Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/5/2020

Politics and Policy

Many articles this week addressed the intersection of climate and racism.  Here are a few that caught my eye: Black climate expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s perspective in The Washington Post addressed how “Racism derails our efforts to save the planet;” Somini Sengupta’s “Climate Fwd:” newsletter in The New York Times was devoted to a conversation with black climate activists about the connections between racism and climate change; author and activist Keya Chatterjee’s opinion piece at the Thomas Reuters Foundation news site declared “The climate crisis is, at its core, a racial injustice crisis;” a group of journalists at Inside Climate News reported on the way in which a variety of climate groups responded; and Claire Elise Thompson’s compilation of comments from five environmental justice leaders at Grist presented a variety of ideas on the issue.  You might also be interested in an anti-racist reading list

The U.S. is far behind other industrialized nations on environmental performance and now ranks 24th in the world, according to a new analysis by Yale and Columbia universities.  Hungary has set a climate neutrality goal for 2050, in a law passed by parliament on Wednesday, signaling support for the EU net zero emissions strategy.  There were several articles this week about the weakening of environmental regulations under the Trump administration.  One concerned a report by a group of former EPA employees called “Save EPA”, which wrote “Virtually all the changes that Trump has made have one thing in common: They help polluters and harm the public, now and in the future.”  A second, an article at Yale Climate Connections, asserted that “Most Trump environmental rollbacks will take years to be reversed.”  A third reported that President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines, and other projects, given the current economic “emergency.”  Also on Thursday, EPA released a proposed overhaul of how major clean air rules are written by changing the cost-benefit analysis process.  In addition, on Monday the EPA announced that it had limited states’ ability to block the construction of energy infrastructure projects by revising the rules whereby permits are issued under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.  Finally, The administration proposed fast tracking logging on public lands, introducing two proposals that would limit the environmental review of new projects.

The Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis of the Democratic National Committee is pressing Joe Biden to back a plan to spend up to $16 trillion to speed the country away from fossil fuels.  In a rare collaboration on climate change, four senators (two from each party) on Thursday introduced a bill that would direct the Agriculture Department to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners use CO2-absorbing practices to generate carbon credits that could be sold on offset markets.  However, there is great uncertainty over the efficacy of regenerative agriculture, as well as how to certify the amount of CO2 offset.  Meanwhile, House Democrats rolled out a nearly $500 billion infrastructure bill Wednesday aimed at updating America’s aging transportation system.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts vs. EPA held that greenhouse gases were pollutants that could be regulated under the 1970 Clean Air Act.  At Inside Climate News, Sam Evans-Brown, of New Hampshire Public Radio provided a history of the ruling and looked at threats to it from the Trump administration.  On Thursday, the Edison Electric Institute, the primary industry group for U.S. investor-owned utilities, confirmed that it is staying neutral on a controversial petition asking FERC to effectively declare net metering illegal.  On Monday, sustainable finance nonprofit Ceres released a new report entitled “Addressing Climate as a Systemic Risk: A call to action for U.S. financial regulators.” 

Climate and Climate Science

According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), severe rainfall that once happened every hundred years in North America now happens every 20 years, and events that once happened every 20 years now happen every five.  An E&E News analysis of federal flood insurance payments showed that flooding in the U.S. disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods.  Research published in Geophysical Research Letters examined rainfall-based drought using the latest generation of climate models and found that in the future southwestern Australia and parts of southern Australia will see longer and more intense droughts.  The number of people exposed to water stress could double by 2050 if population growth is high and efforts are not made to limit warming to 2°C.  Furthermore, even if warming is held below 2°C and population growth is low, the number of people exposed to water stress could still rise by 50% by 2050. 

Although the coronavirus pandemic slowed CO2 emissions, the reduction was insufficient to stop the amount in the atmosphere from increasing.  Consequently, the amount in May 2020 hit an average of slightly greater than 417 ppm, the highest monthly average value ever recorded.  Furthermore, a recent paper in AGU Advances revealed that the ocean is so sensitive to changes in the atmosphere, such as declining greenhouse gas emissions, that it immediately responds by taking up less CO2.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered its most extensive coral bleaching event in March, with scientists fearing that it is not going to recover to what it was even five years ago, much less thirty years ago.  In addition, warming ocean temperatures and acidification are threatening the survival of glass sponge reefs unique to the waters of the Pacific Northwest.  In the Chesapeake Bay, as seagrasses photosynthesize, they form tiny crystals of calcium carbonate, which they hoard both inside and on the surface of their leaves.  As the external crystals wash off and flow down the bay, they help to neutralize the acidifying water.

Scientists with the Copernicus Climate Change Service announced on Friday that Earth had its hottest May ever last month, as 2020 is set to be among the hottest years ever, with a higher than 98% likelihood it will rank in the top five.  An analysis of weather records by Brian Brettschneider of the Capital Weather Gang at The Washington Post revealed that summers in Canada and the U.S. have increased by an average of seven days over the past 30 years, whereas winters have decreased by 15 days.

The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists published in the PNAS.  More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years.  A study published in the journal Science examined the ability of mangroves to withstand sea level rise and found that without significant reductions in CO2 emissions, by 2050 mangroves would be unable to keep up with the rate of sea level rise, causing their extinction.

Energy

At E&E News, Benjamin Storrow wrote: “Climate researchers increasingly believe 2019 may represent the world’s peak output of carbon dioxide, with a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and a rapid expansion of renewable energy putting a cap on emissions years earlier than expected.”  A report from financial thinktank Carbon Tracker asserts that the coronavirus outbreak could trigger a $25tn collapse in the fossil fuel industry, thereby posing “a significant threat to global financial stability”.  On the other hand, some analysts think that the current contraction may result in a strengthening of the major oil and gas companies through acquisition of wells and reserves at bargain basement prices.  Massachusetts’ Attorney General asked the state’s public utilities regulator to probe the future of the natural gas industry as the state moves away from burning fossil fuels.  The Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Institute, along with Mothers Out Front and Physicians for Social Responsibility, have issued a report summarizing 20 years of studies on the impact of gas stoves on indoor air quality and calling for regulators to issue indoor air quality guidelines.

The International Renewable Energy Agency said that if energy companies replaced 500 GW of their most expensive coal-fired power plants with new solar power projects or onshore wind farms, they could save up to $23bn every year and wipe out 5% of global carbon emissions.  According to the International Energy Agency, if floating wind turbine technology were widely adopted, the industry would have the technical potential to eventually supply the equivalent of 11 times the world’s demand for electric power.  For this to be realized, however, both technical and economic problems must be overcome.

In a new study published in the journal Joule on Tuesday, scientists reported that two-sided sun-tracking solar panels produce an average of 35% more energy than immobile single-panel systems and are 16% more cost-efficient. 

At The Conversation, Tom Baxter, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Aberdeen, made the case for battery-powered passenger cars being more energy efficient than cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.  Germany said it will require all filling stations to offer electric car charging to help remove range anxiety and boost consumer demand for EVs.  General Motors is developing an electric van aimed at business users, joining a growing list of carmakers planning EVs for the same segment.  Norsk Hydro and Northvolt have set up a joint venture that will focus on the recycling of both battery materials and aluminum from Norway’s electric vehicle sector.

A metal organic framework (MOF) is a human-made substance that contains a very large surface area per unit volume.  This gives them a large potential for absorbing things from air.  Now, engineers at Monash University in Australia have devised an MOF with the ability to take up large quantities of CO2 and then release it in concentrated form for storage, all with very low energy requirement.

Potpourri

At The Tyee, Andrew Nikiforuk wrote “Normal has become a pathological state.  After the random normlessness of this pandemic, I don’t want to go back to normal either.  Or its idiotic child, ‘the new normal.'”  A new documentary was released on June 5, World Environment Day.  It is from Australia and is entitled 2040.  According to a post on RealClimate, it is focused on hope and rational thinking.  You can watch the trailer here

Closing Thought

This week, take 4½ minutes to listen to some early morning birdsong or listen to 13 birds one can hear around NYC.

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 5/29/2020

Politics and Policy

The UN announced on Thursday that COP26, originally scheduled for November of this year, will be postponed until 1-12 November of next year.  The summit will take place in Glasgow as previously planned.  The European Commission announced its green recovery plan on Thursday and Damian Carrington of The Guardian wrote that “It sets a high standard for other nations.”  Reuters provided a list of its spending proposals.  Some were not excited about the plan because it relies heavily on borrowing.  Major European electricity groups issued a joint call urging the European Commission to prioritize renewable hydrogen in its pandemic recovery plan.  New research in the journal Environmental Science and Policy by European modelers and social scientists found that President Trump’s reelection would likely cause a significant delay in meeting global carbon emission reductions.  At the New York Times, Somini Sengupta sought to clarify what all of these changes mean for climate change.

