Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/18/2021

Politics and Policy

A bipartisan group of senators sketching out an alternative infrastructure proposal expanded their base of support when eleven more senators joined the original ten.  Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said they would not vote for an infrastructure bill that omits key measures aimed at combatting climate change.  So far, no Senate Republicans have voiced support for President Biden’s clean electricity standard.  The Senate approved Richard Spinrad’s nomination to lead NOAA.  At The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer defined “the green vortex,” which describes how policy, technology, business, and politics can all work together to speed up humanity’s ability to decarbonize.

A federal judge issued an order temporarily blocking the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leasing on public land and waters while the court case against it proceeds.  FERC Chair Richard Glick laid out a number of short and long-term goals he has for the commission to tackle transmission policy, and said regulators will outline a clearer path forward on those issues “in the near future.”  The Federal Consortium on Advanced Batteries released a report setting out a vision for the US and its partners to establish a secure supply chain for battery materials and technology.

After months of secret negotiations between Duke Energy, House Republican leaders, and other select stakeholders, sweeping energy legislation has been unveiled in North Carolina.  The Air Quality Committee of the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission recommended that the full Commission vote next month to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday ruled 2-1 that the state’s Public Utilities Commission correctly granted Enbridge Energy the certificate of need and route permit allowing the company to begin construction on the 337-mile Minnesota segment of the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement.  Colorado has ended its 2021 legislative session with a compromise on climate change legislation between House and Senate Democrats and Gov. Jared Polis (D).  Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s Legislature are reprising a fight from last year, passing legislation to require Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to go through them if he wants to impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Leaders of the G7 nations promised to cut collective emissions in half by 2030, agreed that by next year they would stop international funding for any coal project that lacked carbon capture and storage technology, and vowed to achieve a decarbonized electricity sector by the end of the decade, but failed to set an end-date for coal use after the US and Japan blocked a deal.  Furthermore, behind-the-scenes arguing among the delegates caused some to worry that the COP26 summit’s chances of success may be in jeopardy.  The UK government is failing to protect people from the fast-rising risks of the climate crisis, its official Climate Change Committee said.  The government of Canada has launched a $960 million program to support the development and growth of renewable energy and the modernization of the electricity grid in the country.  The amount of China-invested overseas coal-fired power plant capacity shelved or cancelled since 2017 was 4.5 times higher than the amount constructed over the period.  South Korea’s ruling party has proposed cutting greenhouse gas emissions at least 40% by 2030, compared to 2017 levels.  The EU is considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals.  It is also debating setting a zero-emissions target for vehicles sold beyond 2035.  Belgium’s failure to meet climate targets is a violation of human rights, a Brussels court has ruled.

Climate and Climate Science

The fundamental force driving climate change is the imbalance between the amount of energy entering Earth’s atmosphere and the amount leaving.  NASA climate scientists used two independent techniques to examine the energy imbalance, both of which showed that it approximately doubled between 2005 and 2019.

Much of the western US baked this week under a punishing heat wave that set temperature records, prompted health warnings, and strained power grids.  It also threatened recently planted corn, soybean, and spring wheat crops in Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.  Although the drought can’t be blamed directly on climate change, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Schoening said we can expect more such events as the climate warms because it is part of a damaging feedback loop: the hotter it gets, the drier it gets; the drier it gets, the hotter it gets.  With temperatures expected to keep rising as global greenhouse gas emissions continue, the Western US will need to take difficult and costly measures to adapt.  In a feature article available only to subscribers, National Geographic explored the subject of extreme heat, its impacts on humans, and what we can do to relieve it.

The authors of an article in Nature Communications argued that economic degrowth might be less risky, and a better way to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, than relying on uncertain carbon removal technologies.

Wildfires in the high elevation Rocky Mountains are burning nearly twice as often as in the past, according to a new study that looks back at 2,000 years of data.  Until recently, the future of California’s Santa Ana winds was thought to be one of the few good-news stories of climate change — scientists had predicted rapid inland warming would weaken one of their primary drivers and reduce their frequency.  But a new study is casting doubt on that projection, finding that the winds are not declining, but could even be increasing.

