Home Climate and Energy News Roundup: June 2024
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Climate and Energy News Roundup: June 2024

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From flooding in Brazil and Houston to brutal heat in Asia, extreme weather seems nearly everywhere in the past month. It’s unprecedented to have so much of the world with its weather in overdrive at the same time. Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, comments, “Climate change is loading the weather dice against us in every part of the world.”

One of the most rapid sea level surges on Earth is besieging the American South. Sea levels across the region are at least 6 inches higher than they were in 2010—a change similar to what occurred over the previous five decades.

The severe thunderstorms and high winds that recently swept through Houston and the Gulf Coast left all the destructive traces of a hurricane. As our planet warms, severe storms of all kinds are likely to deliver even bigger payloads of rain because warmer air holds more moisture. The resulting heat energy released into the atmosphere feeds thunderstorms.

The climate refugee crisis is here. Catastrophic flooding in southern Brazil recently forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. This is not a one off. Floods in Pakistan in 2022 displaced an estimated 8 million people. Floods in Ethiopia in 2023 and Kenya this year forced hundreds of thousands more from their homes.

Local Climate News

An informal Creation Care/Green Team mixer is being planned at the outside pavilion at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church on Saturday, June 22, at 7 pm. This mixer is an outgrowth of the Ecumenical Earth Day Worship Service, and is open to all creation care groups, green committees, and interested individuals. It will be helpful for planning purposes if you RSVP to Steve Pardini at: [email protected].

Local nonprofit GiveSolar launched a National Solar Seed Fund Campaign at the beginning of this year. This is an effort to scale the solar programs of Habitat for Humanity and make them available to all appropriate Habitat homes nationally.  The campaign has now received a $500,000 donation from the EPA Solar for All grant designed to help low-income households to access solar. To date, the campaign has raised $614,580 toward its goal of raising $1M by July.

The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission and RideShare joined the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in promoting May as Bike Month—a time to celebrate the joys and benefits of cycling! This promotes biking as a viable and eco-friendly mode of transportation.

The declining number of fireflies in our region is likely due to rising temperatures, housing and commercial development with closely cut lawns, and the use of pesticides. To have more fireflies in your yard and to help the insect population thrive, Virginia Tech entomologist Eric Day recommends that homeowners stop spraying their yards with pesticides and herbicides, tolerate weeds, and mow less.

Community Climate Collaborative—also known as C3—based in Charlottesville, is helping businesses reach carbon neutral emission goals. It involves energy efficiency measures such as sealing up buildings, upgrading lights or replacing appliances using fossil fuels with modern ones. Upgrades can be funded through C-PACE, an innovative way to finance clean energy and resiliency projects on commercial, multifamily, and nonprofit buildings.

Politics and Policy

During Trump’s dinner meeting with Big Oil executives at Mar-a-Lago last month, he asked them to raise $1 billion for his campaign as he outlined his pro-fossil fuels agenda for a second term. Industry officials have already begun drafting the text of executive orders to start reversing the Biden administration’s green policies on day one of a Trump presidency.

In an effort led by Gov. DeSantis, Florida—perhaps the most vulnerable state to sea-level rise and extreme weather—has stripped the term “climate change” from much of state law. The state will, instead, make energy affordability and availability its main focus.

The Vermont state Senate recently passed legislation that would require all utilities to provide 100% clean energy by 2035. This puts Vermont on track to be among the first states to fully decarbonize its power grid. This new standard will underpin other parallel state climate efforts such as electrifying its home heating sector.

In a win for Governor Youngkin, the budget deal he cut with General Assembly negotiators dropped a measure to renew the state’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Democrats claimed that Youngkin insisted the RGGI language come out “under threat of veto” but environmentalists fault them for folding without a fight.

The U.S. Interior Department announced that it will end new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin, which produces nearly half the coal in the United States. This is one of the biggest steps yet to keep fossil fuels in the ground with major implications for U.S. climate goals.

President Biden announced major tariffs on Chinese clean technologies that they fear will flood the U.S. market and undermine our emerging clean manufacturing. He imposed tariffs of 100% on Chinese EVs, 50% on Chinese solar cells, and 25% on Chinese lithium-ion batteries. The Washington Post editorial board claims that this will slow progress against climate change and provide next to nothing in return. Economist Paul Krugman, however, sees it as unfortunately necessary given the fragile state of our U.S. green energy transition.

Energy

Across the U.S., power companies are increasingly using giant grid batteries the size of shipping containers to address renewable energy’s biggest weakness: the fact that the wind and sun aren’t always available. Over the past three years, battery storage capacity on our grids has grown tenfold. This year, it is expected to nearly double again, with the biggest growth in Texas, California and Arizona.

New York–based startup Voltpost has announced the commercial availability of its curbside EV charging station technology package—creating modular, street-proofed systems, utilizing power from streetlights, that it hopes to deploy in cities later this year. Tapping the power already at light posts is a workaround to the high costs of installing underground electric cables for chargers in urban settings.

The surge in data center power demand in the U.S. is expected to double from 2022 levels by 2030 and reach up to 7.5% of total energy consumption—equivalent to the energy consumption of nearly a third of American homes. Virginia has the biggest data center market in the world and the exponential increase in power demand has created a huge challenge for the goal of decarbonizing its electric grid. Some Virginia lawmakers have tried to hold data centers accountable for their impact on the environment but their proposed legislation was postponed until 2025, effectively killing it.

China has a huge lead over other countries in building the technologies of the energy transition. Around $200 billion was invested in clean technology manufacturing worldwide in 2023—a 70% increase from 2022. China alone accounted for three-quarters of this investment.

Climate Justice

Norfolk, Virginia, is experiencing a double-whammy effect of climate change. Not only are storm related deluges more intense, but sea levels are rising faster here than anywhere else on the East Coast.  One climate resilience project—a winding “blue greenway”—aims to reimagine a neglected, flood-prone poor neighborhood along the city’s neglected east-side waterfront.

Virginia was all in on midsized solar installations on schools, hospitals, churches, and municipal buildings until Dominion Energy dramatically raised prices and changed the rules on interconnection fees. This now makes many of these projects economically unviable. Dominion denies that it is putting up barriers in order to maintain its market share in solar energy.

Internal oil company documents released before a congressional hearing reveal that oil executives promoted natural gas as green even when they knew it wasn’t. This evidence could end up supporting state attorneys general who are suing the fossil fuel industry. Oil companies are currently facing around 30 lawsuits for deceiving the public about the consequences of burning fossil fuels.

New coal mines continue to open each year, and oil and gas companies are still exploring new parts of the world. People—especially Indigenous communities—are, however, increasingly saying no to new fossil fuel developments on their land. And they’re using courts and legislatures to fight back and achieve some significant victories.

The new United Nations “loss and damage fund” to assist developing countries with climate related damages had its first board meeting where it sought to finalize operations and its partnership with the World Bank. The big question is who will pay. Former U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said that the world will “never see a dime” from the U.S. for anything that sounds like an admission of liability or smacks of compensation.

Small island nations won a big climate victory when the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea unanimously ruled that governments that signed on to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea have an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes several of the world’s top emitters: China, India, the European Union, and Russia. The United States, also a big polluter, is not a party to the convention.

Climate Action

A growing number of ecological innovators around the world are reimagining landscapes, communities, and the way we live. Individuals and organizations are embarking on a hands-on rethinking of the future in projects that range from “ecovillages” in sub-Saharan Africa to regenerative agriculture coworking spaces in Europe, to permaculture projects in Barbados.

The Ulkatcho First Nation in remote British Columbia is installing what will likely be the largest off-grid solar project in Canada. It will provide 64% of their electricity which is currently entirely generated by diesel. Corrine Cahoose, one of their elected councilors, said, “We have to be the stewards of the land. We have to protect in every way, and this project is one of the ways.”

The Bezos Earth Fund, launched in 2020, aims to give away $10bn of the Amazon founder’s $200bn personal fortune to combat the climate crisis and biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. Some in the climate and environmental community are concerned about the level of influence this gives Jeff Bezos over critical environmental institutions. They claim that the projects do not address the key issues of the climate crisis.

Is buying carbon offsets for air flights worth it? Many of them don’t work and some might even be harmful. Better alternatives include flying less and choosing an economy seat when you do fly (premium seats contribute about four times more emissions). And, when you fly, you can donate $1,000 per ton of carbon emitted to your favorite environmental organizations.

The race is on to build California’s 220 mph high-speed bullet train network. When completed, the train network will be a major convenience for people traveling around California as well as a major win for our planet. According to one study, the trains will produce only one-seventh as much greenhouse gas emissions as commercial air travel.

Heating water gobbles energy, leading to higher utility bills and more planet-warming emissions. It’s responsible for more than 10% of annual residential energy use—the biggest share after air conditioning and heating. One way to cut down our energy consumption is to wash our laundry in cold water because heating water consumes about 90% of the energy it takes to operate a washing machine. Also limit taking long, steamy hot showers.

Earl Zimmerman is a member of the steering committee of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley.