Climate Action Alliance of the Valley climate, energy news roundup: Week of June 6
The excerpt of the Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News for the week ending June 6 follows. Forward it to anyone who might be interested. CAAV’s website has an archive of prior posts.
Politics and Policy
President Biden’s first budget proposal adds $14bn to climate change policies and programs, also taking aim at tax provisions that benefit the fossil fuel industry and projects that, if eliminated, will generate $35bn over ten years. Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) predicted the Senate would see a “big fight” over carbon pricing but believes lawmakers will make progress on the issue this year. He added, “I think there is a significant group of senators in the Democratic caucus who are going to insist that our climate measures be robust and real and point toward 1.5°C, and we will do what’s necessary to accomplish that goal.” James Hansen and Daniel Galpern maintained Biden has the authority under the Independent Offices Appropriations Act to direct the EPA to impose a fee on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Biden announced $1bn for pre-disaster mitigation resources for communities, states, and Tribal governments. The Biden administration suspended all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending a deeper look at the environmental impacts of drilling in the sensitive region; the Republican-controlled Congress passed a law in 2017 requiring the president to hold another lease sale there before 2024 ends.
ARPA-E’s SCALEUP program is putting a greater emphasis on bringing emerging clean technologies to commercial scale — and on finding private‑sector partners to help. Vox’s Ella Nilsen wrote about green banks and their potential for increasing the development of green infrastructure. To electrify every home in America as quickly as possible, up-front costs or electrical service constraints shouldn’t prevent a homeowner from choosing an electric appliance to replace a fossil-fueled one. Federal Reserve Chairman Powell made clear the institution’s role in the climate crisis is limited to oversight of banks and the rest of the financial system, not in setting public policy.
Sarah Steinberg, a policy principal at an industry association for clean energy companies, summarized the top ten energy issues generating legislative activity across the country. The American Conservation Coalition is hosting the first conservative climate rally in Miami on June 5. Virginia lawmakers committed to phasing out diesel-powered school buses and replacing them with electric ones within a decade leaving the law unfunded; state and local officials are searching everywhere for funding. Lawmakers in roughly a dozen states use strikingly similar talking points as they unleash a wave of legislation to forbid municipalities from banning natural gas in buildings. Power for Tomorrow, the organization that recently sent postcards to many Virginians, is a utility front group that is “Virginia-based and Dominion Energy‑connected.” In a blow to the oil and gas industry, the Texas legislature did not reauthorize its property tax exemption.
In preparation for COP 26, officials worldwide began three weeks of climate talks to grapple with thorny political issues. The world must rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on nature and the climate, and put forth an effort equal to the space race. Rich countries are falling behind on their pledges to help poorer ones tackle the climate crisis. The development charity Tearfund and partners alleged that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the G7 nations pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than clean energy. The EU’s 2019 greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 4%. Emissions from coal mined in Australia but exported and burned overseas were almost double the nation’s 2020 domestic greenhouse gas footprint. The New York Times reported the International Maritime Organization “has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise.”
Climate and Climate Science
Wildlife—from bluebells and bumblebees to snow leopards and emperor penguins—will be under threat if global warming exceeds 1.5°C. A study involving 45,000 dissolved oxygen (DO) and temperature profiles collected from nearly 400 freshwater lakes worldwide revealed a widespread drop in DO levels because of rising temperatures.
Dangerously hot conditions and triple-digit temperatures are forecast for the Western US this week. The Klamath Basin drought along the California‑Oregon border is so bad that violence could erupt as farmers experience extreme anger over being cut off from their main water source.
Over a third of heat-related deaths in many parts of the world can be attributed to extra warming associated with climate change. Over 32mn homes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, with combined value of $8.5tn, are at risk of sustaining hurricane wind damage.
Seven of the ten biggest floods in the Amazon basin occurred in the past 13 years; this year rivers around the biggest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have swelled to levels unseen in over a century of record‑keeping. In recent weeks, nine major fires have ignited in the Brazilian Amazon on previously deforested land, heralding the start of another fire season, which, after a particularly dry year, experts say could be a bad one.
New research found clouds could have a greater cooling effect on the planet than CMIP6 climate models suggest, because the models simulate too much rainfall, underestimating clouds’ lifespan and cooling effect. The relationships among four massive Earth systems (Greenland, West Antarctic Ice Sheets, Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and Amazon rainforest) could be destabilized by moderate climate change, leading to cascading effects of accelerated sea level rise and species loss. Coastal Arctic sea ice may be thinning far faster than scientists believed, likely because previous research didn’t completely account for climate change’s influence on snow.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory completed and released its final report, “Electrification Futures Study”; Dan Gearino reviewed what it said about the feasibility of electrifying the entire US economy. A key takeaway from a FERC staff white paper is there are several potential benefits to pairing electricity generation with energy storage; US network operators still have a way to go to best accommodate such ‘hybrid resources’. The coal‑fired 522 MW North Valmy Generation Station is scheduled for retirement; Nevada utility NV Energy wants to replace it with 600 MW of solar and 480 MW of battery storage across two planned sites. Bill Gates’ advanced nuclear reactor company TerraPower LLC and Berkshire Hathaway’s PacifiCorp selected Wyoming to launch the first Natrium nuclear reactor project, featuring a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with molten salt-based energy storage.
A new International Energy Agency (IEA) report said investments in clean energy need to more than triple this decade to maintain the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5°C. 23 nations will invest $248mn over the next decade to address how best to respond to the variability associated with solar and wind energy. A US think-tank Global Energy Monitor study revealed the world’s coal producers are planning as many as 432 new mine projects with 2.28bn metric tons of annual output capacity.
A third climate advocate secured a seat on Exxon Mobil Corp’s board. Oil major BP is investing $220mn in 9 GW of US solar projects seeking to expand its renewables portfolio. Energy consultancy M.J. Bradley & Associates revealed that five of the top ten emitters of methane are little‑known oil and gas producers whose environmental footprints are large, relative to their production.
Rhode Island coastal regulators approved South Fork Wind Farm certification, pushing the second major proposed US offshore wind project one step closer to reality. Dominion Energy is building the Charybdis, the first Jones Act-qualified US offshore wind turbine installation vessel; Ørsted and Eversource said they will charter it for construction of Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind, two of their planned offshore Northeast wind farms. The wind industry will need to train 480,000+ people by 2026 to safely meet worldwide demand for wind power. Start-up Vortex Bladeless demonstrated its bladeless wind turbine, which generates electricity by oscillating. Flower Turbines, whose turbines look like tulips, wants to make small windfarms a leading player in the green energy industry.
Global EV battery sales more than doubled so far in 2021, with Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology capturing 32.5% of market share. Biden’s strategy to make the US a powerhouse in EVs includes boosting domestic recycling of batteries to reuse lithium and other metals. A recent Pew Research Center report found 47% of US adults support a proposal to phase out production of gasoline-powered cars and trucks; 51% oppose it.
Some news outlets are covering the climate crisis; most still underplay its threats. Ana Teresa Fernández’s work “On the Horizon,” erected on a beach, attempts to show passersby what six feet of sea-level rise would look like. According to the IEA, ~2/3 of the energy reduction needed to reach net-zero by 2050 will require people to change their behavior. By understanding that people with different worldviews actually construct different mental images of how climate change and the world work, climate change communicators can better craft their messages. The Netflix series, Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, documents “the most important scientific discovery of our time—that humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept Earth stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilization.” Earth scientist Johan Rockström helped create the series.
Since publishing Doughnut Economics in 2017, renegade British economist Kate Raworth has become a phenomenon that mainstream economics largely declines to acknowledge but increasingly cannot ignore.
Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee