The excerpt of the Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending June 20 follows. Forward it to anyone who might be interested. CAAV’s website has an archive of prior posts.
Politics and Policy
A bipartisan group of senators sketching out an alternative infrastructure proposal expanded their base of support when eleven senators joined the original ten. Senators Markey (D-MA) and Merkley (D-OR) said they would not vote for an infrastructure bill that omits key measures combatting climate change. No Senate Republicans have yet voiced support for President Biden’s clean electricity standard. The Senate approved Richard Spinrad’s nomination to lead NOAA. Robinson Meyer defined “the green vortex,” describing how policy, technology, business, and politics can work together to speed up humanity’s ability to decarbonize.
A federal judge issued an order temporarily blocking the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leasing on public land and waters while the court case against it proceeds. FERC Chair Glick laid out short and long-term goals for the commission to tackle transmission policy, saying regulators will outline a clearer path forward on those issues “in the near future.” The Federal Consortium on Advanced Batteries released a vision for the US and partners to establish a secure supply chain for battery materials and technology.
After months of secret negotiations among Duke Energy, North Carolina House Republican leaders, and other select stakeholders, sweeping energy legislation was unveiled. The NC Environmental Management Commission’s Air Quality Committee recommended the full Commission vote next month to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Minnesota’s Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the state’s Public Utilities Commission correctly granted Enbridge Energy the certificate of need and route permit allowing the company to begin construction on the 337-mile Minnesota segment of Line 3 oil pipeline’s replacement. Colorado ended its 2021 legislative session with a compromise on climate change legislation. Republicans controlling Pennsylvania’s Legislature reprised a fight from 2020, passing legislation requiring Gov. Wolf (D) to go through them to impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Leaders of the G7 nations: promised to cut collective emissions in half by 2030; agreed that by 2022 they would stop international funding for any coal project lacking carbon capture and storage technology; vowed to achieve a decarbonized electricity sector by the end of the decade; failed to set an end-date for coal use after the US and Japan blocked a deal. Behind‑the-scenes arguing among the delegates caused some to worry that the COP26 summit’s chances of success may be in jeopardy. The UK government is failing to protect people from the fast-rising risks of the climate crisis, its official Climate Change Committee said. The Canadian government launched a $960Mn program to support its development and growth of renewable energy and electric grid modernization. The amount of China-invested overseas coal-fired power plant capacity shelved or cancelled since 2017 was 4.5 times higher than the amount constructed over the period. South Korea’s ruling party proposed cutting greenhouse gas emissions at least 40% by 2030, compared to 2017 levels. The EU is considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals. It is also debating setting a zero-emissions target for vehicles sold beyond 2035. Belgium’s failure to meet climate targets is a violation of human rights, a Brussels court ruled.
Climate and Climate Science
The fundamental force driving climate change is the imbalance between the amount of energy entering Earth’s atmosphere and the amount leaving. NASA climate scientists used two independent techniques to examine the energy imbalance, both showing it approximately doubled 2005-2019.
Much of the western US is baking under a punishing heat wave that set temperature records, prompted health warnings, and strained power grids. It also threatened recently planted crops in Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Although the drought can’t be blamed directly on climate change, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Schoening said we can expect more such events as the climate warms because it’s part of a damaging feedback loop: the hotter it gets, the drier it gets, and vice versa. With temperatures expected to keep rising as global greenhouse gas emissions continue, the Western US will need difficult and costly adaptation measures. In a feature article available only to subscribers, National Geographic explored the subject of extreme heat, its impacts on humans, and what we can do to relieve it.
The authors of a Nature Communications article argued economic degrowth might be less risky, and a better way to meet the Paris climate agreement goals, than relying on uncertain carbon removal technologies.
High elevation Rocky Mountain wildfires are burning nearly twice as often as in the past, according to a new study looking back at 2,000 years of data. Until recently, the future of California’s Santa Ana winds was one of the few good-news stories of climate change — scientists had predicted rapid inland warming would weaken one of their primary drivers and reduce their frequency. A new study casts doubt on that projection, finding the winds are not declining, but could be increasing.
Conventional wisdom says ~20-90% of today’s tidal wetlands could be lost by 2100, depending on how fast oceans rise; scientists at Virginia’s Institute of Marine Sciences argue such forecasts are needlessly bleak. Previous periods of rapid warming millions of years ago drastically altered plants and forests on Earth. Scientists see beginnings of a more sudden, disruptive rearrangement of the world’s flora — a trend that will intensify if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in.
The US is on track to install 24.4GW of solar installations this year, an increase of nearly 24% over 2020. For the first time, the US solar market surpassed 100GW of installed generating capacity, said the “US Solar Market Insight Q2 2021” report. Nationwide, Virginia ranked fifth with 236MW of new solar capacity installed in the first quarter of 2021. Startup Erthos believes that by eliminating trackers and racking entirely, and installing photovoltaic solar modules directly on the ground, it can save money and build a more efficient industrial-scale system with less environmental risk.
Volvo will invest $118Mn in its Ridgeville, SC plant to build Polestar 3 EVs. By 2026 it plans to build cars using steel made without fossil fuels. GM will boost global spending on electric and autonomous vehicles by 30% to $35Bn through 2025, including funds for two additional US battery plants. New research on non-luxury used EVs showed they are cheaper to own than used gasoline-powered cars. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis suggests global sales of gas-powered cars likely peaked in 2017.
Startup Northvolt is building a Gigafactory in northern Sweden, from which it hopes to provide ¼ of Europe’s new EVs batteries. Battery recycler Redwood Materials says it’s more than tripling the size of its operations in Nevada and will spend “hundreds of millions” to scale up recovery of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other commodity metals it sells to makers of EV lithium‑ion batteries.
A Jeff Bezos‑backed company is set to build a large-scale nuclear fusion demonstration plant at Culham, home to the UK’s national fusion research program. In December the California Institute of Technology will launch a space-based solar energy system into orbit to test harvesting solar energy that can be beamed back to Earth as microwaves. If the steel industry were a country, its CO2 emissions would rank third worldwide. Reducing them will take a revolution in steelmaking technology and hundreds of billions of investment dollars.
The share of fossil fuels in the world’s total energy mix is similar to its share a decade ago, despite the falling cost of renewables and pressure on governments to act on climate change. The world’s demand for oil will rebound to pre‑pandemic levels by the end of 2022, as recovering economies require oil-producing countries to pump more fossil fuels. A new fleet of satellites is zeroing in on methane leaks worldwide, opening the way for expanded enforcement of existing emission regulations and providing data to justify new regulations.
When a neighborhood, city, or region experiences truly unusual weather, some will see it as clearly connected to global warming; others won’t. Australian farmers are facing a plague of mice. Those with a special fondness for South Carolina’s Low Country will find this article about the threats of climate change to the Gullah/Geechee culture particularly interesting. Communications professor Thora Tenbrink presented eight ways you can make your climate change social media posts matter. Cyrus Hadavi maintains our societies are ‘carbon blind’ to our supply chains; some companies are creating labels to show consumers the climate change impact of their products. In an interview about his new book, The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World, Nobel Laurate William Nordhaus said: “Carbon pricing by itself is not sufficient. By itself, it won’t bring forth the necessary technologies. Carbon pricing needs the helping hand of government support of new low-carbon technologies.” Julian Kesterson, who has lived in a Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains valley since childhood, began collecting weather data as a hobby; the National Weather Service is using the data.
Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee