Politics and Policy
As I was wrapping up this Roundup on Saturday, several news agencies called the presidential election for Joe Biden and Juliet Eilperin and colleagues wrote he “will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards President Trump abolished and launch the boldest climate change plan of any president in history.” One thing was clear on Wednesday: The “green wave” that environmentalists had hoped for failed to materialize. At The New Yorker, Bill McKibben considered what continued Republican control of the Senate will likely mean to the ability of Biden to act on climate change, as did Jeff St. John at GreenTech Media. But Corbin Hiar at E&E News thinks that lobbyists and insiders believe there may still be opportunities in the coming years for corporations to shape climate policy. And industry and environmental advocates alike say that Biden is uniquely suited to the challenge of dealing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. E&E News speculated on why voters in Arizona and Florida had different perspectives on the dangers posed by climate change in their choices for president. Climate XChange listed a number of wins for climate action in down-ballot races and initiatives.
The U.S. left the Paris Climate Agreement on Wednesday, making it the only country in the world to do so. At The New York Times, Lisa Friedman looked at “how it happened, what it means and what might happen next”, while at The Hill, the CEOs of the Rocky Mountain Institute and the World Resources Institute reminded us that meeting the goal of the Paris Agreement will not only help countries to innovate and create new economic opportunities, it will also reduce the impacts and associated costs of future climate-related disasters. Michael Mann told CBC Radio that “There’s still time to do what’s necessary to reduce carbon emissions so that we don’t cross that threshold into catastrophic climate change.” Chelsea Harvey catalogued the increases in climate-related disasters and scientists’ understanding of climate change during the Trump administration. In a surprise move, the Trump administration tapped mainstream climate scientist Betsy Weatherhead to lead the next National Climate Assessment, to be released in 2022.
The ranking members of the Natural Resources and the Energy and Commerce Committees in the House both retired, resulting in intense campaigning among House Republicans to replace them. President Trump replaced Neil Chatterjee, the Republican chairman of FERC, with James Danly, another Republican who has taken a more conservative approach to federal energy policy, such as voting against opening up markets to distributed energy and dissenting on a policy proposal on wholesale market carbon pricing. The Energy 202 at the Washington Post interviewed Chatterjee about the change and Forbes provided background on how the situation came about.
President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering the Russian government to try to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement, but stressed that any action must be balanced with the need to ensure strong economic development. However, according to its energy minister, Russia has no plans to rein in its production of fossil fuels in the coming decades. In order to meet its goal of reducing economy-wide CO2 emissions in the state to net-zero by 2050, Massachusetts must deal with the fact that roughly one-third of its emissions come from the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking. Consequently, last week the Department of Public Utilities opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers. From Pope Francis to Greta Thunberg, there are growing calls to make “ecocide”—which literally means “killing the environment”—a recognized crime under international law. Could such a law ever work?
Climate and Climate Science
Hurricane Eta made landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday as a Category 4 storm, one of only five Category 4 or 5 Atlantic hurricanes to have ever been seen in November. It continued on into Honduras as a tropical depression, but continued to dump large amounts of rain, as it had in Nicaragua. It is expected to head toward Cuba as a tropical storm, but not intensify into a hurricane again. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, Super Typhoon Goni made landfall in the Philippines on Sunday, with sustained winds of 195 mph and a central pressure of 884 mb, making it the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in world recorded history.
Data from the Brazilian space research agency INPE showed on Sunday that fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest surged in October, with the number of blazes up 25% during the first 10 months of 2020, compared to a year ago. New research, published in Environmental Research Letters, revealed that Amazon forest fires continue to drive greenhouse gas emissions for up to two decades after burning out, driven by the slow death of trees impacted by the fire. Research published in Geophysical Research Letters found that the area burned annually by high-severity fires in the western U.S. has increased eight-fold in the past 35 years.
In an opinion piece at The Hill, two scientists from the Atkinson Center for Sustainability at Cornell University and one from The Nature Conservancy argued that a joint platform to address the carbon-nitrogen nexus in soil health management was the only way to develop methods for increasing soil carbon content while also limiting nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture. A study published in the journal Science showed that for the world to have a chance of preventing significant harm from climate change, all parts of food production need rapid and significant reform — everything from reducing deforestation for new fields to changing our diets.
