Politics and Policy
The number of Americans who feel passionately about climate change is rising sharply, and the issue appears likely to play a more important role in this year’s election than ever before. In his Wednesday New Yorker column, Bill McKibben wrote about climate change: “[I]t’s crucial, right now, … for politicians to help Americans understand the rapid and unsettling transition that physics implacably demands. We’re out of Presidential terms to waste.” In an article on the potential impacts on climate change of a second Trump term, David Roberts wrote at Vox, “… the likely result will be irreversible changes to the climate that will degrade the quality of life of every subsequent generation of human beings, with millions of lives harmed or foreshortened.” Jeff Goodell echoed that sentiment at Rolling Stone by writing: “You can have four more years of [President Donald] Trump, or you can have a habitable planet. But you can’t have both.” The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of large U.S. labor unions and environmental groups, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president, saying he has put forward achievable plans to tackle climate change. For the most part, the Republican national convention ignored the climate crisis, an omission that disturbed some conservatives who warned that the party risks being left behind by voters, although Vice President Mike Pence did charge that Biden’s climate change “regime” would hike costs for Americans.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats released a more than 200 page climate plan that is a roadmap for what they’ll do if they take back the majority after this year’s election. David Roberts interviewed committee chair Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) about the plan. Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic pointed out that it “is not a draft bill, but a menu of potential policies that have wide support in the party and that could be combined in future legislation.” A trio of Grist writers presented three ways that the senators’ plan diverges from other recent plans we’ve seen. A review of the Trump EPA’s major electric utility-sector and climate-related rules shows that virtually all of those actions could be reversed if Biden wins the presidency in November. A coalition of 87 House lawmakers asked the EPA to withdraw its latest rules rescinding standards for methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not include climate and clean energy legislation it had endorsed in its 2019 scorecard of legislators, undermining its claim of support for such legislation.
“In Her Words” interviewed Rachel Kyte, a former special representative to the UN for Sustainable Energy for All, about the necessity of a green recovery from the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The EU’s plan to curb methane emissions will not impose binding standards on natural gas sold in the bloc. A study published in Nature Climate Change found that over 60% of the more than 1,000 European cities that have monitored their performance are on track to meet their climate targets. A coalition of environment and business groups has said that Australia is “woefully unprepared” for the scale of the climate change threats it faces, and suffers from a debate focused too much on the cost of action rather than the cost of inaction.
In a major change in policy regarding rebuilding in flood zones, FEMA and HUD have detailed new programs designed to pay for large-scale relocation nationwide. FEMA has failed to comply with a 2012 congressional mandate to incorporate rising sea levels and otherwise account for climate change in its flood maps. Realtor.com has become the first home-buying website to disclose information about a home’s flood risk and how climate change could increase it in the coming decades. The New York Times (NYT) published an article entitled “How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering” that focused on Richmond, VA.
Climate and Climate Science
Hurricane Laura tore through Louisiana on Thursday, killing six people and flattening buildings across a wide swath of the state. Jeff Masters provided statistics about the storm and scientists said that Laura’s rapid intensification was a sign of climate change. Seth Borenstein of the AP looked at the many factors, including climate change, affecting the damage from hurricanes. Fifty percent of Houston-area residents have wrestled with powerful or severe emotional distress since Hurricane Harvey deluged the city in 2017.
A report prepared by the Environmental Defense Fund examined the costs of climate-linked natural disasters, finding that they have quadrupled since 1980. CBS News examined the heat wave and wildfires in the West, the derecho that tore through the middle of the nation, and the pace of this year’s hurricane season, concluding that the unprecedented and concurrent extreme conditions resemble the chaotic climate future that scientists have been warning about for decades.
