Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/4/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/28/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/21/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

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

Watch Bob Musil of the Rachel Carson Council’s presentation from September 17 on YouTube by clicking the image above. You can also find it on Facebook here. Thanks to the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club’s Jonathan Stewart for facilitating this event and making the recording available!


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Online from 7 PM – 8 PM

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

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

All welcome! See below for registration information.

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

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

Register in advance for this meeting:

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

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


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

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

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


Share the Facebook event page here!

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/14/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/7/2020

Politics and Policy

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

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

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

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

Climate and Climate Science

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

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

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

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

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

Potpourri

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

Closing Thought

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

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

“One Earth” Book Donations

Kathleen Shaw of the Daily News-Record covered this project for the September 29, 2020, issue: CAAV Donating Books To Motivate Change  


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Karen Lee and Adrie Voors

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

BXE “FERC Into FREC” Campaign Video

BXE created this video “FERC into FREC”

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

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

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

Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/31/2020

Politics and Policy

In The Guardian U.S., Oliver Milman wrote about “How the global climate fight could be lost if Trump is re-elected.”  The Democratic Party added new climate change provisions championed by progressives to its 2020 policy platform this week.  Some academics and environmental advocates see a flicker of hope that a new U.S. administration might help the U.S. and China again find common ground to address climate change.  Major green super PACs have collectively doubled their fundraising and more than doubled their spending in races since Donald Trump won the White House.  Seven Republican senators on Thursday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging him to consider policies in future COVID-19 relief and recovery proposals that will bolster the clean energy sector.  Over the next 100 days, leading up to the election and the day after, when we are set to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, The Guardian U.S. will publish a series of stories about the many impacts of the climate crisis.

The EPA’s inspector general’s office said Monday it would investigate whether the reversal of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards violated government rules.  President Trump made two nominations to FERC on Monday, one Democrat and one Republican.  If confirmed, they will bring FERC’s board back into balance, with three Republicans and two Democrats.  President Trump announced Wednesday that export authorizations for liquefied natural gas will go through 2050 and signed four permits for pipeline and rail transport of fossil fuels.  New research has concluded that the social cost of carbon should start at about $100 to $200 per ton of CO2 pollution in 2020, increasing to nearly $600 by 2100, much higher than the range of $1 to $6 adopted by the Trump administration.  A federal court determined that the Trump administration’s interim social cost of methane carbon was less scientifically rigorous than the version it was replacing.  A trio of Republican U.S. senators applauded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for developing a Generic Environmental Impact Statement for advanced nuclear reactors.

At Bloomberg Green, Jillian Goodman interviewed Rhiana Gunn-Wright under the interesting title “Want to Fix the Climate Crisis?  Start Listening to Black People.”  On Thursday, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), introduced a companion bill in the Senate to the “Environmental Justice for All Act” introduced earlier this year in the House.  Daisy Simmons addressed the question “What is ‘climate justice’?”.  A meta-study, which reviewed almost 700 individual studies, revealed that environmental injustice is still rampant around the world.  At The Guardian, former associate administrator in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice Mustafa Santiago Ali wrote about the impacts of environmental racism on people of color in the U.S.

A new report from Rewiring America estimates that the U.S. can create some 25 million jobs if it moves on from fossil fuels and electrifies the economy by 2035.  A new working paper from the World Resources Institute found that since 2005, 41 states and Washington, D.C., have increased their GDPs while reducing their carbon emissions.  Last week the EU announced its intent to have a carbon border adjustment mechanism in place by January 1st, 2023.  For those who would like to take a deep dive into the design of border adjustments, the Niskanen Center has released a white paper on the subject.  However, Arvind P. Ravikumar argued “Although reasonable at face value, unilateral carbon border adjustments merely represent the latest form of economic imperialism and are antithetical to the principles of equity enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”  At Carbon Brief, Claire Fyson, a climate policy analyst at Climate Analytics, addressed the important question of “Who should be responsible for removing CO2 from the atmosphere?”.  She argued that equity considerations — both internationally as well as intergenerationally — have a strong effect on which countries bear responsibility for CO2 removal. 

Climate and Climate Science

Scientists studying Arctic warming emphasized how swiftly changes are occurring throughout the region, with major portions warming at a rate of 1.8°F (1°C) per decade for 40 years, which constitutes an “abrupt climate change event.”  The Batagay megaslump in eastern Siberia is a time capsule containing snapshots of ancient climates and ecosystems.  Glaciers in the Himalayas are melting more rapidly, having multiple impacts on the region.

According to 35 years of flooding data, rains along the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh are less predictable and the river is rising above dangerous levels far more frequently than it used to.  Already this year, torrential rains have submerged at least a quarter of the country, inundating nearly a million homes and affecting 4.7 million people.  A new paper in Nature found that “The climate is much more predictable than we previously thought,” but models don’t capture that predictability.

Scientists at DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a direct relationship between climate warming and carbon loss in a peatland ecosystem.  Peatlands hold more soil carbon than is stored in the world’s forests, so its degradation and release as CO2 and methane is of great concern.  Around 1,900 square miles of Amazonian rainforest have already burned this year.  A raging fire is threatening Argentina’s major wetland ecosystems.

A study, published in Science Reports, found that if we continue on our present path of greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of the century sea level rise will have caused $14.2 trillion in lost or damaged assets globally.  A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists says that extreme coastal flooding could pose a risk to 876 hazardous waste sites if there is even a low rate of sea level rise during the next 20 years.  A moderate sea level rise rate would put 918 sites at risk.

With the data now in for the first half of the year, Carbon Brief estimated that 2020 is most likely to be either the warmest or second warmest year on record.  On Tuesday, Washington, D.C., notched its 26th day hitting at least 90°F, topping the previous record for the most such days in a month.  Record high temperatures have been plaguing the Middle East, with the mercury soaring to extreme levels.  For example, Baghdad surged to its highest temperature ever recorded on Tuesday: 125.2°F (51.8°C).  In contrast, temperatures at Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, about midway between the mainland and the North Pole, hit a record high of 21.7°C (71.1°F) last Friday. 

Energy

John Muyskens and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post analyzed how far we have to go to eliminate CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 2035, with excellent graphs for each state.  California households emit 33% less carbon than households in any other state, while households in two Sun Belt states consume less energy.

Scientists have discovered a new material that could capture more CO2 emissions from industrial sources than other materials, thereby helping natural gas-fired power plants and other industries meet increasingly stringent carbon emissions rules.  Viking Cold Solutions has developed a technology that allows large frozen-food warehouses to significantly reduce their energy costs through application of phase-change energy storage systems.

Shell and Dutch utility Eneco will build a super-hybrid offshore wind farm that will include a floating solar facility, short-duration battery storage, and green hydrogen production.  The Japan Wind Power Association said on Thursday it aims to expand the country’s offshore wind power installed capacity to 10 GW in 2030 and 30-45 GW in 2040.  A record 50.2% of Germany’s power consumption in January to June was met from renewable sources.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have projected that battery packs for electric vehicles (EVs) will cost less than $80 per kilowatt-hour by 2025, making the cost of an EV equal to or less than the cost of a comparable gasoline vehicle.  Panasonic plans to boost the energy density of its “2170” battery cells by 20% in five years and commercialize a cobalt-free version “in two to three years”.  Chinese electric carmaker Kandi announced that it is bringing its EVs to the U.S., making them the cheapest in America — starting at $12,999 after federal tax credit. 

Last year, U.S. coal production fell to the lowest level since 1978.  Cracks are starting to show in utility support for using natural gas as a bridge fuel to a low-carbon future.  NextEra Energy is closing its last coal-fired power plant and investing in a $65 million pilot in Florida that will use a 20 MW electrolyzer to produce 100% green hydrogen from solar power.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, still have not decided what to do about the land they gained control over for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.  Dominion Energy on Friday announced a reorganized executive leadership team, including a new CEO.

Potpourri

Climate scientist Michael Mann had an opinion piece in The Guardian in which he asserted that we need collective action and systemic change, which require that we vote.  MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel wrote a “dust jacket blurb” endorsing Michael Shellenberger’s controversial book, Apocalypse Never.  Now, in light of positive responses to the book from groups long opposed to efforts to address climate change, Emanuel felt compelled to write a “half essay/half book review.”  Two recent studies shed light on major news outlets’ long-term indulgence in climate skepticism and the recent impact of improved climate coverage in TV meteorology.  In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Environment editor Damian Carrington placed climate change deniers into four categories and explained why they should all be ignored.  Two new studies dug into the reasons why so many people resist accepting the facts on climate change and offered some insight into how to talk to them in a way that might be more compelling.  Kendra Pierre-Louis, a former climate reporter for The New York Times is gearing up to launch a podcast on climate change solutions produced by Gimlet Media.

Closing Thought

When I added this section to the Roundup, my intent was to provide something inspiring and uplifting at the end.  However, there was an article this week that is very important, but doesn’t necessarily meet those criteria, nor is it about climate change.  Rather, it is a cautionary tale about how science is becoming politicized in our current age.

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 7/24/2020

Politics and Policy

The Black Lives Matter movement is having an impact on the “big greens”, causing them to look deeply into their history and inclusivity, as well as their unconscious marginalization of minority employees.  When Alaska’s all-white Congressional delegation branded opposition to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge as a form of racial discrimination last month, they were accused by Native organizers of fomenting a hypocritical and misleading narrative.  The Tesoro High Plains Pipeline was ordered shut down after 67 years of operation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for trespassing on land owned by Native Americans.  The Three Percenters, a loosely organized group of far-right militants, appear to have established a significant presence in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield.

The Democratic National Committee released a draft of its 2020 policy platform on Wednesday; Dharna Noor discussed the parts related to climate change at Earther.  Even if Joe Biden wins in November and the Democrats manage to take the Senate, there will still be a giant hurdle facing a climate bill: the Senate filibuster.  Democratic lawmakers are privately talking about their strategies for undoing Trump’s environmental and public health rollbacks should they win in November.  Progressive Democrats led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Friday introduced a bill to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, among other things.  Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is sponsoring a bill that would ensure health care coverage for coal workers who lose their jobs as the country shifts to cleaner forms of energy, as well as cover higher education costs for the coal miners and their families.  Climate scientist Allison Crimmins argued at Vox for the creation of a cabinet level Department of Climate.  A U.S. federal district court ruled that California’s coordination with Quebec in a cap and trade carbon emissions market is constitutional.  The Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives and four others have been arrested in connection with an alleged $60 million bribery scheme involving a controversial law passed last year that bailed out two nuclear power plants while gutting subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

EU leaders reached a recovery deal on Tuesday that included devoting nearly €550 billion to green projects over the next seven years, although some were concerned about the lack of precise guidelines on how the money can be spent.  In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, discussed an issue that has concerned me for some time: “Legal strategies that have derailed pipelines can also be turned against clean energy projects urgently needed to combat climate change.”  Morgan Stanley is the first U.S.-based global bank to join the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials, an international collaboration that aims to “standardize carbon accounting for the financial sector” by tracking how banks’ and investment firms’ assets are contributing to climate change.  A letter from pension funds and other investors representing almost $1 trillion in assets urged the Federal Reserve, the SEC, and other financial regulators to act on climate-change concerns to avoid economic disaster.  At the Independent, Louise Boyle reported on the proliferation of misinformation about climate change on Facebook.

The EPA on Wednesday proposed new regulations to reduce CO2 emissions from air travel, but the proposal would simply adopt 2017 emissions standards from the International Civil Aviation Organization, which most U.S. airlines already meet.  On Thursday EPA took action to bolster the struggling uranium mining industry that environmentalists warn risks contaminating the West’s limited water supplies.  Emails, recently made public in a lawsuit that 15 states brought against the EPA, suggest that the agency rescinded a reporting requirement on methane at the request of the president of the Western Energy Alliance just weeks after President Trump took office.  A new analysis published in the medical research journal BMJ found that 95% of the world’s dietary guidelines are incompatible with at least one of the goals set by international climate and public health agreements, and that 87% aren’t compatible with emissions pathways to limit global warming to below 2°C.

