Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/31/2020

Politics and Policy

In The Guardian U.S., Oliver Milman wrote about “How the global climate fight could be lost if Trump is re-elected.”  The Democratic Party added new climate change provisions championed by progressives to its 2020 policy platform this week.  Some academics and environmental advocates see a flicker of hope that a new U.S. administration might help the U.S. and China again find common ground to address climate change.  Major green super PACs have collectively doubled their fundraising and more than doubled their spending in races since Donald Trump won the White House.  Seven Republican senators on Thursday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging him to consider policies in future COVID-19 relief and recovery proposals that will bolster the clean energy sector.  Over the next 100 days, leading up to the election and the day after, when we are set to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, The Guardian U.S. will publish a series of stories about the many impacts of the climate crisis.

The EPA’s inspector general’s office said Monday it would investigate whether the reversal of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards violated government rules.  President Trump made two nominations to FERC on Monday, one Democrat and one Republican.  If confirmed, they will bring FERC’s board back into balance, with three Republicans and two Democrats.  President Trump announced Wednesday that export authorizations for liquefied natural gas will go through 2050 and signed four permits for pipeline and rail transport of fossil fuels.  New research has concluded that the social cost of carbon should start at about $100 to $200 per ton of CO2 pollution in 2020, increasing to nearly $600 by 2100, much higher than the range of $1 to $6 adopted by the Trump administration.  A federal court determined that the Trump administration’s interim social cost of methane carbon was less scientifically rigorous than the version it was replacing.  A trio of Republican U.S. senators applauded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for developing a Generic Environmental Impact Statement for advanced nuclear reactors.

At Bloomberg Green, Jillian Goodman interviewed Rhiana Gunn-Wright under the interesting title “Want to Fix the Climate Crisis?  Start Listening to Black People.”  On Thursday, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), introduced a companion bill in the Senate to the “Environmental Justice for All Act” introduced earlier this year in the House.  Daisy Simmons addressed the question “What is ‘climate justice’?”.  A meta-study, which reviewed almost 700 individual studies, revealed that environmental injustice is still rampant around the world.  At The Guardian, former associate administrator in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice Mustafa Santiago Ali wrote about the impacts of environmental racism on people of color in the U.S.

A new report from Rewiring America estimates that the U.S. can create some 25 million jobs if it moves on from fossil fuels and electrifies the economy by 2035.  A new working paper from the World Resources Institute found that since 2005, 41 states and Washington, D.C., have increased their GDPs while reducing their carbon emissions.  Last week the EU announced its intent to have a carbon border adjustment mechanism in place by January 1st, 2023.  For those who would like to take a deep dive into the design of border adjustments, the Niskanen Center has released a white paper on the subject.  However, Arvind P. Ravikumar argued “Although reasonable at face value, unilateral carbon border adjustments merely represent the latest form of economic imperialism and are antithetical to the principles of equity enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”  At Carbon Brief, Claire Fyson, a climate policy analyst at Climate Analytics, addressed the important question of “Who should be responsible for removing CO2 from the atmosphere?”.  She argued that equity considerations — both internationally as well as intergenerationally — have a strong effect on which countries bear responsibility for CO2 removal. 

Climate and Climate Science

Scientists studying Arctic warming emphasized how swiftly changes are occurring throughout the region, with major portions warming at a rate of 1.8°F (1°C) per decade for 40 years, which constitutes an “abrupt climate change event.”  The Batagay megaslump in eastern Siberia is a time capsule containing snapshots of ancient climates and ecosystems.  Glaciers in the Himalayas are melting more rapidly, having multiple impacts on the region.

According to 35 years of flooding data, rains along the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh are less predictable and the river is rising above dangerous levels far more frequently than it used to.  Already this year, torrential rains have submerged at least a quarter of the country, inundating nearly a million homes and affecting 4.7 million people.  A new paper in Nature found that “The climate is much more predictable than we previously thought,” but models don’t capture that predictability.

Scientists at DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a direct relationship between climate warming and carbon loss in a peatland ecosystem.  Peatlands hold more soil carbon than is stored in the world’s forests, so its degradation and release as CO2 and methane is of great concern.  Around 1,900 square miles of Amazonian rainforest have already burned this year.  A raging fire is threatening Argentina’s major wetland ecosystems.

A study, published in Science Reports, found that if we continue on our present path of greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of the century sea level rise will have caused $14.2 trillion in lost or damaged assets globally.  A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists says that extreme coastal flooding could pose a risk to 876 hazardous waste sites if there is even a low rate of sea level rise during the next 20 years.  A moderate sea level rise rate would put 918 sites at risk.

With the data now in for the first half of the year, Carbon Brief estimated that 2020 is most likely to be either the warmest or second warmest year on record.  On Tuesday, Washington, D.C., notched its 26th day hitting at least 90°F, topping the previous record for the most such days in a month.  Record high temperatures have been plaguing the Middle East, with the mercury soaring to extreme levels.  For example, Baghdad surged to its highest temperature ever recorded on Tuesday: 125.2°F (51.8°C).  In contrast, temperatures at Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, about midway between the mainland and the North Pole, hit a record high of 21.7°C (71.1°F) last Friday. 


John Muyskens and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post analyzed how far we have to go to eliminate CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 2035, with excellent graphs for each state.  California households emit 33% less carbon than households in any other state, while households in two Sun Belt states consume less energy.

Scientists have discovered a new material that could capture more CO2 emissions from industrial sources than other materials, thereby helping natural gas-fired power plants and other industries meet increasingly stringent carbon emissions rules.  Viking Cold Solutions has developed a technology that allows large frozen-food warehouses to significantly reduce their energy costs through application of phase-change energy storage systems.

Shell and Dutch utility Eneco will build a super-hybrid offshore wind farm that will include a floating solar facility, short-duration battery storage, and green hydrogen production.  The Japan Wind Power Association said on Thursday it aims to expand the country’s offshore wind power installed capacity to 10 GW in 2030 and 30-45 GW in 2040.  A record 50.2% of Germany’s power consumption in January to June was met from renewable sources.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have projected that battery packs for electric vehicles (EVs) will cost less than $80 per kilowatt-hour by 2025, making the cost of an EV equal to or less than the cost of a comparable gasoline vehicle.  Panasonic plans to boost the energy density of its “2170” battery cells by 20% in five years and commercialize a cobalt-free version “in two to three years”.  Chinese electric carmaker Kandi announced that it is bringing its EVs to the U.S., making them the cheapest in America — starting at $12,999 after federal tax credit. 

Last year, U.S. coal production fell to the lowest level since 1978.  Cracks are starting to show in utility support for using natural gas as a bridge fuel to a low-carbon future.  NextEra Energy is closing its last coal-fired power plant and investing in a $65 million pilot in Florida that will use a 20 MW electrolyzer to produce 100% green hydrogen from solar power.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, still have not decided what to do about the land they gained control over for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.  Dominion Energy on Friday announced a reorganized executive leadership team, including a new CEO.


Climate scientist Michael Mann had an opinion piece in The Guardian in which he asserted that we need collective action and systemic change, which require that we vote.  MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel wrote a “dust jacket blurb” endorsing Michael Shellenberger’s controversial book, Apocalypse Never.  Now, in light of positive responses to the book from groups long opposed to efforts to address climate change, Emanuel felt compelled to write a “half essay/half book review.”  Two recent studies shed light on major news outlets’ long-term indulgence in climate skepticism and the recent impact of improved climate coverage in TV meteorology.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Environment editor Damian Carrington placed climate change deniers into four categories and explained why they should all be ignored.  Two new studies dug into the reasons why so many people resist accepting the facts on climate change and offered some insight into how to talk to them in a way that might be more compelling.  Kendra Pierre-Louis, a former climate reporter for The New York Times is gearing up to launch a podcast on climate change solutions produced by Gimlet Media.

Closing Thought

When I added this section to the Roundup, my intent was to provide something inspiring and uplifting at the end.  However, there was an article this week that is very important, but doesn’t necessarily meet those criteria, nor is it about climate change.  Rather, it is a cautionary tale about how science is becoming politicized in our current age.

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.