Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/16/2020

Politics and Policy

A proclamation released by the White House last weekend would increase tariffs on imported solar cells and modules in the final year of the tariffs and eliminate an exemption for two-sided solar panels.  While the Trump administration has tried to revive the coal industry, the German government set an exit date and made a plan to help coal communities survive, thereby providing lessons the U.S. could benefit from.  President Trump signed an executive order initiating the formation of the “United States One Trillion Trees Interagency Council.”  Several conservative climate groups have attempted to wrench the issue of climate change from the hands of the Democrats and shore up climate concern on the right, in part because of the impact of The Green New Deal and the fact that Americans are now nearly four times more likely to say they’re alarmed about the climate crisis than to be dismissive of it.  Vox’s Umair Irfan asked the Biden campaign six key questions about his climate change plans while GreenTech Media asked clean-energy experts and advocates what’s most likely to get done in the first 100 days of a Biden presidency.  Politico asserted that Biden and some Congressional Democrats want to use trade agreements to combat global warming, breaking from decades of U.S. trade policy that largely ignored climate change.

President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, said late during her confirmation hearing Tuesday that while she has read up on the issue of climate change, she did not have “firm views” on the subject.  However, her efforts to play it safe created perhaps the most tangible backlash of her hearings.  FERC issued a proposed policy statement on Thursday saying the panel has the authority and willingness to consider potential grid operators’ requests to incorporate a carbon tax into their rate structures.  DOE has awarded $80 million each to X-energy and TerraPower, with the potential for billions more in federal funding as they strive to build their smaller scale, more flexible advanced nuclear reactor designs by 2027.

According to recent research on adaptation to sea level rise in coastal communities, shoreline armoring is more common in areas that have low racial diversity and higher home values, household incomes, and population densities, whereas measures based around home buyout programs correlate with high racial diversity and low home values, household incomes, and population densities.  A paper published Monday at the National Bureau of Economic Research reported a decline in sales of houses in low-lying coastal areas of Florida beginning in 2013, followed a few years later by a drop in prices compared with houses in safer areas.  New research compiled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac showed housing markets are beginning to respond to damages from climate change-fueled floods, storms, and disasters.  An executive board member of the Australian insurance regulators said in a speech that the cost of pre-emptive action to avoid the impact of disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis was far cheaper than dealing with the aftermath.

A new paper in the journal Science found that the world could get on track to avert catastrophic climate change by investing 10% of the planned $12 trillion in pandemic recovery packages to reducing dependence on fossil fuels.  JPMorgan Chase aims to support its clients in expanding investment in clean energy and work towards net zero-emissions by 2050, while HSBC will target net zero carbon emissions across its entire customer base.  A group of China’s top climate researchers released a plan whereby the country could meet the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.  A proposal by leading maritime nations to curb the shipping industry’s carbon footprint falls far short of both the International Maritime Organization and Paris Agreement climate goals, shipping experts have warned.

Climate and Climate Science

New research published in Nature showed that a holistic, global approach to healing ecosystems would be a big step in stopping the twin threats of extreme climate disruption and biodiversity loss.  Research published in Environmental Research Letters reported that protecting intact peatlands and restoring degraded ones are crucial steps if the world is to counter climate change.

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that recent Atlantic warming is “unparalleled” in the past three millennia.  In addition, scientists have taken hourly temperature measurements in the deep (4762 to 15,600 ft) Atlantic over a ten year period, documenting heat buildup there.  With oceans absorbing more than 90% of global warming, marine heatwaves are becoming hotter, larger, and longer lasting, with major ecological consequences.  Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, half the corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have died over the past 25 years, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

This year, roughly a quarter of the vast Pantanal wetland in Brazil, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, burned in wildfires worsened by climate change.  Furthermore, almost half the land belonging to Indigenous people was among that burned.  According to ProPublica’s climate maps project, with climate change, California’s summer and fall fire seasons are growing longer and melding into each other, overlapping in time and space.  In northern Colorado, the Cameron Peak wildfire is officially the largest ever observed in the state.  Fires are becoming more frequent on Mt. Kilimanjaro, impacting the plant and animal species there.

Extreme weather events have increased dramatically in the past 20 years, taking a heavy human and economic toll worldwide, and are likely to wreak further havoc, the UN said in a report.  Also, the UN humanitarian chief warned that daunting problems in Africa’s Sahel region are getting worse and the region “is very close to a tipping point,” with climate change among the factors contributing to the situation.  Gloria Dickey reported in The Guardian that the Arctic is unravelling faster than anyone could once have predicted.  A study published in Science Advances showed that only a few degrees of warming in the Arctic is enough to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing, which can release greenhouse gases at a massive scale.

The planet just recorded its hottest September since at least 1880, according to three temperature-tracking agencies.  Furthermore, 2020 is likely to be the hottest year when a La Niña event was present in the tropical Pacific Ocean.  On Wednesday, the temperature in Phoenix climbed to at least 100°F for the 144th time in 2020 (out of 288 days), surpassing 143 days in 1989 for the most instances on record.  Nearly half of the continental U.S. is gripped by drought, government forecasters said, and conditions are expected to worsen this winter across much of the Southwest and South.

Energy

According to the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2020”, the world’s best solar power schemes now offer the “cheapest … electricity in history” with the technology cheaper than coal and gas in most major countries.  In an update of its 2018 analysis, The Economics of Electrifying Buildings, RMI found that in every city they analyzed, a new all-electric, single-family home is less expensive than a new mixed-fuel home that relies on gas for cooking, space heating, and water heating.

The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an agreement to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams.  Pumped storage has the ability to provide around-the-clock reliability for renewable energy projects, but is notoriously difficult to site.  Lithium-ion batteries now dominate energy storage at renewable energy installations, but competitors such as other battery types and nonchemical approaches could be better for intermediate-term storage, while hydrogen may be the answer for seasonal storage.  DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Dutch Government have issued a statement of intent for a hydrogen technology collaboration.  Japan plans to create a commercial hydrogen fuel supply chain by around 2030.

Sales of EVs in Europe are growing at such a pace that the continent looks increasingly likely to outpace China in the near future.  Arrival, a UK-based EV startup backed by Hyundai and Kia that’s preparing to make electric delivery trucks for UPS, is building a factory in South Carolina that will be able to make as many as 1,000 battery-powered buses per year.

According to satellite imagery analyzed by Paris-based private data firm Kayrros, so far this year the global number of methane hot spots has soared by 32%, while methane leaks in Algeria, Russia, and Turkmenistan have grown by more than 40%.  A study published in AGU Advances found that the warming associated with such leaks negates the benefits of shifting electricity production from coal-fired power plants to gas-fired plants.  The EU is considering binding standards to limit methane leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain, but some question whether they go far enough.

Dominion Energy announced on Wednesday that its two turbine, 12 MW, $300 million, Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project has successfully completed reliability testing and is ready to begin feeding electricity into Virginia’s power grid.  The CEO of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind said that the company is developing a new wind turbine that will rival those by competitors Siemens Gamesa and General Electric.  Mitsubishi Corp. continues to explore the possibility of building an offshore wind project in Lake Erie to deliver power for New York state.

Potpourri

The Atlantic is launching “Planet”, a new section devoted to climate change, along with “The Weekly Planet”, a new newsletter.  A recent survey found that nearly 80% of adults in Virginia expressed interest in reading about how climate change is affecting their communities.  In reviewing the documentary “I Am Greta”, BBC News chief environment correspondent wrote: “What Grossman has made is a coming of age movie wrapped up in a super-hero flick.  This is the story of how a troubled and lonely child discovers her hidden powers and uses them to change the course of the world.”  At The Daily Climate, Peter Dykstra proposed his list of missteps by the film industry when making eco-films.  Emily Atkin interviewed Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, the editors of All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate CrisisGuardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey recalled all of the successes of the environmental movement, arguing that it can also win the fight against the climate crisis.

Closing Thought

Here is an encouraging story from the intersection of philanthropy and technology, demonstrating how a unique type of foundation is helping new technologies bridge the chasm between invention and use.

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 10/9/2020

Politics and Policy

The Editorial Board of the New York Times (NYT) has endorsed former Vice-President Joe Biden for president.  Biden’s transition team is considering appointing a climate and energy “czar” to help direct sweeping changes across federal agencies if he wins next month’s election.  A Biden administration would also take aim at the Trump administration’s rollbacks of many major environmental protections, but because of complexities in the rulemaking process, undoing just some of them could take years.  During the only vice-presidential debate, Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly falsely asserted that a Biden administration plans to ban fracking and adopt the Green New Deal.  Consequently, Dino Grandoni of the Washington Post compared Biden’s climate plan to the Green New Deal, as did David Roberts of Vox.  The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider a case that will determine how much leeway appeals courts get in deciding the best venue for climate lawsuits brought by states and cities.  NPR’s Jeff Brady examined how Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is likely to impact climate action if confirmed.

The Trump administration is behind schedule in putting out a call for scientists to produce the Fifth National Climate Assessment.  A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia appeared divided Thursday on President Trump’s effort to repeal his predecessor’s regulations on planet-warming emissions from the power sector and replace them with far weaker controls.  Marianne Lavelle summarized some of the arguments presented.  A federal court on Thursday struck down an Obama-era regulation targeting methane leaks from drilling on public lands, arguing that it went beyond the reach of the BLM, which promulgated the rule.  When it comes to acting on climate change, a new study suggests that people don’t like to feel that their freedom of choice is being threatened and would prefer ‘upstream’ solutions that target the producers rather than consumers of carbon-intensive goods.

The European Parliament has voted in favor of a legally binding target for the EU to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 (relative to 1990 levels), which is more ambitious than the emissions cut proposed by the European Commission and may be difficult to get ratified by the member nations.  China’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2060 would require investments of more than $5 trillion, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie.  Although any explicit reference to net zero carbon emissions was vehemently opposed at the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, more than a third of global emissions are now covered by net zero targets, demonstrating how quickly things can change, even with the U.S. opting out.

Investigative reporting by ProPublica revealed how the Virginia legislature succumbed to intensive lobbying by Dominion Energy, in spite of pledges to trim its power.  The Virginia Manufacturers Association is suing Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality and State Air Pollution Control Board over the state’s revision of regulations that will allow it to join a regional cap-and-trade market for carbon.  The Sierra Club and seven other environmental groups filed petitions late Monday asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay recently issued permits allowing the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) to burrow under streams and wetlands until the court can hear their challenge of the authorizations.  The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday adopted the county’s first “Climate Action Plan”.  A legal principle embraced by Virginia that strictly curtails local powers is hampering cities from making progress on clean energy goals, according to a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  An expanding wood pellet market in the Southeast has fallen short of climate and job goals, instead bringing air pollution, noise, and reduced biodiversity in majority Black communities.

Climate and Climate Science

September was the warmest on record globally, according to the weather service Copernicus.  In interviews with CBS News, both James Hansen and Michael Mann stressed that the worst effects of climate change don’t have to happen, but humans’ actions in the near future will determine if they do.  Emissions of nitrous oxide, a climate super-pollutant hundreds of times more potent than CO2, have increased by 30% since 1980, according to a new paper in the journal Nature.

As of October 7th, 16 billion-dollar weather/climate disasters have impacted the U.S., tying the annual records that occurred in 2011 and 2017, with three months left to go.  As hurricane Delta bore down on the U.S. Gulf Coast, it was the latest in a recent flurry of rapidly intensifying Atlantic hurricanes that scientists largely blame on global warming.  As of Tuesday morning, the August Complex Fire in the northern part of California had burned at least a million acres, while the total area burned set a new record twice as large as the old one, set 2018.

Although I have put several articles recently about the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers in West Antarctica, this article from Yale Climate Connections does an excellent job of summarizing recent research there.  Reuters had a very interesting and informative infographic and article about permafrost and its possible impacts in a warming world.

Because of the climate crisis, much of the Amazon could be on the verge of losing its distinct nature and switching from a closed canopy rainforest to an open savannah with far fewer trees.  The total area of Brazilian Amazon rainforest that has been degraded — through selective logging, understory fire, destruction of forest edges, and fragmentation — is larger than the total deforested area.

A top Trump official released a polar bear study by government scientists last Friday that highlights the endangered animals’ vulnerability to climate change and the fact that proposed oil drilling in Alaska would probably encroach on their habitat, causing more stress.

Energy

JPMorgan Chase & Co will support its clients in expanding investment in clean energy and work towards net zero-emissions by 2050.  Europe’s top oil companies are still not aligned with UN-backed targets to combat climate change, even after outlining ambitious plans to slash carbon emissions and pivot to renewable energy.  U.S. oil firms are doubling down on efforts to extract oil and gas, while pursuing technologies to capture and store carbon emissions.  Leaked documents revealed that ExxonMobil’s growth strategy will increase its annual carbon emissions by 17% between 2017 and 2025.  Within one week of each other, Ameren and Entergy pledged to cut CO2 emissions to nothing by 2050.  The American public is facing a potential bill of $280 billion for the cleanup of 2.6 million unplugged oil and gas wells (not including an estimated 1.2 million undocumented orphan wells).

As Ford Motor Co., General Motors, and Volkswagen have unveiled new electric cars, they have admitted that electric models will in some ways be superior to models using internal combustion engines.  Toyota and Hino Trucks are developing their first Class 8 hydrogen fuel-cell electric truck for the North American market.  Developing a lithium industry using brine from California’s Salton Sea could help set up a multi-billion dollar domestic supply chain for electric vehicle batteries.

A new report concludes that the U.S. needs a massive green hydrogen industry to decarbonize its electricity, transportation, and industrial sectors, as well as major investments and policy changes to enable it to grow to its full potential.  Three analysts at Rocky Mountain Institute looked at the role hydrogen might play in powering gas turbines during periods when wind and solar production were low in a decarbonized economy.

Daniel Yergin, a long-time student of energy and energy policy, wrote about the impacts of COVID-19 on “the sprint away from fossil fuels”.  The Guardian’s Oliver Milman reviewed the status of carbon capture and utilization or storage.  A clutch of wave power developers is hoping to shake off the technology’s “forever-round-the-corner” reputation with commercial-scale arrays that could be in the water next year.  Linking floating solar panels with hydropower could generate anywhere from 16% to 40% of the world’s electricity, according to a new study by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has just released its 2020 “Clean Energy Scorecard” for U.S. cities.  The organization that develops model building codes adopted by most cities and states in the U.S. met this week, pitting officials trying to go greener against real estate developers and the natural gas industry.

Potpourri

Terra Nostra, a 30-minute multimedia symphony about climate change is now available on-line.  At Yale Climate Connections, Spencer Weart reviewed Climate Change and the Nation State: The Case for Nationalism in a Warming World by Anatol Lieven.  In The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert published an excerpt from her afterward to a new compendium entitled The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change.  Advertisements on Facebook denying the reality of the climate crisis or the need for action were viewed by at least 8 million people in the U.S. in the first half of 2020.  An increasing number of psychologists believe the trauma that is a consequence of climate breakdown is also one of the biggest obstacles in the struggle to take action against rising greenhouse gas emissions.  The Yale and George Mason Universities’ programs on climate change communication have released a new report entitled “Climate Change in the Minds of U.S. News Audiences”.  Members of the Rockefeller family are leveraging their fortune and network of wealthy friends to pressure major U.S. banks to stop investing in fossil fuels.

Closing Thought

As some of you know, I am an engineer by nature and by training.  Consequently, the article that most boosted my optimism this week was one about Aaswath Raman and his team at UCLA, who have developed a passive cooling system that can help reduce energy use in a warming world.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/2/2020

Thanks to Joy Loving for compiling these news items while Les Grady is away this week!

Politics and Policy

The New York Times (NYT) Climate Forward covered climate in the 1st presidential debate and Inside Climate News speculated about how a Justice Amy Coney Barrett would rule on EPA and other climate actions.  There are questions about what listeners learned from the Trump-Biden exchanges.  Capital & Main fact-checked both candidates’ claims; so did Grist.  The American Conservation Council touted its role in pushing for including climate questions in the debate.  Grist addressed whether US farmers will support TrumpCNBC described “How Biden’s $1.7 trillion climate plan would change America after Trump’s Big Oil presidency”.  Financial Advisor explains how renewable energy investors will fare “under Biden versus Trump”.  A Gizmoto climate reporter said “much worse” will follow the end of climate denial because of risks to our democracy and our social order and policies favoring continued use of fossil fuels. Michael Mann said Trump’s reelection would be “game over” for addressing the climate crisis.

EPA will release a final rule on lead testing of water that “rejected top medical and scientific experts who urged … [requiring] the replacement of … [6 to 10M] lead service lines, an expensive but effective way to avoid crises like” Flint MI’s.  EPA finalized rules “allowing some major polluters to follow weaker emissions standards” and “estimated … the changes will result in up to 1,258 tons per year of additional emissions of hazardous air pollutants.”  US Geological Survey’s Director “refused to make public the study, by his own scientists, of the number of female polar bears that den and give birth on land near the southern Beaufort Sea”—the location the Trump administration okayed for oil and natural-gas development.

A Trump appointee to the SEC warned big business understands climate risks and should be required to disclose them.  The insurance industry is making it more expensive to insure high-risk homes; some are excluding climate-related natural disasters and dropping high-risk properties from coverage.  Fast Company made the case for a green climate bank, suggesting it “could spur private investment in clean energy and create millions of jobs—paving the way for a low-carbon future post-COVID-19”.  ”Germany’s DW Akademie presented several “big ideas” for “saving the planet.  A group of law students issued a climate scorecard for law firms that specialize in representing polluters.  Of 100 top firms, four scored ‘A’, 41 ‘D,’ and 26 ‘F’.  SCOTUS has agreed to hear lawsuits against major oil companies, “but that may not be a win for environmental groups looking to hold Big Oil accountable.”

“New plans from Ameren and Entergy show the trend to renewables [among large US utilities] is accelerating because coal just can’t compete.”  Rocky Mountain Institute reported “Clean Energy Is Canceling Gas Plants”.  Coal giant Arch Resources Inc. announced it dropped “coal” from its name; it is curtailing production.  The US government used emergency pandemic aid to purchase $355+M in bonds issued by oil and gas industry companies. Some believe the investments amount to a bailout.

A federal judge removed the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management following MT’s lawsuit, finding he “was illegally serving in his role through a series of temporary orders.”  “Tribes, archaeologists are working to identify sites in Greater Chaco for protections from oil and gas” leasing the Trump administration approved.  A one-year moratorium expired September 30.

Ahead of a major UN biodiversity summit, leaders of over 60 countries—not including the US, China, or Brazil—“promised to put wildlife and climate at [the] heart of post-Covid recovery plans.”  Rolling Stone asked and answered:  “Will We Be Able to Reverse Trump’s Climate Damage?”

Global consultant Accenture said cities with goals of 100% renewable energy by 2050 may find those goals difficult, or impossible, to meet.  Despite AZ’s climate-change-related droughts, fires, and heat, its legislature has pulled back from its focus and actions of 15 years ago; its cities and counties are stepping upGrist explored the likelihood of China’s meeting its net-zero goal by 2060.

Climate and Climate Science

New CA wildfires erupted, damaging Santa Rosa, displacing many and killing several.  “The emerging field of climate attribution helps explain the wildfires and hurricanes of 2020.”  San Francisco Bay area air quality, already bad from CA wildfires, could worsen.  Southeastern WY forest wildfires destroyed 50 structures and are expected to continue burning for a while.  Satellite data revealed the Amazon rainforest has experienced huge losses from 2020 fires and drought, “with a 61% rise in hotspots over September 2019”.  Two scientists warned about what continuing such losses will mean, as part of a NYT series, The Amazon Has Seen Our Future.

The EPA’s relaxation of the Clean Water Act’s protections put many bodies of water and waterways in danger.  A popular NC lake may be a casualty because of coal ash detritus, despite a 50-year-old agreement between NC and Duke Energy protecting nearby wetlands but not the lake. NC’s Dept of Environmental Quality is investigating collapse of structures built over a coal ash deposit

Global warming puts forests and trees at risk of changed distribution and forest cover loss.  An international report from 210 scientists in 42 countries said the natural world may lose 40% of plant species; the race is on to identify species now unknown that may be sources of “food, medicines and biofuels”. Gaps in food insecurity will continue to widen as climate crisis effects increase, though results will vary by country and region.

Scientists reported nighttime temperatures are increasing faster than those in daytime, affecting species active at night.  Ironically, China’s cleanup of coal plants could increase warming because their reduced sulfur dioxide emissions had previously reflected sunlight away from Earth; continued efforts could mean +.01°C by 2100.  Climate change is the #1 environmental concern, but worries about plastic’s ubiquity in our world continue.  Climate change effects include risks to superfund toxic waste sites, like those in NJ and TX.  A recent study warned about the ubiquity of “forever chemicals” and the difficulty regulators have in identifying and regulating them.

“While climate change was among the least-cited reasons [in a recent survey] for those who do not currently have children (behind financial, political and career concerns, among others),” a quarter of respondents said it influenced their decision to remain childless.

New scientific research concluded:  “By 2100 … [Greenland’s] ice sheet will shrink to [its] size … during the last time the world was hotter than today.”  By 2070 Australia’s inland rivers and waterways will be unrecognizable—thanks in part to changes in their physical structures from the effects of global warming. A recent study found “Mixing of the planet’s ocean waters is slowing down, speeding up global warming”.  Another study revealed the deep ocean off British Columbia is losing oxygen and becoming more acidic at an alarming rate.

Energy

Sierra Club asked and answered:  When hurricanes strike from the Gulf, “what happens to the offshore pipelines, deep-sea platforms, and underwater wellheads?”  One hurricane, 6 years ago, still causes massive pollution.  Big Springs TX-area residents are worried about effects on their water from a recent oil spill.

Xcel Energy wants to raise its TX customers’ electric bills because of falling natural gas prices but said a new wind farm will reduce them in early 2021.  Dominion Energy WV wants to charge customers a higher base rate for natural gas service, a rate consistent with increases of other WV gas utilities over the last decade.

Southern Company, GA Power’s corporate parent, “announced plans to convert 50 percent of its system fleet vehicles across the auto/SUV/minivan, forklift and ATV/cart/miscellaneous segments by 2030.”  Three House members—2 Democrats and 1 Republican—introduced the “Community Health and Clean Transit Act, [which] would provide zero-interest loans to help finance the purchase of zero-emission buses.”  Sierra Club reported that the DC Metro system is lagging behind other transit systems in upgrading to electric buses.

Tampa Electric Co wants to install 200 charging stations at “workplaces, retail businesses and government buildings.”  Dominion Energy announced rebates for charging stations “for multi-family communities, workplaces, transit bus depots and fast-charging locations….  A rebate program for the company’s residential customers will launch in Virginia in early 2021.”

Solar and wind power made the news:  Utility-scale project growth in several states; renewable energy supplied the majority of new power plant capacity in Q220; Duke Energy’s first floating solar array will be at NC’s Fort Bragg; TX is becoming a big player in the solar arena; a federal 10-year moratorium on “all offshore energy leasing, including conventional and renewable energy, beginning on July 1, 2022”.  The moratorium includes FL, SC, and NC, but not VA.

Recent Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP)-related actions/activities have included: legal challenges to re-issued stream crossing permits; and MVP won’t tell VA Health Dept about its Covid-19 plan.

The Dept of Energy awarded WVU engineers $3M to develop a process “to mitigate the emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere … [from] natural gas flaring and harness the gas into high-value solid carbon and hydrogen for fuel.”  Canadian scientists are studying whether “blue carbon” in salt marshes and peatlands can mitigate sea level rise and be a carbon sink; they’re flooding marshes to find out.

Scientists created a “super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than before … and could be used for recycling within a year or two.”

Potpourri

Doug Tallamy: “A Guide to Restoring the Little Things that Run the World

Sir David Attenborough:  Now on Instagram.  His 1st-time video broke records for fastest accumulation of 1M followers.

“A major supermarket chain in Denmark lets customers know the carbon footprint of their groceries”.

Take the latest Washington Post Climate Quiz to learn what you know about climate effects, actions and events.

On NPR, OR Governor: “Confronting Reality of Longer and Hotter Fire Seasons

Forbes video:  Covid-19’s effect on bird song.

Closing Thought

“Looking at the skies, it makes you feel like you’ve traveled somewhere even when you haven’t.” 

Compiled by Joy Loving for Les Grady
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/25/2020

Politics and Policy

Speaking via video to the UN General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Tuesday that his country would reach its peak greenhouse gas emissions ahead of its 2030 goal and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.  Steven Lee Myers analyzed what it means at the New York Times (NYT) and research consortium Carbon Action Tracker determined that, if achieved, the pledge could curb global warming by 0.2-0.3°C this century.  Furthermore, CAT also said that a change in U.S. leadership, combined with China’s new pledge and a European “green recovery”, could get the world two-thirds of the way to meeting its climate goals.  As part of Climate Week, Morgan Stanley, AT&T, and Walmart made fresh commitments and adopted more aggressive timetables for reducing emissions while GE announced that it will no longer build new coal-fired power plants.  Citing a rising threat to public health and the environment, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed an executive order aiming to make the state’s economy carbon-neutral by 2050.

More than 60 deep-pocketed donors asked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to commit to a moratorium on all new coal, oil, and natural gas development — and to select advisers who are “free from fossil fuel influence.”  Biden won the endorsement of progressive climate group 350 Action and two former Republican heads of the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman and William K. Reilly, backed him.  Public Policy Polling asked voters in eight battle ground states which candidate’s views on climate aligned more with their own; 55% chose Biden, 28% Trump, and 15% neither.  For some young conservatives, Trump’s position on climate change is a problem.  Nearly half of Americans think addressing climate change will help the economy while only 29% believe that climate policy will harm it.  Seven in ten voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years.  Democratic lawmakers have called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to include climate change in the debates.  There were two interesting opinion pieces this week about our choice in the Presidential election, one by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone and the other by Thomas Friedman in the NYT.

When asked whether he believed that human-caused carbon emissions are fueling hotter temperatures, DOE Secretary Dan Brouillette said: “No one knows that.”  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Tuesday that there is “scientific debate” on whether hurricanes and other natural disasters are exacerbated by climate change.  The Trump administration’s pick to become the new chief scientist of NOAA is a meteorologist who frequently criticizes “climate alarmists”.  WBUR examined the politics of off-shore wind on the East Coast and how the election might impact it.  Even though many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle favor putting a price on carbon, two California academics argue that it is “ineffective”.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday, helped establish the critical Supreme Court precedent that empowered the EPA to address the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.  Her death may eventually result in a reassessment of that decision.  If President Trump is able to replace Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, he may stymie climate action for generations to come, while a second term could save some of his biggest environmental rollbacks.  The Congressional Budget Office has projected that because of climate change, the U.S. GDP will be 1% smaller in 2050 than it would have been otherwise.  The House on Thursday passed a broad bill that aims to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as part of an attempt to combat climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

A new study examined “dry-hot extremes” (years with concurrent drought and heatwaves) across the contiguous U.S. from 1896-2017, finding that they have increased substantially in frequency in the past decades and are expanding spatially at an alarming rate.  John Branch and Brad Plumer of the NYT spoke with two dozen climate experts about this year’s cascading climate impacts and found that the most sobering message was that the world still hasn’t seen the worst of it.  Also at the NYT, a team has provided a retrospective analysis of this year’s West Coast fire season.  A group of scientists has conducted an extensive review of the literature and found an “unequivocal and pervasive” role for global warming in boosting the conditions for fire in the U.S. West Coast and other locations around the world.  Stanford University scientists estimate that smoke from the fires on the West Coast may have caused at least 1,200 excess deaths.

Since 2016, more than 1 million disaster-related displacements have occurred each year on average in the U.S.  Some people never return home.  In The New Yorker, Amy Davidson Sorkin wrote of the displacements of Californians by the wildfires.

From 1990 to 2015, the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population emitted more than twice as much CO2 as the poorer half of the world.  Cows, pigs, and other farm livestock in Europe are producing more greenhouse gases every year than all of the EU’s cars and vans put together, according to a new analysis by Greenpeace.

New research suggests that even if the goals of the Paris agreement are met, melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will cause sea level to rise about eight feet.  The melting is likely to take place over a long period, beyond the end of this century, but is almost certain to be irreversible.  Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent on or around September 15, covering 1.44 million square miles, second only to 2012 at 1.32 million square miles.  Melting Arctic ice destabilizes the weather from the north, while the warming tropics move northward from the south, pressing the mid-latitudes, which have been climate sweet spots for humanity.

Bob Henson explained why the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has spun out of control.  Tornadoes are increasingly occurring in the Southeast, where they are twice as deadly as tornadoes elsewhere in the U.S.  A study found that climate change is making severe marine heat waves much more likely.

Energy

Saying “We can’t continue down this path,” California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order adopting a goal for all new passenger vehicle sales in the state to be zero-emission by 2035.  The L.A. Times said “Goodbye and good riddance.”  Energy analysts noted that it would change the nature of the load on the grid, but “not in an earth-shaking way”.  The Trump administration called the plan anti-consumer.

The lead story at Inside Clean Energy covered a compromise in South Carolina between advocates of solar power and a utility that may offer a blueprint for other states trying to resolve the debate over net metering.  A conditional-use permit for a $100 million solar power facility in southern Frederick County, VA, was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, clearing the way for the development of the facility on approximately 1,160 acres in a largely rural area.

