the journal Applied Energy, energy storage displaces other capacity investments in three major ways: (i) reducing variable renewable investments; (ii) replacing thermal generators; and (iii) deferring transmission upgrades.


Bill McKibben fell off of his bicycle last week, breaking six ribs and a shoulder blade, as well as incurring a severely separated shoulder.  Nevertheless, he had some interesting comments about the significance of Joe Biden’s climate plan in his weekly New Yorker column.  This one came out a couple of weeks ago, but I missed it: Amy Brady presented five books about climate change at Literary Hub.  An art project being planned for Burning Man 2021 aims to help participants imagine what life might be like 100 years from now if CO2 emissions followed each of three different scenarios.  As part of its climate issue, The New York Times Magazine profiled teenage climate activist Jamie Margolin.  Greta Thunberg has been awarded the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity and will donate the one-million-euro prize money through her foundation to different projects aimed at fighting the climate crisis.  At The Guardian, Jonathan Watts interviewed James Lovelock, best known as the father of Gaia Theory, on the eve of his 101st birthday.

Closing Thought

As the pandemic and extreme weather disrupt electricity supplies for many, alternative energy sources are coming to the fore in rural Kenya.

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.