Politics and Policy
The deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions promised by President Biden and other global leaders since last September have slightly improved the outlook for global warming, with the world now being on track to warm by 2.4°C by the end of this century. A new report identified 22 high-voltage transmission projects that are “shovel-ready,” but which are being held up by financing and administrative barriers. ABC News investigated how Biden’s infrastructure plan could revitalize the nation’s archaic rail system. The Department of Energy announced plans to encourage deployment of more solar and storage in low- and moderate-income communities, including a $15 million commitment for technical assistance and to help underserved areas attract investment. Although short on specifics, a new 22-page document from the Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture Departments, entitled “America the Beautiful,” outlines steps the US could take to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change, and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans.
The EPA proposed a rule to slash the use of hydrofluorocarbons, potent climate-warming gases commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners, by 85% over the next 15 years. Citing its failure to reinstitute a rule on building in flood zones, its lack of an overarching climate resilience strategy, and its failure to hire senior staff to manage and coordinate work, climate experts warned that the Biden administration has yet to take steps that would turn his pledge to “build back better” into reality. Pennsylvania officials issued a final rule on Tuesday that solidifies the state’s plan to adopt a carbon pricing policy and join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. David Roberts thinks that Washington State has the most comprehensive and ambitious slate of climate and energy policies of any US state. Several environmental groups have filed a new legal challenge to a US Army Corps of Engineers program that allows oil and gas pipelines to be built across bodies of water under a blanket construction permit. Fifteen states have enacted anti-protest laws since 2017.
According to Yale Climate Connections, only 25% of more than 400 American newspaper front pages acknowledged Biden’s climate summit in some way and only ten newspapers addressed it in editorials. Eight of the ten largest coal-fired plants have no firm retirement dates, even though the President has talked about wanting to see a phaseout of fossil fuel-generated electricity by 2035. Eversource Energy, New England’s largest utility, is part of a national “Consortium to Combat Electrification,” whose mission is to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.” In the long run, ethanol is a dead-end fuel, but that’s not stopping the ethanol lobby from trying to get ethanol production written into Biden’s infrastructure plans. America’s environmental and conservation groups have disparate opinions about new renewable energy infrastructure and its trade-offs.
Four European climate experts asserted that scientifically speaking, humanity can still limit global warming to 1.5°C this century, but political action will determine whether it actually does. They further said that “Conflating the two questions … is dangerous.” In an interview with the Independent, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said that quitting coal-fired power is the “single most important” step the world must take as it gears up for COP26. The stark gap in vaccination rates between the world’s rich and poor countries is emerging as a test for how the world will respond to that other global challenge: averting the worst effects of climate change. The EU carbon price hit a record high of above €50/metric ton on Tuesday. German officials proposed that the country could bring forward the date for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” from 2050 to 2045 and increase its emissions reduction targets from 55% below 1990 levels to 65% by 2030, and to 88% by 2040. China’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 rose to 27% of the world’s total, surpassing those of the US and the rest of the developed world combined. At The Guardian, environment editor Damian Carrington wrote: “… until every government and corporate decision has to pass the bullshit test — does it really cut carbon now — then we are kidding ourselves if we think we are treating the climate crisis like the emergency it is,” while the Economist said: “net-zero thinking … allows the ultimate scope of emission cuts to remain undefined and sweeps all the uncertainties under a carpet of techno-optimism.”
Climate and Climate Science
MIT has three interesting new “Explainers” on its Climate Portal website: “Forests and Climate Change,” “Coastal Ecosystems and Climate Change,” and “Soil-Based Carbon Sequestration.” Climate change is causing a growing crisis in the sex ratio of global sea turtle populations, but according to newly published research, a simple intervention could help address the imbalance.
On Tuesday, NOAA released an updated set of climate averages for the contiguous US based on the 30-year period from 1991 to 2020. Compared with previous 30-year periods, the climate has turned unambiguously warmer. A report from the UN Environment Program has found that, through a combination of measures targeted at agriculture, fossil fuel production, and the waste industry, methane emissions could be slashed by 45% by the end of this decade, avoiding nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045.
Holding global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C – rather than following current emissions pledges – could halve the sea level rise from melting land ice by the year 2100. Another study found that with global warming limited to 2°C or less, Antarctic ice loss would continue at a pace similar to today throughout the 21st century, but with 3°C of warming, an abrupt jump in the rate of ice loss would occur around 2060. Scientists have warned that an increasing number of people are being threatened by glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) as Earth warms.
A string of weather events has battered thousands of farmers and ranchers across the US over the past two years and the billions of dollars in damage caused by such weather could soon overwhelm the banks and lenders that provide critical cash flow to farmers, endangering our food supply.
A severe multiyear drought, deepened by a shortage of monsoon rains in 2020 and disappointing snowfall over the winter, has helped spark major wildfires months earlier than usual, leading to concerns that large swaths of the American Southwest could face a harsh fire season. The Brazilian Amazon released nearly 20% more CO2 into the atmosphere over the past decade than it absorbed.
The world isn’t mining enough minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel to reach a future that runs on clean energy. The development of mines here in the US has led to a contest of sorts about how best to extract and produce large amounts of lithium in ways that are less destructive than past practices.
Chinese manufacturers are erecting factories for EVs almost as fast as the rest of the world combined. If you’ve never driven an EV, you’ll find Robinson Meyer’s article about the importance of the new Ford Mustang Mach-E to be particularly interesting. If you’re thinking of buying an EV, this article has some advice.
National Geographic examined the future role of nuclear energy in the US, including some of the new reactor designs. The White House has signaled privately to lawmakers and stakeholders that it supports taxpayer subsidies to keep existing nuclear facilities from closing, bending to the reality that it needs these plants to meet US climate goals. The staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has backed Dominion Energy’s application to extend operations at its Surry Nuclear Power Station in Virginia by 20 years, into the 2050s.
The Virginia State Corporation Commission has approved Dominion Energy’s plans to add nine new solar facilities with a combined output of 500 MW to its grid. Demand for electricity is likely to balloon in Virginia over the next three decades as data centers flock to the state and EVs increasingly replace traditional vehicles. The Culpeper County, VA, Board of Supervisors unanimously denied a conditional use permit for a 1,700-acre utility-scale solar project. A Charlottesville, VA, family-owned petroleum distributor, Tiger Fuel, is going solar by adding rooftop panels to its chain of convenience stores and gas stations, and by buying solar developer Altenergy to help provide the energy of the future. A two-year criminal investigation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) has concluded with no charges filed. MVP said Tuesday it will take longer, until summer 2022, and cost more, $6.2 billion, to complete the natural gas pipeline. Two nonviolent protesters must serve a day in jail for every day they spent in tree stands blocking the path of the MVP and pay civil fines plus $141,386 for the cost of their extraction.
New research has concluded that using electricity directly to power cars and warm houses is far more efficient than using it to produce hydrogen for the same purposes. Solid-oxide fuel cells manufactured by South Korea’s Bloom Energy have successfully completed testing while powered entirely by hydrogen. Prototypes of BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are now being tested under real-world conditions on the streets and highways of Germany. Daimler Trucks and Volvo AB are working together to reduce the cost of hydrogen fuel cells by five or six times their current cost to make the zero-emission technology commercially viable for long-haul trucking. The Chairman of Avia Solutions has projected that the hydrogen aircraft market will reach about $174 billion by 2040.
AJ Dellinger compiled seven podcasts to help you make sense of the future. Physicist Steven Koonin, who proposed having a “red team, blue team” climate debate during Trump’s presidency, has published a new book entitled Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t and Why it Matters. Marianne Lavelle wrote two articles about it at Inside Climate News, one providing five statements from it that mainstream climate scientists say are misleading, incorrect, or undercut by current research and another presenting the views of several climate scientists about it. A review of the book by the Wall Street Journal was considered to be of “very low” scientific credibility by 12 reviewers at Climate Feedback. At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach investigated the types of climate related jobs that are likely to be in high demand in the future. Professor of Earth System Science Mark Maslin had an article at The Conversation based on his new book How to Save Our Planet: The Facts. Torched Earth Ale, a new beer from New Belgium Brewing, is a dark, starchy brew made with less-than-ideal ingredients that would be more available and affordable to brewers in a climate-ravaged future.
At The Guardian, author Rebecca Solnit wrote: “That we cannot see all the way to the transformed society we need does not mean it is impossible. We will reach it by not one great leap but a long journey, step by step.”
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.