Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/12/2021

Our Changing Climate

This summer has been one climate related calamity after the next. So much so that it feels like sensory overload. Did all that actually happen in one summer? It began with unprecedented drought, heat, and wildfires in the American West. This was followed by devastating floods in Europe and China. Then there were more wildfires in Siberia and Turkey. Since then, Hurricane Ida unleased flooding in Louisiana and the Northeast, including New York City, leaving more than 45 dead. We could go on. The list of calamities is not exhausted.

In the August Climate and Energy News Roundup, I recalled how my wife Ruth and I experienced 118-degree heat in the city of Barstow on the edge of California’s Central Valley as we drove to Oakland to visit family in July. Farmers in the Central Valley face huge challenges as they contend with climate induced heat and drought. What I did not say was that the next day we visited the Sequoia National Park. At this high altitude, the temperature reached an unseasonably high 85 degrees but it was still relatively comfortable as we walked under the majestic giant Sequoias, some of which are more than 2,000 years old.

Now those Sequoias, which are among the most fire adapted trees on our planet, are being threatened by climate induced hot complexes of wildfires. More than 10,000 trees (about 14% of the population) have succumbed. These trees had survived and thrived in all kinds of extreme weather for thousands of years. It was especially jarring to recently see photos of the giant Sequoias we had recently walked under now wrapped in massive aluminum foil sheets in a desperate attempt to save them.

It is not only the Sequoias that are experiencing unprecedented stress. Native American communities that have lived in North America for thousands of years are also under threat. The Yurok Tribal Reservation is in a remote area along the Klamath River on the misty northern California coast. Now, due to a history of regional water mismanagement combined with a historic drought, the river is sick – and the Yurok are too. Earlier this year, a fish kill of enormous magnitude left 70% of juvenile salmon dead from a deadly pathogen which spreads when the flow of water is curtailed and water quality is low.

The Yurok have traditionally relied on salmon from the Klamath River for their livelihood and their diet. They have now had their fishing rights severely curtailed to protect the remaining salmon population, creating a financial and dietary crisis for them. The underlying problem, unaddressed by state and federal regulators, is that upstream dams severely restrict the flow of water and divert it for other purposes, thereby destroying the entire ecosystem.

The Hopi Native American tribe has survived for more than a thousand years in the arid mesas of Arizona. Now, the two-decade long megadrought gripping the Southwest is testing their resilience. Researchers have estimated that human-influenced climate change has contributed considerably to the severity of the drought, which is considered to be as bad or worse than any in the region over the last 1,200 years. In response, the Hopi tribal council has been forced to ask native ranchers to slash livestock numbers to avoid further catastrophe. They are also urging tribal members to do everything they can to preserve dry farming, an ancient practice in which crops grow despite scant rainfall through drought-resistant seeds, small fields, and terraced gardens.

Politics and Policy

A recent study published by Lancet Planetary Health finds that children and young people around the world are experiencing “widespread psychological distress” over the fate of the planet because of climate change. That fear and anxiety is real and tied to their concern that governments around the world are not doing enough to address the crisis.  A first-of-its-kind study postulates that today’s kids will live through three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents.

This fear for the future propels the actions of many young climate activists from around the world. Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a teenage climate activist from the Philippines says she cannot help thinking about it because our whole future is ahead. She has tried to channel the uncertainty into her work, talking about the environment at schools, helping farmers get irrigation equipment, and joining fishing communities fighting shorefront commercial development.

The Citizens Climate Lobby has been pushing hard for a carbon price as part of the fight against global warming. They are encouraged that both progressives and moderates are now seriously working to include that in the reconciliation “Build Back Better” bill. Major players in the Senate are now working on putting a carbon fee and dividend into the bill.

Governor Northam recently initiated the new commuter-friendly Amtrak train connecting Richmond-to-D.C. by being among the first to board the new line’s inaugural run. This line is the first project under the state’s $37 billion, 10-year program called Transforming Rail, which aims to expand and streamline commuter, passenger and freight rail systems.

California governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that received bipartisan support, requiring carbon emissions per ton of cement produced to be cut by 40 percent below 2019 levels by 2035. Cement production is responsible for 7 to 8 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions globally. Climate activists are hopeful that this will spur innovation that can be emulated in other countries like China and India.

Energy

Energy is hard to come by as global leaders prepare to gather in Glasgow, Scotland for a climate conference. Some regions in China are rationing electricity, because of a shortage of coal and oil. The price of natural gas is sky-high in Europe and power plants in India are on the verge of running out of coal. The recent spike in demand comes after a year of pandemic related retrenchment in coal, oil and gas extraction, stretching global supply chains. Advocates for renewable energy argue that the crisis shows the need to move further away from fossil fuels while their critics contend that moving too rapidly to green energy has created the problem.

Coalfield Development, the largest nonprofit in West Virginia located in Huntington, West Virginia, is training former coal miners to transition to renewable energy jobs. They recently partnered with Solar Hollar, a local startup solar installer, to install a 294-solar panel project on the roof of their factory. The installation will produce enough power to offset the usage of all their operations on the site and save them over $135,000. The mission is to make solar affordable, accessible and achievable for everyone in West Virginia and to bring good clean energy jobs to people in this historic coal mining region.

The Harrisonburg school board decided to have Affordable Energy Concepts install new solar panels on the roof and campus of Bluestone Elementary School. The installation will include an interactive electric sign and a solar-powered water fountain, which can serve as teaching tools. The solar system could get Bluestone close to generating as much energy as it uses.

The latest edition of The National Geographic focuses on “the dream of a cleaner commute.” All the big automakers are moving rapidly toward an electric vehicle future. The more difficult challenge is going green in air travel. Alternative fuels such as electric batteries and hydrogen are too heavy or cumbersome for use in long distance flight. The airline industry and research centers are, however, experimenting with electric powered planes for short commutes and with non-fossil fuel sources such as algae for longer flights. That is still in the more distant future, forcing us to recognize that, at present, we may need to limit and find alternatives to air travel when possible (The National Geographic, October 2021: 38-83).

Various Climate Actions

Ahead of the global environment summit in Glasgow in November, Pope Francis, of the Roman Catholic church, Patriarch Bartholomew, of the Orthodox church, and Archbishop Justin Welby, of the global Anglican communion, issued an unprecedented joint declaration urging world leaders to work together to address our climate crisis. The statement urged all people – “whatever their beliefs or worldview” – to “listen to the cry of the Earth and of people who are poor. Today, we are paying the price [of the climate emergency] … Tomorrow could be worse.” It concludes: “This is a critical moment. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it.”

Dominion Energy is currently undergoing a rate review, marking the first time since 2015 that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) will fully review and potentially adjust what Dominion customers pay for electricity.Dominion is requesting a significant authorized profit increase from 9.2% to 10.8%, which could raise energy bills if approved.

CALL TO ACTION: Sign on to this petition by Clean Virginia asking the SCC to deny Dominion’s request for a profit increase. The SCC rejected a similar request in 2019, estimating it would cost Virginians $1.4 billion in additional charges. 

Most people naturally think of planting trees as a way to mitigate climate change. This overlooks the ecological benefits of native grasslands, which are also superstars of ecosystem services. Grasslands expert Elizabeth Borer, at the University of Minnesota, explains that natural grasses have enormous root systems (often far larger than the plant you see above ground) which hold the soil together and help prevent erosion. Such grasslands hold more than a third of the world’s land-based carbon while providing a rich habitat for wildlife.

In contrast, most lawns are resource-intensive monocultures doused with water and pesticides and mowed by carbon spewing gasoline powered lawnmowers. There are as many as 50 million acres of lawn across the US—an area roughly the size of Nebraska. An easy climate actionthat can have a significant impact is changing how we care for our lawns:

  • We can learn how to maintain a healthy lawn without using lots of water, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicides.
  • Planting white clover as part of our grass mix makes our lawns more diverse and supportive of insects such as native bees.  
  • We can convert some of our lawn to low maintenance native plant and edible landscaping borders in our bid to “bring nature home.”
  • And you may want to trade in your old gas-powered lawnmower for a more ecological and much quieter electric lawnmower. 

