Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/11/2020

Politics and Policy

Many nations are using government spending to stimulate their economies in response to COVID-19.  Properly structured, such spending can also fight climate change, although the U.S. Senate has been unwilling to adopt such measures.  In a pair of articles, reporters addressed what is being done to assist both big cities and rural areas.  The U.S. should establish a price on carbon and push financial institutions to be better prepared for the economic instability likely to be caused by climate change, according to a new report from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  Bank of England executive director Anna Sweeney said on Wednesday that adapting to climate change is likely to be a far greater challenge for insurers than coping with COVID-19.  Economist Steve Keen argued at The Conversation that Nobel laurate William Nordhaus incorporated wrong assumptions in his modeling, leading him to erroneously conclude that the economic impacts of climate change will be small.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) introduced a resolution called THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy), which would bolster union jobs while tackling climate change and racial injustice.  In an analysis of the fight for the Senate, Inside Climate News reporter Marianne Lavelle wrote that a harsh reality for advocates of climate action is that “If Democrats do flip the Senate, it will be due to victories by a slew of climate moderates.”  Fossil fuel-friendly language at a Wisconsin roundtable is the latest sign that Democrats remain divided over how to reduce CO2 emissions if they win power.  The Senate has agreed to an amendment to the American Energy Innovation Act that would reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbon gases by 85% over a 15-year period.  A growing number of lawmakers and green groups is asking the moderators for the presidential debates to include questions on climate change policy.  Most of our governmental systems are set up to handle one problem at a time, whereas climate change can cause cascading effects, as California is experiencing.  Just as the EPA has been in a mad dash to rescind environmental regulations in the lead-up to November’s election, BLM now seems to be embarking on a fire sale of public lands to oil and gas drillers.  Beginning September 18 and continuing each Friday until the election, Yale Climate Connections will address one of seven key climate messages.

China and many of the world’s other big greenhouse gas emitters (but not the UK or EU) are waiting for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election before deciding whether — and by how much — to boost their climate pledges.  Vox is producing a series of videos aimed at the elections.  One deals with decarbonizing the U.S. energy and is much easier to follow than the various articles on the subject.  It is only 11 minutes long and is well worth your time.  Europe’s largest and most influential political faction, the center-right European People’s Party, has rallied behind an EU objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030, while the European Parliament’s environment committee voted in favor of a 60% cut.

Writing on the RMI blog, Senior Principal Thomas Blank addressed the need to begin decarbonizing industry now.  Charleston, SC, officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday against 24 fossil fuel companies, claiming that because they contributed to climate change — and misled the public about the danger their products posed to the environment — they should have to bear the cost of repairing the damage caused by flooding in the city.  Duke Energy announced a new pledge on Wednesday to convert most of its current 10,000-vehicle fleet to electric or another zero-carbon alternative.  Americans support aggressive government regulation to fight the effects of climate change, including outright bans on building in flood- or fire-prone areas.

Climate and Climate Science

The big news story this week was the wildfires in the western U.S., which experts say are unprecedented.  They prompted New York Times (NYT) opinion writer-at-large Charlie Warzel to write “The point of this column isn’t to guilt people for where they live or what they’ve experienced, but to convey the desperation that so many Americans are feeling right now. … It’s a psychological toll, as much as it is physical.  One that, while you’re living through it, renders it difficult to see a healthy future for the earth through all the smoke.”  Also at the NYT, John Schwartz explored “The ‘straightforward’ link between climate and California’s fires.”  Furthermore, in recent weeks, the world has seen peat fires in the Arctic, torrential rains in Africa, weirdly warm temperatures on the surface of tropical oceans, and record heat waves from California to the Siberian Arctic, all of which are consistent with climate change.  All of this is prompting climate scientists to remind us that this is what they were warning of ten years ago and to warn of what will happen ten years from now.  Climate forecasters said Thursday that the world has entered La Niña, which has the potential this winter to worsen what are already severe drought conditions in the American Southwest.  Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest worsened in the first week of September and are increasingly spreading into areas of untouched forest.

