Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/18/2020

Politics and Policy

While visiting California on Monday President Trump was briefed on the raging wildfires, during which he declined to acknowledge the role climate change likely played in fueling the flames, which greatly concerned some members of his party and reaffirmed a profound misunderstanding, or denial, of the way that greenhouse gases affect the Earth’s atmosphere.  Trump’s denial prompted former Vice President Joe Biden call him a “climate arsonist”.  The Rhodium Group has estimated that the Trump administration’s rollback of climate-related regulations, if allowed to stand, will result in an additional 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2035.  David Legates, a controversial geography professor who rejects climate science, was hired by NOAA to oversee climate observation and prediction.  For the first time in its 175 year history, Scientific American is endorsing a presidential candidate, and it is Joe Biden.  Several business and environmental groups are calling for Congress to pass the American Energy Innovation Act, which would modernize the nation’s energy laws for the first time in more than 12 years.  On Tuesday, Democrats introduced the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act in the House, which parallels a similar Senate bill, allowing the two bodies to conference.  The staff of Greentech Media wrote: “The reality is there’s no bad outcome for clean energy in the upcoming election, though the impact on the climate is another story.”

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on governments not to “throw away” economic stimulus funds by supporting fossil fuel industries that contribute to global warming.  In a speech to the European Parliament, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU should set a target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, the minimum effort needed to put the EU on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050.  The International Monetary Fund endorsed an EU proposal to impose carbon levies on imports, if the countries from which the imports originate do not adopt a minimum carbon price.  Former Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, a special advisor to the Australian government, said that Australia could get to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 by using natural gas as a bridge fuel to decrease the use of coal.  The difference between the EU and Australia is similar to the split that some see occurring in the oil and gas industry over what the future holds for them.  Following a virtual summit with EU leaders, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said that China is considering carbon neutrality as part of its long-term climate plan.

Based on two new reports, David Roberts at Vox concluded that five basic reforms are needed to develop an innovation system capable of supplying the technologies required to decarbonize the U.S. by midcentury.  The conclusion of the latest report by the Energy Transitions Commission is that a net-zero carbon global economy is technically and economically possible by the middle of this century.  A “Perspective” piece in The Washington Post argued that stopping climate change could cost less than fighting COVID-19.  A coalition of environmental and tribal groups sued the EPA over its rollback of two rules meant to limit the amount of methane emitted by the oil and gas sector.  Interestingly, EPA bowed to White House pressure during interagency review of the rules by reducing the frequency of measurements.  A court has temporarily halted the rollback, although the pause was simply procedural and said nothing about the merits of the rules.

E&E News summarized six energy-related law suits that are likely to be decided this fall.  Opponents of the stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline have submitted 43,000 signatures urging FERC not to grant more time to complete the pipeline.  FERC has passed a long-awaited order to open up the country’s wholesale energy markets to distributed energy resources like rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries, and electric vehicles.  The nominees to fill the two vacancies on FERC appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  The Business Roundtable is endorsing a “market-based mechanism” as part of a plan to sharply curb greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

The U.S. West is still burning, spreading haze across the country, but so are many other places in the world.  Indeed, rising global temperatures and worsening droughts mean that the world has entered a new era of megafires for which traditional methods of firefighting are inadequate.  The fires in California this year through mid-September burned enough forest to put about 90 million metric tons of CO2 into the air.  Robinson Meyers explained how the “vapor pressure deficit”, that is, the difference between the amount of water vapor that’s in the air and the amount of water vapor that the air can possibly hold, is a major driver of the intensity of the fires.  Meanwhile, slow-moving hurricane Sally blasted onto the U.S. Gulf Coast on Wednesday, unleashing massive floodwaters and powerful winds from the Florida Panhandle to Mobile, AL.  As if that weren’t enough, several new storms are brewing in the Atlantic.

