July News Roundup

First edition of a new Climate Action Alliance of the Valley Roundup of environmental and energy news! It follows the Weekly Roundup that Les Grady provided for many years; CAAV is so grateful for his efforts.

We plan to publish monthly and will try different approaches. We’d appreciate your feedback. Write us at contactcaav@gmail.com.

Find this July 2021 edition and future monthlies here. Read our monthly summary of Virginia Energy and Environmental news that the Harrisonburg Citizen publishes on its Perspectives page. CAAV is grateful to the Citizen’s editors for providing this community service and also to the Augusta Free Press editor for publishing our weekly Roundup and this new monthly.

Political, Legal, Policy

International

Legislation and Litigation

Administration, regulations, analyses, solutions

Wonk alert!

Visions (Realities?) of the future

  • Many climate-related events and results are leading people to re-evaluate whether and how they can remain in their homes and communities. Affected groups include Native Americans.
  • Some cities are examining what and how they’ll be in 2040 (Harrisonburg); others are thinking about 2121.

Our Changing Climate

Heat and fires

Drought, flooding, hurricanes, sea ice loss, sea level rise

Plastics, chemicals, and waste

Plants, animals, and wild places

Energy

Renewables, biomass, and nuclear

Transportation

Fossil fuels

We’re far from done with pipelines and maybe not coal either. This week’s stories told of …

Utilities and electric grid

  • A MI utility wants to meet its carbon reduction goals but plans to replace its coal‑fueled plants with those run on natural gas.
  • CA wants to test renewable energy and storage and grid capacity, without natural gas.
  • Utilities, the financial sector, and industrial energy customers agree that “transitioning away from coal is good for ratepayers.”
  • Wonk alert: RMI provides its “Utility Transition HubTM Insights” that foster understanding of what’s ahead for utilities and their customers.

Ideas, Entertainment and Information

Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/25/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of centrist senators reached a deal on Thursday for $1.2 trillion in investments to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.  Although the details are sparse at this point, the Washington Post provided a good summary of what is included.  One thing that is clear, however, is that it does relatively little to fight climate change.  However, Biden has said that he won’t sign the compromise into law unless there is a companion bill passed through the reconciliation process that includes many of the things left out of the compromise, infuriating Republicans and putting the deal in doubt.  Meanwhile, Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) officially announced the formation of the Conservative Climate Caucus with a membership of 52 Republican House members, so maybe change is coming.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told the House Natural Resources Committee that there is not currently a plan to permanently ban new drilling leases on public lands and waters.  The administration is considering banning imports of polysilicon from China’s Xinjiang region, a move that would assuage bipartisan pressure to crack down on human rights abuses but could undermine the White House’s climate change goals.  Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm defended US carbon-neutrality targets in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, saying the US has no choice but to take action, regardless of what China does to reduce its emissions.  The Federal Housing Finance Agency is beginning to formally examine the risks climate change is bringing to the housing market, but it faces a challenge in designing policies that address those risks without unfairly burdening communities of color.  In its 2022 budget request, DOE included funds to create “urban integrated field laboratories” that would gather climate data in cities and build bridges to urban communities.  FERC announced a task force in collaboration with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to align federal and state regulators in an effort to identify and navigate barriers to construction of transmission lines.

A Massachusetts state judge rejected Exxon Mobil’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit by the state Attorney General accusing the oil company of misleading consumers and investors about its role in climate change.  Just 11% of the 250 biggest corporate greenhouse gas emitters have plans for major emission cuts by 2030.  The House voted 229-to-191 to restore a rule targeting leaks of methane from oil and gas operations.  The Line 3 fight continued, with the Biden administration urging in a court brief that a challenge brought by local tribes and environmental groups be thrown out; the protestors vowed not to stop.  In a retrospective on the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, Marianne Lavelle wrote: “The 13-year fight over Keystone XL transformed the US environmental movement, and dramatically shifted the political center of the American debate over energy and climate change. … But the larger issue for the climate action movement is whether the US can enact a comprehensive policy that truly reshapes energy use ….”

The goal of limiting global warming seemed far away last week, as the most recent round of UN climate negotiations ended with concerns about a lack of progress on key issues like climate financing for developing countries and a global framework for a carbon market.  The World Bank agreed to boost its spending on climate change to 35% from 28% and to provide annual progress reports to its board.  The European Parliament approved a landmark law to make the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions targets legally binding.  The UK government set “historic” targets on the climate crisis but failed to come up with the policies needed to reach them, the government’s independent advisers on the climate warned.  Norway awarded four exploration licenses to seven oil companies, but fewer oil companies applied for the permits than in previous licensing rounds.

Climate and Climate Science

Agence-France Presse obtained a draft copy of the upcoming Working Group II report from the IPCC on the impacts of climate change, which says that climate change will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can stop greenhouse gas emissions.  A new report detailed global warming’s impact on Yellowstone National Park — changes that have begun to alter its ecosystem and threaten everything from its forests to its geysers.  A new report from the World Resources Institute argued that incremental changes to agriculture in response to climate change will not be sufficient to feed everyone; rather they call for “transformative adaptation”.  UNESCO recommended that the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) be placed on a list of World Heritage sites that are “in danger,” prompting a fierce reaction from the Australian government.  UNESCO appeared to be singling out the GBR because Australia is a laggard in addressing climate change.

Scientists and engineers are proposing ways in which geoengineering could be applied to cause the oceans to take up increased amounts of CO2 in supposedly benign ways.  Climate change is reducing the supply of water from melting snow to many of the largest rivers in Asia, threatening the water security of millions of people.

The US Southwest has become drier since the mid-20th century, particularly on the hottest days, increasing wildfire risk.  Last week’s record heat wave in the western US led to multiple wildfires.  Scientists found that butterfly observations have declined 1.6% annually over the past four decades in the western US.  Heat waves, such as the one being experienced in the Pacific Northwest, are complex, both in their formation and duration, as explained in this article from Vox.  Furthermore, the health effects of heat waves are made more severe by poor air quality

The NOAA/NCEI Climate Extremes Index (CEI) tracks the frequency of extreme weather by combining six indicators and determining the percentage of the contiguous US that is above or below the normal climate conditions; 2020 had the highest CEI on record with a value of 44.63%.

An assumption inherent in the concept of net-zero CO2 emissions is that the behavior of the climate system in response to CO2 emissions and removals is symmetrical, but recent research has shown that it is actually asymmetrical.  Consequently, balancing an emission with a removal of the same size will result in higher atmospheric CO2 levels than avoiding the CO2 emission in the first place.  A group of climate futurists from the University of Hamburg examined the likelihood of keeping global warming below 1.5°C while reaching deep decarbonization by 2050 and concluded that neither goal is plausible.

Energy

Miami-Dade County has bought 42 Proterra ZX5+ electric transit buses, to be delivered in 2022, as well as 75 Proterra chargers.  D.C. Metro will add electric buses each year starting in 2023, then will phase out purchasing nonelectric buses by 2030 so that its entire fleet will be composed of electric buses by 2045.  Cummins’ Vice President for New Power Engineering, Jonathan Wood, said that hydrogen fuel cell trucks will become competitive with diesel powered vehicles by 2030 in terms of their total cost of ownership.  European auto and truck manufacturers are embracing fossil-free steel and competing to become industry leaders in making the switch.  The Swedish joint venture HYBRIT has succeeded in making sponge iron on a pilot scale entirely with renewable energy.

Despite the decision of automakers to shift production to EVs, high costs and an uncertain return on investment are causing many US gas station owners to delay installing EV charging stations.  Researchers at the Universities of Maryland and California (at Davis) have determined that getting drivers of light-duty trucks to buy electric versions may be a tough sell.  New York City’s taxi regulator voted to stop issuing new for-hire licenses for EVs.  The US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy found that the estimated scheduled maintenance cost for a light-duty battery-electric vehicle is 6.1 cents/mile, while for a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle it is 10.1 cents/mile.

Janet Mills, Governor of Maine, signed legislation that makes Maine the ninth US state to have adopted a deployment target for energy storage.  British power producer Drax Group said it would seek planning permission to build a new 600 MW underground pumped hydro storage power station in Scotland.

One outcome of the recent G7 meeting was an agreement to work toward a doubling of the efficiency of cooling systems sold worldwide by 2030.  At RMI, John Matson reviewed why this is necessary and how it might be achieved.

Following a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of EVs, many are wondering if the time of peak oil has finally been reached.  European countries could be underreporting methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure, investigators have warned after a study found that leakage was endemic across the industry.

Potpourri

The New York Times Magazine has devoted the current issue to the climate.  The lead article is entitled “What if American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis” and features Ezra Klein and four environmental thinkers discussing the limits of politics in facing down the threat to the planet.  After conversations with a diverse group of global energy experts, Canary Media provided a list of seven emerging investment opportunities in the clean energy arena.  Weatherization assistance programs help low-income households save energy and reduce utility bills.  Architect Kunle Adeyemi has built his career around the question of how his creations affect the health of the planet.  At her Burning Worlds website, Amy Brady interviewed Irish artist Katie Holten about her Tree Alphabet projects.  The results of a recent study suggest that some Republicans can be persuaded to care about global warming and that microtargeting might be an effective way to reach them.  In an article about evangelical Christians and climate action, Katharine Hayhoe was quoted as saying: “If we really take the Bible seriously, we would be at the front of the line demanding climate action.  For somebody who is, at least, even partially a theological evangelical, who actually takes the Bible seriously, that is a huge point of connection.” 

Closing Thought – A Personal Note

Friday was a significant day for me, being my 83rd birthday.  It also represented 6.25 years of preparing the Weekly Roundup.  One thing I have noted as I approached this birthday is a real understanding that life is finite — that if I want to accomplish certain things I have been putting off, then I had best get on with them.  I’ve also become aware of how much longer it takes me to get things done.  So long, in fact, that the Roundup has begun to take up much of my time.  Thus, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that if I want to accomplish some of the things I have been putting off, I need to stop compiling the Roundup and bid you adieu.  So, this is the last Roundup I will assemble (except as an occasional substitute).  A committee chaired by Joy Loving (who has kindly substituted for me on many occasions) is planning what CAAV will provide in place of a weekly Roundup, so you can expect to hear from her in the near future.

I plan to stay involved in climate advocacy and urge you to do so as well.  Getting the policies we need to limit warming will be a battle, as this last week has demonstrated.  So, make your voices heard.  Support political candidates who “get it” and work to educate those who don’t.  Lastly, get involved with CAAV, Give Solar, or any of the other climate-related activities here in the Valley.  And lastly, keep the faith!

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/18/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/11/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden broke off talks on an infrastructure bill with Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV) after they hit a “brick wall,” instead reaching out to a bipartisan group.  National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said some ambitious proposals to fight climate change could fall out of the infrastructure package, which garnered pushback from the party’s centrist and left wings, with many saying “No climate, no deal.”  During a webinar on Wednesday, scientists and activists said that proposals for solar geoengineering ignore the root cause of the climate crisis — and create a cascade of unintended problems.  Researchers argued that the federal government should minimize the risk for hydrogen infrastructure projects by providing clear regulatory treatment.  An antiquated law, a complex and drawn-out approval process, and a lack of ships are all hampering rapid development of offshore wind energy along the US coastline.  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a $547 billion package aimed at fixing the nation’s roads and transit systems, while putting a bigger focus on the environment.  The Growing Climate Solutions Act is popular on both sides of the aisle, but will it really help the climate?

A new UN report warned that unless the world stops treating climate change and biodiversity collapse as separate issues, neither problem can be addressed effectively.  For example, while most actions to address biodiversity loss are also good for the climate, the reverse is not necessarily true.  Research has found that achieving 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030 is possible using existing technologies, while maintaining grid dependability without increasing electricity costs, thanks to plummeting wind, solar, and battery costs.  The Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was starting an “Earthshots” initiative to reduce the cost of clean energy within a decade — starting with reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram.  DOE also announced a series of policy actions to scale up manufacturing of advanced battery technologies.  The need is apparent when you consider how small the US capability is (See Table 2).  General Motors threw its support behind the overall emissions reductions in California’s 2019 deal with other major automakers. 

House Republicans are preparing to announce a new climate caucus, open only to Republican lawmakers, showing them how climate change affects their districts and introducing possible solutions focused around conservative values.  A Republican pollster, at a secretive meeting with roughly 20 Republican lawmakers, presented research suggesting that pro-climate messaging could turn the tide in enough close races to allow the party to take over the House.  Speaking with Jennifer Eberlien, associate deputy chief of the US Forest Service, congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) asked if it was possible to alter the orbits of the moon, or the Earth, as a way of combating climate change.  An upcoming overhaul of the federal government’s flood insurance program will financially benefit many of the nation’s lowest-income communities, while charging higher rates for houses that are expensive to replace or are vulnerable to rising sea levels and intensifying storm surge.

G7 finance ministers backed moves to force banks and companies to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks, a measure seen as vital to efforts to safeguard the financial system from climate change shocks.  Ahead of the G7 summit, investors controlling $41 trillion in assets called for governments around the world to end support for fossil fuels and set targets for rapid reductions in carbon emissions.  Similarly, more than 70 CEOs from some of the world’s biggest companies called on all governments to set policies to meet targets consistent with limiting the global rise in temperatures to 1.5°C.  In spite of these calls, the G7 countries remain committed to the fossil fuel industry.  Biden faces four major climate obstacles as he tries to find common ground with world leaders at the G7 meeting.  Research has revealed that 87% of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the G7 nations between 1999 and 2019 was because of climate policy, rather than wider socioeconomic changes.  Mexico’s President is unlikely to be able to change the constitution to pass fossil fuel friendly energy reforms.  Chinese banks and investors funneled billions of dollars into global agribusinesses driving deforestation in the past seven years.

Climate and Climate Science

Sea ice in the Arctic hit its annual maximum extent on March 21, tying with 2007 as the seventh-smallest extent of winter sea ice in the satellite record.  A new study has warned that the remainder of the ice shelf that holds the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica onto land could fall apart in a few decades, rather than the century previously estimated, accelerating the flow of the glacier to the sea.

Long before the era of fossil fuels, humans may have triggered a massive “carbon bomb” lurking beneath the Earth’s surface by converting large areas of carbon-rich peatlands for agriculture.  When the entire food system — including the raising of crops and livestock, the conversion of land to agriculture, transportation, retail sales, food consumption, and food waste — is considered, greenhouse gas emissions are much larger than previously estimated.

According to research from Oxfam and the Swiss Re Institute, the G7 countries will lose 8.5% of GDP a year, or nearly $5 trillion a year, within 30 years if temperatures rise by 2.6°C.  The city of Copenhagen is planning to build an artificial island in the middle of its port to help protect the city from storm surges as sea level rises.  Temperatures in the Middle East have topped 125°F after a run of record-breaking heat, a full month before high temperatures usually reach their annual average peak.

Lake Mead has sunk to its lowest level ever, underscoring the gravity of the extreme drought across the US West.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the only one, as the graphics in this article make clear.  During September 2020, the Central Valley of California and Oregon’s Columbia River Basin experienced a 20% drop in the amount of sun reaching solar panels because of smoke and soot from wildfires.

Energy

Electric trucks have come a long way in the last 18 months, with new models entering many segments of the market and policy efforts to grow vehicle sales and enlarge charging infrastructure expanding rapidly.  One exception is Lordstown Motors, the startup electric truck maker, which warned Tuesday it is close to running out of cash and may be forced out of business in the next year.

A new report released by the American Clean Power Association said that 500,000 to 600,000 new jobs could be created through the solar, wind, and battery storage industries as the country moves toward clean energy.  First Solar unveiled plans to double its US manufacturing capability by building a new state-of-the-art fully integrated solar panel manufacturing complex in Ohio.  Global solar power developers are slowing down project installations because of a surge in costs for components, labor, and freight as the world economy bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic.  Florida Power & Light Company is 40% of the way to its goal of installing 30 million solar panels by 2030, having installed 12 million.  The state of Mississippi has approved its first wind farm, to be built on 13,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta and to contain up to 100 turbines.  North Carolina has set a goal of having 2.8 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040.

If we are to have a grid powered predominately by renewable energy we must have a way to level out its inherent variability, not just on a short-term basis, but also for longer periods (up to 500 hours).  Two ways of achieving that are low-carbon firm generation and long-duration energy storage (LDES).  David Roberts had an excellent article explaining recent research into what must happen before LDES can play a substantial role in a clean grid.  It is sobering.  Another sobering article appeared in The Economist, which examined the bottlenecks that could constrain the deployment of clean energy.

Plug Power, a company that produces hydrogen to fuel vehicles and electric generators, says it will invest $84 million to build a green hydrogen facility in southeast Georgia.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has committed to running its 4.3 GW of fossil fueled power plants partly on green hydrogen by around mid-decade, ramping up to 100% in about 10 years.  A white paper by Siemens Gamesa said that using onshore wind turbines to power electrolyzers to produce hydrogen from water could become as cheap as making hydrogen using fossil fuels by 2030, whereas using offshore wind will take until 2035.  A paper from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group explained what turquoise hydrogen is and how it fits into the quest for net-zero emissions.

Shell will respond to a recent defeat in a Dutch court by accelerating its efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions, the company’s leader said.  The Keystone XL pipeline, which was to bring oil from Canada’s Western tar sands to US refiners, was cancelled by owner TC Energy Corp.  More than 200 people were arrested at a Minnesota construction site of the Line 3 Pipeline, a 340-mile pipeline carrying tar-sands oil through treaty-protected tribal lands in northern Minnesota and into Wisconsin to the tip of Lake Superior.  Exploratory drilling for lithium on BLM land in Arizona threatens the Hualapai Tribe’s religious practices.

Global Energy Monitor’s first comprehensive survey of global coal mine proposals has found more than 400 new mine proposals that could produce 2,277 million metric tons per annum (Mtpa), of which 614 Mtpa are already being developed.  The owner of three coal-fired power plants in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio that generate a combined 2.4 GW of electricity said that it will shut them down.

Potpourri

Michael Svoboda has twelve books for your summer reading; some fiction, others nonfiction.  The “Climategate” computer hacking scandal, in which hackers stole thousands of emails and documents from the UK’s University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, is to be made into a BBC film.  Two artists are trying to make climate change news more visible by using bots to interact with news articles about it.

Closing Thought

People say, what is the sense of our small effort?  They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.  A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions.  Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that.  No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless.  There is too much work to do.

Dorothy Day, 1897 – 1980

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/4/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden’s first budget proposal adds $14 billion in new money to policies and programs devoted to climate change.  It also takes aim at tax provisions that benefit the fossil fuel industry and projects that eliminating them will generate $35 billion over the course of a decade.  Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) predicted that the Senate would see a “big fight” over carbon pricing but said he believes lawmakers will make progress on the issue this year.  He also said, “I think there is a significant group of senators in the Democratic caucus who are going to insist that our climate measures be robust and real and point toward 1.5°C, and we will do what’s necessary to accomplish that goal”  In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe, James Hansen and Daniel Galpern maintained that Biden has the authority under the Independent Offices Appropriations Act to direct the EPA to impose a fee on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Last week, Biden announced $1 billion in funding for pre-disaster mitigation resources for communities, states, and Tribal governments.  The Biden administration is suspending all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the sensitive region.  However, a law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 requires the president to hold another lease sale in the refuge before the end of 2024.

ARPA-E’s SCALEUP program is putting a greater emphasis on bringing emerging clean technologies to commercial scale — and on finding private-sector partners to help.  At Vox, Ella Nilsen wrote about green banks and their potential for increasing the development of green infrastructure.  To electrify every home in America as quickly as possible, neither up-front costs nor electrical service constraints should prevent a homeowner from choosing an electric appliance to replace the fossil-fueled one that just broke down.  Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell made clear Friday that the institution’s role in the climate crisis is limited to oversight of banks and the rest of the financial system, and not in setting public policy. 

Sarah Steinberg, a policy principal at an industry association for clean energy companies, summarized the top ten energy issues generating legislative activity across the country.  The American Conservation Coalition is hosting the first conservative climate rally in Miami on Saturday, June 5.  This past winter, Virginia lawmakers committed to phasing out diesel-powered school buses and replacing them with electric ones within a decade, but left the law unfunded, leaving state and local officials to search everywhere for funding to make the transition.  Lawmakers in roughly a dozen states are using strikingly similar talking points as they unleash a wave of legislation aimed at forbidding municipalities from banning natural gas in buildings.  Power for Tomorrow, the organization that sent all those scary, large, postcards to many Virginians last week, is a utility front group that is “Virginia-based and Dominion Energy-connected.”  In another blow to the oil and gas industry last week, the Texas legislature did not reauthorize its property tax exemption.

In preparation for COP 26, officials from around the globe began three weeks of climate talks on Monday that involve grappling with a number of thorny political issues.  The world must rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on nature and the climate, and put forth an effort equal to the space race.  Rich countries are falling behind on their pledges to help the poor world tackle the climate crisis.  The development charity Tearfund and partners alleged that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the nations that make up the G7 pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than they did into clean energy.  The EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 4% in 2019.  Emissions from coal mined in Australia but exported and burned overseas were almost double the nation’s domestic greenhouse gas footprint in 2020.  The New York Times reported that the International Maritime Organization “has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise.”

Climate and Climate Science

Wildlife ranging from bluebells and bumblebees to snow leopards and emperor penguins will be under threat if global warming exceeds 1.5°C.  A study involving 45,000 dissolved oxygen (DO) and temperature profiles collected from nearly 400 freshwater lakes worldwide has revealed a widespread drop in DO levels because of rising temperatures.

Dangerously hot conditions and triple-digit temperatures are forecast for the Western US this week.  The drought in the Klamath Basin along the California-Oregon border is so bad that violence could erupt as farmers experience extreme anger over being cut off from their main water source.

More than a third of heat-related deaths in many parts of the world can be attributed to the extra warming associated with climate change.  More than 32 million homes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts with a combined value of $8.5 trillion are at risk of sustaining hurricane wind damage.

Seven of the ten biggest floods in the Amazon basin have occurred in the past 13 years, while this year, rivers around the biggest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have swelled to levels unseen in over a century of record-keeping.  In recent weeks, nine major fires have ignited in the Brazilian Amazon on previously deforested land, heralding the start of another fire season, which, after a particularly dry year, experts say could be a bad one.

New research has found that clouds could have a greater cooling effect on the planet than CMIP6 climate models suggest because the models simulate too much rainfall and, therefore, underestimate clouds’ lifespan and cooling effect.  According to a risk analysis, the relationships between four massive Earth systems (Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheets, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and the Amazon rainforest) could be destabilized by even moderate climate change, leading to cascading effects of accelerated sea level rise and species loss.  Sea ice in the coastal Arctic may be thinning far faster than scientists believed, likely because previous research didn’t completely account for the influence of climate change on snow.

Energy

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has completed its “Electrification Futures Study” and released its final report; Dan Gearino devoted his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week to reviewing what it said about the feasibility of electrifying the entire US economy.  One of the key takeaways from a recently published white paper by FERC staff is that there are several potential benefits to pairing electricity generation with energy storage, but US network operators still have a way to go to best accommodate such ‘hybrid resources’.  The coal-fired 522 MW North Valmy Generation Station is scheduled for retirement and Nevada utility NV Energy wants to replace it with 600 MW of solar combined with 480 MW of battery storage across two planned sites.  Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor company TerraPower LLC and Berkshire Hathaway’s PacifiCorp have selected Wyoming to launch the first Natrium nuclear reactor project, featuring a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with molten salt-based energy storage.

A new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that investments in clean energy need to more than triple this decade to maintain the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C.  A group of 23 nations will invest $248 million over the next decade to address how best to respond to the variability associated with solar and wind energy.  A study by US think-tank Global Energy Monitor has revealed that the world’s coal producers are planning as many as 432 new mine projects with 2.28 billion metric tons of annual output capacity.

A third climate advocate has secured a seat on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp.  Oil major BP is investing $220 million in 9 GW of US solar projects as it seeks to expand its renewables portfolio.  An analysis, carried out by the energy consultancy M.J. Bradley & Associates, has revealed that five of the top ten emitters of methane are little-known oil and gas producers whose environmental footprints are large relative to their production.

Rhode Island coastal regulators approved certification for the South Fork Wind Farm, a decision that pushes the second major offshore wind project proposed in the US one step closer to reality.  Dominion Energy is building the Charybdis, the first Jones Act-qualified offshore wind turbine installation vessel in the US; Ørsted and Eversource have said they will charter it for the construction of Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind, two of their planned offshore wind farms in the Northeast.  The wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to safely meet worldwide demand for wind power.  Start-up Vortex Bladeless has demonstrated its bladeless wind turbine, which generates electricity by oscillating.  Flower Turbines, whose turbines look like tulips, wants to make small windfarms a leading player in the green energy industry.

Global EV battery sales more than doubled in the first four months of the year, with Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology capturing 32.5% of the market.  Biden’s strategy to make the US a powerhouse in EVs will include boosting domestic recycling of batteries to reuse lithium and other metals.  A recent  Pew Research Center report found that 47% of US adults support a proposal to phase out production of gasoline-powered cars and trucks, while 51% oppose it.