Reflection

Environmentalist and Episcopalian priest, Ragan Sutterfield says that climate change is a symptom of a larger underlying disease. Borrowing a concept from family therapy, “the climate crisis is the identified patient of our planetary dysfunction.” He concludes, “In our concern, we should recognize the systematic pathology of industrial civilization that has brought us to a crisis with the climate. We need reconciliation with the whole, not just a solution for the identified patient” (The Christian Century, Sept. 22, 2021: 29).

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/18/2021

Our Changing Climate

Heat and fires

“A Hotter Future Is Certain, Climate Panel Warns. But How Hot Is Up to Us.”  “IPCC’s starkest warning yet.” Question is:  Are politicians and corporations paying attention?  Many more stories attest to the seriousness of our collective situation:  The Guardian, The New York Times,

Siberian Wildfires—Bigger than all the rest combined, worldwide.  Even so, the huge western US wildfires are creating their own weather—and clouds that produce lightening that can spark new fires.  The scale in the western US is almost unimaginable:  100,000 acres burned near Sacramento;  make that “143.900 acres”; our smoke warning systems aren’t robust enough; “Our future [in the Sierra Nevada] might not look the same”; “Wildfire smoke claims more than 33,000 lives each year”, not counting “long term exposure”; the Dixie fire—nearly 1 million acres; “World’s largest tree wrapped in fire-resistant blanket as California blaze creeps closer”.

High temperatures are everywhereSicily, Pacific Northwest,

Methane emission reductions are imperative, says latest IPCC report.

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

Hurricane Ida’s damage to Louisiana—to the coastFuture prospects (not so good); to coastal residents; to electricity customers’ pocketbooksAbandoned oil and gas infrastructure off its shores.  Oil spills. Water crisis.   Lawsuits against oil companies for damages. Keeping the lights on—National Geo weighs in. 

Lots of flooding.  Climate change help set up conditions for Tennessee’s recent problems (“walls of water”); also Germany’s and Belgium’s. Ditto for New York.  The bad news?  More coming.

Drought pummels agriculture across the West.” It’s hard to grow cantaloupe when there’s no water.  The US tied a 1936 Dustbowl record this summer.

Rainfall on Greenland’s ice sheet—a first in history.  Mount Shasta is “nearly snowless.”

Fishing in North Carolina—Climate Change’s Burden—part of the Changing Tides series.

Plastics, chemicals, and waste

Humans have dumped unbelievable quantities of plastics into the ocean.  Some of it (not enough) is being eaten by bacteria—thanks to the “‘plastisphere’: the synthetic ecosystem evolving at sea”!

Plants, animals, and wild places

A new measurement—“green status of species”—will help us understand how well, or not, we’re doing.  Who knew some plants are voracious accumulators of precious metals?

Positive Steps—Some More Positive than Others

Policy Makers, Politicians, Media, Judiciary, and Scientists

Biden is improving car emission standards—but not enough.  EV sales are increasing.

The President and some members of Congress continue to push for legislationCan the Fed helpLobbyists are putting in their two cents.  Could there possibly be a bipartisan approach?  What could a Climate Corps do; here are some answers?

Scientists in Oregon are studying a way to combat climate change’s “evil twin”, ocean acidification, with a de-acidification project in a bay.  To give oysters a better chance, they’re buffering “incoming seawater with sodium carbonate” to reduce the acidity.

The UK’s “green economy” is four times larger than its manufacturing sector.

Can we rely on what we read and hear?  Many think the oil industry willfully misled us.  A House panel is investigating.  Just how certain are we about the “existential threat”?

The IPCC and other reports are generating calls for urgent action on infrastructure and other efforts to address the crisis.  RMI says we have solutions; we need to act.  Several climate scientists’ advice:  Don’t despair.   Sometimes, it’s hard not to.  Some activists ask: “Is this our last chance to pass meaningful legislation?”  For example:  Clean energy tax incentivesLocal versus more distant solar?  How about both—and fast?

A Federal judge puts a halt—at least temporarily—on the prior administration’s permit for a “project … to produce more than 100,000 barrels a day on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.” On the other hand…. “US to restart oil leasing with offshore auction this year”—by court order.

Others—People, Countries

A former “steak-eating bodybuilder”, now vegan, has “rewilded” his 1,000-acre estate in Ireland.  Not to be outdone, a famous UK farmer wants to transform farming to save the planet and is doing it on his farm.

Like bananas?  Puerto Rico is working to ensure we’ll have them around going forward.

Seaweed to the rescue?

Small towns:  Sometimes you can move uphillSometimes not.

Beyond Meat’s Ethan Brown.

Saving California’s kelp forests—from zombie sea urchins.

Indigenous resistance has staved off 25 percent of California and Canada’s annual emissions.”

Iceland has a carbon removal facility.  So do the oceans, which have creatures called “siphonophores.”

Imagine 2200—Writers come up with 12 amazing scenarios.

Energy

Fuel Sources, Utilities, Electric Grid

Pipelines—their opponents, their effects—are still with us.  In Minnesota.  In Mississippi.  In Ohio.  In Tennessee.  In Michigan.

Warnings that hydrogen may not be a “clean” fuel source appeared in a recent study.  Turns out a big problem isn’t the gas itself; it’s the way it’s currently obtained.  Hopefully new, cleaner, and scalable extraction methods for “green” hydrogen can be found to replace “blue” hydrogen’s dependence on natural gas.  Georgia is betting on hydrogen; a hydrogen equipment company has located there.

Utility companies and solar companies haven’t always seen eye to eye.  A large solar company just hired a former utility executive as its CEO.  Utilities’ bottom lines are significantly affected by large weather events.  One utility—and perhaps others—are looking hard at weather data using sophisticated analysis tools to help prepare for such events.

Texas—There’s a “solar versus trees” battle of sorts happening.  Some in the oil industry believe a change in their ways of operating is needed.

Louisiana—Despite the reluctance to embrace renewable energy opportunities, including solar farms, a University of Louisiana professor is studying what solar farms and other renewables could meanState policy is hostile to distributed solar.  Ray of hope?  A tank farm wants to expand to handle renewable fuels.

North Carolina—Brunswick County Supervisors don’t want offshore wind, believing it would damage tourism.  NC’s PBS ran a program about how solar and wind development can help rural areas—Episode 12, Renewable Energy in Rural Areas (I watched it while at the Outer Banks this week.).  Not everyone agrees, including some residents of Gold Hill.  A Virginia blogger’s take on development and sea level rise.

Florida—A Tampa utility’s hype about its reduction in its deployment of coal and increase in solar leaves out some important details (think:  natural gas).

Colorado—Its Clean Heat Standard sets clean energy requirements for utilities; it’s potentially a model for other states.

Buildings and Transportation

Georgia is also betting on electric vehicles.  It just paid millions for undeveloped land it hopes will be the home of an EV manufacturing facility.  And it’s working with the USMC to support more EVs by providing some Level II chargers.  A clean energy conference in August indicated some Georgians want to understand its possibilities.

California is taking carbon reduction seriously.  It’s mandating solar and battery storage for some new residential and commercial buildings.  The Feds want us all to use more energy efficient lighting and is proposing to require that light bulbs don’t waste energy through heat output.

If the cheapest energy is what we don’t use, then improving our energy efficiency may be the next best alternative.  ACEEE says Congress can give us all a standard to show the way.

If EVs are part of the solution, we need to figure out how to pay for their accompanying infrastructure—charging stations.

Problem:  “EVs, Solar, & Energy Storage: Ignoring The Science That Will Save Us

Ideas, Entertainment and Information

Canary Media put together a climate playlist on Spotify.  It also showcased En-ROADS, a climate simulator.  Use it to compare “positive” actions (like adding solar) and not-so-positive ones (like continuing to build natural gas plants).  Example, how much does it matter that renewables now account for 25% of US installed generating capacity, but renewables are still second to natural gas?

Trees can help slow climate change.  What if we made sure to protect the trees we have? Unfortunately, Amazonian deforestation is continuing apace.

This map “tells the Story of Two Americas: 1 parched and 1 soaked.”

Time article:  “In the Face of Climate Change, We Must Act So That We Can Feel Hopeful—Not the Other Way Around

Finding “green” cleaning products.  Tips for “greening your laundry routine”—remember clothes lines?

Lovely story about growing a garden on a building’s terrace in the shadow of where the World Trade Towers used to be.

Could we possibly be at “peak car” levels?

Ever heard of “Captain Planet”—TV show from the 1990s?  What about these?

Gorgeous pix of glacial caves.

Real time climate action tracker.

Late night show hosts will tackle climate change starting September 22.

Joy Loving
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/10/2021

Climate and Climate Science

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of more than 100 scientists convened by the United Nations, warns that a hotter future is certain. The planet has already heated by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 19th century. This additional heat created by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is essentially locked in. Even if we started sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise to around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades. How serious we become about cutting future emissions will determine how much hotter our planet becomes.

Extreme weather events this summer have unrelentingly brought the stark, real life consequences of climate change and global warming to our attention. The heat dome over Canada and the United States Northwest in July brought unprecedented hot weather in many localities, including places like Oregon, which are not prepared to deal with such extreme heat. The dry, hot conditions spread wildfires across 12 western states.

I personally experienced this heatwave as we traveled to visit our children in California in July. As we drove across the Mojave Desert to the city of Barstow, our car thermometer registered 118 degrees Fahrenheit. We then headed north through the California Central Valley, one of the most lucrative agricultural regions of the world. It is a $50 billion enterprise that supplies two-thirds of our country’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of our vegetables. The temperature was 110 degrees when we stopped near Fresno. The heat was oppressively suffocating as my wife Ruth and I walked several blocks from our motel to get dinner at a nearby restaurant.

As a Virginia gardener, I know how quickly soil moisture evaporates during sun-drenched 90 degree days. I can only imagine what it would be like in 110 degree temperatures. The main source of water for agriculture in the California Central Valley comes from reservoirs on rivers and streams supplied by snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains and released through a system of aqueducts and canals. Another water source is drilling wells that tap into the rapidly diminishing aquifer underneath the valley.

As we drove through the valley, I saw some abandoned fields and orchards. The situation has become even more desperate in the several weeks since we were there. With the extended drought, state regulators recently took the unprecedented step of imposing an emergency curtailment order forbidding farmers from drawing water from their primary source, the rivers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed.

Farmers are consequently abandoning water hungry crops like tomatoes. The state produces 90% of the tomatoes in our country. Shortages and escalating prices for tomatoes and tomato products are anticipated. Further north in Napa Valley wine country, vineyards surrounded by burned-out landscapes and dwindling water supplies, are now facing the added challenge of no longer being able to buy insurance for their operations. This could be the end of the road for some for them.

The heatwave this summer is global. A heatwave in Russian Siberia is fueling enormous wildfires that are thawing the permafrost. Last year, 60,000 square miles of forest and tundra (an area the size of Florida) were scorched by wildfires. This year, more than 30,000 square miles have already burned with only two weeks into peak fire season. People who live there are able to take sub-zero weather in stride but 100 degree temperatures are another matter. Many fear that the region will become uninhabitable.

In the Amazon rainforest, a combination of rising temperatures and ongoing land clearing for cattle ranching and crops has extended the dry season and created conditions for more crippling wildfires. As a result, the Amazon, one of the Earth’s biggest carbon sinks, is now releasing more carbon than it is absorbing. Scientists see this is as a disturbing new tipping point in climate change.

There is a growing recognition that nobody is safe as extreme weather is battering the world, including wealthy countries. This includes devastating floods in Germany, Belgium, China, and India. The Mediterranean world is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves and wildfires in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and Lebanon. Even Hawaii, one of the wettest places on the planet, is fighting a surge of wildfires on the island of Maui due to the unfettered growth of invasive grass species and dry, hot summers that make them highly flammable.

