February 15 2021

“whole of government” approach to climate change, grid-scale batteries, coal industry collapse, GM goes all electric

President Biden is using his power to initiate a broad suite of actions on climate change by the federal government, over and above the inauguration-day steps that included rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline permit and making FEMA money available to build community resilience to climate change. The New York Times describes these new actions, which are being appropriately framed as job-creating efforts to enhance public safety, international relations and national security (or, as Vox notes, a “whole of government” approach to climate action). In the two weeks of his presidency, Biden has taken steps that a Washington Post columnist notes represent “a return to sanity,” generating optimism among climate scientists and joy among activists for science-based decision-making.

Grist reports on the growth of utility-scale batteries, which are key for decarbonizing the grid by storing excess solar and wind power for use when it is needed. The price for utility-scale battery storage in the United States has plummeted, dropping nearly 70 percent between 2015 and 2018, and this is leading to very large battery arrays being built. With 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of storage projects commissioned, California has already passed its 2013 goal of 1.325 GW by 2020…

January 31 2021

2020 ties for hottest year ever, continued fossil-fuel subsidies, Biden’s remarkable executive orders, Trump’s last legal defeat, the end of climate-change denial

Even without the boost of an El Niño oceanographic condition, 2020 tied 2016 for the hottest year on record according to Inside Climate News (a more technical discussion is available at RealClimate). This is the first time a new global temperature record was set without an El Niño. The last six years were the hottest six years ever, and 2020 ended the hottest decade on record as well. It’s called “global warming” for good reason.

Grist reports that global carbon emissions dropped around 7% in 2020 when compared to 2019, due mainly to the pandemic and its associated impact on economic activity. This is the largest drop in emissions ever. Some scientists and modelers are suggesting that — even after we get the pandemic under control — emissions will never return to 2019 levels, pointing to how cheap renewable electricity is forcing coal-fired power out of the market. Others remain concerned, citing that China’s emissions have already rebounded to 2019 levels. The New York Times notes that most of the reductions resulted from lower transportation emissions, but these reductions were partially offset by emissions from the huge wildfires in 2020….

January 15 2021

the changing Arctic, parts of the U.S. will become uninhabitable, the world’s largest wind turbine, major climate action by Congress, Trump fails to damage the National Climate Assessment

The New York Times reports on a new assessment of the Arctic climate that finds extraordinary rates of change across the region. As predicted decades ago, the Arctic is heating faster than the rest of the planet, and this is reducing the extent of snow and ice, melting permafrost and promoting fires. One author notes, “Nearly everything in the Arctic… is changing so quickly that there is no reason to think that in 30 years much of anything will be as it is today.”

As the Earth’s climate changes, there will be a region of “the frozen north” that becomes more temperate, resulting in the possibility of greater agricultural production. The New York Times (in conjunction with ProPublica) reports that Russia, which has the largest landmass by far of any northern nation, hopes that warming temperatures and longer growing seasons will make it one of the world’s largest food producers. The article notes that Canada, Scandinavia, Iceland and Russia could see as much as five-fold bursts in their per capita gross domestic products by the end of the century. Of course, these changes will happen gradually, and will be accompanied by challenges as thawing soils lead to damage to roads, bridges and buildings. Winter wheat and canola seed productivity in southern Siberia is already rising as predicted, although at a much faster rate. Russia’s agricultural exports have jumped by a factor of 16 since 2000…

December 31 2020

Trump’s EPA formally ignores health benefits, reducing the price of carbon capture, modern sailing ships, the essential electrification of trucking, getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

At this blog (and on virtually any news site), you have been exposed to a dismaying array of environmentally destructive and scientifically indefensible actions by the Trump Administration. Now the Washington Post reports on a recent action by the EPA that may be the worst ever. The EPA has formally propagated a rule that will change how the agency estimates the costs and benefits of its regulations, making it standard practice to ignore “indirect benefits.” Richard Revesz of the New York University School of Law summarizes it this way: “They’re basically saying that the indirect consequences of regulation must be taken into account if they’re negative, and should be ignored if they are positive. I mean, there’s no scenario under which an approach like that is rational in any way.” Most observers expect this rule will be overturned, but this will require time and money. Critics are labeling the new regulation nothing but sabotage to public health in order to protect industry.

The Economist looks at the declining coal-fired power industry, noting that its decline is being brought about by government policy, cheaper alternatives and restricted access to capital. The impacts are quite significant. For example, in Britain the share of electricity generated by coal fell from 40% in 2013 to 2% in the first half of 2020. In the U.S., despite the Trump Administration’s pro-coal policies and rhetoric, coal-fired electricity generation was 20% lower in 2019 than in 2016. Portugal, which had planned to be coal free by 2030, now looks to reach that goal in 2021. A new study summarized by Energy News concludes that the vast majority of existing fossil-fuel power plant capacity will reach the end of its typical lifespan by 2035, making achieving a deadline to decarbonize electricity less costly than previously expected…

December 15 2020

pandemic drives temporary drop in greenhouse-gas emissions, Trump’s legacy of climate damage, Biden elevates climate change to center of U.S. policy, enhancing the U.S. electrical grid, the largest solar power plant in U.S. history

The Washington Post reports that U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions will drop 9.2% in 2020, reaching their lowest level in at least three decades. This is due to the slowing of the economy because of the pandemic, with 14% of the drop attributed to reduced air travel (AP notes that the European Union is similarly expecting an 8% drop in emissions in 2020). Unfortunately, fully one-third of the reduction was offset by the emissions of carbon dioxide from forest fires. Emissions are expected to rebound in 2021, although it is expected that reductions in the electricity-production sector will continue to decline as renewable generation replaces coal and natural gas. This shows how difficult it will be to meet even the modest targets of the Paris Accord without a concerted effort by consumers and policy makers.

An op-ed in the New York Times argues that a Biden Administration can move aggressively to take action on climate change regardless of which party controls the U.S. Senate. While much more can be done with Senate support, throughout the campaign Biden has made it clear he believes that climate action is now a winning political issue. If he decides this issue will be an important determiner of his legacy as President, we may see the federal government take broad action on many fronts…

November 30 2020

looking at both sides of clouds, a first: multiple major hurricanes in November, scientists raising their voices, developing solar electricity in West Virginia’s coal country

One of the greatest uncertainties in our projections of global warming is the influence of clouds. InsideClimate News reviews what we know about clouds and climate. Clouds can cool or heat the planet depending how high and thick they are, and how much water and ice they contain. While clouds presently appear to cool the planet, two new studies suggest that, as the world warms, clouds are likely to change in ways that will intensify warming. The article notes that “clouds have such a big effect on the climate system that, if their extent or reflective properties were to change by 20%, it would have more of an impact than all the greenhouse gases released by human activity.”

Hurricane Iota became the latest-forming Category 5 hurricane ever in the Atlantic, according to the Washington Post, and came ashore as a Category 4 storm only 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta came ashore just two weeks prior. In the New Yorker, Bill McKibben reviews the damage of Hurricane Eta in Honduras, which is estimated to amount to 20% of the country’s GDP. This is the first time there have been two major hurricanes in the Atlantic in November. Like many other recent storms, Iota intensified rapidly, an event atmospheric scientists link to warmer sea-surface temperatures that are being created by global warming…