Politics and Policy
President-elect Joe Biden is poised to embed action on climate change across the breadth of the federal government, expanding it beyond environmental agencies. The Climate 21 Project released a blueprint of how that could be accomplished. From the Pentagon to the General Services Administration, Biden has implanted climate-minded officials throughout his sprawling transition team. Early action on climate change from Biden is likely to start with a series of executive orders reversing President Trump’s environmental policies. Eric Roston at Bloomberg interviewed John Podesta about how the Biden administration should address a warming planet. Dan Gearino offered four very pragmatic things Biden could do for clean energy without Congress. Carbon Brief asked an array of climate scientists and policy experts what Biden’s victory will mean for climate action in the U.S. and around the world. Publicly, environmental groups have claimed success in the election, but privately, they know that much hinges on the two undecided Senate seats in Georgia. Nevertheless, young activists have said they’re preparing to pressure the incoming Biden administration to keep its word on climate change and other progressive goals.
The damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks of environmental regulations may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term. The Trump administration quietly removed Michael Kuperberg from his job as executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which prepares the National Climate Assessment, and replaced him with climate change denier David Legates of NOAA with the intent of getting as many authors as possible under contract before January 20, 2021. Desmog recently profiled Legates. Analysts are anticipating a potential flurry of last-minute energy rollbacks, permitting decisions, and new rules by the Trump administration that could impinge on a Biden administration’s ability to implement its plans.
The Vice Chairman for Supervision of the Federal Reserve told the Senate Banking Committee that the central bank has sought membership on the Network for Greening the Financial System and hopes to join before spring. For the first time, the Federal Reserve identified climate change as a risk to financial stability. Leading scientists, academics, and campaigners have called on governments and businesses to go beyond “net zero” in their efforts to tackle the escalating climate and ecological crisis. Jonathan Watts profiled four countries that are setting carbon-neutral targets and pushing ahead to meet them. At Living on Earth, host Steve Curwood interviewed Republican climate champion Bob Inglis about how Republicans and Democrats might work together during a Biden presidency to achieve a clean energy economy.
Despite net zero pledges from the governments of China, Japan, and South Korea, the Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are reluctant to commit to reducing financing of fossil fuels. Jonathan Watts listed and discussed five post-Trump obstacles to a global green recovery. Would labeling Brazil a “climate outlaw” influence its behavior for the better? The latest data from Energy Policy Tracker shows that G20 nations have committed more than $230 billion in COVID-19 recovery funds to support industries that rely heavily on fossil fuels. According to the New York Times, FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff, and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.
Climate and Climate Science
In the Philippines, Typhoon Vamco killed at least seven people and unleashed some of the worst flooding in years in the capital Manila. On Monday night, Tropical Storm Theta became the 29th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, setting a new record by surpassing the total count from 2005. On Friday afternoon, Tropical Storm Iota formed in the eastern Caribbean, breaking Theta’s record by becoming the 30th of the season and threatening areas of the western Caribbean still reeling from Hurricane Eta that hit just last week. Thus, it is worthwhile to examine how climate change is affecting storms. A new study looked at what happens after hurricanes make landfall and found that climate change is apparently causing them to weaken more slowly and remain destructive longer.
Two new studies published recently in the journal Nature Geoscience suggest that as Earth warms, clouds are likely to change in ways that will intensify global warming.
A new paper in Scientific Reports reached sweeping conclusions about the possibility that climate change may have already reached a hypothetical ‘point of no return’, conclusions with which most climate scientists disagree.
Two government climate science agencies concluded that Australia’s climate has entered a new era of sustained extreme weather events, such as bushfires and heatwaves, courtesy of rising average temperatures.
As Earth warms, more people will die from heat, so scientists are studying how people respond to excess heat in hopes of lowering the risk and reducing the toll.
