Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/11/2020

Politics and Policy

Planting a trillion trees is an idea that several GOP lawmakers have rallied behind.  The Trump administration finalized new cost-benefit requirements, which instruct the EPA to weigh all the economic costs of curbing an air pollutant but disregard many of the incidental benefits that arise, such as illnesses and deaths avoided by a potential regulation.  Nearly four dozen House Republicans warned Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell against proceeding with climate risk regulations for the financial system.  Nevertheless, Republican climate champion Bob Inglis made the case that there are Republican Representatives and Senators with whom President-Elect Joe Biden can work.

John Kerry wants to strengthen the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) when he becomes the nation’s climate czar in January.  At the Washington Post, Paul Bledsoe presented five myths about the PCA while at Science, Warren Cornwall sought to determine if it is working.  Many countries will miss a deadline to submit updated climate action plans by 2020 as mandated by the PCA.  Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, and South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa did not meet the ambition benchmark to present their climate plans at a virtual summit on Saturday marking the fifth anniversary of the PCA.  In a video released prior to the meeting, Greta Thunberg said: “We are still speeding in the wrong direction.”  On Friday, EU leaders reached a deal on a more ambitious target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, going from a 40% cut to a 55% cut from 1990 levels.  Brazil has announced it will aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, sparking anger among campaigners who say the pledge is meaningless and a deliberate distraction from Bolsonaro’s destruction of the Amazon rainforest.  Recognizing that by the time net-zero emissions is achieved the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will be too high for a sustainable climate, groups are now beginning to focus on climate restoration.

Tom Vilsack, who ran the Agriculture Department under President Barack Obama, will return to that role during the Biden administration with the goal of having the department take on a bigger role in fighting climate change.  New York State’s pension fund will drop many of its fossil fuel stocks in the next five years and sell its shares in other companies that contribute to global warming by 2040.  Since the start of 2016, banks have extended more than $1.6 trillion of loans and underwriting services to fossil-fuel companies planning and developing oil, gas, and coal projects.  Thousands of rural Californians have lost homeowners’ insurance in recent years because of rising wildfire claims, forcing them to seek alternative coverage that’s two or three times more expensive; now their rates are about to go even higher.

The Senate is continuing to struggle through negotiations on the American Energy Innovation Act, but still hopes to pass it this year.  Many U.S. states are on track to miss their targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  Jan Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both of whom need to win the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections for the Democrats to control the Senate, have platforms to address climate change.  The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-invest effort aimed at reducing car and truck emissions, has support from some 70% of voters in member states, which include Virginia.  Virginia’s Clean Economy Act will only equate to a 26% reduction in economywide CO2 emissions by 2050, leaving the state far from the cuts required to stave off the worst effects of climate change.  Fortunately, a more ambitious policy package that implements climate policies across the transportation, buildings, industrial, land, and agricultural sectors could put Virginia on a 1.5°C pathway and generate massive economic benefits.  Here is an article especially for the members of the Board of Supervisors and residents of Rockingham County, VA, who are concerned about solar farms displacing agriculture: it’s on agrivoltaics.

Climate and Climate Science

Last month was the hottest November on record, as the relentlessly warming climate proved too much even for any possible effects of cooler ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean caused by La Niña.  Australia’s hottest spring on record, which saw temperatures more than 2°C above average, would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change.  Last Friday I missed a post at Arctic News by Australian climate scientist Andrew Glikson about the migration of climate zones as a result of Earth’s warming and the impact that migration has.  The Atlantic hurricane season ended last week and Bloomberg Green did a recap with some very informative graphics.  So far in 2020, only three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota) weren’t part of a billion dollar weather disaster.  Over 75% of Indian districts, which are home to over 638 million people, are hotspots of extreme climate events such as cyclones, floods, droughts, heat, and cold waves.

The new emissions gap report published by the UN Environment Program detailed how the world remains woefully off target in its quest to slow the Earth’s warming.  Carbon Brief had a detailed summary of the report.  Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and industry are expected to drop by 7% in 2020, as economies around the world feel the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns.  At Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather projected that the world will likely exceed 1.5°C of warming sometime between 2030 and 2032 if emissions are not rapidly reduced.  On the other hand, a study in Nature Climate Change found that reducing global emissions in line with the PCA’s goals would have a clear impact on global temperatures within two decades.

