Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/12/2021

Politics and Policy

A coalition of environmental groups has urged the US to commit to slashing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030.  On the other hand, a new analysis determined that the US must slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 57% to 63% below 2005 levels by 2030 to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.  The EU and the US need to align to tackle climate change, John Kerry said in Brussels.  The Pentagon announced the creation of a working group to respond to President Joe Biden’s executive orders addressing the climate crisis.  Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the “Methane Emissions Reduction Act,” which directs the Treasury to assess a fee on methane emissions, while Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a bill to incentivize companies to weatherize the power grid.  With a vote of 66-34, the Senate confirmed Michael Regan as the next EPA administrator, while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 20-0 to advance the nomination of David Turk to become deputy Energy secretary.  Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said the US needs to sustainably boost domestic production of the minerals used to make electric vehicles (EVs).  She also said the administration is aggressively pursuing transportation electrification in part to prevent China from cornering the $23 trillion market in carbon-reducing technologies.  Proposals to form a national clean electricity standard have become a central focus of climate change legislation in the new Congress, with support from both parties.  For almost all cars on the road to be electric by 2050, EV sales must ramp up to 100% by 2035 and new programs should be adopted to get gasoline and diesel vehicles off the road.  GM President Mark Reuss said the government should extend investment tax credits for EV manufacturing and supply chains, and expand consumer incentives for EV purchases.  The Washington Post updated its tracking of Biden’s environmental actions.

Twelve states are suing the Biden administration for trying to establish a new value for the “social cost” of greenhouse gases to use in agency rulemaking.  After a three-member panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that federal judges lacked the power to order a climate recovery plan, as petitioned by the young people in Juliana v. United States, the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court to amend their suit.  In 2006, Judge Gladys Kessler wrote in her opinion in the trial against tobacco companies, “Over the course of more than 50 years, Defendants lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public.”  Will the same thing be written about the oil companies?  More than 100 cities, counties, and states around the country have enacted ordinances restricting renewable energy projects.

As major corporations seek carbon credits to offset emissions, critics are questioning the value of “legacy” credits, arguing that the credit system needs to be reformed so that so it delivers actual carbon reductions.  Jonathan Foley, the executive director of Project Drawdown, laid out the overlapping stages of technological progress required to meet climate goals.  Among the many goals in Biden’s climate change agenda, protecting 30% of US lands and ocean territories by 2030 is among the most ambitious and among the most complex, as well as the most likely to face substantial political obstacles.  The controversy over a proposed lithium mine near Thacker Pass, NV, highlights a big challenge the Biden administration must grapple with to transition the US economy to carbon-free energy sources: How to acquire the needed mineral resources without sacrificing biodiversity or the health of communities living near mining projects.  Republican state legislators in Florida announced a suite of measures intended to save the state from rising seas, but they don’t tackle the root cause of the problem.  A group of 17 House Democrats introduced legislation to provide $6 billion to the US Postal Service to buy additional electric delivery vehicles.  Ivy Main looked back at the accomplishments on climate and clean energy by the Virginia GA this year.

Governments around the world are failing to match their rhetoric with action in rescuing their economies from the COVID-19 pandemic, with only about 18% of the funding being considered green.  Climate Home News focused on nine countries that are missing their chance at a green recovery.  A nine-country coalition led by the Netherlands and Denmark called on the European Commission to decide on a phaseout date for the internal combustion engine, drawing a withering response from Germany.

Climate and Climate Science

If governments fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial era, areas in the tropical band that stretches either side of the equator risk changing into a new environment that will hit “the limit of human adaptation.”  Humans have degraded or destroyed roughly two-thirds of the world’s original tropical rainforest cover, raising alarm that a key natural buffer against climate change is quickly vanishing.  The first-ever study to examine all of the gases that affect how the Amazon works — not just CO2 — suggests that the forest is worsening climate change. 

The changing climate is raising concerns about how the saguaro cactus will survive the 21st century in an environment that’s hot and getting hotter, dry and getting drier.  If emissions continue unchecked, summers in the Northern Hemisphere could last nearly six months by 2100, with significant impacts on agriculture, the environment, human health, and the timing of species’ activities such as breeding, feeding, and migration.

A new study suggests that, contrary to previous research, climate change will not cause global drylands to expand.  However, the climate crisis is altering the flow of rivers across the world, with increasing river flows in some regions, such as northern Europe, and decreasing river flows in others, such as southern Europe, southern Australia, and parts of southern Asia.

The downpours that triggered flooding that destroyed homes and bridges in Hawaii and set off mass evacuations on multiple islands this week are an example of the more intense rainstorms officials and climate scientists say are occurring more frequently as the planet warms.  Because of land subsidence due to a number of factors, including groundwater pumping, coastal communities are experiencing an effective sea level rise four times worse than global sea level rise.

Energy

Millions of Americans face the specter of prolonged power outages under the current power grid.  Climate change will have “far-reaching” impacts on the electric grid that could cost billions of dollars.  Investor-owned utilities face a $500 billion capital investment gap to build out resilience efforts and effectively address risks from climate change.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed its environmental review for an 800 MW windfarm 12 nautical miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Vineyard Wind, and said that its preferred alternative would allow up to 84 turbines to be installed in 100 of the 106 proposed blocks for the facility.  China built more new windfarm capacity in 2020 than the whole world combined in 2019.

Solar hydrogen production through a photoelectrochemical water-splitting reaction is an attractive alternative to water electrolysis for green hydrogen production because of its potential for higher conversion efficiency and lower cost.  Its adoption has been hampered by the difficulty of separating the hydrogen from the other gases, but now the Japanese have developed a membrane that may solve the problem.  A Japanese-Australian venture has begun producing hydrogen from brown coal in a pilot project that aims to show that liquefied hydrogen can be produced commercially and exported safely overseas.  If the project goes commercial, the CO2 produced in the process would be injected underground off the coast.  Hyundai Motor Group has broken ground at its Guangzhou, China, fuel cell system plant, the first time the company has constructed this type of facility outside of South Korea.

FedEx has promised to be carbon-neutral by 2040 and has pledged an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its fleet of more than 180,000 vehicles.  Full EVs are expected to account for more than 70% of Volkswagen’s total European vehicle sales by 2030, compared with a previous target of 35%.  While governments and automakers worldwide are making bold pledges to transition to electric-only vehicles, Japanese car companies and regulators are hedging their bets.  Honda has plans to sell two all-electric SUVs in the US for the 2024 model year, and it soon will offer hybrid gas-electric versions of its top-selling models.  LG Energy Solution says it will invest more than $4.5 billion in its US battery production business by 2025 as automakers ramp up production of EVs.

A new study suggests that changes in natural gas markets since the Mountain Valley Pipeline was conceived have undercut the economic case for it.  Analysts have calculated that abandoned oil and gas wells cover more than 2 million acres of the US and determined that if that land is restored, it could deliver billions of dollars in benefit for a fraction of the cost of the restoration.

Global banking giants and investment firms are continuing to bankroll a major driver of the climate crisis: food and farming corporations that are responsible for cutting down vast carbon-storing forests and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.  “Food systems” were responsible for 34% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.

Potpourri

Amy Brady interviewed poet Kathryn Smith about her latest collection, Self-Portrait with Cephalopod, and why she decided to write about climate change.  Jedediah Britton-Purdy reviewed Vaclav Smil’s new book Grand Transitions: How the Modern World Was Made.  During 2020, the overall climate change coverage on corporate broadcast TV nightly news and Sunday shows plummeted by 53% compared to 2019.  The University of Virginia’s Religion, Race & Democracy Lab has produced a publicly available video entitled “God $ Green: An Unholy Alliance”, which addresses decades of what it calls “religious polarization, political propaganda, corporate deal-making, and environmental injustice based on systemic racism.”  Soleil Santana took a long look at the history of solar energy.  Fix recently launched a cli-fi writing contest, so Grist interviewed the judges about their approaches to climate fiction.

Closing Thought

Garner hope from the innovations happening in places like Seattle-based solar start-up BlueDot Photonics.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/5/2021

Politics and Policy

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 11-9 to advance Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) nomination to head the Interior Department to the full chamber.  Meanwhile, Interior is moving to lock in key parts of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, particularly on oil and gas restrictions.  Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said she is ready to reactivate her department’s loan program that went mostly unused in the last four years and has more than $40 billion in funds to boost the transition to clean energy.  She also said the tens of billions of dollars in funding the agency plans to pour into the clean energy sector will likely require companies to create the high-paying jobs promised by Biden.  Ella Nilson of Vox spoke with National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy about how to achieve a clean energy economy, how to put forgotten coal communities back to work, and how to boost unionization rates to ensure that new energy jobs actually do pay high wages.  While policies and proposals in some states acknowledge the writing on the wall for the coal industry and are working for a just transition, others are denying it and fighting against it; the difference is largely due to the absence of a cohesive national energy transition policy.

The American Petroleum Institute is edging closer to endorsing a carbon tax, but as an alternative to federal regulation and policies aimed at slowing climate change.  The US Trade Representative’s office said a carbon border adjustment would be considered as part of an effort to develop market and regulatory approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  US climate envoy John Kerry urged oil and gas companies to do more to diversify and adopt low-carbon technologies to tackle climate change.  Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone discussed with Kerry whether the US will finally lead on climate.  Senior House Energy and Commerce Democrats unveiled a template of their plan to combat climate change this Congress — an expanded version of last year’s “CLEAN Future Act” — that would take a sector-by-sector approach to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.  On the same day, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) said that he would reintroduce the “Clean Energy Future through Innovation Act of 2020” as an alternative to the “CLEAN Future Act.”

The Biden administration asked the US Court of International Trade to dismiss a complaint from some members of the solar industry arguing that the tariffs on bifacial solar cells are unlawful.  Deputy Transportation Secretary nominee Polly Trottenberg said the department would analyze the ruling of the International Trade Commission that SK Innovation Co misappropriated trade secrets related to electric vehicle (EV) battery technology from LG Chem.  Bloomberg NEF forecast that solar, wind, and batteries will attract $10 trillion in investments through 2050; consequently, US manufacturing of clean energy equipment is gaining traction.  Several states will likely follow California and adopt stricter vehicle emissions standards if the Biden administration greenlights those efforts.  The consortium that oversees the model building codes for much of the US has stripped local governments of their right to vote on future codes, thereby establishing a major roadblock to decarbonizing the US economy.

All planned coal projects around the world must be cancelled to end the “deadly addiction” to the fossil fuel, UN secretary-general António Guterres said at the opening of a summit of the Powering Past Coal Alliance.  China succeeded in lowering its “carbon intensity” (the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP) by 18.8% in the five years through 2020, and plans to cut it by another 13.5% during the 2021-2025 period.  However, China’s coal consumption is expected to continue rising in 2021.  The British government has been hit by two reports criticizing its performance on climate change — one saying it has “no plan” to meet climate change targets two years after adopting them and the other that the UN climate conference scheduled for November will fail unless its goals are made clear.  Hungary announced that its last coal-fired power plant will be shut down in 2025 instead of 2030.

Climate and Climate Science

Last week I included an article about the weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC).  This week, The New York Times (NYT) had an article with excellent graphics explaining current research to better understand the AMOC and the impact of climate change on it.

Officials in Miami-Dade County, where climate models predict two feet or more of sea-level rise by 2060, have released an upbeat strategy for living with more water, although climate experts warned that the plan downplays the magnitude of the threat.  Because climate change is causing heavier rain storms and more flooding, it is a significant concern that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the US’s flood control infrastructure a D grade and estimated the cost of rehabilitating all US dams at $93.6 billion.

A newly released paper in the journal Science concluded that the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) is very likely an artifact of climate change.  Because of the relationship between the AMO and hurricane activity, this discovery, if true, means that humans — not natural variability — have been the main driving force in the up-and-down cycles of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean.  During the most recent 30-year period — 1991 to 2020 — there has been an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity.

While the US was experiencing some of the coldest weather in a century during February, large areas of the globe were basking in the warmest weather ever observed during winter.  Almost 80% of the Western US is in drought, with nearly 42% of the region in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.  Hundreds of butterfly species across the American West are vanishing as the region becomes hotter, drier, and more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Researchers reported that climate models with a high “climate sensitivity” overstate the cooling effect that arises from interactions between clouds and aerosols and project that clouds will moderate greenhouse gas-induced warming much more than climate records show actually happens.  Meanwhile, an international team of scientists discovered a new mechanism of cloud formation, not currently included in climate models, that could be important over the poles and affect sea ice melting.

Energy

Volvo says it intends to feature an all EV fleet by the year 2030.  Six major utilities unveiled a plan to add EV fast chargers to connect major highway systems across the US.  If you are thinking of buying an EV, the NYT has a guide to some of the environmental factors that should be considered.  According to an analysis by Transport & Environment, fossil fuel cars waste hundreds of times more raw material than their battery electric equivalents.  The goal of the Electric Highway Coalition, made up of six major electric companies in the Southeast and Midwest, is to build enough direct-current, fast-charging, EV charging stations to connect the Atlantic coast, the Midwest, and the South, as well as the Gulf Coast and Central Plains regions.  In order to supply its expanding EV fleet, GM says it’s looking for a site to build a second US battery factory with joint venture partner LG Chem of Korea.  Japanese industrial manufacturer Hitachi Zosen has developed a solid-state battery claimed to have one of the highest capacities in the industry.

Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods said that improving economics and government policies are creating opportunities for carbon capture and storage.  He also said that Exxon Mobil would try to set a goal for not emitting more greenhouse gases than it removed from the atmosphere, though it was still difficult to say when that might happen.  Chevron is partnering with Microsoft, Schlumberger, and Clean Energy Systems to build a carbon capture plant in California.  FedEx is investing at least $2 billion toward sustainable energy initiatives, including EVs and carbon capture research, as part of a new pledge to become carbon neutral by 2040.

Lockdowns around the world led to an unprecedented fall in CO2 emissions of about 7% in 2020, or about 2.6 bn metric tons of CO2, whereas reductions of between 1 bn and 2 bn metric tons are needed every year for the next ten years to have a good chance of holding the global temperature rise to within 1.5°C or 2°C.  Unfortunately, CO2 emissions climbed steadily over the second half of 2020, so that by December, emissions were 2% higher than in the same month in 2019.  The US could cut emissions from its electricity grid in half within the next decade through investments in renewables and transmission lines.  Furthermore, a national approach to transmission planning can supposedly deliver large benefits at the speed necessary to meet the challenges of climate change.  Berkshire Hathaway Energy is spending billions to build transmission lines to carry electricity from remote areas where renewable energy is generated to population centers where it is needed.  FERC’s chairman is focused on enabling the construction of long-distance power transmission lines to help bring more renewable power onto the grid.

Governments and energy companies are placing large bets on clean hydrogen playing a leading role in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, although its future uses and costs are highly uncertain.  Shell is moving toward renewable aviation fuel production at its refinery in Rhineland, Germany, where it will conduct research using its bio-power-to-liquid plant and an upgraded hydrogen electrolysis facility.  Siemens Energy announced a US Energy Department grant to study how its electrolyzers could be combined with hydrogen compression and storage, and power plant control technology, to provide long-term energy storage at renewable energy facilities.  By using its tar-sands bitumen as a feedstock for carbon fiber production and by turning its natural gas into blue hydrogen via carbon capture, Alberta hopes to transform its oil and gas industry.

The CEOs of Duke Energy and Xcel Energy have said that natural gas will remain part of their power mix for years to come as they transition to cleaner forms of energy.  A furious industry backlash has greeted moves by cities to ban natural gas in new homes and businesses.

Potpourri

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe is joining the Nature Conservancy as its next chief scientist.  The Washington Post Magazine published an interview with her.  The NYT had a review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky.  At GreenBiz, Joel Makower discussed the concept of “net-zero” and why it can be an instrument for greenwashing.  A UN report revealed that people waste over a billion tons of food a year, placing food waste right behind China and the US as a contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.  Environmental Health News released an important series of four articles, Fractured, documenting their investigation of fracking chemicals in the air, water, and people of western Pennsylvania.  Of the roughly 55,000 Indigenous households located on Navajo Nation lands, around 15,000 do not have electricity.  UN human rights officials issued a report condemning environmental racism in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where the mostly Black population breathes air heavily polluted by an ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants. 

Closing Thought

Climate scientist Michael Mann talked with Jonathan Watts of The Guardian about his new book, The New Climate War, and why he thinks the tide may finally be turning in a hopeful direction.

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.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for February 2021

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in The Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by The Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for February 2021

So far this year, the Virginia General Assembly has considered many energy, transportation, utility, and land and water conservation bills; the legislature’s regular session ended late last month and the special session ends shortly. CAAV has tracked several of these and will produce a summary that will appear in this space in early March.

Energy

The Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to make headlines–about water permitsopponent activitieslitigationpublic opinion surveys, and operations.

Efforts are underway to “stitch Virginia, Maryland and DC closer together” through a vision of an expanded train network. The economic development organization, GO Virginia, has awarded funding to create jobs in the Tidewater area to address seal level rise. A Virginia representative submitted proposed federal legislation to ban offshore drilling.

Automaker Tesla is moving to add three new dealerships in Virginia. A new battery electrical energy storage facility has been proposed for Southside Virginia. An electrical cooperative and a Charlottesville solar installer teamed to propose a battery storage facility and solar array near Batesville in Albemarle County. There are big plans for offshore wind along Virginia’s coast. Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, which supplies energy to many Virginia electric cooperatives, pledged to be net-zero carbon by 2050. Sigora Solar and Isle of Wight County are partnering to put solar on seven of its nine schools.

Climate and Environment

Humpback whales, and other marine creatures, face many risks as they traverse shipping lanes in and out of the Chesapeake Bay. Ongoing research aims to reduce these dangers. A Shenandoah Valley farmer employs rotational grazing, which provides benefits to her land and, because her farm is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, also to the Bay. Ducks Unlimited will preserve 1,300 acres in the Great Dismal Swamp by restoring it to wetlands. A Harrisonburg farmer is practicing restorative farming along Blacks Run. Prince William County Supervisors recently approved rules to promote agri-tourismEelgrass is important to the Bay ecosystem; unfortunately it’s in trouble. Thanks to funding from a DuPont settlementShenandoah National Park Trust and partners acquired 900 acres of rolling woodlands in Page County. The Virginia Outdoors Foundation has awarded grants to Buena Vista and Rocky Mount to improve the towns’ parks and to Nelson County to create a new boat landing near the Rockfish River. The Joseph Pines Preserve in Sussex County expanded its conservation easement by 196 acres.

In somewhat stark contrast, efforts to have the General Assembly stop a proposed “mega” landfill in a community of color in Cumberland County failed. As happened in Buckingham County with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station, the landfill owners offered relatively small amounts of money to a cash-strapped county so 3,500 tons of waste could come into the county from elsewhere daily. A study funded by the owners showed the county would receive great economic benefits.

As part of efforts to aid Southwest Virginia in its move away from coal, Virginia agencies are assisting farmers to identify and grow new crops, such as barley for craft breweries. The Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy will use a federal grant to help restore abandoned coal mine sites and boost local economic development.

Ever heard of the Carolina Bays? They are in Virginia too. They’re a bit mysterious and may have extraterrestrial origins. Like Applejack? Distillers, including in Virginia, are bringing it back and updating it. A fascinating short film by a father and his 7 year old son, about the dangers of kayaking near a dam in the James River near Richmond, won an award at the recent RVA Environmental Film Festival. A blogger wrote about the Roanoke area’s efforts to re-brand itself as an “outdoors-friendly community.” The Virginia Department of Wildlife and Resources site, Go Outdoors Virginia, offers guidance for safe water use and gives an online way to obtain access licenses. An EMU professor produced a marvelous book, Vernal Pools of Appalachia, available as a free, downloadable e-book. The Throwing Solar Shade project offered high school students a competitive opportunity to offer suggestions for innovations in solar energy.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/26/2021

Politics and Policy

The Senate confirmed Tom Vilsack, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Agriculture Department, by a 92-7 vote.  Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation to be energy secretary, by a vote of 64-35.  New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, Biden’s pick to head the Department of the Interior, appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a contentious confirmation hearing that reflected deep divisions over some of Biden’s climate-focused executive orders.  The Guardian reported that hostile questioning of her was led by senators who have taken large amounts of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry, with some being personally invested in fossil fuels.  If she is confirmed, what will be the major items on her agenda for the Department?

The Economist reviewed techniques whereby policy makers could determine which strategies would lower CO2 emissions for the lowest unit cost.  Robinson Meyer provided a rundown of what is happening on a Biden climate bill.  Energy Innovation maintained that a strong clean energy standard is among the most vital policy steps needed to push the US toward an entirely decarbonized economy.  Ed Dolan of the Niskanen Center reviewed four papers by writers who are committed to forceful climate action but who have little enthusiasm for carbon pricing as a policy tool.  The administration dramatically altered the way the US government calculates the social cost of carbon.  A new analysis by the Brookings Institution showed that regions with a high share of fossil fuel jobs have a lot of potential to benefit from wind and solar development.  Cities and towns across the country are rewriting local building codes so that new homes and offices would be blocked from using natural gas, but the American Gas Association and its members are campaigning in statehouses to prohibit such ordinances.  Twenty-five House Republicans held a summit to discuss how to position themselves to address climate change in the new Congress.  Ivy Main compiled a descriptive list of the energy bills that are still alive in the Virginia General Assembly.

FERC said on Monday that it will examine threats that climate change and extreme weather events pose to the country’s electric reliability in the wake of last week’s deadly Texas freeze.  The Texas energy emergency provided ammunition for proponents of a single national power grid.  Wade Schauer of Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables examined the question of fuel diversity for the decarbonized grid.  The cost of federal flood insurance will need to increase significantly in much of the country to meet the growing risks of climate change.  The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it will update its guidelines on how publicly traded companies should disclose climate change-related risks to investors.  In the wake of the Texas disaster, four scientists argued that the Biden administration should convene a group to draft a plan for an advanced Earth observation system with the goal of expanding our ability to forecast extreme weather events.

By the time COP26 rolls around, new national targets for long- and short-term emissions cuts will have been tallied by the UN, so unless the organizers come up with a vision for something specific they can agree on, the meeting could end up accomplishing little.  Unfortunately, the combined impact of the new and updated targets submitted by the deadline was “far short of what is required” to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.  Biden said on Tuesday that he and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to work toward achieving net zero emissions by 2050.  The European Commission released a new adaptation strategy designed to ensure the bloc not only ramps up efforts to drastically cut emissions by 2050 but also survives forest fires, heatwaves, droughts, and storms.  Xie Zhenhua, who served as China’s chief negotiator during key climate meetings in Copenhagen and Paris, has been appointed the country’s new special climate envoy.  Speaking before a session of the UN Security Council, US climate envoy John Kerry warned that climate change was making the world a more dangerous place and posed risks to peace and security around the world, but Russia, India, and China argued that it should not be an issue for the Council.  In anticipation of that meeting, Reuters high-lighted five regions of the world where climate change poses significant risks.

Climate and Climate Science

Data from 11 types of proxy evidence have confirmed that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, a system of currents that includes the Gulf Stream, is now “in its weakest state in over a millennium,” with implications for everything from the climate of Europe to the rates of sea-level rise along the US East Coast.  As the planet experiences increased CO2 concentrations in its atmosphere, its oceans experience three different phenomena: warming, acidification, and deoxygenation.  A recent paper examined how these interact around the world to threaten ocean productivity.

Carbon Brief has updated its map of climate attribution studies, showing that 70% of the 405 extreme weather events included were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change.  Many more homes in Appalachian communities in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia are at risk of flooding than the federal government’s emergency managers have indicated.

During the first week of February, avalanches killed 14 people across the US, and halfway through the avalanche season, 31 people have died across the country.  It appears that avalanche patterns are changing on our warming planet, but a linkage cannot yet be proven.  Polar bears and narwhals are using up to four times as much energy to survive because of major ice loss in the Arctic.  Alaska may need to brace for more thunderstorms — along with the landslides, floods, and wildfires they can bring — if current climate trends continue.

Scientists have just taken a detailed look at the 14 glaciers flowing into the ocean along a 600 mile stretch of the Antarctic coastline known as the Getz region and found that all of them have sped up.

Rising temperatures are shortening the lives of trees in tropical forests and reducing their capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, with major implications for our ability to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  California’s iconic redwoods, sequoias and Joshua trees are increasingly threatened by bigger and more frequent wildfires as the planet warms.

Energy

Texas officials’ repeated failures to act on expert advice for averting grid catastrophes paralleled their long ignoring experts’ warnings about dangers of climate change, leading to last week’s unnatural disaster.  Dual hearings in the Texas House and Senate highlighted shortcomings by grid planners, electric utilities, natural gas suppliers, renewable energy, and transmission operators that led to the grid disaster.  Ezra Klein had an insightful reflection on the Texas crisis in his column at the New York Times.  At Earther, staff writer Dharna Noor argued that the US needs a supergrid.  Dan Gearino provided four lessons he had learned from the debacle, the first of which is particularly important as we move to an electrified economy.

Thanks in large part to reductions in flying and driving associated with COVID-19, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped 4.4% in the 12 months to September last year, falling to the lowest levels since 1995.  Up to five of Australia’s remaining 16 coal-fired power plants could be financially unviable by 2025 due to a flood of cheap solar and wind energy entering the electricity grid.  Fossil fuel companies risk derailing the UK’s climate targets by planning to build a string of 17 new gas-fired power plants with a combined generation capacity of 14 GW.  As of January 2021, global institutional investors, such as pension funds, asset managers, and insurance companies, held investments worth more than $1 trillion in coal, with US investors collectively holding 58% of them.  According to 2020 figures released this week, US renewable energy sources for the first time generated more electricity than coal, although natural gas was far ahead of all other energy sources.

A new “green steel” venture in Sweden has been launched with plans to start production as early as 2024 using green hydrogen to process iron into steel.  Also, a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed for the assessment of the building and operation of a hydrogen powered steel mill in France.  Meanwhile, Enegix Energy from Australia is behind the construction of a green hydrogen hub in Brazil, which will not only support the economic activities of Brazil, but also export hydrogen to Europe and other continents.

Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded a contract to Highland Electric Transportation which will supply it with the country’s largest electric school bus fleet by taking on its financing and management in exchange for a fixed annual leasing fee.  The US Postal Service said on Tuesday it had awarded a $482 million contact to Oshkosh Defense to finalize production plans for the next-generation of postal vehicles, but that only 10% will be electric.  Carbon emissions from passenger cars across Britain have fallen by just 1% since 2011, despite a steep rise in the sale of electric and hybrid vehicles, due to the popularity of SUVs and an increase in road traffic.

Tesla could be shifting more EVs to lithium iron phosphate battery cells over concerns about the long-term availability of nickel, which is required for lithium ion batteries.  Redwood Materials has reached an agreement to recycle scrap and defective battery cells for Envision AESC, which manufactures batteries for the Nissan Leaf in Smyrna, Tennessee.  One use for EV batteries once they are no longer suitable for their original use is for storage of solar energy in houses.  National Geographic explored the role that such batteries could play in averting disasters like that in Texas.

Potpourri

Peter Sinclair’s latest video focused on the question of whether capitalism and free-market forces could supplant political expediency as a major factor in advancing bipartisan support for renewable energy.  Determining how hard companies are trying to meet climate pledges can be very difficult when there are no regulatory standards that require uniform disclosures of important information like emissions.  Corporations were also the focus of Bill McKibben’s column this week.  More than a third of all food grown for human consumption in the US never makes it to someone’s stomach, and the carbon footprint of that waste is greater than that of the airline industry.  Being a person who spent many years loving road trips (and for way too long being oblivious to the climate impacts), I couldn’t resist including this column by Amy Brady, even though it didn’t come out this week.

Closing Thought

Jeremy Lent, author of the forthcoming book The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe, addressed the question “What does an ecological civilization look like?” in Yes! magazine.

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.

A Housing Trust Fund for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County

At their February 16, 2021, steering committee meeting, the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley voted to endorse Faith in Action’s efforts to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

“Faith in Action is a non-partisan, faith-based organization that speaks in the public arena. We have no common theological, political, or ideological agenda. We work annually on a pragmatic, workable, local issue that is selected by our members. This work does mean that we ask elected officials and other local government personnel to make changes to work toward justice.” – https://www.harrisonburgfaithinaction.org/about-us

The group’s current work focuses on local affordable housing:

“There is a lack of affordable and accessible housing in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Access to a stable home improves health, education & economic outcomes. It gives our community’s children a good start in life, ensures our seniors have dignity and a place to call home, and creates a Valley community that works for everyone. Faith in Action is working to pass a resolution for the City and County to work together on a Housing Trust Fund for a long-lasting solution.” https://www.harrisonburgfaithinaction.org/housing-campaign

“… Faith in Action [,] has led a year-long effort [to pass a Housing Trust Fund resolution] in close collaboration with agencies on the front lines of housing and homelessness. These include Mercy House, Our Community Place, Habitat for Humanity, and support organizations like the local United Way, and people directly impacted by housing insecurity. ” https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LxmpGevsTnGp65eBp-hwkxoVIA0tMuvOKKTEldwQbKk/edit

“The goal is to create a fund that receives at least $1.5 million annually that will be spent on building and preserving affordable housing in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. The trust fund aims to: maximize public-private participation; secure a dedicated continuous funding source; leverage other resources. A potential list of uses include: new construction, rehabilitation, acquisition, rental assistance, land trusts, cooperative housing, transitional or emergency housing, preservation of assisted housing, weatherization, emergency repairs, housing-related services and more.” https://www.harrisonburgfaithinaction.org/htf

Learn more about the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County from Faith in Action HERE.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/19/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden’s next legislative package is expected to center on major infrastructure investments, while also tackling things such as clean energy.  The Economist said “what is about to unfold in Washington will set the course in America for the next decade – and quite possibly beyond.”  Biden has set the stage for a flourishing US offshore wind industry by ordering the federal government to find ways to speed up environmental and other reviews.  Since the EPA will not reactivate the Obama Clean Power Plan, what are the Biden administration’s options?  The administration said it would scrap a Trump-era proposal to weaken environmental protections for millions of acres of California desert.  It also rescinded draft guidance from the Trump administration that would limit the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions in infrastructure decisions.  Biden announced the formation of a climate innovation working group “to advance his commitment to launching an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate.”  The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on electric grid reliability and resilience after millions were left without power in Texas and elsewhere amid a winter storm.