On Monday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) across about 1,000 waterbodies in West Virginia and Virginia. On Thursday, Montgomery County, VA, Circuit Judge Robert Turk issued a temporary injunction ordering three unidentified tree-sitters and 10 of their supporters to be gone from the right-of-way of the MVP by Monday. The Harrisonburg, VA, city council agreed to lease nine acres of city-owned land to the Virginia Municipal Electric Association for the purpose of building a PV solar array to produce electricity for the city. Several Bedford County, VA, residents encouraged county supervisors on Monday to keep moving forward with solar ordinance reviews and research that may allow solar farms in the County. In its second quarter earnings presentation, Dominion Energy Virginia laid out plans to increase nearly tenfold its renewable energy generation, from 2.9 GW of solar and some hydropower (excluding pumped hydro), to 28.3 GW of solar, wind, storage, and hydro by 2035. A coalition of Virginia lawmakers filed comments Nov. 4 requesting revisions to a series of new State Corporation Commission rules setting interim goals for the acquisition of energy storage under the state’s Clean Economy Act.
California is setting ambitious goals to phase out vehicles that run on fossil fuels, using $20 million in annual funding from the California Energy Commission to build hydrogen infrastructure. BP plans to take its first steps into the expanding market for green hydrogen alongside the offshore wind developer Ørsted by developing a hydrogen project at one of its refineries in Germany. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded just under $14 million for Xcel Energy to build a hydrogen-energy production facility at a nuclear power plant in Minnesota. Tidal power will be combined with vanadium flow batteries to continuously produce green hydrogen at the European Marine Energy Center’s tidal energy test site on the island of Eday, Orkney, Scotland.
A prototype GE Haliade-X offshore wind turbine produced 312 MWh of electricity in a single 24-hour period, setting a new world record. South Korean firm Odin Energy hopes to carve out a new niche with a vertical-axis wind turbine tower designed for urban settings. Last week I included an article about the need for a more coordinated approach to electric grid upgrades in New England to handle the electricity produced by offshore wind farms. This week there was an article that came to a similar conclusion for the rest of the East Coast. As the need for new electrical transmission lines increases in the face of renewable energy expansion, a potential problem will be their siting. One possible solution is to collocate them with highways and railroads. A new report from the International Energy Agency anticipates a 1,123 GW increase in wind and solar, which would mean these power sources will overtake gas capacity in 2023 and coal in 2024. The Agency has revised its expectations for the 2020 global renewable energy market, now projecting that capacity additions will grow 4% from 2019, hitting a record of nearly 200 GW this year. Six Midwest utilities expect to spend more than a combined $15 billion over the next several years to install or buy roughly 4 GW of solar generation, more than 3.6 GW of wind generation, and just over 1 GW of battery storage.
Ford Motor Co. said it will invest $100 million in its Kansas City Assembly Plant and add 150 jobs there to build the new electric E-Transit van. General Motors plans to hire 3,000 new employees largely focused on software development for the research, development, and deployment of electric vehicles. According to a new study, conducted by M.J. Bradley & Associates with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a typical rural driver in the Northeast could save more than $1,900 every year by switching from a conventional gasoline car to a comparable electric vehicle.
The electric utility Arizona Public Service is offering a $169 million deal to the Navaho Nation to help them cope with the repercussions from the closure of coal-fired power plants employing many Native people. On the other hand, almost half the companies involved in the thermal coal industry globally are expected to defy worldwide climate commitments by deepening their coal interests in the coming years, according to a report by the green campaign group Urgewald. An opinion piece in the New York Times argued that in planning to build 235 gas-fired power stations at a cost in excess of $100 billion, the U.S. electrical industry is behaving like smokers who really, truly plan to quit, as soon as they finish that last carton of cigarettes.
The Dalai Lama, along with German environmental journalist Franz Alt, has written a new book entitled Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal to the World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In reviewing Felicia Luna Lemus’ new memoir, Jason Heller wrote “Particulate Matter is a moving example of how to write about climate change, not didactically, but with the deep impact of both personal loss and literary elegance.” A survey of approximately 26,000 people in 25 countries revealed a significant disconnect between beliefs and actions on climate change. At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell provided links to articles examining the term “net-zero emissions” and what exactly it means. Although it doesn’t focus on climate, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has an interesting article examining the shifting views of an ideal society in the U.S.
Bill McKibben wrote that if activists want real progress on climate during the Biden administration, they need to learn how to press their case aggressively without alienating those with whom they must work to get things done.
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.