Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/14/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/7/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/30/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/23/2021

The Roundup is a little longer this week, due to an extra paragraph about the Climate Summit.

Politics and Policy

At his climate summit, President Joe Biden pledged to slash US greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% by the end of the decade, while urging world leaders to go big.  He also promised to double US international climate finance by 2024 and triple funding for adaptation.  The UK confirmed that it will slash emissions by 78% by 2035.  The EU reached a provisional agreement to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.  China will start phasing down coal use from 2026.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was on a path to net zero emissions but stopped short of setting a timeline.  Canada’s goal is to exceed a 40% reduction by 2030, although probably less than a 45% reduction.  Japan will cut its emissions by 46% from 2013 levels by 2030, up from its earlier goal of 26%.  South Korean will end all new financing for overseas coal projects and soon set a more ambitious schedule for slashing carbon emissions.  Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted Russia’s net greenhouse gas emissions to be less than the EU’s over the next 30 years.  Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro announced that his country would reach emissions neutrality by 2050.  The New York Times provided video highlights of the first day’s speeches, The Hill presented five takeaways, and Inside Climate News offered summaries of both Thursday’s and Friday’s activities.  A new report from Energy Innovation examined the policies required to meet Biden’s goals.  If you need some perspective on all of this, you might look at Carbon Brief’s profile of the US, released to coincide with the summit.

European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans told a US congressional subcommittee that Europe will protect its industries against competition from countries with lax climate rules by setting a levy on high carbon imports, also known as a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.  Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced the beginning of a week-long campaign to promote the Republican “alternative” climate agenda, but, according to Nick Cunningham at DeSmog, “Rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all of the Republican bills aim to protect and expand gas drilling.”  Republicans raised several lines of attack on Biden’s American Jobs Plan at a hearing of the US Senate Committee on Appropriations, as well as at a Senate Banking Committee hearing.  They subsequently proposed a $568 billion, five-year counteroffer to Biden’s plan, focusing narrowly on traditional infrastructure projects and broadband access.

A hundred and one Nobel laureates called for governments to commit to a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels and a “transformational plan” to ensure everyone around the world has access to renewable energy.  In a letter in Vogue to mark Earth Day, Greta Thunberg explained why world leaders must move beyond vague, hypothetical targets.  She also urged the US House Oversight Environment Subcommittee to end tax breaks for fossil fuel producers, saying their existence was a “disgrace.”  In The Sydney Morning Herald, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres wrote “Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5°C goal.”  Nevertheless, data revealed that wealthy countries continue to pour money into fossil fuel projects in Africa and the Middle East.  To make intact forests more economically valuable than they would be if the land were cleared for timber and agriculture, the UK, Norway, and the US are joining forces with some of the world’s biggest companies to raise more than $1 billion for countries that can show they are protecting tropical forests.

Most of us are not aware of all the people working on climate policy in the Biden administration, so Politico provided a summary.  Coral Davenport had a profile of Climate Czar Gina McCarthy.  Biden has picked Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer with decades of science and policy experience, to run NOAA and has tapped Tracy Stone-Manning, a senior adviser for the National Wildlife Federation, to lead the Bureau for Land Management.  He also announced new heads of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Science Affairs.  The US Treasury named climate change financial adviser John Morton to head the department’s new “climate hub.”  The Biden administration is moving to end a legal battle with California over the state’s authority to regulate motor-vehicle emissions.  Governors from a dozen states are asking Biden to ban the sale by 2035 of cars and light trucks that emit greenhouse gases.

A new study looked at the social cost of methane and found that it is higher than CO2.  Leading environmental advocacy groups sent a letter to Biden calling for a 40% or more cut in methane emissions by 2030.  Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is a co-sponsor of legislation that would roll back the Trump methane rule by using the Congressional Review Act.  Interior Secretary Deb Haaland revoked a series of Trump administration orders that promoted fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and issued a separate directive that prioritizes climate change in agency decisions.  A group of US electricity companies wrote to Biden saying it will work with his administration and Congress to design a broad set of policies to reach a near-term goal of slashing the sector’s carbon emissions 80% by 2030.  Most encouragement for development of wind and solar facilities is through incentives in the federal tax code, but some electric utilities don’t pay federal taxes and thus some other mechanism is needed to help them achieve net-zero emissions by 2035.  Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would overhaul “overly complex” energy tax incentives to encourage clean energy development.  On the subject of federal tax incentives, another question is whether they can help build the transmission lines needed to green the US grid?  The US will join an international effort to achieve zero emissions by 2050 in the global shipping industry.  Major banks and financial institutions announced two UN-backed coalitions aimed at advancing the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals.

Climate and Climate Science

There was a “relentless” intensification of the climate crisis in 2020, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.  Climate change has several “tipping points”, but UK scientists said they can be “temporarily exceeded” without causing irreversible damage, provided swift action is taken.  The effects of climate change can be expected to shave 11% to 14% off global economic output by 2050, according to a report from Swiss Re; that amounts to as much as $23 trillion in reduced annual global economic output.

In an essay at The Conversation, three climate scientists discussed the concept of “net-zero” CO2 emissions, writing: “We have arrived at the painful realization that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier ‘burn now, pay later’ approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar.”  In a piece entitled “The Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Proof”, Julia Rosen provided definitive answers to the big questions at The New York Times.  Groups tied to the fossil fuel industry are launching a preemptive attack on attribution scientists’ findings before they can be used in the courtroom.

Swirling and meandering ocean currents that help shape the world’s climate have gone through a “global-scale reorganization” over the past three decades.  Typhoon Surigae’s rate of intensification was unprecedented for an April storm, with its wind speed leaping some 105 mph in just 36 hours, from Category 2 to Category 5.  Sea meadows store more carbon per acre than forests, but little is known about them, including why they are shrinking; scientists are racing to understand why.  Bottom trawling, a fishing practice where large nets are dragged along the sea floor, is exacerbating the climate crisis by resuspending carbon-rich sediments.

Two prominent climate scientists argued against the implementation of solar geoengineering in The Guardian, while at The Conversation, a biologist wrote that “there aren’t enough trees to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be.”

New research has found that lake heatwaves could become between three and 12 times longer by the end of this century and between 0.3°C and 1.7°C hotter, risking catastrophic damage to some lake ecosystems.

Energy

After a pandemic-year retreat, demand for coal is set to rise by 4.5% this year, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand.  As a consequence, CO2 emissions are forecast to jump this year by the second biggest annual rise in history.  Exxon announced in February it was establishing ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, a new business arm focusing on capturing CO2 emissions from various industries, and now it wants federal assistance to use the Houston Ship Channel as a pilot project.

Toyota debuted its bZ4X SUV, one of 15 fully electric cars the company plans to make by 2025.  Volvo Trucks will launch three all-electric heavy-duty models for intercity transport and the construction industry by the second half of 2022, to be followed by vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells during the latter half of the decade.  Arrival is creating highly automated “microfactories” where its electric delivery vans and buses will be assembled by multitasking robots, rather than on a traditional assembly line.

The World Bank has pointed to green hydrogen and ammonia as key fuels for decarbonizing maritime transport.  Pacific Northwest industry and government officials are taking a closer look at hydrogen as an alternative for diesel fuel and gasoline.  Southern California Gas Co. and H2U Technologies are partnering to conduct demonstration testing on a new form of electrolyzer meant to make green hydrogen production less costly.

