February 29 2024

February 29 2024

global heat continues in 2024, ice loss from Greenland is larger than previously estimated, climate-change denialists continue to confuse the public, Florida legislature considers bill to remove mention of climate change from state statutes, EV sales growth slows

The New York Times reports that January 2024 was the hottest January ever recorded. Given the ongoing strong El Niño, higher temperatures are expected, although scientists are surprised by the intensity of the heating being observed in both the atmosphere and the oceans. The Guardian notes: “Humanity is on a trajectory to experience the hottest February in recorded history, after a record January, December, November, October, September, August, July, June and May.”

While we tend to be focused on the impacts of El Niño in the Northern Hemisphere, The Washington Post reminds us that this oceanic feature impacts weather globally. In South America, the impacts of El Niño this winter have been significant. These impacts include major outbreaks of dengue fever, deaths of dolphins and other wildlife in the Amazon, drought in the normally wet Columbian highlands and devastating fires in Chile.

People are working around the world on methods to capture carbon dioxide from power plants, and directly from the air, to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases. These methods are expensive, and so efforts are being made to harness natural carbon-capture processes that could be cheaper. Anthropocene Magazine reports that “researchers have developed a biosynthetic pathway that efficiently captures carbon dioxide from air and converts it into an industrially useful chemical.” The article describes this remarkable feat of bioengineering, in which the genes for the biosynthetic pathway was placed into E. coli cells, allowing them to act as “carbon-sequestration factories.” “The work paves the way towards harnessing bacterial cells to produce biofuels in a sustainable way from carbon dioxide.”

Newsweek notes that a Colorado University report revealed that many voters in 2016 and 2020 cast their ballots based on climate-change concerns, and this influence may have won the Democrats the election in 2020. The researchers noted that, if it wasn’t for the climate-change issue, the vote could have swung 3% toward the Republicans — enough for them to have won the White House in 2020 — and the same factor could occur in 2024.

The Washington Post reports that a recent analysis has concluded that Greenland is losing 20% more ice than previously estimated. Using a new method that accounts more accurately for ice loss at a glacier’s edge where it meets the ocean, this additional freshwater melt could affect circulation patterns in the Atlantic Ocean.

The DeSmog blog, which tracks the activities of climate-change denialists, describes how the denialist network is actively exploiting the concerns of farmers in the “No Farmers No Food” protests in Europe. There is a populist movement among European farmers that has roots in a variety of issues, including volatile prices, cuts to farm subsidies and threats from cheap imports, as well as climate and environmental regulations. The denialists are using their message and media connections to challenge major climate goals by suggesting the movement is all about resisting climate-change adaptation. The Guardian describes how the movement has been successful in forcing EU leaders to back off of environmental goals (such as a reduction in pesticide use). CNN notes a new type of climate denial that is rapidly spreading on YouTube and other online platforms. This form of denial accepts the reality that climate change is happening, but spreads misinformation about climate solutions being ineffective.

While misinformation about climate change is spreading, Inside Climate News describes the difficulty climate scientists have in getting support to be professional communicators. Incentives in the academic world still trend towards publication over public education. The article presents the work of climate scientist Daniel Swain of UCLA, who has become a go-to scientist for reporters seeking explanations about extreme weather and climate change (Stanford magazine has a great profile of Swain, who is a Stanford graduate and who regularly publishes at Weather West). The article summarizes the Great Flood of 1862, noting that reoccurrence of such an event is inevitable, and underscores the challenge of communicating the implications of this to elected officials and the public.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that proposed legislation in the Florida legislature would delete the majority of references to climate change in state law. “House Bill 1645 would enact wide-ranging changes to Florida’s energy policy, something Speaker Paul Renner has said is needed to ensure state residents’ power is reliable and affordable.” One portion of the bill would actually limit a utility company’s ability to sell electricity to people who charge electric vehicles at home.

The Guardian examines the implications for climate policy in a second Trump presidency. As you can imagine, it’s not a pretty picture. Among other factors, in a second term, Trump’s allies will be smarter about how to attack environmental regulations, and thus likely to suffer fewer legal setbacks. The New York Times describes Republican plans to reverse the Inflation Reduction Act, the nation’s premier effort to advance renewable sources of energy to support the necessary transition from fossil fuels.

Anthropocene Magazine reports that “researchers have grown a farm of rooftop vegetables bathed in the CO2-rich exhaust air from city buildings — a somewhat dystopian idea which nevertheless boosted plant growth by an incredible 400%.” The exhaust from ventilation systems from heavily-occupied buildings can contain high concentrations of CO2, which this study shows can be used effectively to promote plant growth. The fertilizing effect of the exhaust air was greater for some plants than others.

The New York Magazine reports that market analysts are projecting the rapid growth of EV sales in the U.S. may slow in 2024. Major automakers, including Tesla, Ford, GM and Volvo (Polestar) report slowing sales, with a growing political backlash developing as EVs also become another target of the culture wars. Other factors, including software problems, cold weather performance, limits to subsidies for buyers and high interest rates are also at play (an op-ed in Forbes ponders if, once again, fossil-fuel companies in alliance with major auto manufacturers are trying to again “kill the electric car”). The New York Times takes a closer look at the case of the Ford F-150 Lightning pick-up truck, which had a long wait list when it was introduced but is now facing slumping demand, and notes that the Biden Administration is considering relaxing proposed regulations designed to accelerate the transition to EVs.

Inside Climate News notes that “the death of EVs” being touted by some media outlets is quite overblown. By 2026 it is expected that several low-cost models will open up new market segments. Spending on electrified transport was $634 billion in 2023, an increase of 36% over 2022. An op-ed in The New York Times notes that, while the U.S. auto industry is struggling with EVs, a veritable “deluge” of low-cost EVs manufactured by BYD and other Chinese automakers is about to hit the market (BYD recently announced an $11,000 plug-in hybrid). The Chinese have learned how to build EVs that are popular and economical. The author predicts another bailout of the U.S. auto industry will be required in the coming years unless immediate action is taken.

Inside Climate News reports on the new Scout, an electric SUV that will be built by Volkswagen in South Carolina while bearing the name of the classic car built by International Harvester. Despite the anti-EV rhetoric of Republican politicians in South Carolina and elsewhere, the state has become a center of EV manufacturing. An op-ed in Newsweek calls upon automakers to recognize the moral imperative of switching to all-electric transport, and to stop claiming to be committed to the transition while funding the Alliance of Automotive Innovation that is working to undermine it.

California is leading the nation in electrifying trucking, starting with short-haul trucks that operate in and around the major ports. The state has regulations in place to require all trucks at its major ports to be electric by 2035. The New York Times reviews the challenges of achieving this goal and the progress made to date. Despite the challenges facing fleet operators, The Washington Post reports that truck drivers themselves are finding the switch to electric to be a very positive experience. In particular, the reduced noise, vibration and fumes make the driving experience much easier on the body.

Electrek reports that the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is planning the country’s largest solar-power plant on tribal lands in Colorado. The facility, spanning 4,000 acres of tribal land in southwestern Colorado, will eventually produce 971 megawatts. When completed, the Sun Bear solar-power station will be around eight miles long, one mile wide and will contain 2.2 million solar panels.

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