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Weekly Roundup – 4/24/2020

April 27, 2020

Politics and Policy

On Wednesday, activists and scientists worldwide marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a message of warning: When this health crisis passes, world leaders must rebuild the global economy on a healthier, more sustainable track. A sampling of other Earth Day news follows. The New York Times celebrated the 50th anniversary by highlighting ten big environmental victories and ten big failures. Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for protection of the environment and praised the environmental movement, saying it was necessary for young people to “take to the streets to teach us what is obvious,…”. Former UN official Hugh Roberts wrote: “It is time, then, to consider a new kind of declaration. A declaration of responsibility, acknowledging what we have done and recognizing we were mistaken: a simple expression of collective responsibility for what is wrong.” Rolling Stone interviewed and profiled Denis Hayes, the person who organized the first Earth Day. Inside Climate News did a Q&A with Francis Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, which was published in 1971. Finally, Scientific American illustrated how the environment has changed in the past 50 years.

On Monday the League of Conservation Voters endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for President. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State and former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Mr. Biden on Wednesday, after he signaled he would make fighting climate change a central cause of his administration. At Politico, Michael Grunwald argued that the climate movement’s recent strategy of deemphasizing personal responsibility while placing the blame on large corporations is a mistake. While nature-based solutions for stopping climate change are not sufficient, Amanda Paulson argued that they can be an important component when done properly. New York Times reporter Richard Schiffman visited Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to learn of its decades-old role in understanding climate change. One of the things he learned is that global warming may be far more dangerous than the pandemic.

In an earlier Roundup I linked to an article about the New York Fed tapping asset manager BlackRock Inc to serve as investment manager for the two new programs for purchasing bonds as part of the effort to sustain the economy. Now, senators from both parties are pressing the Fed for details about how climate risk will be considered, but from opposite perspectives. President Trump promised on Tuesday to bail out U.S. oil companies that have been hard hit by a recent historic dive in crude oil prices that have taken futures into negative values. An alternative, put forth by Oil Change International and the Democracy Collaborative, would be a public takeover of the fossil-fuel industry, which could then implement a managed phase-out of oil, gas, and coal extraction to keep global warming under 1.5°C. President Trump on Friday expressed opposition to banks’ unwillingness to fund certain fossil fuel projects, after two major banks announced that they wouldn’t directly support oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. Despite the dire outlook, the American oil and gas sector has plowed ahead at full speed with fossil fuel infrastructure development. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a nationwide program used to approve oil and gas pipelines, power lines, and other utility work, spurred by a court ruling that last week threw out a blanket permit system the Corps had been using.

Denis Hayes wrote an op-ed in The Seattle Times about the importance of this year’s presidential election. In an article in Politico, Ryan Heath and coauthors wrote: “If this year’s once-in-a-generation level of public spending isn’t used to change how infrastructure is built, how industry works, and how cars and planes run, green lobbyists say governments will lose their final chance to meet the 2015 global climate target that 195 governments signed up for.” In its inaugural Global Renewables Outlook, the International Renewable Energy Agency said that governments could chart a path to a fully decarbonized energy system by the middle of the century and revive economies hit by the coronavirus if they tailor stimulus packages to boost clean energy technologies. At Vox, David Roberts argued that coronavirus stimulus money will be wasted on fossil fuels.

Climate and Climate Science

There is a 75% chance 2020 will set the record for the warmest year since instrument records began in 1880, NOAA is projecting, beating out 2016 for the distinction. Carbon Brief provided a more detailed analysis. 2019 was the hottest year on record for Europe, which is warming faster than the rest of Earth. Over the past five years, global temperatures were, on average, just over 1°C warmer than at the end of the 19th century, whereas, in Europe, temperatures were almost 2°C warmer. New research, published on-line in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the Arctic Ocean will likely be ice-free in summer by 2050 even if measures are taken to keep warming below 2°C.

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest lost over 2,000 square miles of forest from August 2019 through March 2020, double the rate for that equivalent period in 2018 and 2019. Satellite data show regions of the Amazon with severe decreases in soil moisture and groundwater, meaning this year will likely be drier than 2019, making the forest more prone to wildfires.

One thing you may not have thought about is how climate change is altering nature’s sonic landscape.

According to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, as global temperatures continue to rise, farmers in the western U.S. who rely on snowmelt to water their crops could be among the hardest hit agricultural communities.

The World Resources Institute has found that 147 million people will be hit by floods from rivers and coasts annually by the end of the decade, compared with 72 million people just 10 years ago. Damages to urban property will increase from $174bn to $712bn per year. A new report focused on the impacts of a warming planet on North Carolina. It warns that the state needs to brace for a future of wetter and more intense hurricanes, plus other climate disruptions. Another impact for coastal communities is increased risk of salt water incursion into their water supplies.

Energy

Methane emissions from the Permian basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico are more than two times higher than federal estimates, a new study published in the journal Science Advances suggests. In addition, a new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology looked at almost 600,000 operator reports on methane leaks from both fracking and conventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania from 2014-2018 and found that methane emissions were at least 15% higher than previously thought.

Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, a pilot project comprising two 6-MW turbines developed by Siemens Gamesa in Esbjerg, Denmark, is expected to be online by the end of this year to power 3,000 homes. While the grid benefits of distributed solar generation are well known for large utilities, less is known about the impacts for rural cooperatives, which tend to serve smaller populations spread out across a large area. Now a researcher at the University of Minnesota is studying the issue.

Last week, the New England Ratepayers Association filed a petition with FERC asking it to assert control over all state net-metering programs, a move that could lay the groundwork for challenges to the solar net metering policies now in place in 41 states. There is another item about FERC, this one in Dan Gearino’s “Inside Clean Energy” newsletter. Scroll down to the second article, which is about FERC affirming its December ruling that states are distorting competition in the PJM Interconnection grid region by passing laws that subsidize power plants that don’t emit CO2. Wind generated more electricity nationally than coal on three separate days over the past six weeks, according to an E&E News review of federal data.

A recent article in Nature Climate Change found that, even when only accounting for domestic environmental effects and neglecting the global benefits from slowing climate change, the benefits of phasing out coal electricity generation outweigh the economic costs, thereby making coal phaseout a “no-regret” policy option. Sweden has become the third European country to complete its phase out of coal power. Since the coronavirus hit the U.S., coal mines across the country have begun shutting down, laying off workers and slowing production; bankruptcies loom everywhere in the industry. In West Virginia, as coal mining firm ERP Environmental Fund teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, the state asked a court for control of several abandoned mines, all owned by the firm.

What is thought to be the world’s largest ‘single-stack’ green hydrogen electrolyzer, a 10MW project in Fukushima, Japan, began operations on schedule last month. One problem with powering cars with hydrogen is the extremely high pressure required to hold enough hydrogen to drive for a reasonable distance. Now, researchers have developed a highly porous new material, described as a metal-organic framework, that is capable of holding large quantities of hydrogen at much lower pressure.

Potpourri

There was an interesting piece in The New York Times about Eunice Foote, who may have been the first person to observe that CO2 makes the atmosphere warmer. Michael Moore is executive producer of a “refreshingly contrarian eco-documentary from environmentalist Jeff Gibbs,” which has been uploaded for free online viewing on YouTube. Michael Svoboda provided a compilation of twelve books for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, on the topics of clean air, clean water, and wildlife protection. The editors of the Books and Climate Desks at The New York Times have put together a list of books for “The Year You Finally Read a Book About Climate Change.” The Guardian’s “Books Podcast” was devoted to The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Closing Thought

You’ve heard of Greta Thunberg, but what about Maddie Graham?



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