Politics and Policy
President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of centrist senators reached a deal on Thursday for $1.2 trillion in investments to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Although the details are sparse at this point, the Washington Post provided a good summary of what is included. One thing that is clear, however, is that it does relatively little to fight climate change. However, Biden has said that he won’t sign the compromise into law unless there is a companion bill passed through the reconciliation process that includes many of the things left out of the compromise, infuriating Republicans and putting the deal in doubt. Meanwhile, Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) officially announced the formation of the Conservative Climate Caucus with a membership of 52 Republican House members, so maybe change is coming.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told the House Natural Resources Committee that there is not currently a plan to permanently ban new drilling leases on public lands and waters. The administration is considering banning imports of polysilicon from China’s Xinjiang region, a move that would assuage bipartisan pressure to crack down on human rights abuses but could undermine the White House’s climate change goals. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm defended US carbon-neutrality targets in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, saying the US has no choice but to take action, regardless of what China does to reduce its emissions. The Federal Housing Finance Agency is beginning to formally examine the risks climate change is bringing to the housing market, but it faces a challenge in designing policies that address those risks without unfairly burdening communities of color. In its 2022 budget request, DOE included funds to create “urban integrated field laboratories” that would gather climate data in cities and build bridges to urban communities. FERC announced a task force in collaboration with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to align federal and state regulators in an effort to identify and navigate barriers to construction of transmission lines.
A Massachusetts state judge rejected Exxon Mobil’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit by the state Attorney General accusing the oil company of misleading consumers and investors about its role in climate change. Just 11% of the 250 biggest corporate greenhouse gas emitters have plans for major emission cuts by 2030. The House voted 229-to-191 to restore a rule targeting leaks of methane from oil and gas operations. The Line 3 fight continued, with the Biden administration urging in a court brief that a challenge brought by local tribes and environmental groups be thrown out; the protestors vowed not to stop. In a retrospective on the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, Marianne Lavelle wrote: “The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the US environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. … But the larger issue for the climate action movement is whether the US can enact a comprehensive policy that truly reshapes energy use ….”
The goal of limiting global warming seemed far away last week, as the most recent round of UN climate negotiations ended with concerns about a lack of progress on key issues like climate financing for developing countries and a global framework for a carbon market. The World Bank agreed to boost its spending on climate change to 35% from 28% and to provide annual progress reports to its board. The European Parliament approved a landmark law to make the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions targets legally binding. The UK government set “historic” targets on the climate crisis but failed to come up with the policies needed to reach them, the government’s independent advisers on the climate warned. Norway awarded four exploration licenses to seven oil companies, but fewer oil companies applied for the permits than in previous licensing rounds.
Climate and Climate Science
Agence-France Presse obtained a draft copy of the upcoming Working Group II report from the IPCC on the impacts of climate change, which says that climate change will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can stop greenhouse gas emissions. A new report detailed global warming’s impact on Yellowstone National Park — changes that have begun to alter its ecosystem and threaten everything from its forests to its geysers. A new report from the World Resources Institute argued that incremental changes to agriculture in response to climate change will not be sufficient to feed everyone; rather they call for “transformative adaptation”. UNESCO recommended that the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) be placed on a list of World Heritage sites that are “in danger,” prompting a fierce reaction from the Australian government. UNESCO appeared to be singling out the GBR because Australia is a laggard in addressing climate change.
Scientists and engineers are proposing ways in which geoengineering could be applied to cause the oceans to take up increased amounts of CO2 in supposedly benign ways. Climate change is reducing the supply of water from melting snow to many of the largest rivers in Asia, threatening the water security of millions of people.
The US Southwest has become drier since the mid-20th century, particularly on the hottest days, increasing wildfire risk. Last week’s record heat wave in the western US led to multiple wildfires. Scientists found that butterfly observations have declined 1.6% annually over the past four decades in the western US. Heat waves, such as the one being experienced in the Pacific Northwest, are complex, both in their formation and duration, as explained in this article from Vox. Furthermore, the health effects of heat waves are made more severe by poor air quality.
The NOAA/NCEI Climate Extremes Index (CEI) tracks the frequency of extreme weather by combining six indicators and determining the percentage of the contiguous US that is above or below the normal climate conditions; 2020 had the highest CEI on record with a value of 44.63%.
An assumption inherent in the concept of net-zero CO2 emissions is that the behavior of the climate system in response to CO2 emissions and removals is symmetrical, but recent research has shown that it is actually asymmetrical. Consequently, balancing an emission with a removal of the same size will result in higher atmospheric CO2 levels than avoiding the CO2 emission in the first place. A group of climate futurists from the University of Hamburg examined the likelihood of keeping global warming below 1.5°C while reaching deep decarbonization by 2050 and concluded that neither goal is plausible.
Miami-Dade County has bought 42 Proterra ZX5+ electric transit buses, to be delivered in 2022, as well as 75 Proterra chargers. D.C. Metro will add electric buses each year starting in 2023, then will phase out purchasing nonelectric buses by 2030 so that its entire fleet will be composed of electric buses by 2045. Cummins’ Vice President for New Power Engineering, Jonathan Wood, said that hydrogen fuel cell trucks will become competitive with diesel powered vehicles by 2030 in terms of their total cost of ownership. European auto and truck manufacturers are embracing fossil-free steel and competing to become industry leaders in making the switch. The Swedish joint venture HYBRIT has succeeded in making sponge iron on a pilot scale entirely with renewable energy.
Despite the decision of automakers to shift production to EVs, high costs and an uncertain return on investment are causing many US gas station owners to delay installing EV charging stations. Researchers at the Universities of Maryland and California (at Davis) have determined that getting drivers of light-duty trucks to buy electric versions may be a tough sell. New York City’s taxi regulator voted to stop issuing new for-hire licenses for EVs. The US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy found that the estimated scheduled maintenance cost for a light-duty battery-electric vehicle is 6.1 cents/mile, while for a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle it is 10.1 cents/mile.
Janet Mills, Governor of Maine, signed legislation that makes Maine the ninth US state to have adopted a deployment target for energy storage. British power producer Drax Group said it would seek planning permission to build a new 600 MW underground pumped hydro storage power station in Scotland.
One outcome of the recent G7 meeting was an agreement to work toward a doubling of the efficiency of cooling systems sold worldwide by 2030. At RMI, John Matson reviewed why this is necessary and how it might be achieved.
Following a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of EVs, many are wondering if the time of peak oil has finally been reached. European countries could be underreporting methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure, investigators have warned after a study found that leakage was endemic across the industry.
The New York Times Magazine has devoted the current issue to the climate. The lead article is entitled “What if American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis” and features Ezra Klein and four environmental thinkers discussing the limits of politics in facing down the threat to the planet. After conversations with a diverse group of global energy experts, Canary Media provided a list of seven emerging investment opportunities in the clean energy arena. Weatherization assistance programs help low-income households save energy and reduce utility bills. Architect Kunle Adeyemi has built his career around the question of how his creations affect the health of the planet. At her Burning Worlds website, Amy Brady interviewed Irish artist Katie Holten about her Tree Alphabet projects. The results of a recent study suggest that some Republicans can be persuaded to care about global warming and that microtargeting might be an effective way to reach them. In an article about evangelical Christians and climate action, Katharine Hayhoe was quoted as saying: “If we really take the Bible seriously, we would be at the front of the line demanding climate action. For somebody who is, at least, even partially a theological evangelical, who actually takes the Bible seriously, that is a huge point of connection.”
Closing Thought – A Personal Note
Friday was a significant day for me, being my 83rd birthday. It also represented 6.25 years of preparing the Weekly Roundup. One thing I have noted as I approached this birthday is a real understanding that life is finite — that if I want to accomplish certain things I have been putting off, then I had best get on with them. I’ve also become aware of how much longer it takes me to get things done. So long, in fact, that the Roundup has begun to take up much of my time. Thus, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that if I want to accomplish some of the things I have been putting off, I need to stop compiling the Roundup and bid you adieu. So, this is the last Roundup I will assemble (except as an occasional substitute). A committee chaired by Joy Loving (who has kindly substituted for me on many occasions) is planning what CAAV will provide in place of a weekly Roundup, so you can expect to hear from her in the near future.
I plan to stay involved in climate advocacy and urge you to do so as well. Getting the policies we need to limit warming will be a battle, as this last week has demonstrated. So, make your voices heard. Support political candidates who “get it” and work to educate those who don’t. Lastly, get involved with CAAV, Give Solar, or any of the other climate-related activities here in the Valley. And lastly, keep the faith!
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.