Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/18/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/11/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/4/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/28/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/21/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Action and Elections in Virginia: What Would Rachel Carson Do?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Online from 7 PM – 8 PM

Hosted by the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club and the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley

Robert K. Musil, PhD, MPH, President and CEO of the Rachel Carson Council, will join us to talk about Organizing, Advocacy and Elections, and how it is related to the work at the Rachel Carson Council.

All welcome! See below for registration information.

You can learn more about Bob Musil here:
https://rachelcarsoncouncil.org/about-rcc/about-president-robert-k-musil/

And you can learn more about how his work relates to the legacy of Rachel Carson here:
https://rachelcarsoncouncil.org/presidents-message/

Register in advance for this meeting:

https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0qdu-rrzwuHtOlgdQlepQvYLACZ7iNIhFw

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


In addition to having served as President of the Rachel Carson Council since 2014, “Dr. Musil is also a Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, School of Public Affairs, American University, where he teaches about climate change and American environmental politics. He also has been a Visiting Scholar at the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, Wesley Theological Seminary, where he taught about religious responses to global warming and security threats.

From 1992-2006, Dr. Musil was the longest-serving Executive Director and CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), winner of the 1985 Nobel Prize for Peace. During his tenure, he nearly tripled PSR’s membership, budget, and staff.” – Rachel Carson Council website, about Robert Musil

The Rachel Carson Council works to build strong links between traditional environmental organizing, national advocacy, and the climate justice movement, which has led the effort to underscore that communities and countries exploited through racial and economic inequality are the most vulnerable to climate change. The Rachel Carson Council also aims to support and join the mobilization of communities most affected by climate change and to work to reduce income inequality by advocating for the creation of jobs in clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and energy efficiency.” – Rachel Carson Council website, Our Work


Share the Facebook event page here!

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/14/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/7/2020

Politics and Policy

Joe Biden’s climate plan is a political winner in four states where Senate races and the presidential contest are competitive, according to new polling.  At the Washington Post (WP), Brady Dennis and Dino Grandoni dissected how that plan came together.  E&E News compiled information about the energy and environment positions of eight vice president contenders.  Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the Climate Equity Act, which would create an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Office of Management and Budget.  A letter signed by more than 100 economists published in The Guardian states that the carbon economy amplifies racial, social, and economic inequities, creating a system that is fundamentally incompatible with a stable future.  An example of environmental injustice is occurring in the Four Corners areas where the rollback of methane regulations is having a major impact on Native Americans. 

An investor group managing more than $16 trillion in assets launched the world’s first step-by-step plan to help pension funds align their portfolios with the Paris Climate Accord.  The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is collaborating with investor-owned utilities to assist more than 350,000 low-to-moderate income households lower their energy use.  Pope Francis continued to criticize the world’s governments for their “very weak” response to the climate crisis.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times (NYT), a conservative Christian environmentalist noted that some Republicans seem to have finally gotten serious about climate change.  And in Time, former Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich called for action on climate change “for the good of the planet and business.”  In a commentary at WBUR, Frederick Hewett wrote “on the whole, the politics of climate change is shifting toward other ways to meet the challenge, and carbon pricing is moving to the back burner.”

At Vox, David Roberts wrote about Saul Griffith’s (Rewiring America) ideas for decarbonizing the U.S. economy, stating: “Despite the titanic effort it would take to decarbonize, the U.S. doesn’t need any new technologies and it doesn’t require any grand national sacrifice.”  David Ferris of E&E News also covered the proposal.  According to a new report from the World Resources Institute, 41 states cut their carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017, even as their economies grew.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, climate scientists Zeke Hausfather and Richard Betts warned that doom and dismissal are both traps that can lead to lack of action on climate change.  Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, former diplomat Peter E. Harrell noted that President Trump’s use of national security laws to impose tariffs and sanctions created a precedent for a future Democratic president to impose tariffs and sanctions to combat climate change.

A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday said the Dakota Access Pipeline does not have to be shut and drained per a lower court order, but the legal battle is continuing over the permit that allowed the line to be finished.  Virginia’s Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are again proposing reforms to the federal pipeline review process in response to public complaints surrounding the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the still active Mountain Valley Pipeline through Virginia.  The Trump administration is still litigating changes to four major environmental regulations.  If Biden wins the election, he will likely ask the D.C. Circuit to put the suits on hold.  FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee has said that he is stepping down from the regulatory body on September 4.  The U.S. Senate confirmed Mark Menezes as Deputy Secretary of Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE.)  President Trump fired two members of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) board of directors on Monday over the federally owned utility’s decision to outsource some technology jobs.  TVA reversed course Thursday and rehired 102 tech workers.

