Climate, environment news roundup: June 7

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The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group of volunteers in the Central Shenandoah Valley. We produce “The Weekly Roundup of Climate and Energy News” to inform legislators and the public.  Here is an excerpt from a recent Roundup. Read the full Roundup at the CAAV website.

Politics and Policy

Black climate expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s perspective addressed how “Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.” Somini Sengupta’s New York Times “Climate Fwd:” newsletter described a conversation with black climate activists about connections between racism and climate change. Author/Activist Keya Chatterjee’s opinion piece declared “The climate crisis is, at its core, a racial injustice crisis.” Inside Climate News journalists reported on how climate groups responded. Claire Elise Thompson compiled ideas from five environmental justice leaders.

The U.S. is far behind industrialized nations on environmental performance, now ranking 24th.  Hungary’s parliament set a 2050 climate neutrality goal, signaling support for the EU net zero emissions strategy.

Recent articles about Trump administration weakening of environmental regulations:  A group of former EPA employees—“Save EPA”– wrote “Virtually all the changes that Trump has made have one thing in common: They help polluters and harm the public, now and in the future.”  A Yale Climate Connections piece asserted “Most Trump environmental rollbacks will take years to be reversed.”  President Trump signed an executive order instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws, e.g., Endangered Species and National Environmental Policy Acts, to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines, and other projects, given the current economic “emergency.”

EPA proposed an overhaul of how major clean air rules are written by changing the cost-benefit analysis process.  EPA announced it had limited states’ ability to block construction of energy infrastructure projects by revising the rules for issuing permits under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.  The administration proposed fast tracking logging on public lands, introducing two proposals to limit the environmental review of new projects.

The Democrats’ Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis is pressing Joe Biden to back a plan to spend up to $16 trillion to speed the country away from fossil fuels.  In a rare collaboration on climate change, four senators (two from each party) introduced a bill directing the Agriculture Department to help farmers, ranchers, and landowners use CO2-absorbing practices to generate carbon credits that could be sold on offset markets.  There is great uncertainty over the efficacy of regenerative agriculture, as well as how to certify the amount of CO2 offset.

The 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts vs. EPA held that greenhouse gases are pollutants that could be regulated under the 1970 Clean Air Act.  Sam Evans-Brown(New Hampshire Public Radio) provided a history of the ruling and looked at threats to it from the Trump administration.  Edison Electric Institute, the primary industry group for U.S. investor-owned utilities, confirmed it is staying neutral on a controversial petition asking FERC to effectively declare net metering illegal.  Sustainable finance nonprofit Ceres released a new report entitled “Addressing Climate as a Systemic Risk: A call to action for U.S. financial regulators.”

Climate and Climate Science

Severe rainfall that once happened every hundred years in North America now happens every 20 years; events that once happened every 20 years now happen every five.  An analysis of federal flood insurance payments showed that U.S. flooding disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods.  Research that examined rainfall-based drought using the latest generation of climate models found that, in the future, southwestern Australia and parts of southern Australia will see longer, more intense droughts.

The coronavirus pandemic slowed CO2 emissions; the reduction was insufficient to stop the amount in the atmosphere from increasing. May 2020 emissions hit an average just above 417 ppm, the highest monthly average value ever recorded.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered its most extensive coral bleaching event in March; scientists fear it is not going to recover to what it was even five years ago, much less thirty years.  As Chesapeake Bay seagrasses photosynthesize, they form tiny crystals of calcium carbonate, which they hoard both inside and on the surface of their leaves.  As the external crystals wash off and flow down the Bay, they help neutralize the acidifying water.

Scientists announced that Earth had its hottest May ever last month; 2020 is set to be among the hottest years, with a higher than 98% likelihood of a top five ranking.  An analysis of weather records revealed that Canadian and U.S. summers have lengthened an average of seven days over the past 30 years; winters have decreased by 15 days.

Energy

“Climate researchers increasingly believe 2019 may represent the world’s peak output of carbon dioxide, with a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and a rapid expansion of renewable energy putting a cap on emissions years earlier than expected.”  Financial think-tank Carbon Tracker asserts the coronavirus outbreak could trigger a $25tn collapse in the fossil fuel industry, thereby posing “a significant threat to global financial stability”.  Some analysts think the current contraction may result in a strengthening of major oil and gas companies through acquisition of wells and reserves at bargain basement prices.  Massachusetts’ Attorney General asked the state’s public utilities regulator to probe the future of the natural gas industry as the state moves away from burning fossil fuels.

The International Renewable Energy Agency said replacing 500 GW of their most expensive coal-fired power plants with new solar power projects or onshore wind farms could save energy companies up to $23bn every year, wiping out 5% of global carbon emissions.  The International Energy Agency says widely adopting floating wind turbine technology would give industry the technical potential to eventually supply the equivalent of 11 times the world’s demand for electric power, provided both technical and economic problems are overcome.

Scientists reported that two-sided sun-tracking solar panels produce an average of 35% more energy than immobile single-panel systems and are 16% more cost-efficient.

University of Aberdeen chemical engineering professor Tom Baxter made the case for battery-powered passenger cars being more energy efficient than hydrogen‑fuel‑cell‑cars.  Germany will require all filling stations to offer electric car charging to help remove range anxiety and boost consumer demand for EVs.  General Motors is developing an electric van aimed at business users, joining a growing list of carmakers planning EVs for the same segment.

Potpourri

Andrew Nikiforuk wrote “Normal has become a pathological state.  After the random normlessness of this pandemic, I don’t want to go back to normal either.  Or its idiotic child, “the new normal.”

A new Australian documentary released on June 5, World Environment Day, is entitled 2040.  According to a RealClimate post, it focuses on hope and rational thinking.  Watch the trailer here.

Take 4½ minutes to listen to some early morning birdsong or to 13 birds one can hear around NYC.

Joy Loving edited the latest Roundup prepared by Dr. Les Grady, a Rockingham County resident and Member of CAAV’s Steering Committee


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