At Vox, David Roberts argued that there is a broad alignment forming within the Democratic Party around a climate policy platform that is both ambitious enough to address the problem and politically potent enough to unite all the left’s various interest groups.  In a subsequent post, Roberts said that if former Vice President Joe Biden embraces a bold climate policy he has a good chance of turning out the voters he needs to win.  Two conservative clean energy advocates have said that Congress “should seize this opportunity to modernize the nation’s power system with investments that will pay dividends for the economy and the environment for generations.”  If Biden wins, he may have difficulty persuading Congress to adopt his climate program.  Timothy Cama examined his options in that case.  Twenty-three states sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.  Furthermore, states have challenged virtually every effort by the EPA and other agencies to walk back Obama-era rules and have won 80% of the cases so far.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), former Federal Reserve governor and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin argued that the Fed should not be directing money to further entrench the carbon economy.  The U.S. Treasury Department released guidance Wednesday that offers onshore wind and solar projects more time to meet tax credit deadlines, an acknowledgment of the challenges brought by the coronavirus lockdown.  On Wednesday, the oil and gas industry lost appeals in two major climate damages cases brought by cities and counties in California.  The Bureau of Land Management abruptly postponed a scheduled auction of the right to drill for oil and gas on 45,000 acres in New Mexico scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of last week.  The Rocky Mountain Institute published a translation of an op-ed that appeared in Caijing Magazine, an influential Chinese publication that covers social, political, and economic topics.  The op-ed reviewed China’s leadership in clean energy and urged the government to allocate sufficient COVID-19 recovery resources to support China’s transition to clean energy, just as the EU is planning.

The Ohio Power Siting Board ruled Thursday that the Icebreaker windfarm project in Lake Eire could move forward, but only if blades on the demonstration project’s six turbines are turned off every night for eight months of the year, a stipulation that “may well be fatal to the entire project.”  A federal appeals court on Thursday turned down the Trump administration’s request to revive a permit program for new oil and gas pipelines.

Climate and Climate Science

The human fingerprint on the climate is now unmistakable and will become increasingly evident over the coming decades, the UK Met Office has confirmed after 30 years of study.  Planting a trillion trees as a climate change mitigation strategy has gotten a lot of attention, but climate scientists say it’s not that simpleMongabay published an article about how indigenous people in the Amazon are experiencing and responding to climate change.  New research published in the journal Science found that rising temperatures, deforestation, development, and climate-induced disasters are causing bigger trees to be lost at alarming rates, making the planet’s forests shorter and younger.

According to new research in Nature Climate Change, the deep ocean will be warming rapidly by 2050 even if dramatic reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions were to happen today.  On May 19th a Russian liquefied natural gas tanker became the earliest east-bound shipment on the Northern Sea Route ever for this kind of vessel.  Research using autonomous underwater vehicles with high-resolution mapping capability has revealed that around 12,000 years ago some glaciers in Antarctica were retreating at a rate around ten times higher than even the most rapid retreat seen today.

Contrary to previous research, a new paper in Science Advances has concluded that marshes in the Mississippi River Delta have hit a tipping point and will likely drown this century due to sea level rise.

Research, published in journal The Lancet Planetary Health, revealed that over the past 11 years, the number of deaths attributed to excessive natural heat in Australia is at least 50 times greater than is recorded on death certificates there.

With the Siberian Arctic seeing record warm conditions in recent weeks and months, scientists monitoring wildfire trends are becoming more convinced that some of the blazes erupting in the Arctic this spring are actually left over from last summer, having survived by burning in dry underground peat formations.  A study in Nature Communications suggests that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are causing plants to lose less water throughout the Northern Hemisphere, which in turn causes temperatures there to warm even more than they would from climate change alone.  Atmospheric circulation patterns then transport that heat to the Arctic, warming it faster than it would otherwise.

Energy

Japanese scientists have designed a photocatalyst capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen gases with almost 100% efficiency when exposed to ultraviolet light.  Their work suggests that it should be possible to design a photocatalyst capable of doing the same thing with visible light, thereby paving the way for much more efficient systems than electrolysis for producing hydrogen from sunlight.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration announced on Thursday that in 2019 the U.S. consumed more energy from renewable sources like solar and wind than from coal.  

A Cessna Caravan, retrofitted with an electric engine, flew for 30 minutes over Washington state on Thursday, in a flawless maiden flight of the largest all-electric commuter aircraft yet.  On the ground, registrations of electric vehicles in Europe doubled during the first months of 2020, while overall passenger car registrations fell by 25.6% compared to the same period last year, according to data by the European Alternative Fuels Observatory.

Power companies have announced plans to close 13 coal-fired power plants this year, according to an E&E News review of federal data and companies’ closure plans.  Two others will be converted to natural gas.  Southern Company, which owns a number of utilities across the South, has joined other major utilities in setting a net-zero carbon target for 2050. 

The Botetourt County (VA) Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the request by Apex Clean Energy to amend its permit for the Rocky Forge Windfarm to allow the construction of fewer, taller wind turbines.  Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has announced that the 2.64 GW Dominion Energy Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project will utilize its SG 14-222 DD turbine, which has a capacity of 14 MW.  As a result, Siemens Gamesa said that it is considering establishing the first global factory for that turbine somewhere in the U.S.  Atlantic Wind Transfers will provide offshore marine support services for the offshore wind turbines.  The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded that the best way to maintain maritime safety and ease of navigation in the offshore wind development areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket is to install turbines in a uniform layout to create predictable navigation corridors.  In Europe, as locations for wind energy fill up onshore and near-shore, companies are deploying floating turbines that can be sited in deep waters, out of view from the coast.  Offshore wind market leader Ørsted will work in and around Copenhagen to decarbonize transport on land, at sea, and in the air by producing hydrogen, from which other fuels can be generated.

Improvements in energy efficiency have slashed carbon emissions from operations at the Empire State Building about 40% in the past 10 years and the owners aim to cut an additional 40% in the decade to come.  Now the owners of the other buildings in the city face the challenge of cutting their energy use.

Potpourri

Are you feeling “Cassandrafreude”?  John Schwartz defined it in the second article of the NYT’s “Climate Fwd:” newsletter.  Heather Grady, Vice President, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, wrote “…2020 can be a super year, not just for nature, but also for people.”  The latest Peter Sinclair video focused on the Florida Keys and whether the communities there can be saved.  Ironically, Sinclair lives in Midland, MI, and wrote about last week’s dam breach there.  On May 5, I included a review of Lydia Millet’s new novel A Children’s Bible.  This week Amy Brady interviewed Millet for “The Chicago Review of Books.”  YouTube has taken down the controversial Michael Moore-produced documentary Planet of the Humans because of a copyright infringement claim by a British environmental photographer.

Closing Thought

Treat yourself to 4½ minutes of stunning photography about “The Beauty of Pollination.”

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 5/22/2020

Politics and Policy

The Economist focused on the links between the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.  It explained how “the pandemic both reveals the size of the challenge ahead and also creates a unique chance to enact government policies that steer the economy away from carbon at a lower financial, social and political cost than might otherwise have been the case.”  Bloomberg reported: “European Commission President Ursula Von Den Leyen is set to transform her Green Deal strategy to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, into a coronavirus economic rescue plan that’ll rapidly drive private investment and create jobs across the continent…”  On a related front, on Wednesday, the European Commission released a proposed biodiversity strategy whereby at least 30% of EU land and seas will be protected by 2030 to halt the decline of plant and animal species and restore carbon sinks to address climate change.  Australia’s government on Thursday released a new plan to tackle climate change, targeting the use of gas, hydrogen, batteries, and carbon capture, while avoiding the contentious issue of setting a carbon price.  On the other hand, a cross-society collection of groups have banded together to warn that Australia’s prosperity depends on eradicating greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the U.S., things are not as forward looking.  For example, the Trump administration is starting to reduce royalty payments and suspend leases for oil companies drilling on federal lands, while at the same time imposing retroactive rent on wind and solar generators.  Democrats are not blameless.  Clean energy companies and advocates are blasting them for neglecting to give the industry any help in the House pandemic relief bills, even as the sector reports hundreds of thousands of job losses.  During last week’s “LEAD on Climate 2020”, organized by the nonprofit Ceres and supported by other sustainability-focused business groups, executives from 333 companies met with 51 Representatives and 37 Senators from both parties in a virtual lobby day.  According to documents shared with The Washington Post, the Trump administration ignored warnings from EPA career staff that its new auto fuel economy rule has serious flaws.  Fuel-economy improvements in U.S. “light-duty” vehicles have saved 17 Gt of CO2 since 1975, according to a new study in the journal Energy Policy.

Although China had been on track to meet its 2020 carbon emission goals prior to the pandemic, those goals are now in danger because the government is looking to heavy industry and carbon-intensive projects to shore up its coronavirus-stricken economy.

Americans’ positions on climate change have remained largely unshaken by the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, according to a new national survey that showed acceptance of the reality of global warming at record highs in some categories.  Joe Biden would rescind President Donald Trump’s permit allowing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to cross the border into the U.S., a move that would effectively kill the controversial project.

Climate and Climate Science

According to a new paper in Nature Communications, scientists have completed the first survey of algal blooms on top of the snow on the Antarctic Peninsula, with almost 1,700 blooms of green algae being found.  Studies are planned to determine the algae’s impact on surface albedo.  Rising ocean temperatures will alter the distribution and life cycles of Antarctic krill in the coming decades, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change

A new study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the odds of major tropical cyclones around the world — Category 3, 4 and 5 storms — are increasing because of human-caused global warming.  The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be unusually active, according to a seasonal outlook from NOAA.  In Asia, the most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade came ashore with a storm surge of 15 meters, killing at least 82 people, officials said. 

A new study published in Science has found that as long as global warming is limited to 2°C, tropical rainforests will be able to soak up “high levels” of CO2, provided they are left intact.  However, if temperature increases exceed 2°C, the ability of the forests to store CO2 will decline rapidly.  Deforestation in Brazil’s section of the Amazon in the first four months of the year was up 55% from a year ago, with the result that Brazil could produce 10-20% more greenhouse gases in 2020, in contrast to the rest of the world, which will drop because of the coronavirus.