Although it is a couple of weeks old, this article by a natural gas proponent is worth reading because he does a good job of evaluating the question of whether natural gas can be part of a low-carbon future.  A major use of natural gas (methane) is for home heating, with the resulting CO2 emissions going directly to the atmosphere, creating a major challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions.  Proponents of a proposed 55 MW natural gas “peaker” power plant argue that it will free them up to add more renewable energy to their portfolios; opponents aren’t so sure.

Recently I included an article about solid-state battery company QuantumScape.  This week, Eric Wesoff addressed the question of whether they can live up to the hype about them.  In the third article in Canary Media’s series on batteries, David Roberts explored the many varieties of lithium-ion batteries battling for a share in a trillion-dollar market.  A new analysis from Wood Mackenzie suggests that the Americas are on track to leapfrog the Asia-Pacific region in terms of deployed energy storage by 2025, achieving more than half of global capacity by the end of the decade.  Gravitricity is one of a handful of gravity-based energy storage companies attempting to improve on an old idea.

Potpourri

Reuters has a series of features dubbed “the hot list” profiling the world’s “most influential” climate scientists; it has been widely criticized on Twitter by climate scientists.  The documentary, The Race to Save the World, makes the case for the urgency of climate action by burrowing deep into the lives of activists on the frontline who “… have no choice but to do whatever they can … .”  teen Vogue examined some of the moments that made young people realize the climate crisis will define their lives.  Experts say that religious leaders, who know how to relate to communities on an emotional level, may be best positioned to convince people to support climate activism.  Andrew Couts, deputy editor of Gizmodo, says “It’s time to kill Earth Day.”

Closing Thought

For Earth Day, Washington Post climate reporter Sarah Kaplan wrote poetically about humanity’s greatest ally in the fight against climate change, the Earth itself, and our need to protect its ecosystems.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/16/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden proposed $14 billion in spending on initiatives to fight climate change in his 2022 budget.  More than 300 businesses and investors called on the Biden administration to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.  Getting there is a challenging goal and a new series of briefs by RMI provides insights into how to achieve it.  A panel of international energy company executives said that the move to renewable energy is unstoppable, although investments in nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, energy storage, and transmission will also be required.  Environmentalists are debating how carbon offsets should fit into the goal of reaching “net-zero” emissions by 2050.  The editorial board of The Washington Post called on Biden to seek a carbon tax.  Executives from oil companies, utilities, and some of the world’s biggest companies met virtually with senators and staff to push a carbon-fee-and-dividend proposal, although many environmental groups remain skeptical of the regulatory trade-offs involved.  Meanwhile, 375 state and local elected officials signed a letter calling for an outright ban on new federal permits for fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure.  However, in an essay examining our future, Jeff Goodell wrote: “Fossil fuels are emblematic of a culture, a way of life, a political hierarchy, and an empire of wealth that will not go quietly into the night.”  The Interior Department has become the first big battlefield in the brewing fight over Biden’s climate change agenda.  The Washington State legislature has passed a bill that sets a target for all model-year-2030 passenger vehicles to be electric. 

The Senate confirmed Brenda Mallory to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  Top Senate Democrats signaled they may have no choice but to bypass Republicans in order to advance President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package.  Two senators introduced a bipartisan bill to provide billions of dollars to plug oil and gas wells to provide jobs and cut methane emissions.  A coalition of US manufacturers and environmental organizations is calling on the government to quickly phase out the worst climate super-polluting chemicals used in air conditioners, refrigerators, etc.  Proposals to legislatively establish a clean electricity standard are getting attention from lobbyists in both the energy and advocacy sectors.

JPMorgan Chase said it will commit more than $2.5 trillion over the next decade toward long-term solutions that tackle climate change and contribute to sustainable development.  The Ohio River Valley Institute and ReImagine Appalachia released new reports detailing how Appalachian communities can create more than 30,000 new jobs by reclaiming and remediating abandoned coal mines and oil and gas wells.  Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) and house colleagues plan to introduce the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which would eliminate biases in our financial system that impede efforts to significantly address climate change.

The Biden administration is nearing agreements with Japan, South Korea, and Canada to bolster carbon emission reduction targets ahead of the Earth Day summit, but similar deals with China, India, and Brazil remain elusive.  Climate envoy John Kerry met in Shanghai with his Chinese counterpart to press Beijing on reducing its carbon emissions, but in Beijing’s view, the US still has much ground to recover after walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA).  Biden’s plan to give $1.2 billion to the Green Climate Fund is “not enough” to make up for missed US payments, campaigners have said.  A majority of residents of European cities support a Europe-wide phaseout of internal combustion engine car sales from 2030 to reduce planet-warming emissions.  French MPs have voted to suspend domestic airline flights on routes that can be travelled by direct train in less than 2.5 hours.  Canada’s opposition Conservative Party dropped its resistance to carbon pricing and adopted a fee on emissions and fuels as part of its own climate plan.  A carbon price that starts low and rises steadily could help Asian countries reach their targets under the PCA over the next decade, according to the International Monetary Fund.  Around 40% of “committed emissions” from coal plants that have been built or proposed in Asia since 2015 could be attributed to the Western banks that financed them — with most of the remainder coming from Chinese banks.

Climate and Climate Science

An assertion by the Climate Council of Australia that the global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C by the 2030s has been challenged by others in the scientific community.  At NPR, Rebecca Hersher explained why the atmosphere will continue to heat Earth, even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped tomorrow.  Researchers have found that melting land-based Northern Hemisphere ice, which increased global sea levels, was linked to retreat of the Southern Hemisphere’s Antarctic ice sheet.

More than one-third of the claims payments made last year by the National Flood Insurance Program were for properties located outside areas that FEMA considers at the highest risk of flooding.  Polling and analysis released last week by real estate site Redfin found that a surprisingly high number of Americans weighed climate risks into their decisions about whether or not to move.  Across the globe, the wealthiest 10% of people accounted for nearly half of the growth in CO2 emissions associated with consumption habits from 1990 to 2015 — with the richest 5% responsible for more than a third.

Summer monsoon rainfall in India could increase by 5% for every 1°C increase in global temperatures, putting millions at greater risk of flooding and crop failure.  As Uganda’s mountain ice caps melt, ethnic groups are losing the traditional belief systems that have sustained them for thousands of years.  In western Canada and the US Upper Midwest, continuing drought has farmers extremely concerned as they approach planting time.  When the black spruce forests that recently burned in interior Alaska began regrowing, aspen and birch trees were mixed in with the spruce and were becoming the dominant species.

California, NASA, satellite company Planet, and others — with the backing of billionaire Michael Bloomberg — will launch their first two satellites in 2023 as part of a $100 million effort to pinpoint large emissions of methane from individual sources like power plants and oil refineries.

New Community Project’s Climate Farm aims to be an agricultural research center for carbon farming methods suitable to Rockingham County, VA.  In California, incorporating agricultural wastes and by-products into cows’ diets is a key component in the dairy industry’s efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy

A new kind of power plant using an Allam cycle natural gas turbine, which doesn’t add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, will be built in the US, potentially providing a way for utilities to keep burning natural gas without contributing to global warming.  Another new idea for using natural gas is a fuel cell that can be added to a fossil fuel power plant to capture the CO2 from it while producing additional electricity.

