November 15 2023

November 15 2023

Antarctica’s threatened ice shelves, Phoenix heat deaths in 2023 set record, Biden Administration announces $3.5 billion of electrical grid upgrade, “bomb cyclone” hits western Europe, understanding barriers to expanding solar power

The Washington Post reports on a new study that concludes, “waters around some of West Antarctica’s glaciers are forecast to warm at a pace three times faster than they have in the past.” This increase is expected to occur regardless of how quickly we reduce carbon emissions, and it will destabilize the ice shelves that hold back the continent’s glaciers (the Post also notes that “more than 40 percent of Antarctica’s ice shelves have dwindled in the past 25 years,” and that every ice shelf in western Antarctica is shrinking). As the ice sheets disintegrate, the land-based ice will flow faster into the sea, which will accelerate sea level rise. Salon quotes from the study: “these results suggest that mitigation of greenhouse gases now has limited power to prevent ocean warming that could lead to the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.” The New York Times reports that, since 1978, ice shelves in Greenland have lost more than 35% of their volume. In addition, Greenland’s mountain glaciers (separate from the island’s ice sheet), have “retreated twice as fast between 2000 and 2021 as they did before the turn of the century.”

The Biden Administration has announced another major initiative that is aimed at halving the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. Grist describes the “Affordable Home Energy Earth Shot,” which would cut the cost of decarbonizing homes by half and lower Americans’ utility bills by 20%. This is to be achieved by reducing the cost of retrofitting homes, with a focus on households that earn less than 80% of their area’s median income. Other “Earth shots” the Administration has undertaken to drive down costs are for hydrogen fuel, floating offshore-wind technology, geothermal energy and technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These efforts are modeled on the 2011 “SunShot Initiative,” which had the goal of reducing the cost of utility-scale solar to $1 per watt within a decade (prices hit that mark three years early in 2017). Meanwhile, The New York Times notes that the Republicans elected climate-science denier Mike Johnson as Speaker of the House.

Salon describes a very sobering study indicating that, if global temperatures increase by 1°C from present levels, billions of people will face heat so intense that their bodies will not be able to naturally cool themselves. At 2°C above pre-industrial levels, 4 billion people will encounter intolerable heat and humidity annually. Areas of particular concern include Pakistan, India, eastern China and sub-Saharan Africa. The impacts are summarized by Dr. Peter Reiners of the University of Arizona: “There is no universe in which this development will not lead to millions of deaths.” Wet-bulb temperatures of 95°F (35°C) are a fundamental physiological limit for human bodies. While air conditioning may save some people, increased demand leading to outages on already-strained power grids makes depending on air conditioning a risk. The only answer to this predicament is to drastically reduce fossil-fuel burning as quickly as possible.

The Guardian notes that, according to Maricopa County, there were 579 heat deaths in Phoenix in 2023, making it the deadliest year on record. Nighttime temperatures in Phoenix failed to drop below 90°F for 35 straight days, which is another record. This was particularly alarming for public health officials because heat impacts are cumulative, and the body cannot recover until the ambient temperature is below 80°F. Unsheltered people accounted for at least 45% of the deaths.

The Washington Post reports that it is becoming much more common for scientists to describe the world’s predicament as a “climate emergency.” This is occurring as climate change accelerates, politicians dither and emissions continue to climb. It seems like an emergency to me, as I wrote in 2021 (CODE RED: Time to Tip the Climate Odds in Our Favor). Here’s an example: a video by NASA scientist Peter Kalmus on global heating.

Meanwhile, RealClimate examines yet another attempt by climate-change deniers to use pseudo-science to confuse decision-makers. An article in Scientific American makes the essential point to refute this denial. The scientific consensus about climate change is supported by a “convergence of evidence from multiple lines of inquiry — pollen, tree rings, ice cores, corals, glacial and polar ice-cap melt, sea-level rise, ecological shifts, carbon dioxide increases, the unprecedented rate of temperature increase…to overturn the consensus, [deniers] would need to find flaws with all the lines of supportive evidence and show a consistent convergence of evidence toward a different theory that explains the data. (Creationists have the same problem overturning evolutionary theory.) This they have not done.”