According to a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, the combination of drought and heat waves that caused the dust bowl in the U.S. in the 1930s, which occurred with a frequency of once every 100 years then, is now likely to occur once every 40 years, or 2.5 times more likely.  Furthermore, the occurrence will become even more likely as global average temperatures rise.

Rising sea levels over the past 120 years are a result of man-made climate change and not variations in the Earth’s orbit, a study in the journal Science Advances has found.

Energy

Scientists with the Global Carbon Project reported that daily emissions of CO2 dropped by as much as 17% globally in early April as the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The study also projects that total emissions for 2020 will probably fall between 4 and 7% compared with last year.  New data from the International Energy Agency released Wednesday reaffirms earlier forecasts of lower wind and solar installations globally in 2020 due to coronavirus impacts.  Grist queried five experts on the future of renewable energy in the U.S. in a time of COVID-19.  Modeling by the Finnish energy firm Wartsila found that solar capacity reaching up to 4.3 times peak load in sunny regions, and wind capacity of up to 2.1 times peak load in windy regions, would form the basis of a least-cost all-renewables resource mix in regions across the U.S.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the U.S. has lost 594,300 clean energy jobs, according to a report issued last week by BW Research Partnership.  Of that total, 413,500, or 70% of the losses, were in energy efficiency.  While the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a short-term drop in CO2 emissions, the economic impacts of the pandemic are likely to cause a delay in or cancelation of capital projects planned to meet long-term CO2-reduction goals, particularly in the European chemical industry.

Siemens Gamesa on Tuesday launched the largest wind turbine ever publicly announced, a 14 MW model with a 222-meter rotor diameter meant for offshore wind farms.  This puts Siemens Gamesa back in first place in the rankings for the largest offshore turbines on the market.  In order to reduce emissions by 70% from 1990s levels by 2030, Denmark plans to build two “energy islands” totaling 4 GW of offshore wind capacity.  At Greentech Media, Karl-Erik Stromsta brought us up to date on Dominion’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project.  North Carolina has taken the first step toward establishing an offshore wind industry by issuing a request for proposals to analyze the state’s ports and manufacturing supply chain for their potential suitability.

The switch from coal to gas has driven down U.S. electricity emissions over the last decade. But the opposite has happened in Virginia, where a massive build-out of natural gas power plants has negated CO2 reductions associated with coal retirements.  In a guest column in the Virginia Mercury, Chris Meyer and John Semmelhack make the case for electrifying Virginia by replacing the use of gas for home heating, cooking, and water heating.

A zinc-air hybrid flow battery can store multiple days’ worth of energy, doesn’t degrade, can’t possibly explode, and is up to five times cheaper than lithium-ion, according to its developer, Zinc8, which is preparing to pilot the technology in New York state.  A new study, published in the journal Applied Energy, shows that used electric vehicle batteries could still have a useful and profitable second life as backup storage for grid-scale solar photovoltaic installations, where they could perform for more than a decade in this less demanding role.

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests.  Automakers and analysts believe the pandemic will accelerate the move away from automobiles with gas-powered engines, with many more countries switching to electric vehicles around 2023-24.  In its latest effort to revive the U.S.’s nuclear industry, the Department of Energy (DOE) proposes to select and help build two new prototype nuclear reactors within 7 years. The reactors would be the centerpiece of DOE’s new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

Potpourri

In his New Yorker column this week, Bill McKibben provided links to an introductory video and a simulation model that you can play with to see the effects different policy options have on future global average temperatures.  Looks like a really interesting simulator.  Kristen Pope brought us up to date on the ice-bound MOSAiC Arctic expedition.  At The Arts Fuse, editor-in-chief Bill Marx asked “Why are America’s stages afraid of dealing with the climate crisis?”  Kendra Pierre-Louis compiled a list with excerpts of “The Hot Ten Climate Songs.”  The Tyee interviewed director Liz Marshall about her new documentary Meat the Future, the subject of which she describes as the “genesis phase of something that could change the world.”  S. David Freeman, who worked in energy policy under three presidents, ran some of the nation’s largest public utilities, and combined a deep understanding of energy issues with a passion for renewable energy and conservation, died on May 12th in Reston, Va. He was 94.

Closing Thought

Eve Turow-Paul and Sophie Egan founded the Food for Climate League, a new nonprofit organization, to redefine sustainable eating and help businesses, nonprofits, and governments promote food that’s good for both humans and the planet.

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 5/15/2020

Politics and Policy

Former Vice-President Joe Biden has named Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry as co-chairs of his climate task force.  A group of former climate policy staffers for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is pushing his comprehensive climate plan with both congressional Democrats and Biden.  A group called Climate Power 2020, a joint effort of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club, will focus on bringing the Democrat’s climate message to swing states.  And on the other side of the aisle, a new group called “C3 Solutions” seeks to unleash clean energy innovation.  Those interested in why we have made so little progress in reducing CO2 emissions will find a guest post at Carbon Brief of interest.  In it the author writes: “[E]ach shift in target framing has opened the door to new hopes of future technological solutions…These promises both respond to, and enable, continued delays in mitigation, yet rarely deliver in practice.  We call them ‘technologies of prevarication’.”  Another researcher calls the hope in future technologies “technological optimism”, with the same outcome – delay in action.

The Trump administration is not planning specific financial aid to oil producers, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Axios Wednesday, but the House coronavirus relief bill neither blocks such aid nor provides aid for renewable energy.  A coalition of oil producing states has asked for stimulus funds to hire laid off energy workers to plug abandoned wellsThe Guardian reported that fossil fuel companies and coal-powered utilities stand to gain from the Federal Reserve’s $750 billion coronavirus bond buyback program.  FERC has rejected a request from several states to pause approvals for new energy infrastructure projects such as natural gas pipelines.  EPA will propose changes to its decades-old methodology for measuring costs and benefits in Clean Air Act rulemakings, which if finalized could stymie efforts by future administrations to combat climate change.  Chief executives and other representatives from more than 330 businesses are calling on federal lawmakers to build a better economy following COVID-19 by including resilient climate solutions.  In an effort to stimulate its economy after the coronavirus shutdown, China will spend almost $1.5 billion to install 200,000 EV chargers throughout the country, 20,000 of which will be public chargers.

Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund is excluding several of the world’s biggest commodities firms from its portfolio for their use and production of coal.  Five years ago, the $1.1 billion Rockefeller Brothers Fund divested from fossil fuels.  Now the fund has outpaced financial benchmarks, defying predictions of money managers.

An article in Nature Climate Change states “A concerning body of evidence already indicates that climate hazards, which are increasing in frequency and intensity under climate change, are likely to intersect with the COVID-19 outbreak and public health response.  These compound risks will exacerbate and be exacerbated by the unfolding economic crisis and long-standing socioeconomic and racial disparities, both within countries and across regions, in ways that will put specific populations at heightened risk and compromise recovery.”

Climate and Climate Science

Daisy Dunne at Carbon Brief prepared a Q&A around the question of whether climate change and biodiversity disturbance could influence the risk of diseases being transmitted from animals to humans.  Logging and mining operations have accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest during the coronavirus pandemic.  A new study in Nature Communications warns that mosquitos carrying diseases such as dengue, Zika, and yellow fever would likely colonize parts of southern Europe by 2030.

NOAA has agreed with the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service that, globally, April was the second warmest April on record, as was January through April the second warmest such period.  An El Niño-like weather system that has been dormant for millennia in the Indian Ocean could be restarted by warming sea-surface temperatures associated with climate change.

A pulse of unusually warm air, one of many observed in recent years, is surging toward the North Pole, paving the way for the Arctic ice melt season to begin.  This is particularly concerning this year because scientists have reported that a landslide in a fjord in Prince William Sound, about 60 miles east of Anchorage, could be triggered by an earthquake, prolonged heavy rain, or a heat wave, thereby causing a massive tsunami.  From 1996 to 2018, the grounding line along the western flank of Denman Glacier in East Antarctica retreated 3.4 miles.  The grounding line is the point at which a glacier last touches the seafloor before it begins to float and its retreat increases the potential for the glacier to undergo rapid and irreversible deterioration.

New research from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory suggests that by 2050 roughly one-third of the U.S. population could feel the impacts of one or more extreme weather events annually.  During the first decade of this century, the Upper Missouri River Basin was the driest it’s been in 1,200 years because of rising temperatures linked to climate change that reduced the amount of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and North Dakota.

According to a new report from the World Resources Institute, while regenerative agriculture can improve soil health and yield some valuable environmental benefits, it is unlikely to achieve large-scale emissions reductions from farming.

Energy

According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, even though overall demand is expected to drop.  On Monday, the Department of the Interior announced the approval of the $1 billion Gemini Solar Project in Nevada, a complex set to mix 690 MW of solar PV with a 380 MW/1,400 MWh battery storage component.  Unfortunately, the U.S. clean energy sector has lost 17% of its work force, or nearly 600,000 jobs, because of stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Yet, while the pandemic has put some new projects on hold, the underlying strengths of renewables remain strong, and analysts expect their economic advantage over fossil fuels will increase in the long term.

BMW plans are to invest more than $32 billion into research and development for hydrogen fuel-cell technology.  Jack Ewing of The New York Times wrote of what is coming for the auto industry under the headline “The Pandemic Will Permanently Change the Auto Industry”.

The Canadian-based space company GHGSat will set up a center to analyze the emissions of greenhouse gases around the globe, starting with methane, which it is already measuring.  A new analysis by scientists working with the Environmental Defense Fund has found that Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry leaked seven times more methane in 2017 than state reporting for the year indicates.  It also found that the conventional natural gas industry leaked an even larger amount of methane, despite producing a mere 2% of the state’s gas.  An independent analysis of six large European corporations that have pledged to drastically cut CO2 emissions has found that none are yet aligned with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Cobalt is an important component in lithium-ion batteries, so as demand for them increases, demand for cobalt increases as well.  This raises concerns about the way it is mined and processed.  Late this month Tesla is expected to announce a new battery that will rely on low-cobalt and cobalt-free chemistries, and the use of chemical additives, materials, and coatings that will reduce internal stress and enable them to store more energy for longer periods.  These innovations are expected to allow Teslas to sell profitably at the same or lower prices than gasoline vehicles.  There was an interesting article in The Economist (free if you register) about wireless charging of electric vehicles.  Most applications to date have been for trucks and buses, but cars may not be that far off.

Perovskites are crystalline materials which can have high efficiencies of converting solar energy into electricity.  Unfortunately, they are not yet used in commercial solar cells for a variety of reasons.  Maddie Stone has a really good article in Grist reviewing the promise and status of perovskites in easy to understand language.

In Virginia news, utility regulators are preparing to reopen a popular program that allowed local governments, school systems, and churches to get their energy from non-utility solar developers.  The Botetourt County Planning Commission endorsed a plan Monday for the proposed wind turbines atop North Mountain to be increased in height from 550 ft to a maximum 680 ft, thereby allowing the number of turbines to be decreased.  A federal judge declined to lift his temporary ban on a permitting process for the crossing of streams and wetlands by oil and natural gas pipelines, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Potpourri

Climate scientist Kerry Emanuel has been elected as a foreign member of the UK’s Royal Society.  At National Geographic, two social scientists posit that to challenge misguided beliefs about science, you might try satire.  Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook have a new publication, “The Conspiracy Theory Handbook”.  Ron Charles reviewed Lydia Millet’s cli-fi novel A Children’s Bible for the Washington Post.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda collected twelve books on climate activismScience News staff members reviewed several climate change books published this year.  DW surveyed six of the most sustainable meat alternatives.  Chris Mooney of The Washington Post interviewed Shahzeen Attari, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, who studies the way people perceive their personal energy use and the decisions they make in their daily lives.  In preparation for what will likely be a hot summer, Sara Peach offered advice on “How to spot the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.”

Closing Thought

Consider the views of first-year college student Grace Lagan who wrote in The Guardian: “As a young person I’ve come to realize the power of hope in difficult times.”

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 5/8/2020

Politics and Policy

Congressional Republicans are planning to launch a counter pressure campaign against the country’s largest banks after several of them ruled out financial support for oil drilling projects in the Arctic.  Such a campaign may be largely posturing because according to Inside Climate News, the banks’ pledges may be largely symbolic.  In Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers have called on Democratic Governor Tom Wolf to rescind his executive order including Pennsylvania in the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  He rejected the idea.  A coalition of public interest, social justice, watchdog and environmental groups are joining forces to hold Duke Energy, the largest investor-owned U.S. electric utility, accountable for its policies. 

A new working paper has found that trade barriers worldwide are generally lower for carbon-intensive goods than cleaner products, creating a large “implicit subsidy to CO2 emissions” of $550 billion to $800 billion annually.  In a comment published by Climate Home News, three authors of last winter’s “Production Gap Report” argued that to meet climate goals and avoid further market chaos, governments need to plan the decline of coal, oil, and gas production, with support for workers.

Economists: Spending coronavirus recovery money on climate-friendly “green” policy initiatives could not only help shift the world closer to a net-zero emissions pathway, but could also offer the best economic returns for government spending.  Europe is facing a recession and governments are pumping out cash to keep economies afloat, but the EU’s Executive Commission has pledged not to roll back its climate ambitions.  Rather, the EU will use its “Green Deal” to drive the bloc’s economic recovery from the pandemic.  In a letter sent to senators Thursday, the Treasury Department said it is considering ways to let solar, wind, and other alternative energy developers continue to qualify for tax incentives critical for paying for the building of wind turbines and solar panel arrays – even if construction is put on hold.  Ten states and Washington, D.C., are asking FERC to postpone its approvals of any new fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Writing at Vice, Geoff Dembicki laid out how former Vice President Joe Biden could become an unlikely climate saviorE&E News examined the climate records of five contenders for the Democratic VP nomination.  Progressive organizations are calling on Biden’s campaign to oust Larry Summers from his advisory role, citing concerns over his stances on environmental issues.  In an interesting opinion piece in Politico, sociology professor Dana R. Fisher wrote: “New results from a survey conducted at the end of April show that the vast majority of climate activists will vote for Biden.  But the data also suggest that they won’t support him blindly—and are prepared to cause trouble if he dismisses their concerns.”  Young conservatives are working to persuade their Republican elders to put forward a climate agenda, without sacrificing traditional GOP principles like market competition and limited government.  As the economy melts down because of the coronavirus, Republicans are testing a political response for this fall: saying Democratic climate policies would bring similar pain.

Climate and Climate Science

The vast majority of humanity has always lived in regions where the average annual temperatures are between 6°C (43°F) and 28°C (82°F), which are ideal for human health and food production.  Now, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that over the next 50 years, 1 to 3 billion people will live in extreme heat – defined as an average temperature of 29°C (84°F) or above.  Mark Maslin, Prof. of Earth System Science at University College, London, discussed the article at The Conversation.  In addition, an article published in Science Advances reported that a comprehensive evaluation of weather station data showed that some coastal subtropical locations have already reported a wet bulb temperature of 35°C (human’s upper physiological limit) and that extreme humid heat overall has more than doubled in frequency since 1979.  According to research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, with 2°C of global average warming, the average farm worker will experience 39 days of unsafe heat each year. 

New data, released Tuesday from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, indicated that April was tied with April 2016 as the hottest April on record.  A contorted jet stream is cleaving the U.S. into two seasons this weekend, with record heat in the West and Southwest, and record cold in the Midwest, Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast.

Scientists have been studying the coronaviruses of southern China for years and warning that swift climate and environmental change there — in both loss of biodiversity and encroachment by civilization — was going to help new viruses jump to people.  Taken together over the long term, seasonal allergies present one of the most robust examples of how global warming increases health risks.  Allergies, which are already a major health burden, will become an even larger drain on the economy.  (This article has a good table comparing the symptoms of COVID-19 with allergies, the flu, and the common cold.)

Climate change has been influencing the locations at which tropical cyclones occur, according to new NOAA-led research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Since 1980, the number of tropical cyclones has been rising in the North Atlantic and Central Pacific, while declining in the western Pacific and the South Indian Ocean.  Sea-level is rising faster than previously believed and could exceed 3 feet by the end of the century unless global emissions are reduced, according to a survey of 106 specialists published in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.

The rapid collapse of mountain glaciers can have devastating impacts downslope of them.  Such rapid collapse appears to be increasing in frequency because of a warming climate, but could be due to the greater availability of satellite images.  Shrinking snow caps in the Himalayas are causing the spread of toxic green algae blooms in the Arabian Sea, a new study has found.

Energy

One of the challenges of obtaining all electricity from wind and solar is providing for the seasonal shift, i.e., production is greater in summer and demand is greater in winter.  Technology firm Wärtsilä proposed that the problem be solved by employing power-to-gas technologies by which excess electricity if converted into either hydrogen or methane, which can be stored until needed.  Green hydrogen’s advocates say its time has come.  Shell and Dutch energy company Eneco confirmed that they had submitted a bid in last week’s Dutch offshore wind tender through their new joint venture CrossWind, which plans to develop 759 MW of capacity feeding a 200-MW electrolyzer to produce green hydrogen.  Australia’s energy minister said that the government was setting aside $191 million to jumpstart hydrogen projects as the country aims to build the industry by 2030.

Three of the four biggest U.S. oil and gas producers posted multimillion to multibillion dollar losses in the first quarter of 2020.  About half of Louisiana Oil and Gas Association members expect to file for bankruptcy because of the market collapse.  Insolvent or overly leveraged firms, including oil drillers and oil services firms, won’t be able to tap the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said Wednesday.  One side effect of the economic problems in the oil and gas market will be an increase in the number of orphan wells when the companies owning them go out of business.

The coronavirus crisis is not only battering the oil and gas industry; it’s hurting businesses trying to move the country toward cleaner sources of energy.  The 2.25 GW Navajo Generating Station shut down in November, leaving unemployment and underutilized electrical transmission infrastructure in its wake.  Now, startup Navajo Power wants to build massive solar power plants while channeling the proceeds into electrification and economic development for Navajo communities.  Wind, solar, and hydroelectricity produced more electricity than coal for 40 straight days in the U.S. this year, topping the previous record of nine consecutive days.  Dominion Virginia’s new integrated resource plan sets a goal of nearly 16 GW of solar, more than 5 GW of offshore wind, and 2.7 GW of energy storage over the next 15 years.  Augusta County (VA) Public Schools will be receiving more solar energy thanks to Secure Futures Solar, which recently signed an agreement with City National Bank to provide an $8 million loan to finance the construction of solar projects in several schools.

Southern California Edison is procuring a 770 MW/3,080 MWh package of battery resources to bolster grid reliability, in what will be one of the largest storage procurements made in the U.S. to date.  Dan Gearino has details.  The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for battery storage has been falling.  Andy Colthorpe of Energy Storage News took a deep dive into the details of how the LCOE is determined for batteries.  Minnesota utility Great River Energy confirmed that it will pilot Form Energy’s novel super-long-duration energy storage technology.  The 1 MW project will be able to discharge at full power capacity for up to 150 hours, an unprecedented achievement.

The auto industry logic about electric vehicles (EVs) is that transforming the worst gas guzzlers and CO2 emitters will save more energy than nominal gains for smaller cars that use relatively little gasoline, explaining why most of the new EVs are big SUVs and pickups.  According to a new Wood Mackenzie report, by 2030, there will be 8.6 million EV charging outlets installed in Europe, 9.8 million in China, and 10.8 million in North America.

Potpourri

Climate scientist Michael Mann has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors given to a scientist in the U.S.  MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel has launched a new interactive website entitled “Climate Science, Risk and Solutions: Climate Knowledge for Everyone”.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda presented more than 70 climate fiction films you can choose from for your stay-at-home viewing.  Climate fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson had a wonderful essay on The New Yorker’s website last Friday.  Even though it doesn’t fall within this week, I’ve included it because it is so thought-provoking.  Bill McKibben encourages you to read it.  SueEllen Campbell has a short essay at Yale Climate Connections addressing the question of whether individual or collective action is more important for fighting climate change.  In it she provides links to several articles, including one by Michael Grunwald in Politico, who wrote “while individual change alone can’t fix the climate, the climate can’t be fixed without it.” 

Closing Thought

Congratulations to the staff of The Washington Post who won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for its series on climate change, “2°C: Beyond the Limit”.

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 5/1/2020

Politics and Policy

The Trump administration has expanded the Main Street Lending Program to help oil and gas companies struggling from a collapse in prices brought on by Covid-19 and overproduction.  On the other hand, the administration is sitting on about $43 billion in low-interest loans for clean energy projects.  U.S. fossil fuel companies have taken at least $50 million in taxpayer money they probably won’t have to pay back, according to a review by the investigative research group “Documented” and The Guardian.  At Nature, Jeff Tollefson presented five ways the Trump administration is undermining environmental protections under the cover of the coronavirus.  According to The New York Times, President Trump’s COVID-19 response has extended the administration’s longstanding practice of undermining scientific expertise for political purposes.

A probe conducted by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found that in 99.4% of more than a thousand cases over the past 20 years, FERC gave natural gas pipeline companies eminent domain.  The Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University announced that former FERC Commissioner and Chairman Cheryl LaFleur will join the Center as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow.  More than 70 Democratic lawmakers from both chambers joined a suit challenging the Trump administration for rolling back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

Rocky Mountain Institute CEO Jules Kortenhorst argued that the coronavirus pandemic is giving us a preview of the kind of disruptions that climate change will bring to the energy transition.  Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said while the company will not totally protect its low-carbon division from spending cuts to weather the coronavirus crisis, those businesses would be shielded from the worst of the reductions.  Germany has shown how renewable energy can replace fossil fuels in a way that draws wide public buy-in.  The steps it took on this journey, and the missteps it made along the way, provide critical lessons for other countries seeking to transform their energy sectors.  At the 30-nation Petersberg Climate Dialogue on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged governments not to reduce their international contributions to help vulnerable countries tackle climate change.  The Dutch government has announced measures including huge cuts to coal use, garden greening, and limits on livestock herds as part of its plan to lower emissions to comply with a supreme court ruling.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden is honing his campaign message on the environment in the age of the coronavirus.  He also has started his own podcast, called Here’s the Deal.  Larry Summers is purportedly serving as an advisor to Biden’s campaign.  According to Kate Aronoff at The New Republic, this should give cause for concern among those in favor of a strong clean energy policy.  The American Conservation Coalition, a conservative environmental group, has released its answer to the Green New Deal with a plan called the American Climate Contract.  The U.S. could save more than $1 trillion over the long term by removing roughly 1 million homes from flood-prone areas and relocating residents to higher ground.  So why do people live in disaster-prone areas?  According to one Louisiana resident, “That’s home.  That’s where it’s natural to be.”  In Australia, the chief executive of the Consumer Action Law Center said there was a risk home insurance could become unaffordable in the wake of last bushfire season, leaving many uninsured or under-insured.

Climate and Climate Science

Last week I linked to an article about NOAA determining that there was a 75% chance that 2020 will set the record for the warmest year.  This week Gavin Schmidt, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, gave 2020 a 60% chance, while the UK’s Met Office estimated a 50% likelihood.

NASA’s new ICESat-2 satellite, launched in 2018, is providing much better data for determining the extent of ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica, which will lead to better estimates of sea level rise.  However, they contributed less than half of the melting that occurred globally from 2003 to 2019.  A study, published in the journal Geology, revealed that melting of mountain glaciers can result in the unanticipated instantaneous release of huge quantities of ice and meltwater, with catastrophic effects.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that over the past 30 years, as atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased, the biomass of native prairie grasses doubled, but their nutrient content declined, with possible negative impacts on plant-consuming insects.  Minnesota is one of the fastest warming states in the U.S., with many counties having warmed more than 2°C since the late 19th century.  Brady Dennis and colleagues from The Washington Post examined the changes that have occurred and what they portend for the future.

Carbon cycle feedbacks, such as the uptake and release of CO2 by forests, are very important in determining the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.  In the past, such feedbacks resulted in a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, but recent research indicates that many ecosystems are shifting to being net producers of CO2, with dire ramifications for the climate.  On the subject of forests, a study recently published in Science found that forests are in big trouble if global warming continues at the present pace because most trees alive today will be unable to survive in the future climate.  In addition, there is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like COVID-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.  This conclusion was also reached by experts associated with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

As human pressure and the impacts of climate change increase, most of the tropical reef sites around the world will be unable to simultaneously sustain coral reef ecosystems and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them, according to a new study published in the journal Science.  A report, published last week in Nature Communications, found that as the world warms, farmed fish are at increasing risk of disease, prompting fish farmers to use increasing amounts of antimicrobial drugs, raising the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria impacting human health.

Energy

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world’s CO2 emissions are expected to fall by 8% this year as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down much of the global economy, a drop that is six times greater than that during the 2008 financial crisis.  Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, predicted that “the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before,” thereby raising important questions.  Looking to a more environmentally-friendly future after the coronavirus, Portugal is preparing to build a solar-powered hydrogen plant near the port of Sines.

Duke Energy said Tuesday that it plans to achieve the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by phasing out its use of coal while increasing its use of renewable energy.  Britain went without coal-fired power generation for its longest stretch since the Industrial Revolution, breaking the existing record of 18 consecutive days and still climbing at 20 days and 21 hours when the article was written.

Solar and onshore wind power are the cheapest new sources of electricity for at least two-thirds of the world’s population, according to a new report produced by BloombergNEF.  Abu Dhabi has set a global record-low solar price with a winning bid in a 2 GW tender of 1.35 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.  A study by the Australian Energy Market Operator, published Thursday, revealed that the country already has the technical capacity to safely run a power grid in which 75% of the electricity comes from wind and solar.  Energy Storage News deputy editor Molly Lempriere looked at some of the microgrids around the world that are transforming the way neighborhoods produce and consume electricity.

Denmark’s Ørsted, the world’s top offshore wind developer, has said that its U.S. offshore wind projects totaling nearly 3 GW may face delays due to the coronavirus crisis and slowed permitting.  The New York Public Service Commission has approved plans for an offshore wind solicitation of at least 1 GW, and possibly 2.5 GW, but the state agency in charge of the solicitation says it won’t press ahead with it this summer.  On the other hand, the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project remains on schedule.

The Environmental Defense Fund surveyed more than 300 sites in the Permian Basin and found that roughly 1 in 10 methane flares was unlit or malfunctioning, allowing the strong greenhouse gas to escape directly to the atmosphere.  Conspicuously absent from the broader European Green Deal agenda are provisions to tackle the leakage of methane, a potent climate pollutant with rising emissions.

Potpourri

An unforeseen pairing of catastrophes, climate change and COVID-19, will inform how Generation Z navigates the world as adults, and what sort of future they create.  Over the past few years, Kim Cobb, a Georgia Tech professor of paleoclimate, has shifted her focus from climate science to solutions and adaptation.  At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach addressed the question of what individuals can realistically do about climate change.  Dan Gearino has debunked Michael Moore’s “Planet of the Humans,” which has provoked a furious reaction from scientists and climate activists.  Allegheny College in northwestern Pennsylvania and Dickinson College in central Pennsylvania are now carbon-neutral — joining only a handful of other schools with the same achievement nationwide.  Got a little time on your hands?  Listen to “Survivor Generations 2165: An Original Radio Drama by the Climate Stew Players.”  Greta Thunberg donated $100,000 in prize money she received from the Danish foundation Human Act to UNICEF to help it fight coronavirus, the UN children’s fund said on Thursday.

Closing Thought

A survey from George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that Millennial or younger adults (aged 18-38) were more likely than Gen. X (aged 39-54) or Baby Boomer and older (aged 55+) adults to support and/or identify with climate activists who urge elected officials to take action to reduce global warming, among other things.

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 4/24/2020

Politics and Policy

On Wednesday, activists and scientists worldwide marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a message of warning: When this health crisis passes, world leaders must rebuild the global economy on a healthier, more sustainable track.  A sampling of other Earth Day news follows.  The New York Times celebrated the 50th anniversary by highlighting ten big environmental victories and ten big failures.  Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for protection of the environment and praised the environmental movement, saying it was necessary for young people to “take to the streets to teach us what is obvious,…”.  Former UN official Hugh Roberts wrote: “It is time, then, to consider a new kind of declaration.  A declaration of responsibility, acknowledging what we have done and recognizing we were mistaken: a simple expression of collective responsibility for what is wrong.”  Rolling Stone interviewed and profiled Denis Hayes, the person who organized the first Earth Day.  Inside Climate News did a Q&A with Francis Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, which was published in 1971.  Finally, Scientific American illustrated how the environment has changed in the past 50 years.

On Monday the League of Conservation Voters endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for President.  Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State and former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Mr. Biden on Wednesday, after he signaled he would make fighting climate change a central cause of his administration.  At Politico, Michael Grunwald argued that the climate movement’s recent strategy of deemphasizing personal responsibility while placing the blame on large corporations is a mistake.  While nature-based solutions for stopping climate change are not sufficient, Amanda Paulson argued that they can be an important component when done properly.  New York Times reporter Richard Schiffman visited Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to learn of its decades-old role in understanding climate change.  One of the things he learned is that global warming may be far more dangerous than the pandemic.

In an earlier Roundup I linked to an article about the New York Fed tapping asset manager BlackRock Inc to serve as investment manager for the two new programs for purchasing bonds as part of the effort to sustain the economy.  Now, senators from both parties are pressing the Fed for details about how climate risk will be considered, but from opposite perspectives.  President Trump promised on Tuesday to bail out U.S. oil companies that have been hard hit by a recent historic dive in crude oil prices that have taken futures into negative values.  An alternative, put forth by Oil Change International and the Democracy Collaborative, would be a public takeover of the fossil-fuel industry, which could then implement a managed phase-out of oil, gas, and coal extraction to keep global warming under 1.5°C.  President Trump on Friday expressed opposition to banks’ unwillingness to fund certain fossil fuel projects, after two major banks announced that they wouldn’t directly support oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.  Despite the dire outlook, the American oil and gas sector has plowed ahead at full speed with fossil fuel infrastructure development.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a nationwide program used to approve oil and gas pipelines, power lines, and other utility work, spurred by a court ruling that last week threw out a blanket permit system the Corps had been using.

Denis Hayes wrote an op-ed in The Seattle Times about the importance of this year’s presidential election.  In an article in Politico, Ryan Heath and coauthors wrote: “If this year’s once-in-a-generation level of public spending isn’t used to change how infrastructure is built, how industry works, and how cars and planes run, green lobbyists say governments will lose their final chance to meet the 2015 global climate target that 195 governments signed up for.”  In its inaugural Global Renewables Outlook, the International Renewable Energy Agency said that governments could chart a path to a fully decarbonized energy system by the middle of the century and revive economies hit by the coronavirus if they tailor stimulus packages to boost clean energy technologies.  At Vox, David Roberts argued that coronavirus stimulus money will be wasted on fossil fuels. 

Climate and Climate Science

There is a 75% chance 2020 will set the record for the warmest year since instrument records began in 1880, NOAA is projecting, beating out 2016 for the distinction.  Carbon Brief provided a more detailed analysis.  2019 was the hottest year on record for Europe, which is warming faster than the rest of Earth.  Over the past five years, global temperatures were, on average, just over 1°C warmer than at the end of the 19th century, whereas, in Europe, temperatures were almost 2°C warmer.  New research, published on-line in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the Arctic Ocean will likely be ice-free in summer by 2050 even if measures are taken to keep warming below 2°C.

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest lost over 2,000 square miles of forest from August 2019 through March 2020, double the rate for that equivalent period in 2018 and 2019.  Satellite data show regions of the Amazon with severe decreases in soil moisture and groundwater, meaning this year will likely be drier than 2019, making the forest more prone to wildfires.

One thing you may not have thought about is how climate change is altering nature’s sonic landscape.

According to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, as global temperatures continue to rise, farmers in the western U.S. who rely on snowmelt to water their crops could be among the hardest hit agricultural communities. 

The World Resources Institute has found that 147 million people will be hit by floods from rivers and coasts annually by the end of the decade, compared with 72 million people just 10 years ago.  Damages to urban property will increase from $174bn to $712bn per year.  A new report focused on the impacts of a warming planet on North Carolina.  It warns that the state needs to brace for a future of wetter and more intense hurricanes, plus other climate disruptions.  Another impact for coastal communities is increased risk of salt water incursion into their water supplies.

Energy

Methane emissions from the Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico are more than two times higher than federal estimates, a new study published in the journal Science Advances suggests.  In addition, a new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology looked at almost 600,000 operator reports on methane leaks from both fracking and conventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania from 2014-2018 and found that methane emissions were at least 15% higher than previously thought.

Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, a pilot project comprising two 6-MW turbines developed by Siemens Gamesa in Esbjerg, Denmark, is expected to be online by the end of this year to power 3,000 homes.  While the grid benefits of distributed solar generation are well known for large utilities, less is known about the impacts for rural cooperatives, which tend to serve smaller populations spread out across a large area.  Now a researcher at the University of Minnesota is studying the issue.

Last week, the New England Ratepayers Association filed a petition with FERC asking it to assert control over all state net-metering programs, a move that could lay the groundwork for challenges to the solar net metering policies now in place in 41 states.  There is another item about FERC, this one in Dan Gearino’s “Inside Clean Energy” newsletter.  Scroll down to the second article, which is about FERC affirming its December ruling that states are distorting competition in the PJM Interconnection grid region by passing laws that subsidize power plants that don’t emit CO2.  Wind generated more electricity nationally than coal on three separate days over the past six weeks, according to an E&E News review of federal data.

A recent article in Nature Climate Change found that, even when only accounting for domestic environmental effects and neglecting the global benefits from slowing climate change, the benefits of phasing out coal electricity generation outweigh the economic costs, thereby making coal phaseout a “no-regret” policy option.  Sweden has become the third European country to complete its phase out of coal power.  Since the coronavirus hit the U.S., coal mines across the country have begun shutting down, laying off workers and slowing production; bankruptcies loom everywhere in the industry.  In West Virginia, as coal mining firm ERP Environmental Fund teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, the state asked a court for control of several abandoned mines, all owned by the firm. 

What is thought to be the world’s largest ‘single-stack’ green hydrogen electrolyzer, a 10MW project in Fukushima, Japan, began operations on schedule last month.  One problem with powering cars with hydrogen is the extremely high pressure required to hold enough hydrogen to drive for a reasonable distance.  Now, researchers have developed a highly porous new material, described as a metal-organic framework, that is capable of holding large quantities of hydrogen at much lower pressure.

Potpourri

There was an interesting piece in The New York Times about Eunice Foote, who may have been the first person to observe that CO2 makes the atmosphere warmer.  Michael Moore is executive producer of a “refreshingly contrarian eco-documentary from environmentalist Jeff Gibbs,” which has been uploaded for free online viewing on YouTube.  Michael Svoboda provided a compilation of twelve books for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, on the topics of clean air, clean water, and wildlife protection.  The editors of the Books and Climate Desks at The New York Times have put together a list of books for “The Year You Finally Read a Book About Climate Change.”  The Guardian’s “Books Podcast” was devoted to The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. 

Closing Thought

You’ve heard of Greta Thunberg, but what about Maddie Graham?

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 4/17/2020

Politics and Policy

According to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, if all countries followed their current emissions targets, by 2100 the global economy would lose as much as $600 trillion compared with its likely growth if all countries met the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The coronavirus has caused Europe’s carbon market to crash.  IHS Markit notes the market is currently down by around 40% since early March and roughly 66% from 2019’s high point.

Conservative groups aligned with the oil industry hope to block any aid for the solar and wind industries, which have been decimated by the pandemic.  As energy secretary, Rick Perry regularly said that he favored an all-encompassing energy policy, but during his tenure, the Energy Department repeatedly hamstrung bipartisan efforts to boost spending on clean energy technology.  As the Federal Reserve weighs how to structure its bond-buying program as part of the corporate relief strategy, everyone is watching to see whether it will consider long-term climate risks in determining which companies to help.  Members of the EU are being asked to look ahead to the type of economy they would like to have in the future as they determine how to reopen theirs.  South Korea is on track to set a 2050 carbon neutrality goal and end coal financing after its ruling Democratic Party won an absolute majority in the country’s parliamentary elections on Wednesday.  Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group said on Thursday it would no longer lend to build new coal-fired power plants from May 1, a day after Mizuho Financial Group said it would stop financing new coal power projects.

Former staffers from Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign have formed a new group to promote Inslee’s climate plan to Democrats.  They have also released a roadmap for a green post-coronavirus recovery.  Whether former Vice President Joe Biden listens to that group, or some of the others touting tough climate stances, may determine whether he gets the support of climate action voters in the fall.  There was more interesting information about climate concerns out this week from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, this time involving differences among ethnic/racial groups.

Thirteen states and several environmental groups filed separate lawsuits against the Trump administration on Tuesday seeking to block a rule they say will impede efforts to make a number of products more energy-efficient.  On Tuesday, the administration rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for small particulate matter.  In addition, on Thursday it changed the way the federal government calculates the costs and benefits of regulating dangerous air pollutants, including mercury, a shift that could restrict the ability of regulators to control toxins in the future.  A vocal set of conservative critics has upped its attacks recently on the modeling behind the coronavirus response, and they claim that the flaws also prove the limits of climate change models.  A bill, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed on Sunday, makes Virginia the latest state to require a transition to 100% carbon-free or renewable energy, and the first in the South.  Atlantic Coast Pipeline opponents hope the project will be stopped by a new Virginia law requiring regulators to consider whether gas pipeline capacity is needed for reliability before approving projects.