Based on research by The Rhodium Group, ProPublica published a very interesting set of interactive maps illustrating how several environmental factors are likely to change in the future under two emissions scenarios.  Such changes will lead to migrations within the U.S.  ProPublica will present a webinar on the subject on September 29.  Also, the New York Times presented an analysis of climate risks across the U.S. in a graphical format.

An international team of scientists has published in the journal Atmospheric Environment a comprehensive study of the complex climate impact of aviation emissions, reaffirming that contrail clouds produce more warming than the CO2 emitted.

Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in Antarctica are breaking free from the restraints that have hemmed them in, increasing the threat of large-scale sea-level rise.  An enormous chunk of Greenland’s ice cap has broken off in the far northeastern Arctic.  Between 1966 and 2015, all of the 26 named glaciers in Glacier National Park got smaller.  Some lost as much as 80% of their area, but the average loss was 40%.

In the northern hemisphere, June, July and August were 1.17°C (2.11°F) above the 20th-century average, according to NOAA, setting a new record for the hottest summer.  A study published in Nature Climate Change has found that the Arctic region is moving into a new climate regime, with the rate of change depending on future CO2 emissions.  Such changes are already impacting the fisheries in Alaska.


The Economist had a special issue Thursday about “The new energy order.”  The editorial introducing the issue provided an overview of the most important issues.  (You can read the editorial for free by signing up and logging in.)  BP’s “Energy Outlook 2020” revealed that global oil demand will not regain the levels seen last year and that demand could soon fall rapidly in the face of stronger climate action – by at least 10% this decade and by as much as 50% over the next 20 years.

Over the past three years, some of the U.S.’s biggest electric utilities have committed to weaning themselves off carbon-emitting generation by 2050.  Jeff St. John at Greentech Media examined the five largest (by market capitalization) that have set net-zero targets so far.  Julian Spector looked at five that haven’t.  Google on Monday pledged that by 2030 it will run its entire business on carbon-free energy — every hour of every day of the year.  Facebook expects to eliminate or offset all of its own emissions this year, while completely decarbonizing its supply chain by 2030.  As much as 80% of the EU’s electricity could be fossil fuel-free by 2030, industry association Eurelectric said on Monday.

Scottish Power is starting a project to use green hydrogen to run buses, ferries, and trains as part of a pioneering partnership to develop the UK’s nascent hydrogen economy.  In Texas, Frontier Energy, in collaboration with 10 partners, announced on Sept. 15 the launch of three-year projects that are meant to show that green hydrogen can be a cost-effective fuel for multiple end-use applications.  Alstom hydrogen passenger train service has launched in Vienna, Austria, using onboard fuel cells for the conversion of hydrogen into electricity.

America’s air would become cleaner and its citizens more healthy if the country accelerated its transition to electric cars, the American Lung Association said in a new report.  Ford announced plans Thursday for a new plant to build the electric and plug-in hybrid versions of its bestselling vehicle, the F-150 pickup.  The plant, located in Ford’s Rouge complex in Dearborn, MI, will also assemble batteries.  The U.S. bus maker Blue Bird says its electric school buses sell so well, they will increase production capacity to 1,000 units a year.

Plans to build the nation’s first freshwater wind farm in Lake Erie northeast of Cleveland took a major step forward Thursday, as state regulators reversed their decision to limit the nighttime operation of the proposed wind turbines.  The University of Tennessee is developing a technology that would enable the recycling of wind turbine blades into new composites.


In an interactive Q&A, Carbon Brief explored how greenhouse gas emissions from meat, dairy, and other diets compare, as well as whether changes to the production and transportation of meat could help to reduce its climate impact.  I Am Greta, a documentary that follows Greta Thunberg from her first Friday school strikes in Stockholm to her 2019 UN speech in New York City, was reviewed by Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian.  Peter Dykstra of The Daily Climate compiled a list of some of the classic books and authors from the late 20th Century that helped define the environmental movement. 

Closing Thought

Ambitious and expanded climate action by U.S. states, cities, and businesses can reduce emissions up to 37% by 2030.

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.