Potpourri

While some news outlets are paying attention to the climate crisis, most are still underplaying its threats.  Ana Teresa Fernández’s work “On the Horizon,” erected on a beach, attempts to show passersby what the six feet of sea-level rise that scientists are projecting would actually look like.  According to the IEA, nearly two-thirds of the energy reduction needed to reach net-zero by 2050 will require people to change their behavior.  By understanding that people with different worldviews actually construct different mental images of how climate change and the world work, climate change communicators can better craft their messages.  Starting Friday night, Netflix débuted the series Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, which documents “the most important scientific discovery of our time — that humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilization.”  Jonathan Watts interviewed Earth scientist Johan Rockström, who helped create the series. 

Closing Thought

Since publishing Doughnut Economics in 2017, renegade British economist Kate Raworth has become a phenomenon that mainstream economics largely declines to acknowledge but increasingly cannot ignore.

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 5/28/2021

Politics and Policy

Lisa Friedman of The New York Times examined the perilous path through Congress faced by President Joe Biden’s climate plan.  Senate Republicans unveiled their $928 billion infrastructure counteroffer to Biden on Thursday.  Grist examined what’s in it.  A growing number of Democrats are getting impatient with bipartisan infrastructure talks and prefer to move on.  Biden supposedly will rely on ally countries to supply the bulk of the metals needed to build the batteries for EVs, and, instead, focus on processing them domestically into battery parts.  DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 research groups to assess how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, and to explore ways to extract it.  The federal government plans to allow wind power projects to be built in federal waters off the coast of California northwest of Morro Bay and west of Humboldt Bay.  Inside Climate News reviewed the issues that have hampered California’s offshore wind development in the past.  California has announced that it is allocating $20 million and $110 million from its 2021-2022 budget to support the development of offshore wind and green hydrogen, respectively.  Data from public agencies indicates that the slow and inconsistent permitting processes seen across most of the 400 local jurisdictions in California is a key impediment to converting available funding into EV charging infrastructure.  Arizona regulators voted to revive a suite of clean energy requirements, but the compromise will extend Arizona’s decarbonization timeline through 2070.

Wednesday was not a good day for the oil industry.  ExxonMobil shareholders voted to install two new independent directors to the company’s board.  A court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its carbon pollution 45% by 2030.  Chevron Corp shareholders voted to cut emissions generated by the use of the company’s products.  E&E News considered what these events might mean for the oil industry and RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance had a rundown of this year’s other major shareholder efforts.  On another, but related, subject, forest ecologist Charles Canham had an essay about US forest carbon offsets, in which he wrote: “Our forests can and will continue to provide critically important offsets to carbon emissions.  But marketing those offsets to allow emitters to continue to pollute may simply be unethical.”  Advocates for environmental justice urged North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to block permits for future wood pellet plants and to pay more attention to their effects on health.

House Democrats intend to clear for Biden’s signature a resolution to curb methane emissions, but a final vote could be weeks away because the House Energy and Commerce Committee will first consider and debate the resolution in an effort to shield it from litigation in the courts.  The Biden administration is defending a huge Trump-era oil and gas project in the North Slope of Alaska designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years.  However, the administration said it planned to revise a Trump-era rule that limited the ability of states and tribes to veto pipelines and other energy projects that could pollute their local waterways.  Last week I included an item about Biden signing an executive order directing several federal departments and agencies to analyze the risks climate change poses to the US financial system and federal government.  The Wall Street Journal responded by writing “Rule by the climate technocrats is coming fast.”

After nearly two days of wrangling at a meeting of the G7 environment and energy ministers, all reaffirmed their commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5°C and agreed to end their financial support for coal development overseas, among other things.  Countries around the world raised $53 billion last year with carbon emission pricing schemes, up almost 18% from 2019 as some imposed new levies and prices in some existing schemes rose.  Trial runs of China’s national-level carbon emission trading system have been conducted to ensure the system’s successful launch in late June.  Almost 72% of the coal-fired power plants being built globally now rely on Chinese funding.  The federal court of Australia found that the environment minister has a “duty of care” to protect young people from the climate crisis.  Poland’s government defied an injunction by the top EU court that ordered the immediate closure of a major brown coal mine.  At Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce dove into the arguments around pledges of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, asking whether “net-zero” is key to limiting global temperature rise or a dangerous delusion.

Climate and Climate Science

Large areas of the US Southwest were under “exceptional drought” conditions this week.  As a result, scientists and wildfire managers are concerned that the region is entering the fire season in worse shape than last year.  For the last two decades, Yellowstone National Park has warmed at its most intense rates in at least 1,250 years.

The World Meteorological Organization predicted that there is a 44% chance that Earth’s average annual temperature will temporarily hit 1.5°C of warming at some point in the next five years, a likelihood that has doubled since last year.  Two studies released this week show that heat exposure and related health issues are already having an inordinate impact on people of color and low-income communities in the US.  As the first official appointed in the US to focus on heatwaves, Miami’s chief heat officer is warning about the lethal threat of rising temperatures.  A study with fruit flies underscored the need to account for both thermal fertility limits and lethal temperatures in planning conservation efforts as temperatures rise.  Intense heat and high humidity could pose a serious risk to athletes at this year’s Tokyo Olympics. 

Driven primarily by the world’s land surface heating up, evapotranspiration — the transfer of water from the ground into the air through a combination of evaporation and transpiration — increased by 10% between 2003 and 2019.  In its latest “State of the Climate” report, Carbon Brief said that after a record-tying warm year in 2020, the world is on track for a cooler year in 2021, driven by moderately strong La Niña conditions in the last part of 2020 and early 2021, although 2021 will likely be among the top 10 warmest years.

Runoff from some melting glaciers in Greenland contains as much mercury as highly polluted rivers in heavily populated parts of the world, raising concerns about the amount of mercury entering nearby rivers and fjords, important sources of fish for coastal Greenland communities.

Energy

California regulators have proposed adding 11.5 GW of almost completely carbon-free capacity to its grid in the next five years; the questions is, “Can they do it?”.  A new study showed that in the US the queue of new wind and solar capacity scheduled for connection to the grid has reached record levels, along with the new capacity of battery storage projects.  A sobering article in The New York Times showed how much wind and solar capacity must be added to the US grid to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and discussed the obstacles to getting there.

Offshore wind project developers plan to ship massive blades, towers, and other components for at least the initial wave of US projects from factories in France, Spain, and elsewhere before potentially opening up manufacturing plants on US shores.

The Nature Conservancy is conducting a pilot project to transform former mines in the central Appalachian coalfields into solar farms to benefit people in the region without harming the forests.

In collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a team from the University of Michigan has discovered a Si/GaN self-improving property that enhances its efficiency and stability in the direct conversion of sunlight and water into carbon-free hydrogen.  The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has identified West Africa as having tremendous green hydrogen production potential.  Oman is planning to build one of the largest green hydrogen plants in the world, in a move to make the oil-producing nation a leader in renewable energy.  Hyundai Motor has announced its plans to send a new series of hydrogen fuel cell trucks to Europe later in 2021.

Ford expects 40% of its sales globally to be EVs by the end of this decade.  Dan Gearino devoted his column this week to the Ford F150 Lightning electric pickup.  Los Angeles-based Fisker Inc will supply the first pure EV for Pope Francis next year, based on its new Ocean SUV with features such as a solar roof, an all-glass cupola, and carpets made of recycled plastic bottles from the ocean.

Most lithium-ion batteries contain cobalt to reduce the chance of fire.  Much of the world’s cobalt is in Democratic Republic of Congo and this is leading to a “cobalt rush,” with terrible consequences for many.  A 2.5MW / 4MWh demonstration system using a novel grid-scale energy storage technology based on a “carbon dioxide battery” has begun construction in Sardinia, Italy.

Potpourri

Ben Santer, John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Fellow at LLNL has announced that following his retirement at the end of September he will no longer have any affiliation with LLNL because of its invitation to Steven Koonin to speak on climate science.  Just in case you’ve forgotten who Koonin is, Yale Climate Connections had another critical review of his recent book Unsettled.  Steve Hoy explained what “true zero” means.  Grist had an article about two women who sacrificed everything to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.  The Pew Research Center has new results about how Americans’ attitudes about climate change differ by generation, party, and other factors.  Yale Climate Connections devoted this month’s bookshelf to new reports that envision how, and why, the US might rise to the task of recapturing leadership on climate.  In an opinion essay in The Guardian, an anthropologist of development and the environment wrote: “To believe that we can innovate and engineer ourselves out of this mess is to miss the key lesson of the Anthropocene – that dealing with planetary-scale processes calls for humility, not arrogance.”  Barnabas Calder’s Architecture: From Prehistory to Climate Emergency sets out to tell the history of architecture as one of energy useGrist reviewed environmental films from this year’s Mountainfilm Festival.

Closing Thought

Peter Sinclair has a new “This Is Not Cool” video, drawing a link between the historic “moon shot” goal of President John F. Kennedy and Biden’s climate objectives.  The excerpts from Kennedy’s speech on September 12, 1962 are particularly meaningful to me because the speech took place at Rice University, where my wife and I were students and in attendance.  Kennedy’s spirit of daring optimism colored my life and I hope that today’s students will someday be able to look back at this time as one of daring change.

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 5/21/2021

The city of Harrisonburg and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance have launched Harrisonburg Downtown 2040, a visioning process to help inform how downtown will progress over the next 20 years.  Visit the link to make your ideas known; they hope to hear from everyone who cares about Downtown, even if you aren’t a resident.

Politics and Policy

John Kerry said that the US is looking into introducing a carbon fee on imports from countries that don’t tax heavy greenhouse gas polluters.  Gina McCarthy said that existing nuclear power plants are going to be needed in the Biden administration’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The EPA issued a final rule laying out methane emission thresholds for municipal solid waste landfills, giving landfill operators 30 months to install appropriate systems to meet the standards.  President Biden has reappointed Michael Kuperberg, the scientist responsible for the National Climate Assessment, after he was removed from his post last year by President Trump.  The administration announced a major push to cut carbon emissions from federal buildings and from homes by setting new efficiency standards and investing in innovative research.  It also took the first step to reinstate an energy efficiency standard for light bulbs, a move that’s expected to undermine incandescent bulbs in favor of LEDs.

Achieving effective climate policies is proving to be a divisive task.  Two camps disagree on how to decarbonize Colorado — Gov. Jared Polis (D) favors public investment and an incentives-based approach, whereas a group of state legislators and environmentalists wants a hard mandate to cut emissions across the economy.  A proposal for a wind and solar project near a 7,000 year-old sacred Indigenous spiritual site has divided a Minnesota community.  At the federal level, environmental advocates are arguing over a “clean electricity standard” versus a “renewable electricity standard” for climate legislation.  Except in Washington DC, support for putting a price on CO2 emissions is steadily spreading.  Catholic support for it was on display during a weekend climate change conference, where two bishops touted it as a critical climate solution that is both effective and “eminently doable.”  The Alliance for Market Solutions announced on Wednesday the launch of an advocacy campaign to garner support on Capitol Hill for it.

President Biden on Thursday signed an executive order directing several federal departments and agencies to analyze the risks climate change poses to the US financial system and federal government.  Politico said the measures will reach well beyond Wall Street.  On Monday, in a 7-1 decision that will impact similar climate liability lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry, the US Supreme Court ruled that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals must take a fresh look at the remand order that sent Baltimore’s liability case against BP back to the state court where it was originally filed.  As EVs increase in numbers on the nation’s highways, states and the federal government must come up with an equitable system for raising funds for road construction and maintenance.

The world can still reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but only if governments redouble their efforts, all fossil fuel investment is halted, and renewable energy capacity and infrastructure are added at unprecedented scale, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).  Asian energy officials disputed the IEA’s approach, viewing it as too narrow.  Meanwhile, in France a proposed climate law has passed the National Assembly and moved on to the Senate, but has sharply divided the country.  Britain’s Emissions Trading System kicked off on Wednesday, with carbon prices reaching over $70 per metric ton, making the cost of polluting in Britain higher than in the EU.  A debt-for-climate swap plan is expected from the IMF and the World Bank ahead of COP26, and if done right, could be highly effective in addressing both spiraling low- and middle-income country debt and the climate crisis.  Even if the Biden administration sets a deadline to sunset sales of gas-powered passenger vehicles in the US, the export of used cars could stall the global reductions in CO2 emissions needed to stave off catastrophic warming.

Climate and Climate Science

The cover article in Chemical and Engineering News this week addressed the issue of replenishing depleted soil as a means of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and the scientific and policy issues associated with it.  With a changing climate, fires in far northern forests that smolder throughout winter and erupt again in spring could become more common, a new study suggests.  Glaciers, like the soil, have their own community of microbes, their own microbiome, transforming them from what we thought were sterile wastelands into vibrant ecosystems that can control how fast glaciers melt — and may even influence the global climate.

A new report from the NRDC and others shows that the health costs of climate change now far exceed $820 billion per year in the US.  According to a study published in Nature Communications, sea level rise from global warming caused approximately 13% ($8.1bn) of the $62.7bn in damages associated with Superstorm Sandy in 2012.  Trees that were poisoned and killed by saltwater from rising seas are emitting greenhouses gases, prompting researchers to warn of a warming source that could become worse as rising seas encroach on forests.

A new guidance document aims to help National Park Service ecologists and managers confront the fact that they must now actively choose what to save, what to shepherd through radical environmental transformation, and what to let vanish forever.  When it comes to the highest surface temperature, the Lut Desert in Iran and the Sonoran Desert along the Mexican-US border have Death Valley beat, having recently reached a sizzling 80.8°C (177.4°F).  Extreme heat risks may be widely underestimated and sometimes left out of major climate reports, but new studies sharpen warnings for unlivable heat in the tropics, and nearly unthinkable extremes in major Northern Hemisphere cities.

A significant part of the Greenland ice sheet is on the brink of a tipping point, after which accelerated melting would become inevitable even if global warming was halted.  The Arctic is now warming three times as fast as the global average, and faces an ongoing barrage of dangerous climate and environmental pollutants, Arctic Council experts warned at the start of their meetings in Reykjavik, Iceland this week.  A drastic drop in caribou and shorebird populations is a reflection of the dire changes unfolding on the Arctic tundra.  As part of the “natural cycle” of the Ronne Ice Shelf, a huge ice block has broken off from western Antarctica into the Weddell Sea, becoming the largest iceberg in the world.

NOAA said in a forecast released on Thursday that there’s a 60% chance of an above-normal hurricane season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season. 

Energy

Air France-KLM has launched its first long-haul flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel, petroleum mixed with a synthetic jet fuel derived from waste cooking oils.  Over the next year, at a research site run by NASA on the fringes of the Mojave Desert, companies will be demonstrating their best efforts at eliminating carbon pollution from aviation via a new generation of electric airplanes.  Canada-based seaplane airline Harbour Air aims to offer zero-emission, all-electric commercial flights by 2022.

The combination of falling solar prices, forceful prodding from their members, and progressive top leadership has caused Old Dominion Electric Cooperative in central Virginia to have 30 MW of operating solar, another 135 MW on the way soon, and a pending proposal to add up to another 400 MW in the next four years.  Solar groups and Virginia’s lead energy agency are asking the State Corporation Commission to hold a hearing on Dominion Energy’s plans to charge shared solar customers a minimum monthly bill of almost $75, contending the price tag could hinder customer participation.

In a presentation Wednesday night in Dearborn, MI, Ford Motor Co unveiled an electric version of its popular F-150 pickup truck, called the Lightning, which is aimed at small businesses and corporate customers such as building contractors and mining and construction companies that buy lots of rugged pickups.  Ford and South Korean battery maker SK Innovation announced they will form a battery joint venture in North America to support Ford’s EV rollout.  Duckyang Industrial Co. said that it will invest $10 million and hire 285 people northeast of Atlanta to make battery modules and energy storage systems for SK Innovation’s plant in Commerce.  To jump-start EV battery recycling, governments and industry are putting money into an array of research initiatives.

A new report from the Ohio River Valley Institute estimates that the cost of cleaning up all abandoned coal mine land is more than double what the federal inventory previously claimed — $26 billion.  Malta Inc. and Duke Energy, using a Department of Energy grant, will examine integrating Malta’s 100 MW, 10-hour pumped heat energy storage system into existing infrastructure at a Duke Energy coal plant in North Carolina.  While lithium-ion batteries are dominant in the EV market, several other battery types are vying to dominate the grid storage market.

China’s CO2 emissions rose 9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with pre-pandemic levels, driven by a carbon-intensive economic recovery and big hikes in steel and cement output.  Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin witnessed via video link the groundbreaking ceremony of four advanced nuclear reactors powered by Russia’s third-generation nuclear technology in China on Wednesday.  Wind turbine maker Vestas unveiled new technology which will enable wind turbine blades to be fully recycled, avoiding the dumping of old blades in landfills.

