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Climate Action Alliance of the Valley climate, energy news roundup: Feb. 28

Climate Action Alliance of the ValleyClimate 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

The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Tom Vilsack, Biden’s Agriculture Department nominee.  Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation to be energy secretary.  New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, Biden’s pick to head the Interior Department, appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a contentious confirmation hearing reflecting deep divisions over some of Biden’s climate‑focused executive orders.  Senators who have taken large amounts of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry led hostile questioning.  If she is confirmed, what will be the major items on the Department’s agenda?

Robinson Meyer provided a rundown on a Biden climate bill.  Energy Innovation maintained a strong clean energy standard is among the most vital policy steps needed to push the US toward an entirely decarbonized economy.  The Niskanen Center’s Ed Dolan reviewed four papers by writers committed to forceful climate action but with little enthusiasm for carbon pricing.  The administration dramatically altered the way the US government calculates carbon’s social cost.  A new Brookings Institution analysis showed that regions with a high share of fossil fuel jobs have good potential to benefit from wind and solar development.  US cities and towns are rewriting local building codes to block new homes and offices from using natural gas; the American Gas Association and its members are campaigning in statehouses to prohibit such ordinances.  Twenty-five House Republicans held a summit to discuss how to position themselves to address climate change in the new Congress.

FERC will examine threats climate change and extreme weather events pose to the country’s electric reliability in the wake of last week’s deadly Texas freeze.  The Texas energy emergency provided ammunition for proponents of a single national power grid.  Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables’ Wade Schauer examined fuel diversity for the decarbonized grid.  The cost of federal flood insurance will need to increase significantly in much of the country to meet growing climate change risks.  The Securities and Exchange Commission announced it will update its guidelines on how publicly traded companies should disclose climate change-related risks to investors.

Prior to COP26, the UN will tally new national targets for long- and short‑term emissions cuts; unless organizers develop a common vision, the meeting could accomplish little.  The combined impact of the new and updated targets submitted by the deadline was “far short of what is required” to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) goals.  Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to work toward achieving net zero emissions by 2050.  The European Commission released a new adaptation strategy designed to ensure the bloc ramps up efforts to drastically cut emissions by 2050 and survives forest fires, heatwaves, droughts, and storms. Speaking before a session of the UN Security Council, US climate envoy John Kerry warned that climate change was making the world a more dangerous place and posed risks to peace and security around the world; Russia, India, and China argued that it should not be an issue for the Council.  Anticipating that meeting, Reuters highlighted five regions worldwide where climate change poses significant risks.

Climate and Climate Science

Data from 11 types of proxy evidence confirmed the Atlantic system of currents that includes the Gulf Stream is now “in its weakest state in over a millennium,” with implications for Europe’s climate and rates of sea-level rise along the US East Coast, for example.  As the planet experiences increased CO2 concentrations in its atmosphere, its oceans experience three different phenomena: warming, acidification, and deoxygenation.  A recent paper examined how these interact around the world to threaten ocean productivity.

Carbon Brief updated its map of climate attribution studies, showing human‑caused climate change made 70% of the 405 extreme weather events included more likely or more severe.  Many more homes in Appalachian communities in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia are at risk of flooding than FEMA has indicated.

Avalanche patterns are apparently changing, but a linkage cannot yet be proven. Alaska may need to brace for more thunderstorms — along with the landslides, floods, and wildfires they can bring — if current climate trends continue.  Scientists looked at 14 glaciers flowing into the ocean along a 600‑mile stretch of the Antarctic coastline (the Getz region), finding all have sped up.

Rising temperatures are shortening the lives of trees in tropical forests and reducing their capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, with major implications for our ability to meet PCA goals.  California’s iconic redwoods, sequoias and Joshua trees are increasingly threatened by bigger and more frequent wildfires.

Energy

Texas officials’ repeated failures to act on expert advice for averting grid catastrophes paralleled their long ignoring experts’ warnings about climate change dangers.  Hearings in the Texas legislature highlighted shortcomings by grid planners, electric utilities, natural gas suppliers, renewable energy, and transmission operators that led to the grid disaster.  Ezra Klein had an insightful reflection on the Texas crisis in his column.  Earther staff writer Dharna Noor argued the US needs a “supergrid.”  Dan Gearino provided four lessons he learned from the debacle.

Thanks in large part to 2020’s reductions in flying and driving, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped 4.4% in the 12 months to last September, falling to the lowest levels since 1995.  Up to five of Australia’s remaining 16 coal-fired power plants could be financially unviable by 2025 due to a flood of cheap solar and wind energy entering the electricity grid.  Fossil fuel companies risk derailing the UK’s climate targets by planning to build a string of 17 new gas-fired power plants.  As of January 2021, global institutional investors—pension funds, asset managers, insurance companies—held investments worth over $1Tn in coal, with US investors collectively holding 58% of those.  2020 figures showed US renewable energy sources generated more electricity than coal for the first time; natural gas was far ahead of all other energy sources.

A new “green steel” venture in Sweden launched plans to start production as early as 2024 using green hydrogen to process iron into steel.  A Memorandum of Understanding was signed for the assessment of building and operating a hydrogen powered steel mill in France.  Meanwhile, Australia’s Enegix Energy is behind construction of a green hydrogen hub in Brazil, which will both support the economic activities of Brazil and export hydrogen to Europe and other continents.

Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools awarded a contract to Highland Electric Transportation to supply the country’s largest electric school bus fleet, and handle its financing and management for a fixed annual leasing fee.  The US Postal Service awarded a $482Mn contact to Oshkosh Defense to finalize production plans for the next generation of postal vehicles; only 10% will be electric.  Carbon emissions from passenger cars across Britain have fallen by just 1% since 2011, despite a steep rise in electric and hybrid vehicles sales, due to the popularity of SUVs and increased road traffic.

Tesla may shift more EVs to lithium iron phosphate battery cells over concerns about the long-term availability of nickel, required for lithium ion batteries.  Redwood Materials will recycle scrap and defective battery cells for Envision AESC, which manufactures batteries for the Nissan Leaf in Tennessee.  EV batteries no longer suitable for their original use can store solar energy in houses.  National Geographic explored the role such batteries could play in averting disasters like in Texas.

Potpourri

Peter Sinclair’s latest video:  Can capitalism and free-market forces supplant political expediency as a major factor in advancing bipartisan support for renewable energy?

Determining how hard companies are trying to meet climate pledges can be very difficult without regulatory standards requiring uniform disclosures of important information like emissions.

Corporations were the focus of Bill McKibben’s column this week.

Over 1/3 of all food grown for human consumption in the US never makes it to someone’s stomach; that waste’s carbon footprint exceeds that of the airline industry.

Jeremy Lent’s forthcoming book, The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe, addressed the question: “What does an ecological civilization look like?”

Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee


augusta free press
augusta free press