Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/4/2020

Politics and Policy

In a letter Wednesday to the Commission on Presidential Debates, 70 House Democrats stressed that their constituents must hear from the candidates about how they plan to tackle climate change.  Joe Biden was unequivocal Monday in Pittsburgh: “I am not banning fracking.  Let me say that again.  I am not banning fracking.  No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”  The green movement’s left flank released an open letter Tuesday calling for a ban on all “fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from any advisory or official position on [Biden’s] campaign, transition team, cabinet, and administration.”  Seventy-four-year-old incumbent Sen. Ed Markey beat out 39-year-old Rep. Joseph Kennedy III in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary, in large part due to the work of climate activists on behalf of Markey.  According to Dan Shreve, research director at Wood Mackenzie, “If Biden’s bid fails, the U.S. will forfeit four more years in the fight against climate change.  This would dramatically reduce the possibility of eliminating carbon emissions from the region’s power grid before 2050.”

In a speech on the 50th anniversary of the EPA, Administrator Andrew Wheeler accused Democrats of hurting the poor with policies aimed at fighting climate change, and said the agency would keep supporting development and deregulation if President Donald Trump is re-elected.  The Trump administration’s escalating threats of sanctions against Europe over Russian gas ties are threatening to blow back against U.S. energy companies.  On Monday the Trump administration weakened a 2015 regulation that would have forced coal-fired power plants to treat their wastewater with more effective methods to prevent toxic metals from contaminating lakes, rivers, and streams near their facilities.  Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has counted 159 actions since Trump took office “to scale back or wholly eliminate climate mitigation and adaptation measures.”  A court has for the second time struck down a Trump administration attempt to limit the penalties faced by automakers who do not meet mileage standards.  Inside Climate News took a look at Vice President Mike Pence’s efforts to block climate action.

A group of economists and scientists has proposed five science questions to be asked at the presidential debates.  How to account for the risk from rising sea level in the mortgage market is complicated, because the solution must also consider equality and equity.  And on a related note, insuring homes in areas subject to flooding and/or wildfires is becoming an increasingly difficult problem because of the conflicting needs of insurers and insureds.  In an article at RMI about tackling industrial CO2 emissions, Ned Harvey wrote: “To limit global warming to 1.5°C we must engage the real economy and work directly with the leaders in the most carbon-intensive sectors in a way that hasn’t been done before.”  UN secretary general António Guterres has taken aim at India’s coal sector, warning that expansion plans make “no commercial sense” and would harm human health.

UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa told Climate Home News that she expects only about 80 out of 197 signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement to submit updated or more ambitious climate plans in 2020.  In the first climate case to be filed with the European Court of Human Rights, six Portuguese young people have filed a legal action accusing 33 countries (the 27 European member states, as well as the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine) of violating their right to life by not doing their fair share to tackle the climate crisis.  Norway’s $1.2 trillion wealth fund will ask the companies in its portfolio that emit the most CO2 for more detailed climate-related data in order to understand the risk to its investments.

Climate and Climate Science

Last year, Earth’s land areas were 1.43°C warmer than the 20th century average, while the oceans were 0.77°C warmer.  Why is that the case?  If you’re interested in knowing, Carbon Brief has an explanation.  New Zealand had its warmest winter since records began more than 100 years ago, according to official climate data.  Excessive heat watches and warnings were in effect across parts of Arizona, Nevada and much of California beginning on Friday and continuing through Labor Day, and may need to be extended.

The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as the global average and that this summer will go down for leaving a “deep wound” there.  Spokeswoman Clare Nullis said “The rapid decline of sea ice in turn contributes to more warming, and so the circle goes on and the consequences do not stay in the Arctic.”  The Bering Sea ice cover during the winters of 2018 and 2019 hit new lows not seen in thousands of years, scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances

Glacier melting over the last three decades has led to a 50% increase in the size of glacial lakes that form behind natural dams created by debris pushed along at the front of glaciers and left behind as glacier fronts retreat.  It also has led to more lakes.  Both suggest that there will greater numbers of glacial lake outburst floods when those dams collapse.  A guest post in Carbon Brief said that Greenland has had a relatively “normal” year with regard to ice changes at its surface, although losses by the breaking off of icebergs remain at the high end.

