Climate Action Alliance of the Valley climate, energy news roundup: Feb. 20
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley produces The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News. Excerpts from a recent Roundup follow; full Roundup is here.
Politics and Policy
President Biden’s next legislative package will likely center on major infrastructure investments, while also tackling clean energy. The Economist said “what is about to unfold in Washington will set the course in America for the next decade – and quite possibly beyond.” Biden has encouraged a flourishing US offshore wind industry by ordering the federal government to find ways to speed up environmental and other reviews. The EPA will not reactivate the Obama Clean Power Plan; what are the Biden administration’s options?
Scrapping a Trump‑era proposal to weaken environmental protections for millions of California desert acres.
Rescinding draft Trump administration guidance that would limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions consideration in infrastructure decisions.
Forming a climate innovation working group “to advance his commitment to launching an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate.”
Line 3, a tar-sands pipeline from Canada to the US, is being built to replace an existing Enbridge Energy pipeline. How the Biden administration deals with it will be an early test of its environmental justice policies. Putting a price on carbon emissions has received support from advocates on both sides of the aisle; if, and when, it will be brought forward as legislation are very much in question. In an opinion piece and a new report, Nicholas Stern and Joseph E. Stiglitz argued: “The Biden administration must put a high enough price on carbon pollution to encourage the scale and urgency of action needed to meet the commitments it has made to Americans and the rest of the world.” Yahoo!news provided background. The Niskanen Center’s Joseph Majkut et al. wrote “A Carbon Tax in the Context of Budget Reconciliation.”
All companies in which BlackRock invests will be expected to disclose direct emissions from operations and from energy they buy; fossil fuel extractors should base targets for emissions cuts on the carbon released when their products are burned. IBM is pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Bill McKibben presented arguments against starting experimentation on solar geoengineering. A recent study explored the health opportunities of ambitious climate policies, finding the co‑benefits of reducing air pollution, improving diets, and encouraging more active lifestyles would save millions of lives across the world annually. Environmental and community groups produced an action plan on plastics for the Biden administration—seen as the nexus of climate change, fracking, air and water pollution, toxic landfills, and the disproportionate pollution burden on communities of color.
The US officially returned to the Paris Climate Agreement, raising expectations for a new national commitment setting a 2030 emissions target. A states/cities/companies group coalition will push the Biden administration toward a more aggressive cut to GHG emissions. During a Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers and central bankers virtual meeting, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressed strong support for G7 efforts to tackle climate change, stating her colleagues should expect dramatic change in the Treasury Department’s engagement on this issue relative to the last four years. The outgoing OECD head said the environment, climate change, and the protection of nature must be the defining tasks of rich and major developing countries now and in the future. Breaking precedent, the UN issued a report that is prescriptive, using the word “must” 56 times and “should” 37 times to tell world leaders what is needed to solve the interconnected problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
Climate and Climate Science
The main cause of extreme cold weather in Texas and the central US was the wavy jet stream that allowed cold Arctic air to penetrate deeply into the mid-latitudes. Although still an area of active study, many climate scientists think such waviness is due to the warming Arctic resulting from climate change. (In January 2019 Carbon Brief had a Q&A on this topic.) New York Times climate reporter John Schwartz answered questions about this week’s weather.
US GHG emissions fell by 9.2% last year amid the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A related drop in tiny aerosol particles from industrial sources boosted regional temperatures. GHG emissions from material production, like steel and cement, more than doubled from 1995 to 2015. Some supermarkets have been found to leak climate-damaging HFC refrigerants at a higher rate than regulators have assumed.
Scientists say improving water quality by reducing sediments, fertilizers, and chemicals running into the Great Barrier Reef’s waters will give it a greater chance of recovering from future bleaching events. Climate change is shaping the lives of children of color before they take their first breath; once born, there is a good chance they will live in a neighborhood that is more polluted and will get hotter than nearby, whiter neighborhoods.
The salient issues concerning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Area 1002 are what happens to caribou summer movements throughout the area and to the near-surface soil carbon that risks becoming released to the atmosphere as CO2 and methane due to terrestrial permafrost thawing. The amount of carbon locked in Arctic submarine permafrost is more than humans have released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution; little is known about such permafrost and how it will react as oceans warm, sea levels rise, and meltwater alters Arctic Ocean circulation patterns.
Because of the winter storm, the Texas power grid failed, leaving millions of people in the dark and cold. (An explanation of the Texas power grid, is here. A historian’s insights on energy, technology, and the environment are here.) The grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months. Fossil fuel proponents were quick to blame the large amount of renewable energy in Texas for the failure; in reality fossil fuel generation was largely to blame. Such wild and unpredictable weather linked to global warming will very likely push grids beyond their limits. Using the Texas grid failure as a springboard, Bob Henson addressed the broader problems of the US power grid, closing with a quote from the University of Colorado’s Urooj Raja: “No infrastructural relic may be as vulnerable as the US electric grid.”
In 2020, amid a historic economic contraction, renewable resources accounted account for 1/5 of all electricity produced in the US—because solar and wind power accounted for 77.1% of new utility-scale power capacity in the US. Hawaiian Electric achieved 34.5% renewable energy production in 2020. The US Department of Energy announced it will invest $100Mn in transformative clean energy research and development.
Production of cement, steel, paper, aluminum, chemicals, and other heavy‑duty industrial materials is responsible for ~1/4 of global GHG emissions; the biggest firms in these sectors remain underprepared for the net zero transition.
Most of the world’s planned hydrogen projects and related investments this decade will likely be in Europe, as the EU races to scale up the low‑carbon fuel to meet its climate goals. Model homes—where boilers, stoves, and ovens are fueled exclusively by hydrogen—will be opened by April in the UK, providing the public with “a glimpse into the potential home of the future.” As hydrogen gains more emphasis, ammonia may be the safest and easiest way to capture and transport hydrogen’s energy.
Ford said its European division would soon begin to phase out fossil fuel vehicles; by 2026 it will offer only electric and plug-in hybrid models. By 2030 all its passenger cars will run solely on batteries. Jaguar Land Rover said its luxury Jaguar will be fully electric by 2025; it will release its first all‑electric Land Rover in 2024, with five other electric vehicles (EVs) expected by 2025. GM unveiled a Chevrolet Bolt Electric Utility Vehicle; more about it is here. New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo had a very thought-provoking column about the one big problem with EVs.
Demand for EV batteries already outstrips supply, causing a global rush to develop the technology and build the factories needed to power millions of electric cars. Jakub Reiter, head of science at InoBat, said “Twenty years ago, nobody cared much about batteries,” but now there is intense competition, and “it’s a big fight.”
“Meltdown”—an intimate exploration of art and science, beauty and tragedy, the personal and the global, set amidst the massive and spectacularly beautiful icebergs breaking off of Greenland at an accelerating rate—is available for streaming on several platforms. Bill McKibben reviewed Bill Gates’ new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, as did former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who tied it to the upcoming Glasgow COP 26. Emma Brocks had a far-ranging interview with Gates; Robinson Meyer focused on “the Gates rule.” Smithsonian Magazine had a feature article about polar bears and the scientists who track them to better understand how the environment is shaping their chances of survival. Grist writer Adrienne Day tried some of the alt seafood available today for its taste and texture appeal. Walmart, Costco, and Kroger are selling Brazilian beef products imported from JBS, the world’s largest meat company, linked to Amazonian deforestation.
Nonprofit American Forests is partnering with Tazo Tea to form the “Tazo Tree Corps,” to train and hire people to plant and care for trees in targeted neighborhoods in Detroit, Minneapolis, the Bronx, the Bay Area, and Richmond, VA.
Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee