Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/24/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/17/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/10/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/3/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/27/2020

Politics and Policy

The coronavirus stimulus bill that was passed by the Senate and House this week and signed by President Trump on Friday afternoon contained bad news for the wind and solar industries, but at least contained a little bit of good news in that the $3 billion to buy oil for the strategic reserve was eliminated.  While the virus has had a huge impact on the economy, slowing it greatly, one thing that it hasn’t impacted is the Trump administration’s timeline for rolling back environmental regulations, which many career scientists disagree with.  In addition, the administration will ease enforcement of environmental regulations covering polluting industries to help them cope with impacts from the coronavirus outbreak.  As emergency managers plan for the upcoming natural disaster season, they have another challenge: how to prevent disaster relief shelters from becoming breeding grounds for COVID-19.

While health is foremost in all of our minds, it is interesting to note that two of the amicus briefs filed in the children’s lawsuit were from two former Surgeons General and from leading experts in public health and medicine and organizations representing thousands of health professionals.

In a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, the future of the Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.  On Thursday, California adopted a new emissions target for its electricity sector that would double the state’s clean energy capacity over the next decade and halt the development of new natural gas power plants.

Two lifelong conservative voters who work with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and RepublicEn had a message for GOP lawmakers: “Stop playing with small ball climate solutions.”

Climate and Climate Science

National Geographic’s special Earth Day 50th anniversary edition features a “verdant Earth” on the front cover and a “browner Earth” on the back cover, reflecting the uncertainty we face in our fight against climate change.  Inside the magazine, Emma Marris presents the optimistic view of the outcome of the battle, while Elizabeth Kolbert presents the pessimistic view.

A study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters revealed that Denman Glacier in East Antarctica has retreated about 3 miles over the last 22 years.  This suggests that the glaciers in East Antarctica may not be as stable as previously thought and pose an increased threat of sea level rise.  At the other end of the globe, meltwater from Greenland is pouring into the North Atlantic, impacting the Atlantic conveyer belt that carries warm water northward and cold water southward.  While a new study published in Science on Wednesday decreases the fear that the meltwater will stop the circulation entirely, it found that its strength dropped sharply before rebounding during periods of peak warming in three recent interglacials.  Such a drop would likely strongly impact the climate in Europe.

The Australian governmental agency responsible for the Great Barrier Reef has confirmed that the reef has suffered its third mass coral bleaching episode in five years.  Smoke from Australia’s bush fires killed hundreds of people and sent thousands to hospitals and emergency rooms, according to a new study published Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia.  According to a new paper in the journal Current Biology, marine species are migrating towards the earth’s poles to escape rising ocean temperatures near the equator.

A study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that more than 500 million people are likely to be hit by heat stress above safe levels if global average temperatures rise 1.5°C above pre-industrial times, almost 800 million at 2°C of warming, and 1.2 billion at 3°C.  Project Drawdown released its “2020 Drawdown Review”, which examined the costs and savings associated with holding the global temperature increase to 1.5°C.  Without even accounting for the savings associated with improved public health and avoided climate damages, keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C would result in a global net economic savings of $145 trillion.

According to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, if the U.S. grain belt were to be hit by a severe four year drought, the effects would ripple out around the world, hitting hard those countries that depend on food imports.  At Inside Climate News, Georgina Gustin argued that climate change will force agriculture into new areas, which will mean more conversion of natural habitat into crop land, thereby increasing human/animal contact and the transfer of animal viruses like the novel coronavirus to humans.  At Yale Climate Connections, Kristen Pope provided a sampling of some of the climate-related threats to wildlife around the globe.

Energy

Carbon Brief has published a major update of its map of the world’s coal-fired power plants, based on the latest “Global Coal Plant Tracker” from Global Energy Monitor.  Also, according to the Monitor, coal-fired power plant development worldwide declined for the fourth year running in 2019.  Of course, China is the world’s largest user of electricity derived from coal.  Thus, whether the decline will continue depends largely on their 14th Five Year Plan, which covers the period 2021-2015.  A new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production suggests that coal mining may be a bigger contributor to levels of atmospheric methane than the oil and gas industries, with emissions set to grow considerably in the coming years.

The world’s wind power capacity grew by 19% in 2019, after a year of record growth for offshore windfarms and a boom in onshore projects in the U.S. and China.  Because the offshore wind industry is in its infancy in the U.S., the interruptions associated with the coronavirus are hitting it at a critical time.  The question is, just how disruptive will they be? 

Companies are selecting Detroit as a perfect location for the design and assembly of electric commercial vehicles, like delivery vans and shuttle/school buses.  According to data from AutoForecast Solutions seen by Reuters, North American production of SUV models by GM and Ford will outpace production of traditional cars by more than eight to one in 2026, and 93% of those SUVs are expected to be gas-fueled.  A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, found that electric vehicles produce less CO2 than gasoline-powered vehicles across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and the manufacture of the vehicles outweighs the benefits.

Europe’s energy storage boom stalled last year due to a slowdown in large-scale schemes designed to store clean electricity from major renewable energy projects.  A recent report from IDTechEx observed that “While the stationary energy storage market is currently dominated by Li-ion batteries, redox flow batteries (RFBs) are slowly being adopted with an increasing number of projects all over the world.”  Rather than using batteries, another way to smooth out short-term variations in the supply-demand balance of electricity generation is to use flywheels, as explained in The Conversation.

Rosatom, a Russian state company, is financing and building nuclear power plants across the world, reaping for Moscow both profits and geopolitical influence that will last for decades.  The UK is trying to figure out the best way to make home heating “net-zero” CO2 emitting by 2050.  One way is to convert their natural gas distribution system from methane to H2The Guardian examined the various aspects of the question and it provides useful lessons for the U.S.

Potpourri Because of the coronavirus-caused shut-downs across the U.S., a coalition of youth-led organizations that had planned massive marches for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day next month are now planning a three-day livestream event instead.  Bill McKibben argued in The New Yorker that lessons learned from fighting the coronavirus could help in the battle against climate change, as did Beth Gardiner at Yale Environment 360.  Several other people also wrote articles comparing the response to the coronavirus to the response to climate change, but I found the one by Joseph Majkut of the Niskanen Center to be most interesting.  Greta Thunberg announced on Tuesday that she and her father, Svante, had symptoms of COVID-19 and that while hers were mild, her father felt far worse and had a fever.  Stephen Rodrick had a very interesting profile of Thunberg in Rolling Stone that goes much more deeply than others have.  By the way, a drawing of Greta is on the cover of the print edition.  Publisher Jann Wenner devoted his editorial to “The Price of Greed.”  Amy Brady had two interviews with authors, one this week, and one last week that I missed.  This week she spoke with Bjorn Vassnes, author of Kingdom of Frost, which reveals how, in an age of climate change, a shrinking cryosphere could mean catastrophe for over a billion people.  Last week she interviewed Alex Irvine, author of Anthropocene Rag, a novel dealing with the relationship between climate change and artificial intelligence.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/20/2020

Politics and Policy

Of course, the main thing dominating the news this week is the new coronavirus and its impacts.  Laurence Tubiana, a former French diplomat who was instrumental in brokering the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, said that governments must not let the pandemic derail action on climate change.  Our government, as well as others, is working on stimulus packages to help reduce the financial fallout associated with the virus.  Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, said such stimulus packages marked a critical moment for governments to “shape policies” in line with climate action.  One industry asking for money is the airline industry, raising the question of whether any assistance should be tied to conditions.  Democrats are voicing concern that the White House may pursue broad relief for the oil and gas industry in the stimulus package.  They are also pushing to add climate change provisions to any stimulus.  Kathy Castor, chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, has announced that the Committee is postponing the release of the framework of its plan to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions. 

Even though CO2 emission rates have fallen as a result of the pandemic, analysts are concerned about what will happen as a result of stimulus packages as infection levels begin to drop.  In the longer term, although the direct impact on health in many developing nations has so far been small, many are worried about how the global health and economic impacts of COVID-19 will influence the climate ambitions of developing countries.  The COP26 climate summit planned for Glasgow in November may have to be delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.  A coalition of green groups has canceled three days of nationwide protests in April that were to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

A federal judge last week rejected an argument from the Trump administration that sought to invalidate California’s cap-and-trade program.  DOE said on Thursday it will buy up to 30 million barrels of crude oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by the end of June as a first step in fulfilling President Trump’s directive to fill the reserve to help domestic crude producers.  The world’s largest investment banks have funneled more than $2.66tn into fossil fuels since the Paris agreement in 2015, new figures show, prompting warnings they are failing to respond to the climate crisis.  Unfortunately, shareholder efforts to influence companies’ approaches to issues related to climate change have suffered blows from both financial regulators and a federal judge in recent weeks.  The Interior Department has received over 230 nominations for oil and gas leases across southern Utah, some of which are within 0.5 miles of Canyonland N.P. and 1.5 miles of Arches N.P. 

In a conversation with Elizabeth McGowan, NRDC attorney Gillian Giannetti, a self-described “FERC nerd,” explained the legal issues behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline case now before the U.S. Supreme Court.  On Thursday FERC approved a controversial natural gas pipeline and marine export terminal project at Coos Bay in Oregon.  Unusual coalitions in Congress are interested in reforming the Natural Gas Act — a 1938 law that regulates interstate natural gas pipelines.  The Heartland Institute is ousting its president, Frank Lasée, after being buffeted by financial turbulence that led to significant layoffs.  For about 12 minutes in Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate, former Vice-President Biden and Senator Sanders addressed their climate change proposals.  In The New York Times, Lisa Friedman wrote: “In interviews with two dozen activists and voters who consider the planet’s warming their top issue, almost all said they worried that Mr. Biden has not made the issue a sufficient priority or been specific enough about his plans.” 

Climate and Climate Science

The organizers of a climate research expedition in the frozen Arctic Ocean have canceled a series of research flights after the Norwegian government imposed travel restrictions as part of its efforts to fight the coronavirus.  An article that came out Wednesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters reported that Greenland lost an extraordinary 600 billion metric tons of ice by the end of the summer last year, although some was recovered as winter set in because of new snowfall.  At Hakai Magazine, Erin McKittrick wrote about why acidification is a worse problem in the Beaufort Sea than in warmer water bodies.

Chlorofluorocarbon chemicals, which were once widely used as refrigerants and as components in foam insulation, are strong greenhouse gases.  Because they also destroy the ozone in the stratosphere, they were banned by the Montreal Protocol.  Nevertheless, according to a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, their emissions into the atmosphere from 2000 to 2020 were equivalent to 25 billion metric tons of CO2.

A new analysis, published in Nature Sustainability, looked at how protecting and replenishing soils – both in agricultural and natural landscapes – could combat global warming.  It found that if techniques to improve soil carbon were employed at the maximum assumed level worldwide, they could remove up to 5.5bn metric tons of CO2 each year, an amount just under the U.S.’s emissions.  As the planet grows warmer, the effects of heat stress on organisms trying to survive outside the temperature envelope within which they evolved is becoming increasingly evident.  At Yale Climate Connections, Bruce Lieberman explored the pros and cons of planting trees to address climate change.  According to satellite imagery from INPE, Brazil’s space agency, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon in January and February was 70% higher than during the same period in 2019. 

There is an interesting article in Rolling Stone about human climate migration that makes the important points that most will occur within a given country and that significant migration is already occurring.

Wildfires burned 890,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) last year in the mainland U.S., a sharp drop from the previous two years when wildfires burned an average of 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres), and the lowest burn area since 2004.  The U.S. trend in 2019 does not change long-term patterns, experts said, and likely resulted from anomalies such as heavy precipitation that left forests and grasslands wetter than normal.  As if COVID-19 weren’t enough, a third of the U.S. is at risk of flooding this spring, according to the spring flood outlook released by the National Weather Service on Thursday.

Energy

In an article about coal at Vox, David Roberts wrote: “…in the U.S. and across the world, coal power is dying.  By 2030, it will be uneconomic to run existing coal plants.  That means all the dozens of coal plants on the drawing board today are doomed to become stranded assets.”  Driven largely by a plunge in coal-fired power generation, German greenhouse gas emissions fell by 6.3% last year, the steepest reduction recorded since 2009.  In The Netherlands the amount of electricity produced from coal fell from 27 billion kWh to 17 billion kWh last year.

A group of gas grid operators, oil firms, and utilities is planning a green H2 pipeline to supply industrial customers in northwest Germany.

The Inside Clean Energy newsletter had three interesting articles this week.  One was about the impact of COVID-19 on forecasts of U.S. solar installations this year, another was about a large new solar project in Ohio, and the last about the decision to keep a nuclear power plant operational in Pennsylvania because that state joined RGGI.  The grass-roots backlash against large solar farms has become so widespread that the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a move to combat mounting negativity, last year developed and disseminated a manual that includes information on navigating community sensitivities.  According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2019 Year-in-Review report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie, solar grew by 23% in 2019 from 2018 and accounted for 40% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S., its highest share ever and more than any other single source of electricity, with 13.3 GW installed.  However, things likely won’t be as good this year because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The SEIA president said their projection of 47% growth in 2020 will be ratcheted down in the coming weeks and months.

Technology provider Lilac Solutions, which has a proprietary ion exchange technology, is partnering with resource developer Controlled Thermal Resources to open a pilot plant to extract lithium from geothermal brine run-off.  Sponsored by Senator Angus King (I-ME), the “Battery and Critical Mineral Recycling Act of 2020” calls on Congress to allocate $150 million over the next five years to support research on “innovative” battery recycling approaches and to help establish of a national collection system for spent batteries.

According to UBS analysts, while lower oil prices could negatively impact EV sales in the U.S., that is not likely to happen in China and the EU because factors other than cost are driving the markets there.  If you’re a truck fan, you might be interested in another article reviewing where we are in the evolution of the electric truck, both battery and fuel cell.

Potpourri

Ecologists working in Wollemi National Park in New South Wales, Australia, are using helicopters to airdrop carrots and sweet potatoes to wallabies, whose food supply was wiped out by the massive bushfires.  Peter Sinclair has another “This Is Not Cool” video at Yale Climate Connections.  This one shows how several climate scientists are handling the emotional and personal feelings associated with the potential adverse effects of climate change.  At The Guardian, John Vidal addressed the question: “Is our destruction of nature responsible for COVID-19?”.  One of Fritjof Capra’s books, The Web of Life (1996), had a profound effect on me.  Thus it was interesting to see that he and futurist Hazel Henderson had written an article together entitled “Pandemics — Lessons Looking Back from 2050”.  Zibby Owens reviewed the memoir by Greta Thunberg’s family, Our House Is on Fire, for the Washington Post

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/13/2020

Politics and Policy

The spread of coronavirus across the world is disrupting climate and biodiversity meetings ahead of two critical UN summits seeking to limit warming and to halt extinctions of plants and wildlife.  At Inside Climate News, Dan Gearino reviewed the climate lessons in the response to the coronavirus.  The Corps of Engineers has been given authority to provide funding to municipalities to buy out houses in flood-prone areas.  The catch is, if the municipality joins the program, it must use its eminent domain powers to force out people who won’t voluntarily sell and move.  The Senate on Thursday voted 52-40 to confirm James Danly as a Republican commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  A panel of economic experts appearing on Capitol Hill during a March 12 hearing convened by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis delivered a clear warning that continued inaction on climate will result in enormous economic and societal consequences.  Grist compared the comments Sanders and Biden have given about climate change during the debates while Reuters directly compared their plans.  Juliet Eilperin had an interesting piece in The Washington Post under the headline “Bernie Sanders’s climate record in congress: Lots of advocacy, no compromise.”

A Fairfax County church is on track to be the first Virginia property to tap into the PACE (property-assessed clean energy) program to finance upgrades to its aging HVAC system.  Martinsville City Council approved the concept of a new solar energy facility on the former Lynwood Golf Club site.  The city would have a power purchase agreement it.  David Roberts dissected the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) at Vox, while Walton Shepard, the Virginia Policy Director of NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program, had a blog post about the shortcomings of the act as passed by the General Assembly and what Governor Ralph Northam can do to fix it.  A federal judge has sided with the developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in their dispute with the Board of Supervisors of Nelson County, VA, over the permitting powers of local governments.

The Senate energy package stalled on Monday in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee over an amendment that would limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons — potent greenhouse gases.  The authors of the amendment also have a bill under consideration by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  There were two interesting articles this week about deniers of main-stream climate science.  One dealt with their activities to counteract the influence of conservative clean energy groups, led most prominently by ClearPath and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.  The other involved a joint investigation by non-profit newsroom Correctiv and current affairs TV show, Frontal21, into the activities of the Heartland Institute to weaken climate policies in Germany.  Speaking of Heartland, it has launched a website of contrarian climate science called “Climate at a Glance”, which includes brief explanations of key climate science and policy issues, many of which are either misleading or inaccurate.  Whether Heartland can keep it up is in question, however, since it laid off more than half of its staff last week amid financial difficulties.

Damian Carrington, The Guardian’s environment editor, had an excellent opinion essay about “deadlines” for saving the world from climate change.  James Slevin, president of the Utility Workers Union of America, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a climate warrior, have joined forces to argue for a carbon tax, the first time that an energy-sector union has announced support for such a fee.  Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed an executive order to further the state’s emission reduction goals Tuesday after state GOP lawmakers blocked legislation by staging their second walkout in less than a year.  In selecting Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) to serve as his next chief of staff, President Trump is bringing into the White House a Republican lawmaker who has raised concerns about climate change and expressed a desire to do something about it, although it would be a stretch to call him a climate champion.

Climate and Climate Science

The World Meteorological Organization released its annual state of the climate report for 2019, stating that the planet is “way off track” in dealing with climate change.  Greenland and Antarctica are melting six times faster than in the 1990s, according to the most complete analysis to date by the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise.  The melt rate is tracking the worst-case climate warming scenario set out by the IPCC.

A new paper in Environmental Research Letters has warned that if Earth warms by 1.5°C, 500 million people would be subjected to heat and humidity in excess of safe levels each year, increasing to 800 million at 2°C of warming. 

Air pollution, which is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, kills more people each year in the U.S. than auto accidents and homicides combined and costs the American economy up to $1 trillion per year.  Thus, curbing fossil fuel use will have immediate and significant impacts, as well as mitigate climate change.

Many seabirds in the UK are struggling in the face of food shortages and storms brought on by climate change, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee has warned.  Climate change is spurring some bear populations across the world to change their hibernation patterns.  A big question regarding the recent locust swarms in East Africa is whether they have been caused or influenced by climate change.  Daisy Dunne had a detailed Q&A about that question at Carbon Brief.  One way that climate change could have influenced the locust swarms is by altering the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).  Research reported in the journal Nature suggested that IOD events have become more frequent in recent decades.

A new study published Tuesday in Nature Communications examined the mechanics of tipping points in 40 separate ecosystems.  Drawing on pre-existing studies and modeling, the authors suggest that the collapse of large vulnerable ecosystems, such as rainforests and coral reefs, may take only a few decades once triggered.

Energy

The biggest energy news this week was the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, pushing oil prices down.  In combination with the coronavirus expansion into Europe and the U.S., this has impacted energy and other markets.  Charlie Bloch and colleagues at the Rocky Mountain Institute wrote about how this affects the global transition to a clean energy economy.  In addition, the International Energy Agency has stated that while the coronavirus health crisis may lead to a slump in global carbon emissions this year, the outbreak poses a threat to long-term climate action by undermining investment in clean energy.

Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, and Southern Company are not making investments consistent with their clean energy goals, according to a report released Monday from Synapse Energy Economics.  A study from Carbon Tracker found that in all major markets it costs less to generate power from installing new wind or solar farms than new coal plants.  Furthermore, it could be cheaper to generate electricity by building new renewable facilities than to run existing coal-fired power stations in all markets by 2030.  About 95% of nearly 21 GW of energy resources currently proposed for the New England region are grid-scale wind, solar, and battery projects, according to the Independent System Operator of New England.

Switzerland-based UBS Bank has ended support for offshore drilling in the Arctic and will also end funding for oil sands and coal projects.  At Yale Environment 360, Fred Pearce wrote: “Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels.  After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.”  Newly released figures from the Energy Information Administration show that coal-fired power plants in the U.S. had a capacity factor of 47.5% in 2019, the first time it’s been below 50% in decades.  Global CO2 emissions from the power sector fell by 2% last year because of reduced coal usage in Europe and the U.S. according to a study by independent climate think tank Ember.

The Australian government, in concert with Global wind and solar energy firms, Engie and Neoen, is starting a project to blend green H2 into the natural gas distribution system.  Current electrolyzers for generating green H2 by splitting water require specialized metals and contain expensive catalysts.  Research is moving forward to reduce costs, but additional development is required before a new generation of electrolyzers can be applied at scale.  A 10MW hydrogen production plant powered from renewable energy has just opened in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.  It is thought to be the world’s largest to date.  A Utah power plant, currently powered by coal, will first be transitioned to natural gas, and by 2025, the turbines “will be commercially guaranteed” to use a mix of 30% H2 and 70% gas.

According to the latest quarterly U.S. Energy Storage Monitor, produced by the national Energy Storage Association and analysis firm Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, annual storage deployments in the U.S. are predicted to increase from 523 MW recorded in 2019 to 7.3 GW by 2025.  Isle au Haut, an island seven miles off the coast of Maine, is going to a solar-powered microgrid with interesting innovations in energy storage.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, regular contributor SueEllen Campbell has compiled stories about the Australian bushfires that focus on the emotional and cultural impacts.  In the same vein, Australian science communicator Joe Duggan one again reached out to (mostly Australian) climate scientists, asking them to tell him about how they were feeling about their work and the state of the climate.  Thirty-eight percent of Democratic college students rate climate as their top issue.  Michael Svoboda reported on the increased media coverage for climate change in 2019 and its possible impact on public perception.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/6/2020

Politics and Policy

At a hearing Thursday before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler defended President Trump’s proposed 26% cut to the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget.  Even though they were voluntary, stricter energy efficiency building codes were just dropped from a major energy package making its way through the Senate because the National Association of Home Builders opposed it.  Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) proposed an amendment to that bill to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are strong greenhouse gases.  The White House raised objections.  An official at the Interior Department embarked on a campaign that has inserted misleading language about climate change into the agency’s scientific reports, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The EU Commission adopted a proposal for a European “climate law” that would commit the EU to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.  The regulation requires approval from parliament and member states.  Politico described the five political battles that must be won to gain that approval.  A group of activist youth called the proposal “surrender” and a dozen member countries called for the EU to draw up a climate target for 2030 “as soon as possible.”  The proposal also launched the process to enact a new tax on products from countries, such as the U.S., that aren’t working to reduce their CO2 emissions.

Dino Grandoni of The Washington Post presented “The four biggest differences between the Biden and Sanders climate plans” while MIT Technology Review had a more comprehensive comparison.  Attorneys for 21 youth climate activists are petitioning for a ruling from all 11 judges of the 9th Circuit after two judges on a three-judge panel ruled they cannot sue the federal government for failure to act on climate change.

Under its new governor, Florida, which is on the front lines of climate change impacts and is still controlled by Republicans, is changing its stance on climate issues.  The question is, can they get President Trump to change his mind?  A study by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that flood disclosure laws can help communities avoid flood damage by making floodplain development less lucrative.  At The Progressive, Laurie Mazur envisioned how infrastructure could be reconfigured to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.  Farm organizations, which have historically resisted calls to accept the anthropogenic nature of climate change, have adopted a new phrase for use with their members, “climatic events,” which can mean anything between weather and climate change.

Climate and Climate Science

A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature suggests that trees in the Congo Basin of central Africa are losing their capacity to absorb CO2 and that the decline may have been underway for a decade.  These findings parallel similar findings in the Amazon, but trailing that decline by 10 to 20 years.  They suggest that by mid-century, the remaining uncut tropical forests in Africa, the Amazon, and Asia will release more CO2 than they take up.  A more detailed account of the study can be found here.  As if that weren’t bad enough, the world’s largest tropical peatlands could be destroyed if plans go ahead to drill for oil under the Congo basin.  In addition, deforestation of lands occupied by isolated indigenous tribes in the Brazilian Amazon more than doubled between July 2018 and July 2019 to the highest rate in more than a decade, according to a new report released on Tuesday.  Climate Home News published an account of one family’s decision to burn the trees on their land in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in Western Brazil and start raising cattle.  Torrential rains deluged the coast of Sao Paulo state in Brazil early Tuesday, causing massive mud slides.

The extreme fires that razed parts of Australia late last year were 30% more likely because of human-induced climate change, says an international group of climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution project who have analyzed the disaster.  Record sea-surface temperatures in much of the Great Barrier Reef region have intensified the risks that coral bleaching already underway could develop into another mass bleaching event.  It is likely that the high sea temperatures will linger into March.

The journal Scientific Reports has retracted a paper claiming that climate change is due to solar cycles rather than human activity.  A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that adding iron to Earth’s oceans is not likely to result in the increased removal of CO2 from the atmosphere due to greater growth of phytoplankton.  

Europe’s average temperature for December through February was 6.1°F above the 40-year average, breaking the previous record by more than 2°F.  In the U.S., temperatures were above average for every state but Alaska.  Many parts of the world are likely to experience above-average temperatures over the next few months, even without an El Niño effect, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization.  New data from the USA National Phenology Network showed that in parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and northern Florida, spring arrived more than three weeks earlier than average, and earlier than at any point in the last 39 years.

According to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, uncurbed climate change could cause half of the world’s sandy beaches to vanish by the end of the century.  An article in Science examined the role of climate change in weather “blocking” by the jet stream.  According to a January paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the amount of warming associated with contrails from commercial airline flights could be reduced significantly by slightly changing their altitude.

Energy

General Motors has introduced its new electric vehicle (EV) battery that allows extended range and will be cheaper to produce than today’s batteries.  The new battery cells are soft, flat pouches, which allows the battery pack to have a greater variety of shapes.  In addition, the batteries use less cobalt, which makes them less expensive.  The world’s best-selling cargo van – Ford Transit – will debut an all-electric version for the U.S. and Canada for the 2022 model year.  Buyers of plug-in hybrid cars should be aware that the gasoline engine may turn on while in EV mode when certain energy-intensive operations are performed.  The U.S. vehicle fleet hit a record for fuel efficiency in 2018 averaging 25.1 mpg in real-world driving as it rose 0.2 mpg, the EPA said.

The UK’s CO2 emissions fell by 2.9% in 2019 and nearly 30% over the last decade despite a growth in GDP, according to a new analysis by climate policy website Carbon Brief.

Robert Harding and Amanda Levin of NRDC examined the 2019 power sector data released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) to generate a state-by-state comparison of the move toward cleaner energy.  Dan Gearino at Inside Clean Energy summarized national trends from the EIA report about the surge in wind and solar energy.  More than 5% of all K-12 schools in the U.S. produce solar energy — double what it was just three years ago.  Greentech Media predicted that more than $200 billion in capital expenditures for offshore wind will be spent between 2020 and 2025.

In a new twist on pumped storage, a California developer wants to move water back and forth between two abandoned open pit mines as a way of storing solar energy.  Others aren’t sold on the idea.  Officials in Monterey County California approved a massive clean-energy battery farm project spearheaded by Tesla and PG&E that officials say would be the largest of its kind in the world.  A huge green hydrogen plant will be constructed in the northern Netherlands as a part of a Royal Dutch Shell partnership with Dutch gas company Gasunie.  The green hydrogen plant will be powered by a new offshore wind farm near Groningen province.

New York Magazine business writer Malcolm Harris attended a meeting of the Shell Scenarios team and wrote “These companies aren’t planning for a future without oil and gas, at least not anytime soon, but they want the public to think of them as part of a climate solution.  In reality, they’re a problem trying to avoid being solved.”  One thing the oil and gas industry is counting on in its business model is more plastics.

Potpourri

At Yale Climate Connections, Daisy Simmons presented trailers for seven climate-related films from the 2020 Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, CA.  Amy Brady interviewed Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author Anne Charnock about her new novel, Bridge 108.  To observe Women’s History Month, Yale Climate Connections presented a selection of new and recent books on how women’s lives will be affected by climate change and how women are changing the politics and prospects for action.  Speaking of women and climate science, David Suzuki presented an interesting bit of history about Eunice Newton Foote and her contribution to the field.  Patti Wetli contrasted our responses to climate change and to the coronavirus.  Naomi Seibt, a 19-year-old German YouTuber whom conservatives have dubbed the “anti-Greta,” expressed support last Friday for a Canadian alt-right commentator at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/28/2020

Politics and Policy

A poll, conducted by Climate Nexus, the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that climate change is the second-most important issue for Democratic voters in 26 states, behind only health care.  Umair Irfan of Vox evaluated presidential contender Mike Bloomberg’s record and plans on climate change.  On Thursday, the top two senators on the U.S. Senate energy committee unveiled a bipartisan energy legislation package, called the American Energy Innovation Act, that would support renewable energy, efficiency measures, and nuclear power.  The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it will resume coal leasing on public lands.  On the other hand, a federal judge in Idaho ruled Thursday that a Trump administration policy limiting public input on oil and gas leasing decisions was “arbitrary and capricious,” overturning the 2018 directive and voiding nearly 1 million acres of leases out West as a result.  Climate change could become a “catastrophic” threat to global security, as people lose their livelihoods, fall ill, and battle over scarce water and food, a host of U.S. security, military, and intelligence experts warned in a report by the Center of Climate and Security.  A new paper in the journal Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development reported that almost 60% of Americans support making fossil fuel companies pay for a portion of the damages to local communities caused by global warming. 

In a yet-to-be-released report, Climate Works Australia has found that the country can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 with known technologies, provided the electricity market is 100% renewables by 2035 and other benchmarks are achieved.  The EU plans to impose costs on imports from other countries based on the carbon emissions associated with those imports in order to protect EU industries from competitors in countries with less stringent climate policies.  Incoming UN special envoy on climate action, Mark Carney, has told banks and investors that every private finance decision must take into account climate change and how to decarbonize the world economy to net zero.  The world’s financial services sector risks losses of up to $1 trillion if it fails to respond quickly to climate change and is hit by policy shifts such as the introduction of a carbon tax, a new report by consultants Oliver Wyman shows.  EU countries need to invest to prepare their transport infrastructure for the impacts of climate change or face hundreds of millions of dollars in repair costs, a U.N. regional commission said in a new report.

Virginia lawmakers have given final approval to a measure that will make the state a full participant in the Regional Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Initiative (RGGI), a multistate carbon cap-and-trade program.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), Justin Gillis brought us up to date on the status of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which is patterned after RGGI and involves the same states, but with a focus on lowering GHG emissions from transportation rather than electricity.  Under legislation that passed through both houses of the Virginia General assembly, state agencies cannot grant leases or easements for any pipelines or other infrastructure for oil and gas produced offshore under a permit or lease from the federal government.  The oil and gas industry substantially rewards U.S. legislators with campaign donations when they oppose environmental protections, according to a new analysis of congressional votes and political contributions published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  Writing in Scientific American, the authors of a recent study in Nature exploring fossil-fuel subsidies argue that the funding of them must end.

In an opinion piece for the NYT, Australian physician Lisa Pryor wrote: “The question I have been asking myself is, what does it matter that I accept the science of climate change if I continue to live my life as if climate change were a hoax?  Who cares how many people accept the data if we are still consuming, traveling, investing, eating, dressing, voting and planning for the future as if global warming were imaginary?”  Similarly, the Los Angeles Times took both President Trump and the oil companies to task over their “fig-leaf solutions” for the climate crisis.  So how can you tell whether a proposal is likely to be effective?  Ensia asked experts and came up with three criteria that are good starting places for separating legitimate climate plans from false and hollow claims.  JPMorgan Chase, the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels, has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked report obtained by The Guardian.  And, at Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben had an article entitled “How JPMorgan Chase Became the Doomsday Bank.” 

Climate and Climate Science

According to new research published Tuesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the world’s major wind-driven ocean currents are moving toward the poles, potentially depriving important coastal fishing waters of nutrients and raising the risk of sea level rise, extreme storms, and heatwaves for some adjacent land areas.  Climate change could add around $100 billion, or more than 20%, to the annual global cost of extreme weather events by 2040, Cambridge University said on Wednesday.

In a paper published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, nearly two dozen Arctic experts described how over the last three years, Alaska’s northwestern coast has experienced a series of unusual climate-related changes.  Grist had an interesting article about paralytic shellfish poisoning, caused by saxitoxin produced by the algae Alexandrium catenella, which appears to be increasing in frequency as Alaskan waters warm, putting indigenous people in danger.  In 2014-2016 unusual warming of the northern Pacific, referred to as “the Blob” led to widespread die-offs of sea birds, whales, and other sea mammals.  Now, scientists are concerned there may be a repeat of the phenomenon this summer.

