Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/23/2020

Politics and Policy

During their debate Thursday night, President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden laid out starkly different visions on whether the U.S. needs to transition away from fossil fuels to address climate change.  As might be expected, conservatives pummeled Biden for his position, accusing him of being callous with the economy in his proposals for tackling climate change.  Nevertheless, an article in Market Watch asserted that the U.S. will transition to a clean-energy mix regardless of who wins the White House, although the pace of that change will depend on the election’s outcome.  The Independent asked climate scientists, policy experts, and environmentalists for their takeaways from the climate change portion of the debate.  According to a national poll of likely voters conducted by The New York Times and Siena College, 66% support Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan while 26% oppose it.  If Biden wins, the question haunting climate activists is whether this time will be different from President Obama’s first term.  Automakers evidently think it will be because they are gearing up for tough new vehicle emissions rules and policies favoring electric vehicles if Biden wins.

GreenTech Media interviewed Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) about areas of agreement and disagreement among legislators on energy reform.  At The New Republic, Kate Aronoff explored the role that conservative West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) might play in enacting energy and climate legislation should the Democrats take over the Senate.  A new report from the Brookings Institution assessed the greenhouse gas reduction pledges and commitments of the U.S.’s largest cities, tracked the emissions savings that could result from them, and evaluated whether the cities are meeting their goals.  Virginia Governor Ralph Northam pledged to power the states power grid with 30% renewable energy by 2030.  On Wednesday, offshore wind developers said that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management within the Department of the Interior will require additional funding to keep permitting on track for a number of projects.  Climate change isn’t Biden’s sole environmental concern.  His platform calls on the U.S. to set aside 30% of its lands and water for conservation by the end of the decade.

In a diatribe against U.S. climate policies, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry blamed Trump’s “negative stance” and “retrogression on climate change” for undermining progress on the Paris climate accord.  EU environment ministers were set to agree this week to make the bloc’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050 legally binding, but the agriculture lobby and agriculturally dominant countries stand as a potential obstacle to the pledge.  Nevertheless, EU agriculture ministers agreed on Wednesday to set aside part of the farming policy budget for programs that protect the environment.  Coal played a very important part in Poland’s rise from the ashes of WWII, but pressures are mounting for the country to move on.  In an interesting coincidence, Yale Environment 360 published a retrospective about Poland and coal in the same week the country’s largest power company announced that it wants to become 100% renewable by 2050.  The French government stepped in to force a domestic company to delay signing a potential $7 billion deal with a U.S. liquefied natural gas company over concerns that its U.S. shale gas was too dirty.  After modelling a ‘green recovery’ plan against a ‘return-to-normal’ plan across the UK, Germany, Poland, the U.S., India, and globally, researchers from Cambridge Econometrics concluded that the impact of a green recovery strategy would be “consistently larger” than that delivered through a standard stimulus package.

Jody Freeman, the Archibald Cox Professor of Law and director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, examined the impact on environmental and climate law of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s possible elevation to the Supreme Court.  Three years after Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes published research finding “a discrepancy between what ExxonMobil’s scientists and executives discussed about climate change privately and in academic circles and what it presented to the general public,” Vijay Swarup, Exxon’s vice president of research and development, published a comment in the same journal that seeks to rebut the research.  A key step in the progress of the National Climate Assessment—the solicitation for authors to work on the project—was delayed for months, but after public outcry, NASA restarted the process, publishing a Federal Register notice Thursday seeking authors.

Climate and Climate Science

The North Complex fire wiped out the town of Berry Creek, CA, in September.  A multimedia article in The Washington Post explained the contribution of climate change to that fire.  Northern California faces days of ‘critical’ fire risk as strong, dry winds will keep fire danger high this week and next.  The Cameron Peak Fire near Rocky Mountain National Park became the largest wildfire in Colorado history, growing to almost 207,000 acres this week, while the East Troublesome Fire forced closure of the park.  An NPR analysis found that most wildfire-prone states have no requirements for disclosing fire risk to someone who buys or rents a home; only California and Oregon do.

According to a new study, dust storms on the Great Plains have become more common and more intense in the past 20 years, because of more frequent droughts in the region and an expansion of croplands.  In 2003 my wife and I hiked into Canyon de Chelly, in the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, on a trail that was worn into the sandstone from the many feet that had walked it over centuries.  Thus, it was especially painful to read about the impacts of the extreme drought that is occurring there.

Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer published an important essay on the danger posed by multiple, simultaneous disasters in Foreign Affairs (note, you can read it for free just by signing up).

Hurricane Epsilon rapidly intensified Tuesday and Wednesday, unexpectedly becoming a major Category 3 hurricane and claiming two records as it cruised northwest over the open Atlantic.  For the first time since records began, the surface waters of the Laptev Sea in Siberia, the main nursery of Arctic sea ice, have yet to start freezing in late October.

“Global Safety Net” is the first global-scale analysis of land areas requiring protection to solve the twin crises of biodiversity and climate change.  Brianna Baker interviewed Eric Dinerstein, the wildlife scientist who led the project.


An aggressive push towards 100% renewable energy would save Americans as much as $321bn in energy costs, while also slashing planet-heating emissions, according to a new report from Rewiring America.  Corporate buyers of renewable energy will drive the development of 44 GW to 72 GW of new wind and solar projects in the U.S. over the next decade, according to a new report from IHS Markit.  If you are thinking of converting your home to all-electric, you might be interested in the experiences of Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Cinnamon Energy Systems.

Inside Climate News reviewed concerns about NuScale Power’s small modular nuclear reactors that have been approved for construction in Idaho.  As global warming climbs and humanity’s water consumption increases, nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants that rely on freshwater for cooling may not be able to perform at their peak capacity or could be forced to shut down temporarily.

Vox energy reporter David Roberts described the basics of geothermal energy and explained why its time may finally have come.  Another couple of educational pieces came this week from Greentech Media where Jason Deign explained the concept and applications of “virtual power plants” and floating wind turbines.

The extra cost of manufacturing battery electric cars versus their internal combustion engine equivalents will diminish to just $1,900 per car by 2022, and disappear completely by 2024, according to research by the investment bank UBS.  A large part of Dan Gearino’s column this week was devoted to EVs, prompted in part by GM’s introduction of the new electric Hummer.  An Associate and a Managing Director at RMI made the case for why the U.S. should assert EV leadership.

The International Maritime Organization agreed on Friday to require shipping to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit of economic activity by 40% compared with 2008 levels in the next 10 years.  Green groups said this could still result in an increase in CO2 emissions.


Michael Svoboda reviewed Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, The Ministry of the Future.  SueEllen Campbell provided readings to shed some light on the question of growth versus de-growth as solutions for the climate crisis.  Philip K. Verleger reviewed Daniel Yergin’s new book, The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations.  What does a former Renaissance scholar have to teach us about how the media should talk about climate change?  Lizzie Widdicombe wanted to know, so she interviewed Genevieve Guenther for The New Yorker.  At Grist, Kate Yoder looked at the growing field of climate-fiction, paraphrasing social scientist Matthew Schneider-Mayerson: “In the near future, …, we may get to the point that any story that doesn’t touch on climate change might as well be considered either historical fiction or other-worldly fantasy.”

Closing Thought

Although I missed it earlier this month when it was released, I’m including Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, titled “Fratelli Tutti” (We are all brothers and sisters), which contains ten ideas about caring for our common home and the importance of rethinking the way we connect with each other.  The Pope has also produced a TED talk that makes the point in much sharper terms.

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.