Line 3, another tar-sands pipeline from Canada to the US, is being built as a replacement for an existing pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy.  How the Biden administration deals with it will be an early test of its environmental justice policies.  Putting a price on carbon emissions is a policy that has received support outside of government by advocates on both sides of the aisle, but if and when it will be brought forward as legislation are very much in question.  In an opinion piece and a new report, Nicholas Stern and Joseph E. Stiglitz argued that “The Biden administration must put a high enough price on carbon pollution to encourage the scale and urgency of action needed to meet the commitments it has made to Americans and the rest of the world.”  Yahoo!news provided some background.  At the Niskanen Center, Joseph Majkut et al. wrote about “A Carbon Tax in the Context of Budget Reconciliation.”

All companies in which BlackRock invests will be expected to disclose direct emissions from operations and from energy they buy, while fossil fuel extractors should base targets for emissions cuts on the carbon released when their products are burned.  IBM is pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of the decade.  Climate activist and author Bill McKibben presented arguments against starting experimentation on solar geoengineering.  A recent study explored the health opportunities of ambitious climate policies and found that the co-benefits of reducing air pollution, improving diets, and encouraging more active lifestyles would save millions of lives across the world every year.  Environmental and community groups have come together on an action plan for the Biden administration on plastics, which are seen as the nexus of climate change, fracking, air and water pollution, toxic landfills, and the disproportionate burden of pollution on communities of color.

The US has officially returned to the Paris Climate Agreement, raising expectations for a new national commitment setting an emissions target for 2030.  A group of states, cities, and companies launched a new coalition to push the Biden administration toward a more aggressive cut to greenhouse gas emissions.  During a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers and central bankers, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressed strong support for G7 efforts to tackle climate change, stating that her colleagues should expect the Treasury Department’s engagement on this issue to change dramatically relative to the last four years.  The outgoing head of the OECD said in an interview that the environment, climate change, and the protection of nature must be the defining tasks of rich and major developing countries now and in the years to come.  In a break with precedent, the UN issued a report Thursday that is prescriptive, using the word “must” 56 times and “should” 37 times to tell world leaders what is needed to solve the interconnected problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Climate and Climate Science

The extreme cold weather in Texas and the central US was covered extensively in the press this week.  The main cause was the wavy jet stream, which allowed cold Arctic air to penetrate deeply into the mid-latitudes.  Although still an area of active study, many climate scientists think such waviness is due to the warming Arctic resulting from climate change.  (In January 2019 Carbon Brief had a Q&A on this topic.)  At the New York Times, climate reporter John Schwartz answered questions about this week’s weather.

US greenhouse gas emissions fell by 9.2% last year amid the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  On the other hand, a related drop in tiny aerosol particles from industrial sources boosted regional temperatures.  Greenhouse gas emissions from material production, such as steel and cement, more than doubled from 1995 to 2015.  Some supermarkets have been found to be leaking climate-damaging HFC refrigerants at an even higher rate than regulators have assumed.

Scientists say that improving water quality by reducing sediments, fertilizers, and chemicals running into the Great Barrier Reef’s waters will give it a greater chance of recovering from future bleaching events.  Climate change is shaping the lives of children of color before they take their first breath, and once born, there is a good chance they will live in a neighborhood that is more polluted and will get hotter than nearby, whiter neighborhoods.

The salient issues concerning drilling in Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are what happens to caribou summer movements throughout the area and to the near-surface soil carbon that risks becoming released to the atmosphere as CO2 and methane due to terrestrial permafrost thawing.  On a related subject, the amount of carbon locked in Arctic submarine permafrost is more than humans have released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, yet little is known about such permafrost and how it will react as oceans warm, sea levels rise, and meltwater alters Arctic Ocean circulation patterns.

Energy

As a result of the winter storm, the Texas power grid failed, leaving millions of people in the dark and cold.  (For an explanation of the Texas power grid, go here.  For insights from a historian of energy, technology, and the environment, read this.)  In fact, the grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months.  While fossil fuel proponents were quick to blame the large amount of renewable energy in Texas for the failure, in reality fossil fuel generation was largely to blame.  In the future, such wild and unpredictable weather linked to global warming will very likely push grids beyond their limits.  Using the Texas grid failure as a spring board, Bob Henson addressed the broader problems of the US power grid, closing with a quote from Urooj Raja of the University of Colorado, Boulder: “No infrastructural relic may be as vulnerable as the US electric grid.”

Amid a historic economic contraction, renewable resources grew to account for one-fifth of all electricity produced in the US in 2020.  This was achieved because solar power and wind power accounted for 77.1% of new utility-scale power capacity in the US in 2020.  Hawaiian Electric achieved 34.5% renewable energy production in 2020.  The US Department of Energy announced last week that it will invest $100 million into transformative clean energy research and development, with more to come.

While the production of cement, steel, paper, aluminum, chemicals, and other heavy-duty industrial materials is responsible for roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest firms in these sectors remain underprepared for the net zero transition, having largely failed to roll out credible corporate climate strategies. 

Most of the world’s planned hydrogen projects and related investments this decade are expected to be in Europe, as the EU races to scale up the low-carbon fuel to meet its climate goals.  Model homes in which boilers, stoves, and ovens are fueled exclusively by hydrogen are due to be opened by April in the UK, providing the public with “a glimpse into the potential home of the future.”  As hydrogen gains more emphasis, ammonia is seen by some as the safest and easiest way to capture and transport the energy in hydrogen.

Ford Motor Co. said that its European division would soon begin to phase out vehicles powered by fossil fuels so that by 2026 it will offer only electric and plug-in hybrid models, and by 2030 all passenger cars will run solely on batteries.  Jaguar Land Rover said its luxury brand Jaguar will be fully electric by 2025 and it will release its first all-electric Land Rover in 2024 with five other electric vehicles (EVs) expected by 2025.  GM unveiled a Chevrolet Bolt Electric Utility Vehicle on Sunday.  You can learn more about it here.  At the New York Times, columnist Farhad Manjoo had a very thought-provoking column about the one big problem with EVs.

Demand for batteries for EVs already outstrips supply, causing a global rush to develop the technology and build the factories needed to power millions of electric cars, prompting Jakub Reiter, head of science at InoBat, to say “Twenty years ago, nobody cared much about batteries,” but now, there is intense competition, and “it’s a big fight.”