The Great Barrier Reef is still at risk of a widespread outbreak of coral bleaching despite a cyclone to the far west helping to temporarily cool stressed corals.  Climate scientists have concluded that the recent bushfires in Australia were more catastrophic than any simulation of our changing climate predicted.

If you would like to hone your debate skills, Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist with CBS news, has prepared an excellent piece entitled “10 common myths about climate change – and what science really says.”

In an essay at Yale Climate Connections, Kristen Pope summarized the findings of two studies involving penguins, one in Global Change Biology about emperor penguins and one in PNAS about chinstrap and gentoo penguins.  Emperor penguins are expected to fare far less well than the other two as the climate warms.

Energy

Last week, Dominion Energy notified PJM, the regional electric grid operator from which Virginia gets its energy, that it plans to deactivate its two coal-fired units at the Chesterfield Power Station and Birchwood Power Partners announced plans to close its King George facility.  The closures will take more than 1.2 GW of coal-fired energy offline.  The Virginia State Corporation Commission has approved three battery-storage pilot projects proposed by Dominion Energy.

If you are interested in buying an electric vehicle (EV), you might have a hard time finding one.  E&E News investigated why.  The Los Angeles Department of Transportation will add 155 electric buses to the city’s fleet over the next two years, officials said Thursday.  A looming problem for battery-powered EVs is that cobalt, which is essential in the production of today’s lithium-ion batteries, is in limited supply.

Foresight Climate and Energy provided an in-depth analysis of H2 as an energy carrier.  The UK is about to experiment with a H2 fuel cell train.  Anglo American, ENGIE, and Williams Advanced Engineering are working together to create the world’s largest H2-powered mining truck capable of performing just as well, if not better, than its diesel-powered counterparts. 

Recently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, and Stanford Universities released a comprehensive study on the environmental, social, and economic impacts of industrial fracking on the Appalachian Basin.  Their findings were summarized in Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, a professional society.

For years the U.S. military has blocked the installation of off-shore wind turbines on the coast of California.  Although much remains to be worked out, it appears that a deal will be reached to allow them off the central part of the state.  Because of the water depth, they are likely to be the nation’s first floating turbines.

Potpourri

Bill McKibben had a lengthy essay, “A Very Hot Year,” in The New York Review of Books.  A new book by Michael T. Klare, entitled All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change looks at climate change from the perspective of people in the military.  Alex Ward interviewed the author for Vox.  Perhaps you’ve been offered the opportunity to buy carbon offsets along with your airplane ticket to help reduce the climate impact of your flight.  Vox had an article explaining them.  Carbon Brief had a fact-check on the carbon footprint of streaming video on Netflix.  Seems as if some recent “news” was off-the-mark.  There is a list of all the cli-fi books that Amy Brady has reviewed at Bookshop.org.  At Chicago Review of Books, Amy Brady interviewed author Anne Charnock about Bridge 108, which “reveals how large, systemic problems like economic stratification and climate change are tightly entwined.”  The Tyee’s Andrew Nikiforuk spent two days with the globally bestselling botanist, author, and filmmaker Diana Beresford-Kroeger.  Their conversation was so rich it merited five parts, ranging “from plant medicine to climate change to healing the planet and the human heart.”  Greta Thunberg’s mother, Malena Ernman, had an edited extract in The Guardian from the family’s new book Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, which focuses on Greta’s “transformation from bullied teenager to climate icon.”

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/21/2020

Politics and Policy

When it comes to coping with and preparing for the impacts of sea level rise, Miami and Miami Beach get most of the press.  As a consequence, we tend to overlook the many other coastal cities faced with similar problems.  The Washington Post addressed this by publishing an article about Boston that made clear just how complicated the issue is.  In an opinion piece in the same newspaper, New Orleans architects and planners Steven Bingler and Martin C. Pedersen argue that one option that must be considered for coastal cities is retreat.  President Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget would slash funding for the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers, eliminating all $38 million for research to help wildlife and humans “adapt to a changing climate.”  Mandy Gunasekara, who urged President Trump to exit the Paris climate agreement as the EPA’s top air-policy adviser, is poised to return to the agency as its next chief of staff.

Democratic presidential candidates discussed climate change for about 15 minutes during the Wednesday night debate in Las Vegas.  Marianne Lavelle of Inside Climate News summarized what the candidates had to say.  Also on Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund ranked Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar last among the candidates on their plans to address climate change, giving each a score of 1 out of 10.  Vox published a list of five things to know about how Bernie Sanders plans to deal with the climate crisis as president.  Rather than focusing on curtailing fossil fuel use, as the Democrats do, Republican lawmakers want to continue their use, but employ carbon capture and storage technology.  The plan was immediately condemned by the powerful Club for Growth PAC and elicited grumbles from a handful of Republican lawmakers.  Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said Monday that he plans to spend $10 billion of his own fortune to help fight climate change.  A new study from the Pew Research Center found that the partisan divide over climate change is the largest it has ever been.

Sarah Vogelsong provided a list of “Ten Things to Know about the [Virginia] Clean Economy Act.”  If state Senators act on either of two bills from the House, Virginians would be allowed to buy 100% renewable energy from competitive service suppliers — no matter what programs their utilities offer.  On his blog, James A. Bacon examined a report from Rocky Mountain Institute assessing Dominion’s plans to become net-zero by 2050.  In a move to protect its ski slopes and growing economy, Utah has created a long-term plan to address the climate crisis.  Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer asserted that in the past few years, the American Petroleum Institute and its allies have begun working at the local level, fighting against climate-friendly policies in at least 16 different states.

A study published in the journal Nature Energy cautioned that the negative impacts associated with climate change are insufficiently accounted for in financial markets, raising the possibility of a severe recession in response to serious climate problems.  A commission, convened by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the journal Lancet, found that every country in the world is failing to shield children’s health and their futures from intensifying ecological degradation and climate change.  The Fifth National Climate Assessment is scheduled for release in 2022, about halfway through President Trump’s potential second term.  Planning for the report is already underway, with a project leader expected to be chosen within a few months.  The White House stands to have an influential role in the report’s construction through the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Climate and Climate Science

According to NOAA scientists, January 2020 recorded the highest global average temperature for January in 141 years of record keeping.  In a stirring photo-essay for The New York Times, Damien Cave wrote of “The End of Australia as We Know It.”  At National Geographic, Madeline Stone explained how climate change may have caused the locust plague in East Africa.  She also described the various factors and events that may have led to record or near-record temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula,.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, concluded that “natural” emissions of fossil methane are lower than had been thought.  Assuming that estimates of total fossil methane emissions are correct, this suggests that emissions of fossil methane from coal, oil, and gas operations are larger than previously thought.  Some take issue with that assumption.  A second study, published in Science, found that “minimal” methane was emitted from permafrost and geologic seepage as Earth was emerging from the last ice age.

In a 2016 book, naturalist E. O. Wilson proposed that half of Earth be set aside for natural systems.  Now many people, both scientists and non-scientists, are working to bring that idea to fruition.  Two scientific studies of the number of insects splattered by cars have revealed a huge decline in abundance at European sites in two decades.  Scientists and conservationists have warned that if high ocean temperatures in the region do not drop in the next two weeks, the Great Barrier Reef could experience its third major coral bleaching incident in five years.  In addition, climate change could destroy nearly all remaining coral reefs by the end of the century, according to research released Monday at the AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting 2020 in San Diego.

In an article in the journal Science, two USGS researchers wrote “The Colorado River Basin loses progressively more water to evaporation, as its sunlight-reflecting snow mantle disappears.”  As a result, the annual-mean discharge has been decreasing by 9.3% per °C of warming.  Because of heavy rains, major flooding occurred in central Mississippi and southern Tennessee.  In addition, Storm Dennis caused widespread flooding across England, Wales and Scotland.

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is the current that carries warm water north and cold water south, maintaining the mild climate in the UK and northern Europe.  While there have been some studies that suggest the AMOC is slowing, exactly what is happening is unclear.  Wired presented a summary of the research efforts underway to better understand the AMOC.

Energy

At Yale Environment 360, journalist Lois Parshley explored the question of whether small modular nuclear reactors have a place in the power mix of the future.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly evaluate how to develop, build and operate small modular nuclear reactors, which TVA is considering building near ORNL.  In the wake of the shutdown of many of its nuclear energy plants, Japan is implementing a 4-D energy transition, creating a distributed, decarbonized, decentralized, and digitized grid.

Tensions are high in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways and demonstrating on streets and highways.  The CBC provided background on the controversy.  In the U.S., FERC delayed a vote on a similar proposed natural gas pipeline and marine export terminal in Oregon.  In California, utilities argue that ramping up the production of renewable natural gas and blending it with normal natural gas in pipelines can reduce GHGs faster and cheaper than electrifying buildings.  David Roberts examined this argument at Vox.

New reports from the Brattle Group and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with the ClimateWorks Foundation examined the feasibility and costs of meeting the climate goals of the six New England states and California, respectively.  E&E News characterized it as a “steep path.” 

Delta Air Lines said on Friday that it will invest $1 billion over the next decade in initiatives that would limit the impact of global air travel, which accounts for roughly 2% of global CO2 emissions, on the environment.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced a goal for biofuels to make up 30% of U.S. transportation fuels by 2050.

Power-generating capacity from renewable energy — including solar, wind and utility-scale hydropower — has doubled in the U.S. since 2010, according to a new report from BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.  As we move into a new decade, the question is whether the growing U.S. energy storage industry will be able to maintain its current path of rapid growth.  Ricardo F. Rodriguez of Navigant Research argued that all signs suggest that it will.

Potpourri

In a YouTube video, MIT students perform “Heal! — A Battle Poem for the Climate and Its Defenders.”  On a related note, students are stepping up the pressure on universities to pull investments from fossil fuel industries.  Peter Sinclair has released another video, this one about BlackRock’s warning to the investment community of the risks associated with climate change.  Jenny Offill has a new cli-fi book entitled Weather.  Offill tells the story in a series of discrete units that Vox describes as working like Zen koans.  The Guardian published an edited excerpt from The Future We Choose, a new book by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, the architects of the Paris Climate Accords.  New to the cli-fi genre?  Then you might benefit from an introduction written by Jennifer Hijazi for E&E News.  Michael Svoboda has compiled a list of books about hope in a time of climate change.  Greta Thunberg has set up a foundation “to promote ecological and social sustainability.”  In The New York Times Magazine, Charles Homans, the politics editor, wrote about the dashcam video recorded by a fire truck belonging to the Dunmore Rural Fire Brigade in Australia.  He called it the “video that finally tells the truth about climate change.”  At The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich wrote about efforts to reduce the carbon footprints of live concerts and music festivals.  The Guardian has revealed that according to a yet-to-be published study at Brown University, “a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots.”

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.