Conventional wisdom says that some 20% to 90% of today’s tidal wetlands could be lost by century’s end, depending on how fast oceans rise, but scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences argue that such forecasts are needlessly bleak.  Previous periods of rapid warming millions of years ago drastically altered plants and forests on Earth.  Now, scientists see the beginnings of a more sudden, disruptive rearrangement of the world’s flora — a trend that will intensify if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in.

Energy

The US is on track to install 24.4 GW of solar installations this year, an increase of nearly 24% over last year.  For the first time, the US solar market surpassed 100 GW of installed generating capacity, according to the new “US Solar Market Insight Q2 2021” report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie.  Nationwide, Virginia ranked fifth with 236 MW of new solar capacity installed in the first quarter of this year.  Startup Erthos believes that by getting entirely rid of trackers and racking, and installing photovoltaic solar modules directly on the ground, it can save money and build a more efficient industrial-scale system with less risk to the environment.

Volvo will invest $118 million into its plant in Ridgeville, SC, to build Polestar 3 EVs.  It also plans to build cars using steel made without fossil fuels by 2026.  GM will boost global spending on electric and autonomous vehicles by 30% to $35 billion through 2025, including funds for two additional US battery plants.  New research focusing on non-luxury used EVs has shown that they are cheaper to own than used gasoline-powered cars.  A new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests that global sales of gas-powered cars likely peaked in 2017, marking a major milestone in the shift to EVs.

Startup Northvolt is building a Gigafactory in northern Sweden from which it hopes to provide a quarter of Europe’s batteries for new EVs.  Redwood Materials, a battery recycler, says it’s more than tripling the size of its operations in Nevada and will spend “hundreds of millions” to scale up recovery of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other commodity metals it sells to makers of lithium-ion batteries for EVs.

A company backed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is set to build a large-scale nuclear fusion demonstration plant at Culham, home to the UK’s national fusion research program.  In December the California Institute of Technology will launch a space-based solar energy system into orbit to test the idea of harvesting solar energy that can be beamed back to Earth as microwaves.  If the steel industry were a country, its CO2 emissions would rank third in the world.  Reducing them will take nothing less than a revolution in steelmaking technology, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in investments.

The share of fossil fuels in the world’s total energy mix is similar to its share a decade ago, despite the falling cost of renewables and pressure on governments to act on climate change, a report by green energy policy network REN21 showed.  The world’s demand for oil will rebound to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022, as recovering economies require oil-producing countries to pump more fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency.  A new fleet of satellites is zeroing in on methane leaks worldwide, opening the way for expanded enforcement of existing emission regulations and providing data to justify new regulations.

Potpourri

When a neighborhood, city, or region experiences truly unusual weather, some will see it as clearly connected to global warming, whereas others will not.  As if climate change weren’t enough, farmers in Australia are now facing a plague of mice.  Those who have a special fondness for the Low Country of South Carolina will find this article about the threats of climate change to the Gullah/Geechee culture to be particularly interesting.  Communications professor Thora Tenbrink presented eight ways you can make your climate change social media posts matter.  Cyrus Hadavi maintains that as societies we are ‘carbon blind’ to our supply chains, so some companies are creating labels to show consumers the climate change impact of their products.  In an interview following publication of his new book, The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World, Nobel Laurate William Nordhaus said: “Carbon pricing by itself is not sufficient.  By itself, it won’t bring forth the necessary technologies.  Carbon pricing needs the helping hand of government support of new low-carbon technologies.”  Julian Kesterson, who has lived in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia since he was a child, began collecting weather data as a hobby, and now the data is being used by the National Weather Service.

Closing Thought

Tailoring online messaging and advertising toward Republican voters can shift their views on climate change, a new study suggests.

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.