Potpourri

Christopher D. Stone, a legal scholar who argued in a seminal 1972 paper that trees, rivers, oceans, and nature itself possess fundamental legal rights, died May 14 in Los Angeles; he was 83.  New research shows that organized climate denial is still funded mostly by anonymous donors; the funding has increased at a steady rate of around 3.4% per year over the past two decades.  Bill McKibben wrote of a new book from the British psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe, Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis: Neoliberal Exceptionalism and the Culture of Uncare.  Cyril Christo had an homage to the Himalayas at The HillCarbon Brief had a guest post explaining how world weather attribution works.

Closing Thought

There is a new dimension to the controversy over climate communication — at its heart is the question of how “depressing” or “hopeful” it should be.

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 5/14/2021

Politics and Policy

To bolster preparedness for a warming world, President Biden wants to retool and relaunch the Civilian Conservation Corps as the Civilian Climate Corps.  Biden expressed optimism that a bipartisan compromise could be reached on infrastructure spending after he held a meeting with a handful of Republican senators.  Several experts say that a clean energy standard must be at the heart of any energy policy if it is to survive a change of administrations.  Biden’s proposal to wean the US electric grid off of fossil fuels has run into a new band of enemies: Left-wing climate and environmental justice activists who believe it isn’t ambitious enough.  Another dilemma became evident as a result of the cyber-attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline: How to build a clean energy future while shoring up the present’s carbon-intensive infrastructure.  The EPA is rescinding a Trump-era rule that would make it harder to regulate air pollution, including CO2.  One Trump policy that Biden has retained is the tariff on solar panels.  The US Federal Reserve has asked lenders to start providing information on the measures they are taking to mitigate climate change-related risks.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills Wednesday that will — among other things — set aside hundreds of millions of state dollars for flooding infrastructure projects.  The Virginia State Corporation Commission approved a set of proposals from the state’s two largest electric utilities on how they will meet the ambitious renewables targets set by the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act.  The California Energy Commission released a draft version of the next update to the state’s building code, a document that favors the use of electric heat over gas furnaces by saying that heat pumps would be the preferred technology for new construction, but not a mandated technology.  The Texas legislature is considering a bill that would impose annual fees of $250-$400+ on drivers of EVs, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the 2030 gas car ban because it was tied to a road-use fee for EVs.

Most net-zero targets adopted by governments include both emissions reductions and negative emission components.  A recent survey revealed that in the interest of transparency, experts think that the two components should be targeted individually.  A trio of British policy researchers has laid out four actions that entities can take to make their net-zero pledges credible.  In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, elder statesmen Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Erskine B. Bowles called for the adoption of a carbon tax.

A survey of 800 cities found that about 43% of them, representing a combined population of 400 million people, did not have a plan to adapt to the climate crisis.  A researcher with Peking University’s Institute of Energy said China is on track to reach peak coal consumption, coal-fired power capacity, and emissions from the power sector by 2025.  The French Senate voted to weaken a constitutional commitment to fighting climate change and preserving biodiversity, preferring wording that was less binding.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved draft legislation for more ambitious CO2 reduction targets, including becoming carbon neutral by 2045.  A report from CEWASTE, a two-year project funded by the EU, has called for mandatory recycling of critical raw materials present in circuit boards, magnets used in disc drives and electric vehicles, batteries in electric vehicles, and fluorescent lamps.  Since March, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has been advancing a proposal before the International Maritime Organization to impose a $100 per ton tax on all greenhouse gas emissions in the industry.

Climate and Climate Science

Even though last week I included an article about NOAA’s new 30-year average temperature, I call your attention to this article because of the great graphics in it.  With a moderately strong La Niña event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, global temperatures in 2021 are running decidedly cooler when compared to recent years.  James Hansen’s newsletter bears this out, including data from April.  It also shows a forecast for continued La Niña this year, suggesting continued cooler global temperatures.  However, the long-term trends in methane and CO2 emission rates are not encouraging.  A new EPA report offered a snapshot of the extent to which the science around climate change grew more detailed and robust during Trump’s term, showing that the nation has entered unprecedented territory in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster, and becoming more extreme, affecting both public health and the environment.

A large new modeling study investigated whether the loss of Arctic sea ice is causing the jet stream to become wavier; the results were negative.  However, new evidence from weather records suggests that the jet stream actually has gotten slightly wavier since the 1950s, although the cause is still unknown.  Last week I included two articles reporting on modeling studies about the fate of glaciers in a warmer world that had contradictory results.  This week, Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone focused on the inclusion of MICI (Marine Ice Cliff Instability) in one study as the main explanation for the differences.  At Yale Climate Connections, meteorologist Jeff Masters discussed the possible reasons for the recent increase in the number of Atlantic named tropical storms.

An area of forest the size of France has regrown around the world over the past 20 years, showing that regeneration in some places is paying off.

Of the 100 cities worldwide most vulnerable to environmental hazards all but one are in Asia, and 80% are in India or China.  Southern Madagascar is in crisis with more than a million people facing acute food insecurity as the region suffers its worst drought in four decades.  Some of the world’s biggest tea-growing areas will be among the worst hit by extreme weather, and their yields are likely to be vastly reduced in the coming decades, if climate change continues at its current pace.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that federal fire officials had warned them to prepare for an extremely active fire year, as several types of drought are converging in the West.  Improved agricultural practices and widespread irrigation may stave off another agricultural calamity in the Great Plains, but scientists are now warning that two inescapable realities — rising temperatures and worsening drought — could still spawn a modern-day Dust Bowl.  New research indicates that economic damages from droughts in Europe could rise by one third by the end of the century, even if warming is limited to 1.5°C and countries implement adaptation measures.

Energy

In 2020, the world’s renewable energy industry grew at its fastest pace since 1999, despite the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).  Furthermore, the IEA’s “renewable energy market update” forecast nearly 40% higher growth in 2021 than it expected a year ago, putting wind and solar on track to match global gas capacity by 2022.  Finally, the IEA expects the rapid growth in renewables to become the “new normal.”  The Nature Conservancy is working with Sun Tribe Development to install up to 75 MW of solar energy at several sites covering approximately 550 acres of deforested minelands in the 253,000 acre Cumberland Forest property in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  A collaborative piece in The Guardian explored the ways in which energy companies want to impose charges on people who produce their own power with rooftop solar arrays.

Coal shipments in 2020 to the US electricity sector hit their lowest yearly level since the Energy Information Administration (EIA) began publishing such data in 2007.  The EIA also predicted that this summer will bring a 12% decline in natural gas-based electricity generation, offset by a 21% rise in renewable generation and an 18% increase in coal-based generation.

The Biden administration has approved the nation’s first major offshore wind farm, the Vineyard Wind project, which will be located 14 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, contain 84 turbines, and generate around 800 MW of electricity.  The approval injected fresh optimism into the nation’s offshore wind industry.

Under the guidance of the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory, carbon capture technologies are improving nicely, according to an article in E&E News and reprinted by Scientific American.  A new study by Aurora Energy Research revealed that hydrogen is the key to decarbonizing hard-to-abate industrial sectors, such as steel.

Electric cars and vans will be cheaper to produce than conventional, fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2027, according to forecasts from BloombergNEF.  South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group said it plans to invest $7.4 billion in the US by 2025 to produce EVs, upgrade production facilities, and further its investment in smart mobility solutions.  Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced it would make $20 million of the state’s Volkswagen settlement funds available for school districts to electrify their bus fleets.

Potpourri

Film maker Neil Halloran has a new video that examines uncertainty in climate science.  EPA has launched a new website of climate change indicators.  A new study by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes charted the trajectory of ExxonMobil’s climate messaging, finding that the oil giant used “the subtle micro-politics of language to downplay its role in the climate crisis.”  Vanessa Nakate, the young Ugandan climate activist who was cropped out of a photo from the World Economic Forum in Davos last January, has used her new-found fame to argue for the role of racial justice in the climate change movement.  Facebook is “fueling climate misinformation” through its failure to come to grips with misleading content, according to a new report that calls on companies to boycott the platform until significant action is taken.  All around the globe, artists are capturing their fears, worries, and hopes about climate change through their art.  Paul Greenberg, author of The Climate Diet, provided his take on the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy.  Faith Kearns’ new book, Getting to the Heart of Science Communication: A Guide to Effective Engagement, argues that there’s no one “right” approach to talking about the climate crisis and other contentious scientific issues. 

Closing Thought

In an article sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, Grist spotlighted EverGrain, a company that is developing nutrient-rich ingredients for all kinds of human-grade food products, using spent brewing grains as their feedstock.

