Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/21/2020

Politics and Policy

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday evening said that former Vice President Joe Biden’s climate plan is “perfect for the moment.”  Meanwhile, right-wing media pushed three lies about Biden’s climate plan.  The Democratic National Committee quietly dropped language calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks from its party platform, dismaying climate activists.  E&E News summarized six major differences between the 2016 and 2020 versions of the Democratic platform concerning climate change.  Biden has said that, if elected, he would encourage environmental enforcement in the courtroom by taking actions such as forming an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Justice Department, as proposed by Inslee.  At Axios, Amy Harder wrote: “Joe Biden is unlikely to pursue a carbon tax if he wins in November, according to several people familiar with his campaign’s thinking.”  On the other hand, Cornell economics professor Robert H. Frank thinks that a properly formulated tax could spur behavioral contagion, leading to wide-spread adoption of climate friendly practices.  Perhaps the “near-term to net zero” approach investigated by researchers at three U.S. institutions and described by David Roberts at Vox will work as a way to price the impacts of CO2 emissions.

On the second anniversary of her first solo school strike for the climate, Greta Thunberg said the world has wasted the time by failing to take the necessary action on the crisis.  At The Atlantic, Professor David M. Uhlmann of the University of Michigan Law School wrote: “If the fate of American democracy is on the ballot in November, so too is the future of the planet.”  In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd wrote that whether the world emerges from the pandemic “in a stronger or weaker position to tackle the climate crisis” rests largely in China’s hands.

President Trump will withdraw the nomination of William Perry Pendley as director of the BLM.  President Trump’s overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act leaves developers of offshore wind projects in a strange place with greater political uncertainty.  Legal experts say that EPA’s rationale for its decision to stop directly regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector may contain fatal flaws that could cause the new standards to stumble in court.  According to investigative reporting by The Atlantic and Investigate West, Trump officials at the Department of Energy buried a report by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory that showed how modernization of the nation’s electrical grid could reduce CO2 emissions and save consumers money.  The Trump administration appears set to postpone a decision on ethanol until after the November election to avoid a backlash from the feuding agriculture and petroleum sectors.  California on Monday finalized a legal settlement with Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo that binds them to comply with its stringent state-level fuel efficiency standards.

Writing about climate alarm in New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells wrote: “We are now alarmed enough about climate change, collectively, that even when we aren’t particularly freaking out about it, we still find ourselves drifting rapidly, as in a very fast stream, toward dramatic action.”  A new international initiative called Climate TRACE (“Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions”) intends to independently detect emissions around the globe as they’re emitted, providing a mechanism for enforcing emissions limits once governments decide to impose them.

Climate and Climate Science

A weather station at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center in Death Valley, CA, measured a temperature of 129.9°F last Sunday, which may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history.  A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that without cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, major U.S. cities could see between 13 and 30 times more exposure to extreme heat by 2100 than they were seeing at the beginning of this century.  Hamamatsu, a Japanese coastal city on the island of Honshu, hit 106°F (41.1°C) on Monday, tying a national record set in 2018. 

This week, California was fighting both extreme heat and at least 92 wildfires spanning more than 200,000 acres, causing Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.  James Temple wrote at MIT Technology Review that climate change was almost certainly fueling those fires.  In addition, there were at least 77 large complexes of wildfires burning in 15 states across the U.S. as of Tuesday evening. 

Floods on the upper reaches of China’s Yangtze river forced authorities to evacuate more than 100,000 people on Tuesday and threatened a 1,200-year-old world heritage site.  Unfortunately, climate experts warn that China will face more frequent severe floods as the global temperature rises, driving up the number of intense rainstorms in the country.

After two years when summer ice melt in Greenland had been minimal, last summer shattered all records with 586 billion tons of ice melting, according to satellite measurements.  That’s more than 140 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover California to a depth of more than four feet.  Glaciers in the Southern Alps of New Zealand have lost more ice mass since pre-industrial times than remains today, according to a new study.  Using ice cores from Antarctica, climate scientists have discovered that Earth experienced short periods of warming during ice ages, demonstrating that climate can change much more rapidly than previously thought.

The latest annual survey by the Australian Institute of Marine Science revealed that the Great Barrier Reef was showing only modest recovery in coral cover before it was hammered by its third mass bleaching event in five years.  Warming water temperatures and higher salt levels indicate that human-caused climate change is starting to impact the health of more than half of the world’s oceans.


California’s clean energy policies are not to blame for rolling blackouts during a scorching heat wave this month, but more work needs to be done to integrate large amounts of wind and solar energy, the state’s energy agencies said on Wednesday.  Nevertheless, some are trying to politicize the blackouts, although the situation is more complex than their simplistic narrative.  In his weekly column, Dan Gearino discussed how demand response could be used to reduce or avoid blackouts.  California’s Gateway Energy Storage project is the world’s biggest battery and can charge or discharge 230 MW for one hour, expected to rise to 250 MW by the end of the month.

Occidental Petroleum Corp’s venture capital arm, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC, has formed a company to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground to use to enhance oil recovery in the Permian Basin of Texas.  A group led by the Baker Institute at Rice University is working on a blueprint for a nationwide program to pay for carbon storage in soil via preservation and restoration of native grasslands.

Lithium iron phosphate will become increasingly popular for stationary energy storage applications, overtaking lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide within a decade, Wood Mackenzie forecast in a new report.  Key Capture Energy will build three large-scale batteries, one 100 MW and two 50 MW, for the Texas grid using lithium iron phosphate technology.  For small-scale lithium ion batteries, three researchers from the University of Texas have developed a new cathode that eliminates cobalt entirely.

Reuters fact-checked the claims of an advertising campaign by the American Petroleum Institute that is aimed at convincing consumers that natural gas (i.e., methane) is a “clean” fuel.  The Guardian reported on a nationwide blitz by gas companies and their allies to beat back climate action they consider an existential threat to their business. 

Volkswagen announced Thursday that production of its ID.4 compact SUV has begun at its plant in Zwickau, Germany.  The SUV will have a range of up to 311 miles and will make its world premiere in September.  U.S. production is set to begin in 2022 in Chattanooga, Tenn.  According to a Rhodium Group analysis, electric trucks have the potential to displace enough oil to make a “significant dent” in transportation sector CO2 emissions.  Although written from a British perspective, James Morris’ analysis in Forbes of the factors hindering EV sales agrees with similar articles I have read about the U.S. market.


At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach answered kid’s questions about climate and climate change and Michael Svoboda listed 13 climate change-related reports that have been released so far this year.  Bill McKibben wrote about Kamala Harris, Ed Markey, and more.  Climate change historian Spencer Weart reviewed Mark Lynas’s new book, Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, stating that the motto for 21st century climate science might be “It’s happening faster than we expected.”  Amy Brady had a couple of interviews this week.  In her newsletter she interviewed John Freeman, editor of the anthology Tales of Two Planets, while at The Chicago Review of Books, she interviewed Australian author Charlotte McConaghy about her U.S. debut novel Migrations.  Anthony Leiserowitz and Edward Maibach have been named by Climate One as this year’s winners of the Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication.  Peter Sinclair has a new six minute video, this one about the state of the fossil fuel industry.

Closing Thought

How to Save a Planet” is an ambitious new Spotify podcast series hosted by Alex Blumberg and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, which focuses on how ordinary people can stop the decline of the planet without feeling terrified.

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.