Climate and Climate Science

NOAA scientists announced Thursday that 2020 has nearly a 75% chance of being the warmest year on record and a 99.9% chance that it will end up among the top five.  National Geographic has an interactive program that allows one to examine what the climate in a given city will look like in 2070 if greenhouse gas emissions follow the worst case scenario set up by the IPCC.  Carbon Brief has updated its map showing climate attribution studies around the world.  The article includes all relevant research published up to the end of 2019, finding that “69% of the 355 extreme weather events and trends included in the map were found to be made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change”.

A vast region of the western U.S., extending from California, Arizona and New Mexico north to Oregon and Idaho, is in the grips of the first climate change-induced megadrought observed in the past 1,200 years.  Climate change could result in a more abrupt collapse of many animal species than previously thought, starting in the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, according to a study published this month in Nature.  The island of Anjouan, part of the nation of the Comoros off the East African coast, receives more annual rainfall than most of Europe, but a combination of deforestation and climate change has caused at least half of its permanent rivers to stop flowing in the dry season.

A new paper in the journal The Cryosphere has confirmed that melting of Greenland’s ice sheet occurred at near record amounts in the summer of 2019.  The study also found that the melting was driven by a record number of high-pressure days with clear blue skies, an occurrence not considered in models of ice sheet melt.  A paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters revealed that ambient melting, in which a glacier melts directly into the sea, is a much greater contributor to the melting of the LeConte Glacier in southeast Alaska than had been thought. 

According to a paper in the journal Scientific Reports, parts of the U.S. coastline could suffer “once in a lifetime” flooding every five years before 2050, and it could become a daily occurrence by the end of the century.

A second wave of desert locusts is threatening east Africa, with estimates that it will be 20 times worse than the plague of two months ago.

Energy

On Sunday, OPEC, Russia, and other oil-producing nations finalized a production cut of nearly 10 million barrels, or a tenth of global supply, in hopes of boosting prices amid the coronavirus pandemic and a price war.  Nevertheless, oil prices dropped sharply on Tuesday, with U.S. prices sliding back toward $20 a barrel.  At DeSmogBlog.com, Sharon Kelly wrote: “The oil, gas, and petrochemical industries have taken a massive financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the Center for International Environmental Law concludes, but its financial troubles preexisted the emergence of the novel coronavirus and are likely to extend far into the future….”  Carbon Brief gathered the latest evidence on how the coronavirus crisis is affecting energy use and CO2 emissions around the world.  Analysis of the data suggests the pandemic could cause a drop in emissions this year of around 5.5% of the global total in 2019.  After four years of continuous decline, the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by about 3% in 2018, according to a new report from the EPA.  Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday announced plans to become a net zero-carbon company by 2050 by selling more green energy to help reduce the carbon intensity of its business.

The operators of the UK’s gas network have set the ambitious target of delivering the world’s first zero carbon gas grid by transitioning away from natural gas to hydrogen (H2).  Things are going another way in the U.S. where the “electrify everything” movement is working to outlaw natural gas connections in communities across the country.  Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group has produced a free e-book about H2 as a powerful ally for renewable energy and tool for decarbonization.  The book provides the Group’s market insight into the technologies that will support hydrogen’s growth. 

A U.S. court on Wednesday ruled against the Corps of Engineers’ use of a permit that allows new energy pipelines to cross water bodies, in the latest setback to plans to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  A group of 29 House Democrats is asking the FERC to stop approving new natural gas pipeline projects and new liquefied natural gas export facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak.  A preliminary estimate from NOAA finds that levels of methane in the atmosphere have hit an all-time high.  A new study in the journal Environmental Research Communications finds that by bringing already available technologies and techniques into wider use, we could avoid nearly 40% of the projected methane emissions by 2050. 

Globally, cheap fossil fuels and the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus risk are hampering a shift to renewable energies.  In the U.S., more than 106,000 jobs in the clean energy sector were lost in March amid the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Rivian, Lordstown Motors, Lucid, Bollinger Motors, Faraday Future, and Fisker are among startups that see a future of battery-powered sedans and trucks, but the pandemic threatens the capital flows and customer base they need to survive.  Despite COVID-19, an economic slowdown, and low gas prices, Volvo is pushing forward with its electrification plans

Potpourri

The annual Earth Day event has been extended throughout the week of April 20th so as to deliver a series of online broadcasts and interactive digital events.  The organizers promise to deliver the world’s largest online climate conference.  In the U.S., digital events are being concentrated on the three days beginning April 22.  In recent months, the notion of family planning as a means of fighting climate change has emerged from the eco-warrior fringe and entered mainstream public conversation.  Peter Sinclair’s latest video compares the progression of climate change and the coronavirus and concludes “The broad shape of the story is the same.”  Business reporter and author Christopher Leonard, has a new book that chronicles the rise of Koch Industries and shows how it has shaped American society.  The Washington Post featured photographer Jonathan Blaustein and his new book Extinction Party.  S. Fred Singer, a physicist whose efforts to refute established climate science earned him the enmity of experts, died on April 6 at a nursing facility in Rockville, Md. He was 95.  Sir John Houghton, an eminent British physicist and climate researcher who served as lead editor for the first three landmark reports from the IPCC, died Wednesday from COVID-19 at the age of 88.  This week I’m closing with the musings of Heather Hansman on “Lessons from Wendell Berry, Wallace Stegner, and my neighborhood trees.”

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 4/10/2020

Politics and Policy

Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) has suspended his campaign for the Democratic nominee for president (You can read or watch his speech ICYMI.) and some climate activists have said that former Vice President Joe Biden will have to work hard and be bolder on climate change to fill the void left by Sanders’ departure.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication just had a paper published in the journal Energy Policy.  It explored and contrasted the reasons Republicans and Democrats support renewable energy.

In an opinion piece in Scientific American, author and activist Solomon Goldstein-Rose wrote “Rather than [trying to] convince other nations to ‘do their part,’ the U.S. should develop clean energy technologies and make them cheap enough for everyone to adopt.”  At Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce examined what might happen after the coronavirus pandemic: Some policy experts think that victory over the virus will generate an appreciation for what government, science, and business can do to tackle climate change, but others believe the economic damage caused by the virus will set back climate efforts for years to come.  Nature published an interview with a co-chair of the IPCC working group on the physical science of climate change about how the scientists are coping with the pandemic as they try to finish their report by next year.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit restored a regulation that had prohibited businesses from upgrading to HFCs in large refrigeration systems as they discontinued use of ozone-depleting refrigerants.  The regulation requires that they upgrade to refrigerants, such as hydrofluoroolefins, that have small greenhouse effects.  The Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama-era automotive fuel economy standards will face challenges in the courts.  Rebecca Beitsch of The Hill examined the many grounds on which it can be challenged.

Chile has committed to peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, in an updated national plan presented virtually to the UN climate chief on Thursday.

Climate and Climate Science

A new study, published in the journal Nature, addressed the question of when the effects of climate change will begin to overwhelm ecosystems.  The results suggest that unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions would expose tropical ocean ecosystems to potentially catastrophic temperature rise by 2030 and tropical forests by 2050.  A study published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal found that the ability of the North Atlantic to take up and sequester CO2 appears to be smaller than has been assumed in climate modeling.  The average level of methane in the atmosphere increased last year by the highest amount in five years, according to preliminary data released by NOAA on Sunday.  Exxon Mobil is testing new equipment to reduce methane emissions at 1,000 sites in the Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

Two weeks ago, I linked to an article about the latest bleaching event at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  An article this week reported that the bleaching was the most widespread outbreak ever witnessed.  Graham Readfearn of The Guardian spoke to Australian scientists about what could be done to save the reef.  Their replies caused him to write: “What seems clear is that without some human intervention, the magic of the world’s greatest coral reef system will be lost.”  Unlike other coral reefs around the world, those in the Gulf of Aqaba appear to be “content” with the increasing ocean temperatures.

The UK government’s advisers on the economic value of the natural environment (Natural Capital Committee) said that badly-planned tree planting could increase greenhouse gas emissions.  The destruction of forests into fragmented patches is increasing the likelihood that viruses and other pathogens will jump from wild animals to humans, according to a paper published this month in the journal Landscape Ecology.

Some populations of robins are starting their northward migration about five days earlier per decade, in order to keep up with the rapid changes that global warming is bringing to their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska.  New research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters shows that their flights follow trails of melting snow.  Climate change is remaking the Himalayan region, pushing mountain dwellers in northern Nepal, home to the world’s highest peaks, to build new settlements at lower altitudes.

In a paper that has been accepted and is awaiting publication in Environmental Research Letters, scientists reported that the observed frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather has more than doubled in California since the early 1980s.

Energy

OPEC, Russia, and other countries reached a tentative agreement on Thursday to temporarily cut oil production by 10 million barrels a day — about 23% of their production levels — in May and June.  A new forecast from DOE’s Energy Information Administration says that the U.S. is likely to become a net importer of crude oil and petroleum products later this year.  The massive ConocoPhillips Willow project is moving full speed ahead at the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The public comment period is currently open.  In a very strongly worded opinion piece in The Guardian, Bill McKibben called out those responsible for the start of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S.

Building a new nationwide transmission system to carry renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is needed will require government regulators at all levels to work together, as demonstrated by recent experiences.  Sooner or later, changes are coming to our electrical grids, depending upon how forward thinking our electric utilities are.  One concept is a “virtual power plant”, which is under trial in Basalt Vista, a new affordable housing project in the small town of Basalt, CO, just north of Aspen.  Daniel Oberhaus explained what its all about at Wired.  In South Australia, home batteries delivered significant revenues from their first six months of participation in a virtual power plant to help balance the grid.  Such grid balancing can also be achieved using the uninterruptable power supplies at data centers. 

German utility Uniper has signed a cooperation deal with Siemens to look at using H2 at its gas-fired power plants and producing the H2 with power from its wind turbines.  On Wednesday. Norway approved Equinor’s $466 million plan to build floating offshore wind turbines to provide electricity to North Sea oil and gas platforms.

Dan Gearino’s “Inside Clean Energy” newsletter had two important items this week.  The first concerned a ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that struck down a surcharge by the major electric utilities that inflated the bills of rooftop solar customers sufficiently to make the economics of installing solar panels questionable.  The second dealt with a report in Applied Energy about how industrial energy use could be made carbon free. 

According to a new analysis by Carbon Tracker of 6,696 existing coal-fired power plants worldwide and 1,046 in the pipeline, 46% will be unprofitable this year, up from 41% in 2019.  Renewable energy represented nearly three-quarters of new electricity generation capacity built worldwide in 2019, an all-time record, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.  In addition, utility-scale renewables produced more power than coal in the U.S. for the first time on a quarterly basis in the first three months of 2020.  While the oil and gas sector is generally pessimistic about its outlook during and after the pandemic, the renewable energy sector is more optimistic, as described by Ivan Penn at The New York Times.  However, all is not good for clean energy at present, as indicated by E&E News’s examination of clean energy’s job crash.

Potpourri

Grist has set up “Climate 101” on its website to provide “hands-on activities, videos, and discussion questions” about climate change to help parents who are having to home-school their kids for the first time.  The Conversation presented five ways to teach children about climate change.  Guardian journalist Jonathan Watts joined a Greenpeace scientific expedition in Antarctica and wrote about his experiences.  The newspaper also presented photographs by the two winners of the Getty Images Climate Visuals grant competition.  James Hansen is using this time of social distancing to finish his new book, entitled Sophie’s Planet.  He is making the chapters available in draft as he completes them.  The Preface and Chapter 1 can be accessed here.  Even though only one or two have the environment as their cause, I thought we might end on a positive note by focusing on the work of 12 amazing kids from around the world.

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 4/3/2020

Politics and Policy

The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has forced the UNFCCC and the UK to postpone COP26 scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland.  A main focus of COP26 was to have been on new pledges for greenhouse reductions by the participating countries.  Unfortunately, as Bloomberg Green warned, postponing COP26 may reduce political pressure for nations to stiffen their goals to cut greenhouse gases.  However, others thought that the delay would allow world leaders to recalibrate their plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic and avoid the uncertainty surrounding the next U.S. presidential election.  On Monday, Japan became the first industrialized nation to submit an updated Nationally Determined Contribution in preparation for COP26.  It merely reaffirmed its existing plan, drawing criticism from architects of the Paris Climate Agreement for failing to set tougher targets.

Inside Climate News published a retrospective on the stimulus bill entitled “Polluting Industries Cash-In on COVID, Harming Climate in the Process.”  House Democrats have not given up on using green infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy, despite Republican pushback.  On the other hand, a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, suggests that governments and investors around the world should prioritize small-scale, low carbon technologies — such as solar panels, smart appliances, and electric bicycles — in policy design in order to reduce emissions responsible for climate change in a more efficient and just way.  Barclays has pledged to align all of its financing activities with the goals and timelines of the Paris Climate Agreement, starting with the energy and power sectors.  At Gizmodo, Yessenia Funes examined whether the climate movement could successfully reimagine itself in a time of pandemic.  The city council of Takoma Park, MD, would like for the community to be fossil fuel-free by 2045.  How it will achieve that may serve as a case study for the rest of the nation.

The Trump administration on Tuesday weakened one of the nation’s most aggressive efforts to combat climate change, releasing new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks that handed a victory to the oil industry.  Inside Climate News called the action the “largest anti-climate rollback ever” and former President Obama urged voters to “demand better” of the government.  David Roberts provided some history on the change at Vox.  California announced it would sign a deal with yet another automaker (the fifth) to produce cars meeting stricter standards.  Reuters reported on the expected court challenge to the announcement, saying it “could delay implementation until after the 3 November election”.  In fact, lawsuits over the new standards have already been occurring.  On Wednesday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA was wrong to withhold information about how it devised the new fuel efficiency standards. 

Rob Jackson, chair of the Global Carbon Project, said CO2 emissions could fall by more than 5% year-on-year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, although others warned that without structural change, the emissions declines could be short-lived and have little impact on the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.  The COVID-19 outbreak came at a particularly critical time for the EU, which had just started its push toward net-zero by 2050.  This raises the question of whether their green transition will survive the pandemic.  Here in the U.S., Dan Gearino provided answers to seven questions about how the pandemic will influence the clean energy transition.  Carbon Brief asked scientists, analysts, and policy experts from a range of disciplines for their thoughts on how the lifestyle changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic could affect global CO2 emissions in the short and long term.  At E&E News, Adam Aton sought to answer the question “Does climate change still matter in the election?”.

Climate and Climate Science

A review article published Wednesday in the journal Nature concluded that despite the damage that has been done to Earth’s oceans, they are sufficiently resilient to recover by 2050 provided certain actions are taken, particularly on climate change.  Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell also published a comprehensive piece on the oceans.  Rising ocean temperatures could have pushed the world’s tropical coral reefs over a tipping point where they are hit by bleaching on a “near-annual” basis, according to Mark Eakin, coordinator of Coral Reef Watch at NOAA.  The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season could see a greater than average number of major hurricanes because of warmer seas and favorable weather patterns, forecasters from Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project said on Thursday.

A research paper published Tuesday in Global Change Biology reported on the biological impacts of the first recorded heat wave in East Antarctica, which occurred January 23-26, 2020 at Casey Research Station.  A study published in Nature Geoscience found that melting sea ice in Antarctica is influencing weather patterns as far away as the equatorial Pacific, warming ocean surface temperatures, delivering more rain, and potentially creating El Niño-like effects.

At Yale Environment 360, Gabriel Popkin addressed the question “Can ‘Carbon Smart’ Farming Play a Key Role in the Climate Fight?”.

Researchers in Spain have discovered that over the past 20 years the wingspan of nightingales has shortened.  They believe this is related to changes in temperatures seen in the Mediterranean region.

A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reports the widespread existence of methanotrophic bacteria in upland Arctic soils.  Methanotrophic bacteria use methane as a food source, destroying it in the process.  The finding suggests that net methane emissions in the Arctic may be much less than predicted because of the presence of these bacteria.

Energy

According to Reuters, crude oil futures jumped 10% on Thursday after President Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to reach a deal soon to end their oil price war.  Reuters also reported that the oil refining industry will need to cut output by 30% or more in response to declining demand as the world reacts to the coronavirus pandemic.  The International Energy Agency said the oil industry is facing “a shock like no other in its history” as a result of the combined effects of the oil price war and the pandemic.  Texas oil regulators are likely to hold a hearing in April on whether to take the historic step of curbing the state’s oil production amid the global market collapse fueled by the coronavirus.

A TC Energy spokesman told The Hill in an email that pre-construction activities on the Keystone XL pipeline have been ongoing for several weeks and that the company expects to begin building the pipeline this spring.  Seven Texas oil and gas industry associations and approximately 40 Texas-based producing companies announced Tuesday the formation of a new coalition to address flaring and methane emissions.

BloombergNEF issued a new report entitled “Hydrogen Economy Outlook.”  It concluded that a move toward a H2 economy using clean H2 could reduce up to 34% of industrial and fossil fuel-caused greenhouse gas emissions.  The report found that governments need to provide $150 billion of subsidies over the next decade to scale up the technology.  Also, a new report from Rocky Mountain Institute concluded that industrial H2 applications to replace fossil fuels will be essential for reaching net-zero carbon emissions targets for 2050.  Five companies from Singapore and two from Japan have entered into an agreement to explore H2 as a low-carbon alternative to power Singapore’s energy future, the companies said in a statement on Monday.

Offshore wind in the U.S. will exceed 1 GW of capacity by 2024 and add more than 1 GW annually by 2027, according to a report released last week by Navigant Research.  It all depends on approvals from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  Scotland’s first floating tidal turbine farm is set to be built off Orkney.  The first of two turbines is expected to be connected to the grid by the end of this year.

One improvement that would advance the sale of electric vehicles is a reduction in charging time.  Several battery manufacturers are developing technologies to do just that.  An article in Wired explains how they are going about it.  California-based startup Ubiquitous Energy has developed transparent solar cells to create its ClearView Power windows, a kind of “solar glass” that can turn sunlight into energy without blocking the view.

Potpourri

Systems-thinker John Harte provided a roadmap on how we can use the same interconnectedness that is spurring catastrophe to instead promote health and sustainability.  Providence, RI, issued a climate change resilience plan that melds carbon neutrality by 2050 with specific targets to cut direct emissions in the most polluted communities and slash child asthma, a model that other cities should follow as they seek environmental justice.  The April issue of Wired magazine is devoted to the climate crisis and how we will solve it.  The editor’s introduction to the issue can be found here.  At Yale Climate Connections, Michael Svoboda presented 12 books to help you get through the coronavirus pandemic.  The plastics industry advocated for recycling despite knowing the process was not effective in order to sell more plastic products, a new investigative partnership between NPR and Frontline has found.  A paper in the journal Nature Food revealed that textured soy protein can provide scaffolding for bovine skeletal muscle cells to adhere to and form meat-like 3D cell cultures, thus advancing the generation of cultured meat without the reliance on animal agriculture.  The BBC’s Justin Rowlatt wrote an introspective essay accompanied by amazing photos after his visit to Antarctica.

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.