Politics and Policy
President Joe Biden proposed $14 billion in spending on initiatives to fight climate change in his 2022 budget. More than 300 businesses and investors called on the Biden administration to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. Getting there is a challenging goal and a new series of briefs by RMI provides insights into how to achieve it. A panel of international energy company executives said that the move to renewable energy is unstoppable, although investments in nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, energy storage, and transmission will also be required. Environmentalists are debating how carbon offsets should fit into the goal of reaching “net-zero” emissions by 2050. The editorial board of The Washington Post called on Biden to seek a carbon tax. Executives from oil companies, utilities, and some of the world’s biggest companies met virtually with senators and staff to push a carbon-fee-and-dividend proposal, although many environmental groups remain skeptical of the regulatory trade-offs involved. Meanwhile, 375 state and local elected officials signed a letter calling for an outright ban on new federal permits for fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure. However, in an essay examining our future, Jeff Goodell wrote: “Fossil fuels are emblematic of a culture, a way of life, a political hierarchy, and an empire of wealth that will not go quietly into the night.” The Interior Department has become the first big battlefield in the brewing fight over Biden’s climate change agenda. The Washington State legislature has passed a bill that sets a target for all model-year-2030 passenger vehicles to be electric.
The Senate confirmed Brenda Mallory to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Top Senate Democrats signaled they may have no choice but to bypass Republicans in order to advance President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. Two senators introduced a bipartisan bill to provide billions of dollars to plug oil and gas wells to provide jobs and cut methane emissions. A coalition of US manufacturers and environmental organizations is calling on the government to quickly phase out the worst climate super-polluting chemicals used in air conditioners, refrigerators, etc. Proposals to legislatively establish a clean electricity standard are getting attention from lobbyists in both the energy and advocacy sectors.
JPMorgan Chase said it will commit more than $2.5 trillion over the next decade toward long-term solutions that tackle climate change and contribute to sustainable development. The Ohio River Valley Institute and ReImagine Appalachia released new reports detailing how Appalachian communities can create more than 30,000 new jobs by reclaiming and remediating abandoned coal mines and oil and gas wells. Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) and house colleagues plan to introduce the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which would eliminate biases in our financial system that impede efforts to significantly address climate change.
The Biden administration is nearing agreements with Japan, South Korea, and Canada to bolster carbon emission reduction targets ahead of the Earth Day summit, but similar deals with China, India, and Brazil remain elusive. Climate envoy John Kerry met in Shanghai with his Chinese counterpart to press Beijing on reducing its carbon emissions, but in Beijing’s view, the US still has much ground to recover after walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA). Biden’s plan to give $1.2 billion to the Green Climate Fund is “not enough” to make up for missed US payments, campaigners have said. A majority of residents of European cities support a Europe-wide phaseout of internal combustion engine car sales from 2030 to reduce planet-warming emissions. French MPs have voted to suspend domestic airline flights on routes that can be travelled by direct train in less than 2.5 hours. Canada’s opposition Conservative Party dropped its resistance to carbon pricing and adopted a fee on emissions and fuels as part of its own climate plan. A carbon price that starts low and rises steadily could help Asian countries reach their targets under the PCA over the next decade, according to the International Monetary Fund. Around 40% of “committed emissions” from coal plants that have been built or proposed in Asia since 2015 could be attributed to the Western banks that financed them — with most of the remainder coming from Chinese banks.
Climate and Climate Science
An assertion by the Climate Council of Australia that the global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C by the 2030s has been challenged by others in the scientific community. At NPR, Rebecca Hersher explained why the atmosphere will continue to heat Earth, even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow. Researchers have found that melting land-based Northern Hemisphere ice, which increased global sea levels, was linked to retreat of the Southern Hemisphere’s Antarctic ice sheet.
More than one-third of the claims payments made last year by the National Flood Insurance Program were for properties located outside areas that FEMA considers at the highest risk of flooding. Polling and analysis released last week by real estate site Redfin found that a surprisingly high number of Americans weighed climate risks into their decisions about whether or not to move. Across the globe, the wealthiest 10% of people accounted for nearly half of the growth in CO2 emissions associated with consumption habits from 1990 to 2015 — with the richest 5% responsible for more than a third.
Summer monsoon rainfall in India could increase by 5% for every 1°C increase in global temperatures, putting millions at greater risk of flooding and crop failure. As Uganda’s mountain ice caps melt, ethnic groups are losing the traditional belief systems that have sustained them for thousands of years. In western Canada and the US Upper Midwest, continuing drought has farmers extremely concerned as they approach planting time. When the black spruce forests that recently burned in interior Alaska began regrowing, aspen and birch trees were mixed in with the spruce and were becoming the dominant species.
California, NASA, satellite company Planet, and others — with the backing of billionaire Michael Bloomberg — will launch their first two satellites in 2023 as part of a $100 million effort to pinpoint large emissions of methane from individual sources like power plants and oil refineries.
New Community Project’s Climate Farm aims to be an agricultural research center for carbon farming methods suitable to Rockingham County, VA. In California, incorporating agricultural wastes and by-products into cows’ diets is a key component in the dairy industry’s efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
A new kind of power plant using an Allam cycle natural gas turbine, which doesn’t add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, will be built in the US, potentially providing a way for utilities to keep burning natural gas without contributing to global warming. Another new idea for using natural gas is a fuel cell that can be added to a fossil fuel power plant to capture the CO2 from it while producing additional electricity.
China must shut down nearly 600 of its coal-fired power plants — representing 364GW of capacity — in the next 10 years, replacing them with renewable electricity generation, to meet its goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060. China hopes to build eight nuclear power plants each year between 2021 and 2025.
For those who want to do a deep dive into energy storage, Canary Media has started a new series of articles by David Roberts, beginning with why lithium-ion batteries are so important and how they work. It was followed by an article on long-duration storage. Korean battery companies SK Innovation and LG Chem reached an agreement that will allow the former to continue developing its $2.6 billion lithium-ion battery factory in Georgia. Ultium Cells, a joint venture between LG Chem and GM, has picked a site in Tennessee for its second EV battery plant. Hyundai’s upcoming Ioniq 5 electric vehicle (EV) will feature bidirectional charging, which allows its owner to use the vehicle’s battery to power just about anything that can plug into a wall. QuantumScape is working to produce a semi-solid-state battery that is denser, safer, and faster-charging than today’s lithium-ion batteries; Volkswagen is planning to use it in its new EVs. Lithium-ion battery recycling specialist Li-Cycle will build its third facility in Arizona.
Gas network operators from 11 countries have joined the European hydrogen backbone initiative, bringing the total network to almost 25,000 miles connecting 21 countries, offering a “technically and economically plausible” way of building a pure hydrogen network. Canada has launched a Hydrogen Strategy Steering Committee. China’s largest solar-power-based hydrogen production and energy storage project has been commissioned and put into operation in Ningxia Province. In Washington State, the Douglas County Public Utility District is making a $20 million investment in an electrolysis system to produce green hydrogen using the excess electricity produced by their Wells Dam hydroelectric facility.
On Thursday, researchers at GridLab, Energy Innovation, and the University of California, Berkeley released a report that outlines the challenges and rewards of having all new cars and trucks sold in the US be powered by electricity by 2035. DOE unveiled a $100 million funding opportunity, dubbed SuperTruck 3, to enlist truck makers, battery and drivetrain manufacturers, and technology developers in putting electric and fuel-cell-powered trucks to real-world tests over the next four years.
The latest craze in the art world is digital collectibles known as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, which have a huge carbon footprint. Elizabeth McGowan of Energy News Network interviewed Liza Myers Borches, president and CEO of Carter Myers Automotive, about EVs in Virginia. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication announced the second cohort of their Public Voices Fellows on the Climate Crisis. John Topping, whose work to warn the world of the risks of climate change stretched back to the 1980s and who helped spur the international effort to limit warming, died on March 9. Google Earth launched a time-lapse feature that lets users wind back the clock and see how the world has changed over several decades. Maeve Brennan wrote about the health co-benefits of fighting climate change. Scientific American has agreed with major news outlets worldwide to start using the term “climate emergency” in its coverage of climate change. The whitest-ever paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space.
Sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas, author of, Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World, said: “… we are not going to be able to save all the things we love.” Instead, we have to “swim through that ocean of grief … and recognize that we still have time to act, and salvage many of the things we care about.” Staff writer David Montgomery had an extended piece in The Washington Post Magazine entitled: “The Search for Environmental Hope.”
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.