Politics and Policy
In his first joint address to Congress, President Joe Biden outlined a transformative vision, with climate policy driving both domestic and international affairs. An administration official said that the 2020 decade is the “decisive decade” to take meaningful climate change action, but the administration is receiving criticism because it has not released details about how it determined that its goals were achievable. The Department of Energy (DOE) is offering up to $8.25 billion in loans for companies to improve resilience and expand transmission capacity across the power grid. A group of transmission developers and advocates unveiled a report detailing how 22 existing transmission projects could enable 50% growth in US wind and solar power generation capacity. The Department of Transportation (DOT) will help speed the siting and permitting of transmission projects that use public highways and other transportation rights-of-way. E&E News provided more details on the DOE and DOT initiatives. The administration highlighted more than a dozen programs with $41.9 billion in federal grant funding available now for electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure buildout.
A report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers said that the US has fallen behind its biggest global competitors in efforts to develop technologies that could reduce the effects of climate change. Proposals in Biden’s infrastructure plan to expand renewable energy tax credits and to mandate clean energy and system modernization are the tools utilities need to meet the demand for clean energy. The White House hopes to capitalize on support from US utilities, unions, and green groups for a national clean energy mandate by backing efforts to require the US grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources by 2030. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is working on an alternative to the infrastructure plan that would cost roughly half as much but spend far more on roads and bridges. While discussing Biden’s pledge at last week’s Climate Summit, David Roberts wrote: “… history will judge Biden … by which policies and investments his administration and Democrats in Congress put in place, … .” Infrastructure and climate are linked issues that offer both economic and environmental returns. Biden’s bet on EVs is drawing opposition from Republicans who associate it with the Green New Deal, so that even GOP lawmakers who sense the inevitability of EVs are opposed, leaving some fearful that EVs could become entangled in the culture wars. An advocacy group representing auto suppliers urged Congress not to back a rapid phase-out of gas-powered vehicles. Virginia’s right-to-charge law bars homeowner and condominium associations from prohibiting installation of EV chargers in a resident’s designated parking space. South Dakota is joining a multi-state lawsuit aimed at stopping federal regulators from making decisions that factor in the social cost that carbon has on the environment.
Grist evaluated Biden’s energy and climate accomplishments during his first 100 days in office. The Senate voted to reinstate an Obama-era regulation designed to reduce methane emissions by using the Congressional Review Act to turn back a Trump methane rule enacted late last summer. The EPA announced that it will reinstate California’s authority to set more stringent climate requirements for cars and SUVs. Federal eminent domain policy currently favors natural gas projects over renewable energy ones, but some argue that the government needs to reconsider which projects serve the public good. High-voltage transmission lines buried along road and rail rights of way could carry renewable power across the US while avoiding siting and permitting roadblocks. According to a new analysis by CarbonPlan, California’s forest carbon offset rules allow inflated climate benefits to be claimed. If Governor Jay Inslee signs the bill as expected, Washington will become the second state, after California, with a comprehensive carbon cap-and-trade system.
The issue of whether burning wood pellets for energy is carbon neutral is back in focus because of the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. Germany’s highest court has ruled that the country’s climate change laws are insufficient and violate fundamental freedoms by putting the burden of curbing CO2 emissions on the young. Scientists have identified a 5.5-billion-ton gap between greenhouse gas emissions acknowledged each year by the world’s nations and the emissions calculated by independent models. Energy Monitor put the carbon-reduction commitments of the US, UK, and EU on an equal base so they could be compared. Poland’s government and unions signed an agreement with the coal mining industry to phase out coal production by 2049, while Chile will close half of its coal-fired power plants by 2025. Denmark is building an island that could ultimately supply 10 GW of renewable energy from offshore wind turbines.
Climate and Climate Science
Although climate scientists used to talk of a certain amount of warming as being “locked in” due to past CO2 emissions, they now understand that when CO2 emissions stop, Earth’s temperature will quickly stabilize; Carbon Brief explains why.
A warming climate does not pose one single risk, but rather multiple, interacting risks. In a guest post at Carbon Brief, the authors of a recent paper explain how the multiple facets of climate risk can be considered. Grist published a comprehensive article with great illustrations and graphics explaining seven climate tipping points.
Moving quickly to cut emissions of methane could slow Earth’s warming as much as 30%, new research has found. Furthermore, a UN report to be released next week says that a concerted effort could slash methane emissions by as much as 45% by 2030, helping to avoid nearly 0.3°C of warming as early as the 2040s.
No-till farming could slash greenhouse gas emissions from crop production by nearly a third and increase the amount of carbon soils can store. Joanne Chory and the Harnessing Plants Initiative strive to modify grain crops to increase the amount of carbon they store in their root systems. Colombia is the second-largest producer of Arabica coffee, but changing climate, soil, and precipitation patterns are altering the harvest volume, production techniques, and the taste of coffee.
Glacier melt across the world (exclusive of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets) has accelerated over the past two decades, with the resulting meltwater accounting for 21% of global sea level rise over the same period. This massive melting has caused marked shifts in the Earth’s axis of rotation since the 1990s. The rapid loss of glacial ice poses a particularly high risk in developing regions where millions depend on glaciers for drinking water. If total collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to occur, the resultant sea level rise (over a long period of time) would likely be around 30% greater (14.1 ft rather than 10.8 ft) than previously expected because of the rebound of the rock underlying the ice sheet.
In his weekly column at The New Yorker, Bill McKibben quoted from a new report by Carbon Tracker Initiative: “The land required for solar panels alone to provide all global energy is 450,000 km2, 0.3% of the global land area of 149 million km2. That is less than the land required for fossil fuels today, which in the US alone is 126,000 km2, 1.3% of the country.” A growing body of data indicates that 2030, not 2050, should be the deadline for US utilities to close all coal-fired power plants and that the time to stop building new natural-gas-fired power plants is now.
Decarbonizing energy and other industries globally using hydrogen will require investment of almost $15 trillion between now and 2050. Toyota and Chevron will work on public policies supporting hydrogen supplies for light- and heavy-duty fuel cell EVs, for hydrogen infrastructure, and for further development in hydrogen transportation and storage. Many shipping industry figures are pinning their hopes on blue or green hydrogen to help steer the industry away from bunker fuel, but others say it is not up to the job. Another industry that would benefit from the availability of blue or green hydrogen is steel production, which currently has very high CO2 emissions.
A report by the International Energy Agency has found that the number of electric cars, vans, trucks, and buses on the world’s roads is on course to increase from 11 million vehicles today to 145 million in 2030. According to Honda, by 2030 it expects 40% of the vehicles it sells to be battery or fuel cell EVs; by 2035, 80%; and by 2040, 100%. Saying that it wants to control the key technology for EVs, Ford plans to open a battery development center by the end of next year.
According to the CEO of TVA, recently shut coal-fired power plants could serve as sites for a new generation of small modular nuclear reactors because of their existing water resources and power grid connections. He also said that TVA is preparing to phase out the last of its aging fleet of coal-fired power plants by 2035 and turn to more natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy sources. Duke Energy Corp said that it plans to triple its renewable power output to 23% by 2030 as it continues to retire coal-fired plants; combined with its six nuclear plants, Duke said its carbon-free energy will be around 53% in 2030.
John F. Kennedy once said, “The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not … .” Grist reporter Derrick Jackson wrote, “The same is true of offshore wind.” The Danish wind power firm Ørsted has found that the rocks placed at the base of offshore wind turbine foundations to prevent erosion of the seabed are wearing down the protection system of the undersea transmission cables, which could cause the cables to fail.
White evangelicals have become more willing to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change over the past decade. Overconsumption, overpopulation, and uncertainty about the future are the top concerns of people who say climate change is affecting their decision whether to have children. The popular cooking website Epicurious will not publish new beef recipes over concerns about climate change. Biden’s not taking away your meat, as Republicans claimed this weekend, but partisan conflict over eating animals is just getting started. Grist had an interview with Jenny Price, author of Stop Saving the Planet! An Environmentalist Manifesto. There are several interesting items at the Artists and Climate Change website. Amy Brady interviewed poet Tamiko Beyer at the Burning Worlds website. While you’re there, check out the items following the interview.
The Global Cooling Prize was a challenge to cooling engineers to design a residential air conditioner with a fivefold reduction in climate impact, compared to today’s standard models. Two winners were recently announced.
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.