Politics and Policy
Lisa Friedman of The New York Times examined the perilous path through Congress faced by President Joe Biden’s climate plan. Senate Republicans unveiled their $928 billion infrastructure counteroffer to Biden on Thursday. Grist examined what’s in it. A growing number of Democrats are getting impatient with bipartisan infrastructure talks and prefer to move on. Biden supposedly will rely on ally countries to supply the bulk of the metals needed to build the batteries for EVs, and, instead, focus on processing them domestically into battery parts. DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 research groups to assess how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, and to explore ways to extract it. The federal government plans to allow wind power projects to be built in federal waters off the coast of California northwest of Morro Bay and west of Humboldt Bay. Inside Climate News reviewed the issues that have hampered California’s offshore wind development in the past. California has announced that it is allocating $20 million and $110 million from its 2021-2022 budget to support the development of offshore wind and green hydrogen, respectively. Data from public agencies indicates that the slow and inconsistent permitting processes seen across most of the 400 local jurisdictions in California is a key impediment to converting available funding into EV charging infrastructure. Arizona regulators voted to revive a suite of clean energy requirements, but the compromise will extend Arizona’s decarbonization timeline through 2070.
Wednesday was not a good day for the oil industry. ExxonMobil shareholders voted to install two new independent directors to the company’s board. A court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its carbon pollution 45% by 2030. Chevron Corp shareholders voted to cut emissions generated by the use of the company’s products. E&E News considered what these events might mean for the oil industry and RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance had a rundown of this year’s other major shareholder efforts. On another, but related, subject, forest ecologist Charles Canham had an essay about US forest carbon offsets, in which he wrote: “Our forests can and will continue to provide critically important offsets to carbon emissions. But marketing those offsets to allow emitters to continue to pollute may simply be unethical.” Advocates for environmental justice urged North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to block permits for future wood pellet plants and to pay more attention to their effects on health.
House Democrats intend to clear for Biden’s signature a resolution to curb methane emissions, but a final vote could be weeks away because the House Energy and Commerce Committee will first consider and debate the resolution in an effort to shield it from litigation in the courts. The Biden administration is defending a huge Trump-era oil and gas project in the North Slope of Alaska designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years. However, the administration said it planned to revise a Trump-era rule that limited the ability of states and tribes to veto pipelines and other energy projects that could pollute their local waterways. Last week I included an item about Biden signing an executive order directing several federal departments and agencies to analyze the risks climate change poses to the US financial system and federal government. The Wall Street Journal responded by writing “Rule by the climate technocrats is coming fast.”
After nearly two days of wrangling at a meeting of the G7 environment and energy ministers, all reaffirmed their commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5°C and agreed to end their financial support for coal development overseas, among other things. Countries around the world raised $53 billion last year with carbon emission pricing schemes, up almost 18% from 2019 as some imposed new levies and prices in some existing schemes rose. Trial runs of China’s national-level carbon emission trading system have been conducted to ensure the system’s successful launch in late June. Almost 72% of the coal-fired power plants being built globally now rely on Chinese funding. The federal court of Australia found that the environment minister has a “duty of care” to protect young people from the climate crisis. Poland’s government defied an injunction by the top EU court that ordered the immediate closure of a major brown coal mine. At Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce dove into the arguments around pledges of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, asking whether “net-zero” is key to limiting global temperature rise or a dangerous delusion.
Climate and Climate Science
Large areas of the US Southwest were under “exceptional drought” conditions this week. As a result, scientists and wildfire managers are concerned that the region is entering the fire season in worse shape than last year. For the last two decades, Yellowstone National Park has warmed at its most intense rates in at least 1,250 years.