Climate and Climate Science

A study published Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research has projected that under continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, hotter temperatures would increase global mortality rates by 73 deaths per 100,000 people annually in 2100, compared with the 2018 global death rate of 74 per 100,000 people for all infectious diseases.  During a House Oversight Committee hearing on the economic and health consequences of climate change, Prof. Drew Shindell of Duke University testified that if the global temperature rise is kept below 2°C, the U.S. could avoid 4.5 million premature deaths, 3.5 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and approximately 300 million lost workdays.  In an effort to raise awareness about the inequities of extreme heat, The NYT presented a moving photo-essay using photographs from around the world.

An updated hurricane forecast released on Thursday by NOAA calls for a total of 19 to 25 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 7 to 11 are expected to become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including 3 to 6 that could become major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater).  Experts say that the pair of hazards bracketing the country this week, fire on the West Coast and a hurricane on the East, offers a preview of life under climate change: a relentless grind of overlapping disasters. 

A new study published in the journal npj Climate and Atmospheric Science tracked permafrost thaw at a variety of interior Alaska sites and found significant thaw during rainy summers.  A study published in Nature Climate Change found that climate change made the extreme “mass loss” seen in glaciers in the Southern Alps of New Zealand in 2018 at least 10 times more likely; another mass loss event in 2011 was made at least six times more likely.  A melting glacier as large as a cathedral is at risk of breaking apart due to a heatwave, forcing the evacuation of part of an Italian alpine valley.  The last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic has collapsed, losing more than 40% of its area in just two days at the end of July.

July was the third-hottest on record, all occurring within the last five years.  A paper published in Scientific Reports projected that extreme droughts are likely to become much more frequent across central Europe.  A cluster of counties on Colorado’s Western Slope, along with three counties just across the border in eastern Utah, has warmed more than 2°C, double the global average; it is the largest 2°C hot spot in the Lower 48, a WP analysis found.

The coronavirus lockdowns will have a negligible impact on the climate crisis, with global heating cut by only 0.01°C by 2030.  Clearings in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest have increased by 28% during the current monitoring year, which runs from August through July, compared with last year.

Energy

Peabody Energy Corp. took a $1.42 billion impairment charge on its North Antelope Rochelle coal mine in Wyoming, representing more than half the value of the largest coal mine in the U.S.  The world’s fleet of coal-fired power plants has gotten smaller for the first time on record, with more capacity being retired in the first half of 2020 than being opened.

Globally, the number of public electric vehicle charging points now exceeds one million, having doubled in three years.  ChargePoint has raised $127 million to build out a U.S. and European charging network to meet the needs of a fast-growing global electric vehicle fleet. 

With Europe and Japan moving to develop green hydrogen as a fuel for decarbonization, E&E News examined the question of whether the U.S. should be working to build a green hydrogen infrastructure.  Greentech Media examined the question of who will own the hydrogen future, oil companies or electric utilities.  The U.S. and India have launched a new Hydrogen Task Force as a public-private effort to boost hydrogen production technologies.  U.S. power giant NextEra recently announced that its subsidiary Florida Power & Light plans to build a 20 MW electrolyzer to produce green hydrogen from water.  Christian Roselund of Rocky Mountain Institute discussed the implications of this to the future of hydrogen in the U.S.  In Germany, companies involved in a hydrogen project at the Heide oil refinery near Hamburg said they will build a 30 MW electrolysis plant to produce green hydrogen that will be used by the refinery and to produce raw materials for the partners in the project.  And in the UK, the HyFlyer project is working with Silicon Valley start-up ZeroAvia to develop mid-range passenger planes that fly on electricity from hydrogen-powered fuel cells.

BP said that it will transform itself by halting oil and gas exploration in new countries, slashing oil and gas production by 40%, lowering carbon emissions by about a third, and boosting capital spending on low-carbon energy tenfold to $5 billion a year.

GE plans to use IBM’s Summit supercomputer to simulate air currents in a way it has never been able to before, allowing it to enhance the design, control, and operations of future wind turbines.  Led by a clean energy surge by China, the offshore wind industry could reach 234 GW by 2030, from a global tally of just over 29 GW at the end of 2019, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.  The University of Maine announced that a full-size floating wind turbine is expected to be complete in 2023 with the backing New England Aqua Ventus, which will license the University’s floating hull intellectual property.  At E&E News, John Fialka discussed the problems facing the offshore wind industry, with the biggest being establishing a standard for bringing the electricity to shore and tying into the grid.  The negative impact of aging on wind and solar power plant performance is being reduced, thanks to maturing technologies and commercial practices.

Potpourri

I’ve provided links to several articles about Michael Schellenberger’s rescinded article in Forbes and the book upon which it was based, Apocalypse Never.  Now Snopes has provided a detailed analysis of the controversy.  For conservatives who care about climate change, republicEn has a new website.  Individual acts alone won’t stop the climate crisis, but there are things we can do; The Guardian asked experts what they do.  A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the media still disproportionately amplify the views of businesses and coalitions pushing back on climate action.

Closing Thought

Five Maine activists shared what motivated them to join the fight on climate change.

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

“One Earth” Book Donations

CAAV Chair Jo Anne St. Clair at right with a Vine & Fig volunteer and one of the first recipients of a CAAV donated book to inspire young people of all backgrounds to become environmental leaders, on August 5, 2020. Photo by Cathy Strickler.

Black, indigenous and people of color take center stage in a new environmental project by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV). Cathy Strickler, founder of CAAV, has been intrigued by the potential impact of an award-winning book released in April 2020, for ages 12 and up, titled One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet by conservation biologist Anuradha Rao. By gifting copies of the book, she hopes that CAAV can reach young people who are choosing what their own path will be.

One Earth: People of Color Protecting our Planet … profiles Black, Indigenous and People of Color who live and work as environmental defenders. Through their individual stories, the book shows that the intersection of environment and ethnicity is an asset to achieving environmental goals. The twenty short biographies introduce readers to diverse activists from all around the world, who are of many ages and ethnicities. From saving ancient trees on the West Coast of Canada, to protecting the Irrawaddy dolphins of India, to uncovering racial inequalities in the food system in the United States, these environmental heroes are celebrated by author and biologist Anuradha Rao, who outlines how they went from being kids who cared about the environment to community leaders in their field. One Earth is full of environmental role models waiting to be found.”

The seed money for the project comes from donations to CAAV’s anti-pipeline campaign. That effort created a large metal sculpture, The Defenders, which was installed at multiple sites adjacent to the proposed path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to amplify the voices defending lives, land, health, clean water and clean air from fossil fuel expansion. Jo Anne St. Clair, chair of CAAV and Karen Lee, who helped implement The Defenders’ project, agree with Cathy: “It is appropriate that seed money for future defenders comes from The Defenders’ campaign.”

Jo Anne and Cathy brought a dozen of these books to Vine & Fig in Harrisonburg’s north end on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, in support of New Community Project’s recently launched Rocktown Sprouts. Developed to teach local youth about nurturing land, water and their health through growing plants and composting organic discards, the One Earth books will find an attentive and receptive audience through this program.

Other copies of Anuradha Rao’s One Earth: People of Color Protecting our Planet will hopefully find good homes through local middle and high schools and/or other young people’s learning and service organizations.

Books purchased with the remainder of The Defenders funds were donated to Vine & Fig to distribute to educators and young people working to protect and enrich our community and world. Jo Anne presented two books to volunteers who have been tending the gardens and taking food to Waterman Elementary School and Our Community Place. She presented a third book to a JMU student organizer who will be working with Vine & Fig this fall.Cathy Strickler, August 5, 2020

– Karen Lee and Adrie Voors

Jo Anne gives Vine & Fig volunteers copies of One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet on August 5. Photo by Cathy Strickler.

BXE “FERC Into FREC” Campaign Video

BXE created this video “FERC into FREC”

Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) has been fighting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) corruption in many outspoken and creative ways for the last six years. In June 2020 they released this video explaining the need to transform FERC from a tool of the oil and gas industry into a regulatory body serving all members of the general public and our needs for clean water and air, and a stable climate.

Watch the video by clicking on the image above. You will find some local Shenandoah Valley anti-pipeline heroes in the mix!

“In a world where the impacts of fossil-fuel induced climate change are so clear, and so devastating, it’s absolutely necessary that FERC be replaced with an agency dedicated to an active and just transition off fossil fuels.” – Beyond Extreme Energy