Climate Action Alliance of the Valley climate, energy news roundup: Jan. 30 edition
Excerpts from a recent Roundup follow. Full Roundup is here.
Politics and Policy
Prioritizing environmental justice, Biden signed an executive order establishing a White House interagency council on environmental justice, created an office of health and climate equity at Health and Human Services, and formed a separate environmental justice office at Justice. He took other actions, causing immediate pushback from the fossil fuel industry and its Congressional allies. Among them was a commitment to an ambitious conservation goal and a redetermination of the social cost of carbon. These orders directed federal agencies to shift existing spending because passing new legislation will be difficult. Biden said climate change is “an essential element of US foreign policy;” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pronounced climate change “a national security issue….”
Julian Spector considered how budget reconciliation could be used to pass a bill requiring electric utilities to produce 100% clean energy by 2035. A FEMA proposal could free up funds to support infrastructure such as seawalls and relocating homes prone to flooding. Biden’s nominee for energy secretary defended the administration’s push for a clean energy transition. Opposition against Biden’s Interior Department nominee became more vocal. A new report called on FERC to launch a new rulemaking effort to boost an interregional electric transmission buildout, a goal shared by former and current FERC chairs. Opponents to infrastructure projects for renewables could deploy some of the same legal tactics that upended the pipeline sector.
The Federal Reserve announced creation of a new committee to deepen the central bank’s understanding of the risks climate change poses to the financial system. Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; it included a key phrase, “as consistent with applicable law.” Grist unpacked this phrase and its implications. Machine-run Twitter accounts are a major source of climate change disinformation.
The UN Development Program questioned 1.2Mn people in 50 countries about climate change, finding two-thirds think it’s a “global emergency”. Climate envoy John Kerry made it clear the US isn’t just increasing its own efforts to reduce oil, gas, and coal pollution, but intends to push everyone in the world to do more. World leaders met virtually to discuss the need for rich nations to spend more helping developing countries adapt to climate crisis impacts. Global supply chains, remittances, and migration mean global warming risks in one place can hit others; improving efforts to adapt can bring shared benefits. The leaders of two UK environmental charities have written Mark Carney, UN climate envoy, raising concerns over a blueprint for carbon offsetting that could result in billions of new carbon credits being sold worldwide.
Climate and Climate Science
A climate scientist argued that, because scientists have developed techniques to attribute disasters to human-caused climate change, they should be applied routinely to help governments act on their responsibilities and improve resilience to extreme weather. A new study incorporated the climate change damages to healthy ecosystems into standard climate‑economics models, concluding standard models have underestimated climate damage costs to society by a factor of five+.
Emphasizing that the point of recognizing existential threats is to avoid them, an ecologist discussed a stark “perspective” article by 17 of the world’s leading ecologists. A New York Times infographic shows the vulnerabilities of countries (and cities and counties) to climate disasters. Nearly a half-million people, mostly from the poorest countries, died over the past two decades from conditions associated with climate disasters. In 2020, Earth was besieged by a record 50 weather disasters costing a billion+ dollars, the most such disasters ever recorded.
Earth is hotter now than it has been for at least 12,000 years.
Ice melt across the planet is accelerating and is now in line with the IPCC worst‑case scenarios. NASA-led research showed that the undercutting of glaciers by relatively mild ocean waters explains why so many of Greenland’s glaciers have sped-up their movement into the ocean. Scientists determined that algae blooms on Greenland’s ice surface are triggered by wind-blown dust containing phosphorus, a limiting nutrient for the microbes. For the first time, three liquefied natural gas tankers travelled the Northern Sea Route to Asia without icebreaker escorts. The Bering Sea ice decline is changing almost everything about the region. Peter Sinclair’s latest “This is not Cool” video is about ice jams at the entrance to Nares Strait between Greenland and Ellesmere Island.
An area the size of Israel was deforested in the Amazon biome last year as destruction surged 21% in the region; without a deforestation reduction, the Amazon rainforest will reach a tipping point in 10-20 years, after which it will dry out and become a savanna.
Biden signed an executive order to “Buy American”, which he says will include replacing hundreds of thousands of vehicles in the federal government fleet, including the Postal Service, with US-made electric vehicles (EVs), raising the question of how he will achieve it. General Motors announced it will end the sale of all gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger cars and light sports utility vehicles by 2035. Nissan Motor Co said all its “new vehicle offerings” in key markets would be electrified by the early 2030s, as part of its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Toyota Motor Corp. is increasing the manufacturing of parts for hydrogen fuel call vehicles. National Geographic examined whether all of this means that EVs’ moment has arrived.
BlackRock’s CEO called on all companies “to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy.” 400+ companies across some of the biggest greenhouse gas emitting industries — from shipping to steelmaking — agreed to work together on plans to decarbonize by 2050, according to a climate advocacy coalition that set up the partnership.
Rating agency S&P warned 13 oil and gas companies, including some of the biggest, that it may downgrade them within weeks because of increasing competition from renewable energy. BP’s oil exploration team has been cut to less than 100 from a peak of more than 700 a few years ago, part of a climate change-driven overhaul triggered last year by its CEO.
EU countries generated more electricity from renewables than from coal and gas in 2020 for the first time; the pace of deployment through the 2020s will need to more than double that of the 2010s if the EU is going to hit its 55% reduction in emissions target by 2030. Almost no U.S. utilities, including Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power, are on track to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2030 compared to a 2005 baseline; most utilities’ plans put them on a path to much more modest carbon reductions. The utility sector defended its approach to the decarbonization process.
RMI’s Seeds of Opportunity addresses what the growth of the renewable energy industry means for rural America. Maine’s Governor called on the state legislature to implement a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind projects in state-managed waters, citing a need to keep the fishing industry engaged in ongoing talks about such development.
Tatiana Schlossberg presented three books offering new ways to think about environmental disaster. Amy Brady recommended five inspiring books for 2021. Maxine Joselow interviewed climate scientist Michael Mann about his new book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet; Jeff Masters reviewed it. Climate scientists are dealing with a new feeling now: optimism. Kate Yoder argued the way we talk about science makes it a polarizing topic. Salla, Finland, released a video promoting its bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics. Watch and listen to Amanda Gorman’s December 2018 recitation of her poem “Earthrise.”
Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee