By bonding over the values we truly share, and by connecting them to climate, we can inspire one another to act together to fix this problem. But it all begins with understanding who we already are, and what we already care about—because changes are, whatever that is, it’s already being affected by climate change, whether we know it or not. –Katharine Hayhoe
Our Climate Crisis
Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at Project Drawdown, was a lead author on the Fifth National Climate Assessment. She was reluctant to do it one more time because their past dire warnings about our climate crisis have felt like screaming into the void. Although the outlook is still alarming, they were able to report genuine progress this time. She says, “Renewables now make up 80 percent of new electricity generation capacity. Our country’s greenhouse gas emissions are falling, even as our G.D.P. and population grow.”
This year is “virtually certain” to be the warmest in 125,000 years, according to European Union scientists. Last month smashed through the previous October temperature record, from 2019, by a massive margin of 0.4 degrees Celsius. The month of September also breached the previous temperature record by a large margin.
A new study by legendary climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues has found that global warming is accelerating faster than anticipated and will likely breach the 1.5 degrees C benchmark set by the Paris Climate Agreement by the end of the decade. Other climate scientists, including Michael Mann, dispute how rapidly global warming is accelerating and how much is locked in even after we stop emitting carbon dioxide. They all agree that it’s an existential crisis.
Politics and Policy
A showdown is brewing over money, oil and carbon at the COP28 climate summit that is opening in Dubai. There will be immense pressure to deliver as global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions continue to break records. We can expect a fierce fight between high-income and low-income countries over who will pay for climate mitigation. Furthermore, Sultan Al-Jaber, who the UAE chose to lead COP28 discussions, is a controversial choice given that he is the head of their state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
The United States and China will back a new global renewable energy target and work together on methane and plastic pollution. They made a joint statement on this after a meeting in California to find common ground ahead of COP28 talks in Dubai later this month. Differences between them remain on issues like phasing out fossil fuels.
Virginia voters all but ended Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s push to roll back climate policies as Democrats maintained their majority in the state Senate and seized control of the House of Delegates. This assures that climate legislation, such as the Virginia Clean Economy Act, will stay in place. It also assures that he has no legislative path in his efforts to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative. Any new climate legislation will, however, need his support as the Democratic legislative majorities are not big enough to override his veto.
The Inflation Reduction Act helped create 210 major clean-energy projects in its first 12 months. These projects will spur a total of 303,500 jobs each year over a typical five-year construction phase, and a total of another 99,600 jobs each year after that in their long-term operations. It is estimated that this will lead to 9 million new jobs over a decade.
New House Speaker Mike Johnson has a League of Conservation Voters score of 2% which is almost as low as it gets. It’s even generous to call him a climate skeptic. He’s said outrageous things about climate change, what’s causing it, and whether he believes it’s even happening, and has consistently backed Big Oil.
Michigan passed legislation to reach 100% clean electricity by a target year of 2040. This makes it the third state in the Midwest and twelfth in the country to require a shift to clean electricity. Of all those states, Michigan is one of the most ambitious because of the extent of the change it is making. In 2022 it got only 38% of its electricity from carbon-free sources.
Energy efficiency is the invisible superpower of the energy transition. According to data from the International Energy Agency, gains in energy efficiency since 2010 have saved about ten times as much primary energy as solar and wind added. Even so, renewables get nearly all the headlines. That may be because solar panels and wind turbines are highly visible whereas unused energy is invisible and almost unimaginable.
Electric vehicle sales are up nearly 50% this year despite some inevitable growing pains and gloomy headlines. The EV market is actually well past the tipping point for mass adoption. If buyers continue to snap them up at the current clip, this year they’ll easily surpass 1 million in annual sales for the first time ever.
Solar is now producing 6% of electricity in the US—up from 2% five years ago. Even with that impressive growth, much more is needed to reach the Biden administration’s goal of completely decarbonizing the power grid by 2035. That will require solar to make up as much as 40% of electricity generation.
According to a UN report, the world’s fossil fuel producers such as Saudia Arabia, the US and UAE are planning production expansions that would blow the planet’s carbon budget twice over. The planned expansions will far exceed the amount of fossil fuel that is possible to burn if global temperature rise is to be kept to the internationally agreed 1.5C. They will even produce 69% more fossil fuels than is compatible with the riskier 2C target.
Dominion Energy says their offshore wind project in Virginia—the nation’s largest—remains on budget and on schedule to be completed in 2026. This gives the industry a boost at a time when it has been plagued by financial challenges, including the recent cancellation of two major projects planned in the waters off of New Jersey.
The Youngkin administration announced a public-private initiative that aims to test out emerging energy technologies in Wise County in Southwest Virginia. The public-private partnership will form an Energy DELTA Lab that tests new wind, solar, nuclear, battery and pumped storage, hydrogen and other emerging energy technologies.
The most promising small modular reactor in the U.S., being developed by startup nuclear company NuScale, has been terminated because it couldn’t secure enough subscriptions from utilities to make the project work financially. It was supposed to build the first next-gen reactor and usher in a new era for nuclear energy. Estimated project costs had risen from $58 per megawatt-hour to $89 per megawatt-hour due to cost overruns and higher interest rates.
The USDA has been funding renewable energy projects for farmers including a recent grant enabling a Rockingham County organic chicken farm to install solar panels to offset energy used by its poultry houses. New grant awards of $2.3 million in Virginia will support eight photovoltaic systems and five grain dryers in the city of Williamsburg and the counties of Accomack, Augusta, Culpeper, Gloucester, Powhatan, Rockingham, Southampton and Tazewell.
United Nations climate experts said that the world must spend hundreds of billions more a year to help vulnerable people adapt to mounting devastation from severe droughts, catastrophic wildfires and ruinous floods fueled by rising global temperatures. At the next U.N. Climate Change Conference, hosted this year in Dubai, wealthy countries are expected to resist calls to compensate poor nations for such deadly disasters.
Pope Francis implored policymakers and those who deny the existence of climate change to stop dismissing human causes or ridiculing science when Earth may be nearing the breaking point. There is still time to stop global warming, he said, “Our future is at stake, the future of our children and our grandchildren.” He had planned to speak at the COP28 Climate Change Conference in Dubai but had to cancel for health reasons.
Pulaski County in Southwest Virginia is promoting solar energy and green manufacturing with the goal of becoming our nation’s greenest county government. It recently received a “gold” designation from the U.S. Department of Energy-funded Solsmart program and is working toward a platinum status by 2024. That will include installing solar panels on public facilities and land and providing instant approval for residential panel installation.
Trailblazing architects and engineers—and their early-adopter clients—are in a race to erect ever-taller timber towers. The vision is wooden skylines erected with glued lumber laminates that rival steel and concrete in strength and reliability. Trees soak up carbon in their trunks, leaves and roots. Constructing buildings with wood then locks that carbon into the built environment.
You will want to consider a heat pump dryer when you replace your present clothes dryer. While relatively unknown in the U.S., they are popular in Europe and Japan. Though more expensive up front, they can reduce your carbon emissions and save you up to several hundred dollars a year. Drying some of your clothes on an old-fashioned clothes line is even more efficient.
Biochar, a charcoal made from heating discarded organic materials such as crop residues, offers a path to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Twelve countries have the technical ability to sequester over 20% of their current total emissions by converting crop residues to biochar. Bhutan leads the way with the potential to sequester 68% of its emissions in the form of biochar, followed by India, at 53%.
You can reduce your energy consumption this winter by reducing the amount of air that leaks in and out of your home. Weatherstripping and caulking are two of the most effective and simple air-sealing techniques that can save up to 20% on your energy bills. Also check with your energy provider about having them arrange for an energy audit on your home—a service that is often provided free of charge.
Here’s a simple climate action opportunity. Gather acorns and contribute them to the Virginia Department of Forestry nursery in Crimora. The nursery uses contributions from a donation program that has run for about a decade. This year volunteers sent them 12 tons of acorns. No matter how many seedlings the program produces, there’s always room for more because Virginia has about 16 million acres of forestland.
Join Valley Interfaith Action for a TAKE THE NEXT STEP! assembly on Thursday, December 7, 6:30 to 8:00 pm at Bridgewater Church of the Brethren. Hundreds of VIA members will ask elected and corporate leaders to join us in taking the next step to establish door-to-door demand response transit and create 250 new pre-k spots that pay a living wage. Please register here. To join other faith based climate activists at the event you can register as a member of “Shenandoah Valley Faith and Climate.”
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will host a community meeting at the Massanutten Regional Library in Harrisonburg on Dec. 7 from 6-8 pm. This is part of a series of meeting throughout the state to solicit ideas for measures that could rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Virginia. Click here for more information.
Compliled by Earl Zimmerman on behalf of the Climate Action Alliance of Virginia.