May 15 2021

May 15 2021

EV sales climbing, but still small, expanding wind energy, a climate-change real-estate bubble, the uncertainty in sea level rise, a case for cautious optimism

Axios reports that EV sales in February 2021 were 138% above sales from the same month in 2020. While this is exciting news, there is still a long way to go: EV sales represented only 2.3% of total U.S. car sales in that month. Volvo announced a partnership with a steelmaker to produce vehicles with “fossil-fuel-free” steel — small-scale production will begin in 2022. BBC reports on efforts in Europe to recycle EV batteries, which will be vitally important given the projected rise in EV sales. An article in The Hill calls for an ambitious mix of investment and U.S. regulatory policies to advance EV adoption, because it will take decades to replace the 289 million registered motor vehicles in the country with internal-combustion engines.

As wind energy expands, local opposition is beginning to surface. Despite the economic benefits derived from wind-energy development, there are many areas where residents are concerned about the proliferation of wind turbines. Inside Climate News looks at the situation in Indiana, where the tradition of local control is colliding with statewide forces supporting expansion of the wind industry. Drilled News reports on how the experience and expertise of companies and workers from the offshore-oil industry is being used in the growing field of offshore wind. An article in the Washington Post announces the Biden Administration’s approval of the Vineyard Wind offshore-wind project. As with all articles about U.S. offshore wind, it is accompanied by a photo of the Block Island offshore-wind project in Rhode Island, now the largest of the two operating projects. That is about to change, as several massive offshore-wind arrays are in the works that will place up to 3,000 wind turbines in the Atlantic from Maine to North Carolina.

The Guardian has an interesting article about flood irrigation in Phoenix and other neighboring Arizona communities. This practice has been in place for years by homeowners who prize the “oasis in the desert” feeling it creates, but it also results in some people using vastly more water than others. Phoenix has among the lowest water rates in the country, and flood irrigators pay a flat fee for water rather than being charged per-unit-volume used (to say nothing of paying higher-tiered rates for increasing use of water, as is common in California). In the California WaterBlog Jay Lund surveys the current drought in California, noting that we are in one of the driest years on record.

CNN reports that projections released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show that Lake Mead — the largest reservoir in the country and a vital water supply to millions across the Southwest — could fall later this year to its lowest levels since it was filled in the 1930s. Lake Mead is 39% full, with Lake Powell (the Colorado River’s second-largest reservoir) just 36% full. It now appears likely that the low levels in Lake Mead will trigger water-delivery reductions in 2022 for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico, with Arizona taking the brunt of the cutbacks. The upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico have agreed to voluntary water-conservation measures to keep Lake Powell from also reaching critically low levels.

In the New York Times, Ezra Klein makes a good case for including “alternative meat” in the American Jobs Plan. He notes that global consumption of meat has quadrupled since 1961, driving increasing greenhouse-gas emissions, use of antibiotics (65% of all use) and serious ethical concerns about the treatment of animals raised for slaughter. Plant-based meats, and cultured meats (grown in the laboratory from animal cells), have shown themselves to be popular and palatable. Klein argues that government engagement is vital to allow these industries to grow fast enough to provide the important environmental and other benefits that we need.

Time asks if a new real-estate bubble is approaching due to the impacts of climate change. Focusing on Charleston, S.C., the article examines the growing losses due to flooding and the implications for real-estate values. The authors note that “Many experts remain skeptical that the federal government will have the political buy-in to take on…[flooding and related issues]. True reckoning requires hard choices: homes and communities will need to be adapted, while others will need to be abandoned altogether.”

From the big-impact department: the accelerated melting of glaciers and the pumping of groundwater by humans have changed the axis of the Earth’s rotation. The Guardian reports on a recent study, which detected these changes. It’s another piece of evidence demonstrating that human activity is having global impacts (the Guardian also has an interesting visualization of mountain glacier loss).

Yet another important big change: evangelical Christians are becoming less “skeptical” about climate change. The Guardian notes that Republicans still have a long way to go on the issue, although some small initial steps are appearing. And an op-ed in the Washington Post celebrates how the U.S EPA, freed from the denialism of the Trump Administration, is now being clear and accurate about climate change and its impacts.

The Washington Post examines the results of recent studies attempting to project future sea level rise (more detail in a RealClimate blog post). A fundamental uncertainty is the stability of the great ice sheets in Greenland and particularly Antarctica. If these ice sheets break apart quickly, sea level rise this century could be much more significant (rising a foot per decade instead of an inch or two). At this point, we simply do not know how likely this is, although we know that sea level has risen very quickly in the geologic past. This uncertainty “is not our friend,” as one scientist states. He argues that we should quickly reduce carbon emissions to make accelerated sea level rise more unlikely.

How much carbon does a given country emit? This is a question that is at the heart of the Paris Climate Accord and our ability to measure the reductions in carbon emissions, but the methods used to make this calculation are not standardized. As the Washington Post reports, a key issue is how countries account for credits against their emissions due to the forests and other natural lands within their borders, and whether such credits should be counted at all.

President Biden has proposed the formation of the Civilian Climate Corps, a natural-resource focused jobs program modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s. While the original CCC was available only to white men, and paid next to nothing, the new corps would be open to all Americans, and the idea is to pay at least $15/hr and provide benefits. NPR has a great look at the proposal, examining the Montana Conservation Corps as an example of what’s possible. Inside Climate News describes the national proposals in detail, as there are several related bills in Congress that align with Biden’s goals.

In the Guardian, journalist Rebecca Solnit writes of her cautious but growing optimism about our ability to deal with climate change. She notes that communications about the urgency of the problem by scientists have been effective, and that the technological opportunities for solutions continue to grow. In particular are the possibilities being opened by the plummeting cost of renewable power. Solar and wind could produce a hundred times as much electricity as current global demand while using less land than has been given over to fossil fuels. The key is our political will, which also seems to be building under the leadership of the Biden Administration and others. Solnit quotes Christiana Figueres, “Many now believe it is impossible to cut global emissions in half in this decade. I say, we don’t have the right to give up or let up.”