Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/5/2021

Politics and Policy

President Joe Biden has created the position of senior climate advisor at NASA to guide its administrator and other top government leaders on issues related to Earth’s climate.  SueEllen Campbell compiled several articles examining what can be done legislatively on climate in a closely divided Congress.  The Biden administration has started discussions with the utility and automobile sectors about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Automakers have abandoned their legal fight for a Trump-era rule blocking California from setting its own emissions standards.  The administration is asking the courts to pause litigation over that rule and one rolling back methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.  The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-4 on Wednesday to advance to the full Senate the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to be secretary of Energy.  Michael Regan, Biden’s choice to lead the EPA, told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing that he would “restore” science and transparency at the agency, focus on marginalized communities, and move “with a sense of urgency” to combat climate change.  Lawmakers want to block further drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by designating its coastal plain as wilderness.  Legislation was introduced that would require the president to declare a national emergency on climate change.  The new Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources met to establish a “baseline of global climate facts,” but the only facts they agreed on were that climate change is real and “largely” caused by humans.

This was the week for reports.  Achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the US by 2050 is not only feasible, but would build a more competitive economy, increase high-quality jobs, and help address social injustice in the energy system, says one from the National Academies.  In addition, a report from consulting firm Evolved Energy Research and others said that achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 could be “surprisingly feasible,” with costs running just 0.4% of the US GDP.  Evolved Energy Research also provided the modeling for a report on the impact on each state of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.  Evergreen Action and Data for Progress released a report outlining how Congress could set the US on a path to 100% clean electricity by 2035.  Continuing to ignore the value of the services provided by nature in our global economy threatens humanity itself, according to a report on biodiversity and economics, commissioned by the British government.

Republicans introduced bills in both chambers that would give permission for the Keystone XL pipeline to be constructed and operate across the U.S.-Canada border.  Republicans who object to Biden’s agenda for addressing climate change are focusing on John Kerry and Gina McCarthy.  However, Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, called on Republicans “to resist the urge to once again become obstructionists and, instead, continue to come to the table with our own perspective on tackling climate change.”  A federal judge ruled that US officials downplayed climate change impacts from the expansion of a massive coal mine near the Montana-Wyoming border, giving the government until October to do a new analysis.  The Biden administration is delaying a rule finalized during Trump’s last days in office that would have drastically weakened the government’s power to protect most wild birds.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said rich countries must step up with fresh financial commitments to help the developing world tackle the climate crisis while Fatih Birol, head of the IEA, said dependency on coal is preventing a global green recovery from taking off.  Nearly six out of 10 US voters said the Biden administration should work directly with China to address climate change.  China has reinstated Xie Zhenhua, one of its most respected climate experts and a broker of the Paris Agreement, as climate envoy.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is giving climate change a prominent role in her talks with her counterparts around the world.  France’s government must do more to combat climate change, a French court said on Wednesday.  One year after Australia’s devastating wildfires, anger is growing at climate change inaction.  However, senior ministers of Australia’s National Party — the junior partner in the ruling coalition — have poured cold water on adopting a concrete commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.  Climate Home News previewed the November COP26 meeting in Glasgow by focusing on the people setting the agenda on seven key issues.  

Climate and Climate Science

Flooding rains and record snow in California last week were the result of an atmospheric river originating over the Pacific Ocean.  They are part of California’s “whiplash” climate future, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with NCAR.  The start of California’s rainy season has been getting progressively later in recent decades, and now begins a month after it did just 60 years ago, shifting from November to December.  Climate change ravaged the west with heat and drought last year; many fear 2021 will be worse.  The number of heat-related deaths in Arizona soared to a new high last year as people endured the hottest summer on record.

The rise in sea level is likely to be faster and greater than previously thought, according to researchers who say recent predictions are inconsistent with historical data.  If global warming continues unabated, the surface of the Greenland ice sheet may start losing more mass than it gains every year by 2055, although if strong mitigation measures are taken to curb the rise of global temperatures, the ice sheet may not reach this threshold.

The global food system is the biggest driver of destruction of the natural world, and a shift to predominantly plant-based diets is crucial in halting the damage, according to a new report by thinktank Chatham House, financed by the UN Environment Program.

A surprising amount of the water from the planet’s melting mountain glaciers is building up behind unstable piles of rubble left behind by the retreating ice, posing a hazard for everything downstream.

Energy

Big oil companies lost billions in 2020 because of the pandemic.  According to Justin Guay, a finance community committed to net-zero carbon by 2050 is exposing itself to trillions of dollars in stranded oil and gas assets.  ExxonMobil shareholders are trying to force it to address climate change and the weaker oil market in more aggressive ways, but investors have not been impressed with the company’s actions so far.  The US oil industry wants to forge an alliance with the nation’s corn growers and biofuel producers to lobby against the Biden administration’s push for electric vehicles (EVs).  US crude oil production is expected to rebound to a new record in 2023, the EIA said in its annual energy outlook, although it also projected that US gasoline demand has already peaked.

Electrification of the US’s light vehicle fleet by 2030, along with replacement of coal-fired power plants by renewables and gas turbines, could decrease our total primary energy usage by 13%.  At RMI, Britta Gross argued that for the US to reap the benefits of transportation electrification, the Biden administration must communicate a bold vision of what transport will look like in 2030.  The transition to EVs will have sweeping implications for the companies that produce and sell electricity and manage the grid; Brad Plumer discussed four things that need to happen.  The TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will add about 50 new EV fast charging stations, located every 50 miles along the state’s interstates and major highways, each with up to four chargers.  Ford said it was “doubling down” on EVs and will invest $22 billion in electrification through 2025, nearly twice what it had previously committed.

Central government inspectors have slammed China’s energy authority for failing to apply environmental standards on coal power expansion across the country.  China put 38.4 GW of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, more than three times the amount built elsewhere around the world.  However, they are expected to add about 140 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity this year, representing around 47.3% of their energy mix.

A new report from Morgan Stanley projects that coal-fired power generation is likely to disappear from the US power grid by 2033, replaced by renewable energy resources.  Speaking last week with analysts, Jim Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy, said “There is not a regulated coal plant in this country that is economic today, full period and stop.”  Last week, NRG Energy, which owns the Petra Nova carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in Texas, announced that it would be shut down indefinitely, leaving the US with no operating CCS projects.

The owner and operator of the Empire State Building and 13 other buildings, announced Wednesday a major purchase of wind power, making it the nation’s biggest real estate user of entirely renewable energy.  The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it would resume an environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project, stopped by the Trump administration.  Utilities and developers are repowering wind turbines with bigger, better blades years ahead of the end of their original life expectancies as they take advantage of technology improvements and expiring federal tax credits.  Opponents of the Rocky Forge Wind farm in Virginia filed a lawsuit alleging that the Department of Environmental Quality and Apex Clean Energy cut corners in the permitting process.  IdentiFlight’s smart cameras, which spot birds of prey and then halt wind turbines to protect them, can result in a large reduction of bird deaths.

Green hydrogen is set to play a substantive role in the overall energy mix, with its development likely to happen faster than anyone predicts, according to Wood Mackenzie.  A team at the Fraunhofer Institute in Dresden, Germany, has developed a new strategy for storing and transporting hydrogen fuel — a magnesium hydride-based paste.  To meet the goal of zero carbon emissions, industries such as steel production must wean themselves from coal; Maria Gallucci reviewed current efforts at Grist.  Also at Grist, Emily Pontecorvo wrote about the “Mission Possible Partnership,” which is bringing together members of seven carbon-intensive industries to collaborate on how to reduce carbon emissions.

Potpourri

At Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell interviewed Elizabeth Kolbert about her new book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.  Genevieve Guenther, the founder of End Climate Silence, has said “… part of the reason that oil and gas propaganda is so effective is that there is always a grain of truth to it.”  She was interviewed on Vox.  Michael Patrick F. Smith, a Kentucky folk singer and playwright, reflected on what his time working on oil rigs in North Dakota taught him about America’s fossil fuel addiction — and how to curb it.  In The Atlantic, science writer Peter Brannen took us on a trip into deep time that warns of possible catastrophic surprises ahead.  David Owen published a long, but totally absorbing, article in The New Yorker about a young woman who is using geographic information systems to help the Catholic Church use its land to better the environment.  The Donors of Color Network launched a new initiative, challenging the nation’s climate philanthropists to shift 30% of their donations toward environmental efforts led by Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other people of color.

Closing Thought

Environmentalists are so good at emphasizing worst-case scenarios that when we look to the future, apocalypse often feels inevitable.  Nevertheless, Emma Marris argues that hope for the future is a reasonable and necessary prerequisite for action.

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 1/29/2021

Politics and Policy

Prioritizing environmental justice, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday establishing a White House interagency council on environmental justice, created an office of health and climate equity at the Health and Human Services Department, and formed a separate environmental justice office at the Justice Department.  Other actions were also taken, causing immediate pushback from the fossil fuel industry and its allies in Congress.  Among those actions was a commitment to an ambitious conservation goal and a redetermination of the social cost of carbon.  Greentech Media noted that Wednesday’s orders centered on directing federal agencies to shift existing spending because passing new legislation will be difficult.  Biden also said climate change should be regarded as “an essential element of US foreign policy,” while Defense Secretary Llyod Austin announced that climate change “is a national security issue, and we must treat it as such.”

Greentech Media staff writer Julian Spector considered how budget reconciliation could be used to pass a bill requiring electric utilities to produce 100% clean energy by 2035.  A FEMA proposal could free up funds to support infrastructure such as seawalls and relocating homes prone to flooding.  At her Senate confirmation hearing, Biden’s nominee for energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, defended the administration’s push for a clean energy transition.  Meanwhile, opposition against Biden’s Interior Department nominee, Deb Haaland, became more vocal.  A new report from Americans for a Clean Energy Grid called on FERC to launch a new rulemaking effort aimed at boosting an interregional electric transmission buildout, a goal shared by both former and current FERC chairs.  However, S&P Global pointed out that opponents to infrastructure projects for renewables may be able to deploy some of the same legal tactics that upended the pipeline sector.

