Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/25/2020

Politics and Policy

Speaking via video to the UN General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Tuesday that his country would reach its peak greenhouse gas emissions ahead of its 2030 goal and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.  Steven Lee Myers analyzed what it means at the New York Times (NYT) and research consortium Carbon Action Tracker determined that, if achieved, the pledge could curb global warming by 0.2-0.3°C this century.  Furthermore, CAT also said that a change in U.S. leadership, combined with China’s new pledge and a European “green recovery”, could get the world two-thirds of the way to meeting its climate goals.  As part of Climate Week, Morgan Stanley, AT&T, and Walmart made fresh commitments and adopted more aggressive timetables for reducing emissions while GE announced that it will no longer build new coal-fired power plants.  Citing a rising threat to public health and the environment, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed an executive order aiming to make the state’s economy carbon-neutral by 2050.

More than 60 deep-pocketed donors asked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to commit to a moratorium on all new coal, oil, and natural gas development — and to select advisers who are “free from fossil fuel influence.”  Biden won the endorsement of progressive climate group 350 Action and two former Republican heads of the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman and William K. Reilly, backed him.  Public Policy Polling asked voters in eight battle ground states which candidate’s views on climate aligned more with their own; 55% chose Biden, 28% Trump, and 15% neither.  For some young conservatives, Trump’s position on climate change is a problem.  Nearly half of Americans think addressing climate change will help the economy while only 29% believe that climate policy will harm it.  Seven in ten voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years.  Democratic lawmakers have called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to include climate change in the debates.  There were two interesting opinion pieces this week about our choice in the Presidential election, one by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone and the other by Thomas Friedman in the NYT.

When asked whether he believed that human-caused carbon emissions are fueling hotter temperatures, DOE Secretary Dan Brouillette said: “No one knows that.”  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Tuesday that there is “scientific debate” on whether hurricanes and other natural disasters are exacerbated by climate change.  The Trump administration’s pick to become the new chief scientist of NOAA is a meteorologist who frequently criticizes “climate alarmists”.  WBUR examined the politics of off-shore wind on the East Coast and how the election might impact it.  Even though many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle favor putting a price on carbon, two California academics argue that it is “ineffective”.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday, helped establish the critical Supreme Court precedent that empowered the EPA to address the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.  Her death may eventually result in a reassessment of that decision.  If President Trump is able to replace Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, he may stymie climate action for generations to come, while a second term could save some of his biggest environmental rollbacks.  The Congressional Budget Office has projected that because of climate change, the U.S. GDP will be 1% smaller in 2050 than it would have been otherwise.  The House on Thursday passed a broad bill that aims to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as part of an attempt to combat climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

A new study examined “dry-hot extremes” (years with concurrent drought and heatwaves) across the contiguous U.S. from 1896-2017, finding that they have increased substantially in frequency in the past decades and are expanding spatially at an alarming rate.  John Branch and Brad Plumer of the NYT spoke with two dozen climate experts about this year’s cascading climate impacts and found that the most sobering message was that the world still hasn’t seen the worst of it.  Also at the NYT, a team has provided a retrospective analysis of this year’s West Coast fire season.  A group of scientists has conducted an extensive review of the literature and found an “unequivocal and pervasive” role for global warming in boosting the conditions for fire in the U.S. West Coast and other locations around the world.  Stanford University scientists estimate that smoke from the fires on the West Coast may have caused at least 1,200 excess deaths.

Since 2016, more than 1 million disaster-related displacements have occurred each year on average in the U.S.  Some people never return home.  In The New Yorker, Amy Davidson Sorkin wrote of the displacements of Californians by the wildfires.

From 1990 to 2015, the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population emitted more than twice as much CO2 as the poorer half of the world.  Cows, pigs, and other farm livestock in Europe are producing more greenhouse gases every year than all of the EU’s cars and vans put together, according to a new analysis by Greenpeace.