China must shut down nearly 600 of its coal-fired power plants — representing 364GW of capacity — in the next 10 years, replacing them with renewable electricity generation, to meet its goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060.  China hopes to build eight nuclear power plants each year between 2021 and 2025.

For those who want to do a deep dive into energy storage, Canary Media has started a new series of articles by David Roberts, beginning with why lithium-ion batteries are so important and how they work.  It was followed by an article on long-duration storage.  Korean battery companies SK Innovation and LG Chem reached an agreement that will allow the former to continue developing its $2.6 billion lithium-ion battery factory in Georgia.  Ultium Cells, a joint venture between LG Chem and GM, has picked a site in Tennessee for its second EV battery plant.  Hyundai’s upcoming Ioniq 5 electric vehicle (EV) will feature bidirectional charging, which allows its owner to use the vehicle’s battery to power just about anything that can plug into a wall.  QuantumScape is working to produce a semi-solid-state battery that is denser, safer, and faster-charging than today’s lithium-ion batteries; Volkswagen is planning to use it in its new EVs.  Lithium-ion battery recycling specialist Li-Cycle will build its third facility in Arizona.

Gas network operators from 11 countries have joined the European hydrogen backbone initiative, bringing the total network to almost 25,000 miles connecting 21 countries, offering a “technically and economically plausible” way of building a pure hydrogen network.  Canada has launched a Hydrogen Strategy Steering Committee.  China’s largest solar-power-based hydrogen production and energy storage project has been commissioned and put into operation in Ningxia Province.  In Washington State, the Douglas County Public Utility District is making a $20 million investment in an electrolysis system to produce green hydrogen using the excess electricity produced by their Wells Dam hydroelectric facility.

On Thursday, researchers at GridLab, Energy Innovation, and the University of California, Berkeley released a report that outlines the challenges and rewards of having all new cars and trucks sold in the US be powered by electricity by 2035.  DOE unveiled a $100 million funding opportunity, dubbed SuperTruck 3, to enlist truck makers, battery and drivetrain manufacturers, and technology developers in putting electric and fuel-cell-powered trucks to real-world tests over the next four years.

Potpourri

The latest craze in the art world is digital collectibles known as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, which have a huge carbon footprint.  Elizabeth McGowan of Energy News Network interviewed Liza Myers Borches, president and CEO of Carter Myers Automotive, about EVs in Virginia.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication announced the second cohort of their Public Voices Fellows on the Climate Crisis.  John Topping, whose work to warn the world of the risks of climate change stretched back to the 1980s and who helped spur the international effort to limit warming, died on March 9.  Google Earth launched a time-lapse feature that lets users wind back the clock and see how the world has changed over several decades.  Maeve Brennan wrote about the health co-benefits of fighting climate change.  Scientific American has agreed with major news outlets worldwide to start using the term “climate emergency” in its coverage of climate change.  The whitest-ever paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. 

Closing Thoughts

Sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas, author of, Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World, said: “… we are not going to be able to save all the things we love.”  Instead, we have to “swim through that ocean of grief … and recognize that we still have time to act, and salvage many of the things we care about.”  Staff writer David Montgomery had an extended piece in The Washington Post Magazine entitled: “The Search for Environmental Hope.”

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/9/2021

Politics and Policy

The White House infrastructure package contains a number of environmental agenda items high on progressive wish lists, but some fear they could be sacrificed to ensure passage in the 50-50 Senate. (ICYMI, David Roberts had a good summary of what is in the package.)  Republicans have a much narrower view of infrastructure.  The Senate parliamentarian suggested that the Senate could use budget reconciliation twice every fiscal year, rather than just once, possibly giving Democrats a chance to move the infrastructure legislation forward with just 51 votes, although one Democratic senator opposes such an approach.  Furthermore, things are not that rosy in the House, where the Democratic majority slipped to two with the death of one Congressman and the resignation of two to serve in Biden’s cabinet.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen released details of a tax hike proposal that would replace subsidies for fossil fuel companies with incentives for production of clean energy.  The US will need new electric transmission lines to meet Biden’s aim of eliminating the power sector’s net carbon pollution, but public opposition has doomed many such projects.

Karin Kirk examined three questions: how many jobs does each US state have in wind and solar; how much wind and solar potential is there in each state; and how well has each state done in creating jobs in wind and solar, given the size of its potential.  The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that only six of 36 states evaluated have some form of equity mandate for the investment of ratepayer funds to support and expand EV charging infrastructure.  Jeff St. John of Canary Media summarized some of the major findings of their analysis along with other ideas for meeting the electric transportation needs of underserved communities.  According to three journalists at the frontlines of climate and environmental issues, systemic racism and inequity have always run as a powerful undercurrent through climate change impacts.

A panel of federal appeals judges nixed a Trump administration rule that would have prevented the EPA from setting greenhouse gas limits on multiple polluting industries.  By the end of July, the EPA will propose stricter emissions standards for vehicles that are sufficient to meet “the urgency of the climate crisis.”  The “Global Trends” report, released by the National Intelligence Council, paints a bleak picture of what Americans can expect over the next 20 years, warning of a planet ravaged by pandemics and climate change.  Many think that the best way to fight climate change is to put a price on carbon, but the authors of the book Making Climate Policy Work argue that such an approach isn’t working.  The Biden administration will not shut down the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline while an environmental review is conducted.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry said he was “not confident, but hopeful” that China would be willing to partner with other countries on meeting carbon emission reduction targets.  A small but growing number of world leaders have begun citing an offense they say poses a threat to humanity similar to genocide: ecocide.  According to a new assessment by the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and others, the combination of debt, climate change, and environmental degradation “represents a systemic risk to the global economy…”.  The WB and the IMF are planning to launch a platform to advise poor countries on funding climate and conservation activities.  Petroleum nations face a perilous future as the world decarbonizes, with declining oil revenues threatening their finances, making a strong case for industrialized countries offering more support to less well-off producer economies.  Brazil’s environment minister wants $1 billion in foreign aid to help reduce deforestation in the Amazon between 30% and 40%.  Greenland’s left-wing environmentalist party won a victory in general elections on Tuesday after campaigning against the development of a rare earths mine partly backed by China.

Climate and Climate Science

It may come as a surprise, given the extensive body of evidence connecting humans to climate change, but directly-observed proof of the human impact had eluded science, until now.  In the study, NASA calculated the individual driving forces of recent climate change through direct satellite observations, and consistent with what climate models have shown for decades, greenhouse gases and aerosols from the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for the lion’s share of warming.  CO2 and methane emissions surged in 2020 even amid coronavirus shutdowns, according to research from NOAA released Wednesday.

A new study identified three distinct tipping points in model simulations of West Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier, which, if crossed, could lead to its rapid and irreversible retreat.  Another simulation study revealed that because of hydrofracturing, four Antarctic ice shelves will be vulnerable to disintegration at 4°C of warming, but that limiting warming to 2°C will halve the ice shelf area susceptible to collapse.  Meanwhile, direct observations of what’s going on under the ice shelf of the Thwaites glacier revealed that the supply of warm water to the glacier’s base is larger than scientists previously believed.  At the other end of Earth, scientists working in Greenland have refined their understanding of how meltwater flowing down to the base of a glacier increases the rate at which the glacier is sliding toward the sea.