Europe experienced its hottest October on record, according to data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Unusually severe heat also swept across the Arctic region, causing Arctic sea ice to reach its lowest level for October since 1979. A new study estimated that an average global temperature increase of 2°C would lead to around 230 billion metric tons of carbon being released from the world’s soil, an amount equivalent to more than twice the emissions of the U.S. over the past 100 years.
A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reported on research about polar bear survival in which the scientists created individualized estimates for each of 19 subpopulations to account for the variety of climates, habitats, ecosystems, and sea ice ecoregions bears encounter. The bottom line? If you’re a polar bear, your future depends on your location.
Equitrans Midstream Corp., the lead partner in the joint venture building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, announced that the cost has increased from $3.7 billion to between $5.8 billion and $6 billion, while the completion date has slipped to the second half of 2021. French gas and power utility Engie has pulled out of a major U.S. liquefied natural gas import deal after government concerns about its environmental implications. Shell plans to consolidate its refinery portfolio from 14 sites to only six by 2025, with the goal of making the refineries more integrated with their chemical complexes to produce more biofuels, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels.
The global status of green hydrogen as a carbon-free fuel was reviewed at Yale Environment 360. Air Liquide Group recently released a list of the seven ways hydrogen will contribute to the transition toward renewable energy. Researchers in Spain have demonstrated a method of hydrogen production without contact electrodes via water electrolysis mediated by the microwave-triggered redox activation of solid-state ionic materials at low temperatures (< 250°C). Toyota is focusing its hydrogen fuel cell development on marine applications while developers across the world are testing the use of hydrogen to power ships as the maritime industry races to find technologies to cut emissions.
Wind energy will achieve record growth globally over the next five years, the Global Wind Energy Council said on Thursday, projecting that some 348 GW of new onshore and offshore capacity are expected by the end of 2024. The U.S. wind industry set a record in the third quarter, installing nearly 2 GW of new wind power capacity. Offshore wind advocates say a more coordinated approach to electric grid upgrades in New England could save money and minimize ecological disruption. Because of the way they are constructed, wind turbine blades are a challenge to recycle, although recycling opportunities exist, but are not yet widely implemented. To comply with the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed earlier this year, Appalachian Power will acquire or contract for 210 MW of solar power and 200 MW of wind power over the next five years. A permit for the “Rocky Forge Wind” windfarm was recently approved by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, according to Apex Clean Energy, which plans to build up to 22 turbines on a remote ridgeline in Botetourt County, VA.
Hampton Roads Transit’s six electric buses will be deployed on the route between Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Volvo Trucks will sell a complete range of electric, heavy-duty trucks in Europe starting in 2021. Daimler Truck AG and Volvo Trucks have entered into a joint venture for the development, production, and commercialization of fuel cells for heavy-duty trucks. GM will bring its EVs to market faster than it had initially anticipated, thanks to its strategic partnerships and investments in technology which allowed it to speed up product development.
Dominion Energy Virginia will enter into six power purchase agreements and build three new solar facilities, for a total of 500 MW of new renewable energy. James Gignac of the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed recycling opportunities for photovoltaic solar panels. Plans to build an innovative new nuclear power plant using small modular reactors have taken a hit as eight of the 36 public utilities that had signed on to help build the plant have backed out of the deal.
A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell backfired spectacularly, with the oil company being accused of gaslighting the public. Tim Flannery, author of The Climate Cure, has a very moving essay at The Guardian about the need to communicate the gravity of the climate crisis to young people. Likewise, DW noted that psychologists suggest that we need to discuss climate change in less abstract terms if we are to truly grasp the significance of the crisis. In a scenario playing out in many American families, a sense of despair and outrage among young people over global warming is being met with indifference and dismissal among some of their older relatives. Grist republished five maps developed by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication that highlight some positive trends in public opinion on global warming.
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.