Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/12/2021

Politics and Policy

The White House convened cabinet secretaries and the acting heads of 21 federal agencies to begin fulfilling President Joe Biden’s promise to mobilize the federal government to confront climate change.  Some think that Biden wants to rethink the country’s economic posture: seeking to promote certain sectors so as not to cede them to Europe and Asia.  Gina McCarthy said in an interview that President Biden is likely to issue more executive orders on climate change.  At the Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin and colleagues updated their report tracking President Biden’s environmental actions and Dino Grandoni looked ahead to coming climate legislation.  Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee voted 14-6 to advance to the full Senate the nomination of Michael Regan to lead the EPA.  The Biden administration indicated that it would look for its own solution to limit power plant CO2 emissions rather than reuse the Clean Power Plan from the Obama administration.  Frustration among Republicans with Biden’s climate policies has coalesced around Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM).

Nine years after Michael Mann filed a defamation lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review, he wants the court to affirm the truth of his science.  Laura Tenenbaum, who was the senior science editor for NASA’s Global Climate Change website and witnessed firsthand the impact of science suppression during the Trump administration, wrote about her experiences.  Lawyers for the 21 children and young adults in Juliana v. United States announced plans to file a Supreme Court petition after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to revive their claims that the federal government has violated their constitutional right to a stable climate system.  The chairman of FERC said that the panel will create a senior position on environmental justice.  Following a request from the Biden administration, the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., paused litigation on whether California can set its own vehicle emissions standards.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee put forward a sweeping green energy bill.  Wyoming is waking up to the possibility that the use of fossil fuels must come to an end, causing consternation about the future funding of local and state government.  Bill McKibben made the case for not building any new fossil fuel infrastructure.  A battle is underway in Arizona about who has authority to establish the types of electricity generation that utilities in the state may use.  On a bipartisan 67-32 vote, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would allow renewable energy firms to compete with utilities to supply customers with clean power.  Democrats plan to go through the Securities and Exchange Commission to impose financial disclosure rules on climate risk that would force thousands of businesses to divulge information to investors, although pushback is likely.  The Federal Reserve is beginning to incorporate the impacts of climate change into its regulatory writ.

Canada sees hydropower exports as an opportunity in Biden’s push to achieve a carbon-free US electrical grid by 2035.  China will force regional grid firms to buy at least 40% of their power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 to meet the country’s climate targets.  Big-emitting Australian businesses that export to Europe could soon face carbon levies of more than $70 a metric ton unless the federal government imposes emissions reduction policies.  A new study came to the unsettling conclusion that many adaptation projects can make people more, rather than less, vulnerable to climate change.  The International Energy Agency has projected that even though India’s CO2 emissions are expected to grow by 50% during the next 20 years, a combination of solar, hydrogen, and carbon capture could get its energy sector to net-zero emissions by the mid-2060s.  The pledges countries made to reduce emissions as part of the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) are woefully inadequate, and the world must nearly double its greenhouse gas-cutting goals to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

On Sunday February 7, a sudden flood devastated a Himalayan valley in the Indian province of Uttarakhand.  While news reports said that collapse of a glacier into a glacial lake was the cause, subsequent analysis suggested that a landslide actually was to blame.  As the world warms and glaciers melt, the collapse of debris dams holding back glacial lakes poses a severe risk for those downstream.

Pollution from the burning of fossil fuels causes one in five premature deaths globally, suggesting the health impacts may be far higher than previously thought.  The North American pollen season is now starting 20 days earlier and lasting eight days longer than in 1990; climate change is responsible for roughly half of the change.

Northern California remains stuck in one of the worst two-year rainfall deficits seen since the 1849 Gold Rush, with current precipitation at only 30% to 70% of what the state would expect during a normal year.  Heating of the oceans has led young great white sharks to move 370 miles northwards off the coast of California since 2014, with a dramatic rise in the number of sea otters killed by them.