At Tesla’s Battery Day, CEO Elon Musk outlined changes to lithium-ion battery design that the company is implementing.  When fully employed they will extend range by 54% and decrease the per kilowatt-hour (kWh) pack price by 56%.  The average cost of a lithium-ion battery cell is expected to fall below $100/kWh in the next three years, according to a new analysis by IHS Markit, and is expected to decline further through the end of the decade, to as low as $73/kWh in 2030.  In addition, according to an analyst with IHS Markit, it will be in the interests of just about everybody involved in the “broader lithium-ion battery supply chain” to establish effective recycling systems.  Jack Ewing has a fascinating article in the NYT on the race to dominate the battery market and to get electric cars on price-parity with gasoline ones.  A consortium of six electric utilities has pledged to bring the largest interstate electric vehicle charging network in the U.S. to the Midwest within two years.

Hyundai has announced plans to sell hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks in the U.S. by 2022.  Daimler has revealed its new design for a long haul hydrogen fuel cell-powered truck that will start its customer trials in 2023.  Ballard Power Systems announced this week that it was working on a new Audi hydrogen fuel cell stack technology with the automaker.  Trevor Milton, founder and executive chairman of electric truck start-up Nikola, quit on Monday, but GM is sticking by them.  If you have questions about hydrogen as a fuel, this article in The Washington Post will probably answer them.

While BP and other European oil companies are investing billions in renewable energy, Exxon and Chevron are committed to fossil fuels and betting on moonshots.  The world is on course to sail past the recognized “safe” level of 2°C of warming to as much as 3°C, according to the latest Wood Mackenzie “Energy Transition Outlook”.  The International Energy Agency said that governments and major polluters must take urgent action to develop technologies that can capture and store carbon emissions or it will be “virtually impossible” for the world to meet its climate targets.  Nevertheless, Southern Company intends to try to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 while still keeping natural gas as a central part of its business, both to generate electricity and to sell to its customers. 

Potpourri

Columbia Journalism Review stated that “Some major U.S. media coverage of the [climate] crisis is finally getting better.”  Brian Kahn reviewed the new climate anthology All We Can Save at Earther while Bill McKibben had a conversation with the editors in the “Passing the Mic” section of his column, as did Phoebe Neidl at Rolling Stone.  David Roberts of Vox had a conversation with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, authors of the new book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell covered several recent articles about the importance of “sliding baselines.”  United under Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, young people rallied worldwide on Friday to demand urgent action to halt climate change.

Closing Thought

Katharine Hayhoe: Giving people a sense of agency for fighting climate change means giving people 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 9/18/2020

Politics and Policy

While visiting California on Monday President Trump was briefed on the raging wildfires, during which he declined to acknowledge the role climate change likely played in fueling the flames, which greatly concerned some members of his party and reaffirmed a profound misunderstanding, or denial, of the way that greenhouse gases affect the Earth’s atmosphere.  Trump’s denial prompted former Vice President Joe Biden call him a “climate arsonist”.  The Rhodium Group has estimated that the Trump administration’s rollback of climate-related regulations, if allowed to stand, will result in an additional 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2035.  David Legates, a controversial geography professor who rejects climate science, was hired by NOAA to oversee climate observation and prediction.  For the first time in its 175 year history, Scientific American is endorsing a presidential candidate, and it is Joe Biden.  Several business and environmental groups are calling for Congress to pass the American Energy Innovation Act, which would modernize the nation’s energy laws for the first time in more than 12 years.  On Tuesday, Democrats introduced the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act in the House, which parallels a similar Senate bill, allowing the two bodies to conference.  The staff of Greentech Media wrote: “The reality is there’s no bad outcome for clean energy in the upcoming election, though the impact on the climate is another story.”

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on governments not to “throw away” economic stimulus funds by supporting fossil fuel industries that contribute to global warming.  In a speech to the European Parliament, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU should set a target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, the minimum effort needed to put the EU on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050.  The International Monetary Fund endorsed an EU proposal to impose carbon levies on imports, if the countries from which the imports originate do not adopt a minimum carbon price.  Former Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, a special advisor to the Australian government, said that Australia could get to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 by using natural gas as a bridge fuel to decrease the use of coal.  The difference between the EU and Australia is similar to the split that some see occurring in the oil and gas industry over what the future holds for them.  Following a virtual summit with EU leaders, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said that China is considering carbon neutrality as part of its long-term climate plan.

Based on two new reports, David Roberts at Vox concluded that five basic reforms are needed to develop an innovation system capable of supplying the technologies required to decarbonize the U.S. by midcentury.  The conclusion of the latest report by the Energy Transitions Commission is that a net-zero carbon global economy is technically and economically possible by the middle of this century.  A “Perspective” piece in The Washington Post argued that stopping climate change could cost less than fighting COVID-19.  A coalition of environmental and tribal groups sued the EPA over its rollback of two rules meant to limit the amount of methane emitted by the oil and gas sector.  Interestingly, EPA bowed to White House pressure during interagency review of the rules by reducing the frequency of measurements.  A court has temporarily halted the rollback, although the pause was simply procedural and said nothing about the merits of the rules.

E&E News summarized six energy-related law suits that are likely to be decided this fall.  Opponents of the stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline have submitted 43,000 signatures urging FERC not to grant more time to complete the pipeline.  FERC has passed a long-awaited order to open up the country’s wholesale energy markets to distributed energy resources like rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries, and electric vehicles.  The nominees to fill the two vacancies on FERC appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  The Business Roundtable is endorsing a “market-based mechanism” as part of a plan to sharply curb greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

The U.S. West is still burning, spreading haze across the country, but so are many other places in the world.  Indeed, rising global temperatures and worsening droughts mean that the world has entered a new era of megafires for which traditional methods of firefighting are inadequate.  The fires in California this year through mid-September burned enough forest to put about 90 million metric tons of CO2 into the air.  Robinson Meyers explained how the “vapor pressure deficit”, that is, the difference between the amount of water vapor that’s in the air and the amount of water vapor that the air can possibly hold, is a major driver of the intensity of the fires.  Meanwhile, slow-moving hurricane Sally blasted onto the U.S. Gulf Coast on Wednesday, unleashing massive floodwaters and powerful winds from the Florida Panhandle to Mobile, AL.  As if that weren’t enough, several new storms are brewing in the Atlantic.

Based on research by The Rhodium Group, ProPublica published a very interesting set of interactive maps illustrating how several environmental factors are likely to change in the future under two emissions scenarios.  Such changes will lead to migrations within the U.S.  ProPublica will present a webinar on the subject on September 29.  Also, the New York Times presented an analysis of climate risks across the U.S. in a graphical format.

An international team of scientists has published in the journal Atmospheric Environment a comprehensive study of the complex climate impact of aviation emissions, reaffirming that contrail clouds produce more warming than the CO2 emitted.

Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in Antarctica are breaking free from the restraints that have hemmed them in, increasing the threat of large-scale sea-level rise.  An enormous chunk of Greenland’s ice cap has broken off in the far northeastern Arctic.  Between 1966 and 2015, all of the 26 named glaciers in Glacier National Park got smaller.  Some lost as much as 80% of their area, but the average loss was 40%.

In the northern hemisphere, June, July and August were 1.17°C (2.11°F) above the 20th-century average, according to NOAA, setting a new record for the hottest summer.  A study published in Nature Climate Change has found that the Arctic region is moving into a new climate regime, with the rate of change depending on future CO2 emissions.  Such changes are already impacting the fisheries in Alaska.

Energy

The Economist had a special issue Thursday about “The new energy order.”  The editorial introducing the issue provided an overview of the most important issues.  (You can read the editorial for free by signing up and logging in.)  BP’s “Energy Outlook 2020” revealed that global oil demand will not regain the levels seen last year and that demand could soon fall rapidly in the face of stronger climate action – by at least 10% this decade and by as much as 50% over the next 20 years.

Over the past three years, some of the U.S.’s biggest electric utilities have committed to weaning themselves off carbon-emitting generation by 2050.  Jeff St. John at Greentech Media examined the five largest (by market capitalization) that have set net-zero targets so far.  Julian Spector looked at five that haven’t.  Google on Monday pledged that by 2030 it will run its entire business on carbon-free energy — every hour of every day of the year.  Facebook expects to eliminate or offset all of its own emissions this year, while completely decarbonizing its supply chain by 2030.  As much as 80% of the EU’s electricity could be fossil fuel-free by 2030, industry association Eurelectric said on Monday.

Scottish Power is starting a project to use green hydrogen to run buses, ferries, and trains as part of a pioneering partnership to develop the UK’s nascent hydrogen economy.  In Texas, Frontier Energy, in collaboration with 10 partners, announced on Sept. 15 the launch of three-year projects that are meant to show that green hydrogen can be a cost-effective fuel for multiple end-use applications.  Alstom hydrogen passenger train service has launched in Vienna, Austria, using onboard fuel cells for the conversion of hydrogen into electricity.

America’s air would become cleaner and its citizens more healthy if the country accelerated its transition to electric cars, the American Lung Association said in a new report.  Ford announced plans Thursday for a new plant to build the electric and plug-in hybrid versions of its bestselling vehicle, the F-150 pickup.  The plant, located in Ford’s Rouge complex in Dearborn, MI, will also assemble batteries.  The U.S. bus maker Blue Bird says its electric school buses sell so well, they will increase production capacity to 1,000 units a year.

Plans to build the nation’s first freshwater wind farm in Lake Erie northeast of Cleveland took a major step forward Thursday, as state regulators reversed their decision to limit the nighttime operation of the proposed wind turbines.  The University of Tennessee is developing a technology that would enable the recycling of wind turbine blades into new composites.

Potpourri

In an interactive Q&A, Carbon Brief explored how greenhouse gas emissions from meat, dairy, and other diets compare, as well as whether changes to the production and transportation of meat could help to reduce its climate impact.  I Am Greta, a documentary that follows Greta Thunberg from her first Friday school strikes in Stockholm to her 2019 UN speech in New York City, was reviewed by Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian.  Peter Dykstra of The Daily Climate compiled a list of some of the classic books and authors from the late 20th Century that helped define the environmental movement. 

Closing Thought

Ambitious and expanded climate action by U.S. states, cities, and businesses can reduce emissions up to 37% by 2030.

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 9/11/2020

Politics and Policy

Many nations are using government spending to stimulate their economies in response to COVID-19.  Properly structured, such spending can also fight climate change, although the U.S. Senate has been unwilling to adopt such measures.  In a pair of articles, reporters addressed what is being done to assist both big cities and rural areas.  The U.S. should establish a price on carbon and push financial institutions to be better prepared for the economic instability likely to be caused by climate change, according to a new report from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  Bank of England executive director Anna Sweeney said on Wednesday that adapting to climate change is likely to be a far greater challenge for insurers than coping with COVID-19.  Economist Steve Keen argued at The Conversation that Nobel laurate William Nordhaus incorporated wrong assumptions in his modeling, leading him to erroneously conclude that the economic impacts of climate change will be small.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) introduced a resolution called THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy), which would bolster union jobs while tackling climate change and racial injustice.  In an analysis of the fight for the Senate, Inside Climate News reporter Marianne Lavelle wrote that a harsh reality for advocates of climate action is that “If Democrats do flip the Senate, it will be due to victories by a slew of climate moderates.”  Fossil fuel-friendly language at a Wisconsin roundtable is the latest sign that Democrats remain divided over how to reduce CO2 emissions if they win power.  The Senate has agreed to an amendment to the American Energy Innovation Act that would reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbon gases by 85% over a 15-year period.  A growing number of lawmakers and green groups is asking the moderators for the presidential debates to include questions on climate change policy.  Most of our governmental systems are set up to handle one problem at a time, whereas climate change can cause cascading effects, as California is experiencing.  Just as the EPA has been in a mad dash to rescind environmental regulations in the lead-up to November’s election, BLM now seems to be embarking on a fire sale of public lands to oil and gas drillers.  Beginning September 18 and continuing each Friday until the election, Yale Climate Connections will address one of seven key climate messages.

China and many of the world’s other big greenhouse gas emitters (but not the UK or EU) are waiting for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election before deciding whether — and by how much — to boost their climate pledges.  Vox is producing a series of videos aimed at the elections.  One deals with decarbonizing the U.S. energy and is much easier to follow than the various articles on the subject.  It is only 11 minutes long and is well worth your time.  Europe’s largest and most influential political faction, the center-right European People’s Party, has rallied behind an EU objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030, while the European Parliament’s environment committee voted in favor of a 60% cut.

Writing on the RMI blog, Senior Principal Thomas Blank addressed the need to begin decarbonizing industry now.  Charleston, SC, officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday against 24 fossil fuel companies, claiming that because they contributed to climate change — and misled the public about the danger their products posed to the environment — they should have to bear the cost of repairing the damage caused by flooding in the city.  Duke Energy announced a new pledge on Wednesday to convert most of its current 10,000-vehicle fleet to electric or another zero-carbon alternative.  Americans support aggressive government regulation to fight the effects of climate change, including outright bans on building in flood- or fire-prone areas.

Climate and Climate Science

The big news story this week was the wildfires in the western U.S., which experts say are unprecedented.  They prompted New York Times (NYT) opinion writer-at-large Charlie Warzel to write “The point of this column isn’t to guilt people for where they live or what they’ve experienced, but to convey the desperation that so many Americans are feeling right now. … It’s a psychological toll, as much as it is physical.  One that, while you’re living through it, renders it difficult to see a healthy future for the earth through all the smoke.”  Also at the NYT, John Schwartz explored “The ‘straightforward’ link between climate and California’s fires.”  Furthermore, in recent weeks, the world has seen peat fires in the Arctic, torrential rains in Africa, weirdly warm temperatures on the surface of tropical oceans, and record heat waves from California to the Siberian Arctic, all of which are consistent with climate change.  All of this is prompting climate scientists to remind us that this is what they were warning of ten years ago and to warn of what will happen ten years from now.  Climate forecasters said Thursday that the world has entered La Niña, which has the potential this winter to worsen what are already severe drought conditions in the American Southwest.  Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest worsened in the first week of September and are increasingly spreading into areas of untouched forest.

Earth’s energy imbalance (EEI) is the difference between the heat entering Earth’s atmosphere from the sun and the amount of heat being radiated to space by Earth.  It is the fundamental thing driving global heating; as long as it remains above zero, Earth will warm.  A new study has measured EEI and found that it has increased by 16% in five years.  In a relatively long essay, climate scientist James Hansen commented on the significance of the findings, while Clean Technica author Steve Hanley summarized Hansen’s comments.  In the next five years, the world has nearly a 1-in-4 chance of the global average temperature exceeding 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial times, according to a new update released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and others.  Meanwhile, concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere hit a record high this year, according to the WMO, as the economic slowdown from the coronavirus pandemic had little lasting effect.  Two geoscientists and a philosopher at the University of Chicago have estimated that climate change will ultimately cost humanity $100,000 per ton of carbon emitted.

Scientists continue to learn about the channels that allow warm ocean water under Antarctica’s Thwaites glacier, melting it from below.  While the channels are not as large as previously thought, they are widening, but at an unknown rate.  A study published in Nature Climate Change found that ice melt, rather than thermal expansion, is now the major contributor to sea level rise and that the rate of melt now matches the IPCC’s worst-case scenario.

More than 1 billion people face being displaced within 30 years as the climate crisis and rapid population growth drive an increase in migration with “huge impacts” for both the developing and developed worlds, according to an analysis by the Institute for Economics and Peace.  In addition, nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before, with the result that wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a major report by the WWF.

Scientists have now succeeded in estimating Earth’s temperature back 65 million years, putting today’s global average temperature into a long term perspective.  The data show that the path we are on today does not bode well.  New research has confirmed that trees that grow rapidly have a shorter lifespan, which means that their ability to tie up CO2 may be too short-lived to help tackle the climate crisis.

Energy

The transformation of the power sector to carbon-free generation will only get the world one third of the way to the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century, a report by the International Energy Agency said on Thursday.  It also said that a “dramatic” scaling up of clean energy technologies will be required if the world is to reach its climate goals.  It is now time for Washington to become more aggressive in weaning the U.S. off of fossil fuels and settling into a carbon-free future, a panel of electric utility and environmentalist leaders said on Wednesday at the Edison Electric Institute Virtual Leadership Summit.  However, a Reuters survey of top U.S. power producers found that they thought that rapid advances in nascent technologies — such as batteries, carbon capture, and advanced nuclear reactors — will be critical to reaching net-zero CO2 emissions.

Dominion Energy announced last Friday it has filed with the NRC for a 20-year extension of its license to operate two generating units at the North Anna nuclear power plant in Louisa County, VA.

On Wednesday, General Motors announced the development of a new wireless battery management system that could eliminate up to 90% of the battery’s physical wiring and 15% of its volume, and allow the automaker to more easily modify its batteries to any type of vehicle, from sports cars to heavy-duty trucks.  On Tuesday, GM said it will invest $2 billion in Nikola Corp., giving it an 11% stake in the electric truck startup.  However, on Thursday, an investment firm, Hindenburg Research, reported that Nikola fraudulently claimed its vehicles could do things they can’t, like drive.

The number of leading automotive companies committed to cutting emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement continued to rise this month, with Germany’s BMW Group being the latest global car maker to commit to setting a goal through the Science Based Target initiative.  Since it is likely that gasoline-powered internal combustion engines will be around for a while, engineers continue to investigate ways to make them more efficient and less polluting.  One technique is to replace conventional spark plugs with plugs that generate ultrafast bursts of blue plasma.

European oil majors BP and Equinor will partner for the U.S. offshore wind market, with BP paying $1.1 billion for a 50% stake in Equinor’s Empire Wind project off New York and its Beacon Wind project off southern New England.

Potpourri

Ted Halstead, founder, chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council, was killed in a hiking accident in Spain.  Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, wrote the organization’s tribute to him.  Peter Sinclair’s latest “This Is Not Cool” video features a new University of California, Berkeley, study that showed that it is possible to achieve 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035 with no additional cost to consumers.

Closing Thought

If you would like a regular dose of good climate and clean-energy news, SueEllen Campbell has a list of weekly email newsletters that are worth a look.

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 9/4/2020

Politics and Policy

In a letter Wednesday to the Commission on Presidential Debates, 70 House Democrats stressed that their constituents must hear from the candidates about how they plan to tackle climate change.  Joe Biden was unequivocal Monday in Pittsburgh: “I am not banning fracking.  Let me say that again.  I am not banning fracking.  No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”  The green movement’s left flank released an open letter Tuesday calling for a ban on all “fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from any advisory or official position on [Biden’s] campaign, transition team, cabinet, and administration.”  Seventy-four-year-old incumbent Sen. Ed Markey beat out 39-year-old Rep. Joseph Kennedy III in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary, in large part due to the work of climate activists on behalf of Markey.  According to Dan Shreve, research director at Wood Mackenzie, “If Biden’s bid fails, the U.S. will forfeit four more years in the fight against climate change.  This would dramatically reduce the possibility of eliminating carbon emissions from the region’s power grid before 2050.”

In a speech on the 50th anniversary of the EPA, Administrator Andrew Wheeler accused Democrats of hurting the poor with policies aimed at fighting climate change, and said the agency would keep supporting development and deregulation if President Donald Trump is re-elected.  The Trump administration’s escalating threats of sanctions against Europe over Russian gas ties are threatening to blow back against U.S. energy companies.  On Monday the Trump administration weakened a 2015 regulation that would have forced coal-fired power plants to treat their wastewater with more effective methods to prevent toxic metals from contaminating lakes, rivers, and streams near their facilities.  Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has counted 159 actions since Trump took office “to scale back or wholly eliminate climate mitigation and adaptation measures.”  A court has for the second time struck down a Trump administration attempt to limit the penalties faced by automakers who do not meet mileage standards.  Inside Climate News took a look at Vice President Mike Pence’s efforts to block climate action.