Rainstorms grew more erratic and droughts much longer across most of the US West over the past half-century and the situation is worsening.  Unrelenting drought and years of rising temperatures due to climate change are pushing the long-overallocated Colorado River into new territory, setting the stage for the largest mandatory water cutbacks to date.  Critical April 1 measurements of snow accumulations from mountain ranges across the region show that most streams and rivers will once again flow well below average levels this year.

Analysis of the locations of almost 50,000 marine species between 1955 and 2015 found that species are moving away from the equator, causing scientists to warn that further warming will cut the richness of species in the tropics even further.  Seagrasses play a large role in regulating ocean environments, storing over twice as much CO2 per square mile than terrestrial forests, but scientists know little about them.  Examination of ocean characteristics with depth revealed that over the past 50 years the intermixing of the upper and lower layers decreased at a rate that was six times faster than scientists were anticipating.  New research has found that even the deepest parts of the Great Lakes are getting warmer.

On May 4, the hotter Earth will officially become the new normal when NOAA releases its once-a-decade update to “climate normals,” which are the 30-year averages for temperature and precipitation that local meteorologists rely on as the baseline for their forecasts.  One recognized impact of climate change is in the pattern of rainfall.  Unfortunately, rainfall atlases in the US have not kept up with the new “normal,” causing stormwater infrastructure to often be inadequate from the moment it is built.  Bipartisan bills pending in Congress would fund NOAA updates of the atlases at least every five years.

Energy

GM has a new battery system that will allow the company to incorporate future advances in battery technology without having to redesign its vehicle platform.  It is testing a variety of battery chemistries, technologies, and manufacturing processes aimed at slashing the cost of EV batteries and reducing dependence on metals like cobalt.  GM will produce an electric version of its popular Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.  President Biden’s plan to jump-start the US EV market faces a roadblock: a weak supply chain that is making it difficult for automakers to get enough batteries to scale up production.  Nth Cycle has developed a new battery-recycling technology that employs a method called “electro-extraction” to harvest cobalt, nickel, and manganese from old lithium-ion batteries.

Dan Gearino examined the continuing fight over compensation to rooftop solar owners for the electricity they send to the grid.  Meanwhile, United Parcel Service announced it has agreed to purchase ten electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft from Beta Technologies to test their use in its Express Air delivery network.

At Energy Monitor, Justin Gerdes discussed the role of large-scale battery storage in the energy transition.  New York-based retail energy provider David Energy plans to enter the Texas retail market and demonstrate how natural-gas microgrids and battery-backed solar can hedge against climate change risk.  Terabase Energy aims to drive down utility-scale solar power prices to less than $0.01 per kW-hr by 2025, by using software, automation, and modeling to optimize power-plant operation.  A team of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is leading an ongoing analysis of how to manage retiring photovoltaic solar panels in support of a circular economy for energy materials.

Grist, in partnership with the Texas Observer, conducted an in-depth study of nonproductive oil and gas wells in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico and estimated the number that are likely to be abandoned in the future.  (Other articles in the series: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)  Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM) introduced a bill authorizing $8 billion to plug and clean up abandoned oil and gas wells nationwide.

Many cities in Europe use waste heat from their fossil-fuel power plants to heat their buildings, meaning that new sources of heat must be found as those plants are shut down.  Now, scientists and engineers in the Czech Republic have developed a system for using the heat from spent nuclear fuel rods to do that.

Potpourri

A Gallup poll, published Monday, found that 88% of Democrats believe that increases in Earth’s temperature are primarily caused by human activities, whereas just 32% of Republicans said the same.  Later this month, a three-part BBC documentary about Greta Thunberg will première on PBS.  Experts on land use, climate change, and sustainable agriculture agree that two habits associated with food have the greatest environmental impact: wasting it and eating large amounts of meat.  In concluding an article about what concerns climate scientists the most, the author wrote: “… while we laypeople might be worrying about what the science says, climate scientists are often worrying about us.”  The Biden administration called on the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to reject a second attempt by a group of children to sue the government over climate change.  The EPA and leading appliance manufacturers have finally released key chemical refrigerant information that makes it easier for consumers to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators.

Closing Thought

A surgeon and a psychotherapist offered advice on how to grow more resilient during the climate crisis by providing six ways to stay balanced.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/2/2021

Thanks to Joy Loving for compiling this week’s news roundup in Les Grady’s absence!

Politics and Policy

Legislation and Litigation:

  • Biden’s $2+ trillion dollar “American Jobs Plan would rebuild roads, highways and bridges; confront the climate crisis and curb wealth inequality.” Methane emission reductions efforts would create jobs to make that happen.  Not everyone believes the massive infrastructure plan goes far enough; others believe it’s too much or bad policy.  (The Guardian, VA Mercury, NYTimes, CNBC, Inside Climate News, Washington Post, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Washington Post)
  • History of two controversial pipelines owned by the Canadian company Enbridge–Line 3 and Line 5.  Line 3 running through the Great Lakes region in Wisconsin and Michigan has caused spills and leaks; it’s the subject of litigation over a possible shutdown. Line 5 runs through Minnesota “across 200 water bodies and 78 miles of wetlands — and through Ojibwe land in violation of treaty rights,” according to its opponents.  (Narwhal, Capitol & Main)
  • California’s legislature is “leaning into” sea level rise, considering bills to slow its impacts and address the underlying cause. (San Diego Union‑Tribune)
  • Several states are considering or enacting legislation to prohibit localities from banning new natural gas hookups.  (KUT–TX, WSAV—GA, Energy News Network–NC, E&E News–MA)
  • Texas legislators are “adding fees on solar and wind electricity production in the state in hopes of boosting fossil fuels.” (Houston Chronicle)
  • Several “coal states” want to “make it harder to shut down coal-fired power plants even as clean energy becomes cheaper.” (Bloomberg)
  • Indiana is grappling with whether and how to pursue the opportunities wind energy could bring.  (Inside Climate News)

Administration, regulations, and analysis:

  • The fossil fuel industry is retuning its opposition to carbon pricing, given the current effort to reconsider federal oil and gas leasing.  (Independent)
  • The EPA withdrew a key permit for the Key Limetree Bay Refinery on St. Croix after an accident spewed an oil and water mist over the nearby area.  It didn’t order the plant closed; the situation “presents one of the earliest tests of … Biden’s vow to clean up pollution in … disadvantaged communities.”  The EPA moved to dismiss members of two scientific panels appointed during the prior administration.  The EPA is “making major changes to the way it evaluates the safety of new chemicals.”  Biden appointed his Environmental Justice panel. (Washington Post, Inside Climate News, Washington Post, c&en, The Hill)
  • The Biden administration is making a “big push” for off-shore wind along the East Coast.  (Washington Post, NYTimes, Reuters)
  • The auto industry wants Biden to go big on a “comprehensive EV plan”.  (Reuters, Washington Post)
  • The Energy Department plans to revamp the processes and rules on energy efficiency put into effect by the prior administration. (NRDC, The Hill, AEEE)
  • FEMA has tweaked its proposed increases in federal flood insurance. This illustrates one of many tough choices the Biden administration will have to make as part of its infrastructure plan.  (The Hill, NYTimes)

Financial sector:

  • A former chief investment officer at Blackrock said “green investing” isn’t “going to work” in free markets because “the system is built to extract profits.” (The Guardian)
  • Economists worldwide believe “economic benefits from net-zero emissions by 2050 would outweigh the cost of achieving it.” (Al Jazeera)
  • The Federal Reserve Chair said “Climate change poses [an] ‘existential threat’ to financial markets.”  The World Bank is hedging.  (Politico, Reuters)
  • “Diversify or divest” is the message to oil producers from a recent study.  (The Guardian)
  • Biden’s infrastructure plan seeks to “green the financial sector.”  What does that mean?  (The Atlantic)

Climate and Climate Science

Drought, flooding, hurricanes, fires, oceans, and rivers:

  • Sea level rise is occurring at the fastest rate in two millennia.  (NJ.com)
  • Relatively low “maximum” Arctic sea ice is “the new normal.”  (Arctic Today)
  • Without “transformative intervention,” Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is probably doomed.  (The Sydney Morning Herald)
  • The Interior Department will provide Louisiana $110 Million from oil revenue funds to address “coastal restoration and hurricane protection.” (The Times‑Picayune)
  • There is ongoing debate about who should pay to replace and repair old flood walls in Michigan neighborhoods.  (Bridge Michigan)
  • Canada’s Maritime Provinces experience hurricanes.  A new study says more areas of the country need to prepare for hurricane-force winds. (CBC)
  • California is pessimistic about its summer drought prospects because of lower snowfall.  North Dakota, reeling from a lengthy drought, declared a state of emergency because of current wildfires; 2021 has already seen over “140 wildfires … [and] over 30,000 [burned] acres….” (The Sacramento Bee, CNN)

Plastics, Chemicals, and Waste:

  • A major sandstorm brought more than sand to Beijing, “turning [the] sun blue and [the] sky yellow, thanks in part to the accompanying pollutants. (The Guardian)
  • Bromide poisoning is thought to be the cause of bald eagle deaths.  In Canada, “Decades of arsenic poisoning produced by Giant Mine has caused irreversible damage to Dene First Nation land.”  Fracking in northwest New Mexico on Navajo lands managed by the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs resulted in 3,600+ “oil spills, fires, blowouts and gas releases” since 2009, and contamination of drinking water. Farmers’ deployment of pesticides and herbicides has harmed pollinators and invertebrates, and land plants more than mammals and birds.  (New Scientist, Capital Current, Capital and Main, AAAS)
  • The chemical spill in a river near Charleston West Virginia several years back polluted drinking water of 300,000 area residents.  An earlier chemical explosion and fire also occurred there.  West Virginia legislators are considering rolling back regulations aimed at preventing such incidents.  (Charleston Gazette-Mail)
  • “A former Syngenta scientist calls the failures to heed his warnings about the deadly pesticide ‘a conspiracy within the company to keep this quiet.’” Numbers of people who ingested the pesticide, which acts quickly on plants and is also toxic to humans, committed suicide.  (The Intercept)
  • A 9-month investigation of US water in multiple locations revealed high levels of “arsenic, lead and toxic chemicals”.  Pittsboro, North Carolina is one example.  (The Guardian, The Guardian)
  • An upstate New York project showed we can lessen road salt’s negative environmental and other effects by using less, timing its placement, and using alternative treatments and equipment.  (Undark)
  • An environmental medicine and public health professor warns that human reproductive capability is at risk from chemicals in our environment. (The Guardian

Environment:

  • The burning of tropical forests continued apace in 2020, putting world climate goals at risk.  (Washington Post, NYTimes, Mongabay, Grist)
  • Can farms actually assist wildlife? Homeowners?  Rivers? (Grist, NYTimes, Mongabay)
  • What if we could block some of the sun’s energy by radiating it back into space?  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine think we should study if this solar geoengineering is possible.  A test flight “for sun blocking research” was cancelled after objections.  (NYTimes, The Guardian, NYTimes)
  • Pittsburgh’s temperatures have warmed enough that it’s one of the worst areas for plant and pollen allergies.  Northern Siberia has warmed so much it’s now the quickest-to-warm-area world-wide.  “Thaw-triggered landslides are a growing hazard in the warming North.” (Pittsburg Post‑Gazette, The Barents Observer, Arctic North)
  • Climate change has erased agricultural production gains of the past 60 years.  (Environmental Health News)
  • In case you’re in doubt, NASA “has proven what is driving climate change through direct observations — a gold standard in scientific research.” Spoiler alert:  It’s us.  (CBS News)

Energy

Renewables, biomass, and nuclear:

  • Clean energy + battery storage can yield “the same energy security as coal, research finds.” (The Guardian)
  • West Virginia’s Senate wants to promote wind and solar as a use for reclaimed lands.  Its House wants to incentivize energy efficiency.  (Charleston Gazette‑Mail, Charleston Gazette-Mail)
  • A Scottish windfarm’s success is signaling “global potential.”  “Big Wind Turbines Prove No Deadlier to Wildlife Than Small Units.” (The Guardian, Bloomberg)
  • “In a record year for clean energy purchases, Southeast cities stand out.”  (Energy News Network)

Transportation:

  • Thinking about buying an electric vehicle (EV)?  Here are details. (Washington Post)
  • EV battery technology includes minerals and metals.  Increasing demand may mean extraction of US resources will increase.  (Energy Storage News
  • North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality is continuing its EV rebate program “for Level 2 charging projects,” using funding from the state’s Volkswagen settlement.  (WWAY)
  • Biden’s infrastructure plan is betting on EVs.  (NYTimes)
  • A relatively few number of travelers account for most of air travel emissions:  Data “from the countries with the highest aviation emissions, shows a worldwide pattern of a small group taking a large proportion of flights”.  (The Guardian)
  • Biden’s “infrastructure plan calls for $80 billion for rail. It could transform passenger service.”  Could the plan also assist communities previously harmed by past projects?  What about Americans’ preference for cars?  (Washington Post, NYTimes, NYTimes)

Fossil fuels and Extraction:

  • West Virginia’s Senate “will consider a bill aimed at maintaining a place for coal in … [its] energy production.”  China accounted for half the world’s 2020 coal-fired generation.  (Metro News, Reuters)
  • What if carbon capture and storage could work?  “Shopify, the Canadian company that runs e-commerce sites, wants to … pay … a Texas venture to pull carbon dioxide from the sky and store it underground.”  The Energy Department announced it’s developed a solvent that would greatly cut carbon capture costs.  (Grist, E&E News)
  • Pipelines put communities, human health, and flora and fauna at risk.  Russia is a leader in oil leaks.  Memphis property owners continue their fight against the proposed Byhalia pipeline.  (DW, Grist, CBS News, WREG News, Climate XChange)

Potpourri

  • What if your house was your energy storage system?  Be sure to note the publication date:  April 1, 2021 (VA Mercury)
  • An Icelandic writer and poet spent years penning his book On Time and Water to explain just how critical our climate crisis is, hoping to get more people to understand.  It’s now in English. The American author of Under the Sky We Make says what we do can make difference, especially “if you’re rich.” (Grist, Grist)
  • You, and your kids, can share ideas about restoring the earth by entering Earth Day Every Day’s art contest; hurry, April 11 is the deadline for submissions. (Augusta Free Press)
  • A Brooklyn man founded BlocPower to help residents of low-income buildings lower energy bills through solar and efficiency improvements.  He’s done so well he’s planning to expand to other large cities.  (Washington Post)
  • A new book traces past and current migratory bird patterns. It offers wondrous details and sobering realities.  (NYTimes)
  • Ever listened to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”?  It’s been updated by “composers, scientists, [and] designers” for our “climate change era.”  (Yale Climate Connections)
  • Did you know that planting oaks will do a lot more than sequester carbon?  (NYTimes)

Closing Thought

“Scientists note nine planetary boundaries beyond which we can’t push Earth Systems without putting our societies at risk: climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol pollution, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorus, land‑system change, and release of novel chemicals.”  This Earth month, consider how well we’ve done.  (Mongabay)

Compiled by Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/26/2021

Thanks to Joy Loving for compiling this week’s news roundup in Les Grady’s absence!

Politics and Policy

International:

  • NATO is joining the Pentagon in examining climate change threats to its personnel and operations.  (Washington Post)
  • Canada’s Supreme Court found its carbon tax legal, despite objections from some of its provinces.  Its Conservative Party refuses to consider the climate threat as real.  (NYTimes, The Guardian)
  • China’s carbon reduction goals haven’t stopped its coal addiction.  (Yale Environment 360)

Legislature and Litigation:

  • A review of Biden’s climate action track record on energy and the environment in his first 100 days—43 days early—and Congressional, Executive Branch, and state/local responses:  A decidedly mixed picture. The plans place clean energy front and center.  One reporter explores the chances, given that the Democrats have a “second bite at the apple.” (Environmental Health News, NYTimes, Rolling Stone)
  • The proposed infrastructure bill could have a major role in climate action. Biden’s plan is complicated and challenging, calling for $3 Trillion in investments “in infrastructure, education, work force development and fighting climate change, with the aim of making the economy more productive.”  One example is a jobs creation, repair program for impoverished areas near leaking oil wells.  The pandemic has illustrated many infrastructure failings but the price tag could be an obstacle.  Republicans have begun raising objections to the massive bill. (E&E News, Washington Post, NYTimes, Climate and Main, NBC WFLA, Washington Post, NYTimes)
  • Biden’s early executive order—for a reexamination of “Trump-era fuel economy and emissions standards … and its rule blocking California from setting its own standards”—has raised questions about what the new administration would consider doing.  (American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy)

Administration, regulations, lawsuits, and analysis:

  • Using BP money, Louisiana plans to slow sea level rise and its resulting flooding, in part due to the shutdown of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico.  (Grist, KLFY)
  • Louisiana politicians are beginning to confront the legacy of its “Cancer Alley”.  But the state has a long way to go; it joined other states in suing over Biden’s oil and gas leasing moratorium.  (The Guardian, ProPublica, The Center Square, AP News, USA Today)
  • Fossil fuel opponents want the Federal Trade Commission to address what they view as corporate greenwashing.  (Grist)
  • FERC “assessed a natural gas pipeline project’s contribution to climate change for the first time ever.”  (E&E News)
  • The EPA will examine the Trump-era attacks on climate science.  (NYTimes)
  • California is considering a program to purchase homes at great risk from coastal flooding.  Residents of poor Houston communities are wrestling with the dilemma of having achieved the “American Dream” of home ownership… in a flood zone.  (OBP NPR, NYTimes)
  • Pennsylvania’s governor announced a plan to have half the state government’s electricity to be solar-powered by 2023.  (Pittsburgh Post‑Gazette)
  • Rhode Island’s House passed a bill setting a net-zero emissions goal by 2050.  (WPRI)
  • The Interior Department reversed its prior decision to remove jurisdiction over part of the Missouri River from a Native American tribe.  (The Hill)
  • A proposed Texas highway expansion may not happen because of environmental justice concerns about displacement of “more than 1,000 disproportionately Black, brown and low-income households.”  (The Guardian)
  • Car companies may join tobacco and oil companies as targets of lawsuits about their role in the climate crisis.  (E&E News)
  • A recent Supreme Court ruling may signal its unwillingness to support Executive Branch efforts to safeguard “environmentally sensitive lands, especially those underwater, in the future.”  Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion.  (Slate)
  • NASA has a newly appointed climate science advisor.  (NYTimes)

Financial sector:

  • A recent study suggests many countries could see their credit ratings sink by 2030 thanks to global warming.  (Reuters)
  • The Federal Reserve will convene panels to examine risks of climate change to financial systems.  (CNBC)
  • The world’s largest banks have continued bankrolling “oil, gas, and coal” projects since 2016, to the tune of $3.8 Trillion.  (Huff Post, The Guardian)
  • Despite increasing investor desire for “good corporate sustainability data”, most companies aren’t supplying it.  (Fast Company)
  • Wall Street may prove a Biden ally in the “climate fight.”  RMI’s leader says CEOs need to answer four key questions to make that happen.  (The Breeze, RMI)

Climate and Climate Science

Water, drought, sea ice loss, and sea level rise:

  • An in-depth look at Bangladesh’s flooding challenges gives a glimpse into the future of many coastal and island countries—and what “climate migration” means.  (Environmental Health News)
  • Australia’s floods are wreaking havoc; thousands have been evacuated.  In addition to the many problems Australians are facing, they also have to contend with massive numbers of spiders that, it turns out, don’t like flood water either.  (The Guardian, Reuters, NYTimes)
  • The first story talks about an unexpected result of ocean warming…and great white sharks.  Juvenile great whites are now being seen in Central California, hundreds of miles north of their (previously) usual haunts.  The second:  A recent study showed the importance of sharks to the oceans’ well-being; a stable ecosystem depends on this apex predator.  And a third: “New research says preserving more of the world’s waters would lead to healthier marine life, better fishing and increased carbon absorption.” (NPR, The Guardian, Washington Post)
  • Warming oceans will mean more than sharks moving northward, including “Climate Refugees [and] Ocean Benefits” plus migration of other marine species. Sea ice loss also threatens Arctic residents’ lives and livelihoods. (Inside Climate News, CBC)
  • Long-standing drought conditions in the US southwest are prompting some states to consider cloud seeding to produce rain.  (The Guardian)
  • Nitrogen pollution from agriculture is a source of waterway contamination.  What would prioritizing major sources accomplish?  (Civil Eats)
  • Can “conservation, sustainable fishing, and carbon sequestration” be good for the oceans?  A young Mauritian activist recently protested underwater in the Indian Ocean to bring attention to the importance of seagrass and the threats to it.  (NYTimes, CBC Radio)

Environment:

  • Some Dutch engineers want to “turn the [Sinai] desert green” again (evidence shows it once was) so it can support farming, wildlife, and wetlands.  (The Guardian)
  • Maple producers in New York’s Finger Lakes region are successfully harvesting maple sugar despite the effects of climate change and Covid-19.  (Fox40 WICZ)
  • Would it be good if summer was six months long?  Maybe not.  (CNN)
  • Warming temperatures may extend grape growing and wineries northward, but there are challenges.  (Eater)

Energy

Renewables, biomass, and nuclear:

  • Delays in the opening of a new Georgia nuclear plant will cost ~$25 million/month.  (Albany Herald)
  • A “unique hydroelectric pumping station” inside a Tennessee mountain can keep electricity flowing even during ice storms.  (News 19 Huntsville)
  • Biomass isn’t really “green energy.”  Felling trees to make wood chips isn’t sustainable and actually contributes to global warming.  (Politico)
  • Floating solar next to offshore wind?  Expensive but maybe.  (PV Magazine)

Transportation:

  • Automakers are looking hard to come up with “solid state” battery technology for electric vehicles (EVs).  They want the batteries to weigh less and take up less space.  (Inside Climate News)
  • A British company will build a factory in North Carolina to build EVs for UPS.  (CNBC, Arrival)
  • A Florida State Senate bill would raise taxes on EVs to pay for charging stations.  (89.9 WJCT)
  • Duke Energy and other utilities are starting to focus on the potential economic benefits of EVs to their bottom lines.  (Utility Dive)
  • Volkswagen wants to overtake Tesla in EV sales and may be making headway.  (Inside Climate News)

Fossil fuels and Extraction:

  • Memphis residents facing a proposed pipeline that would lie atop its water systems already have an air pollution problem and adverse health effects. A nearby county that owns land the pipeline would need to run through decided against selling it. (Commercial Appeal, MLK50)
  • Georgians living near a coal power plant are experiencing similar problems. (ProPublica)
  • What are the pros and cons of leaving in place an inactive Gulf of Mexico oil rig that is a habitat for marine life?  (Bloomberg)
  • What if companies had to pay the costs of damages to climate and health their operations and products cause?  (Reuters)
  • A coal company’s bankruptcy may leave communities with huge costs for cleaning up abandoned mines.  (89.3 WFPL)
  • A new report questions the profitability of the fracking industry.  (Gizmodo)

Plastics and Waste:

  • A Florida chemical plant and plastics producer said it would reduce its carbon emissions.  Did it?  It’s complicated, and the company isn’t saying much.  (Inside Climate News)
  • Algae in lakes isn’t always a good thing, but it can catch plastic, making it easier to remove.  (Environmental Health News)
  • Camels are confusing plastic bags for food, with deadly results.  (Washington Post)
  • A proposed new plastics plant in Louisiana’s “cancer alley” may not happen, in part because of lessening market demand.  (Inside Climate News)

Utilities and Electricity Grid:

  • What role did clean energy play in Texas’ recent grid problems?  “It is an extreme weather problem, not a clean power problem.”  Though grid weatherization is generally thought necessary, there isn’t consensus on the role of renewables.  (Augusta Free Press, S&P Global)
  • Analysts and researchers are trying to get their heads around the scope of the grid threats that climate change is posing.  Not surprisingly, it’s complicated.  Not much comfort to an Austin apartment complex’s residents, without power a month later.  (Bloomberg, Austin American‑Statesman)
  • Duke Energy’s 15-year energy plan is receiving very high interest, with so many North Carolina residents, agencies, and companies wanting to comment that the regulator postponed a virtual meeting until it could determine how to accommodate them all.  (Energy News Network)

Potpourri

  • Hard hats will be the new symbol of climate change action, say environmental activists pushing for Biden’s new infrastructure plan.  (Grist)
  • With spring here, check out eight wonderful US public gardens, New York City’s abundant wildflowers, and a Dorset designer’s private garden.  (NYTimes, NYTimes, NYTimes)
  • Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams is also a climate activist.  The Environmental Voters Group wants climate activists to vote. (Grist, Grist)
  • Backyard Foodbank is a Harrisonburg citizen’s effort to help people learn to grow their own food.  (The Citizen)
  • Washington Post Live interviewed 3 champions of clean drinking water, including actor Matt Damon.  (Washington Post)
  • Is “bingeing Netflix” bad for the climate?  The company is looking at ways to reduce its carbon footprint.  And it’s presenting “Seaspiracy” about human threats to marine life and “global corruption” behind it.  (Independent, Netflix)
  • Here are seven “emerging technologies” to “tackle the climate crisis”.  Green Cement, Hydrogen Ships, Tree Corridors …  (Rolling Stone)

Closing Thought

“The best protection for forests?  The people who live in them.”  (Inside Climate News)

Compiled by Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/19/2021

Thanks to Joy Loving for compiling this week’s news roundup in Les Grady’s absence!

Politics and Policy

International:

  • Biden administration is weighing how to make climate essential to foreign policy but has other urgent priorities. (NYTimes)
  • China’s announced goals—peak its CO2 emissions before 2030 and attain net carbon neutrality before 2060—are at odds with its coal dependence, because of which it is “the world’s top-polluting nation in recent decades.”  (NYTimes)
  • US companies continue to ship plastic waste outside the US despite the 2020 180‑country trade agreement that rich countries would not export plastic pollution to poorer ones.  (NYTimes)
  • India is considering setting a net-zero carbon goal rivaling those set by China and the US.  (Reuters)
  • The EU wants to work with the US to reduce aviation emissions.  (Reuters)
  • The International Renewable Energy Agency said “[r]enewable electricity production needs to grow eight times faster than the current rate to help limit global heating.”  (The Guardian)

Legislature:

  • Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s senator, will play a key role in whether Biden’s proposals to address climate change will go anywhere.  He plans to negotiate with both sides of the aisle to achieve results he wants. (Slate, Axios, Vox)
  • House Republicans put forth a plan to include more nuclear and natural gas and methane reductions as part of the “clean energy future”.  (The Hill)
  • Senate Majority Leader Schumer stalled FEMA plans to increase flood insurance premiums for property owners in coastal floodplains.  (NYTimes)
  • Congress is investigating an existing ”multibillion-dollar subsidy for chemically treated coal … meant to reduce smokestack pollution, after evidence emerged that power plants using the fuel produced more smog not less.” (Reuters)
  • 35 Pennsylvania lawmakers are urging the state to act following a study showing harmful chemical exposure to Pennsylvanians living near fracking wells.  (Daily Climate)

Administration, regulations, and analysis:

  • Deb Haaland was sworn in as Interior Department Secretary, the first Native American and third woman to hold that post.  (Washington Post, The Guardian)
  • EPA Secretary Regan announced the agency is working on regulations to control power plant and vehicle emissions to reduce smog, among other results.  (NYTimes, E&E News, Reuters)
  • The EPA restored the climate change website removed by Biden’s predecessor.  (Washington Post)
  • 12 states’ attorneys general challenged Trump-era energy efficiency regulations they consider inadequate.  (The Hill)
  • Georgia advocates want the EPA to block construction of a wood-pellet plant, “arguing its permit was secured without community input and threatens public health.”  (The Hill)
  • Some Democrats want Biden to “revoke permits for [a] big Louisiana plastics plant” because of its adverse effects on the local Black community.  Louisiana Senator Cassidy objected.  (The Advocate)
  • FEMA is assessing its programs that “distribute billions of dollars to states after major disasters and are thought by some analysts and lawmakers to favor affluent communities and individuals.”  (E&E News)
  • The US leads in the number of cities that have enacted some type of fossil fuel ban.  (Gizmodo)
  • Energy Secretary Granholm plans to make the department’s $43Mn loan guarantee program available to help decarbonize the grid.  Potential applicants have some reservations.  (Politico)
  • DOD Secretary Austin said the department is incorporating the security threats posed by climate change into its planning.  (The Christian Science Monitor)

Financial sector:

  • The pressure on financial institutions and corporations to incorporate climate into their planning, investments, and operations yielded different responses from legislators and regulators.  (Texas Tribune, The Guardian)
  • US “regulators are pushing corporate America to reckon with the cost of climate change, arguing that global warming poses significant peril not only to the environment but also to the U.S. economy.” Some Republicans disagree with the Federal Reserve action to “further environmental objectives.”  (Washington Post, Washington Post)
  • Investors are urging a large EU steel producer reduce the industry’s CO2 and other emissions.  (NYTimes)

Climate and Climate Science

Water and sea level rise:

  • Florida legislators’ funding for projects to protect the state from flooding doesn’t include managed retreat or address its root cause, climate change. (Grist
  • Avon, North Carolina residents are wrestling with how to save their village from rising seas and how to afford to try.  (NYTimes)
  • “Wetlands Can Help Prevent Property Damage and Save Lives During Floods”.  (Circle of Blue)
  • The changing climate is altering rivers world-wide with respect to water flow.  (Futurity)
  • Neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s face much higher flood risks than those not so designated.  (Bloomberg)

Environment:

  • Indigenous peoples could assist multi-nation efforts to protect 30% of earth’s land and water by 2030. (NYTimes)
  • Quebec’s seals and its seal tourism industry are struggling because “there’s no ice”. (The Guardian)
  • Last month’s fierce storms in the south, with the resultant power outages, caused major disruption to Jackson, Mississippi’s water supply.  Its residents still don’t have reliable water service.  (Slate)
  • Some of the loss of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest can be attributed to China’s appetite for beef.  (The Guardian)
  • Two adjacent states have different opinions about meat.  Colorado declared a “Meat Out” day, while neighboring Nebraska countered with its “Meat on the Menu” day.  (NYTimes)
  • US 2020 wildfire smoke wiped out clean air gains from the pandemic.  (Washington Post)
  • Almost half of the US is in drought; NOAA said that will continue and worsen.  (CNBC)
  • 10% of poor neighborhoods in 20 southwest US urban areas experience 4oF average higher temperatures than wealthier areas.  (AZ Central)
  • The warming Pacific Ocean threatens Northern California’s sea kelp; sea otters are among those helping to save it.  (Inside Climate News)
  • 10Mn people were displaced during 6 months of climate disasters in 2020, most in Asia.  (Reuters)
  • Soil below the Greenland ice sheet revealed exciting information about plant life thousands of years ago.  The bad news?  The soil’s contents showed the ice sheet had melted before.  Could it do so again?  (Washington Post, Inside Climate News)

Energy

Renewables:

  • The Biden administration okayed the Vineyard Wind project off Martha’s Vineyard. (Grist)
  • An Environmental Defense Fund manager believes North Carolina “has much to gain from [offshore] wind power.”  (Coastal Review Online)
  • Who knew?  Bladeless turbines can produce wind power.  (The Guardian)
  • Residents of Wainscott, in New York’s Hamptons, are at odds about the proposed South Fork wind farm 35 miles offshore.  “[A] cable to connect the wind farm would have to burrow underneath the hamlet’s beach and several of its streets to join with a substation further inland.”  (The Guardian)
  • So many wind turbines—where can we put them?  (Inside Climate News)
  • A new report touted the “promise and potential” of offshore wind for the US.  (Environment America)
  • New technology is on the horizon to make solar more efficient. (Grist)
  • Solar power is growing rapidly and providing a substantial source of US power.  Virginia ranked 4th in 2020 solar installations nationally (Clean Technica, Virginia Mercury, Houston Chronicle)
  • Underway:  “The Race to Scale Up Green Hydrogen to Help Solve Some of the World’s Dirtiest Energy Problems.  (Inside Climate News)

Transportation:

  • A plan to operate a “green hydrogen” cargo ship is facing an obstacle—not enough fuel. (Grist)
  • How quickly will electric vehicles (EVs) “take over” US roads? (NYTimes, Yale Environment 360, Clean Technica)
  • Taking its first steps to join the EV bandwagon, Virginia enacted clean car standards comparable to those in California and established an as-yet unfunded rebate process to incentivize Virginians to purchase EVs.  (Energy News)

Fossil fuels and Extraction:

  • Kern County California continues its reliance on oil, despite current pollution levels there. (Grist)
  • A proposed new approach to carbon capture and storage:  Pipe carbon dioxide produced from ethanol manufacture from Midwest sites to North Dakota, use some to make ethanol, and pump most of it deeply underground. (Grist)
  • A proposed natural gas pipeline in the Memphis Tennessee area has raised loud voices about its violation of environmental justice.  (Commercial Appeal, WFPL,)
  • Owners of the Transco Pipeline filed suit against Mountain Valley Pipeline owners who want to take land through eminent domain that Transco previously acquired the same way.  (The Roanoke Times)
  • The founder of a national parks travel guide described in detail his objections to the proposed oil drilling at Big Cypress National Preserve, urging the Biden Administration to prohibit it.  Other groups also object; the permit allows only “exploratory drilling.”  (National Parks Traveler, Tallahassee Democrat)
  • Following Biden’s cancellation of a March oil lease in the Gulf of Mexico, “Louisiana officials say the state’s oil and gas industry is in danger.” (KLFY)
  • The Bureau of Land Management is moving forward to allow oil and gas leasing in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, despite objections of tribal leaders who say they haven’t been adequately informed or consulted.  (Capital & Main)
  • A Nevada rancher filed a lawsuit over proposed lithium mining on BLM lands because of the environmental dangers it poses. (Grist)
  • Trackers of CO2 and methane found that massive amounts of colorless, odorless methane are leaking from pipelines in the Texas Permian Basin.  (CNN)
  • Indigenous people in Minnesota argued the proposed re-routing of an aging pipeline—Line 3 project—would violate a US treaty with the Ojibwe nations.  (The Guardian, The Relevator)
  • The bottom‑trawling fishing industry may produce as much CO2 as global aviation.  (NYTimes)

Electricity Grid:

  • Texas recent grid management challenges and its regulatory policy demonstrated the need to ensure 24/7/365 performance regardless of weather conditions—and many critiques and proposed solutions are on offer.  (Houston Chronicle, CNBC, Inside Climate News)
  • Officials at an Arkansas power plant powered by hydro, contend its power source helped keep the lights on during last month’s fierce weather.  (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

Potpourri

  • A Harrisonburg-area resident is eager to help the American chestnut return to the Central Shenandoah Valley.  (The Harrisonburg Citizen)
  • Check out Virginia’s outlook for solar job growth by 2050.  (Climate Central)
  • “Women’s Leadership is Central to the Climate Fight”.  (ClimateXChange)
  • The great-granddaughter of an Idaho farmer who lived in the early 20th century believes wise agricultural stewardship, such as he practices, can help local communities in their resilience planning.  (NYTimes)
  • There’s more than one way for the US to attain net-zero by 2050.  (The Guardian)
  • Would you consider living in a building that’s 300 feet underground—if it doesn’t disturb contaminated soil, saves energy, and is heated and cooled with the help of solar?  (Fast Company)

Closing Thought

  • A Nashville-based opinion writer found some reasons to be optimistic, or at least hopeful, about the planet’s future.  “Hope is not a license to relax. Hope is only a reminder not to give up. As bad as things are, it is far too early to give up.” (NYTimes)

Compiled by Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/12/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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