Twenty-eight trillion metric tons of ice have disappeared from the surface of Earth since 1994, 46% of which was in glaciers and ice sheets on the ground and added to sea level rise. Increased precipitation and ice melt caused by climate change have left Arctic waters less salty, which ultimately will have an impact on circulation currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Arctic Ocean gets warmer with depth. New measurements indicate, however, that warm water is moving closer to the surface, melting sea ice from below. Approximately 60% of Antarctica’s ice shelves could be vulnerable to hydrofracture, in which meltwater flows into crevasses and fissures in the ice and enlarges them, potentially triggering the collapse of the ice shelf. A study in the journal Nature Climate Change indicated that rising sea levels could push inland water tables higher, resulting in damage to infrastructure and increased severity of flooding.
The wildfires that exploded in California and Colorado show clear influences of global warming and evidence of how a warming and drying climate is increasing the size and severity of fires. In addition, the NYT noted that there are four key ingredients to the wildfire in California, including climate change. In contrast, in the Brazilian Amazon, most fires have been human-caused and illegal, with 516 major fires covering 912,863 acres being detected between May 28 and August 25.
Carbon capture pioneer Climeworks is spearheading a new project to permanently remove 4,000 tons of CO2 directly from the air every year and store it deep beneath the ground in Icelandic basalt. On the other hand, research published in Nature Climate Change suggest that technologies that remove CO2 from the air could have huge implications for future food prices.
A new report from Wood Mackenzie predicts that the 2020s will be the “decade of hydrogen.” However, Reuters reports that the EU goal to boost the use of green hydrogen will require the bloc to find billions in investment and persuade member states to give their backing. During second-quarter earnings calls, executives at several large North American utilities and power generators outlined plans to ramp up green hydrogen production and use in the coming years as decarbonization increases. The Guardian focused on the tiny Western Australian town of Kalbarri, which hopes to become a hub of green hydrogen production and export.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Energy Storage Association, Douglas Esamann, executive VP for energy solutions at Duke Energy said that the company could achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 by using “technologies that largely exist today.” The U.S. Energy Storage Association has adopted a goal for the deployment of 100 GW of new energy storage by 2030, updating a previously set goal of 35 GW by 2025. Powin Energy is delivering equipment and integration services to Rappahannock Electric Cooperative for what is thought to be the first grid-scale battery storage system to be installed by an electric cooperative group in Virginia.
The Southeast U.S. lacks an integrated market for transmitting electricity across utility and state boundaries. A new study from Energy Innovation said changing that could save the region’s utilities and customers billions of dollars over the next two decades. New York and New Jersey are allowing offshore wind developers to plan their own interconnections with land, but industry advocates say there is a need for a more coordinated and cost-effective approach.
A nuclear energy venture founded by Bill Gates said it hopes to build small advanced nuclear power stations that can store electricity to supplement grids increasingly supplied by intermittent sources like solar and wind power. Cost concerns over participation by Logan, UT, in a next-generation nuclear power plant planned at Idaho National Laboratory led the city to withdraw from the project.
There is a large demand for electric delivery vehicles, but, so far, little supply. Amazon says it’s buying 1,800 electric delivery vans from Mercedes-Benz. Ford is building a new facility next to its truck plant in Dearborn, MI, for the production of electric F-150 pickup trucks. Working with a collaborator, RMI has prepared a report examining where new large electric trucks should be deployed. According to a study commissioned by oil company Castrol, to achieve global mass adoption, the average electric car will need to offer 31-minute charging, 291 miles of range, and a base price of $36,000. California approved a $437 million effort to build 40,000 electric vehicle chargers, the nation’s largest ever utility program to expand charging infrastructure.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg is back in school after a gap year. In a story adapted from his new book, Perilous Bounty, farmer-turned-journalist Tom Philpott describes the Great Flood of 1861-62 that devastated the Central Valley of California and examines the likelihood of it happening again. According to a study conducted at a wind farm on the Norwegian archipelago of Smøla, changing the color of a single blade on a turbine from white to black resulted in a 70% drop in the number of bird deaths.
Billie Eilish’s ‘my future’ isn’t ironic, and that’s the point.
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.