The Federal Reserve announced the creation of a new committee to deepen the central bank’s understanding of the risks that climate change poses to the financial system.  Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, but it included a key phrase, “as consistent with applicable law.”  Grist unpacked this phrase and its implications for what can be done.  Twitter accounts run by machines are a major source of climate change disinformation that might drain support from policies to address rising temperatures.

The UN Development Program questioned 1.2 million people in 50 countries about climate change and found that two-thirds think it is a “global emergency”.  Climate envoy John Kerry made it clear that the US wasn’t just increasing its own efforts to reduce oil, gas, and coal pollution, but that we intend to push everyone in the world to do more, too.  World leaders met at a virtual summit to discuss the need for rich nations to spend more on helping developing countries adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis.  Global supply chains, remittances, and migration mean global warming risks in one place can hit others — but improving efforts to adapt can bring shared benefits, researchers say.  The leaders of two UK environmental charities have written to Mark Carney, the UN climate envoy, to raise concerns over a blueprint for carbon offsetting that could result in billions of new carbon credits being sold around the world.  Australia will effectively be abandoning the Paris Climate Agreement unless it makes at least a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reaches net zero well before 2050, according to an analysis by policymakers and scientists.

Climate and Climate Science

In a commentary in the journal Nature, climate scientist Richard Betts argued that because scientists have developed techniques to attribute disasters to human-caused climate change, they should be applied routinely to help governments act on their responsibilities and improve resilience to extreme weather.  A new study in the journal Nature Sustainability incorporated the damages that climate change does to healthy ecosystems into standard climate-economics models, leading to the conclusion that the standard models have been underestimating the cost of climate damages to society by a factor of more than five.

Emphasizing that the point of recognizing existential threats is to avoid them, ecologist and MacArthur Fellow Carl Safina discussed the stark “perspective” article by 17 of the world’s leading ecologists in last week’s issue of Frontiers in Conservation ScienceThe New York Times published an interesting infographic that showed the vulnerabilities of countries all over the world to climate disasters.  Nearly a half-million people, mostly from the world’s poorest countries, died over the past two decades from conditions associated with climate disasters, according to this year’s “Global Climate Risk Index” report.  In 2020, Earth was besieged by a record 50 weather disasters costing a billion dollars or more, the most such disasters ever recorded, said insurance broker Aon in its annual report issued Monday.

Earth is hotter now than it has been for at least 12,000 years, a period spanning the entire development of human civilization, according to research published in the journal Nature.

The melting of ice across the planet is accelerating and is now in line with the worst-case scenarios of the IPCC, according to a paper published in the journal The Cryosphere.  Furthermore, NASA-led research showed that the undercutting of glaciers by relatively mild ocean waters explains why so many of Greenland’s glaciers have sped-up their movement into the ocean.  Scientists have determined that the blooms of algae on the surface of the ice in Greenland are triggered by wind-blown dust containing phosphorus, a limiting nutrient for the microbes.  Last week, for the first time, three liquified natural gas tankers travelled the Northern Sea Route to Asia without icebreaker escorts.  The decline of sea ice in the Bering Sea is changing almost everything about the region.  Peter Sinclair’s latest “This is not Cool” video is about the ice jams at the entrance to Nares Strait between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, through which the Arctic’s oldest and thickest sea ice flows to the Baffin Bay, the Labrador Sea, and then the Atlantic Ocean. 

An area the size of Israel was deforested in the Amazon biome last year as destruction surged 21% in the region, suggesting that without a reduction in deforestation, the Amazon rainforest will reach a tipping point in 10 to 20 years, after which it will enter a sustained death spiral as it dries out and turns into a savanna.

Energy

Biden signed an executive order to “Buy American”, which he says will include replacing hundreds of thousands of vehicles in the federal government fleet, including the Postal Service, with US-made electric vehicles  (EVs), raising the question of how he will achieve it.  General Motors announced Thursday that it will end the sale of all gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger cars and light sports utility vehicles by 2035.  Nissan Motor Co said all its “new vehicle offerings” in key markets would be electrified by the early 2030s, as part of its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.  Toyota Motor Corp. is increasing the manufacturing of parts for hydrogen fuel call vehicles, following the December unveiling of its second generation Mirai, a hydrogen-powered sedan.  National Geographic examined the question of whether all of this means that EVs’ moment has arrived.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink called on all companies “to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy.”  Over 400 companies across some of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitting industries — from shipping to steelmaking — have agreed to work together on plans to decarbonize by 2050, according to a coalition of climate advocacy groups that set up the partnership.

Rating agency S&P has warned 13 oil and gas companies, including some of the world’s biggest, that it may downgrade them within weeks because of increasing competition from renewable energy.  BP’s oil exploration team has been cut to less than 100 from a peak of more than 700 a few years ago, part of a climate change-driven overhaul triggered last year by CEO Bernard Looney.

According to a new report, EU countries generated more electricity from renewables than from coal and gas for the first time ever in 2020, but the pace of deployment through the 2020s will need to more than double that of the 2010s if the EU is going to hit its target of a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030.  A new report from the Sierra Club found that almost no U.S. utilities, including Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power, are on track to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2030 compared to a 2005 baseline; rather, most utilities’ plans put them on a path to much more modest carbon reductions.  Not surprisingly, the utility sector defended its approach to the decarbonization process.

RMI’s newest report, Seeds of Opportunity, addresses the question of what the growth of the renewable energy industry means for rural America.  Maine Governor Janet Mills (D) called on the state legislature to implement a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind projects in state-managed waters, citing a need to keep the fishing industry engaged in ongoing talks about such development.

Potpourri

In “The Shortlist” at The New York Times, Tatiana Schlossberg presented three books that offer new ways to think about environmental disaster.  At Literary Hub, Amy Brady recommended five inspiring books for 2021.  Maxine Joselow interviewed climate scientist Michael Mann about his new book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.  Jeff Masters reviewed it at Yale Climate Connections.  The 36-year-old Canadian musician Tamara Lindeman’s piercing new album, “Ignorance,” explores the emotional impacts of climate change.  Climate scientists are dealing with a strange new feeling now that Biden is president: optimism.  Kate Yoder argued at Grist that the way we talk about science makes it a polarizing topic.  Salla, Finland, has released a video promoting its bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics!  Enjoy.

Closing Thought

For our “Closing Thought” this week, watch and listen to Amanda Gorman’s December 2018 recitation of her poem “Earthrise.”

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 1/22/2021

Politics and Policy

During his first moments in the Oval Office on Wednesday, President Joe Biden returned the US to the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) and ordered federal agencies to review scores of climate and environmental policies enacted during the Trump years and, if possible, quickly reverse them.  (An article without a paywall is here.)  He also revoked the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, prompting indigenous leaders to call for him to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The new administration also reestablished an interagency working group and ordered it to update the social cost of carbon within 30 days.  Inside Climate News presented a compilation of the major actions on Day One, but legal experts warned that it could take two to three years to put many of the old rules back in place.  In addition, Biden is expected to announce a second round of executive orders focused on combating climate change next Wednesday and to convene an international climate summit in April to help accelerate emissions cuts.  The Washington Post has started tracking the Biden administration’s unwinding of Trump’s climate change “legacy.”  For example, Biden elevated Richard Glick, a Democrat, to chair of FERC.

On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule, paving the way for the enactment of new and stronger restrictions on power plants.  In a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen said she planned to start a new Treasury “hub” that would examine financial system risks arising from climate change.  The new administration will likely use the Congressional Review Act to reverse some of the Trump administrations rules, but they must jump through several hoops to do so.  President Biden wants to use an infrastructure bill to simultaneously boost the economy and act on climate, but there will be obstacles to such an effort.  The Interior Department took swift action to block oil and gas drilling on public lands, freezing such leases for the next 60 days.

By interviewing more than 20 officials and advocates around the globe, Politico sought to determine what the world wants from John Kerry on climate.  Meanwhile, Kerry vowed during an appearance at an Italian climate conference that the Biden administration would make up for the past four years of climate inaction.  Environmental advocates want the Biden administration to use US trade agreements to fight climate change by conditioning future agreements on partners’ ability to meet their targets under the PCA.  Coal mining will continue to generate wealth for Australians for decades to come, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared in a statement fending off calls to phase out fossil fuels and toughen action on climate change.  However, pressure from the US and Australian states could cause him to change his tune.  China’s coal output rose last year to its highest since 2015, despite Beijing’s climate change pledge to reduce coal’s consumption.  The president of the European Investment Bank announced that the bank intends to end all funding for fossil fuels before the end of the year.  Along with promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, under the PCA world leaders also agreed to prepare for the unavoidable and mounting impacts of climate change, but adaptation efforts are lagging.

On its final full day in office, among other things, the Trump administration finalized lease sales to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  The US Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday on whether a lawsuit brought by the city of Baltimore against oil and gas companies belongs in state courts, where the plaintiffs want it, or the federal courts, where the oil companies want it.  Amy Coney Barrett was among the justices who heard the arguments, despite her father’s longstanding ties to Shell Oil Company, one of the defendants in the case.  In a change of position, the US Chamber of Commerce said Congress should pass laws pushing companies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, declaring “We believe that durable climate policy must be made by Congress.”  They also endorsed a market-based approach.  The clean energy sector in the US lost 429,000 jobs last year due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 and 70% have yet to be recovered.

Climate and Climate Science

A paper in Communications Earth and Environment presented an integrated approach to accounting for uncertainties in estimating the remaining carbon budget associated with a given temperature rise.  For a 1.5°C rise above preindustrial temperatures they estimated the remaining budget to be 230 Gt CO2 for a 66% chance of staying below a 1.5°C rise and 440 Gt CO2 for a 33% chance.  An attribution study published in Nature Climate Change found that greenhouse gas emissions released by humans accounted for the vast majority of global temperature rise observed from pre-industrial times to today, while natural factors had a “negligible” effect.  Methane leaking out of the more than 4 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the US and Canada is a far greater contributor to climate change than government estimates suggest, according to a new paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The World Economic Forum published a surprisingly frank essay by Peter Giger, Group Chief Risk Officer of the Zurich Insurance Group, in which he said humans were playing a game of Jenga with Earth’s climate system.  Because of the importance of modeling in charting a course through the climate crisis, a team of climatologists, oceanographers, and computer scientists on the East and West US coasts has launched a bold effort to develop a new generation of climate models.  For those who like to keep up with how well current models are doing in projecting Earth’s temperature in response to increased greenhouse gas concentrations, RealClimate has updated its model-observation comparison page with an additional annual observational point for 2020.

