Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/14/2020

Politics and Policy

In his weekly column, Dan Gearino wrote that Joe Biden’s climate and energy plan shows that the idea of net-zero emissions by 2050 has gone from the fringes to near the mainstream of U.S. politics.  A report from FERC has recommended building power lines in the rights of way now used by railroads and oil and gas pipelines.  At Inside Climate News, Marianne Lavelle examined the environmental record of Biden’s vice presidential choice, Kamala Harris, while at Rolling Stone Jeff Goodell wrote that Joe Biden’s climate proposal gets the essential point that it is time “to go fast, and go big” on the climate crisis.  Meanwhile, Climate Home News reported that Biden’s selection of Harris could reinvigorate stalled world action on climate change in a “night and day” switch if the Democrats defeat Donald Trump.  At The New Republic, staff writer Kate Aronoff took issue with the Democratic Party platform’s position concerning China, arguing that we can’t solve the climate crisis without its cooperation.

Because of Covid-19, most of the next IPCC report on climate change is likely to be delayed beyond the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.  Only the first section about the science of global warming is now expected to be issued before the summit.  Economists from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at the London School of Economics examined the economic case for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and found that it does not make sense, as the cost of clean energy has fallen while the risks of climate catastrophe have increased since the agreement was signed in 2015.  The world could avoid 0.3°C of global warming by the middle of the century if governments invest in a strong “green recovery” from coronavirus.  Having spent seven years of my young adulthood in Houston absorbing its can-do attitude, Houston has always occupied a special place in my psyche.  That is why I decided to include this article about why Houston should become the “New Energy Capital”, even though it is from July.

The Trump administration has lifted Obama-era controls on the release of methane from leaks and flares in oil and gas wells, even though the oil and gas industry doesn’t want them to.  Six former EPA chiefs called for a “reset” at the agency after President Trump’s regulation-chopping, industry-minded first term, backing a detailed plan by former EPA staffers.  The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held five virtual public hearings on the Vineyard Wind project in waters south of Massachusetts and some 85% of the comments made were in support of the project, as were the vast majority of the comments filed online.  The Bureau of Land Management decided to defer lease sales for potential oil and gas development on 87,000 acres of public lands in Utah that critics said were too close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized the Commission for not requiring companies to disclose their risks from climate change, accusing it of failing in its mission to safeguard investors.  The Government Accountability Office said Congress should consider a pilot program “to identify and provide assistance to climate migration projects for communities that express affirmative interest in relocation as a resilience strategy.”  Grist had an interesting article about how old laws may stand in the way of efforts to increase the use of clean energy.

Climate and Climate Science

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that the Arctic could see the complete loss of summer sea ice within 15 years.  The formation of meltwater ponds on the surface of the ice is one factor increasing the melt rate.  The last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed, losing more than 40% of its area in just two days at the end of July.  BBC News provided satellite images of the ice before and after the breakup.  Researchers from Ohio State University have analyzed nearly 40 years of satellite data and found that glaciers on Greenland have shrunk so much that even if global warming were to stop today, they would continue shrinking.  According to a new study, Antarctic ice shelves have lost nearly 4 trillion metric tons of ice (producing an amount of meltwater that can nearly fill the Grand Canyon) since the mid-1990s, melting from the bottom up, causing them to lose mass faster than they can refreeze.

The dramatic drop in greenhouse gases and air pollutants seen during the global lockdown will have little impact on our warming planet.  The past decade was the hottest ever recorded globally, with 2019 either the second or third warmest year on record.  This is the hottest Phoenix summer since 1895, when record keeping began, with an average maximum temperature of 107.9°F and the most days of 110°F or greater, 35.  Is Phoenix in 2050 going to be like Baghdad today, where temperatures reach 120°F for days in a row and door handles can blister your skin?  It is not just the land that is warming; so are the oceans.  Consequently, they are experiencing marine heat waves.  An article in Ensia discussed efforts to predict them to help fishermen adapt and others mitigate the impacts.  Research performed at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute found that heating and acidification of the world’s oceans could radically reorganize marine food webs, causing the numbers of some species to collapse while promoting the growth of algae.  Mumbai’s average annual rainfall is about 94 inches, but an astonishing 82.5 inches fell in the city between July 10 and August 7.