Climate and Climate Science

A very long review article was published this week in the journal Reviews of Geophysics.  The subject was climate sensitivity, i.e., the warming that would occur from a doubling of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  A major conclusion is that the likely range of sensitivity values has been decreased to 2.6–4.1°C.  (If you have read your allocation of free articles at the NYT, then you can read about the study here, here, or here, none of which is paywalled.)

ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine jointly investigated the question of “Where Will Everyone Go?” as climate conditions change to the point that they will no longer support agriculture and people are forced to move or starve.  Another article in the magazine examined the impacts of the 50-year, $50 billion Louisiana Coastal Master Plan on the people of Plaquemines Parish, illustrating the conflicting interests associated with adaptation to sea level rise.

Scientists have, for the first time, discovered an active leak of methane gas from the sea floor in Antarctica.  As reported in the journal Nature, researchers have found evidence of ice loss from Wilkes Basin in eastern Antarctica during a climate warming event 400,000 years ago, which suggests that parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet could be lost to modern warming trends.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that as the climate warms, birds are not only breeding earlier, but their breeding windows are also shrinking—some by as many as 4 to 5 days. This could lead to increased competition for food that might threaten many bird populations.  In addition, a new study in Nature Climate Change found that under a “business-as-usual” CO2 emissions scenario, most polar bear subpopulations would either be certain, or very likely, to experience declines in reproduction and cub survival by the end of the century.

Ice cover across the entire Arctic Ocean is currently at its lowest mid-July extent on record.  New research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans shows that maximum wave heights across the Arctic Ocean, which encompasses the Beaufort Sea, could be upward of six meters higher on average within this century, leading to even more erosion and flooding of indigenous villages.  Virginia coastal communities in 2019 saw two to five times more nuisance flooding than the national average.

Energy

Green energy, which includes wind, solar, hydro, and bioenergy, generated 40% of EU electricity in the first half of 2020, compared to fossil fuels generating 34%.  Europe has a long history with hydroelectric power, but there are questions about its appropriate role in a carbon-free energy future.

A number of articles recently have touted hydrogen as a major component in the UK’s low carbon future.  Tom Baxter, a Senior Lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Aberdeen took issue with that assessment.  American industrial gas giant Air Products & Chemicals announced its intention to construct a massive green hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia that would be powered by 4 GW of the country’s wind and solar energy and produce 650 tons of hydrogen per day.

Five wholesale electric power market executives agree that natural gas will continue to play an essential role on the electric power grid.  A $350 million natural gas project spanning much of eastern Virginia has been put on hold by Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, in part due to environmental justice concerns.

New York on Tuesday issued a request for proposals for up to 2.5 GW of offshore wind capacity.  The Georgia Public Service Commission agreed on Tuesday to let Georgia Power, the state’s largest electric utility, accept bids for a new 50 MW biomass generation plant.  There is a new organization called the Good Energy Collective that is making the progressive case for advanced nuclear power.  Four of its five board members are women, as are its cofounders.

According to a study published in the journal Applied Energy, energy storage displaces other capacity investments in three major ways: (i) reducing variable renewable investments; (ii) replacing thermal generators; and (iii) deferring transmission upgrades.

Potpourri

Bill McKibben fell off of his bicycle last week, breaking six ribs and a shoulder blade, as well as incurring a severely separated shoulder.  Nevertheless, he had some interesting comments about the significance of Joe Biden’s climate plan in his weekly New Yorker column.  This one came out a couple of weeks ago, but I missed it: Amy Brady presented five books about climate change at Literary Hub.  An art project being planned for Burning Man 2021 aims to help participants imagine what life might be like 100 years from now if CO2 emissions followed each of three different scenarios.  As part of its climate issue, The New York Times Magazine profiled teenage climate activist Jamie Margolin.  Greta Thunberg has been awarded the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity and will donate the one-million-euro prize money through her foundation to different projects aimed at fighting the climate crisis.  At The Guardian, Jonathan Watts interviewed James Lovelock, best known as the father of Gaia Theory, on the eve of his 101st birthday.

Closing Thought

As the pandemic and extreme weather disrupt electricity supplies for many, alternative energy sources are coming to the fore in rural Kenya.

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.