Politics and Policy
President Joe Biden’s first budget proposal adds $14 billion in new money to policies and programs devoted to climate change. It also takes aim at tax provisions that benefit the fossil fuel industry and projects that eliminating them will generate $35 billion over the course of a decade. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) predicted that the Senate would see a “big fight” over carbon pricing but said he believes lawmakers will make progress on the issue this year. He also said, “I think there is a significant group of senators in the Democratic caucus who are going to insist that our climate measures be robust and real and point toward 1.5°C, and we will do what’s necessary to accomplish that goal” In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe, James Hansen and Daniel Galpern maintained that Biden has the authority under the Independent Offices Appropriations Act to direct the EPA to impose a fee on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Last week, Biden announced $1 billion in funding for pre-disaster mitigation resources for communities, states, and Tribal governments. The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the sensitive region. However, a law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 requires the president to hold another lease sale in the refuge before the end of 2024.
ARPA-E’s SCALEUP program is putting a greater emphasis on bringing emerging clean technologies to commercial scale — and on finding private-sector partners to help. At Vox, Ella Nilsen wrote about green banks and their potential for increasing the development of green infrastructure. To electrify every home in America as quickly as possible, neither up-front costs nor electrical service constraints should prevent a homeowner from choosing an electric appliance to replace the fossil-fueled one that just broke down. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell made clear Friday that the institution’s role in the climate crisis is limited to oversight of banks and the rest of the financial system, and not in setting public policy.
Sarah Steinberg, a policy principal at an industry association for clean energy companies, summarized the top ten energy issues generating legislative activity across the country. The American Conservation Coalition is hosting the first conservative climate rally in Miami on Saturday, June 5. This past winter, Virginia lawmakers committed to phasing out diesel-powered school buses and replacing them with electric ones within a decade, but left the law unfunded, leaving state and local officials to search everywhere for funding to make the transition. Lawmakers in roughly a dozen states are using strikingly similar talking points as they unleash a wave of legislation aimed at forbidding municipalities from banning natural gas in buildings. Power for Tomorrow, the organization that sent all those scary, large, postcards to many Virginians last week, is a utility front group that is “Virginia-based and Dominion Energy-connected.” In another blow to the oil and gas industry last week, the Texas legislature did not reauthorize its property tax exemption.
In preparation for COP 26, officials from around the globe began three weeks of climate talks on Monday that involve grappling with a number of thorny political issues. The world must rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on nature and the climate, and put forth an effort equal to the space race. Rich countries are falling behind on their pledges to help the poor world tackle the climate crisis. The development charity Tearfund and partners alleged that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the nations that make up the G7 pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than they did into clean energy. The EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 4% in 2019. Emissions from coal mined in Australia but exported and burned overseas were almost double the nation’s domestic greenhouse gas footprint in 2020. The New York Times reported that the International Maritime Organization “has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise.”
Climate and Climate Science
Wildlife ranging from bluebells and bumblebees to snow leopards and emperor penguins will be under threat if global warming exceeds 1.5°C. A study involving 45,000 dissolved oxygen (DO) and temperature profiles collected from nearly 400 freshwater lakes worldwide has revealed a widespread drop in DO levels because of rising temperatures.
Dangerously hot conditions and triple-digit temperatures are forecast for the Western US this week. The drought in the Klamath Basin along the California-Oregon border is so bad that violence could erupt as farmers experience extreme anger over being cut off from their main water source.
More than a third of heat-related deaths in many parts of the world can be attributed to the extra warming associated with climate change. More than 32 million homes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts with a combined value of $8.5 trillion are at risk of sustaining hurricane wind damage.
Seven of the ten biggest floods in the Amazon basin have occurred in the past 13 years, while this year, rivers around the biggest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have swelled to levels unseen in over a century of record-keeping. In recent weeks, nine major fires have ignited in the Brazilian Amazon on previously deforested land, heralding the start of another fire season, which, after a particularly dry year, experts say could be a bad one.
New research has found that clouds could have a greater cooling effect on the planet than CMIP6 climate models suggest because the models simulate too much rainfall and, therefore, underestimate clouds’ lifespan and cooling effect. According to a risk analysis, the relationships between four massive Earth systems (Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheets, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and the Amazon rainforest) could be destabilized by even moderate climate change, leading to cascading effects of accelerated sea level rise and species loss. Sea ice in the coastal Arctic may be thinning far faster than scientists believed, likely because previous research didn’t completely account for the influence of climate change on snow.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has completed its “Electrification Futures Study” and released its final report; Dan Gearino devoted his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week to reviewing what it said about the feasibility of electrifying the entire US economy. One of the key takeaways from a recently published white paper by FERC staff is that there are several potential benefits to pairing electricity generation with energy storage, but US network operators still have a way to go to best accommodate such ‘hybrid resources’. The coal-fired 522 MW North Valmy Generation Station is scheduled for retirement and Nevada utility NV Energy wants to replace it with 600 MW of solar combined with 480 MW of battery storage across two planned sites. Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor company TerraPower LLC and Berkshire Hathaway’s PacifiCorp have selected Wyoming to launch the first Natrium nuclear reactor project, featuring a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with molten salt-based energy storage.
A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that investments in clean energy need to more than triple this decade to maintain the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C. A group of 23 nations will invest $248 million over the next decade to address how best to respond to the variability associated with solar and wind energy. A study by US think-tank Global Energy Monitor has revealed that the world’s coal producers are planning as many as 432 new mine projects with 2.28 billion metric tons of annual output capacity.
A third climate advocate has secured a seat on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp. Oil major BP is investing $220 million in 9 GW of US solar projects as it seeks to expand its renewables portfolio. An analysis, carried out by the energy consultancy M.J. Bradley & Associates, has revealed that five of the top ten emitters of methane are little-known oil and gas producers whose environmental footprints are large relative to their production.
Rhode Island coastal regulators approved certification for the South Fork Wind Farm, a decision that pushes the second major offshore wind project proposed in the US one step closer to reality. Dominion Energy is building the Charybdis, the first Jones Act-qualified offshore wind turbine installation vessel in the US; Ørsted and Eversource have said they will charter it for the construction of Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind, two of their planned offshore wind farms in the Northeast. The wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to safely meet worldwide demand for wind power. Start-up Vortex Bladeless has demonstrated its bladeless wind turbine, which generates electricity by oscillating. Flower Turbines, whose turbines look like tulips, wants to make small windfarms a leading player in the green energy industry.
Global EV battery sales more than doubled in the first four months of the year, with Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology capturing 32.5% of the market. Biden’s strategy to make the US a powerhouse in EVs will include boosting domestic recycling of batteries to reuse lithium and other metals. A recent Pew Research Center report found that 47% of US adults support a proposal to phase out production of gasoline-powered cars and trucks, while 51% oppose it.
While some news outlets are paying attention to the climate crisis, most are still underplaying its threats. Ana Teresa Fernández’s work “On the Horizon,” erected on a beach, attempts to show passersby what the six feet of sea-level rise that scientists are projecting would actually look like. According to the IEA, nearly two-thirds of the energy reduction needed to reach net-zero by 2050 will require people to change their behavior. By understanding that people with different worldviews actually construct different mental images of how climate change and the world work, climate change communicators can better craft their messages. Starting Friday night, Netflix débuted the series Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, which documents “the most important scientific discovery of our time — that humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilization.” Jonathan Watts interviewed Earth scientist Johan Rockström, who helped create the series.
Since publishing Doughnut Economics in 2017, renegade British economist Kate Raworth has become a phenomenon that mainstream economics largely declines to acknowledge but increasingly cannot ignore.
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.