The New York Times reports that transmission capacity is becoming an ever-more important bottleneck for the expansion of renewable-electricity generation and EVs. The International Energy Agency estimates that “nations around the world will need to build or upgrade roughly 50 million miles of power lines by 2040 if they want to meet the goals they have set for adding vast amounts of renewable power, switching from gasoline-powered cars to plug-in vehicles and replacing gas furnaces with electric heat pumps.” This is “equivalent to nearly doubling the size of the world’s existing electric grids in just two decades.” Grist notes that the Biden Administration just announced $3.5 billion for the U.S. electrical grid, the largest such investment ever. The money is coming from the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The funding is “intended to prepare the grid for more renewable energy capacity as the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels, and to prevent blackouts caused by increasingly severe climate disasters.” The money is part of the Department of Energy’s $10.5 billion Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships Program.

The Conversation examines how the fossil-fuel industry has marketed the climate problem as one of individual demand (our “carbon footprint”). The author notes that this “creates an imaginary concept around the individual as a consumer and the sole stakeholder responsible for mitigating climate change.” This removes responsibility from the oil companies for the impacts of the products they sell — impacts about which they purposely deceived consumers. As I noted in What if Cars Ran on Bananas, the fossil-fuel industry wants you to think that climate change is your fault.

The New York Times reports that the Biden Administration has approved construction of the largest offshore-wind farm yet, with up to 176 turbines offshore of Virginia. This announcement comes amidst headwinds for the offshore-wind industry due to rising costs (including interest rates), supply chain problems and local opposition (frequently funded by the fossil-fuel industry). Orsted, a Danish company that is a leader in the industry, just canceled plans for two wind farms off New Jersey, taking a major financial loss that caused the company’s stock price to plummet 26% in one day.

The Guardian reports on the arrival of the expected Republican hypocrisy concerning the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). While working hard to defeat and discredit the IRA, Republican members of Congress are cheerfully issuing excited press releases about clean-manufacturing facilities — made possible by the IRA — opening in their districts.

Inside Climate News reports on yet another rapidly intensifying storm, this one moving into western Europe. Winter storm Ciarán, a “bomb cyclone” with extraordinary low atmospheric pressure, “brought hurricane-strength winds and torrential rain to France, the Channel Islands and southern England, shattering windows, tearing roofs off homes and forcing hundreds of schools to close.” As most people realize, 2023 was a year of very intense weather events, including heat waves, wildfires and massive downpours all over the world.

There have been many articles describing how renewable-energy projects frequently meet local opposition for a variety of reasons. The New York Times reports that, to address this problem, a group of environmentalists, tribes, farmers and solar developers have devised a project development framework. The framework focuses “on greater public participation early in the siting process, to resolve concerns without resorting to legal and political fights. That, in turn, would help accelerate the use of solar energy and fight climate change.”

Anthropocene Magazine reports on a recent study concluding that solar power could easily be the dominant form of electricity generation in the world by 2050. However, for this to occur, barriers need to be surmounted. “The four barriers to solar’s takeover are unstable power grids, lack of financing for solar in developing countries, supply chain capacity, and political resistance from regions that lose jobs. Policies that address these barriers may be more effective in bringing about the clean energy transition than efforts to bring down the price of solar such as by carbon taxes.”An op-ed in The New York Times affirms that the cost of capital is a major challenge facing developing nations wanting to use renewables. The article describes how the World Bank helped the Maldives finance solar projects through specific guarantees that reduced the cost of the project from 15¢/kilowatt-hour to 9¢/kilowatt-hour.

The New York Times reports on the expansion of renewable energy in China. “China is installing about as many solar panels and wind turbines as the rest of the world combined, and is on track to meet its target for clean energy six years early.” However, China is also building coal-fired power plants at the fastest rate in the world as well. “Chinese officials have defended the coal-fired plants as needed for national energy security. The country imports most of its oil and natural gas but has the largest coal reserves.”