New research suggests that even if the goals of the Paris agreement are met, melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will cause sea level to rise about eight feet.  The melting is likely to take place over a long period, beyond the end of this century, but is almost certain to be irreversible.  Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent on or around September 15, covering 1.44 million square miles, second only to 2012 at 1.32 million square miles.  Melting Arctic ice destabilizes the weather from the north, while the warming tropics move northward from the south, pressing the mid-latitudes, which have been climate sweet spots for humanity.

Bob Henson explained why the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has spun out of control.  Tornadoes are increasingly occurring in the Southeast, where they are twice as deadly as tornadoes elsewhere in the U.S.  A study found that climate change is making severe marine heat waves much more likely.


Saying “We can’t continue down this path,” California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order adopting a goal for all new passenger vehicle sales in the state to be zero-emission by 2035.  The L.A. Times said “Goodbye and good riddance.”  Energy analysts noted that it would change the nature of the load on the grid, but “not in an earth-shaking way”.  The Trump administration called the plan anti-consumer.

The lead story at Inside Clean Energy covered a compromise in South Carolina between advocates of solar power and a utility that may offer a blueprint for other states trying to resolve the debate over net metering.  A conditional-use permit for a $100 million solar power facility in southern Frederick County, VA, was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, clearing the way for the development of the facility on approximately 1,160 acres in a largely rural area.

At Tesla’s Battery Day, CEO Elon Musk outlined changes to lithium-ion battery design that the company is implementing.  When fully employed they will extend range by 54% and decrease the per kilowatt-hour (kWh) pack price by 56%.  The average cost of a lithium-ion battery cell is expected to fall below $100/kWh in the next three years, according to a new analysis by IHS Markit, and is expected to decline further through the end of the decade, to as low as $73/kWh in 2030.  In addition, according to an analyst with IHS Markit, it will be in the interests of just about everybody involved in the “broader lithium-ion battery supply chain” to establish effective recycling systems.  Jack Ewing has a fascinating article in the NYT on the race to dominate the battery market and to get electric cars on price-parity with gasoline ones.  A consortium of six electric utilities has pledged to bring the largest interstate electric vehicle charging network in the U.S. to the Midwest within two years.

Hyundai has announced plans to sell hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks in the U.S. by 2022.  Daimler has revealed its new design for a long haul hydrogen fuel cell-powered truck that will start its customer trials in 2023.  Ballard Power Systems announced this week that it was working on a new Audi hydrogen fuel cell stack technology with the automaker.  Trevor Milton, founder and executive chairman of electric truck start-up Nikola, quit on Monday, but GM is sticking by them.  If you have questions about hydrogen as a fuel, this article in The Washington Post will probably answer them.

While BP and other European oil companies are investing billions in renewable energy, Exxon and Chevron are committed to fossil fuels and betting on moonshots.  The world is on course to sail past the recognized “safe” level of 2°C of warming to as much as 3°C, according to the latest Wood Mackenzie “Energy Transition Outlook”.  The International Energy Agency said that governments and major polluters must take urgent action to develop technologies that can capture and store carbon emissions or it will be “virtually impossible” for the world to meet its climate targets.  Nevertheless, Southern Company intends to try to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 while still keeping natural gas as a central part of its business, both to generate electricity and to sell to its customers. 


Columbia Journalism Review stated that “Some major U.S. media coverage of the [climate] crisis is finally getting better.”  Brian Kahn reviewed the new climate anthology All We Can Save at Earther while Bill McKibben had a conversation with the editors in the “Passing the Mic” section of his column, as did Phoebe Neidl at Rolling Stone.  David Roberts of Vox had a conversation with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, authors of the new book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell covered several recent articles about the importance of “sliding baselines.”  United under Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, young people rallied worldwide on Friday to demand urgent action to halt climate change.

Closing Thought

Katharine Hayhoe: Giving people a sense of agency for fighting climate change means giving people hope.

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.