Although data are still incomplete, it is likely that fires in the Brazilian Amazon during August will be the worst in ten years, putting indigenous people at risk.  Wetlands in the Parana River delta region of Argentina are extremely dry and are experiencing the worst wildfires in at least ten years.  The amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires this year is already 35% higher than the figure for the whole of 2019.

Last Saturday, Bob Berwyn looked back at the ten day period from August 16 to 25, which encompassed extraordinary climate events from the Death Valley heat record to hurricane Laura.


Combined, solar and wind accounted for more than two-thirds of new global power generation capacity additions in 2019.  Solar is now the fourth-largest source of power-generation capacity worldwide, having overtaken wind.  A new initiative announced Wednesday will install up to 12 MW of solar power in Virginia’s historic coalfield region over the next three years.  In an effort to become carbon neutral by 2024, Duke University will partner with Pine Gate Renewables to build three new solar farms with a total capacity of 101 MW.  Ørsted, a developer synonymous with offshore wind, is now moving into the development of solar farms and battery energy storage systems as it seeks to diversify its renewable energy activities, particularly in the U.S.  The U.S. currently has seven offshore wind turbines, all located on the East Coast.  However, the Department of the Interior has approved 16 projects altogether and has an additional seven proposals under review.  Companies that make and install offshore turbines see this as just the beginning

A new study of 3,000 power companies has found that only a handful have been cutting their fossil fuel capacity.  Much of the new renewable capacity is being offset by new coal and gas capacity.  A study published in the journal Nature Communications said that while switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy was critical for mitigating against climate change, the mining necessary to produce the infrastructure for that energy could exacerbate threats to biodiversity.

A unique pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden, is a first step in decarbonizing the steel industry, which today accounts for 7% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  Unilever will invest $1.2 billion to replace petrochemicals in its cleaning products with ingredients made from plants and marine sources, such as algae, by 2030.  The most comprehensive analysis so far of how much warming is caused by airplanes has found that flying’s contribution to global warming nearly doubled between 2000 and 2018.

Agreements to deploy 1 GWh of novel aqueous zinc battery energy storage in Texas and 500 MWh in California have been struck by technology provider Eos Energy Storage.  During California’s recent electricity crisis, more than 30,000 batteries located all over the state supplied as much power as a midsize natural gas power plant.  A hybrid energy storage system combining lithium-ion batteries with mechanical energy storage in the form of flywheels has gone into operation in the Netherlands.

BMW Group is the latest global car maker to commit to setting a science-based target that would allow them to determine how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have developed a new catalyst for automotive fuel cells that requires only a fraction of the platinum required in current fuels cells, thereby lowering their cost.


Because my magazine was late in coming, I missed an article about environmental justice in last week’s C&EN.  It provides some history of the movement as well as an update on activities in communities of color near petrochemical plants.  Washington Post climate and science reporter Sarah Kaplan had a conversation with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, editors of a collection of essays, poetry, and art by 41 women in the climate movement.  More information about the mysterious craters that have been appearing in the Siberian tundra is becoming available.  Ultramafic wastes are the calcium- and magnesium-rich rock in which diamonds, nickel, platinum, and palladium are found.  Scientists have found that such wastes, which are highly alkaline, have an extraordinary ability to react with CO2, forming highly insoluble carbonates that can lock away the CO2 essentially forever.

Closing Thought

More and more businesses are taking steps to address their own role in the climate crisis and offering solutions to help mitigate its impacts, said Vanderbilt Law School’s Michael Vandenbergh at Inside Climate News.

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.