An article in Nature reported on research conducted in a tropical rainforest in Panama that heated intact soil almost 6°F and compared the CO2 emissions to soil that had not been heated.  The heated soils emitted 55% more CO2 than the unheated soils, an extremely large amount with serious implications to future global warming.  Peatlands store approximately 415 gigatons of carbon – as much as is stored in all the world’s forests and trees combined.  Almost half of this peatland carbon is present in permafrost, keeping it locked in the soil.  However, as permafrost melts, peatland carbon is released as CO2 and methane, which will increase warming.

Firefighters across three Western states are battling wildfires that have destroyed more than 90,000 acres.  The fire season in the Amazon rainforest has seen its worst start in a decade.  An international report released on Thursday said that President Bolsonaro could revive Brazil’s economic growth more quickly after COVID-19 by shifting to low-carbon policies that safeguard the Amazon rainforest.

Research, published in the journal Science, found that logged tropical forests in Malaysia that were actively restored through tree planting and selective plant removal increased their ability to absorb carbon 50% faster than logged forests that were left to regenerate naturally.


Portland General Electric, Oregon’s largest utility, is making many changes to lower its carbon emissions.  Greentech Media interviewed its CEO, Maria Pope, about those changes and what they are expected to accomplish.  Electricity consumption in the U.S. is expected to drop 3.4% in 2020 as a result of coronavirus lockdowns that caused businesses to close, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).  The EIA also said that U.S. coal power generation dropped by 30% in the first half of 2020.  Furthermore, 121 coal-fired power plants were repurposed between 2011 and 2019, most of them to natural gas.  The International Energy Agency has lowered its projected global oil demand estimate for 2020 to 91.9 million barrels per day (bpd), down 8.1 million bpd from last year’s levels.  The world’s largest listed oil companies have wiped almost $90 billion from the value of their oil and gas assets in the last nine months.

Wind turbines and solar panels produced a record 10% of the world’s electricity in the first half of 2020.  Enough unused roof space exists on commercial buildings in the U.S. to install 145 GW of new solar capacity — nearly double our current total solar capacity.  According to a report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, by the end of 2019 “there were more than 367 GW of solar plants in the nation’s queues,” of which 102 GW (around 28%) were hybrids, “most typically pairing PV with battery storage”.

There were just over 2,000 electric trucks on U.S. roads at the end of 2019. This stock is expected to grow to over 54,000 by 2025, according to a new analysis.  Through third-party testing, electric car startup Lucid Motors is claiming that the range of its Air model is 517 miles on a single charge.  Xcel Energy announced this week that 1.5 million of the company’s service vehicles — representing 20% of its total fleet — will transition to electric by 2030.

Whether or not the following project comes to fruition, the article is worth reading just because of the project’s audaciousness.  Owned by Sun Cable, the $16 billion project would generate 10 GW of electricity from solar panels covering 30,000 acres in the Australian outback and deliver it to Singapore via a 2,800 mile undersea cable.  And at the other end of the size spectrum, a recent paper in Nature Communications reported on the storage of electricity in bricks through forming nano-scale connections within them.

Australian National University researchers have broken the efficiency record for the direct production of hydrogen from water by solar cells without first producing electricity and using it for the electrolysis of water.  At The Conversation, two scientists cautioned that we shouldn’t rush into a hydrogen economy until we know all of the risks to the climate.


The Washington Post is making its U.S. climate data accessible to the public to promote a deeper understanding of the regional and local effects of climate change.  Ohio State’s Lonnie Thompson and Penn State’s Richard Alley are among scientists working to collect ice core samples from rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets.  Arctic scientist Konrad Steffen was killed on Saturday near the “Swiss Camp” in Greenland when an ice bridge collapsed and he fell into a water-filled crevasse.  At Yale Climate Connections, Daisy Simmons provided advice about how to talk with children about climate change.  Fabian Oefner, a Swiss artist living in Connecticut, has completed a fascinating project called “Timelines” in Switzerland, photographing the outlines of the Rhône and Trift glaciers over the past 140 years on the ground using drone technology.  The Sierra Club is endorsing Joe Biden for president.

Closing Thought

If lesson one of coronavirus is that things can change, and lesson two is that they can easily slip back again, then lesson three must be about the importance of presenting images of the future that motivate people to imagine 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.