Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/20/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/13/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/6/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

Biden won!

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/30/2020

Politics and Policy

The Trump administration recently removed the chief scientist at NOAA, installed new political staff who have questioned accepted facts about climate change, and imposed stricter controls on communications at the agency, all apparently aimed at drastically changing the next National Climate Assessment.  Grist reported that DOE bottled up reports for more than 40 clean energy studies, according to emails and documents obtained by InvestigateWest, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at DOE and its national labs.  Trump’s three energy and environmental agency heads have been frequently touring swing states in the final month ahead of the election, raising questions about whether the administration is improperly using government resources to boost his reelection bid.  A Saturday ruling from the U.S. Court of International Trade once again paused the Trump administration’s plans to extend tariffs to two-sided solar panels.  By coincidence, the effective date for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is Nov. 4, the day after the election.  If former Vice President Joe Biden wins, his administration can apply to rejoin and do so 30 days after the application is received.  Grist has an interactive “article” in which you can see if you can find a path to crafting a climate policy — no matter who wins the election.

The Zero Carbon Action Plan, developed by roughly 100 individuals from academia and think tanks, offers a possible road map for the U.S. to hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 under a new administration.  Evergreen Action, a group of former staffers of Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA-D), have urged Biden to consider using U.S. financial regulation as a tool to fight climate change if he is elected.  Biden could also use Trump’s playbook to reverse his deregulatory moves on pollution and climate.  Biden’s pledge to rededicate the U.S. to combating climate change would mean a greater role for NASA’s Earth Science research, an area that has been squeezed by Trump.  Biden is leaning into climate change in the final days before the election, issuing new national ads attacking Trump’s science denial, even as Trump continues to hammer Biden’s position on the oil industry.  Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times reported on who is in Biden’s inner circle on climate change, while Alexander Kaufman discussed possible EPA heads at HuffPost.  A victory by Biden could nearly double the annual rate of solar deployment in the U.S., according to a new report by S&P Global RatingsE&E News discussed ways in which a Biden administration could set a date after which the sale of new gasoline or diesel powered cars could not be sold in the U.S.

Both Japan and South Korea have pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050, suggesting that some of Japan’s nuclear power plants will be reactivated.  Although hundreds of coal-fired power plants are still in planning worldwide, the announcements from Japan and South Korea, coupled with increasing numbers of banks being unwilling to finance new plants, suggest that an end to the global coal plant boom is no longer such a distant prospect.  Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has become isolated in his defense of coal and refusal to step up his climate ambition, as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines change course.

In Canada, a Federal Court judge struck down a lawsuit brought by 15 young Canadians who argued the government was violating their charter rights.  As the effects of climate change become more severe, prominent research institutions and government agencies are focusing new money and attention on solar geoengineering, in the hopes of buying humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  To address the growing threat of sea level rise to shoreline communities, officials in Virginia will promote science-based, cross-jurisdictional collaboration to mitigate flooding and increase communities’ resilience.

Climate and Climate Science

The Guardian revealed that scientists have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast, although at Climate Feedback, four climate scientists analyzed the article and estimated its overall scientific credibility to be ‘low’, lacking important context.

The minimum volume of Arctic sea ice declined steadily until 2012, when the current record was set.  Now a paper in Environmental Research Letters has sought to explain why the minimum volume has not fallen below that record.  Scientists have found that the distribution of permafrost in the Alaskan subsurface is much more complicated than previously thought, suggesting that many regions may be more vulnerable to melting than had been thought.  Ice loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet has accelerated significantly over the past two decades, transforming the shape of the ice sheet edge and therefore coastal Greenland.  Melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is well underway and will be almost impossible to reverse, even if global emissions reduction targets are met.

Research suggests that lightning is an increasingly common cause of large wildfires, and that climate change may cause an increase in lightning strikes over the continental U.S. in coming decades.  Two wildfires are now burning in Southern California, enlarging rapidly and forcing evacuations of tens of thousands of people in Orange County.

At least six people died and more than 2.3 million customers were without power Thursday morning after Hurricane Zeta hit the U.S. Gulf Coast and rushed inland.  Typhoon Molave was the fourth tropical storm to hit Vietnam since October 11 and the ninth since the start of the year.

Even though the World Meteorological Organization has declared that a La Niña event is under way, heralding a colder and stormier winter than usual across the northern hemisphere, 2020 remains likely to be one of the warmest years on record.  New research published in Nature Food shows that corn is becoming more vulnerable to drought, a finding with major implications for annual yields given scientists’ predictions that climate change will intensify poor weather conditions.

Energy

Depressed in 2020 by the worldwide economic slowdown, global CO2 emissions from power, transportation, industry, and buildings peaked in 2019 at 31.9 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, according to an Oct. 27 report from BloombergNEF.

The first electric school buses in Virginia will begin rolling down the road early next month, thanks to Dominion Energy’s Electric School Bus Program and Sonny Merryman, a school and commercial bus company.  On Nov. 12 Ford Motor Co. plans to unveil its zero emission all-electric E-Transit, a green version of the top-selling cargo van.  “I do see that there will be an electrified Ram pickup in the marketplace, and I would ask you just to stay tuned for a little while, and we’ll tell you exactly when that will be,” Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Mike Manley said in answering an analyst’s question on the topic.  Nikola, Toyota, Hyundai, and Daimler are among the companies pursuing hydrogen fuel cell trucks, replacing diesel rigs with quiet, zero-emission trucks.  By 2035 Airbus hopes to have a hydrogen-powered commercial airliner in the sky that will release zero CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.

A new report from independent think tank RethinkX predicts that the combination of solar and wind energy with batteries could undercut and disrupt the existing global energy system with “the cheapest power available” over the next decade.  In the second part of his column this week, Dan Gearino reported that the average levelized cost of energy for PV solar farms is now $37 per megawatt-hour, while on-shore wind is $40, compared to $59 for a combined cycle natural gas plant.  The New York Times published an interesting article combining text with graphics to show how the electricity sources in each state have varied over the past 20 years.  Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina are teaming up to “cooperatively promote, develop, and expand offshore wind energy and the accompanying industry supply chain and workforce.”  MidAmerican Energy announced that after wind turbine blades broke off twice over the last two months, it is shutting down 46 of its similar turbines to check them for safety.  It is working with wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to understand the “root cause” of the blade failures.

ExxonMobil said on Thursday it could cut its global workforce by about 15% (approximately 14,000 jobs) including deep white-collar staff reductions in the U.S., as the COVID-19 pandemic batters energy demand and prices.  In addition, oil prices tumbled on Thursday, touching a five-month low and extending the previous day’s sharp decline.  Alberta, the heart of Canadian hydrocarbon extraction, has set a goal of a 45% drop in the industry’s methane footprint from its 160,000 active wells by 2025, but the province also contains almost 100,000 inactive wells that have not been decommissioned, but could be leaking.

Energy storage developer GlidePath Power Solutions will use a full life-cycle management platform for the batteries it employs, including recycling and repurposing as it seeks to “resolve the recycling and re-use case upfront, not down the track”.  GreenTech Media addressed the question of what “long-term energy storage” means.

Potpourri

On Friday, Grist launched a new podcast called “Temperature Check” about climate, race, and culture.  For those who have retirement accounts with TIAA, there is now a movement to get them to divest from fossil fuels.  National Geographic spoke with Greta Thunberg about how her activism has changed over the past year and how her message might survive an increasingly complex world.  At Chicago Review of Books, Amy Brady spoke with Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Ministry for the Future.

Closing Thought

More than at any time in the past, young activists helped bring climate change onto the table in this year’s presidential election.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/23/2020

Politics and Policy

During their debate Thursday night, President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden laid out starkly different visions on whether the U.S. needs to transition away from fossil fuels to address climate change.  As might be expected, conservatives pummeled Biden for his position, accusing him of being callous with the economy in his proposals for tackling climate change.  Nevertheless, an article in Market Watch asserted that the U.S. will transition to a clean-energy mix regardless of who wins the White House, although the pace of that change will depend on the election’s outcome.  The Independent asked climate scientists, policy experts, and environmentalists for their takeaways from the climate change portion of the debate.  According to a national poll of likely voters conducted by The New York Times and Siena College, 66% support Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan while 26% oppose it.  If Biden wins, the question haunting climate activists is whether this time will be different from President Obama’s first term.  Automakers evidently think it will be because they are gearing up for tough new vehicle emissions rules and policies favoring electric vehicles if Biden wins.