After being banned in 2010, an unexpected and persistent increase in global atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 (which is 7,000 times more effective at warming the planet than CO2) was detected in 2018.  An investigation concluded that roughly half of the observed increase resulted from its illegal production in Eastern China, leading the Chinese government to crack down.  Two businessmen argued that the Senate should ratify an amendment to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which sets targets for the global phase-down of HFCs.

Energy

Renewable sources’ share of the national electricity generation mix is set to double from 21% in 2020 to 42% in 2050.  The integration of wind, solar, and storage into the US grid systems will bring many changes and Jeff St. John provided a glimpse of them in his report on last week’s Energy Storage Association policy forum.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory launched its “Storage Futures Study” to create a framework for a “dramatic increase in deployment” and “answer the big questions around the role of storage in our future grid.”

Many challenges face auto companies, both old and new, in moving to a world of EVs.  Dan Gearino recounted how Norway became the world leader in EV sales as a percent of new vehicles sold.  Global sales of zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles will outstrip those of vehicles with internal combustion engines for the first time in 2047, although global oil demand will fall by just under a quarter by 2050 due to the slow phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles.  Amazon’s new electric delivery vans will hit the road in 15 more cities starting this year.  Toyota will roll out two new battery-electric vehicles and one plug-in gas-electric hybrid in the US this year.  A Spanish company will build a plant in Chattanooga, TN, to make axle components for VW’s electric car production in the same city.

The US has fallen behind Asia and Europe in the race to produce the high-tech batteries that power electric cars and store solar and wind energy.  The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that SK Innovation (SKI) was making lithium-ion batteries with trade secrets stolen from LG Chem and restricted SKI from importing certain batteries and components for the next 10 years.  Microvast, which builds rapid-charging lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, will renovate and expand a facility in Clarksville, TN.

Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas announced the launch of its new offshore wind turbine, the V236-15.0MW, which displaces GE’s 14MW Haliade-X as the world’s largest offshore wind turbine.  Europe invested $31.9 billion in new offshore wind farms in 2020, providing 7.1 GW of new capacity.  South Korea unveiled a $43.2 billion plan to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm by 2030.  One of Europe’s most abundant bats may be attracted to wind turbines and this could be why so many are found dead around the continent’s wind farms.

Several companies are developing the capability to produce “turquoise” hydrogen, i.e., hydrogen made from natural gas by pyrolysis, which converts the carbon in the gas to solid elemental carbon while freeing the hydrogen as a gas.  Global Energy Ventures (GEV) and Ballard Power Systems have signed a memorandum of understanding in which Ballard will design and develop a hydrogen fuel cell system for GEV’s compressed hydrogen shipping vessel.

The oil and gas industry has been the worst-performing sector on Wall Street for a decade; in 2020 it had the worst performance of any sector going back to before the Great Depression.  Royal Dutch Shell outlined the details of its near-term and long-term plans to transition to cleaner energy, saying its oil production and total carbon emissions have already peaked.  Conversely, the world’s state-owned oil companies are poised to invest about $1.9 trillion during the next decade in projects that would destroy any prospect of meeting the goals of the PCA.

Potpourri

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has found that Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by a ratio of more than 5 to 1 (72% versus 13%).  Last week I included an interview in Rolling Stone with Elizabeth Kolbert about her new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future; this week, Ezra Klein interviewed her on his podcast, with a focus on solar geoengineering, while Shannon Osaka at Grist focused on human’s inclination to mess with nature.  Astrophysics professor Adam Franks reviewed the book for NPR.  Amy Brady interviewed Julie Carrick Dalton about her debut novel, Waiting for the Night Song, a mystery in which climate change is almost like a character.  Lisa Colton organized a virtual “Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest” and over 5500 people showed up.  Bill McKibben wrote of Connor DeVane who hiked the Continental Divide Trail and talked with people working on climate action, stating: “The resulting movie is free to stream online, and lovely.”  Yale Climate Connections compiled a list of five climate-related documentaries from the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

Closing Thought

After 16 years of working for ExxonMobil, Dar-Lon Chang said the company would not address climate change, so he quit the sector for good, and began a new low-carbon life.

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.