Home Earl Zimmerman: February 2024 Climate and Energy News Roundup

Earl Zimmerman: February 2024 Climate and Energy News Roundup


Our Climate Crisis

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Last year, more than 40% of the Earth’s surface was at least 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer beyond the pre-industrial era. This warming has not been evenly distributed around the globe. Roughly one-fifth has already warmed by more than 2 degrees Celsius and around 5% of the planet has warmed more than 3 degrees Celsius. A fast-warming area around the Arctic, stretching into Canada and the American Midwest, is testing the limits of human infrastructure and the ability of the natural world to cope.

After the surprising rise in global temperatures in 2023, some scientists are already speculating: 2024 could be even hotter. That’s because the planet-warming El Niño climate pattern in 2023 is nearing its peak and may continue for the first half of this year. Correspondingly, vast swaths of Earth’s oceans were record-warm for most of 2023, and it would take just as many months for them to release that heat.

Based on the USDA’s 2023 plant hardiness zone map data, Rockingham County shifted from zone 6b to zone 7a—with an average temperature rise of four degrees. The map developers cautioned against attributing the hardiness zone update alone as an accurate indicator of climate change, which is based on trends in overall average temperatures recorded over long time periods.

Extreme draught has dramatically lowered the water levels in the lakes that provide water for the operation of the Panama Canal. This has reduced daily traffic through the canal by nearly 40% compared with last year. This is causing ships to divert to longer ocean routes, which increases both costs and carbon emissions.

Politics and Policy

In a big win for climate activists, the Department of Energy announced that it will pause approvals for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals for several months while it studies the potential climate impacts. Over the past decade, the United States has become the world’s largest exporter LNG and the industry is poised for massive growth.

The Biden administration laid out strict rules for tax credits to produce ​“green” hydrogen, a fuel that could help decarbonize essential industries like steelmaking and shipping. The production must use zero-carbon power delivered from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed and comes from newly built resources rather than existing ones. This will favor states like Texas that have lots of new solar and wind projects in the pipeline.

The state of Washington’s cap on carbon, signed into law in 2021, establishes a statewide limit on greenhouse gas emissions and has already raised $2.2 billion for climate action. It funds initiatives such as better public transit, home weatherization and electrification, and reductions in emissions from industry. Now a wealthy hedge fund manager is funding a petition drive to repeal the law over its minimal effect on higher gas prices.

Kenya launched a national “e-mobility” program last year. The goal is to incentivize the common ‘boda-boda’ motorbike taxis and three-wheeled ‘tuk-tuks’, or auto rickshaws, to go electric. These vehicles, which run on diesel and gasoline, are notorious for causing air pollution in Nairobi and other cities. This program is the centerpiece of a move to make transport green and reduce air pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing steep new fees on wasteful methane emissions from large US oil and gas facilities. This is part of a global push to curb methane emissions, a climate super-pollutant and it comes as the US is seeing record gas and oil production.

A tug-of-war is going on in the state legislature over whether Virginia stays the course of the energy transition laid out 2020-2021 or rolls it back hard. Republicans are introducing bills to roll back those laws, which are being defeated by the Democratic majority. Democratic proposals to strengthen them also face a veto by Gov. Youngkin that they will not be able to override. That will be the likely outcome of the proposed Democratic budget language forcing the governor to keep Virginia in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon market.


Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions hit a 70-year low last year as it reduced its reliance on coal. Emissions from industry also fell significantly, largely due to a decline in production by energy-intensive companies. Electricity generation from renewable sources was more than 50% of the total for the first time, while coal’s share dropped to 26%. This puts the country in line with its target to produce 80% of its electricity from wind and solar by 2030.

The Chinese automaker BYD topped Tesla in 2023 to become the world’s largest EV manufacturer. The company, which is also a top battery manufacturer, recently broke ground on its first sodium-ion battery plant. Sodium offers a cheaper alternative to lithium but has a lower energy density. Sodium-ion batteries will be most useful in low-cost small cars or two-wheelers that don’t need the higher energy density.

US battery storage capacity for the electrical grid is poised for a record year in 2024 and now makes up 21% of new additions to the grid. Texas and California will continue to lead in new additions, after installations reached a new record last quarter.

The world may have a real chance of tripling renewable energy by 2030, the goal set at the COP28 climate change conference. Success in meeting that goal will, however, depend on scaling up financing for emerging and developing economies. The largest growth in renewables is taking place in China, which commissioned as much solar in 2023 as the entire world did in 2022, while their wind power additions rose by 66% year-over-year.

A huge underground hydrogen battery is being built in Utah. Two caverns, each as deep as the Empire State Building is tall, are being created from a geological salt formation on the site of a former coal power plant. The electricity used to create the green hydrogen will come from solar and wind power with no planet-warming emissions. The power plant it supplies will initially run a mix of natural gas and up to 30% hydrogen. Getting to 100% hydrogen in 20 years will require a major rebuild of the plant.

Natural hydrogen, a potential clean energy source, may be more plentiful than realized and a green replacement for fossil fuels. Well-funded efforts to drill for the gas are now underway around the globe. Skeptics say its large-scale use may not be practical or cost-effective and that unleashing it into the atmosphere could have unintended consequences.

Climate Justice

Aside from the destruction, death, and human misery created, a preliminary study shows the extent of the planet-warming emissions generated during the first two months of the war in Gaza. Those emissions were greater than the annual carbon footprint of more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations. This is an instance of the exceptionalism that allows militaries to pollute with impunity.

In a third round of funding for clean school buses, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded nearly $1 billion in grants to 280 school districts to help them go electric. This is a big win for the environment and for school children that are harmed by diesel pollution from buses, especially children of color and those in low-income areas.

With the Mountain Valley Pipeline approaching the final stretch, it might seem hardly worth continuing to fight against it. Yet, as one young woman says, “We cannot let them destroy our land and water.” Furthermore, the pipeline is six years behind schedule, about half a billion dollars over budget, and delayed once again. A goal of those continuing the fight is to make building pipelines so time-consuming and expensive that companies and politicians will think twice about building any more.

Climate Action

Virginia ranks fourth nationwide in the number of electric school buses either on the road or on order despite any specific state funding. It is happening through the resourcefulness of school districts and advocates by plugging into federal dollars, forming public-private ventures, and buying buses directly.

Amid concerns about climate change, demand for rail service in Europe is strong, and both governments and private investors are trying to keep up. Cities could see a flurry of new rail connections in the next few years, as governments and private investors strive to keep up with strong demand.

To slash carbon emissions, a growing number of colleges and universities are installing geoexchange systems (also known as ground source geothermal district heating and cooling) that work like a heat storage bank. In summer, heat is drawn out of warm buildings through air-conditioning and transferred to water, which is sent into pipes in a closed loop network deep underground. This warmed water is then used for heating during the winter months.

Rooftop solar and a heat pump system is being installed on the Pentagon, one of the world’s largest buildings. It will power over 95% of space heating and hot water heating, currently powered by natural gas and oil, with an estimated annual total energy cost reduction of $1.36 million.

If you think you need another car you might consider an e-bike instead. E-bike sales in the United States surged 269% between 2019 and 2022 and part of their appeal is their functionality. Think of it as a cheap second car rather than an expensive bike. It’s good for the environment and you may help change your community’s car-centric ways.

There are several good reasons to install a bidet on your toilet. It helps to save our environment, it’s less expensive, and it’s better than toilet paper in cleaning your tush. You’ll never want to go back to trying to clean yourself with messy toilet paper. We Americans flush the equivalent of millions of trees down the toilet each year and much of this comes from clear-cutting Canada’s boreal forests.

Local Climate News

The City of Harrisonburg received the SolSmart Silver award getting national attention for its work to remove administrative and permit barriers. Keith Thomas, the sustainability and environmental manager for the city, said they started installing solar on city buildings and are doing general community outreach to get more awareness out about solar.

The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 against bringing a demand-response transportation pilot project to the county in 2024. Valley Interfaith Action, a large local community organization, had been advocating for the service because a lack of transportation is a primary expressed need of area residents. The Supervisors did agree to study the matter to be in a better position to pursue a transit program in 2025.

A bioretention basin was installed at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg to capture and filter stormwater runoff from their building and parking lot. The Harrisonburg Conservation Assistance Program funded about 75% of the cost. An educational sign next to the basin explains how it works and its environmental benefits.

Earl Zimmerman is a member of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley Steering Committee.



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