Heat-related illnesses are soaring in Arizona and Florida as the planet warms and poor communities are bearing the brunt of the impact.  A paper in Nature Climate Change found that climate change will dramatically shift the globe’s tropical rain belt, threatening the food security of billions of people.

Research, published in Nature, found that lake heatwaves could become between three and 12 times longer by the end of this century – and between 0.3°C and 1.7°C hotter.  Of the 14 species of salmon and steelhead trout in Washington State that are endangered, ten are lagging recovery goals and five of those are considered “in crisis.”

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that beneath the surface layer of waters circling Antarctica, the seas are warming much more rapidly than previously known, and this relatively warm water is rising toward the surface at a rate three to 10 times previous estimates, endangering the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Energy

In a 9% increase over 2019, the world spent a record $501.3 billion in 2020 on renewable power, electric vehicles (EVs), and other technologies to cut the global energy system’s dependence on fossil fuels.  Global sales of EVs accelerated in 2020, rising by 43% to more than 3 million.  Unfortunately, the reduction in CO2 emissions associated with those EVs was more than cancelled out by the increased sales of SUVs.  A team at MIT calculated both the CO2 emissions and full lifetime cost for nearly every new car model on the market.  They found that EVs were easily more climate friendly than gas-burning ones and were often cheaper, too.  Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been manufactured on a production line in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step toward EVs becoming as fast to charge as filling up gasoline or diesel vehicles.

A venture part-owned by Toyota Motor Corp. and Air Liquide SA, plans to persuade 10,000 Paris taxi drivers to switch to hydrogen fuel cell powered cars by the time the Olympic Games come to town in 2024.  The MIT Startup Exchange showcased five startups developing emerging hydrogen production technologies.  According to a new report by Deloitte, hydrogen will be the key energy source for heavy-duty and long-route medium-duty freight vehicles in Europe, but battery electrification will be the most economic and environmental solution for smaller delivery vehicles.  South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group has announced its intentions to build its first overseas fuel cell factory in China.  The green hydrogen production division of Thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers will install an 88 MW water electrolysis plant for Hydro-Québec.

A growing number of corporations are pouring money into direct air capture of CO2 to offset emissions they can’t otherwise cut.  Elon Musk has promised a $100 million prize for development of the “best” technology to capture CO2 emissions.

China added 71.67 GW of wind power capacity in 2020, along with 48.2 GW of solar power.  Unfortunately, it also added 56.37 GW of new thermal power capacity.  Meanwhile, Germany increased its offshore wind capacity in the North Sea.  Data from the US Energy Information Agency revealed that natural gas will supply just 16% of new power capacity this year in the US as cheap wind and solar power take over the market.

Energy company Total and solar-plus-storage developer 174 Power Global have formed a joint venture to develop utility-scale solar and storage projects in Texas, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, and Virginia with a total capacity of 1.6 GW.  Hawaiian Electric won regulatory approval for a $25 million plan to harness solar and batteries at 6,000 homes across the islands of Hawaii, Maui, and Oahu to form a virtual power plant.  The lion’s share of new funding announced this week by the DOE’s ARPA-E program to help scale-up potentially disruptive technologies will go to battery and smart grid technologies.

Potpourri

Michael Svoboda provided descriptions of twelve new books that explore scientific, economic, and political avenues for climate action.  The Biden administration has the largest team of climate change experts ever assembled in the White House, but there will be pressure from multiple directions by members of the coalition that got Biden elected.  In his regular weekly newsletter at The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer laid out a primer for watching the Biden administration’s first 100 days, while in his weekly New Yorker column, Bill McKibben argued that humans need to stop burning thingsThe Washington Post had a feature article on Friday about regenerative agriculture and the controversy around its ability to sequester carbon in the long term.  Grist examined the latest research on how to lessen public opposition to the placement of wind farms.  Ivy Main summarized all the climate- and energy-related bills that have been filed in the Virginia General Assembly.  At FERC’s meeting on Tuesday, a request from the developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to bore under streams in West Virginia failed to get a majority vote, causing the matter to die.

Closing Thought

In response to Biden’s inauguration, Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute wrote: “…our nation can now return to the international community where major countries are shifting into high gear on the clean energy transition.”

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 1/15/2021

I’m sorry, but this Roundup is incomplete.  Just as I was in the final stages of working on the document, I did something that caused me to lose the previous two hours of work and I was unable to recover the document, even though I am a compulsive “saver”.  As a result, there are no articles from early in the week.

Politics and Policy

President-Elect Joe Biden added more than a half-dozen climate staffers to his White House team on Thursday, drawing from the ranks of green groups, environmental justice advocates, and former Democratic administration officials.  Dino Grandoni provided background on several of them.  At The Conversation, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr., now Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, provided a comprehensive analysis of how Biden proposes to attack the climate crisis.  At Inside Climate News, reporter Marianne Lavelle wrote of the opportunities provided on climate legislation by the 50-50 split in the Senate.  One outcome of that split will be the elevation of the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to the chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a reality that will influence what can be accomplished on the climate.

Two controversial Trump officials, David Legates and Ryan Maue, have been dismissed from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) after they published papers that claimed to be from the OSTP and promoted skepticism about climate change and its impacts.  On Wednesday the EPA unveiled a climate rule that will effectively prohibit the future regulation of greenhouse gases from any stationary source other than power plants.  The Trump administration agreed on Tuesday to an auto industry request to delay the start of dramatically higher penalties for companies that fail to meet fuel efficiency requirements.  In a speech on Wednesday, the head of the American Petroleum Institute said that the oil and gas industry was prepared to fight back against policies that Biden promised as a candidate, including a halt to new drilling on public lands and the elimination of billions of dollars in industry tax breaks.

A coalition of progressive groups, called the Green New Deal Network, is organizing a sweeping network to mobilize around climate change, racial justice, and environmental justice; it will invest in partner organizations in 20 key states to mobilize grassroots power to pressure elected officials to support the groups’ goals.  Because of the mob attack on the Capitol Building last week, climate activists are reflecting on what climate advocacy will look like in the future.  The organization that oversees building energy code updates is taking steps that would sideline thousands of public sector members from voting on future updates, a move that critics charge would give outsized influence to the National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups and make it more difficult to incorporate stricter efficiency requirements into future model energy codes.  A study by MIT researchers concluded that the US can fully decarbonize its power sector through the use of existing technologies and that tackling decarbonization through a federal policy framework, rather than individual states setting clean energy goals, can significantly lower the costs.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the largest-ever award of offshore wind contracts by a US state on Wednesday as part of a broader plan to scale up renewable power over the next decade.

China will promote large-scale carbon capture projects and track methane emissions from coal, oil, and gas extraction, as part of its contribution to global efforts to limit temperature rises, the environment ministry said on Wednesday.  Poland’s PGG, one of Europe’s biggest producers of coal, does not expect to accelerate its timetable for closing its coal mines by 2049, despite tougher EU climate targets agreed to in December, the state-owned company’s boss said on Wednesday.  The UN Environment Program’s fifth Adaptation Gap Report warned that while the vast majority of nations have bolstered their plans for adapting to the effects of global warming, there remains a vast funding gap for developing countries.  In updated climate plans submitted to the UN, poor and island states, whose total CO2 emissions are negligible, have called on rich nations to provide more funding to help them recover from climate-related disasters such as storms, flooding, and drought.

Climate and Climate Science

According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service in Europe, 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record.  A notable difference between the years is that 2016 experienced a strong El Niño, whereas the second half of 2020 experienced La Niña conditions.  NASA agreed, while NOAA, Berkeley Earth, and Britain’s Met Office said 2020 fell shy by a mere 0.02-0.04°F.  Jeff Masters compiled lists of various records for the year, while Zeke Hausfather provided a comprehensive look at a broad array of climate data.  Research published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences found that the world’s oceans contain more heat than at any time in recorded history.

Increased precipitation resulting partially from climate change has caused an additional $2.5 billion a year in US flood damage, according to a new study that pinpoints the effect of changing weather on the cost of natural disasters.  A new study published in Science Advances found that if temperatures continue to rise, terrestrial ecosystems will approach a “temperature tipping point”, beyond which they could release more CO2 to the atmosphere than they take up.

US greenhouse gas emissions fell 10.3% in 2020, the largest drop in emissions in the post-World War II era, as the coronavirus crippled the economy, according to a report released Tuesday by the Rhodium Group.

In a “Perspective” article in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science, 17 scientists warned that people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises.  The Colorado River Basin is transitioning to a more arid climate, challenging longstanding practices of water sharing in it.  A study by WWF examined 24 “deforestation fronts” across 29 countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa and found that 166,000 square miles of forest and habitat were destroyed between 2004 and 2017.

A study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that the young of egg-laying sharks emerge into the world small, exhausted, and undernourished when incubated at elevated ocean temperatures.  Research, published in Environmental Research Letters, suggested that the negative impacts of climate change on child malnourishment could outweigh the positive effects of economic development in low- and middle-income countries.

Energy

A new report from Grid Strategies pointed out that because of FERC Order 2003, attempts to decarbonize the US electricity system may be stymied by a lack of transmission to carry wind and solar power from where it’s most cheaply generated to where it’s most needed.  Connecticut energy officials have concluded that eliminating CO2 emissions from their electricity supply by 2040 is feasible and affordable, but will require changes by grid operator ISO New England.

The US Energy Information Administration has projected that wind and solar will provide 70% of new power plant capacity built this year, while natural gas will only account for 16%.  On Wednesday, the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service and the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy launched an online information dashboard to help track Virginia’s progress toward its clean energy goals.

United Airlines will become a partner in 1PointFive, a joint venture designed to finance and deploy a large-scale direct air capture plant using technology created by Carbon Engineering.  At Energy Monitor, Sonja van Renssen examined the proposition that CO2 removal will be necessary to meet temperature goals and reviewed the role of direct air capture in doing so.  Meanwhile, at Bloomberg Green, Kate Mackenzie argued that too many companies are counting on carbon capture to reach net zero emissions.

The South Korean company SK Group has announced a $1.5 billion investment in the American hydrogen fuel cell maker, Plug Power, with the intent of providing hydrogen fuel cell systems, electrolyzers, and fueling stations in South Korea, as well as other parts of Asia.  Siemens Gamesa and Siemens Energy are developing a commercial offshore wind turbine that integrates hydrogen production via electrolysis into the turbine, marking a breakthrough for the mass production of green hydrogen.

General Motors is launching a new subsidiary, BrightDrop, that will deliver “an ecosystem” of products and services to speed up the shipping and delivery process, including an all-electric delivery van, for which Fed-Ex has placed a large order.

Potpourri

Carbon Brief provided its annual assessment of the scientific papers related to climate change that were most featured in the media.  Book reviewer Amy Brady called Felicia Luna Lemus’s Particulate Matter “…a slim, exquisitely crafted memoir about living in California during 2020’s record-setting wildfire season and how the state’s atrocious air quality made her spouse very sick.”  Ben Deacon of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had a very interesting photo-essay about the Arctic, the changes that are occurring there as a result of Earth’s warming, and the people studying them.  National Geographic explored things that might be done to reduce the impacts of flying on the climate.  If you live in Virginia and have been frustrated in your attempts to buy an EV or plug-in hybrid, then you might want to read this article

Closing Thought

Katharine Hayhoe, along with five fellow climate scientists who are also mothers, has teamed up with Potential Energy, a nonprofit marketing firm, to launch Science Moms, a $10 million campaign to educate and empower mothers to do something about climate change.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 12/18/2020

This is the last Roundup of 2020.  The next one will cover the news during the week ending January 8, 2021 (or maybe the 15th if I decide to take another week off).

Politics and Policy

President-elect Joe Biden picked his leadership team to begin the U.S.’s transition to a low carbon economy.  He selected Gina McCarthy, who ran the EPA under President Barack Obama and now leads the Natural Resources Defense Council, to head the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.  The task facing McCarthy and her foreign affairs counterpart, John Kerry, will be immense.  He also will be nominating former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has been a strong voice for zero-emissions vehicles, as secretary of energy, and Brenda Mallory to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  Pete Buttigieg will be secretary of transportation, a position important to reducing transportation’s large carbon footprint, and Michael S. Regan, head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, will be the next EPA administrator.  Biden will nominate Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to serve as his Interior Secretary, becoming the first Native American Cabinet secretary.  Eliminating CO2 emissions by 2050 will require a massive effort, as outlined in major reports from Princeton University and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The U.S. Federal Reserve joined an international group of central banks focused on climate change risk, a signal the Fed could move to incorporate the impacts of global warming into its regulatory actions.  A bipartisan package of programs to boost funding for renewable energy, energy storage, electric vehicles, carbon capture, and other low-carbon and electric technologies is being considered for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill Congress is set to vote on by Friday.  Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) captured a prized seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, beating out fellow New Yorker, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), 46-13.

Progressive organizations outlined 25 executive actions the president-elect “must take” to tackle fossil fuels.  The Center for American Progress put out a blueprint for protecting climate researchers and restoring scientific integrity in the federal government.  Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled a new climate-change package that includes a renewed push for a clean fuels standard and capping some greenhouse-gas emissions.  Virginia utility regulators are about to release their final version of a program allowing Dominion Energy customers to buy solar power via subscription from a community solar facility owned by a third-party.  The Southeast’s biggest utilities have filed plans for a Southeast Energy Exchange Market, which could better integrate the region’s growing share of clean power in years to come.  Avangrid Renewables submitted a plan to BOEM for the first 800 MW phase of its Kitty Hawk offshore wind project, the first move in a plan to build 2.5 GW of wind power off the Virginia and North Carolina coasts.  An MIT study found that expanding transmission lines and implementing a national process for coordinating regional grids, could cut the cost of obtaining carbon-free power by 46% compared with a state-by-state decarbonization process.

In a speech at last weekend’s Climate Ambition Summit, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced a new set of updated national climate targets for 2030.  In a white paper on energy policy, the British government said it will establish a domestic emissions trading scheme beginning Jan. 1 to replace the current EU regime, which it is leaving.  Canadian P.M. Justin Trudeau released the government’s strategy to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; its centerpiece is a gradual hike in the federal carbon tax on fuels to $170 a metric ton, increasing the cost of gasoline by $1.11 per gallon.  The European Commission has proposed new rules that batteries placed on the EU market should be “sustainable, high-performing and safe all along their entire life cycle.”

Climate and Climate Science

Scientists affiliated with the UK Met Office presented an updated version of the Hadley Centre global temperature data set, bringing it in line with data sets from NASA and NOAA.  At Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather explained the major changes.  As of the end of November, 2020 is the second-warmest year on the books, a mere 0.02°F behind 2016 at the same point, according to new data released by NOAA.

The Atlantic hurricane season may be over with, but things are still happening in the Pacific where Tonga and Fiji were bracing for potentially catastrophic damage as tropical cyclones Zazu and Yasa intensified off their respective coastlines on Wednesday.  Yasa made landfall Thursday evening.  The frequency of natural disasters in Bangladesh is making life in rural areas increasingly difficult, pushing inhabitants into city slums.

Two articles this week pointed out unexpected consequences of sea level rise.  One reported on the fragmentation of salt marshes because of the expanded burrowing of purple marsh crabs.  The other concerned rising groundwater levels in coastal areas, which can come into contact with subsurface contaminants from long ago, mobilizing them and moving them upward where humans and other life can come into contact with them.  Another discussed saltwater intrusion, which is impacting farmland along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where salt is arriving from underground.

A new report prepared for the Environmental Defense Fund by RTI International says global warming, rising sea levels, and other effects of climate change will bring billions of dollars in short-term costs to North Carolina’s economy and public health in the years ahead.  A new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health measured states’ vulnerability to public health impacts from climate change and their levels of readiness for such impacts; six of the ten most vulnerable states were in the southeast.

A record-breaking wildfire season in the western U.S. cost insurers a staggering $7 billion to $13 billion in 2020, an illustration of the growing price tag on natural disasters linked to climate change.  On a global scale, natural disasters caused $76 billion in insured losses during 2020.

Energy

Global demand for coal is set to jump 2.6% next year after a record pandemic-led drop this year, as recovering economic activity will increase use for electricity and industrial output.  The new conservative provincial government of Alberta, Canada, has pulled out all stops to increase coal production for export, which could industrialize as much as 400 sq miles of forests, waterways, and grasslands.  Lloyd’s, the world’s biggest insurance market, has set a market-wide policy to stop new insurance coverage for coal, oil sands, and Arctic energy projects by January 2022, and to pull out altogether by 2030.

Ten years ago, a lithium-ion battery pack used in an electric vehicle (EV) cost around $1,110 per kW·hr.  By this year the cost had fallen 89%, to $137 per kW·hr, and by 2023, it is likely to have fallen far enough that car companies can make and sell mass-market EVs at the same cost as conventional cars.  The number of EV models is expected to more than triple in the next three years, from roughly 40 to 127 in the U.S., as battery prices fall, charging infrastructure spreads, and adoption rises.  Mercedes-Benz will begin production of six all-electric models by the end of 2022; two will be assembled at its plant in Tuscaloosa, AL.  Toyota has said that it will have a prototype with a solid-state battery ready by next year.

Utility interest in hydrogen is “beyond staggering” and may soon begin showing up in long-term integrated resource plans, according to GE Gas Power Emergent Technologies Director Jeffrey Goldmeer.  Canada unveiled its hydrogen strategy on Wednesday, calling on investors to spur growth in a clean fuel sector that could help the country achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.  Clean Technica had an article entitled “Is Hydrogen the Best Option to Replace Natural Gas in the Home? Looking at the Numbers.”  A team at the Clean Energy Group cautioned that combustion of hydrogen (rather than its use in fuel cells) can lead to significant production of nitrogen oxides, which are air pollutants.  Southern California Gas Company will test a technology that allows hydrogen to be transported with natural gas via the natural gas pipeline system, then extracted and compressed at fueling stations to provide hydrogen for fuel cell EVs.

ExxonMobil announced a new “emission reduction plan” on Monday and The Hill examined it relative to other oil and gas companies and the expectations of their critics.  A report released by non-profit thinktank Carbon Tracker found that 27 of the 30 largest listed oil and gas companies still financially reward executives for producing more fossil fuels, despite the companies’ climate goals.

Driven by technological advances, renewable energy facilities are being built with storage systems that can hold enough energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes, thereby addressing a key challenge for green energy — the intermittency of wind and solar.  Since the vanadium flow-battery firms RedT Energy (UK) and Avalon (U.S.) merged in March 2020 to form Invinity, the cost of their batteries has dropped 30% and sales have increased.

Potpourri

New York Times (NYT) reporter John Branch reflected on what it was like reporting on the fires in California that burned a million Joshua trees and charred countless giant sequoias and redwoods.  David Roberts, has left Vox on a full-time basis and started a blog.  If you want to follow him you can read his first entry and subscribe.  In case you haven’t yet had enough of 2020, the NYT brought together some of the best reporting from its Climate Desk and the Washington Post presented the top five climate stories of the year.  Brianna Baker of Grist presented her favorite climate podcasts.

Closing Thought

Climate scientist Tim Lenton explained the shifts in behavior and technology that could soon spur large-scale climate action, suggesting that not all tipping points are bad — and some good ones may be just on the horizon.

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 12/11/2020

Politics and Policy

Planting a trillion trees is an idea that several GOP lawmakers have rallied behind.  The Trump administration finalized new cost-benefit requirements, which instruct the EPA to weigh all the economic costs of curbing an air pollutant but disregard many of the incidental benefits that arise, such as illnesses and deaths avoided by a potential regulation.  Nearly four dozen House Republicans warned Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell against proceeding with climate risk regulations for the financial system.  Nevertheless, Republican climate champion Bob Inglis made the case that there are Republican Representatives and Senators with whom President-Elect Joe Biden can work.

John Kerry wants to strengthen the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) when he becomes the nation’s climate czar in January.  At the Washington Post, Paul Bledsoe presented five myths about the PCA while at Science, Warren Cornwall sought to determine if it is working.  Many countries will miss a deadline to submit updated climate action plans by 2020 as mandated by the PCA.  Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, and South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa did not meet the ambition benchmark to present their climate plans at a virtual summit on Saturday marking the fifth anniversary of the PCA.  In a video released prior to the meeting, Greta Thunberg said: “We are still speeding in the wrong direction.”  On Friday, EU leaders reached a deal on a more ambitious target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, going from a 40% cut to a 55% cut from 1990 levels.  Brazil has announced it will aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, sparking anger among campaigners who say the pledge is meaningless and a deliberate distraction from Bolsonaro’s destruction of the Amazon rainforest.  Recognizing that by the time net-zero emissions is achieved the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will be too high for a sustainable climate, groups are now beginning to focus on climate restoration.

Tom Vilsack, who ran the Agriculture Department under President Barack Obama, will return to that role during the Biden administration with the goal of having the department take on a bigger role in fighting climate change.  New York State’s pension fund will drop many of its fossil fuel stocks in the next five years and sell its shares in other companies that contribute to global warming by 2040.  Since the start of 2016, banks have extended more than $1.6 trillion of loans and underwriting services to fossil-fuel companies planning and developing oil, gas, and coal projects.  Thousands of rural Californians have lost homeowners’ insurance in recent years because of rising wildfire claims, forcing them to seek alternative coverage that’s two or three times more expensive; now their rates are about to go even higher.

The Senate is continuing to struggle through negotiations on the American Energy Innovation Act, but still hopes to pass it this year.  Many U.S. states are on track to miss their targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  Jan Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both of whom need to win the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections for the Democrats to control the Senate, have platforms to address climate change.  The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-invest effort aimed at reducing car and truck emissions, has support from some 70% of voters in member states, which include Virginia.  Virginia’s Clean Economy Act will only equate to a 26% reduction in economywide CO2 emissions by 2050, leaving the state far from the cuts required to stave off the worst effects of climate change.  Fortunately, a more ambitious policy package that implements climate policies across the transportation, buildings, industrial, land, and agricultural sectors could put Virginia on a 1.5°C pathway and generate massive economic benefits.  Here is an article especially for the members of the Board of Supervisors and residents of Rockingham County, VA, who are concerned about solar farms displacing agriculture: it’s on agrivoltaics.

Climate and Climate Science

Last month was the hottest November on record, as the relentlessly warming climate proved too much even for any possible effects of cooler ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean caused by La Niña.  Australia’s hottest spring on record, which saw temperatures more than 2°C above average, would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change.  Last Friday I missed a post at Arctic News by Australian climate scientist Andrew Glikson about the migration of climate zones as a result of Earth’s warming and the impact that migration has.  The Atlantic hurricane season ended last week and Bloomberg Green did a recap with some very informative graphics.  So far in 2020, only three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and North Dakota) weren’t part of a billion dollar weather disaster.  Over 75% of Indian districts, which are home to over 638 million people, are hotspots of extreme climate events such as cyclones, floods, droughts, heat, and cold waves.

The new emissions gap report published by the UN Environment Program detailed how the world remains woefully off target in its quest to slow the Earth’s warming.  Carbon Brief had a detailed summary of the report.  Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and industry are expected to drop by 7% in 2020, as economies around the world feel the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns.  At Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather projected that the world will likely exceed 1.5°C of warming sometime between 2030 and 2032 if emissions are not rapidly reduced.  On the other hand, a study in Nature Climate Change found that reducing global emissions in line with the PCA’s goals would have a clear impact on global temperatures within two decades.

The 2020 Arctic Report Card points to trends that, with each passing year, have grown more extreme and have far-reaching implications for people living far outside the region, including in the Lower 48 states.  According to the report, this year’s vast wildfires in far northeastern Russia were linked to broader changes in the warming Arctic.  All of this suggests that a “new normal” is settling over the Arctic.

California’s 2018 wildfire season cost the U.S. economy $148.5 billion in losses and killed more than 36 times the official death toll.  This year’s wildfires in California threatened the giant sequoias, Joshua trees, and coast redwoods like never before.  Wildfires alter the makeup of the soil, making it less likely to absorb rainwater, especially during a downpour, thereby making a burned area more prone to mudslides.  An analysis of satellite data from hundreds of California wildfires showed that human-caused blazes spread faster and kill more trees than ones ignited by lightning.

Biochar, a charcoal-like substance made from burning organic materials in a low or zero-oxygen environment, can improve the quality of soil, trap water, and hold CO2 in the earth for potentially hundreds, or even thousands, of years, but is expensive.  Warming temperatures and human actions, such as draining bogs and converting them for agriculture, threaten to turn the world’s peatlands from carbon reservoirs to carbon sources.

Energy

The plummeting price of renewable sources of electricity has made low-carbon power “cost-competitive” when compared to fossil fuels at a greater speed than once thought possible.  The Rhodium Group estimates that industry will overtake transportation as the largest source of U.S. emissions sometime in the middle of this decade.

Royal Dutch Shell has been hit by the departure of several clean energy executives amid a split over how far and fast the company should shift towards greener fuels.  Exxon Mobil is at a crossroads as demand for oil and gas falls and world leaders and businesses pledge to fight climate change.  The amount of natural gas released or burned at oil-and-gas wells reached a record high in 2019 due to growth in Texas and North Dakota.  The Gulf of Mexico is littered with tens of thousands of abandoned wells, and toothless regulation leaves greenhouse gas emissions unchecked.

QuantumScape has unveiled its solid-state EV battery that has an energy density exceeding 400 Whr/kg and the capability to achieve a 15-minute charge to 80% capacity.  UK firm Gridserve’s first “Electric Forecourt” launched Monday, and with it, we get a bricks-and-mortar view of how EV battery charging could look and feel in the future.  Experts agree that EVs can support a more reliable, resilient, and affordable grid.  Policymakers are scrambling to secure critical minerals to develop cleaner energy.  The Guardian provided a “long read” about the impact of lithium exploration, mining, and processing.

Seven companies launched a coalition with the aim of deploying 25 GW of renewables-based hydrogen production capacity by 2026, while cutting the cost in half.  Snam and Linde have struck a deal for European green hydrogen projects development.  Eni and Enel have partnered to install two pilot-scale electrolyzers near two Eni refineries and will use renewable energy to produce the hydrogen.  Yara has announced plans for a 500,000 metric ton per year green ammonia project in Norway to produce emission-free shipping fuels and fertilizer.  The recent deluge of stories in the media that tout hydrogen as a climate solution and clean form of energy can be linked in part to FTI Consulting — an oil and gas industry public relations firms.

California could need up to 11 GW of energy storage by 2030, and 45 to 55 GW by 2045.  Swedish startup Azelio’s Thermal Energy Storage technology stores energy as heat in a phase change material made of an aluminum alloy heated to 600°C, which is then converted to electricity using a Stirling engine.

Potpourri

Two documentaries, one available on Amazon Prime and the other on Netflix, raise questions about our food system, only from different perspectives and with different priorities.  As reviewer Maddie Oatman wrote: “They make for a useful pair, with Gather showing what’s hiding in the white spaces of Kiss the Ground.”  On the subject of food, at Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell provided some recent articles on good eats for the holidays.  In China, where any hint of protest is viewed with suspicion, one teenager is trying to draw attention to the dangers human development poses to the world.  With his latest novel, Stillicide, Cynan Jones tells yet another powerful story, this one set in a climate-changed future where water has been commodified; Amy Brady interviewed Jones about the book.  Grist provided 21 predictions for 2021.

Closing Thought

Opportunity” through clean energy initiatives may be a key to bridging the divide and getting more engagement for climate action.

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 12/4/2020

Politics and Policy

A new report details how to position climate change as a central organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy.  The Alliance for Automotive Innovation vowed to work with President-elect Joe Biden to reduce vehicle emissions, while Ford encouraged other automakers to drop out of the Trump administration’s suit challenging California’s right to set its own emissions standards.  A letter signed by 42 major companies urged Biden to re-enter the U.S. into the Paris Climate Agreement and to enact “ambitious” solutions to tackle climate change.  Unfortunately, Biden’s promise to end U.S. fossil fuel subsidies could be hard to keep due to resistance from lawmakers in a narrowly divided Congress.  At Yale Environment 360, Michael Gerrard maintained that even without strong action by Congress, Biden will have a wide array of tools that could put the U.S. on a trajectory to decarbonizing its electricity sector by 2035.  At Vox, David Roberts wrote: “The only thing Biden will have real control over is his administration and what it does. And his North Star, his organizing principle, should be doing as much good on as many fronts as fast as possible. Blitz.”  Biden named Brian Deese to head the National Economic Council, highlighting plans to use economic policy initiatives to drive climate policy.  Some are pushing Biden to proclaim climate change a national emergency, giving him more power to tackle it, but whether he should do so is complicated.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that he wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN’s global mission and that its central objective next year will be to build a global coalition around the need to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.  A new analysis by Carbon Action Tracker suggests that the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are getting “within reach.”  Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 68% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.  Denmark’s government agreed to put an end to all oil and gas exploration and extraction in the North Sea by 2050.  A recent report from international consulting group Wärtsilä demonstrates how using energy-related stimulus investments to support clean energy could speed decarbonization in five key countries: the U.S., the UK, Brazil, Germany, and Australia.  EU nations’ greenhouse gas emissions for 2019 were down 24% compared to their 1990 emissions.

The Bureau of Land Management announced on Thursday that the Trump administration plans to hold an oil leasing sale for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 6.  The governors of Mississippi, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Arkansas said they would challenge any new federal policies mandating emissions cuts by the power sector.  While the EPA’s career scientists are more openly challenging the Trump administration’s rules and rollbacks, Andrew Wheeler is working to ensure his legacy.  At Slate, two legal scholars examined the impacts of a revitalization of the “non-delegation doctrine” (the constitutional principle that Congress can’t delegate too much lawmaking power to the executive branch) by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

The New York Times introduced the contenders for positions on Biden’s environment and energy team.  The U.S. Senate voted Monday to confirm the nominations of Mark Christie and Allison Clements to FERC, approving a bipartisan pairing that will bring the agency to a full five members.  At Yale Climate Connections, Dana Nuccitelli argued that moving now to combat climate change is cheaper and better for the economy than postponing action.  During the summer, FERC affirmed that net metering policies should be made by the states, so E&E News examined four states where the status quo on net metering is currently under review.  Recent changes to Virginia law concerning distributed solar are having an impact on the state’s power grid and its solar industry, as well as its land use.  The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority has created a $1 million Renewable Energy Fund to attract businesses and train residents to find jobs in the expanding field.

Climate and Climate Science

In spite of being a La Niña year, 2020 is on track to be the second hottest on record, behind 2016.  Millions of Australians are sweltering through a record-shattering heat wave that has set off hundreds of wildfires in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland.  A new report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies found that natural disasters have been rising in number since the 1960s and that a sharp increase of 35% has been recorded since the 1990s.  Thanks mostly to a combination of human-caused climate change and urbanization, winters in Washington, D.C., are rapidly warming and taking on an entirely new character.  However, the way NOAA reports climate averages can inadvertently conceal long-term changes in temperature.  The Conversation presented a retrospective on the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

A report, published in The Lancet, presents climate change as a public health risk now, rather than a hazard faced by future generations.  It points to the immediate dangers of extreme heat, wildfires, and air pollution, and makes the case for rapidly shifting to a green economy as a way to improve public health.  Bob Henson did a deep dive into the subject of heat-related deaths at Yale Climate Connections.

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from warmer sands are weaker and slower, meaning they are more likely to be eaten by ghost crabs as they crawl towards the sea.  Europe’s breeding bird populations have shifted on average 0.62 mile north every year for the past three decades, likely driven by climate change.

The amount of affordable housing in the U.S. vulnerable to coastal flooding is set to triple over the next 30 years, according to research conducted by Climate Central, a New Jersey-based science organization.

Forest management, when implemented correctly, can not only reduce the number of devastating wildfires that rage every year but also the billions of tons of CO2 emissions that result from them as well.  Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has surged to its highest level since 2008, the country’s space agency reported.  Climate change is increasingly damaging the UN’s most cherished heritage sites.

Energy

A new report from the UN Environment Program found that the top producing nations were set to produce twice as much oil, gas, and coal by 2030 as would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.  However, the world’s top energy companies have slashed the value of their oil and gas assets by around $80 billion in recent months.  As the oil and gas industry contracts, one result may well be more abandoned wells; in three states, nonprofits are beginning to plug them.  Bank of America has joined other major U.S. banks in saying that it won’t finance oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Most of the U.S.’s existing fossil fuel power plant capacity will reach the end of its typical lifespan by 2035, suggesting that a deadline to decarbonize electricity by then will cost less than previously expected.  Pollinator-friendly solar can boost crop yields, increase the recharging of groundwater, reduce soil erosion, increase solar panel efficiency during summer, and provide long-term cost savings in operations and maintenance.

In an in-depth Q&A, Carbon Brief examined the big questions around the “hydrogen economy” and looked at the extent to which it could help the world avoid dangerous climate change.  One proposal is use the natural gas pipeline network to carry hydrogen, although there are many unanswered engineering questions that must be answered before that becomes a reality.

A new report suggests that solar-plus-storage is already competitive with open cycle gas turbines and could soon be more financially attractive than combined-cycle gas turbines in some markets.  The U.S. energy storage industry had just broken records in the 2nd quarter, but in the 3rd quarter it beat that period’s performance by 240%, according to the “Energy Storage Monitor” from Wood Mackenzie and the Energy Storage Association.  At the Virginia Mercury, Sarah Volgelsong has an in-depth analysis of the role of storage, including pumped hydro, in Virginia’s clean energy future.

The cost of battery cells used for electric vehicles (EVs) has fallen to an average of $110 per kilowatt hour, making EVs competitive with cars using internal combustion engines.  The debunked report casting doubt on the green credentials of EVs was actually written by the companies that commissioned it.  Newly constructed single-family homes and townhouses with garages in Boise, Idaho will be required to have high-voltage circuits to accommodate EV charging.  Carmakers have sold more than 500,000 EVs in Europe during 2020, a milestone in the automotive industry’s move away from fossil fuels.  Volvo Trucks North America’s plant in Pulaski County, VA, will manufacture its new battery-powered class 8 VNR Electric truck model.

Potpourri

Just in time for the holidays, Yale Climate Connection’s Michael Svoboda presented twelve books, both fiction and nonfiction, that address climate change, reassess the challenges, offer hope and guidance for action, and envision very different, climate-changed futures.  In his column in The New Yorker this week, Bill McKibben spotlighted “The U.S. Climate Fair Share” by which we would contribute financially to the greenhouse gas reductions of developing countries because of our large contribution to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  The European Court of Human Rights has told the governments of 33 industrialized countries to promptly respond to a climate lawsuit lodged by six youth campaigners, giving it priority status because of the “importance and urgency of the issues raised.”  People worried about the climate crisis are deciding not to have children because of fears that their offspring would have to struggle through a climate apocalypse.

Closing Thought

EcoTok, a collective of 17 U.S.-based TikTok influencers, stays away from partisan drama and embraces environmental action.

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 11/20/2020

Politics and Policy

President-elect Joe Biden, eager to elevate climate change issues throughout his administration, is already drafting orders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and seeking nominees who will embed climate policy across the government.  Climate policy experts say they expect Biden’s team to focus on five Trump rollbacks in particular: on clean cars, clean power, climate super-pollutants, methane leaks from oil and gas operations, and gas from landfills.  Biden discussed climate change in 12 of his first 14 calls with world leaders, an unprecedented diplomatic focus from a new U.S. president.  Biden’s transition teams include veterans from the Obama administration and others with significant prior experience in domestic and international climate policy battles.  Arun Majumdar is heading the transition team for DOE and many think he is a prime candidate to head the Department.  Biden’s ambitious agenda is sure to expose fault lines in the Democratic Party, between renewable energy advocates who see natural gas as no better than coal and establishment figures who say the fuel still has a role to play in reducing pollution.  Furthermore, Biden will face several legal and political hurdles if he seeks to halt new oil and gas permits on federal land and waters, given existing laws and the enormous sums that drilling royalties generate for the federal and state governments.  The financial sector is moving ahead with plans to begin the transition to a carbon-free economy and acknowledge a new administration that’s eager to tackle the climate crisis.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted on Wednesday to advance the nominations of Allison Clements and Mark Christie to be FERC commissioners, although it is unclear whether they will get a floor vote before the session ends.  More than two dozen automakers, electric utilities, EV-charging firms, and lithium companies are forming a new advocacy group devoted to pushing for electric vehicles (EVs) on Capitol Hill.  It’s called the Zero Emission Transportation Association, or ZETA.  After months of legal back-and-forth, a ruling in the U.S. Court of International Trade has reinstated tariffs on two-sided solar panels.  The American Farm Bureau Federation has joined an alliance of food, forest, farming, and environmental groups that intends to work with Congress and the incoming Biden administration to reduce the food system’s role in climate change. 

Greenhouse gases generated by the U.S. economy will slide 9.2% this year, tumbling to the lowest level in at least three decades.  Last month the Bureau of Land Management finalized the Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, allowing ConocoPhillips to produce up to 590 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years; a coalition of six environmental groups is suing to stop it.  The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies allowing them to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, although legal experts have said the leases may never be issued.

More than three-quarters of countries have indicated they will make stronger commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement by the end of 2020.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the EU to lead global efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions by setting a new climate change target next month, while the EU unveiled plans to transform its electricity system to rely mostly on renewables within a decade and increase its offshore wind energy capacity 25-fold by 2050.  Russia has no plans to achieve carbon neutrality before the end of the century and is betting on Asian demand to support a huge expansion of its Arctic gas industry.  Furthermore, China’s plan to build more coal-fired power plants “contradicts” its pledge to go carbon neutral by 2060 and risks creating $303.60 billion in stranded assets.  Governments around the world are asking what a green recovery looks like as they decide how to align their $12 trillion worth of coronavirus economic rescue packages with their obligations under the Paris Climate Accord.

Climate and Climate Science

Iota struck the coast of Nicaragua late on Monday, bringing winds of nearly 155 miles per hour and flooding villages still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago.  As of Thursday, the death toll had reached more than 40.  The 2020 hurricane season will go down in history for the dominance of rapidly intensifying storms in the Atlantic, raising the question of whether this is the new normal.  Climate scientists say that this year’s record-breaking hurricane season and the “unprecedented” double blow for Central America has a clear link to the climate crisis.  One in five people across the world were affected by extreme weather disasters in the past decade, according to a report from the International Federation of the Red Cross.  Also, Jeff Masters reported that 2020 experienced 40 billion-dollar weather disasters through October, among other records.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications found that Greenland’s largest glaciers are currently melting at levels close to what scientists had previously expected under a future “worst-case scenario”.  As a result, the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 4.8 millimeters per year, according to a 10-year average compiled for Science by Benjamin Hamlington, an ocean scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

According to a report by a coalition of 25 research and conservation organizations, mines and dams, along with tens of thousands of miles of roads and railways are planned in the forests of South America, Southeast Asia, and Central Africa, thereby potentially pushing the world’s remaining forests past a “dangerous tipping point” and making climate targets unachievable.  Furthermore, the construction or upgrading of some 7,456 miles of Amazon roads in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador over the next five years could lead to 5.9 million acres of deforestation in the two decades after, according to the report by Climate Focus.  Demand for certain mined minerals is projected to increase exponentially in the coming decades as the world shifts to renewable energy.  Experts warn that responsible practices must be in place to reduce environmental and social impacts.