Earth’s energy imbalance (EEI) is the difference between the heat entering Earth’s atmosphere from the sun and the amount of heat being radiated to space by Earth.  It is the fundamental thing driving global heating; as long as it remains above zero, Earth will warm.  A new study has measured EEI and found that it has increased by 16% in five years.  In a relatively long essay, climate scientist James Hansen commented on the significance of the findings, while Clean Technica author Steve Hanley summarized Hansen’s comments.  In the next five years, the world has nearly a 1-in-4 chance of the global average temperature exceeding 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial times, according to a new update released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and others.  Meanwhile, concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere hit a record high this year, according to the WMO, as the economic slowdown from the coronavirus pandemic had little lasting effect.  Two geoscientists and a philosopher at the University of Chicago have estimated that climate change will ultimately cost humanity $100,000 per ton of carbon emitted.

Scientists continue to learn about the channels that allow warm ocean water under Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier, melting it from below.  While the channels are not as large as previously thought, they are widening, but at an unknown rate.  A study published in Nature Climate Change found that ice melt, rather than thermal expansion, is now the major contributor to sea level rise and that the rate of melt now matches the IPCC’s worst-case scenario.

More than 1 billion people face being displaced within 30 years as the climate crisis and rapid population growth drive an increase in migration with “huge impacts” for both the developing and developed worlds, according to an analysis by the Institute for Economics and Peace.  In addition, nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before, with the result that wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a major report by the WWF.

Scientists have now succeeded in estimating Earth’s temperature back 65 million years, putting today’s global average temperature into a long term perspective.  The data show that the path we are on today does not bode well.  New research has confirmed that trees that grow rapidly have a shorter lifespan, which means that their ability to tie up CO2 may be too short-lived to help tackle the climate crisis.


The transformation of the power sector to carbon-free generation will only get the world one third of the way to the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century, a report by the International Energy Agency said on Thursday.  It also said that a “dramatic” scaling up of clean energy technologies will be required if the world is to reach its climate goals.  It is now time for Washington to become more aggressive in weaning the U.S. off of fossil fuels and settling into a carbon-free future, a panel of electric utility and environmentalist leaders said on Wednesday at the Edison Electric Institute Virtual Leadership Summit.  However, a Reuters survey of top U.S. power producers found that they thought that rapid advances in nascent technologies — such as batteries, carbon capture, and advanced nuclear reactors — will be critical to reaching net-zero CO2 emissions.

Dominion Energy announced last Friday it has filed with the NRC for a 20-year extension of its license to operate two generating units at the North Anna nuclear power plant in Louisa County, VA.

On Wednesday, General Motors announced the development of a new wireless battery management system that could eliminate up to 90% of the battery’s physical wiring and 15% of its volume, and allow the automaker to more easily modify its batteries to any type of vehicle, from sports cars to heavy-duty trucks.  On Tuesday, GM said it will invest $2 billion in Nikola Corp., giving it an 11% stake in the electric truck startup.  However, on Thursday, an investment firm, Hindenburg Research, reported that Nikola fraudulently claimed its vehicles could do things they can’t, like drive.

The number of leading automotive companies committed to cutting emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement continued to rise this month, with Germany’s BMW Group being the latest global car maker to commit to setting a goal through the Science Based Target initiative.  Since it is likely that gasoline-powered internal combustion engines will be around for a while, engineers continue to investigate ways to make them more efficient and less polluting.  One technique is to replace conventional spark plugs with plugs that generate ultrafast bursts of blue plasma.

European oil majors BP and Equinor will partner for the U.S. offshore wind market, with BP paying $1.1 billion for a 50% stake in Equinor’s Empire Wind project off New York and its Beacon Wind project off southern New England.


Ted Halstead, founder, chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council, was killed in a hiking accident in Spain.  Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, wrote the organization’s tribute to him.  Peter Sinclair’s latest “This Is Not Cool” video features a new University of California, Berkeley, study that showed that it is possible to achieve 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035 with no additional cost to consumers.

Closing Thought

If you would like a regular dose of good climate and clean-energy news, SueEllen Campbell has a list of weekly email newsletters that are worth a look.

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.