Potpourri

“Meltdown”, an intimate exploration of art and science, beauty and tragedy, the personal and the global, set amidst the massive and spectacularly beautiful icebergs breaking off of Greenland at an accelerating rate, is available for streaming on several platforms.  Bill McKibben reviewed Bill Gates’ new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, as did former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown who tied it to the upcoming COP 26 in Glasgow.  Emma Brocks had a far-ranging interview with Gates at The Guardian while Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic focused on “the Gates rule.”  Smithsonian Magazine had a feature article about polar bears and the scientists who track them to better understand how the environment is shaping their chances of survival.  Grist writer Adrienne Day decided to try out some of the alt seafood available today for its taste and texture appeal.  Walmart, Costco, and Kroger are selling Brazilian beef products imported from JBS, the world’s largest meat company, which has been linked to Amazonian deforestation.

Closing Thought

Nonprofit American Forests is partnering with Tazo Tea to form the “Tazo Tree Corps,” which will train and hire people to plant and care for trees in targeted neighborhoods in Detroit, Minneapolis, the Bronx, the Bay Area, and Richmond, VA.

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.

Divest MVP: Stop funding for the Mountain Valley Pipeline!

In collaboration with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups across the country, the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is joining the movement to call for divestment from the Mountain Valley Pipeline (the MVP). 

For those of you that have not heard of the MVP, it is a 303 mile fracked gas pipeline that stretches from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. The project has proved to be a profound disaster for our environment and natural waterways. To date, the pipeline, which is still under construction, has threatened over 1,000 waterways, has been responsible for over 350+ violations of commonsense water protections, and has been fined over two million dollars for environmental damages.

Now is the time to join the fight to end the construction of the MVP. 

As stated previously CAAV has joined other environmental groups across the nation in calling for the Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and 5 other major banks to divest from this environmentally disastrous project. There is a wide range of actions you can take to help us do this. 

  • The first action you can take is signing the Sierra Club petition calling for divestment. The link to that can be found here.
  • The next thing you can do is participate in the DivestMVP Coalitions’ Virtual Rally on February 25, 6-7 PM EST! The link to register for this is here. This virtual rally, hosted by the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Oil Change International, and POWHR, will get you up to speed on the latest MVP news, the banks behind MVP, and what you can do to help stop MVP from ever getting completed.
  • You can also write letters to the editor of your local newspaper and post on social media supporting the call for divestment. The full Sierra Club media toolkit, which contains suggested postings for your Facebook and Twitter, as well as sample letters to the editor, can be found here!
  • Finally, you can check out the POWHR Divest MVP webpage that contains great additional information, like how to divest from your bank if they choose to continue funding this awful project.

We have a duty to protect our natural waterways and stop this terrible project from being completed. Together let’s make our voices be heard and put an end to this pipeline! 

Thank you all for your continued support and activism.

-Luciano Benjamin for the CAAV steering committee, February 18, 2021

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/12/2021

Politics and Policy

The White House convened cabinet secretaries and the acting heads of 21 federal agencies to begin fulfilling President Joe Biden’s promise to mobilize the federal government to confront climate change.  Some think that Biden wants to rethink the country’s economic posture: seeking to promote certain sectors so as not to cede them to Europe and Asia.  Gina McCarthy said in an interview that President Biden is likely to issue more executive orders on climate change.  At the Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin and colleagues updated their report tracking President Biden’s environmental actions and Dino Grandoni looked ahead to coming climate legislation.  Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee voted 14-6 to advance to the full Senate the nomination of Michael Regan to lead the EPA.  The Biden administration indicated that it would look for its own solution to limit power plant CO2 emissions rather than reuse the Clean Power Plan from the Obama administration.  Frustration among Republicans with Biden’s climate policies has coalesced around Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM).

Nine years after Michael Mann filed a defamation lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review, he wants the court to affirm the truth of his science.  Laura Tenenbaum, who was the senior science editor for NASA’s Global Climate Change website and witnessed firsthand the impact of science suppression during the Trump administration, wrote about her experiences.  Lawyers for the 21 children and young adults in Juliana v. United States announced plans to file a Supreme Court petition after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to revive their claims that the federal government has violated their constitutional right to a stable climate system.  The chairman of FERC said that the panel will create a senior position on environmental justice.  Following a request from the Biden administration, the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., paused litigation on whether California can set its own vehicle emissions standards.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee put forward a sweeping green energy bill.  Wyoming is waking up to the possibility that the use of fossil fuels must come to an end, causing consternation about the future funding of local and state government.  Bill McKibben made the case for not building any new fossil fuel infrastructure.  A battle is underway in Arizona about who has authority to establish the types of electricity generation that utilities in the state may use.  On a bipartisan 67-32 vote, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would allow renewable energy firms to compete with utilities to supply customers with clean power.  Democrats plan to go through the Securities and Exchange Commission to impose financial disclosure rules on climate risk that would force thousands of businesses to divulge information to investors, although pushback is likely.  The Federal Reserve is beginning to incorporate the impacts of climate change into its regulatory writ.

Canada sees hydropower exports as an opportunity in Biden’s push to achieve a carbon-free US electrical grid by 2035.  China will force regional grid firms to buy at least 40% of their power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 to meet the country’s climate targets.  Big-emitting Australian businesses that export to Europe could soon face carbon levies of more than $70 a metric ton unless the federal government imposes emissions reduction policies.  A new study came to the unsettling conclusion that many adaptation projects can make people more, rather than less, vulnerable to climate change.  The International Energy Agency has projected that even though India’s CO2 emissions are expected to grow by 50% during the next 20 years, a combination of solar, hydrogen, and carbon capture could get its energy sector to net-zero emissions by the mid-2060s.  The pledges countries made to reduce emissions as part of the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) are woefully inadequate, and the world must nearly double its greenhouse gas-cutting goals to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

On Sunday February 7, a sudden flood devastated a Himalayan valley in the Indian province of Uttarakhand.  While news reports said that collapse of a glacier into a glacial lake was the cause, subsequent analysis suggested that a landslide actually was to blame.  As the world warms and glaciers melt, the collapse of debris dams holding back glacial lakes poses a severe risk for those downstream.

Pollution from the burning of fossil fuels causes one in five premature deaths globally, suggesting the health impacts may be far higher than previously thought.  The North American pollen season is now starting 20 days earlier and lasting eight days longer than in 1990; climate change is responsible for roughly half of the change.

Northern California remains stuck in one of the worst two-year rainfall deficits seen since the 1849 Gold Rush, with current precipitation at only 30% to 70% of what the state would expect during a normal year.  Heating of the oceans has led young great white sharks to move 370 miles northwards off the coast of California since 2014, with a dramatic rise in the number of sea otters killed by them.

After being banned in 2010, an unexpected and persistent increase in global atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 (which is 7,000 times more effective at warming the planet than CO2) was detected in 2018.  An investigation concluded that roughly half of the observed increase resulted from its illegal production in Eastern China, leading the Chinese government to crack down.  Two businessmen argued that the Senate should ratify an amendment to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which sets targets for the global phase-down of HFCs.

Energy

Renewable sources’ share of the national electricity generation mix is set to double from 21% in 2020 to 42% in 2050.  The integration of wind, solar, and storage into the US grid systems will bring many changes and Jeff St. John provided a glimpse of them in his report on last week’s Energy Storage Association policy forum.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory launched its “Storage Futures Study” to create a framework for a “dramatic increase in deployment” and “answer the big questions around the role of storage in our future grid.”

Many challenges face auto companies, both old and new, in moving to a world of EVs.  Dan Gearino recounted how Norway became the world leader in EV sales as a percent of new vehicles sold.  Global sales of zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles will outstrip those of vehicles with internal combustion engines for the first time in 2047, although global oil demand will fall by just under a quarter by 2050 due to the slow phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles.  Amazon’s new electric delivery vans will hit the road in 15 more cities starting this year.  Toyota will roll out two new battery-electric vehicles and one plug-in gas-electric hybrid in the US this year.  A Spanish company will build a plant in Chattanooga, TN, to make axle components for VW’s electric car production in the same city.

The US has fallen behind Asia and Europe in the race to produce the high-tech batteries that power electric cars and store solar and wind energy.  The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that SK Innovation (SKI) was making lithium-ion batteries with trade secrets stolen from LG Chem and restricted SKI from importing certain batteries and components for the next 10 years.  Microvast, which builds rapid-charging lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, will renovate and expand a facility in Clarksville, TN.

Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas announced the launch of its new offshore wind turbine, the V236-15.0MW, which displaces GE’s 14MW Haliade-X as the world’s largest offshore wind turbine.  Europe invested $31.9 billion in new offshore wind farms in 2020, providing 7.1 GW of new capacity.  South Korea unveiled a $43.2 billion plan to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm by 2030.  One of Europe’s most abundant bats may be attracted to wind turbines and this could be why so many are found dead around the continent’s wind farms.

Several companies are developing the capability to produce “turquoise” hydrogen, i.e., hydrogen made from natural gas by pyrolysis, which converts the carbon in the gas to solid elemental carbon while freeing the hydrogen as a gas.  Global Energy Ventures (GEV) and Ballard Power Systems have signed a memorandum of understanding in which Ballard will design and develop a hydrogen fuel cell system for GEV’s compressed hydrogen shipping vessel.

The oil and gas industry has been the worst-performing sector on Wall Street for a decade; in 2020 it had the worst performance of any sector going back to before the Great Depression.  Royal Dutch Shell outlined the details of its near-term and long-term plans to transition to cleaner energy, saying its oil production and total carbon emissions have already peaked.  Conversely, the world’s state-owned oil companies are poised to invest about $1.9 trillion during the next decade in projects that would destroy any prospect of meeting the goals of the PCA.

Potpourri

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has found that Americans who think global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by a ratio of more than 5 to 1 (72% versus 13%).  Last week I included an interview in Rolling Stone with Elizabeth Kolbert about her new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future; this week, Ezra Klein interviewed her on his podcast, with a focus on solar geoengineering, while Shannon Osaka at Grist focused on human’s inclination to mess with nature.  Astrophysics professor Adam Franks reviewed the book for NPR.  Amy Brady interviewed Julie Carrick Dalton about her debut novel, Waiting for the Night Song, a mystery in which climate change is almost like a character.  Lisa Colton organized a virtual “Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest” and over 5500 people showed up.  Bill McKibben wrote of Connor DeVane who hiked the Continental Divide Trail and talked with people working on climate action, stating: “The resulting movie is free to stream online, and lovely.”  Yale Climate Connections compiled a list of five climate-related documentaries from the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

Closing Thought

After 16 years of working for ExxonMobil, Dar-Lon Chang said the company would not address climate change, so he quit the sector for good, and began a new low-carbon life.

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.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/5/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden has created the position of senior climate advisor at NASA to guide its administrator and other top government leaders on issues related to Earth’s climate.  SueEllen Campbell compiled several articles examining what can be done legislatively on climate in a closely divided Congress.  The Biden administration has started discussions with the utility and automobile sectors about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Automakers have abandoned their legal fight for a Trump-era rule blocking California from setting its own emissions standards.  The administration is asking the courts to pause litigation over that rule and one rolling back methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.  The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-4 on Wednesday to advance to the full Senate the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to be secretary of Energy.  Michael Regan, Biden’s choice to lead the EPA, told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing that he would “restore” science and transparency at the agency, focus on marginalized communities, and move “with a sense of urgency” to combat climate change.  Lawmakers want to block further drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by designating its coastal plain as wilderness.  Legislation was introduced that would require the president to declare a national emergency on climate change.  The new Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources met to establish a “baseline of global climate facts,” but the only facts they agreed on were that climate change is real and “largely” caused by humans.

This was the week for reports.  Achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the US by 2050 is not only feasible, but would build a more competitive economy, increase high-quality jobs, and help address social injustice in the energy system, says one from the National Academies.  In addition, a report from consulting firm Evolved Energy Research and others said that achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 could be “surprisingly feasible,” with costs running just 0.4% of the US GDP.  Evolved Energy Research also provided the modeling for a report on the impact on each state of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.  Evergreen Action and Data for Progress released a report outlining how Congress could set the US on a path to 100% clean electricity by 2035.  Continuing to ignore the value of the services provided by nature in our global economy threatens humanity itself, according to a report on biodiversity and economics, commissioned by the British government.

Republicans introduced bills in both chambers that would give permission for the Keystone XL pipeline to be constructed and operate across the U.S.-Canada border.  Republicans who object to Biden’s agenda for addressing climate change are focusing on John Kerry and Gina McCarthy.  However, Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, called on Republicans “to resist the urge to once again become obstructionists and, instead, continue to come to the table with our own perspective on tackling climate change.”  A federal judge ruled that US officials downplayed climate change impacts from the expansion of a massive coal mine near the Montana-Wyoming border, giving the government until October to do a new analysis.  The Biden administration is delaying a rule finalized during Trump’s last days in office that would have drastically weakened the government’s power to protect most wild birds.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said rich countries must step up with fresh financial commitments to help the developing world tackle the climate crisis while Fatih Birol, head of the IEA, said dependency on coal is preventing a global green recovery from taking off.  Nearly six out of 10 US voters said the Biden administration should work directly with China to address climate change.  China has reinstated Xie Zhenhua, one of its most respected climate experts and a broker of the Paris Agreement, as climate envoy.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is giving climate change a prominent role in her talks with her counterparts around the world.  France’s government must do more to combat climate change, a French court said on Wednesday.  One year after Australia’s devastating wildfires, anger is growing at climate change inaction.  However, senior ministers of Australia’s National Party — the junior partner in the ruling coalition — have poured cold water on adopting a concrete commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.  Climate Home News previewed the November COP26 meeting in Glasgow by focusing on the people setting the agenda on seven key issues.  

Climate and Climate Science

Flooding rains and record snow in California last week were the result of an atmospheric river originating over the Pacific Ocean.  They are part of California’s “whiplash” climate future, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with NCAR.  The start of California’s rainy season has been getting progressively later in recent decades, and now begins a month after it did just 60 years ago, shifting from November to December.  Climate change ravaged the west with heat and drought last year; many fear 2021 will be worse.  The number of heat-related deaths in Arizona soared to a new high last year as people endured the hottest summer on record.

The rise in sea level is likely to be faster and greater than previously thought, according to researchers who say recent predictions are inconsistent with historical data.  If global warming continues unabated, the surface of the Greenland ice sheet may start losing more mass than it gains every year by 2055, although if strong mitigation measures are taken to curb the rise of global temperatures, the ice sheet may not reach this threshold.

The global food system is the biggest driver of destruction of the natural world, and a shift to predominantly plant-based diets is crucial in halting the damage, according to a new report by thinktank Chatham House, financed by the UN Environment Program.

A surprising amount of the water from the planet’s melting mountain glaciers is building up behind unstable piles of rubble left behind by the retreating ice, posing a hazard for everything downstream.

Energy

Big oil companies lost billions in 2020 because of the pandemic.  According to Justin Guay, a finance community committed to net-zero carbon by 2050 is exposing itself to trillions of dollars in stranded oil and gas assets.  ExxonMobil shareholders are trying to force it to address climate change and the weaker oil market in more aggressive ways, but investors have not been impressed with the company’s actions so far.  The US oil industry wants to forge an alliance with the nation’s corn growers and biofuel producers to lobby against the Biden administration’s push for electric vehicles (EVs).  US crude oil production is expected to rebound to a new record in 2023, the EIA said in its annual energy outlook, although it also projected that US gasoline demand has already peaked.

