Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/16/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thoughts

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/9/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/2/2021

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

Politics and Policy

Legislation and Litigation:

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

Administration, regulations, and analysis:

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

Financial sector:

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

Plastics, Chemicals, and Waste:

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

Environment:

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

Energy

Renewables, biomass, and nuclear:

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

Transportation:

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

Fossil fuels and Extraction:

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

Compiled by Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/26/2021

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

Politics and Policy

International:

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

Legislature and Litigation:

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

Administration, regulations, lawsuits, and analysis:

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

Financial sector:

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

Environment:

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

Energy

Renewables, biomass, and nuclear:

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

Transportation:

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

Fossil fuels and Extraction:

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

Plastics and Waste:

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

Utilities and Electricity Grid:

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

Compiled by Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/19/2021

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

Politics and Policy

International:

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

Legislature:

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

Administration, regulations, and analysis:

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

Financial sector:

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

Climate and Climate Science

Water and sea level rise:

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

Environment:

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

Energy

Renewables:

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

Transportation:

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

Fossil fuels and Extraction:

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

Electricity Grid:

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

Compiled by Joy Loving

CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/12/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/5/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/26/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/19/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/12/2021

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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