Politics and Policy
President Joe Biden broke off talks on an infrastructure bill with Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV) after they hit a “brick wall,” instead reaching out to a bipartisan group. National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said some ambitious proposals to fight climate change could fall out of the infrastructure package, which garnered pushback from the party’s centrist and left wings, with many saying “No climate, no deal.” During a webinar on Wednesday, scientists and activists said that proposals for solar geoengineering ignore the root cause of the climate crisis — and create a cascade of unintended problems. Researchers argued that the federal government should minimize the risk for hydrogen infrastructure projects by providing clear regulatory treatment. An antiquated law, a complex and drawn-out approval process, and a lack of ships are all hampering rapid development of offshore wind energy along the US coastline. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a $547 billion package aimed at fixing the nation’s roads and transit systems, while putting a bigger focus on the environment. The Growing Climate Solutions Act is popular on both sides of the aisle, but will it really help the climate?
A new UN report warned that unless the world stops treating climate change and biodiversity collapse as separate issues, neither problem can be addressed effectively. For example, while most actions to address biodiversity loss are also good for the climate, the reverse is not necessarily true. Research has found that achieving 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030 is possible using existing technologies, while maintaining grid dependability without increasing electricity costs, thanks to plummeting wind, solar, and battery costs. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was starting an “Earthshots” initiative to reduce the cost of clean energy within a decade — starting with reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram. DOE also announced a series of policy actions to scale up manufacturing of advanced battery technologies. The need is apparent when you consider how small the US capability is (See Table 2). General Motors threw its support behind the overall emissions reductions in California’s 2019 deal with other major automakers.
House Republicans are preparing to announce a new climate caucus, open only to Republican lawmakers, showing them how climate change affects their districts and introducing possible solutions focused around conservative values. A Republican pollster, at a secretive meeting with roughly 20 Republican lawmakers, presented research suggesting that pro-climate messaging could turn the tide in enough close races to allow the party to take over the House. Speaking with Jennifer Eberlien, associate deputy chief of the US Forest Service, congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) asked if it was possible to alter the orbits of the moon, or the Earth, as a way of combating climate change. An upcoming overhaul of the federal government’s flood insurance program will financially benefit many of the nation’s lowest-income communities, while charging higher rates for houses that are expensive to replace or are vulnerable to rising sea levels and intensifying storm surge.
G7 finance ministers backed moves to force banks and companies to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks, a measure seen as vital to efforts to safeguard the financial system from climate change shocks. Ahead of the G7 summit, investors controlling $41 trillion in assets called for governments around the world to end support for fossil fuels and set targets for rapid reductions in carbon emissions. Similarly, more than 70 CEOs from some of the world’s biggest companies called on all governments to set policies to meet targets consistent with limiting the global rise in temperatures to 1.5°C. In spite of these calls, the G7 countries remain committed to the fossil fuel industry. Biden faces four major climate obstacles as he tries to find common ground with world leaders at the G7 meeting. Research has revealed that 87% of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the G7 nations between 1999 and 2019 was because of climate policy, rather than wider socioeconomic changes. Mexico’s President is unlikely to be able to change the constitution to pass fossil fuel friendly energy reforms. Chinese banks and investors funneled billions of dollars into global agribusinesses driving deforestation in the past seven years.
Climate and Climate Science
Sea ice in the Arctic hit its annual maximum extent on March 21, tying with 2007 as the seventh-smallest extent of winter sea ice in the satellite record. A new study has warned that the remainder of the ice shelf that holds the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica onto land could fall apart in a few decades, rather than the century previously estimated, accelerating the flow of the glacier to the sea.
Long before the era of fossil fuels, humans may have triggered a massive “carbon bomb” lurking beneath the Earth’s surface by converting large areas of carbon-rich peatlands for agriculture. When the entire food system — including the raising of crops and livestock, the conversion of land to agriculture, transportation, retail sales, food consumption, and food waste — is considered, greenhouse gas emissions are much larger than previously estimated.
