Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/15/2021

I’m sorry, but this Roundup is incomplete.  Just as I was in the final stages of working on the document, I did something that caused me to lose the previous two hours of work and I was unable to recover the document, even though I am a compulsive “saver”.  As a result, there are no articles from early in the week.

Politics and Policy

President-Elect Joe Biden added more than a half-dozen climate staffers to his White House team on Thursday, drawing from the ranks of green groups, environmental justice advocates, and former Democratic administration officials.  Dino Grandoni provided background on several of them.  At The Conversation, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr., now Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, provided a comprehensive analysis of how Biden proposes to attack the climate crisis.  At Inside Climate News, reporter Marianne Lavelle wrote of the opportunities provided on climate legislation by the 50-50 split in the Senate.  One outcome of that split will be the elevation of the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to the chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a reality that will influence what can be accomplished on the climate.

Two controversial Trump officials, David Legates and Ryan Maue, have been dismissed from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) after they published papers that claimed to be from the OSTP and promoted skepticism about climate change and its impacts.  On Wednesday the EPA unveiled a climate rule that will effectively prohibit the future regulation of greenhouse gases from any stationary source other than power plants.  The Trump administration agreed on Tuesday to an auto industry request to delay the start of dramatically higher penalties for companies that fail to meet fuel efficiency requirements.  In a speech on Wednesday, the head of the American Petroleum Institute said that the oil and gas industry was prepared to fight back against policies that Biden promised as a candidate, including a halt to new drilling on public lands and the elimination of billions of dollars in industry tax breaks.

A coalition of progressive groups, called the Green New Deal Network, is organizing a sweeping network to mobilize around climate change, racial justice, and environmental justice; it will invest in partner organizations in 20 key states to mobilize grassroots power to pressure elected officials to support the groups’ goals.  Because of the mob attack on the Capitol Building last week, climate activists are reflecting on what climate advocacy will look like in the future.  The organization that oversees building energy code updates is taking steps that would sideline thousands of public sector members from voting on future updates, a move that critics charge would give outsized influence to the National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups and make it more difficult to incorporate stricter efficiency requirements into future model energy codes.  A study by MIT researchers concluded that the US can fully decarbonize its power sector through the use of existing technologies and that tackling decarbonization through a federal policy framework, rather than individual states setting clean energy goals, can significantly lower the costs.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the largest-ever award of offshore wind contracts by a US state on Wednesday as part of a broader plan to scale up renewable power over the next decade.

China will promote large-scale carbon capture projects and track methane emissions from coal, oil, and gas extraction, as part of its contribution to global efforts to limit temperature rises, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.  Poland’s PGG, one of Europe’s biggest producers of coal, does not expect to accelerate its timetable for closing its coal mines by 2049, despite tougher EU climate targets agreed to in December, the state-owned company’s boss said on Wednesday.  The UN Environment Program’s fifth Adaptation Gap Report warned that while the vast majority of nations have bolstered their plans for adapting to the effects of global warming, there remains a vast funding gap for developing countries.  In updated climate plans submitted to the UN, poor and island states, whose total CO2 emissions are negligible, have called on rich nations to provide more funding to help them recover from climate-related disasters such as storms, flooding, and drought.

Climate and Climate Science

According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service in Europe, 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record.  A notable difference between the years is that 2016 experienced a strong El Niño, whereas the second half of 2020 experienced La Niña conditions.  NASA agreed, while NOAA, Berkeley Earth, and Britain’s Met Office said 2020 fell shy by a mere 0.02-0.04°F.  Jeff Masters compiled lists of various records for the year, while Zeke Hausfather provided a comprehensive look at a broad array of climate data.  Research published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences found that the world’s oceans contain more heat than at any time in recorded history.

Increased precipitation resulting partially from climate change has caused an additional $2.5 billion a year in US flood damage, according to a new study that pinpoints the effect of changing weather on the cost of natural disasters.  A new study published in Science Advances found that if temperatures continue to rise, terrestrial ecosystems will approach a “temperature tipping point”, beyond which they could release more CO2 to the atmosphere than they take up.

US greenhouse gas emissions fell 10.3% in 2020, the largest drop in emissions in the post-World War II era, as the coronavirus crippled the economy, according to a report released Tuesday by the Rhodium Group.

In a “Perspective” article in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science, 17 scientists warned that people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises.  The Colorado River Basin is transitioning to a more arid climate, challenging longstanding practices of water sharing in it.  A study by WWF examined 24 “deforestation fronts” across 29 countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa and found that 166,000 square miles of forest and habitat were destroyed between 2004 and 2017.

A study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that the young of egg-laying sharks emerge into the world small, exhausted, and undernourished when incubated at elevated ocean temperatures.  Research, published in Environmental Research Letters, suggested that the negative impacts of climate change on child malnourishment could outweigh the positive effects of economic development in low- and middle-income countries.


A new report from Grid Strategies pointed out that because of FERC Order 2003, attempts to decarbonize the US electricity system may be stymied by a lack of transmission to carry wind and solar power from where it’s most cheaply generated to where it’s most needed.  Connecticut energy officials have concluded that eliminating CO2 emissions from their electricity supply by 2040 is feasible and affordable, but will require changes by grid operator ISO New England.

The US Energy Information Administration has projected that wind and solar will provide 70% of new power plant capacity built this year, while natural gas will only account for 16%.  On Wednesday, the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service and the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy launched an online information dashboard to help track Virginia’s progress toward its clean energy goals.

United Airlines will become a partner in 1PointFive, a joint venture designed to finance and deploy a large-scale direct air capture plant using technology created by Carbon Engineering.  At Energy Monitor, Sonja van Renssen examined the proposition that CO2 removal will be necessary to meet temperature goals and reviewed the role of direct air capture in doing so.  Meanwhile, at Bloomberg Green, Kate Mackenzie argued that too many companies are counting on carbon capture to reach net zero emissions.

The South Korean company SK Group has announced a $1.5 billion investment in the American hydrogen fuel cell maker, Plug Power, with the intent of providing hydrogen fuel cell systems, electrolyzers, and fueling stations in South Korea, as well as other parts of Asia.  Siemens Gamesa and Siemens Energy are developing a commercial offshore wind turbine that integrates hydrogen production via electrolysis into the turbine, marking a breakthrough for the mass production of green hydrogen.

General Motors is launching a new subsidiary, BrightDrop, that will deliver “an ecosystem” of products and services to speed up the shipping and delivery process, including an all-electric delivery van, for which Fed-Ex has placed a large order.


Carbon Brief provided its annual assessment of the scientific papers related to climate change that were most featured in the media.  Book reviewer Amy Brady called Felicia Luna Lemus’s Particulate Matter “…a slim, exquisitely crafted memoir about living in California during 2020’s record-setting wildfire season and how the state’s atrocious air quality made her spouse very sick.”  Ben Deacon of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had a very interesting photo-essay about the Arctic, the changes that are occurring there as a result of Earth’s warming, and the people studying them.  National Geographic explored things that might be done to reduce the impacts of flying on the climate.  If you live in Virginia and have been frustrated in your attempts to buy an EV or plug-in hybrid, then you might want to read this article

Closing Thought

Katharine Hayhoe, along with five fellow climate scientists who are also mothers, has teamed up with Potential Energy, a nonprofit marketing firm, to launch Science Moms, a $10 million campaign to educate and empower mothers to do something about climate change.

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.