Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/12/2021

Politics and Policy

A coalition of environmental groups has urged the US to commit to slashing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030.  On the other hand, a new analysis determined that the US must slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 57% to 63% below 2005 levels by 2030 to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.  The EU and the US need to align to tackle climate change, John Kerry said in Brussels.  The Pentagon announced the creation of a working group to respond to President Joe Biden’s executive orders addressing the climate crisis.  Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the “Methane Emissions Reduction Act,” which directs the Treasury to assess a fee on methane emissions, while Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a bill to incentivize companies to weatherize the power grid.  With a vote of 66-34, the Senate confirmed Michael Regan as the next EPA administrator, while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 20-0 to advance the nomination of David Turk to become deputy Energy secretary.  Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said the US needs to sustainably boost domestic production of the minerals used to make electric vehicles (EVs).  She also said the administration is aggressively pursuing transportation electrification in part to prevent China from cornering the $23 trillion market in carbon-reducing technologies.  Proposals to form a national clean electricity standard have become a central focus of climate change legislation in the new Congress, with support from both parties.  For almost all cars on the road to be electric by 2050, EV sales must ramp up to 100% by 2035 and new programs should be adopted to get gasoline and diesel vehicles off the road.  GM President Mark Reuss said the government should extend investment tax credits for EV manufacturing and supply chains, and expand consumer incentives for EV purchases.  The Washington Post updated its tracking of Biden’s environmental actions.

Twelve states are suing the Biden administration for trying to establish a new value for the “social cost” of greenhouse gases to use in agency rulemaking.  After a three-member panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that federal judges lacked the power to order a climate recovery plan, as petitioned by the young people in Juliana v. United States, the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court to amend their suit.  In 2006, Judge Gladys Kessler wrote in her opinion in the trial against tobacco companies, “Over the course of more than 50 years, Defendants lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public.”  Will the same thing be written about the oil companies?  More than 100 cities, counties, and states around the country have enacted ordinances restricting renewable energy projects.

As major corporations seek carbon credits to offset emissions, critics are questioning the value of “legacy” credits, arguing that the credit system needs to be reformed so that so it delivers actual carbon reductions.  Jonathan Foley, the executive director of Project Drawdown, laid out the overlapping stages of technological progress required to meet climate goals.  Among the many goals in Biden’s climate change agenda, protecting 30% of US lands and ocean territories by 2030 is among the most ambitious and among the most complex, as well as the most likely to face substantial political obstacles.  The controversy over a proposed lithium mine near Thacker Pass, NV, highlights a big challenge the Biden administration must grapple with to transition the US economy to carbon-free energy sources: How to acquire the needed mineral resources without sacrificing biodiversity or the health of communities living near mining projects.  Republican state legislators in Florida announced a suite of measures intended to save the state from rising seas, but they don’t tackle the root cause of the problem.  A group of 17 House Democrats introduced legislation to provide $6 billion to the US Postal Service to buy additional electric delivery vehicles.  Ivy Main looked back at the accomplishments on climate and clean energy by the Virginia GA this year.

Governments around the world are failing to match their rhetoric with action in rescuing their economies from the COVID-19 pandemic, with only about 18% of the funding being considered green.  Climate Home News focused on nine countries that are missing their chance at a green recovery.  A nine-country coalition led by the Netherlands and Denmark called on the European Commission to decide on a phaseout date for the internal combustion engine, drawing a withering response from Germany.

Climate and Climate Science

If governments fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial era, areas in the tropical band that stretches either side of the equator risk changing into a new environment that will hit “the limit of human adaptation.”  Humans have degraded or destroyed roughly two-thirds of the world’s original tropical rainforest cover, raising alarm that a key natural buffer against climate change is quickly vanishing.  The first-ever study to examine all of the gases that affect how the Amazon works — not just CO2 — suggests that the forest is worsening climate change. 

The changing climate is raising concerns about how the saguaro cactus will survive the 21st century in an environment that’s hot and getting hotter, dry and getting drier.  If emissions continue unchecked, summers in the Northern Hemisphere could last nearly six months by 2100, with significant impacts on agriculture, the environment, human health, and the timing of species’ activities such as breeding, feeding, and migration.