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 5/7/2021

Politics and Policy

The deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions promised by President Biden and other global leaders since last September have slightly improved the outlook for global warming, with the world now being on track to warm by 2.4°C by the end of this century.  A new report identified 22 high-voltage transmission projects that are “shovel-ready,” but which are being held up by financing and administrative barriers.  ABC News investigated how Biden’s infrastructure plan could revitalize the nation’s archaic rail system.  The Department of Energy announced plans to encourage deployment of more solar and storage in low- and moderate-income communities, including a $15 million commitment for technical assistance and to help underserved areas attract investment.  Although short on specifics, a new 22-page document from the Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture Departments, entitled “America the Beautiful,” outlines steps the US could take to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change, and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans.

The EPA proposed a rule to slash the use of hydrofluorocarbons, potent climate-warming gases commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners, by 85% over the next 15 years.  Citing its failure to reinstitute a rule on building in flood zones, its lack of an overarching climate resilience strategy, and its failure to hire senior staff to manage and coordinate work, climate experts warned that the Biden administration has yet to take steps that would turn his pledge to “build back better” into reality.  Pennsylvania officials issued a final rule on Tuesday that solidifies the state’s plan to adopt a carbon pricing policy and join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  David Roberts thinks that Washington State has the most comprehensive and ambitious slate of climate and energy policies of any US state.  Several environmental groups have filed a new legal challenge to a US Army Corps of Engineers program that allows oil and gas pipelines to be built across bodies of water under a blanket construction permit.  Fifteen states have enacted anti-protest laws since 2017.

According to Yale Climate Connections, only 25% of more than 400 American newspaper front pages acknowledged Biden’s climate summit in some way and only ten newspapers addressed it in editorials.  Eight of the ten largest coal-fired plants have no firm retirement dates, even though the President has talked about wanting to see a phaseout of fossil fuel-generated electricity by 2035.  Eversource Energy, New England’s largest utility, is part of a national “Consortium to Combat Electrification,” whose mission is to “create effective, customizable marketing materials to fight the electrification/anti-natural gas movement.”  In the long run, ethanol is a dead-end fuel, but that’s not stopping the ethanol lobby from trying to get ethanol production written into Biden’s infrastructure plans.  America’s environmental and conservation groups have disparate opinions about new renewable energy infrastructure and its trade-offs.

Four European climate experts asserted that scientifically speaking, humanity can still limit global warming to 1.5°C this century, but political action will determine whether it actually does.  They further said that “Conflating the two questions … is dangerous.”  In an interview with the Independent, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said that quitting coal-fired power is the “single most important” step the world must take as it gears up for COP26.  The stark gap in vaccination rates between the world’s rich and poor countries is emerging as a test for how the world will respond to that other global challenge: averting the worst effects of climate change.  The EU carbon price hit a record high of above €50/metric ton on Tuesday.  German officials proposed that the country could bring forward the date for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” from 2050 to 2045 and increase its emissions reduction targets from 55% below 1990 levels to 65% by 2030, and to 88% by 2040.  China’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 rose to 27% of the world’s total, surpassing those of the US and the rest of the developed world combined.  At The Guardian, environment editor Damian Carrington wrote: “… until every government and corporate decision has to pass the bullshit test — does it really cut carbon now — then we are kidding ourselves if we think we are treating the climate crisis like the emergency it is,” while the Economist said: “net-zero thinking … allows the ultimate scope of emission cuts to remain undefined and sweeps all the uncertainties under a carpet of techno-optimism.”

Climate and Climate Science

MIT has three interesting new “Explainers” on its Climate Portal website: “Forests and Climate Change,” “Coastal Ecosystems and Climate Change,” and “Soil-Based Carbon Sequestration.”  Climate change is causing a growing crisis in the sex ratio of global sea turtle populations, but according to newly published research, a simple intervention could help address the imbalance.

On Tuesday, NOAA released an updated set of climate averages for the contiguous US based on the 30-year period from 1991 to 2020.  Compared with previous 30-year periods, the climate has turned unambiguously warmer.  A report from the UN Environment Program has found that, through a combination of measures targeted at agriculture, fossil fuel production, and the waste industry, methane emissions could be slashed by 45% by the end of this decade, avoiding nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045.

Holding global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C – rather than following current emissions pledges – could halve the sea level rise from melting land ice by the year 2100.  Another study found that with global warming limited to 2°C or less, Antarctic ice loss would continue at a pace similar to today throughout the 21st century, but with 3°C of warming, an abrupt jump in the rate of ice loss would occur around 2060.  Scientists have warned that an increasing number of people are being threatened by glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) as Earth warms.

A string of weather events has battered thousands of farmers and ranchers across the US over the past two years and the billions of dollars in damage caused by such weather could soon overwhelm the banks and lenders that provide critical cash flow to farmers, endangering our food supply.

A severe multiyear drought, deepened by a shortage of monsoon rains in 2020 and disappointing snowfall over the winter, has helped spark major wildfires months earlier than usual, leading to concerns that large swaths of the American Southwest could face a harsh fire season.  The Brazilian Amazon released nearly 20% more CO2 into the atmosphere over the past decade than it absorbed.

Energy

The world isn’t mining enough minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel to reach a future that runs on clean energy.  The development of mines here in the US has led to a contest of sorts about how best to extract and produce large amounts of lithium in ways that are less destructive than past practices.

Chinese manufacturers are erecting factories for EVs almost as fast as the rest of the world combined.  If you’ve never driven an EV, you’ll find Robinson Meyer’s article about the importance of the new Ford Mustang Mach-E to be particularly interesting.  If you’re thinking of buying an EV, this article has some advice.

National Geographic examined the future role of nuclear energy in the US, including some of the new reactor designs.  The White House has signaled privately to lawmakers and stakeholders that it supports taxpayer subsidies to keep existing nuclear facilities from closing, bending to the reality that it needs these plants to meet US climate goals.  The staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has backed Dominion Energy’s application to extend operations at its Surry Nuclear Power Station in Virginia by 20 years, into the 2050s. 

The Virginia State Corporation Commission has approved Dominion Energy’s plans to add nine new solar facilities with a combined output of 500 MW to its grid.  Demand for electricity is likely to balloon in Virginia over the next three decades as data centers flock to the state and EVs increasingly replace traditional vehicles.  The Culpeper County, VA, Board of Supervisors unanimously denied a conditional use permit for a 1,700-acre utility-scale solar project.  A Charlottesville, VA, family-owned petroleum distributor, Tiger Fuel, is going solar by adding rooftop panels to its chain of convenience stores and gas stations, and by buying solar developer Altenergy to help provide the energy of the future.  A two-year criminal investigation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) has concluded with no charges filed.  MVP said Tuesday it will take longer, until summer 2022, and cost more, $6.2 billion, to complete the natural gas pipeline.  Two nonviolent protesters must serve a day in jail for every day they spent in tree stands blocking the path of the MVP and pay civil fines plus $141,386 for the cost of their extraction.

New research has concluded that using electricity directly to power cars and warm houses is far more efficient than using it to produce hydrogen for the same purposes.  Solid-oxide fuel cells manufactured by South Korea’s Bloom Energy have successfully completed testing while powered entirely by hydrogen.  Prototypes of BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are now being tested under real-world conditions on the streets and highways of Germany.  Daimler Trucks and Volvo AB are working together to reduce the cost of hydrogen fuel cells by five or six times their current cost to make the zero-emission technology commercially viable for long-haul trucking.  The Chairman of Avia Solutions has projected that the hydrogen aircraft market will reach about $174 billion by 2040.

Potpourri

AJ Dellinger compiled seven podcasts to help you make sense of the future.  Physicist Steven Koonin, who proposed having a “red team, blue team” climate debate during Trump’s presidency, has published a new book entitled Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t and Why it Matters.  Marianne Lavelle wrote two articles about it at Inside Climate News, one providing five statements from it that mainstream climate scientists say are misleading, incorrect, or undercut by current research and another presenting the views of several climate scientists about it.  A review of the book by the Wall Street Journal was considered to be of “very low” scientific credibility by 12 reviewers at Climate Feedback.  At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach investigated the types of climate related jobs that are likely to be in high demand in the future.  Professor of Earth System Science Mark Maslin had an article at The Conversation based on his new book How to Save Our Planet: The Facts.  Torched Earth Ale, a new beer from New Belgium Brewing, is a dark, starchy brew made with less-than-ideal ingredients that would be more available and affordable to brewers in a climate-ravaged future.

Closing Thought

At The Guardian, author Rebecca Solnit wrote: “That we cannot see all the way to the transformed society we need does not mean it is impossible.  We will reach it by not one great leap but a long journey, step by step.”

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 4/30/2021

Politics and Policy

In his first joint address to Congress, President Joe Biden outlined a transformative vision, with climate policy driving both domestic and international affairs.  An administration official said that the 2020 decade is the “decisive decade” to take meaningful climate change action, but the administration is receiving criticism because it has not released details about how it determined that its goals were achievable.  The Department of Energy (DOE) is offering up to $8.25 billion in loans for companies to improve resilience and expand transmission capacity across the power grid.  A group of transmission developers and advocates unveiled a report detailing how 22 existing transmission projects could enable 50% growth in US wind and solar power generation capacity.  The Department of Transportation (DOT) will help speed the siting and permitting of transmission projects that use public highways and other transportation rights-of-way.  E&E News provided more details on the DOE and DOT initiatives.  The administration highlighted more than a dozen programs with $41.9 billion in federal grant funding available now for electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure buildout.

A report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers said that the US has fallen behind its biggest global competitors in efforts to develop technologies that could reduce the effects of climate change.  Proposals in Biden’s infrastructure plan to expand renewable energy tax credits and to mandate clean energy and system modernization are the tools utilities need to meet the demand for clean energy.  The White House hopes to capitalize on support from US utilities, unions, and green groups for a national clean energy mandate by backing efforts to require the US grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources by 2030.  A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is working on an alternative to the infrastructure plan that would cost roughly half as much but spend far more on roads and bridges.  While discussing Biden’s pledge at last week’s Climate Summit, David Roberts wrote: “… history will judge Biden … by which policies and investments his administration and Democrats in Congress put in place, … .”  Infrastructure and climate are linked issues that offer both economic and environmental returns.  Biden’s bet on EVs is drawing opposition from Republicans who associate it with the Green New Deal, so that even GOP lawmakers who sense the inevitability of EVs are opposed, leaving some fearful that EVs could become entangled in the culture wars.  An advocacy group representing auto suppliers urged Congress not to back a rapid phase-out of gas-powered vehicles.  Virginia’s right-to-charge law bars homeowner and condominium associations from prohibiting installation of EV chargers in a resident’s designated parking space.  South Dakota is joining a multi-state lawsuit aimed at stopping federal regulators from making decisions that factor in the social cost that carbon has on the environment.

Grist evaluated Biden’s energy and climate accomplishments during his first 100 days in office.  The Senate voted to reinstate an Obama-era regulation designed to reduce methane emissions by using the Congressional Review Act to turn back a Trump methane rule enacted late last summer.  The EPA announced that it will reinstate California’s authority to set more stringent climate requirements for cars and SUVs.  Federal eminent domain policy currently favors natural gas projects over renewable energy ones, but some argue that the government needs to reconsider which projects serve the public good.  High-voltage transmission lines buried along road and rail rights of way could carry renewable power across the US while avoiding siting and permitting roadblocks.  According to a new analysis by CarbonPlan, California’s forest carbon offset rules allow inflated climate benefits to be claimed.  If Governor Jay Inslee signs the bill as expected, Washington will become the second state, after California, with a comprehensive carbon cap-and-trade system.

The issue of whether burning wood pellets for energy is carbon neutral is back in focus because of the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.  Germany’s highest court has ruled that the country’s climate change laws are insufficient and violate fundamental freedoms by putting the burden of curbing CO2 emissions on the young.  Scientists have identified a 5.5-billion-ton gap between greenhouse gas emissions acknowledged each year by the world’s nations and the emissions calculated by independent models.  Energy Monitor put the carbon-reduction commitments of the US, UK, and EU on an equal base so they could be compared.   Poland’s government and unions signed an agreement with the coal mining industry to phase out coal production by 2049, while Chile will close half of its coal-fired power plants by 2025.  Denmark is building an island that could ultimately supply 10 GW of renewable energy from offshore wind turbines.

Climate and Climate Science

Although climate scientists used to talk of a certain amount of warming as being “locked in” due to past CO2 emissions, they now understand that when CO2 emissions stop, Earth’s temperature will quickly stabilize; Carbon Brief explains why.

A warming climate does not pose one single risk, but rather multiple, interacting risks.  In a guest post at Carbon Brief, the authors of a recent paper explain how the multiple facets of climate risk can be considered.  Grist published a comprehensive article with great illustrations and graphics explaining seven climate tipping points.

Moving quickly to cut emissions of methane could slow Earth’s warming as much as 30%, new research has found.  Furthermore, a UN report to be released next week says that a concerted effort could slash methane emissions by as much as 45% by 2030, helping to avoid nearly 0.3°C of warming as early as the 2040s.

No-till farming could slash greenhouse gas emissions from crop production by nearly a third and increase the amount of carbon soils can store.  Joanne Chory and the Harnessing Plants Initiative strive to modify grain crops to increase the amount of carbon they store in their root systems.  Colombia is the second-largest producer of Arabica coffee, but changing climate, soil, and precipitation patterns are altering the harvest volume, production techniques, and the taste of coffee.

Glacier melt across the world (exclusive of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets) has accelerated over the past two decades, with the resulting meltwater accounting for 21% of global sea level rise over the same period.  This massive melting has caused marked shifts in the Earth’s axis of rotation since the 1990s.  The rapid loss of glacial ice poses a particularly high risk in developing regions where millions depend on glaciers for drinking water.  If total collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to occur, the resultant sea level rise (over a long period of time) would likely be around 30% greater (14.1 ft rather than 10.8 ft) than previously expected because of the rebound of the rock underlying the ice sheet.

Energy

In his weekly column at The New Yorker, Bill McKibben quoted from a new report by Carbon Tracker Initiative: “The land required for solar panels alone to provide all global energy is 450,000 km2, 0.3% of the global land area of 149 million km2. That is less than the land required for fossil fuels today, which in the US alone is 126,000 km2, 1.3% of the country.”  A growing body of data indicates that 2030, not 2050, should be the deadline for US utilities to close all coal-fired power plants and that the time to stop building new natural-gas-fired power plants is now.

Decarbonizing energy and other industries globally using hydrogen will require investment of almost $15 trillion between now and 2050.  Toyota and Chevron will work on public policies supporting hydrogen supplies for light- and heavy-duty fuel cell EVs, for hydrogen infrastructure, and for further development in hydrogen transportation and storage.  Many shipping industry figures are pinning their hopes on blue or green hydrogen to help steer the industry away from bunker fuel, but others say it is not up to the job.  Another industry that would benefit from the availability of blue or green hydrogen is steel production, which currently has very high CO2 emissions.

A report by the International Energy Agency has found that the number of electric cars, vans, trucks, and buses on the world’s roads is on course to increase from 11 million vehicles today to 145 million in 2030.  According to Honda, by 2030 it expects 40% of the vehicles it sells to be battery or fuel cell EVs; by 2035, 80%; and by 2040, 100%.  Saying that it wants to control the key technology for EVs, Ford plans to open a battery development center by the end of next year.

According to the CEO of TVA, recently shut coal-fired power plants could serve as sites for a new generation of small modular nuclear reactors because of their existing water resources and power grid connections.  He also said that TVA is preparing to phase out the last of its aging fleet of coal-fired power plants by 2035 and turn to more natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy sources.  Duke Energy Corp said that it plans to triple its renewable power output to 23% by 2030 as it continues to retire coal-fired plants; combined with its six nuclear plants, Duke said its carbon-free energy will be around 53% in 2030.

John F. Kennedy once said, “The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not … .”  Grist reporter Derrick Jackson wrote, “The same is true of offshore wind.”  The Danish wind power firm Ørsted has found that the rocks placed at the base of offshore wind turbine foundations to prevent erosion of the seabed are wearing down the protection system of the undersea transmission cables, which could cause the cables to fail.

Potpourri

White evangelicals have become more willing to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change over the past decade.  Overconsumption, overpopulation, and uncertainty about the future are the top concerns of people who say climate change is affecting their decision whether to have children.  The popular cooking website Epicurious will not publish new beef recipes over concerns about climate change.  Biden’s not taking away your meat, as Republicans claimed this weekend, but partisan conflict over eating animals is just getting started.  Grist had an interview with Jenny Price, author of Stop Saving the Planet! An Environmentalist Manifesto.  There are several interesting items at the Artists and Climate Change website.  Amy Brady interviewed poet Tamiko Beyer at the Burning Worlds website.  While you’re there, check out the items following the interview. 

Closing Thought

The Global Cooling Prize was a challenge to cooling engineers to design a residential air conditioner with a fivefold reduction in climate impact, compared to today’s standard models.  Two winners were recently announced.

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.