Electrification of the US’s light vehicle fleet by 2030, along with replacement of coal-fired power plants by renewables and gas turbines, could decrease our total primary energy usage by 13%.  At RMI, Britta Gross argued that for the US to reap the benefits of transportation electrification, the Biden administration must communicate a bold vision of what transport will look like in 2030.  The transition to EVs will have sweeping implications for the companies that produce and sell electricity and manage the grid; Brad Plumer discussed four things that need to happen.  The TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will add about 50 new EV fast charging stations, located every 50 miles along the state’s interstates and major highways, each with up to four chargers.  Ford said it was “doubling down” on EVs and will invest $22 billion in electrification through 2025, nearly twice what it had previously committed.

Central government inspectors have slammed China’s energy authority for failing to apply environmental standards on coal power expansion across the country.  China put 38.4 GW of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, more than three times the amount built elsewhere around the world.  However, they are expected to add about 140 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity this year, representing around 47.3% of their energy mix.

A new report from Morgan Stanley projects that coal-fired power generation is likely to disappear from the US power grid by 2033, replaced by renewable energy resources.  Speaking last week with analysts, Jim Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy, said “There is not a regulated coal plant in this country that is economic today, full period and stop.”  Last week, NRG Energy, which owns the Petra Nova carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in Texas, announced that it would be shut down indefinitely, leaving the US with no operating CCS projects.

The owner and operator of the Empire State Building and 13 other buildings, announced Wednesday a major purchase of wind power, making it the nation’s biggest real estate user of entirely renewable energy.  The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it would resume an environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project, stopped by the Trump administration.  Utilities and developers are repowering wind turbines with bigger, better blades years ahead of the end of their original life expectancies as they take advantage of technology improvements and expiring federal tax credits.  Opponents of the Rocky Forge Wind farm in Virginia filed a lawsuit alleging that the Department of Environmental Quality and Apex Clean Energy cut corners in the permitting process.  IdentiFlight’s smart cameras, which spot birds of prey and then halt wind turbines to protect them, can result in a large reduction of bird deaths.

Green hydrogen is set to play a substantive role in the overall energy mix, with its development likely to happen faster than anyone predicts, according to Wood Mackenzie.  A team at the Fraunhofer Institute in Dresden, Germany, has developed a new strategy for storing and transporting hydrogen fuel — a magnesium hydride-based paste.  To meet the goal of zero carbon emissions, industries such as steel production must wean themselves from coal; Maria Gallucci reviewed current efforts at Grist.  Also at Grist, Emily Pontecorvo wrote about the “Mission Possible Partnership,” which is bringing together members of seven carbon-intensive industries to collaborate on how to reduce carbon emissions.

Potpourri

At Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell interviewed Elizabeth Kolbert about her new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.  Genevieve Guenther, the founder of End Climate Silence, has said “… part of the reason that oil and gas propaganda is so effective is that there is always a grain of truth to it.”  She was interviewed on Vox.  Michael Patrick F. Smith, a Kentucky folk singer and playwright, reflected on what his time working on oil rigs in North Dakota taught him about America’s fossil fuel addiction — and how to curb it.  In The Atlantic, science writer Peter Brannen took us on a trip into deep time that warns of possible catastrophic surprises ahead.  David Owen published a long, but totally absorbing, article in The New Yorker about a young woman who is using geographic information systems to help the Catholic Church use its land to better the environment.  The Donors of Color Network launched a new initiative, challenging the nation’s climate philanthropists to shift 30% of their donations toward environmental efforts led by Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other people of color.

Closing Thought

Environmentalists are so good at emphasizing worst-case scenarios that when we look to the future, apocalypse often feels inevitable.  Nevertheless, Emma Marris argues that hope for the future is a reasonable and necessary prerequisite for action.

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.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for January 2021

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in The Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by The Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for January 2021

Energy

Appalachian Power wants the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to approve a rate increase to cover costs of “environmental improvements” at coal power plants. It also wants SCC approval of transmission line upgrades for five counties. The SCC did approve a service fee of $1.80/month. Dominion Energy wants the SCC to approve raising rates to pay for solar projects. The 2021 General Assembly session happening now will consider numerous energy and environmental bills. Some relate to utility reform.

The General Assembly will be voting on several clean energy and transportation bills during the current session: EVsenergy storagewildlifedata centers, so-called “advanced recycling,” and emissions standards. Local Del. Chris Runion (R-Bridgewater) has partnered with Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-McLean) on a bill to expand the definition of “small solar agricultural generator” to include wineries, cideries, and distilleriesLouisa County now has two electric school buses; Fairfax County has one. In what may be a sign of what’s to come, Giant Food announced installation of an EV charging station at its Purcellville store. Virginia is working with Norfolk Southern to expand passenger rail service in the New River Valley.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline continues to be the focus of federal and state regulators, and protestors. Its future is anybody’s guess; a recent survey indicates it does have supporters. North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit so Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods could start using hog waste to produce energy. A Dominion power plant using such material will be in Virginia. Atlantic Coast Pipeline cleanup will happen from 2021-2023 in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

Danville’s City Council approved an energy storage project to save the city’s energy costs. Augusta County’s planning commission determined that a proposed solar farm near Stuarts Draft is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. A guest columnist addressed whether solar panels should be put on food-production land.

Climate and Environment

Eagles are having problems with survival in Virginia; humans are causing them. Mark Viette, a horticulturist, has ideas for helping all birds. The invasive spotted lanternfly will adversely and noticeably affect Virginia agriculture.

The federal EPA continues to clean up a former titanium mine and refinery superfund site in Piney River. The Monacan Indian Nation and the James River Water Authority are working to address the former’s concerns about a controversial water project in Fluvanna County. A new report by a coalition of groups documents efforts in Central Appalachia to clean up and repurpose abandoned coal mine lands.

More than 2,500 acres in Charlotte County are now a state forest. Over 800 acres of old growth forest in Giles and Bland Counties are now protected. An additional 400 acres has been added to the Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve near Roanoke. Reforest Richmond is a campaign to plant over 8,000 Eastern Redbud saplings to help restore tree canopy. VA GRAZ is modeling software to help Virginia farmers assess potential impacts of conservation and other practices they are considering. Farmers can complete this survey to report on their conservation management efforts. Virginia representatives have proposed that the Historic Dismal Swamp be designated a National Heritage Area. One of these representatives convened the House Chesapeake Bay Advisory Board to consider the Bay’s effects on Virginia’s coastal communities. An article discusses the challenges of protecting species diversity in national forests such as Virginia’s Jefferson because commercial use is often allowed.

Norfolk’s problems with sea level rise and sinking land necessitates planning for dealing with chronic flooding. Stormwater runoff is a big problem.

Here’s a great story about a Chesapeake Bay skipjack skipper, oysters, and history. Chesapeake Bay restoration is an ongoing effort but more progress is needed; Bay advocates hope the Biden administration will be supportive. A Virginia delegate will head the tri-state Bay Commission in 2021. This video describes an intensive job training program to support Virginia’s wind industry. This dashboard lets you monitor Virginia’s progress toward its clean energy goals. Virginia Tech researchers say one way to reduce threats from Asian carp is to eat them. A Floyd County blogger provides some history about native forest bees before honeybees were imported. Biden named the Virginia commissioner of agriculture and consumer services to serve as deputy secretary of agriculture.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.