June 30 2020

June 30 2020

increased likelihood of severe rainstorms in North America, 90% carbon-free and affordable electricity by 2035, carbon storage in private forests, manure power, New Jersey wants to be the capital of offshore wind power

InsideClimate News reports on a new study concluding that the likelihood of intense storms is rising rapidly in North America, and that if carbon emissions continue on pace, bigger storms will be even more frequent in the future. The warming we’ve experienced—about 1.8°F—has resulted in extreme rainstorms that in the past occurred once every 20 years but now occur once every five years. If the rate of warming continues, by 2100 our current 20-, 50- and 100-year extreme storm events could happen every 1.5 to 2.5 years, the researchers concluded.

The Washington Post reports that the wildfire season in the West is off to a roaring start in Arizona, where June is often the peak of the fire season. Major fires are burning near Phoenix, where thousands have been evacuated, and there is also a large fire burning near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The California fire season is also starting, with many worried about relatively high aridity leading to large fires later in the year. There are presently forecasts for anomalously hot conditions and near-to-below-average rainfall over the next three months. The 2020 fire season will obviously be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which will complicate fire-fighting and evacuation efforts.

Discussing nuclear power as a climate solution almost always involves nuclear fission reactors, which I do not expect to be a major source of carbon-free electricity in the future (see The Nuclear Mirage for a full explanation). However, there has always been the hope of developing electrical power plants based on nuclear fusion, which will not have many of the drawbacks of nuclear fission. Nautilus has an interesting article that reviews the history and status of nuclear fusion, focused on a new reactor design that will fuse a proton and a boron atom, instead of traditional tritium-deuterium fusion. This reactor is being developed completely with private funding, with the hope of having a commercial model in ten years. Unfortunately, fusion continues to remain a future promise despite decades of research.

An article in MIT Technology Review examines the challenge associated with establishing a system for farmers to get paid for carbon credits if they use regenerative agriculture techniques that draw carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. One aspect of the challenge is that carbon uptake differs widely across soil types, not just from region to region, but from plot to plot. In some studies, proposed practices reduce yields in certain circumstances, which could encourage farmers to clear more land for agriculture. This would result in carbon being released in the process of converting forests or grasslands to agricultural uses, and these releases could be larger than what was captured by initial soil sequestration efforts.

According to Axios, a major Swedish manufacturer of batteries has set a goal of producing half of its new batteries from recycled materials by 2030. Anthropocene Magazine reports on recent research concluding that solar installations can increase their efficiency and cost effectiveness by using double-sided solar panels that move to follow the sun during the day.

Researchers at UC Berkeley have determined that America’s electricity could be cheaper and 90 percent carbon-free by 2035, according to an article in Grist. This is possible because, over the past decade, wind energy costs have fallen by 70 percent, and solar photovoltaic costs by around 89 percent. The researchers conclude that—to make this transition a reality—the federal government must adopt a national clean-energy standard that requires utilities to generate 55 percent of their electricity from renewables in 2025, 75 percent in 2030 and 90 percent by 2035.

The New York Times reports on how the climate-change denialism Trump and his appointees have brought to the U.S. government is leading agencies to alter government reports about climate change as well as preparations for its impacts. This is a time when scientific information, and the integrity of the government’s scientific work, is of vital importance. The article documents how Trump Administration officials are attempting to force scientists to edit their findings, and distancing the government agencies from statements about human-caused climate change.

Thirty-eight percent of forest land in the U.S. is privately owned, often by individuals who are interested in having their forests serve the important role of carbon sinks. Yale e360 reports on a major conservation initiative that is aiming to help these owners manage their lands for maximum carbon storage.

Grist reports on some cutting-edge strategies for removing carbon from the atmosphere, using the recent funding commitments made by Stripe. The online payment firm recently announced it would spend an additional $1 million annually on emerging carbon-removal technologies in order to make its carbon footprint negative. While some of the technologies they are supporting (they recently selected four projects) have their share of critics, there is no doubt that we will need to be removing carbon from the atmosphere this century if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This type of entrepreneurial effort could help with that goal.

The Washington Post reports that Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wants his state to be the capital of the offshore wind industry, and so it is investing in a major port facility for the colossal turbines that are being developed. The chief executive of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority notes that, “Somebody’s going to get to be the Houston of American offshore wind.” The city of New Bedford, MA, already has a 28-acre turbine-assembly area, and New York is also looking to invest up to $200 million to upgrade its port facilities for offshore wind.

The Washington Post has an in-depth look at the growing industry that turns manure from dairy and livestock operations into natural gas, electricity, fertilizer and animal bedding. The U.S. EPA estimates that there are now over 250 bio-digesters on livestock farms, up from 24 in 2000. The new installations combine manure with food waste from manufacturers and other retailers to improve productivity. The projects are getting larger as the industry matures, and farmers are benefiting from the diversification of their revenue stream while reducing emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

The Guardian examines the growing threat of heat waves in the U.S. Annually, heat-related deaths have more than doubled in Arizona in the last decade to 283. Across the country, heat caused at least 10,000 deaths between 1999 and 2016—more than hurricanes, tornadoes or floods in most years.

The objective evidence for systemic racism in the United States is summarized in an op-ed in the Washington Post. These quantified disparities between whites and blacks in America exist, and will endure, even without individuals acting in bigoted ways. Reforming the institutions and social structures that create and support environmental and other inequities may finally be something our country is willing to address. I have been examining how racist institutions and policies have been a part of my own journey, and I encourage everybody to take a little time to think about how their own life path has been influenced by systemic racism.