Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/14/2021

Politics and Policy

To bolster preparedness for a warming world, President Biden wants to retool and relaunch the Civilian Conservation Corps as the Civilian Climate Corps.  Biden expressed optimism that a bipartisan compromise could be reached on infrastructure spending after he held a meeting with a handful of Republican senators.  Several experts say that a clean energy standard must be at the heart of any energy policy if it is to survive a change of administrations.  Biden’s proposal to wean the US electric grid off of fossil fuels has run into a new band of enemies: Left-wing climate and environmental justice activists who believe it isn’t ambitious enough.  Another dilemma became evident as a result of the cyber-attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline: How to build a clean energy future while shoring up the present’s carbon-intensive infrastructure.  The EPA is rescinding a Trump-era rule that would make it harder to regulate air pollution, including CO2.  One Trump policy that Biden has retained is the tariff on solar panels.  The US Federal Reserve has asked lenders to start providing information on the measures they are taking to mitigate climate change-related risks.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills Wednesday that will — among other things — set aside hundreds of millions of state dollars for flooding infrastructure projects.  The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved a set of proposals from the state’s two largest electric utilities on how they will meet the ambitious renewables targets set by the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act.  The California Energy Commission released a draft version of the next update to the state’s building code, a document that favors the use of electric heat over gas furnaces by saying that heat pumps would be the preferred technology for new construction, but not a mandated technology.  The Texas legislature is considering a bill that would impose annual fees of $250-$400+ on drivers of EVs, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the 2030 gas car ban because it was tied to a road-use fee for EVs.

Most net-zero targets adopted by governments include both emissions reductions and negative emission components.  A recent survey revealed that in the interest of transparency, experts think that the two components should be targeted individually.  A trio of British policy researchers has laid out four actions that entities can take to make their net-zero pledges credible.  In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, elder statesmen Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Erskine B. Bowles called for the adoption of a carbon tax.

A survey of 800 cities found that about 43% of them, representing a combined population of 400 million people, did not have a plan to adapt to the climate crisis.  A researcher with Peking University’s Institute of Energy said China is on track to reach peak coal consumption, coal-fired power capacity, and emissions from the power sector by 2025.  The French Senate voted to weaken a constitutional commitment to fighting climate change and preserving biodiversity, preferring wording that was less binding.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved draft legislation for more ambitious CO2 reduction targets, including becoming carbon neutral by 2045.  A report from CEWASTE, a two-year project funded by the EU, has called for mandatory recycling of critical raw materials present in circuit boards, magnets used in disc drives and electric vehicles, batteries in electric vehicles, and fluorescent lamps.  Since March, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has been advancing a proposal before the International Maritime Organization to impose a $100 per ton tax on all greenhouse gas emissions in the industry.

Climate and Climate Science

Even though last week I included an article about NOAA’s new 30-year average temperature, I call your attention to this article because of the great graphics in it.  With a moderately strong La Niña event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, global temperatures in 2021 are running decidedly cooler when compared to recent years.  James Hansen’s newsletter bears this out, including data from April.  It also shows a forecast for continued La Niña this year, suggesting continued cooler global temperatures.  However, the long-term trends in methane and CO2 emission rates are not encouraging.  A new EPA report offered a snapshot of the extent to which the science around climate change grew more detailed and robust during Trump’s term, showing that the nation has entered unprecedented territory in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster, and becoming more extreme, affecting both public health and the environment.

A large new modeling study investigated whether the loss of Arctic sea ice is causing the jet stream to become wavier; the results were negative.  However, new evidence from weather records suggests that the jet stream actually has gotten slightly wavier since the 1950s, although the cause is still unknown.  Last week I included two articles reporting on modeling studies about the fate of glaciers in a warmer world that had contradictory results.  This week, Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone focused on the inclusion of MICI (Marine Ice Cliff Instability) in one study as the main explanation for the differences.  At Yale Climate Connections, meteorologist Jeff Masters discussed the possible reasons for the recent increase in the number of Atlantic named tropical storms.

An area of forest the size of France has regrown around the world over the past 20 years, showing that regeneration in some places is paying off.

Of the 100 cities worldwide most vulnerable to environmental hazards all but one are in Asia, and 80% are in India or China.  Southern Madagascar is in crisis with more than a million people facing acute food insecurity as the region suffers its worst drought in four decades.  Some of the world’s biggest tea-growing areas will be among the worst hit by extreme weather, and their yields are likely to be vastly reduced in the coming decades, if climate change continues at its current pace.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that federal fire officials had warned them to prepare for an extremely active fire year, as several types of drought are converging in the West.  Improved agricultural practices and widespread irrigation may stave off another agricultural calamity in the Great Plains, but scientists are now warning that two inescapable realities — rising temperatures and worsening drought — could still spawn a modern-day Dust Bowl.  New research indicates that economic damages from droughts in Europe could rise by one third by the end of the century, even if warming is limited to 1.5°C and countries implement adaptation measures.


In 2020, the world’s renewable energy industry grew at its fastest pace since 1999, despite the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).  Furthermore, the IEA’s “renewable energy market update” forecast nearly 40% higher growth in 2021 than it expected a year ago, putting wind and solar on track to match global gas capacity by 2022.  Finally, the IEA expects the rapid growth in renewables to become the “new normal.”  The Nature Conservancy is working with Sun Tribe Development to install up to 75 MW of solar energy at several sites covering approximately 550 acres of deforested minelands in the 253,000 acre Cumberland Forest property in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  A collaborative piece in The Guardian explored the ways in which energy companies want to impose charges on people who produce their own power with rooftop solar arrays.

Coal shipments in 2020 to the US electricity sector hit their lowest yearly level since the Energy Information Administration (EIA) began publishing such data in 2007.  The EIA also predicted that this summer will bring a 12% decline in natural gas-based electricity generation, offset by a 21% rise in renewable generation and an 18% increase in coal-based generation.

The Biden administration has approved the nation’s first major offshore wind farm, the Vineyard Wind project, which will be located 14 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, contain 84 turbines, and generate around 800 MW of electricity.  The approval injected fresh optimism into the nation’s offshore wind industry.

Under the guidance of the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, carbon capture technologies are improving nicely, according to an article in E&E News and reprinted by Scientific American.  A new study by Aurora Energy Research revealed that hydrogen is the key to decarbonizing hard-to-abate industrial sectors, such as steel.

Electric cars and vans will be cheaper to produce than conventional, fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2027, according to forecasts from BloombergNEF.  South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group said it plans to invest $7.4 billion in the US by 2025 to produce EVs, upgrade production facilities, and further its investment in smart mobility solutions.  Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced it would make $20 million of the state’s Volkswagen settlement funds available for school districts to electrify their bus fleets.


Film maker Neil Halloran has a new video that examines uncertainty in climate science.  EPA has launched a new website of climate change indicators.  A new study by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes charted the trajectory of ExxonMobil’s climate messaging, finding that the oil giant used “the subtle micro-politics of language to downplay its role in the climate crisis.”  Vanessa Nakate, the young Ugandan climate activist who was cropped out of a photo from the World Economic Forum in Davos last January, has used her new-found fame to argue for the role of racial justice in the climate change movement.  Facebook is “fueling climate misinformation” through its failure to come to grips with misleading content, according to a new report that calls on companies to boycott the platform until significant action is taken.  All around the globe, artists are capturing their fears, worries, and hopes about climate change through their art.  Paul Greenberg, author of The Climate Diet, provided his take on the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy.  Faith Kearns’ new book, Getting to the Heart of Science Communication: A Guide to Effective Engagement, argues that there’s no one “right” approach to talking about the climate crisis and other contentious scientific issues. 

Closing Thought

In an article sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, Grist spotlighted EverGrain, a company that is developing nutrient-rich ingredients for all kinds of human-grade food products, using spent brewing grains as their feedstock.

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.