According to research from Oxfam and the Swiss Re Institute, the G7 countries will lose 8.5% of GDP a year, or nearly $5 trillion a year, within 30 years if temperatures rise by 2.6°C. The city of Copenhagen is planning to build an artificial island in the middle of its port to help protect the city from storm surges as sea level rises. Temperatures in the Middle East have topped 125°F after a run of record-breaking heat, a full month before high temperatures usually reach their annual average peak.
Lake Mead has sunk to its lowest level ever, underscoring the gravity of the extreme drought across the US West. Unfortunately, it isn’t the only one, as the graphics in this article make clear. During September 2020, the Central Valley of California and Oregon’s Columbia River Basin experienced a 20% drop in the amount of sun reaching solar panels because of smoke and soot from wildfires.
Electric trucks have come a long way in the last 18 months, with new models entering many segments of the market and policy efforts to grow vehicle sales and enlarge charging infrastructure expanding rapidly. One exception is Lordstown Motors, the startup electric truck maker, which warned Tuesday it is close to running out of cash and may be forced out of business in the next year.
A new report released by the American Clean Power Association said that 500,000 to 600,000 new jobs could be created through the solar, wind, and battery storage industries as the country moves toward clean energy. First Solar unveiled plans to double its US manufacturing capability by building a new state-of-the-art fully integrated solar panel manufacturing complex in Ohio. Global solar power developers are slowing down project installations because of a surge in costs for components, labor, and freight as the world economy bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic. Florida Power & Light Company is 40% of the way to its goal of installing 30 million solar panels by 2030, having installed 12 million. The state of Mississippi has approved its first wind farm, to be built on 13,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta and to contain up to 100 turbines. North Carolina has set a goal of having 2.8 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040.
If we are to have a grid powered predominately by renewable energy we must have a way to level out its inherent variability, not just on a short-term basis, but also for longer periods (up to 500 hours). Two ways of achieving that are low-carbon firm generation and long-duration energy storage (LDES). David Roberts had an excellent article explaining recent research into what must happen before LDES can play a substantial role in a clean grid. It is sobering. Another sobering article appeared in The Economist, which examined the bottlenecks that could constrain the deployment of clean energy.
Plug Power, a company that produces hydrogen to fuel vehicles and electric generators, says it will invest $84 million to build a green hydrogen facility in southeast Georgia. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has committed to running its 4.3 GW of fossil fueled power plants partly on green hydrogen by around mid-decade, ramping up to 100% in about 10 years. A white paper by Siemens Gamesa said that using onshore wind turbines to power electrolyzers to produce hydrogen from water could become as cheap as making hydrogen using fossil fuels by 2030, whereas using offshore wind will take until 2035. A paper from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group explained what turquoise hydrogen is and how it fits into the quest for net-zero emissions.
Shell will respond to a recent defeat in a Dutch court by accelerating its efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions, the company’s leader said. The Keystone XL pipeline, which was to bring oil from Canada’s Western tar sands to US refiners, was cancelled by owner TC Energy Corp. More than 200 people were arrested at a Minnesota construction site of the Line 3 Pipeline, a 340-mile pipeline carrying tar-sands oil through treaty-protected tribal lands in northern Minnesota and into Wisconsin to the tip of Lake Superior. Exploratory drilling for lithium on BLM land in Arizona threatens the Hualapai Tribe’s religious practices.
Global Energy Monitor’s first comprehensive survey of global coal mine proposals has found more than 400 new mine proposals that could produce 2,277 million metric tons per annum (Mtpa), of which 614 Mtpa are already being developed. The owner of three coal-fired power plants in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio that generate a combined 2.4 GW of electricity said that it will shut them down.
Michael Svoboda has twelve books for your summer reading; some fiction, others nonfiction. The “Climategate” computer hacking scandal, in which hackers stole thousands of emails and documents from the UK’s University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, is to be made into a BBC film. Two artists are trying to make climate change news more visible by using bots to interact with news articles about it.
People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.
Dorothy Day, 1897 – 1980
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.