Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/3/2023

We need the right kind of climate optimism. Climate pessimism dooms us to a terrible future. Complacent optimism is no better. – Hannah Ritchie

Our Climate Crisis

The recently released synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows hopeful progress in developing low-carbon technologies, more ambitious national commitments, and more funding.  This is, however, still not enough to keep global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—the threshold necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Every fraction of a degree of warming we can mitigate will make a big difference.

Scientists have long cautioned that global warming would lead to wetter and drier extremes—increasingly severe rainfall and more intense droughts around the world. A new satellite study shows that it may already be happening. It provides an emerging picture of precipitation extremes over the past 20 years, leading to distortions in the total amount of water both above ground and also in aquifers deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

Antarctic sea ice reached the lowest levels ever recorded by the end of February. This is concerning because open water around the continent can melt its glaciers from beneath. Antarctica holds enough ice to raise sea levels by many feet. On the other pole, Arctic sea ice declined dramatically in 2007 and has never recovered. This may be proof of the sort of climate tipping point that scientists have warned the planet could pass as it warms.

Recent record snowfall and rain have helped to loosen drought’s grip on parts of the American west. Lake Powell on the Colorado River could gain 35 feet as snow melts over the next three months. That may sound like a lot of water for one of the nation’s largest reservoirs, but it will still be only one-third full.

Politics and Policy

The Biden administration approved the controversial Willow project to drill oil in Alaska. Environmentalists roundly criticized the decision despite the administration’s announcement of new protections against future oil production in other North Slope and coastal areas of the state. At peak production Willow carbon emissions will be roughly equal to running two coal-fired power plants during those 30 years.

California will now require half of all heavy trucks sold by 2035 to be electric, complementing their requirement that all cars sold be 2035 be electric. This is an effort to significantly cut carbon dioxide emissions from transportation, the sector of the American economy that generates the most greenhouse gases.

Funding from the federal Rural Energy for America Program could enable cash-crunched small farmers to save big with clean energy and substantially cut their operating costs. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act allows funding in guaranteed loans and grants of up to 50% of the cost of a clean energy project. The daunting application process is a barrier for small farmers.

Governor Youngkin’s push to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has faced a flood of mostly negative public feedback. Comments on the public portal have been running about 50 opposed to his push for every person who supports it.

The bulk of the funding for Virginia’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which provides money to localities that need to reduce their flood risks, comes from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Flood-prone Communities may lose this lifeline if Gov. Youngkin succeeds in his effort to pull the state out of RGGI.

China’s Supreme People’s Court encouraged judges to hear climate-related cases and weigh up carbon impacts to help the country achieve its emission reduction goals. China’s climate goals are to peak its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and be carbon neutral before 2060. At the same time, China is rapidly increasing its coal power capacity and decarbonizing the country will be a major challenge.

There is growing bipartisan support in the US Senate for instituting a tariff on carbon-intensive goods. Environmentalists have long considered a carbon tax to be a crucial tool to combat climate change but have been unable to get the necessary political support. The carbon tariff, on the other hand, is seen as a way to level the playing field against carbon intensive products being produced in countries like China.


Renewable energy is growing rapidly around the world—especially solar. Total capacity was 3.4 terawatts at the end of 2022 compared to 2.2. terawatts in 2017. It continues to gain in overall share of total generation capacity, now standing at 40.2% compared to 38.3% a year ago. China is leading the growth in global solar energy expansion, which now exceeds 1,000 gigawatts, compared to just 100 gigawatts a decade ago.

Georgia’s big new nuclear power plant is billions over budget and years behind schedule. It’s the first new nuclear reactor built in the U.S. in the last 30 years and it may be the last. Rather than representing the dawn of a new nuclear renaissance, it’s more likely the swan song of the conventional nuclear industry in the U.S.

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation last year allowing gas companies to use biogas, a form of gas made by capturing methane emissions from landfills, sewage plants, manure, and abandoned coal mines. But is it really clean energy? Some environmentalists worry that it will support the existing gas infrastructure while hindering the needed transition to wind, solar, and green hydrogen energy.

Coal use in the UK fell by 15% last year. The last time coal use was that low was in 1757 before the industrial revolution. The decline, driven by strong growth in wind and solar power among other factors, helped drive down the nation’s emissions by 3.4%. The UK is now around halfway to meeting its net-zero emissions target in 2050.

