March 31 2020

March 31 2020

climate change is now an election issue, co-producing lithium for batteries and geothermal power, wind passes hydropower as dominant source of renewable electricity, we won’t run out of toilet paper

An article in the Atlantic describes the results of public opinion research concluding that climate change is one of the most important issues in the 2020 presidential election. Second only to health care, seven out of 10 Americans surveyed said the government should do more about climate change. 59% of respondents went further, saying they would strongly or moderately support the Green New Deal. 51% of Republicans now agree that global warming is caused by human activities, and over 70% of poll respondents supported a goal of 100% renewable electricity in their state by 2050. Florida Politics reports that a new survey shows 86% of Floridians agree that climate change is happening, with a majority saying it is largely caused by human activity. While there is a solid 25% who remain unconcerned or dismissive of climate problems, the results of this survey demonstrate an important and continuing shift in American public opinion.

Can these changes be enough to push us to a “social tipping point” where attitudes and behaviors change quickly? Dave Roberts at Vox summarizes recent research about social tipping points, and whether there are active measures that can be pursued to trigger a social tipping point. Unfortunately, Roberts concludes that while “we might be getting better at thinking and talking about [social tipping points], we still have only a glimmer of a clue about when they might happen or what might hasten them.”

The Guardian reports that last year’s “Arctic heat wave” (summarized in the Economist) helped trigger the loss of 600 billion tons of ice from Greenland—over twice the 2012-2018 average – and enough by itself to change the earth’s sea level by 2.2 mm. This ice loss is equal to six hundred times the annual use of water in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. A statement from NASA summarized by USA Today indicates that 6.4 trillion tons of ice have been lost in the past three decades from Greenland and Antarctica. If this trend continues, these regions will be on track to match the “worst-case” scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times notes that despite California’s “cap and trade” program for large carbon emitters, since the 2013 onset of this program greenhouse-gas emissions from oil and gas sources have actually increased by 3.5%. The author argues for implementation of six key policies to provide the emissions reductions necessary to meet California’s aggressive goals for a low-carbon future. These include accelerating our goals for carbon-free electricity and electric vehicles, and also requiring cleaner sources of heat for industries such as cement production. An analysis of these policies concluded they would generate $21 billion in net economic and social benefits over the next decade.

An article in Grist notes how mortgages at risk due to climate impacts are being sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, transferring the risk of climate change from bank shareholders to taxpayers. Homes at risk of flooding in the U.S. are currently overvalued by $34 billion according to a recent analysis, pointing to a potential real-estate bubble thanks to climate threats. Insurers are starting to retreat from risky markets as well, and those staying in are raising rates to reflect the risk. California homeowners living in areas at high risk for wildfires, for example, have seen their premiums rise by as much as 500%.

An article in the Guardian summarizes a new study that documents how big banks continue to invest heavily in expanding fossil-fuel production. Since the signing of the Paris Agreement, banks have invested over $2.2 trillion in organizations pushing hardest to increase carbon emissions.

The Los Angeles Times reports on a new effort to combine lithium extraction with geothermal power at the southern end of California’s Salton Sea. Cost-effectively extracting lithium, a key component of batteries that power EVs and so many other devices, from the superheated brine would greatly enhance the economics of developing geothermal power in the region. Grist reports on a new website that helps cities and other potential customers find heavy-duty EVs like school buses, vans and even garbage trucks. The New York Times reports on the electrification of trucks, including medium-duty box trucks and vans and the larger vehicles used for regional hauling.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is making its effort to buy out homeowners most threatened by flooding more emphatic by using the power of eminent domain (where the government purchases property by force for public use). The Corps says that voluntary buyout programs are not achieving the results required by Congress, but the use of eminent domain is not embraced by many local officials.

The Hill reports that wind power passed hydropower to become the dominant source of renewable electricity in the United States last year. Renewable sources now generate 18% of U.S. electricity, up from 10% in 2010. These technologies still produce less than nuclear (20%) and fossil fuels (63%), but the electricity mix is changing quickly. 2019 was a record year for the growth of wind power, according to the Guardian. Driven by a surge in offshore wind, there was over 60 gigawatts of wind-power capacity at the end of 2019, a 19% increase over the year before.

The Guardian reports on a new study that found renewable power is now a cheaper option than building new coal plants in all large markets, including Australia. In China, wind is already cheaper than coal, and solar electricity was forecast to cost less (on average) than existing coal later this year. Renewable energy in South Korea was expected to be cheaper than existing coal within two years.

An Oregon town had to ask its citizens to stop calling 911 if they run out of toilet paper. The Los Angeles Times explains why our supply will not run out. In the Guardian, author Lucy Jones reminds us of the scientific evidence that connection with nature has important therapeutic benefits for mental health. One can practice social distancing and step into nature, which I find is helping me during these difficult times.