Politics and Policy
The Trump administration recently removed the chief scientist at NOAA, installed new political staff who have questioned accepted facts about climate change, and imposed stricter controls on communications at the agency, all apparently aimed at drastically changing the next National Climate Assessment. Grist reported that DOE bottled up reports for more than 40 clean energy studies, according to emails and documents obtained by InvestigateWest, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at DOE and its national labs. Trump’s three energy and environmental agency heads have been frequently touring swing states in the final month ahead of the election, raising questions about whether the administration is improperly using government resources to boost his reelection bid. A Saturday ruling from the U.S. Court of International Trade once again paused the Trump administration’s plans to extend tariffs to two-sided solar panels. By coincidence, the effective date for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is Nov. 4, the day after the election. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins, his administration can apply to rejoin and do so 30 days after the application is received. Grist has an interactive “article” in which you can see if you can find a path to crafting a climate policy — no matter who wins the election.
The Zero Carbon Action Plan, developed by roughly 100 individuals from academia and think tanks, offers a possible road map for the U.S. to hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 under a new administration. Evergreen Action, a group of former staffers of Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA-D), have urged Biden to consider using U.S. financial regulation as a tool to fight climate change if he is elected. Biden could also use Trump’s playbook to reverse his deregulatory moves on pollution and climate. Biden’s pledge to rededicate the U.S. to combating climate change would mean a greater role for NASA’s Earth Science research, an area that has been squeezed by Trump. Biden is leaning into climate change in the final days before the election, issuing new national ads attacking Trump’s science denial, even as Trump continues to hammer Biden’s position on the oil industry. Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times reported on who is in Biden’s inner circle on climate change, while Alexander Kaufman discussed possible EPA heads at HuffPost. A victory by Biden could nearly double the annual rate of solar deployment in the U.S., according to a new report by S&P Global Ratings. E&E News discussed ways in which a Biden administration could set a date after which the sale of new gasoline or diesel powered cars could not be sold in the U.S.
Both Japan and South Korea have pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050, suggesting that some of Japan’s nuclear power plants will be reactivated. Although hundreds of coal-fired power plants are still in planning worldwide, the announcements from Japan and South Korea, coupled with increasing numbers of banks being unwilling to finance new plants, suggest that an end to the global coal plant boom is no longer such a distant prospect. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has become isolated in his defense of coal and refusal to step up his climate ambition, as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines change course.
In Canada, a Federal Court judge struck down a lawsuit brought by 15 young Canadians who argued the government was violating their charter rights. As the effects of climate change become more severe, prominent research institutions and government agencies are focusing new money and attention on solar geoengineering, in the hopes of buying humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions. To address the growing threat of sea level rise to shoreline communities, officials in Virginia will promote science-based, cross-jurisdictional collaboration to mitigate flooding and increase communities’ resilience.
Climate and Climate Science
The Guardian revealed that scientists have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast, although at Climate Feedback, four climate scientists analyzed the article and estimated its overall scientific credibility to be ‘low’, lacking important context.
The minimum volume of Arctic sea ice declined steadily until 2012, when the current record was set. Now a paper in Environmental Research Letters has sought to explain why the minimum volume has not fallen below that record. Scientists have found that the distribution of permafrost in the Alaskan subsurface is much more complicated than previously thought, suggesting that many regions may be more vulnerable to melting than had been thought. Ice loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet has accelerated significantly over the past two decades, transforming the shape of the ice sheet edge and therefore coastal Greenland. Melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is well underway and will be almost impossible to reverse, even if global emissions reduction targets are met.
Research suggests that lightning is an increasingly common cause of large wildfires, and that climate change may cause an increase in lightning strikes over the continental U.S. in coming decades. Two wildfires are now burning in Southern California, enlarging rapidly and forcing evacuations of tens of thousands of people in Orange County.
At least six people died and more than 2.3 million customers were without power Thursday morning after Hurricane Zeta hit the U.S. Gulf Coast and rushed inland. Typhoon Molave was the fourth tropical storm to hit Vietnam since October 11 and the ninth since the start of the year.
Even though the World Meteorological Organization has declared that a La Niña event is under way, heralding a colder and stormier winter than usual across the northern hemisphere, 2020 remains likely to be one of the warmest years on record. New research published in Nature Food shows that corn is becoming more vulnerable to drought, a finding with major implications for annual yields given scientists’ predictions that climate change will intensify poor weather conditions.
Depressed in 2020 by the worldwide economic slowdown, global CO2 emissions from power, transportation, industry, and buildings peaked in 2019 at 31.9 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, according to an Oct. 27 report from BloombergNEF.
The first electric school buses in Virginia will begin rolling down the road early next month, thanks to Dominion Energy’s Electric School Bus Program and Sonny Merryman, a school and commercial bus company. On Nov. 12 Ford Motor Co. plans to unveil its zero emission all-electric E-Transit, a green version of the top-selling cargo van. “I do see that there will be an electrified Ram pickup in the marketplace, and I would ask you just to stay tuned for a little while, and we’ll tell you exactly when that will be,” Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Mike Manley said in answering an analyst’s question on the topic. Nikola, Toyota, Hyundai, and Daimler are among the companies pursuing hydrogen fuel cell trucks, replacing diesel rigs with quiet, zero-emission trucks. By 2035 Airbus hopes to have a hydrogen-powered commercial airliner in the sky that will release zero CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.
A new report from independent think tank RethinkX predicts that the combination of solar and wind energy with batteries could undercut and disrupt the existing global energy system with “the cheapest power available” over the next decade. In the second part of his column this week, Dan Gearino reported that the average levelized cost of energy for PV solar farms is now $37 per megawatt-hour, while on-shore wind is $40, compared to $59 for a combined cycle natural gas plant. The New York Times published an interesting article combining text with graphics to show how the electricity sources in each state have varied over the past 20 years. Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina are teaming up to “cooperatively promote, develop, and expand offshore wind energy and the accompanying industry supply chain and workforce.” MidAmerican Energy announced that after wind turbine blades broke off twice over the last two months, it is shutting down 46 of its similar turbines to check them for safety. It is working with wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to understand the “root cause” of the blade failures.
ExxonMobil said on Thursday it could cut its global workforce by about 15% (approximately 14,000 jobs) including deep white-collar staff reductions in the U.S., as the COVID-19 pandemic batters energy demand and prices. In addition, oil prices tumbled on Thursday, touching a five-month low and extending the previous day’s sharp decline. Alberta, the heart of Canadian hydrocarbon extraction, has set a goal of a 45% drop in the industry’s methane footprint from its 160,000 active wells by 2025, but the province also contains almost 100,000 inactive wells that have not been decommissioned, but could be leaking.
Energy storage developer GlidePath Power Solutions will use a full life-cycle management platform for the batteries it employs, including recycling and repurposing as it seeks to “resolve the recycling and re-use case upfront, not down the track”. GreenTech Media addressed the question of what “long-term energy storage” means.
On Friday, Grist launched a new podcast called “Temperature Check” about climate, race, and culture. For those who have retirement accounts with TIAA, there is now a movement to get them to divest from fossil fuels. National Geographic spoke with Greta Thunberg about how her activism has changed over the past year and how her message might survive an increasingly complex world. At Chicago Review of Books, Amy Brady spoke with Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Ministry for the Future.
More than at any time in the past, young activists helped bring climate change onto the table in this year’s presidential election.
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.