GreenTech Media interviewed Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) about areas of agreement and disagreement among legislators on energy reform.  At The New Republic, Kate Aronoff explored the role that conservative West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) might play in enacting energy and climate legislation should the Democrats take over the Senate.  A new report from the Brookings Institution assessed the greenhouse gas reduction pledges and commitments of the U.S.’s largest cities, tracked the emissions savings that could result from them, and evaluated whether the cities are meeting their goals.  Virginia Governor Ralph Northam pledged to power the states power grid with 30% renewable energy by 2030.  On Wednesday, offshore wind developers said that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management within the Department of the Interior will require additional funding to keep permitting on track for a number of projects.  Climate change isn’t Biden’s sole environmental concern.  His platform calls on the U.S. to set aside 30% of its lands and water for conservation by the end of the decade.

In a diatribe against U.S. climate policies, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry blamed Trump’s “negative stance” and “retrogression on climate change” for undermining progress on the Paris climate accord.  EU environment ministers were set to agree this week to make the bloc’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050 legally binding, but the agriculture lobby and agriculturally dominant countries stand as a potential obstacle to the pledge.  Nevertheless, EU agriculture ministers agreed on Wednesday to set aside part of the farming policy budget for programs that protect the environment.  Coal played a very important part in Poland’s rise from the ashes of WWII, but pressures are mounting for the country to move on.  In an interesting coincidence, Yale Environment 360 published a retrospective about Poland and coal in the same week the country’s largest power company announced that it wants to become 100% renewable by 2050.  The French government stepped in to force a domestic company to delay signing a potential $7 billion deal with a U.S. liquefied natural gas company over concerns that its U.S. shale gas was too dirty.  After modelling a ‘green recovery’ plan against a ‘return-to-normal’ plan across the UK, Germany, Poland, the U.S., India, and globally, researchers from Cambridge Econometrics concluded that the impact of a green recovery strategy would be “consistently larger” than that delivered through a standard stimulus package.

Jody Freeman, the Archibald Cox Professor of Law and director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, examined the impact on environmental and climate law of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s possible elevation to the Supreme Court.  Three years after Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes published research finding “a discrepancy between what ExxonMobil’s scientists and executives discussed about climate change privately and in academic circles and what it presented to the general public,” Vijay Swarup, Exxon’s vice president of research and development, published a comment in the same journal that seeks to rebut the research.  A key step in the progress of the National Climate Assessment—the solicitation for authors to work on the project—was delayed for months, but after public outcry, NASA restarted the process, publishing a Federal Register notice Thursday seeking authors.

Climate and Climate Science

The North Complex fire wiped out the town of Berry Creek, CA, in September.  A multimedia article in The Washington Post explained the contribution of climate change to that fire.  Northern California faces days of ‘critical’ fire risk as strong, dry winds will keep fire danger high this week and next.  The Cameron Peak Fire near Rocky Mountain National Park became the largest wildfire in Colorado history, growing to almost 207,000 acres this week, while the East Troublesome Fire forced closure of the park.  An NPR analysis found that most wildfire-prone states have no requirements for disclosing fire risk to someone who buys or rents a home; only California and Oregon do.

According to a new study, dust storms on the Great Plains have become more common and more intense in the past 20 years, because of more frequent droughts in the region and an expansion of croplands.  In 2003 my wife and I hiked into Canyon de Chelly, in the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, on a trail that was worn into the sandstone from the many feet that had walked it over centuries.  Thus, it was especially painful to read about the impacts of the extreme drought that is occurring there.

Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer published an important essay on the danger posed by multiple, simultaneous disasters in Foreign Affairs (note, you can read it for free just by signing up).

Hurricane Epsilon rapidly intensified Tuesday and Wednesday, unexpectedly becoming a major Category 3 hurricane and claiming two records as it cruised northwest over the open Atlantic.  For the first time since records began, the surface waters of the Laptev Sea in Siberia, the main nursery of Arctic sea ice, have yet to start freezing in late October.

“Global Safety Net” is the first global-scale analysis of land areas requiring protection to solve the twin crises of biodiversity and climate change.  Brianna Baker interviewed Eric Dinerstein, the wildlife scientist who led the project.

Energy

An aggressive push towards 100% renewable energy would save Americans as much as $321bn in energy costs, while also slashing planet-heating emissions, according to a new report from Rewiring America.  Corporate buyers of renewable energy will drive the development of 44 GW to 72 GW of new wind and solar projects in the U.S. over the next decade, according to a new report from IHS Markit.  If you are thinking of converting your home to all-electric, you might be interested in the experiences of Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Cinnamon Energy Systems.

Inside Climate News reviewed concerns about NuScale Power’s small modular nuclear reactors that have been approved for construction in Idaho.  As global warming climbs and humanity’s water consumption increases, nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants that rely on freshwater for cooling may not be able to perform at their peak capacity or could be forced to shut down temporarily.

Vox energy reporter David Roberts described the basics of geothermal energy and explained why its time may finally have come.  Another couple of educational pieces came this week from Greentech Media where Jason Deign explained the concept and applications of “virtual power plants” and floating wind turbines.

The extra cost of manufacturing battery electric cars versus their internal combustion engine equivalents will diminish to just $1,900 per car by 2022, and disappear completely by 2024, according to research by the investment bank UBS.  A large part of Dan Gearino’s column this week was devoted to EVs, prompted in part by GM’s introduction of the new electric Hummer.  An Associate and a Managing Director at RMI made the case for why the U.S. should assert EV leadership.

The International Maritime Organization agreed on Friday to require shipping to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit of economic activity by 40% compared with 2008 levels in the next 10 years.  Green groups said this could still result in an increase in CO2 emissions.

Potpourri

Michael Svoboda reviewed Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, The Ministry of the Future.  SueEllen Campbell provided readings to shed some light on the question of growth versus de-growth as solutions for the climate crisis.  Philip K. Verleger reviewed Daniel Yergin’s new book, The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations.  What does a former Renaissance scholar have to teach us about how the media should talk about climate change?  Lizzie Widdicombe wanted to know, so she interviewed Genevieve Guenther for The New Yorker.  At Grist, Kate Yoder looked at the growing field of climate-fiction, paraphrasing social scientist Matthew Schneider-Mayerson: “In the near future, …, we may get to the point that any story that doesn’t touch on climate change might as well be considered either historical fiction or other-worldly fantasy.”

Closing Thought

Although I missed it earlier this month when it was released, I’m including Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, titled “Fratelli Tutti” (We are all brothers and sisters), which contains ten ideas about caring for our common home and the importance of rethinking the way we connect with each other.  The Pope has also produced a TED talk that makes the point in much sharper terms.

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/16/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/9/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

The Color of Money and Your Utility Bill: What Is and What Can Be

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 | 7PM

A Zoom presentation by Harrison Wallace, Director of Programs for the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund; formerly Virginia Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network; and a JMU graduate.

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

People with limited money pay a bigger part of their incomes for electricity than those with bigger incomes.  Why is this and what can be done about it?  This environmental justice issue affects many people in very difficult ways.  Listen in and learn what we can do here in the valley and in Virginia.

Harrison Wallace, a native of Waynesboro and a JMU graduate, lobbied in Richmond several years for Chesapeake Climate Action Network and is now the Director of Programs for CCEEF – Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund.  He brings passion and knowledge to this important topic.

Register in advance for this meeting:

https://jmu-edu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMoc-2opzsvH9zv-m7qTXnDy9dh0ONMaZdz

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Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/2/2020

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

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Thought

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

Compiled by Joy Loving for Les Grady
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/25/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

Katharine Hayhoe: Giving people a sense of agency for fighting climate change means giving people hope.

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