The World Meteorological Organization predicted that there is a 44% chance that Earth’s average annual temperature will temporarily hit 1.5°C of warming at some point in the next five years, a likelihood that has doubled since last year. Two studies released this week show that heat exposure and related health issues are already having an inordinate impact on people of color and low-income communities in the US. As the first official appointed in the US to focus on heatwaves, Miami’s chief heat officer is warning about the lethal threat of rising temperatures. A study with fruit flies underscored the need to account for both thermal fertility limits and lethal temperatures in planning conservation efforts as temperatures rise. Intense heat and high humidity could pose a serious risk to athletes at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Driven primarily by the world’s land surface heating up, evapotranspiration — the transfer of water from the ground into the air through a combination of evaporation and transpiration — increased by 10% between 2003 and 2019. In its latest “State of the Climate” report, Carbon Brief said that after a record-tying warm year in 2020, the world is on track for a cooler year in 2021, driven by moderately strong La Niña conditions in the last part of 2020 and early 2021, although 2021 will likely be among the top 10 warmest years.
Runoff from some melting glaciers in Greenland contains as much mercury as highly polluted rivers in heavily populated parts of the world, raising concerns about the amount of mercury entering nearby rivers and fjords, important sources of fish for coastal Greenland communities.
California regulators have proposed adding 11.5 GW of almost completely carbon-free capacity to its grid in the next five years; the questions is, “Can they do it?”. A new study showed that in the US the queue of new wind and solar capacity scheduled for connection to the grid has reached record levels, along with the new capacity of battery storage projects. A sobering article in The New York Times showed how much wind and solar capacity must be added to the US grid to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and discussed the obstacles to getting there.
Offshore wind project developers plan to ship massive blades, towers, and other components for at least the initial wave of US projects from factories in France, Spain, and elsewhere before potentially opening up manufacturing plants on US shores.
The Nature Conservancy is conducting a pilot project to transform former mines in the central Appalachian coalfields into solar farms to benefit people in the region without harming the forests.
In collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a team from the University of Michigan has discovered a Si/GaN self-improving property that enhances its efficiency and stability in the direct conversion of sunlight and water into carbon-free hydrogen. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has identified West Africa as having tremendous green hydrogen production potential. Oman is planning to build one of the largest green hydrogen plants in the world, in a move to make the oil-producing nation a leader in renewable energy. Hyundai Motor has announced its plans to send a new series of hydrogen fuel cell trucks to Europe later in 2021.
Ford expects 40% of its sales globally to be EVs by the end of this decade. Dan Gearino devoted his column this week to the Ford F150 Lightning electric pickup. Los Angeles-based Fisker Inc will supply the first pure EV for Pope Francis next year, based on its new Ocean SUV with features such as a solar roof, an all-glass cupola, and carpets made of recycled plastic bottles from the ocean.
Most lithium-ion batteries contain cobalt to reduce the chance of fire. Much of the world’s cobalt is in Democratic Republic of Congo and this is leading to a “cobalt rush,” with terrible consequences for many. A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using a novel grid-scale energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.
Ben Santer, John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Fellow at LLNL has announced that following his retirement at the end of September he will no longer have any affiliation with LLNL because of its invitation to Steven Koonin to speak on climate science. Just in case you’ve forgotten who Koonin is, Yale Climate Connections had another critical review of his recent book Unsettled. Steve Hoy explained what “true zero” means. Grist had an article about two women who sacrificed everything to stop the Dakota Access pipeline. The Pew Research Center has new results about how Americans’ attitudes about climate change differ by generation, party, and other factors. Yale Climate Connections devoted this month’s bookshelf to new reports that envision how, and why, the US might rise to the task of recapturing leadership on climate. In an opinion essay in The Guardian, an anthropologist of development and the environment wrote: “To believe that we can innovate and engineer ourselves out of this mess is to miss the key lesson of the Anthropocene – that dealing with planetary-scale processes calls for humility, not arrogance.” Barnabas Calder’s Architecture: From Prehistory to Climate Emergency sets out to tell the history of architecture as one of energy use. Grist reviewed environmental films from this year’s Mountainfilm Festival.
Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video, drawing a link between the historic “moon shot” goal of President John F. Kennedy and Biden’s climate objectives. The excerpts from Kennedy’s speech on September 12, 1962 are particularly meaningful to me because the speech took place at Rice University, where my wife and I were students and in attendance. Kennedy’s spirit of daring optimism colored my life and I hope that today’s students will someday be able to look back at this time as one of daring change.
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.