A new study suggests that, contrary to previous research, climate change will not cause global drylands to expand.  However, the climate crisis is altering the flow of rivers across the world, with increasing river flows in some regions, such as northern Europe, and decreasing river flows in others, such as southern Europe, southern Australia, and parts of southern Asia.

The downpours that triggered flooding that destroyed homes and bridges in Hawaii and set off mass evacuations on multiple islands this week are an example of the more intense rainstorms officials and climate scientists say are occurring more frequently as the planet warms.  Because of land subsidence due to a number of factors, including groundwater pumping, coastal communities are experiencing an effective sea level rise four times worse than global sea level rise.


Millions of Americans face the specter of prolonged power outages under the current power grid.  Climate change will have “far-reaching” impacts on the electric grid that could cost billions of dollars.  Investor-owned utilities face a $500 billion capital investment gap to build out resilience efforts and effectively address risks from climate change.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed its environmental review for an 800 MW windfarm 12 nautical miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Vineyard Wind, and said that its preferred alternative would allow up to 84 turbines to be installed in 100 of the 106 proposed blocks for the facility.  China built more new windfarm capacity in 2020 than the whole world combined in 2019.

Solar hydrogen production through a photoelectrochemical water-splitting reaction is an attractive alternative to water electrolysis for green hydrogen production because of its potential for higher conversion efficiency and lower cost.  Its adoption has been hampered by the difficulty of separating the hydrogen from the other gases, but now the Japanese have developed a membrane that may solve the problem.  A Japanese-Australian venture has begun producing hydrogen from brown coal in a pilot project that aims to show that liquefied hydrogen can be produced commercially and exported safely overseas.  If the project goes commercial, the CO2 produced in the process would be injected underground off the coast.  Hyundai Motor Group has broken ground at its Guangzhou, China, fuel cell system plant, the first time the company has constructed this type of facility outside of South Korea.

FedEx has promised to be carbon-neutral by 2040 and has pledged an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its fleet of more than 180,000 vehicles.  Full EVs are expected to account for more than 70% of Volkswagen’s total European vehicle sales by 2030, compared with a previous target of 35%.  While governments and automakers worldwide are making bold pledges to transition to electric-only vehicles, Japanese car companies and regulators are hedging their bets.  Honda has plans to sell two all-electric SUVs in the US for the 2024 model year, and it soon will offer hybrid gas-electric versions of its top-selling models.  LG Energy Solution says it will invest more than $4.5 billion in its US battery production business by 2025 as automakers ramp up production of EVs.

A new study suggests that changes in natural gas markets since the Mountain Valley Pipeline was conceived have undercut the economic case for it.  Analysts have calculated that abandoned oil and gas wells cover more than 2 million acres of the US and determined that if that land is restored, it could deliver billions of dollars in benefit for a fraction of the cost of the restoration.

Global banking giants and investment firms are continuing to bankroll a major driver of the climate crisis: food and farming corporations that are responsible for cutting down vast carbon-storing forests and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.  “Food systems” were responsible for 34% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.


Amy Brady interviewed poet Kathryn Smith about her latest collection, Self-Portrait with Cephalopod, and why she decided to write about climate change.  Jedediah Britton-Purdy reviewed Vaclav Smil’s new book Grand Transitions: How the Modern World Was Made.  During 2020, the overall climate change coverage on corporate broadcast TV nightly news and Sunday shows plummeted by 53% compared to 2019.  The University of Virginia’s Religion, Race & Democracy Lab has produced a publicly available video entitled “God $ Green: An Unholy Alliance”, which addresses decades of what it calls “religious polarization, political propaganda, corporate deal-making, and environmental injustice based on systemic racism.”  Soleil Santana took a long look at the history of solar energy.  Fix recently launched a cli-fi writing contest, so Grist interviewed the judges about their approaches to climate fiction.

Closing Thought

Garner hope from the innovations happening in places like Seattle-based solar start-up BlueDot Photonics.

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.