June 15 2024

June 15 2024

carbon emissions may be declining (slowly), EV sales grow worldwide, fossil-fuel industry disinformation still rampant, federal rules designed to accelerate new transmission lines, health benefits of reduced fossil-fuel burning already in the billions of dollars

An extraordinary economic transition is underway around the world to move our energy system from fossil fuels to renewables. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable-electricity capacity increased last year by almost 50%, and the transportation and building sectors are electrifying as well. (As Amory Lovins noted: “The energy revolution has happened. Sorry if you missed it.”) While the task before us remains enormous, we are making a difference. The New York Times reports that global carbon emissions in 2024 may be less than in 2023. Except for major economic recessions, this would mark the first time that the amount of emissions has declined year over year.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) describes the change in electricity sources, noting that the “world broke a record by generating 30 percent of all electricity from renewable sources in 2023.” This was primarily due to the rise of solar and wind, which increased by a factor of five in the U.S. from 2015-2023 (we produce more renewable electricity than any country except China). But to make the necessary progress toward climate goals, we must reduce fossil-fuel use. UCS notes that “per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are three times higher than the global average and remain among the highest of all major economies.”

A key reason for this is the organized disinformation campaign of the fossil-fuel industry (the most recent example being the “Don’t Ban Our Cars” campaign, which equates tailpipe-emissions reductions with a ban on cars). The industry is doubling-down on these efforts as it becomes clearer that their efforts at deception have resulted in great harm for which they should be held accountable. The AP reports on a recent law in Vermont that requires fossil-fuel companies to pay a share of the damages caused by climate change, a response to costs incurred by the state from intense flooding and other extreme weather events. Similar measures are being considered by Maryland, Massachusetts and New York.

Inside Climate News reports that 37% of new cars sold in China last year were electric, and that could move up to 45% this year. By comparison, electrics and plug-in hybrids together were 9% of sales in the U.S. This increase in electric transportation has yet to be reflected in total oil use, although many analysts suggest we are near peak oil use globally. “Cars, trucks and buses account for only about 45 percent of demand. Petrochemicals, air travel and shipping consume much of the rest, and demand in those sectors is still growing.”

The New York Times notes that China continues to lead the world in electric-vehicle design and production, with dozens of companies putting 71 different models on sale this year. The batteries in these vehicles are getting smaller, more powerful and faster to charge (the leading Chinese battery manufacturer reported that its newest automobile could travel 370 miles on a 10-minute charge). The Biden Administration is responding to Chinese technological prowess by planning to place a large tariff (up to 100%) on some Chinese vehicles to protect American automakers. The New York Times notes that, if elected, Trump has promised to make it impossible to “sell those cars.” Although the growth of the industry makes that unlikely (while Tesla sales are slowing, Ford is doing a brisk business), a determined effort could certainly slow the EV transition, although there will now be resistance to such policies even from some Republican circles.

An op-ed in The New York Times points out that China’s lead in these technologies is the direct result of the policies of the Xi regime, which seeks to lead the world into its inevitable green future (Chinese leaders “prioritize stability decades from now over shareholder returns today,” making them formidable competitors to U.S. companies). “If American politicians, investors and businesses recognize that climate change is humanity’s biggest threat, that could open pathways for diplomacy, collaboration and constructive competition with China that benefit us all. Together, China and the United States could decarbonize the world.” The low price of Chinese batteries, EVs and solar panels is creating a growing tension between U.S. goals for decarbonization and the revitalization of American manufacturing. The New Yorker examines the growth of the Chinese EV industry, noting that some see it as a threat while others think it should be a learning opportunity for the U.S.

Inside Climate News describes growing local opposition in Morro Bay, CA, to a proposed battery-storage facility on the site of a closed power plant (the ready access to the transmission grid at such sites makes them highly desirable). The fear of toxins being released during a possible fire, and concerns about the facility’s impact on tourism, have resulted in a ballot proposition that would make the project infeasible by requiring a public vote on the final Environmental Impact Report. This is despite the fact that the project developers propose to remove the three massive smoke stacks that remain from the oil power plant.

The New York Times reports that the Biden Administration has “finalized a rule meant to speed up federal permits for major transmission lines, part of a broader push to expand America’s electric grids.” The new rules centralize the responsibility for permitting transmission lines within the Department of Energy in an effort to make the process more efficient. The new rules will particularly benefit transmission development in the West, where the federal government is more involved because proposed new lines often cross federal lands. This will help accelerate wind-power development, which has slowed in the last few years in part due to access to transmission (energy production from wind is more sensitive to location than for solar, and so the specific path of transmission lines is very important). Inside Climate News notes that the rule mandates, essentially for the first time, utilities and grid operators to conduct joint long-term planning.

ArsTechnica has a photo essay about the myriad of electric cars that were available early in the 20th century, before the internal-combustion engine became the automotive standard. The Guardian examines the growing market for very small EVs (“lego cars”), particularly in China. Inside Climate News visits Liberty, North Carolina, where a $1 billion EV battery plant is being built by Toyota. This investment was encouraged by state and local policies (and the federal Inflation Reduction Act), including developing a curriculum at the local technical college to train workers for the facility. “The state expects about 100,000 people to move to the region. In Asheboro, there will be at least 16,000 direct new jobs within a 30-minute drive.”

Anthropocene Magazine describes a recent study that concluded EVs could be a very important source of grid storage in the coming years. This requires “vehicle to grid” technology, which is only slowly rolling out, that allows the two-way flow of electricity. The concept is that, during peak hours, EVs parked at home can deliver electricity to the grid, then recover electricity during the night after demand has peaked. The New York Times notes that this is becoming a reality in Europe, with automakers providing technology that links EV drivers and their batteries with utilities that need the power. All parties benefit financially in the deal, which is key to moving the idea forward.

The Washington Post describes the water shortage in Mexico City, where one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas is facing a “day zero” this month when water will not be available from the Cutzamala system, which provides 28% of the city’s water. Rainfall in the coming month will be the key to determining if this occurs, although several years of drought will require a lot of rainfall to refill the system. The shortage is exacerbating historic inequities in water availability, and demonstrating long-standing problems with water-supply infrastructure. The New York Times reviews the factors contributing to the current crisis, noting that “last year was Mexico’s hottest and driest in at least 70 years.”

Jeff Goodell points out in The New York Times how much more damaging the recent storm in Houston, where a million people lost power, would have been had it been hotter when the storm occurred. A recent study modeled what would happen in three cities (Phoenix, Detroit and Atlanta) if a two-day blackout occurred during a heat wave. It is estimated that in Phoenix, where 99% of buildings have air conditioning, 1,300 would die due to heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses, and 800,000 would require emergency care. These large impacts are due in part to the fact that high temperatures adversely impact the grid itself, and the study results are a clarion call for making the grid more resilient to heat stress. Meanwhile, The New York Times describes the recent heat wave in northern India, during which New Delhi recorded temperatures of 126°F. Heat-related deaths are being reported across the country.

As the world transitions away from polluting fossil fuels, the benefits are beginning to stack up. The Guardian notes: “By increasing its use of renewable energy, the US has not only slashed its planet-warming emissions but also improved its air quality, yielding hundreds of billions of dollars of benefits.” In 2022, wind and solar provided 14% of U.S. electrical needs, and this has resulted in a reduction of emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. A recent study estimated that, from 2019-2022, this air-pollution reduction provided $249 billion in climate and health benefits to the U.S.