A consortium of energy companies led by BP is investing in a high-tech gamble to make hydrogen clean, cheap and widely available. It involves as many as 1,743 wind turbines and 10 million solar panels in Australia’s Outback. All of the energy produced, equivalent to a third of what Australia’s electric grid currently requires, will be used to manufacture green hydrogen that is cheap enough for industrial uses such as manufacturing steel and concrete.

Toyota was the forerunner in producing hybrid electric vehicles but has been slow to transition to battery electric vehicles (BEVs). That’s because the company has been focused on developing hydrogen cell technology. It is now beginning to market BEVs while still developing hydrogen powered vehicles. The company recently introduced a limited offering of a hydrogen powered vehicle in California.

The Hampton Roads Alliance, in partnership with Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, is creating a $6.5 million green hydrogen fuel program to help kick-start a local industry. The plan is to be part of a Mid-Atlantic Hydrogen Hub that would add 9,000 new jobs, generate $1.7 billion in economic activity and create $490 million in state and federal tax revenue by 2030.

Climate Justice

The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a feasibility study on demand-response public transit that provides curb-to-curb service. They were responding to lots of groundwork by Valley Interfaith Action (VIA) culminating in a public event that turned out more than 500 people. The feasibility study is a crucial step toward providing public transit for all as well as lowering transportation carbon emissions in the county. Shenandoah Valley Faith and Climate helped organize with VIA to make this happen.

Stacey Abrams, the Georgia organizer and politician, is leaving campaign politics behind to focus on weaning America off fossil fuels. She recently took a job as senior counsel for the non-profit Rewiring America. Her role will be helping people across America wean their homes and businesses off fossil fuels and on to electricity. A goal will be to especially benefit low-income communities and communities of color.

The American Institute of Architects in DC is offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions from a major renovation of its building with a $500,000 donation to Habitat for Humanity Virginia. The startup Give Solar will coordinate with Habitat in using the donation to cover the cost of solar panels on an estimated 72 Habitat homes. Jeff Heie, who directs Give Solar, says the gift is huge in breaking through barriers in providing solar energy to low income households.

Climate Action

ACTION ALERT: Gov Youngkin is trying a backdoor approach to weaken the Virginia Clean Energy Act through adding anti-climate amendments to energy legislation. Through this  Chesapeake Climate Action Network link, you can send a letter to your VA state senator urging him or her to reject these amendments and hold the line on climate.

Carba, a Minneapolis startup company wants to become a leader in the emerging carbon capture and storage market. They have developed a portable reactor that converts plant waste into a charcoal-like substance called biochar that can be buried to seal carbon in place for generations. This promises to consume a fraction of the energy of other carbon capture technologies, such as direct air capture methods.

Third Act, a climate protest group for people aged 60 and older (calling themselves the Rocking Chair Rebellion) organized an action in D.C. and 100 other locations across the country. The action targeted Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America, the biggest investors in fossil fuel projects. Collectively, the four banks have poured more than $1 trillion into oil and gas between 2016 and 2021.

It is common knowledge that highly religious Americans tend to deny or express less concern about our warming environment. Some people of faith are now beginning to leverage their faith traditions to drive action. Emerging organizations such as Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, Green MuslimsFaith Alliance for Climate Solutions, and Dayenu are drawing from their own religious and spiritual traditions to engage in climate action.

JAUNT, the public transit agency in Charlottesville and surrounding counties, is conducting a preliminary study on using alternative fuels such as battery electric, or hydrogen fuel cells in their vehicles. Ted Rieck, their executive director, says “One of our goals is to reduce greenhouse emissions by about 45% by 2030 and net zero by 2050.”

The Conservative Energy Network seeks to convince farmers, landowners, evangelicals and state lawmakers that wind, solar and other forms of renewable power are good for their wallets, rights and votes. While the group believes the science underpinning climate change, it eschews terms like “green energy” and “net zero.” Its message, instead, focuses squarely on energy independence, free markets, land rights and consumer choice.

Technology firm Intuit is partnering with Staunton based Secure Solar Futures to develop solar projects and help start job training programs in Virginia and West Virginia. Qualifying community colleges and K-12 public schools will receive awards ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 per campus to deploy solar power solutions and prepare local students for careers in renewable energy.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee