Climate, energy news roundup: Sept. 13

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

Excerpts from a recent roundup follow; full roundup is here.

Politics and Policy

Properly structured, government spending can fight climate change, as it has done in response to COVID-19.  The U.S. Senate has been unwilling to adopt such measures. Reporters addressed what is being done to assist big cities and rural areas. A U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission report says the U.S. should establish a carbon price and push financial institutions to be better prepared for the likely economic instability from climate change. Adapting to climate change will probably be a far greater challenge for insurers than COVID-19.

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Deb Haaland introduced a resolution – THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) – to bolster union jobs while tackling climate change and racial injustice. An Inside Climate News reporter described a harsh reality for climate action advocates: “If Democrats do flip the Senate, it will be due to victories by a slew of climate moderates.” Fossil fuel-friendly language at a Wisconsin roundtable is the latest sign that Democrats remain divided over how to reduce CO2 emissions if they win power.

More lawmakers and green groups are asking the presidential debates moderators to include questions on climate change policy.  Most governmental systems are set up to handle one problem at a time; climate change can cause cascading effects.  EPA has been in a mad dash to rescind environmental regulations in the lead-up to November’s election; BLM is embarking on a fire sale of public lands to oil and gas drillers. Beginning Sept. 18, Yale Climate Connections will address one of seven key climate messages weekly.

Big greenhouse gas emitters (not the UK or EU) are awaiting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election before deciding about boosting their climate pledges. Vox is producing a series of videos aimed at the elections. One, dealing with decarbonizing the U.S. energy; at11 minutes long it’s easier to follow than various articles on the subject. The center-right European People’s Party has rallied behind an EU objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030; the European Parliament’s environment committee voted in favor of a 60% cut.

Thomas Blank addressed the need to begin decarbonizing industry now. Charleston, S.C., officials sued 24 fossil fuel companies, claiming they contributed to climate change — and misled the public about the danger their products posed to the environment — and should bear the city’s flood damage repair costs. Duke Energy pledged to convert most of its current 10,000-vehicle fleet to electric or another zero‑carbon alternative. Americans support aggressive government regulation to fight the effects of climate change, including outright bans on building in flood- or fire-prone areas.

Climate and Climate Science

The western U.S. wildfires are unprecedented. Opinion writer-at‑large Charlie Warzel wrote “The point of this column isn’t to guilt people for where they live or what they’ve experienced, but to convey the desperation … so many Americans are feeling right now. … It’s a psychological toll, as much as it is physical. One that, while you’re living through it, renders it difficult to see a healthy future for the earth through all the smoke.” John Schwartz explored “The ‘straightforward’ link between climate and California’s fires.” In recent weeks the world has seen Arctic peat fires, torrential rains in Africa, weirdly warm temperatures on tropical ocean surfaces, and record heat waves from California to the Siberian Arctic, all consistent with climate change. Climate scientists remind us of their warnings ten years ago, and reiterate what will happen in ten years.

Earth’s energy imbalance (EEI) is the difference between the heat entering Earth’s atmosphere and that being radiated to space by Earth.  It drives global heating; as long as it remains above zero, Earth will warm. EEI increased by 16% in five years. In an essay, climate scientist James Hansen commented on the findings’ significance; Clean Technica author Steve Hanley summarized Hansen’s comments. In the next five years, the world has nearly a 1-in-4 chance of the global average temperature exceeding 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial times.  Greenhouse gases concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere hit a record high this year, despite the economic slowdown. University of Chicago professors estimated climate change will ultimately cost humanity $100,000 per ton of carbon emitted.

A study found ice melt, rather than thermal expansion, is now the major contributor to sea level rise and the rate of melt now matches the IPCC’s worst-case scenario.

More than 1 billion people face displacement within 30 years as the climate crisis and rapid population growth drive increases migration with “huge impacts” for both the developing and developed worlds. Humans are destroying at a rate never seen before, with wildlife populations falling by over two-thirds in under 50 years.

New research confirmed that rapidly growing trees have shorter lifespans—so their ability to tie up CO2 may be too short-lived to help tackle the climate crisis.

Energy

Transforming the power sector to carbon-free generation will get the world one third of the way to net-zero emissions by mid-century.  A “dramatic” scaling up of clean energy technologies will be required if the world is to reach its climate goals. Washington must become more aggressive in weaning the U.S. off fossil fuels and settling into a carbon-free future, a panel of Edison Electric Institute electric utility and environmentalist leaders said.  Top U.S. power producers think rapid advances in nascent technologies — such as batteries, carbon capture, and advanced nuclear reactors — will be critical to reaching net-zero CO2 emissions.

General Motors announced development of a new wireless battery management system that could eliminate up to 90% of physical wiring and 15% of volume, allowing easier modification of batteries to any type of vehicle.

The number of leading automotive companies committed to cutting emissions in line with Paris Agreement goals continues to rise; Germany’s BMW Group is the latest to commit to setting a goal through the Science Based Target initiative. Engineers continue to investigate ways to make gasoline‑powered internal combustion engines more efficient and less polluting—e.g., replacing conventional spark plugs with plugs generating ultrafast bursts of blue plasma.

Potpourri

Ted Halstead, Climate Leadership Council founder, chairman and CEO, was killed in a hiking accident in Spain. Rocky Mountain Institute CEO Jules Kortenhorst wrote the organization’s tribute to him. Peter Sinclair’s latest “This Is Not Cool” video features a new study showing it’s possible to achieve 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035 with no additional cost to consumers.  SueEllen Campbell has a regular dose of good climate and clean-energy news in her weekly email newsletters.

Compiled by Les Grady, CAAV Steering Committee


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