Climate, energy news roundup: Aug. 15

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(© Sean K – stock.adobe.com)

Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, a non-profit, grassroots group of volunteers in the Central Shenandoah Valley, produces The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News to inform legislators and the public.

An excerpt from a recent Roundup follows; full Roundup is here.

Politics and Policy

Joe Biden’s climate and energy plan shows that the idea of net-zero emissions by 2050 is near the U.S. political mainstream.  Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell wrote that Joe Biden’s climate proposal “gets” that it’s time “to go fast, and go big” on the climate crisis.   Marianne Lavelle examined Kamala Harris’s environmental record.  Biden’s selection of Harris could reinvigorate stalled world action on climate change in a “night and day” switch if they defeat Donald Trump.  Kate Aronoff took issue with the Democratic Party platform’s position concerning China, arguing we can’t solve the climate crisis without its cooperation.

The economic case for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement does not make sense, as clean energy cost has fallen while climate catastrophe risks have increased since the 2015 agreement.

The Trump administration has lifted Obama-era controls on methane release from leaks and flares in oil and gas wells, although the oil and gas industry doesn’t want them to.  Six former EPA chiefs called for a “reset” at the agency after President Trump’s regulation-chopping, industry-minded first term, backing a detailed plan by former EPA staffers.  The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held five virtual public hearings on the Vineyard Wind project in waters south of Massachusetts; 85% of comments supported the project, as did the vast majority of online comments.  The Bureau of Land Management deferred lease sales for potential oil and gas development on 87,000 acres of public lands in Utah that critics said were too close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks.  A FERC report recommended building power lines in the rights of way now used by railroads and oil and gas pipelines.

The Government Accountability Office said Congress should consider a pilot program “to identify and provide assistance to climate migration projects for communities that express affirmative interest in relocation as a resilience strategy.”  A Grist article discussed how old laws may stand in the way of efforts to increase clean energy use.

Climate and Climate Science

The Arctic could see complete loss of summer sea ice within 15 years.  Meltwater ponds forming on ice surface is one factor increasing the melt rate.  The last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic collapsed, losing more than 40% of its area in two days at the end of July.  BBC News provided satellite images before and after the breakup.  Researchers analyzed nearly 40 years of satellite data, finding Greenland glaciers have shrunk so much that, if global warming were to stop today, they would continue shrinking.  Antarctic ice shelves have lost nearly 4Tn metric tons of ice (producing enough meltwater to nearly fill the Grand Canyon) since the mid-1990s.

The past decade was the hottest ever recorded globally, with 2019 either the second or third warmest year on record.  This is the hottest Phoenix summer since 1895, when record keeping began, with an average maximum temperature of 107.9°F and most days 110°F or greater.  Is Phoenix in 2050 going to be like Baghdad today, where temperatures reach 120°F for consecutive days and door handles can blister skin?  Land and oceans are warming and experiencing marine heat waves.  An Ensia article discussed efforts to predict them to help fishermen adapt and others mitigate the impacts. Mumbai’s average annual rainfall is about 94 inches; an astonishing 82.5 inches fell there between July 10 and August 7.

Research in a tropical Panama rainforest heated intact soil almost 6°F and compared the CO2 emissions to soil that had not been heated.  Heated soils emitted 55% more CO2 than unheated soils, an amount with serious implications for future global warming.  Peatlands store approximately 415 gigatons of carbon – as much as is stored in all the world’s forests and trees.  Almost half is present in permafrost, keeping it locked in the soil.  As permafrost melts, peatland carbon is released as CO2 and methane, increasing warming.

Firefighters across three Western states are battling wildfires that have destroyed more than 90,000 acres.  The Amazon rainforest fire season has seen its worst start in a decade.

Research found that logged Malaysian tropical forests, actively restored through tree planting and selective plant removal, increased their carbon absorption 50% faster than logged forests left to regenerate naturally.

Energy

Oregon’s largest utility is making many changes to lower its carbon emissions. 2020 U.S. electricity consumption is expected to drop 3.4% from coronavirus lockdowns that caused business closures.  U.S. coal power generation dropped by 30% in the first half of 2020.  121 coal-fired power plants were repurposed between 2011 and 2019, most of them to natural gas.  The 2020 projected global oil demand estimate is 91.9M barrels/day (bpd), down 8.1M bpd from 2019.

Wind turbines and solar panels produced a record 10% of the world’s electricity in 2020’s first half.  Enough unused roof space exists on U.S. commercial buildings to install 145 GW of new solar capacity — nearly double our current total.  By the end of 2019 “there were more than 367 GW of solar plants in the nation’s queues,” of which 102 GW (around 28%) were hybrids, “most typically pairing PV with battery storage”.

There were just over 2,000 electric trucks on U.S. roads at the end of 2019. A new analysis suggests this stock will grow to over 54,000 by 2025.  Electric car startup Lucid Motors claims the range of its Air model is 517 miles on a single charge.  Xcel Energy announced that 1.5M of its service vehicles —20% of its total fleet — will transition to electric by 2030.

Sun Cable’s audacious $16B project would generate 10 GW of electricity from solar panels covering 30,000 acres in the Australian outback and deliver it to Singapore via a 2,800 mile undersea cable.

Potpourri

The Washington Post’s U.S. climate data is accessible to the public to promote a deeper understanding of the regional and local effects of climate change. Yale Climate Connections’ Daisy Simmons provided advice about how to talk with children about climate change.  Fabian Oefner, a Swiss artist living in Connecticut, completed a fascinating project called “Timelines” in Switzerland, photographing the outlines of the Rhône and Trift glaciers over the past 140 years on the ground using drone technology.  If coronavirus lesson one is “things can change” and lesson two is “they can easily slip back”, then lesson three must be about the importance of presenting images of the future that motivate people to imagine change.

Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee


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