Data from Public Health England showed that the three heatwaves in late June, late July, and August in England caused an estimated 2,556 excess deaths, with people aged 65 and over making up the vast majority of those who died.

As the world’s climate warms, parasite-carried wildlife diseases will move north, with animals in cold far-north and high-altitude regions expected to suffer the most dramatic increases, warns a study published on Friday in the journal Science.

Energy

Scottish energy company SSE plans to triple its renewable energy generation by 2030 as it prepares to build the world’s largest offshore windfarm off the northeast coast of England.  Danish renewable energy group Ørsted and North America’s Building Trades Unions announced a deal to train an offshore wind construction workforce to build the firm’s projects up and down the U.S. East Coast.  More than a dozen technology developers are pushing the idea of using floating wind turbine platforms for a variety of generation assets, from wind and wave to solar and ocean thermal energy, arguing that using a single platform for multiple technologies can help improve the energy yield per unit of area and thus reduce the overall cost of electricity.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has announced that a new material for wind turbine blades that can be recycled could render renewable energy more sustainable than ever before while also lowering costs.

David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the clean transportation program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, has said that the environmental concerns about EVs raised in a new paper from the Competitive Enterprise Institute are “…a grab bag of old and misleading claims about EVs.”  Determining the “total cost of electrification” for a particular fleet will be a critical step in pushing EV trucks and buses from the margins to the mainstream, according to a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund and its partners.  David Roberts summarized the major lessons from that study along with one by the Electrification Coalition.  Navistar International Corp. and Cummins Inc. have announced that they have partnered to develop an integrated fuel cell electric powertrain that can be used in heavy-duty vehicles such as Class 8 trucks.  GM CEO Mary Barra said her company is accelerating an “all out pursuit of global EV leadership,” with increased spending and sped-up EV production targets.  Likewise, Volkswagen’s CEO said his company is paring back the variety of combustion-engined cars and investing $86 billion to retool more factories to build EVs.  An aggressive China-led shift to EVs is expected to slash growth in global oil demand by 70% by 2030 and help bring an end to the “oil era”, according to research by Carbon Tracker published on Friday.

The Swedish steel industry has developed a new steelmaking technology that uses hydrogen fuel to reduce the need for fossil fuel, thereby reducing the CO2 emitted from about 3,600 lbs per ton of steel produced to around 55 lbs.

Stocks of oil and gas companies that are investing heavily in renewables are being punished by the markets.

Launched on Tuesday, the Western Green Hydrogen Initiative, is a group representing 11 Western states, two Canadian provinces and key green hydrogen industry players including Mitsubishi and utilities Dominion Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Potpourri

Jeff Bezos is giving $791 million to 16 groups fighting climate change, the first grants from his Earth Fund, saying the money is “just the beginning of my $10 billion commitment to fund scientists, activists, NGOs, and others.”  Unilever has announced plans to dramatically increase sales of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives over the next seven years.  Michael Svoboda compiled a list of books providing advice for how a new administration might proceed on tackling climate change.  In a feature article, The Hill presented the ten countries most at risk from the impacts of climate change. 

Closing Thought

Dan Gearino devoted the bulk of his “Inside Clean Energy” column this week to Arizona’s net-zero plan, writing “Arizona is showing the rest of the country how to set the terms for a transition to clean energy that is substantial and nonpartisan.”  Even though there is one more hoop to jump through, I take hope from this and look forward to seeing more states join the fold.

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 11/13/2020

Politics and Policy

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to embed action on climate change across the breadth of the federal government, expanding it beyond environmental agencies.  The Climate 21 Project released a blueprint of how that could be accomplished.  From the Pentagon to the General Services Administration, Biden has implanted climate-minded officials throughout his sprawling transition team.  Early action on climate change from Biden is likely to start with a series of executive orders reversing President Trump’s environmental policies.  Eric Roston at Bloomberg interviewed John Podesta about how the Biden administration should address a warming planet.  Dan Gearino offered four very pragmatic things Biden could do for clean energy without Congress.  Carbon Brief asked an array of climate scientists and policy experts what Biden’s victory will mean for climate action in the U.S. and around the world.  Publicly, environmental groups have claimed success in the election, but privately, they know that much hinges on the two undecided Senate seats in Georgia.  Nevertheless, young activists have said they’re preparing to pressure the incoming Biden administration to keep its word on climate change and other progressive goals.

The damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks of environmental regulations may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.  The Trump administration quietly removed Michael Kuperberg from his job as executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which prepares the National Climate Assessment, and replaced him with climate change denier David Legates of NOAA with the intent of getting as many authors as possible under contract before January 20, 2021.  Desmog recently profiled Legates.  Analysts are anticipating a potential flurry of last-minute energy rollbacks, permitting decisions, and new rules by the Trump administration that could impinge on a Biden administration’s ability to implement its plans.

The Vice Chairman for Supervision of the Federal Reserve told the Senate Banking Committee that the central bank has sought membership on the Network for Greening the Financial System and hopes to join before spring.  For the first time, the Federal Reserve identified climate change as a risk to financial stability.  Leading scientists, academics, and campaigners have called on governments and businesses to go beyond “net zero” in their efforts to tackle the escalating climate and ecological crisis.  Jonathan Watts profiled four countries that are setting carbon-neutral targets and pushing ahead to meet them.  At Living on Earth, host Steve Curwood interviewed Republican climate champion Bob Inglis about how Republicans and Democrats might work together during a Biden presidency to achieve a clean energy economy.

Despite net zero pledges from the governments of China, Japan, and South Korea, the Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are reluctant to commit to reducing financing of fossil fuels.  Jonathan Watts listed and discussed five post-Trump obstacles to a global green recovery.  Would labeling Brazil a “climate outlaw” influence its behavior for the better?  The latest data from Energy Policy Tracker shows that G20 nations have committed more than $230 billion in COVID-19 recovery funds to support industries that rely heavily on fossil fuels.  According to the New York Times, FTI, a global consulting firm, helped design, staff, and run organizations and websites funded by energy companies that appear to represent grass-roots support for fossil-fuel initiatives.

Climate and Climate Science

In the Philippines, Typhoon Vamco killed at least seven people and unleashed some of the worst flooding in years in the capital Manila.  On Monday night, Tropical Storm Theta became the 29th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, setting a new record by surpassing the total count from 2005.  On Friday afternoon, Tropical Storm Iota formed in the eastern Caribbean, breaking Theta’s record by becoming the 30th of the season and threatening areas of the western Caribbean still reeling from Hurricane Eta that hit just last week.  Thus, it is worthwhile to examine how climate change is affecting storms.  A new study looked at what happens after hurricanes make landfall and found that climate change is apparently causing them to weaken more slowly and remain destructive longer.

Two new studies published recently in the journal Nature Geoscience suggest that as Earth warms, clouds are likely to change in ways that will intensify global warming.

A new paper in Scientific Reports reached sweeping conclusions about the possibility that climate change may have already reached a hypothetical ‘point of no return’, conclusions with which most climate scientists disagree.

Two government climate science agencies concluded that Australia’s climate has entered a new era of sustained extreme weather events, such as bushfires and heatwaves, courtesy of rising average temperatures.

As Earth warms, more people will die from heat, so scientists are studying how people respond to excess heat in hopes of lowering the risk and reducing the toll.

Energy

On Monday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) across about 1,000 waterbodies in West Virginia and Virginia.  On Thursday, Montgomery County, VA, Circuit Judge Robert Turk issued a temporary injunction ordering three unidentified tree-sitters and 10 of their supporters to be gone from the right-of-way of the MVP by Monday.  The Harrisonburg, VA, city council agreed to lease nine acres of city-owned land to the Virginia Municipal Electric Association for the purpose of building a PV solar array to produce electricity for the city.  Several Bedford County, VA, residents encouraged county supervisors on Monday to keep moving forward with solar ordinance reviews and research that may allow solar farms in the County.  In its second quarter earnings presentation, Dominion Energy Virginia laid out plans to increase nearly tenfold its renewable energy generation, from 2.9 GW of solar and some hydropower (excluding pumped hydro), to 28.3 GW of solar, wind, storage, and hydro by 2035.  A coalition of Virginia lawmakers filed comments Nov. 4 requesting revisions to a series of new State Corporation Commission rules setting interim goals for the acquisition of energy storage under the state’s Clean Economy Act.

California is setting ambitious goals to phase out vehicles that run on fossil fuels, using $20 million in annual funding from the California Energy Commission to build hydrogen infrastructure.  BP plans to take its first steps into the expanding market for green hydrogen alongside the offshore wind developer Ørsted by developing a hydrogen project at one of its refineries in Germany.  The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded just under $14 million for Xcel Energy to build a hydrogen-energy production facility at a nuclear power plant in Minnesota.  Tidal power will be combined with vanadium flow batteries to continuously produce green hydrogen at the European Marine Energy Center’s tidal energy test site on the island of Eday, Orkney, Scotland.

A prototype GE Haliade-X offshore wind turbine produced 312 MWh of electricity in a single 24-hour period, setting a new world record.  South Korean firm Odin Energy hopes to carve out a new niche with a vertical-axis wind turbine tower designed for urban settings.  Last week I included an article about the need for a more coordinated approach to electric grid upgrades in New England to handle the electricity produced by offshore wind farms.  This week there was an article that came to a similar conclusion for the rest of the East Coast.  As the need for new electrical transmission lines increases in the face of renewable energy expansion, a potential problem will be their siting.  One possible solution is to collocate them with highways and railroads.  A new report from the International Energy Agency anticipates a 1,123 GW increase in wind and solar, which would mean these power sources will overtake gas capacity in 2023 and coal in 2024.  The Agency has revised its expectations for the 2020 global renewable energy market, now projecting that capacity additions will grow 4% from 2019, hitting a record of nearly 200 GW this year.  Six Midwest utilities expect to spend more than a combined $15 billion over the next several years to install or buy roughly 4 GW of solar generation, more than 3.6 GW of wind generation, and just over 1 GW of battery storage.

Ford Motor Co. said it will invest $100 million in its Kansas City Assembly Plant and add 150 jobs there to build the new electric E-Transit van.  General Motors plans to hire 3,000 new employees largely focused on software development for the research, development, and deployment of electric vehicles.  According to a new study, conducted by M.J. Bradley & Associates with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a typical rural driver in the Northeast could save more than $1,900 every year by switching from a conventional gasoline car to a comparable electric vehicle.

The electric utility Arizona Public Service is offering a $169 million deal to the Navaho Nation to help them cope with the repercussions from the closure of coal-fired power plants employing many Native people.  On the other hand, almost half the companies involved in the thermal coal industry globally are expected to defy worldwide climate commitments by deepening their coal interests in the coming years, according to a report by the green campaign group Urgewald.  An opinion piece in the New York Times argued that in planning to build 235 gas-fired power stations at a cost in excess of $100 billion, the U.S. electrical industry is behaving like smokers who really, truly plan to quit, as soon as they finish that last carton of cigarettes.

Potpourri

The Dalai Lama, along with German environmental journalist Franz Alt, has written a new book entitled Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal to the World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  In reviewing Felicia Luna Lemus’ new memoir, Jason Heller wrote “Particulate Matter is a moving example of how to write about climate change, not didactically, but with the deep impact of both personal loss and literary elegance.”  A survey of approximately 26,000 people in 25 countries revealed a significant disconnect between beliefs and actions on climate change.  At Yale Climate Connections, SueEllen Campbell provided links to articles examining the term “net-zero emissions” and what exactly it means.  Although it doesn’t focus on climate, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has an interesting article examining the shifting views of an ideal society in the U.S.

Closing Thought

Bill McKibben wrote that if activists want real progress on climate during the Biden administration, they need to learn how to press their case aggressively without alienating those with whom they must work to get things done.

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 11/6/2020

Politics and Policy

As I was wrapping up this Roundup on Saturday, several news agencies called the presidential election for Joe Biden and Juliet Eilperin and colleagues wrote he “will move to restore dozens of environmental safeguards President Trump abolished and launch the boldest climate change plan of any president in history.”  One thing was clear on Wednesday: The “green wave” that environmentalists had hoped for failed to materialize.  At The New Yorker, Bill McKibben considered what continued Republican control of the Senate will likely mean to the ability of Biden to act on climate change, as did Jeff St. John at GreenTech Media.  But Corbin Hiar at E&E News thinks that lobbyists and insiders believe there may still be opportunities in the coming years for corporations to shape climate policy.  And industry and environmental advocates alike say that Biden is uniquely suited to the challenge of dealing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  E&E News speculated on why voters in Arizona and Florida had different perspectives on the dangers posed by climate change in their choices for president.  Climate XChange listed a number of wins for climate action in down-ballot races and initiatives.

The U.S. left the Paris Climate Agreement on Wednesday, making it the only country in the world to do so.  At The New York Times, Lisa Friedman looked at “how it happened, what it means and what might happen next”, while at The Hill, the CEOs of the Rocky Mountain Institute and the World Resources Institute reminded us that meeting the goal of the Paris Agreement will not only help countries to innovate and create new economic opportunities, it will also reduce the impacts and associated costs of future climate-related disasters.  Michael Mann told CBC Radio that “There’s still time to do what’s necessary to reduce carbon emissions so that we don’t cross that threshold into catastrophic climate change.”  Chelsea Harvey catalogued the increases in climate-related disasters and scientists’ understanding of climate change during the Trump administration.  In a surprise move, the Trump administration tapped mainstream climate scientist Betsy Weatherhead to lead the next National Climate Assessment, to be released in 2022.

The ranking members of the Natural Resources and the Energy and Commerce Committees in the House both retired, resulting in intense campaigning among House Republicans to replace them.  President Trump replaced Neil Chatterjee, the Republican chairman of FERC, with James Danly, another Republican who has taken a more conservative approach to federal energy policy, such as voting against opening up markets to distributed energy and dissenting on a policy proposal on wholesale market carbon pricing.  The Energy 202 at the Washington Post interviewed Chatterjee about the change and Forbes provided background on how the situation came about.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering the Russian government to try to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement, but stressed that any action must be balanced with the need to ensure strong economic development.  However, according to its energy minister, Russia has no plans to rein in its production of fossil fuels in the coming decades.  In order to meet its goal of reducing economy-wide CO2 emissions in the state to net-zero by 2050, Massachusetts must deal with the fact that roughly one-third of its emissions come from the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking.  Consequently, last week the Department of Public Utilities opened a new proceeding to start guiding utilities into a decarbonized future while protecting their customers.  From Pope Francis to Greta Thunberg, there are growing calls to make “ecocide”—which literally means “killing the environment”—a recognized crime under international law.  Could such a law ever work?

Climate and Climate Science

Hurricane Eta made landfall in Nicaragua on Tuesday as a Category 4 storm, one of only five Category 4 or 5 Atlantic hurricanes to have ever been seen in November.  It continued on into Honduras as a tropical depression, but continued to dump large amounts of rain, as it had in Nicaragua.  It is expected to head toward Cuba as a tropical storm, but not intensify into a hurricane again.  Meanwhile, in the Pacific, Super Typhoon Goni made landfall in the Philippines on Sunday, with sustained winds of 195 mph and a central pressure of 884 mb, making it the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in world recorded history.

Data from the Brazilian space research agency INPE showed on Sunday that fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest surged in October, with the number of blazes up 25% during the first 10 months of 2020, compared to a year ago.  New research, published in Environmental Research Letters, revealed that Amazon forest fires continue to drive greenhouse gas emissions for up to two decades after burning out, driven by the slow death of trees impacted by the fire.  Research published in Geophysical Research Letters found that the area burned annually by high-severity fires in the western U.S. has increased eight-fold in the past 35 years.

In an opinion piece at The Hill, two scientists from the Atkinson Center for Sustainability at Cornell University and one from The Nature Conservancy argued that a joint platform to address the carbon-nitrogen nexus in soil health management was the only way to develop methods for increasing soil carbon content while also limiting nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture.  A study published in the journal Science showed that for the world to have a chance of preventing significant harm from climate change, all parts of food production need rapid and significant reform — everything from reducing deforestation for new fields to changing our diets.

Europe experienced its hottest October on record, according to data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service.  Unusually severe heat also swept across the Arctic region, causing Arctic sea ice to reach its lowest level for October since 1979.  A new study estimated that an average global temperature increase of 2°C would lead to around 230 billion metric tons of carbon being released from the world’s soil, an amount equivalent to more than twice the emissions of the U.S. over the past 100 years.

A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reported on research about polar bear survival in which the scientists created individualized estimates for each of 19 subpopulations to account for the variety of climates, habitats, ecosystems, and sea ice ecoregions bears encounter.  The bottom line?  If you’re a polar bear, your future depends on your location.

Energy

Equitrans Midstream Corp., the lead partner in the joint venture building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, announced that the cost has increased from $3.7 billion to between $5.8 billion and $6 billion, while the completion date has slipped to the second half of 2021.  French gas and power utility Engie has pulled out of a major U.S. liquefied natural gas import deal after government concerns about its environmental implications.  Shell plans to consolidate its refinery portfolio from 14 sites to only six by 2025, with the goal of making the refineries more integrated with their chemical complexes to produce more biofuels, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels.

The global status of green hydrogen as a carbon-free fuel was reviewed at Yale Environment 360.  Air Liquide Group recently released a list of the seven ways hydrogen will contribute to the transition toward renewable energy.  Researchers in Spain have demonstrated a method of hydrogen production without contact electrodes via water electrolysis mediated by the microwave-triggered redox activation of solid-state ionic materials at low temperatures (< 250°C).  Toyota is focusing its hydrogen fuel cell development on marine applications while developers across the world are testing the use of hydrogen to power ships as the maritime industry races to find technologies to cut emissions.

Wind energy will achieve record growth globally over the next five years, the Global Wind Energy Council said on Thursday, projecting that some 348 GW of new onshore and offshore capacity are expected by the end of 2024.  The U.S. wind industry set a record in the third quarter, installing nearly 2 GW of new wind power capacity.  Offshore wind advocates say a more coordinated approach to electric grid upgrades in New England could save money and minimize ecological disruption.  Because of the way they are constructed, wind turbine blades are a challenge to recycle, although recycling opportunities exist, but are not yet widely implemented.  To comply with the Virginia Clean Economy Act passed earlier this year, Appalachian Power will acquire or contract for 210 MW of solar power and 200 MW of wind power over the next five years.  A permit for the “Rocky Forge Wind” windfarm was recently approved by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, according to Apex Clean Energy, which plans to build up to 22 turbines on a remote ridgeline in Botetourt County, VA.

Hampton Roads Transit’s six electric buses will be deployed on the route between Norfolk and Virginia Beach.  Volvo Trucks will sell a complete range of electric, heavy-duty trucks in Europe starting in 2021.  Daimler Truck AG and Volvo Trucks have entered into a joint venture for the development, production, and commercialization of fuel cells for heavy-duty trucks.  GM will bring its EVs to market faster than it had initially anticipated, thanks to its strategic partnerships and investments in technology which allowed it to speed up product development.

Dominion Energy Virginia will enter into six power purchase agreements and build three new solar facilities, for a total of 500 MW of new renewable energy.  James Gignac of the Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed recycling opportunities for photovoltaic solar panels.  Plans to build an innovative new nuclear power plant using small modular reactors have taken a hit as eight of the 36 public utilities that had signed on to help build the plant have backed out of the deal.

Potpourri

A climate poll on Twitter posted by Shell backfired spectacularly, with the oil company being accused of gaslighting the public.  Tim Flannery, author of The Climate Cure, has a very moving essay at The Guardian about the need to communicate the gravity of the climate crisis to young people.  Likewise, DW noted that psychologists suggest that we need to discuss climate change in less abstract terms if we are to truly grasp the significance of the crisis.  In a scenario playing out in many American families, a sense of despair and outrage among young people over global warming is being met with indifference and dismissal among some of their older relatives.  Grist republished five maps developed by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication that highlight some positive trends in public opinion on global warming.

Closing Thought

Biden won!

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.