The 2020 Arctic Report Card points to trends that, with each passing year, have grown more extreme and have far-reaching implications for people living far outside the region, including in the Lower 48 states.  According to the report, this year’s vast wildfires in far northeastern Russia were linked to broader changes in the warming Arctic.  All of this suggests that a “new normal” is settling over the Arctic.

California’s 2018 wildfire season cost the U.S. economy $148.5 billion in losses and killed more than 36 times the official death toll.  This year’s wildfires in California threatened the giant sequoias, Joshua trees, and coast redwoods like never before.  Wildfires alter the makeup of the soil, making it less likely to absorb rainwater, especially during a downpour, thereby making a burned area more prone to mudslides.  An analysis of satellite data from hundreds of California wildfires showed that human-caused blazes spread faster and kill more trees than ones ignited by lightning.

Biochar, a charcoal-like substance made from burning organic materials in a low or zero-oxygen environment, can improve the quality of soil, trap water, and hold CO2 in the earth for potentially hundreds, or even thousands, of years, but is expensive.  Warming temperatures and human actions, such as draining bogs and converting them for agriculture, threaten to turn the world’s peatlands from carbon reservoirs to carbon sources.


The plummeting price of renewable sources of electricity has made low-carbon power “cost-competitive” when compared to fossil fuels at a greater speed than once thought possible.  The Rhodium Group estimates that industry will overtake transportation as the largest source of U.S. emissions sometime in the middle of this decade.

Royal Dutch Shell has been hit by the departure of several clean energy executives amid a split over how far and fast the company should shift towards greener fuels.  Exxon Mobil is at a crossroads as demand for oil and gas falls and world leaders and businesses pledge to fight climate change.  The amount of natural gas released or burned at oil-and-gas wells reached a record high in 2019 due to growth in Texas and North Dakota.  The Gulf of Mexico is littered with tens of thousands of abandoned wells, and toothless regulation leaves greenhouse gas emissions unchecked.

QuantumScape has unveiled its solid-state EV battery that has an energy density exceeding 400 Whr/kg and the capability to achieve a 15-minute charge to 80% capacity.  UK firm Gridserve’s first “Electric Forecourt” launched Monday, and with it, we get a bricks-and-mortar view of how EV battery charging could look and feel in the future.  Experts agree that EVs can support a more reliable, resilient, and affordable grid.  Policymakers are scrambling to secure critical minerals to develop cleaner energy.  The Guardian provided a “long read” about the impact of lithium exploration, mining, and processing.

Seven companies launched a coalition with the aim of deploying 25 GW of renewables-based hydrogen production capacity by 2026, while cutting the cost in half.  Snam and Linde have struck a deal for European green hydrogen projects development.  Eni and Enel have partnered to install two pilot-scale electrolyzers near two Eni refineries and will use renewable energy to produce the hydrogen.  Yara has announced plans for a 500,000 metric ton per year green ammonia project in Norway to produce emission-free shipping fuels and fertilizer.  The recent deluge of stories in the media that tout hydrogen as a climate solution and clean form of energy can be linked in part to FTI Consulting — an oil and gas industry public relations firms.

California could need up to 11 GW of energy storage by 2030, and 45 to 55 GW by 2045.  Swedish startup Azelio’s Thermal Energy Storage technology stores energy as heat in a phase change material made of an aluminum alloy heated to 600°C, which is then converted to electricity using a Stirling engine.


Two documentaries, one available on Amazon Prime and the other on Netflix, raise questions about our food system, only from different perspectives and with different priorities.  As reviewer Maddie Oatman wrote: “They make for a useful pair, with Gather showing what’s hiding in the white spaces of Kiss the Ground.”  On the subject of food, at Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell provided some recent articles on good eats for the holidays.  In China, where any hint of protest is viewed with suspicion, one teenager is trying to draw attention to the dangers human development poses to the world.  With his latest novel, Stillicide, Cynan Jones tells yet another powerful story, this one set in a climate-changed future where water has been commodified; Amy Brady interviewed Jones about the book.  Grist provided 21 predictions for 2021.

Closing Thought

Opportunity” through clean energy initiatives may be a key to bridging the divide and getting more engagement for climate action.

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.