Stephen Nash, an environmental journalist and researcher, studies the effects of climate change in Virginia. In his book Virginia Climate Fever, he notes that the wildfires in Canada and the American West are exacerbated by ecologically stressed and dying forests. Intense droughts and hotter temperatures have generated both wide-scale insect infestations and fires. While it is difficult to predict the effect of climate change on our regional rainfall, scientists postulate that advancing heat will dry out the landscape due to evaporation, even if we have more rainfall. This will lead to wildfires, which could transform our forests into open savannahs with occasional trees (Nash 2014, 58-59). 

Politics and Policy

The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill taken up by the Senate is a hopeful first step in achieving some of our climate and renewable energy goals. It includes more than $150 billion to boost clean energy and promote “climate resilience.” It contains a huge infusion for Amtrak and public transportation and includes $73 billion to upgrade our nation’s electric power grid. The bill, however, still falls short of meeting the Biden Administration’s climate goals. For instance, the $7.5 billion to create a national network of electric vehicle charging stations is only half of what the administration had requested. Even so, President Biden is making a big push to phase out gas cars and trucks and signed an executive order that calls for the government to ensure that half of all vehicles sold in the United States will be electric by 2030.

Recent editorials in the Houston Chronicle and the Washington Post call on Congress and the Biden administration to include carbon pricing in upcoming legislation to address climate change. A carbon tax would impose a fee on coal, natural gas, and petroleum based on how much carbon dioxide is released when they are consumed. The editorials argue that “pricing carbon dioxide is the cheapest, most efficient way to cut emissions, because it harnesses the ingenuity of individuals and businesses to find the best path to decarbonization.”

Climate scientists and marine advocates are calling on governments worldwide to recognize the important role that oceans have in limiting climate change. They argue that more than half of the world’s carbon is captured by animals and plants living in or around the oceans. Mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon per hectare than tropical rainforests. If policies are enacted to restore and protect marine ecosystems, oceans could soak up large quantities of atmospheric carbon.

Energy

A Princeton University research team report says it is possible for the US to reach the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but it will require building clean power infrastructure on a huge scale and at breakneck speed. To get there we will have to build far more wind and solar farms, battery storage facilities, transmission lines and still-unproven energy systems than we have ever built before.

An Energy Information Administration report notes that, for the first time ever last year, we generated more electricity from renewable sources than from coal. Natural gas was used to generate 40 percent of our country’s electricity, followed by renewables at 21 percent; nuclear at 20 percent; and coal at 19 percent. Texas and California stand out as the leaders in generating electricity from wind and solar and the next three leading states, somewhat surprisingly, are Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas. This spread across our national partisan divide is hopeful for the development of future renewable energy policies. 

A relatively simple experiment in providing renewable energy for trucking is being tested in Germany. It involves an overhead electrical grid similar to what has been used for decades to drive trains and urban street cars. This promises to be more efficient than relying on batteries to power trucks. A perhaps insurmountable detriment would be the sheer cost of stringing thousands of miles of high voltage electrical cable above the world’s major highways.

Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, the last coal power plant in Virginia, was built in 2008. It now costs more to generate electricity there than all other power sources, which is reflected in higher electric bills for consumers. That, plus increasingly stringent environmental regulations, make it increasingly unprofitable. Continuing to operate it has become a matter of “throwing good money after bad.” Dominion Energy is accordingly projecting retiring the plant in 2025 but no concrete plans have been set.

Potpourri

As the world warms because of human-induced climate change, we can expect to see more days when temperatures hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. For instance, Harrisonburg, Virginia, on average, could have expected 8 days that would reach 90 degrees or more in 1960. Today we can expect 18 days, on average, to reach 90 degrees or more.

Central Valley Habitat for Humanity sees going green not only as a way to help save the planet but also as a way to make the houses they build more affordable. Low-income households face an energy burden that is about three times higher than other households. Building to green standards increases quality of life through improved air quality, and conservation of energy, water, and natural resources. Through partnering with the local nonprofit Give Solar, Central Valley Habitat for Humanity has been able to install solar panels on their newly built houses to significantly reduce energy costs for residents as well as help protect the environment.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

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.