A group of economists and scientists has proposed five science questions to be asked at the presidential debates.  How to account for the risk from rising sea level in the mortgage market is complicated, because the solution must also consider equality and equity.  And on a related note, insuring homes in areas subject to flooding and/or wildfires is becoming an increasingly difficult problem because of the conflicting needs of insurers and insureds.  In an article at RMI about tackling industrial CO2 emissions, Ned Harvey wrote: “To limit global warming to 1.5°C we must engage the real economy and work directly with the leaders in the most carbon-intensive sectors in a way that hasn’t been done before.”  UN secretary general António Guterres has taken aim at India’s coal sector, warning that expansion plans make “no commercial sense” and would harm human health.

UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa told Climate Home News that she expects only about 80 out of 197 signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement to submit updated or more ambitious climate plans in 2020.  In the first climate case to be filed with the European Court of Human Rights, six Portuguese young people have filed a legal action accusing 33 countries (the 27 European member states, as well as the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine) of violating their right to life by not doing their fair share to tackle the climate crisis.  Norway’s $1.2 trillion wealth fund will ask the companies in its portfolio that emit the most CO2 for more detailed climate-related data in order to understand the risk to its investments.

Climate and Climate Science

Last year, Earth’s land areas were 1.43°C warmer than the 20th century average, while the oceans were 0.77°C warmer.  Why is that the case?  If you’re interested in knowing, Carbon Brief has an explanation.  New Zealand had its warmest winter since records began more than 100 years ago, according to official climate data.  Excessive heat watches and warnings were in effect across parts of Arizona, Nevada and much of California beginning on Friday and continuing through Labor Day, and may need to be extended.

The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as the global average and that this summer will go down for leaving a “deep wound” there.  Spokeswoman Clare Nullis said “The rapid decline of sea ice in turn contributes to more warming, and so the circle goes on and the consequences do not stay in the Arctic.”  The Bering Sea ice cover during the winters of 2018 and 2019 hit new lows not seen in thousands of years, scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances

Glacier melting over the last three decades has led to a 50% increase in the size of glacial lakes that form behind natural dams created by debris pushed along at the front of glaciers and left behind as glacier fronts retreat.  It also has led to more lakes.  Both suggest that there will greater numbers of glacial lake outburst floods when those dams collapse.  A guest post in Carbon Brief said that Greenland has had a relatively “normal” year with regard to ice changes at its surface, although losses by the breaking off of icebergs remain at the high end.

Although data are still incomplete, it is likely that fires in the Brazilian Amazon during August will be the worst in ten years, putting indigenous people at risk.  Wetlands in the Parana River delta region of Argentina are extremely dry and are experiencing the worst wildfires in at least ten years.  The amount of CO2 emitted by Arctic wildfires this year is already 35% higher than the figure for the whole of 2019.

Last Saturday, Bob Berwyn looked back at the ten day period from August 16 to 25, which encompassed extraordinary climate events from the Death Valley heat record to hurricane Laura.

Energy

Combined, solar and wind accounted for more than two-thirds of new global power generation capacity additions in 2019.  Solar is now the fourth-largest source of power-generation capacity worldwide, having overtaken wind.  A new initiative announced Wednesday will install up to 12 MW of solar power in Virginia’s historic coalfield region over the next three years.  In an effort to become carbon neutral by 2024, Duke University will partner with Pine Gate Renewables to build three new solar farms with a total capacity of 101 MW.  Ørsted, a developer synonymous with offshore wind, is now moving into the development of solar farms and battery energy storage systems as it seeks to diversify its renewable energy activities, particularly in the U.S.  The U.S. currently has seven offshore wind turbines, all located on the East Coast.  However, the Department of the Interior has approved 16 projects altogether and has an additional seven proposals under review.  Companies that make and install offshore turbines see this as just the beginning

A new study of 3,000 power companies has found that only a handful have been cutting their fossil fuel capacity.  Much of the new renewable capacity is being offset by new coal and gas capacity.  A study published in the journal Nature Communications said that while switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy was critical for mitigating against climate change, the mining necessary to produce the infrastructure for that energy could exacerbate threats to biodiversity.

A unique pilot plant in Luleå, Sweden, is a first step in decarbonizing the steel industry, which today accounts for 7% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  Unilever will invest $1.2 billion to replace petrochemicals in its cleaning products with ingredients made from plants and marine sources, such as algae, by 2030.  The most comprehensive analysis so far of how much warming is caused by airplanes has found that flying’s contribution to global warming nearly doubled between 2000 and 2018.

Agreements to deploy 1 GWh of novel aqueous zinc battery energy storage in Texas and 500 MWh in California have been struck by technology provider Eos Energy Storage.  During California’s recent electricity crisis, more than 30,000 batteries located all over the state supplied as much power as a midsize natural gas power plant.  A hybrid energy storage system combining lithium-ion batteries with mechanical energy storage in the form of flywheels has gone into operation in the Netherlands.

BMW Group is the latest global car maker to commit to setting a science-based target that would allow them to determine how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have developed a new catalyst for automotive fuel cells that requires only a fraction of the platinum required in current fuels cells, thereby lowering their cost.

Potpourri

Because my magazine was late in coming, I missed an article about environmental justice in last week’s C&EN.  It provides some history of the movement as well as an update on activities in communities of color near petrochemical plants.  Washington Post climate and science reporter Sarah Kaplan had a conversation with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, editors of a collection of essays, poetry, and art by 41 women in the climate movement.  More information about the mysterious craters that have been appearing in the Siberian tundra is becoming available.  Ultramafic wastes are the calcium- and magnesium-rich rock in which diamonds, nickel, platinum, and palladium are found.  Scientists have found that such wastes, which are highly alkaline, have an extraordinary ability to react with CO2, forming highly insoluble carbonates that can lock away the CO2 essentially forever.

Closing Thought

More and more businesses are taking steps to address their own role in the climate crisis and offering solutions to help mitigate its impacts, said Vanderbilt Law School’s Michael Vandenbergh at Inside Climate News.

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 8/28/2020

Politics and Policy

The number of Americans who feel passionately about climate change is rising sharply, and the issue appears likely to play a more important role in this year’s election than ever before.  In his Wednesday New Yorker column, Bill McKibben wrote about climate change: “[I]t’s crucial, right now, … for politicians to help Americans understand the rapid and unsettling transition that physics implacably demands.  We’re out of Presidential terms to waste.”  In an article on the potential impacts on climate change of a second Trump term, David Roberts wrote at Vox, “… the likely result will be irreversible changes to the climate that will degrade the quality of life of every subsequent generation of human beings, with millions of lives harmed or foreshortened.”  Jeff Goodell echoed that sentiment at Rolling Stone by writing: “You can have four more years of [President Donald] Trump, or you can have a habitable planet.  But you can’t have both.”  The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of large U.S. labor unions and environmental groups, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president, saying he has put forward achievable plans to tackle climate change.  For the most part, the Republican national convention ignored the climate crisis, an omission that disturbed some conservatives who warned that the party risks being left behind by voters, although Vice President Mike Pence did charge that Biden’s climate change “regime” would hike costs for Americans.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats released a more than 200 page climate plan that is a roadmap for what they’ll do if they take back the majority after this year’s election.  David Roberts interviewed committee chair Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) about the plan.  Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic pointed out that it “is not a draft bill, but a menu of potential policies that have wide support in the party and that could be combined in future legislation.”  A trio of Grist writers presented three ways that the senators’ plan diverges from other recent plans we’ve seen.  A review of the Trump EPA’s major electric utility-sector and climate-related rules shows that virtually all of those actions could be reversed if Biden wins the presidency in November.  A coalition of 87 House lawmakers asked the EPA to withdraw its latest rules rescinding standards for methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not include climate and clean energy legislation it had endorsed in its 2019 scorecard of legislators, undermining its claim of support for such legislation.

“In Her Words” interviewed Rachel Kyte, a former special representative to the UN for Sustainable Energy for All, about the necessity of a green recovery from the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic.  The EU’s plan to curb methane emissions will not impose binding standards on natural gas sold in the bloc.  A study published in Nature Climate Change found that over 60% of the more than 1,000 European cities that have monitored their performance are on track to meet their climate targets.  A coalition of environment and business groups has said that Australia is “woefully unprepared” for the scale of the climate change threats it faces, and suffers from a debate focused too much on the cost of action rather than the cost of inaction.

In a major change in policy regarding rebuilding in flood zones, FEMA and HUD have detailed new programs designed to pay for large-scale relocation nationwide.  FEMA has failed to comply with a 2012 congressional mandate to incorporate rising sea levels and otherwise account for climate change in its flood maps.  Realtor.com has become the first home-buying website to disclose information about a home’s flood risk and how climate change could increase it in the coming decades.  The New York Times (NYT) published an article entitled “How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering” that focused on Richmond, VA.

Climate and Climate Science

Hurricane Laura tore through Louisiana on Thursday, killing six people and flattening buildings across a wide swath of the state.  Jeff Masters provided statistics about the storm and scientists said that Laura’s rapid intensification was a sign of climate change.  Seth Borenstein of the AP looked at the many factors, including climate change, affecting the damage from hurricanes.  Fifty percent of Houston-area residents have wrestled with powerful or severe emotional distress since Hurricane Harvey deluged the city in 2017.

A report prepared by the Environmental Defense Fund examined the costs of climate-linked natural disasters, finding that they have quadrupled since 1980.  CBS News examined the heat wave and wildfires in the West, the derecho that tore through the middle of the nation, and the pace of this year’s hurricane season, concluding that the unprecedented and concurrent extreme conditions resemble the chaotic climate future that scientists have been warning about for decades.

Twenty-eight trillion metric tons of ice have disappeared from the surface of Earth since 1994, 46% of which was in glaciers and ice sheets on the ground and added to sea level rise.  Increased precipitation and ice melt caused by climate change have left Arctic waters less salty, which ultimately will have an impact on circulation currents in the Atlantic Ocean.  Unlike the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Arctic Ocean gets warmer with depth.  New measurements indicate, however, that warm water is moving closer to the surface, melting sea ice from below.  Approximately 60% of Antarctica’s ice shelves could be vulnerable to hydrofracture, in which meltwater flows into crevasses and fissures in the ice and enlarges them, potentially triggering the collapse of the ice shelf.  A study in the journal Nature Climate Change indicated that rising sea levels could push inland water tables higher, resulting in damage to infrastructure and increased severity of flooding.

The wildfires that exploded in California and Colorado show clear influences of global warming and evidence of how a warming and drying climate is increasing the size and severity of fires.  In addition, the NYT noted that there are four key ingredients to the wildfire in California, including climate change.  In contrast, in the Brazilian Amazon, most fires have been human-caused and illegal, with 516 major fires covering 912,863 acres being detected between May 28 and August 25.

Carbon capture pioneer Climeworks is spearheading a new project to permanently remove 4,000 tons of CO2 directly from the air every year and store it deep beneath the ground in Icelandic basalt.  On the other hand, research published in Nature Climate Change suggest that technologies that remove CO2 from the air could have huge implications for future food prices.

Energy

A new report from Wood Mackenzie predicts that the 2020s will be the “decade of hydrogen.”  However, Reuters reports that the EU goal to boost the use of green hydrogen will require the bloc to find billions in investment and persuade member states to give their backing.  During second-quarter earnings calls, executives at several large North American utilities and power generators outlined plans to ramp up green hydrogen production and use in the coming years as decarbonization increases.  The Guardian focused on the tiny Western Australian town of Kalbarri, which hopes to become a hub of green hydrogen production and export.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Energy Storage Association, Douglas Esamann, executive VP for energy solutions at Duke Energy said that the company could achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 by using “technologies that largely exist today.”  The U.S. Energy Storage Association has adopted a goal for the deployment of 100 GW of new energy storage by 2030, updating a previously set goal of 35 GW by 2025.  Powin Energy is delivering equipment and integration services to Rappahannock Electric Cooperative for what is thought to be the first grid-scale battery storage system to be installed by an electric cooperative group in Virginia.

The Southeast U.S. lacks an integrated market for transmitting electricity across utility and state boundaries.  A new study from Energy Innovation said changing that could save the region’s utilities and customers billions of dollars over the next two decades.  New York and New Jersey are allowing offshore wind developers to plan their own interconnections with land, but industry advocates say there is a need for a more coordinated and cost-effective approach.

A nuclear energy venture founded by Bill Gates said it hopes to build small advanced nuclear power stations that can store electricity to supplement grids increasingly supplied by intermittent sources like solar and wind power.  Cost concerns over participation by Logan, UT, in a next-generation nuclear power plant planned at Idaho National Laboratory led the city to withdraw from the project.

There is a large demand for electric delivery vehicles, but, so far, little supply.  Amazon says it’s buying 1,800 electric delivery vans from Mercedes-Benz.  Ford is building a new facility next to its truck plant in Dearborn, MI, for the production of electric F-150 pickup trucks.  Working with a collaborator, RMI has prepared a report examining where new large electric trucks should be deployed.  According to a study commissioned by oil company Castrol, to achieve global mass adoption, the average electric car will need to offer 31-minute charging, 291 miles of range, and a base price of $36,000.  California approved a $437 million effort to build 40,000 electric vehicle chargers, the nation’s largest ever utility program to expand charging infrastructure.

Potpourri

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is back in school after a gap year.  In a story adapted from his new book, Perilous Bounty, farmer-turned-journalist Tom Philpott describes the Great Flood of 1861-62 that devastated the Central Valley of California and examines the likelihood of it happening again.  According to a study conducted at a wind farm on the Norwegian archipelago of Smøla, changing the color of a single blade on a turbine from white to black resulted in a 70% drop in the number of bird deaths.

Closing Thought

Billie Eilish’s ‘my future’ isn’t ironic, and that’s the point.

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 8/21/2020

Politics and Policy

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday evening said that former Vice President Joe Biden’s climate plan is “perfect for the moment.”  Meanwhile, right-wing media pushed three lies about Biden’s climate plan.  The Democratic National Committee quietly dropped language calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks from its party platform, dismaying climate activists.  E&E News summarized six major differences between the 2016 and 2020 versions of the Democratic platform concerning climate change.  Biden has said that, if elected, he would encourage environmental enforcement in the courtroom by taking actions such as forming an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Justice Department, as proposed by Inslee.  At Axios, Amy Harder wrote: “Joe Biden is unlikely to pursue a carbon tax if he wins in November, according to several people familiar with his campaign’s thinking.”  On the other hand, Cornell economics professor Robert H. Frank thinks that a properly formulated tax could spur behavioral contagion, leading to wide-spread adoption of climate friendly practices.  Perhaps the “near-term to net zero” approach investigated by researchers at three U.S. institutions and described by David Roberts at Vox will work as a way to price the impacts of CO2 emissions.

On the second anniversary of her first solo school strike for the climate, Greta Thunberg said the world has wasted the time by failing to take the necessary action on the crisis.  At The Atlantic, Professor David M. Uhlmann of the University of Michigan Law School wrote: “If the fate of American democracy is on the ballot in November, so too is the future of the planet.”  In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd wrote that whether the world emerges from the pandemic “in a stronger or weaker position to tackle the climate crisis” rests largely in China’s hands.

President Trump will withdraw the nomination of William Perry Pendley as director of the BLM.  President Trump’s overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act leaves developers of offshore wind projects in a strange place with greater political uncertainty.  Legal experts say that EPA’s rationale for its decision to stop directly regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector may contain fatal flaws that could cause the new standards to stumble in court.  According to investigative reporting by The Atlantic and Investigate West, Trump officials at the Department of Energy buried a report by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory that showed how modernization of the nation’s electrical grid could reduce CO2 emissions and save consumers money.  The Trump administration appears set to postpone a decision on ethanol until after the November election to avoid a backlash from the feuding agriculture and petroleum sectors.  California on Monday finalized a legal settlement with Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo that binds them to comply with its stringent state-level fuel efficiency standards.

Writing about climate alarm in New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells wrote: “We are now alarmed enough about climate change, collectively, that even when we aren’t particularly freaking out about it, we still find ourselves drifting rapidly, as in a very fast stream, toward dramatic action.”  A new international initiative called Climate TRACE (“Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions”) intends to independently detect emissions around the globe as they’re emitted, providing a mechanism for enforcing emissions limits once governments decide to impose them.

Climate and Climate Science

A weather station at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center in Death Valley, CA, measured a temperature of 129.9°F last Sunday, which may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history.  A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that without cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, major U.S. cities could see between 13 and 30 times more exposure to extreme heat by 2100 than they were seeing at the beginning of this century.  Hamamatsu, a Japanese coastal city on the island of Honshu, hit 106°F (41.1°C) on Monday, tying a national record set in 2018. 

This week, California was fighting both extreme heat and at least 92 wildfires spanning more than 200,000 acres, causing Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.  James Temple wrote at MIT Technology Review that climate change was almost certainly fueling those fires.  In addition, there were at least 77 large complexes of wildfires burning in 15 states across the U.S. as of Tuesday evening. 

Floods on the upper reaches of China’s Yangtze river forced authorities to evacuate more than 100,000 people on Tuesday and threatened a 1,200-year-old world heritage site.  Unfortunately, climate experts warn that China will face more frequent severe floods as the global temperature rises, driving up the number of intense rainstorms in the country.

After two years when summer ice melt in Greenland had been minimal, last summer shattered all records with 586 billion tons of ice melting, according to satellite measurements.  That’s more than 140 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover California to a depth of more than four feet.  Glaciers in the Southern Alps of New Zealand have lost more ice mass since pre-industrial times than remains today, according to a new study.  Using ice cores from Antarctica, climate scientists have discovered that Earth experienced short periods of warming during ice ages, demonstrating that climate can change much more rapidly than previously thought.

The latest annual survey by the Australian Institute of Marine Science revealed that the Great Barrier Reef was showing only modest recovery in coral cover before it was hammered by its third mass bleaching event in five years.  Warming water temperatures and higher salt levels indicate that human-caused climate change is starting to impact the health of more than half of the world’s oceans.

Energy

California’s clean energy policies are not to blame for rolling blackouts during a scorching heat wave this month, but more work needs to be done to integrate large amounts of wind and solar energy, the state’s energy agencies said on Wednesday.  Nevertheless, some are trying to politicize the blackouts, although the situation is more complex than their simplistic narrative.  In his weekly column, Dan Gearino discussed how demand response could be used to reduce or avoid blackouts.  California’s Gateway Energy Storage project is the world’s biggest battery and can charge or discharge 230 MW for one hour, expected to rise to 250 MW by the end of the month.

Occidental Petroleum Corp’s venture capital arm, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC, has formed a company to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground to use to enhance oil recovery in the Permian Basin of Texas.  A group led by the Baker Institute at Rice University is working on a blueprint for a nationwide program to pay for carbon storage in soil via preservation and restoration of native grasslands.

Lithium iron phosphate will become increasingly popular for stationary energy storage applications, overtaking lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide within a decade, Wood Mackenzie forecast in a new report.  Key Capture Energy will build three large-scale batteries, one 100 MW and two 50 MW, for the Texas grid using lithium iron phosphate technology.  For small-scale lithium ion batteries, three researchers from the University of Texas have developed a new cathode that eliminates cobalt entirely.

Reuters fact-checked the claims of an advertising campaign by the American Petroleum Institute that is aimed at convincing consumers that natural gas (i.e., methane) is a “clean” fuel.  The Guardian reported on a nationwide blitz by gas companies and their allies to beat back climate action they consider an existential threat to their business. 

Volkswagen announced Thursday that production of its ID.4 compact SUV has begun at its plant in Zwickau, Germany.  The SUV will have a range of up to 311 miles and will make its world premiere in September.  U.S. production is set to begin in 2022 in Chattanooga, Tenn.  According to a Rhodium Group analysis, electric trucks have the potential to displace enough oil to make a “significant dent” in transportation sector CO2 emissions.  Although written from a British perspective, James Morris’ analysis in Forbes of the factors hindering EV sales agrees with similar articles I have read about the U.S. market.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, Sara Peach answered kid’s questions about climate and climate change and Michael Svoboda listed 13 climate change-related reports that have been released so far this year.  Bill McKibben wrote about Kamala Harris, Ed Markey, and more.  Climate change historian Spencer Weart reviewed Mark Lynas’s new book, Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, stating that the motto for 21st century climate science might be “It’s happening faster than we expected.”  Amy Brady had a couple of interviews this week.  In her newsletter she interviewed John Freeman, editor of the anthology Tales of Two Planets, while at The Chicago Review of Books, she interviewed Australian author Charlotte McConaghy about her U.S. debut novel Migrations.  Anthony Leiserowitz and Edward Maibach have been named by Climate One as this year’s winners of the Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication.  Peter Sinclair has a new six minute video, this one about the state of the fossil fuel industry.

Closing Thought

How to Save a Planet” is an ambitious new Spotify podcast series hosted by Alex Blumberg and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, which focuses on how ordinary people can stop the decline of the planet without feeling terrified.

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 8/14/2020

Politics and Policy

In his weekly column, Dan Gearino wrote that Joe Biden’s climate and energy plan shows that the idea of net-zero emissions by 2050 has gone from the fringes to near the mainstream of U.S. politics.  A report from FERC has recommended building power lines in the rights of way now used by railroads and oil and gas pipelines.  At Inside Climate News, Marianne Lavelle examined the environmental record of Biden’s vice presidential choice, Kamala Harris, while at Rolling Stone Jeff Goodell wrote that Joe Biden’s climate proposal gets the essential point that it is time “to go fast, and go big” on the climate crisis.  Meanwhile, Climate Home News reported that Biden’s selection of Harris could reinvigorate stalled world action on climate change in a “night and day” switch if the Democrats defeat Donald Trump.  At The New Republic, staff writer Kate Aronoff took issue with the Democratic Party platform’s position concerning China, arguing that we can’t solve the climate crisis without its cooperation.

Because of Covid-19, most of the next IPCC report on climate change is likely to be delayed beyond the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.  Only the first section about the science of global warming is now expected to be issued before the summit.  Economists from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at the London School of Economics examined the economic case for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and found that it does not make sense, as the cost of clean energy has fallen while the risks of climate catastrophe have increased since the agreement was signed in 2015.  The world could avoid 0.3°C of global warming by the middle of the century if governments invest in a strong “green recovery” from coronavirus.  Having spent seven years of my young adulthood in Houston absorbing its can-do attitude, Houston has always occupied a special place in my psyche.  That is why I decided to include this article about why Houston should become the “New Energy Capital”, even though it is from July.

The Trump administration has lifted Obama-era controls on the release of methane from leaks and flares in oil and gas wells, even though the oil and gas industry doesn’t want them to.  Six former EPA chiefs called for a “reset” at the agency after President Trump’s regulation-chopping, industry-minded first term, backing a detailed plan by former EPA staffers.  The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held five virtual public hearings on the Vineyard Wind project in waters south of Massachusetts and some 85% of the comments made were in support of the project, as were the vast majority of the comments filed online.  The Bureau of Land Management decided to defer lease sales for potential oil and gas development on 87,000 acres of public lands in Utah that critics said were too close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized the Commission for not requiring companies to disclose their risks from climate change, accusing it of failing in its mission to safeguard investors.  The Government Accountability Office said Congress should consider a pilot program “to identify and provide assistance to climate migration projects for communities that express affirmative interest in relocation as a resilience strategy.”  Grist had an interesting article about how old laws may stand in the way of efforts to increase the use of clean energy.

Climate and Climate Science

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that the Arctic could see the complete loss of summer sea ice within 15 years.  The formation of meltwater ponds on the surface of the ice is one factor increasing the melt rate.  The last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed, losing more than 40% of its area in just two days at the end of July.  BBC News provided satellite images of the ice before and after the breakup.  Researchers from Ohio State University have analyzed nearly 40 years of satellite data and found that glaciers on Greenland have shrunk so much that even if global warming were to stop today, they would continue shrinking.  According to a new study, Antarctic ice shelves have lost nearly 4 trillion metric tons of ice (producing an amount of meltwater that can nearly fill the Grand Canyon) since the mid-1990s, melting from the bottom up, causing them to lose mass faster than they can refreeze.

The dramatic drop in greenhouse gases and air pollutants seen during the global lockdown will have little impact on our warming planet.  The past decade was the hottest ever recorded globally, with 2019 either the second or third warmest year on record.  This is the hottest Phoenix summer since 1895, when record keeping began, with an average maximum temperature of 107.9°F and the most days of 110°F or greater, 35.  Is Phoenix in 2050 going to be like Baghdad today, where temperatures reach 120°F for days in a row and door handles can blister your skin?  It is not just the land that is warming; so are the oceans.  Consequently, they are experiencing marine heat waves.  An article in Ensia discussed efforts to predict them to help fishermen adapt and others mitigate the impacts.  Research performed at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute found that heating and acidification of the world’s oceans could radically reorganize marine food webs, causing the numbers of some species to collapse while promoting the growth of algae.  Mumbai’s average annual rainfall is about 94 inches, but an astonishing 82.5 inches fell in the city between July 10 and August 7.

An article in Nature reported on research conducted in a tropical rainforest in Panama that heated intact soil almost 6°F and compared the CO2 emissions to soil that had not been heated.  The heated soils emitted 55% more CO2 than the unheated soils, an extremely large amount with serious implications to future global warming.  Peatlands store approximately 415 gigatons of carbon – as much as is stored in all the world’s forests and trees combined.  Almost half of this peatland carbon is present in permafrost, keeping it locked in the soil.  However, as permafrost melts, peatland carbon is released as CO2 and methane, which will increase warming.

Firefighters across three Western states are battling wildfires that have destroyed more than 90,000 acres.  The fire season in the Amazon rainforest has seen its worst start in a decade.  An international report released on Thursday said that President Bolsonaro could revive Brazil’s economic growth more quickly after COVID-19 by shifting to low-carbon policies that safeguard the Amazon rainforest.

Research, published in the journal Science, found that logged tropical forests in Malaysia that were actively restored through tree planting and selective plant removal increased their ability to absorb carbon 50% faster than logged forests that were left to regenerate naturally.

Energy

Portland General Electric, Oregon’s largest utility, is making many changes to lower its carbon emissions.  Greentech Media interviewed its CEO, Maria Pope, about those changes and what they are expected to accomplish.  Electricity consumption in the U.S. is expected to drop 3.4% in 2020 as a result of coronavirus lockdowns that caused businesses to close, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).  The EIA also said that U.S. coal power generation dropped by 30% in the first half of 2020.  Furthermore, 121 coal-fired power plants were repurposed between 2011 and 2019, most of them to natural gas.  The International Energy Agency has lowered its projected global oil demand estimate for 2020 to 91.9 million barrels per day (bpd), down 8.1 million bpd from last year’s levels.  The world’s largest listed oil companies have wiped almost $90 billion from the value of their oil and gas assets in the last nine months.

Wind turbines and solar panels produced a record 10% of the world’s electricity in the first half of 2020.  Enough unused roof space exists on commercial buildings in the U.S. to install 145 GW of new solar capacity — nearly double our current total solar capacity.  According to a report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, by the end of 2019 “there were more than 367 GW of solar plants in the nation’s queues,” of which 102 GW (around 28%) were hybrids, “most typically pairing PV with battery storage”.

There were just over 2,000 electric trucks on U.S. roads at the end of 2019. This stock is expected to grow to over 54,000 by 2025, according to a new analysis.  Through third-party testing, electric car startup Lucid Motors is claiming that the range of its Air model is 517 miles on a single charge.  Xcel Energy announced this week that 1.5 million of the company’s service vehicles — representing 20% of its total fleet — will transition to electric by 2030.

Whether or not the following project comes to fruition, the article is worth reading just because of the project’s audaciousness.  Owned by Sun Cable, the $16 billion project would generate 10 GW of electricity from solar panels covering 30,000 acres in the Australian outback and deliver it to Singapore via a 2,800 mile undersea cable.  And at the other end of the size spectrum, a recent paper in Nature Communications reported on the storage of electricity in bricks through forming nano-scale connections within them.

Australian National University researchers have broken the efficiency record for the direct production of hydrogen from water by solar cells without first producing electricity and using it for the electrolysis of water.  At The Conversation, two scientists cautioned that we shouldn’t rush into a hydrogen economy until we know all of the risks to the climate.

Potpourri

The Washington Post is making its U.S. climate data accessible to the public to promote a deeper understanding of the regional and local effects of climate change.  Ohio State’s Lonnie Thompson and Penn State’s Richard Alley are among scientists working to collect ice core samples from rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets.  Arctic scientist Konrad Steffen was killed on Saturday near the “Swiss Camp” in Greenland when an ice bridge collapsed and he fell into a water-filled crevasse.  At Yale Climate Connections, Daisy Simmons provided advice about how to talk with children about climate change.  Fabian Oefner, a Swiss artist living in Connecticut, has completed a fascinating project called “Timelines” in Switzerland, photographing the outlines of the Rhône and Trift glaciers over the past 140 years on the ground using drone technology.  The Sierra Club is endorsing Joe Biden for president.

Closing Thought

If lesson one of coronavirus is that things can change, and lesson two is that they can easily slip back again, then lesson three must be about the importance of presenting images of the future that motivate people to imagine change.

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