Climate Change Chronicles May 2023

The latest Climate Change Chronicles from the PLM Green Global Alliance provides a quick-to-scan digest of news, both good and bad, from around the world during May 2023 about the changing climate and its impact on people and the planet.

While there is increasing good news about the race to decarbonize the global economy, I am often asked if all the bad climate news does not distress me into despair.

No, it serves to motivate me further to do more NOW as I sincerely hope it does others.

Like many PLM Green participants, I was educated (long ago) as an aerospace engineer who was motivated by identifying and analyzing problems. And now ending my career as a business consultant concerned about the future of humanity and our planet, I am more motivated to help promote engineering solutions to the most challenging sustainability obstacle our generation has created and leaves behind to others, climate change.

This includes the most important uses of PLM-enabling technologies that PLM professionals will likely ever see in our careers.

Our good news question of the month: what European country announced that 80% of all new car sales last year were electric vehicles? Read on to find out and learn what else might have been missed in your own news feeds.

For additional news about the role of PLM-enabling technologies in creating a more sustainable low-carbon circular economy, subscribe to the PLM & Sustainability Newsletter (soon to be restarted) then join our PLM Green LinkedIn Group for community discussion.

The UN World Meteorological Organization warned that there’s a 66% probability the planet will breach a key warming limit within the next five years. That limit is a year where average temperatures are 1.5 degrees C warmer than preindustrial times, which was the goal set by the 2015 Paris climate accords. A decade ago, it was thought there would be only a 10% chance of exceeding the limit. WMO scientists also said that there is near certainty that one of the next five years will go on record as the hottest year ever recorded.

A dramatic rise in the world’s ocean surface temperatures this spring is causing great concern if not panic among marine biologists and climate scientists.  Levels of global sea-surface temperatures hit an all-time record high in April, running three-quarters of a degree C above their 1982-2011 average.

A new study in from the National Academy of Science finds that glaciers in Greenland are melting and receding far faster than expected, foretelling a faster rise in global sea levels. As warmer ocean waters in front of the glacier carve out cavities that action accelerates erosion within the glacier.

With time running out, leaders from many countries still refuse to accept the inevitability that the world must stop burning fossil fuels. The host of the COP28 conference, UAE, is one of those countries that asserts oil and gas use should continue into the foreseeable future.  However, UAE representatives did support boosting wind and solar power sources.

👍 Last year in Norway some 80% of new car sales were electric, making the country a leader in the transition of vehicles. As a result, the country has become a laboratory for what others can expect in the way of changes in behavior and requirements of supporting infrastructure. The transition is being helped by the government which is funding fast charging stations. Norway’s GHG emissions are reported to have fallen by 30% since 2009, despite the fact that oil and gas exports were some $180B last year.

Legal hurdles and political opposition are mounting for newly-proposed EPA limits on power plant emissions recently announced by the Biden Administration.  Implementing the new rules, which will require the plants by 2040 to greatly reduce their emissions or capture them, will be so expensive to comply with that many plants will be forced to close or pivot to renewable sources. Carbon emissions from over 3,000 coal and gas fired power plants generate about 25% of the US’s total GHG emissions.

Southeast Asia countries of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand are experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. Temperatures have topped 110 deg F, setting all-time records in some locations. Cities are seeing record high temperatures for their nights, which brutalizes the most vulnerable populations who can find little relief.

Coffee growers in Vietnam are experimenting with new “super coffee” plants that they hope will be more resilient to the effects of climate change, including warmer temperatures, drought conditions, and pests that thrive on stressed crops.

Southeast Asia farmers are also being challenged to produce more rice to feed growing global populations, even though rice production is reported to be responsible for a significant 8% of global methane emissions. Across SE Asia, climate change is impacting rice growing seasons, monsoons, river flooding, and salt-water sea levels, all issues that farmers must now contend with.

Elsewhere in Asia, Carbon Brief reported that China’s CO2 emissions grew by 4% in the first quarter of this year. Most of the demand was driven by industry production and construction, rebounding after the COVID pandemic. As a result, the country’s emissions for all of 2023 are expected to reach an all-time new high which will continue as new coal plants are brought online.

👍 A new bill in New York approved by the state’s legislature will require new building construction by end of this decade to be free of natural gas use for cooking and heating. The state previously announced a 40% emission reduction goal by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

The new term of “Greenhushing” is being used to describe the practice of some organizations to keep quiet about their sustainability initiatives. Some companies fear that being green or supporting ESG reporting requirements is just too controversial for some of the markets and customers.

Seven people died with dozens injured in a 70-car and truck pileup on an interstate highway in the US Midwest. The carnage was blamed when unusually dry conditions, warm temperatures, and heavy winds combined with bad agricultural practices to release blinding farm field dust that blew across the highway, blinding the drivers. Across much of the Midwest this spring, winds have been higher than usual. Midwest states like Missouri and Illinois are experiencing weather conditions more like those of the plains states of Kansas and Oklahoma, as has been predicted by a changing climate in North America.

👍 American and foreign-based companies are racing to make renewable energy investments in the US that will be eligible for hundreds of billions of tax credits and other financial incentives. Ironically, analysis of nearly 200 recently announced job-creating projects finds that a majority will be in locations where their Republican congressional representatives opposed President Biden’s climate legislation.

👍 Such economic activity has helped to move the climate movement away from being a negative one of “doomerism” to a more positive one of business opportunity. A new generation of engineers, policy wonks, NGO leaders, and young people are being encouraged by the growing momentum and investment to decarbonize the global economy.

👍 In the US southern border city of El Paso, activists were successful in getting a climate action bill on the ballot in front of voters that would require 80% clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2045. But after it encountered fierce local business opposition and state-wide condemnation in oil and gas-powered Texas, the measure failed by a wide margin to be approved by voters, despite the city experiencing more 3-digit temperature days.

Elsewhere in Texas, some state legislators and oil industry interests in are working to reverse progress in renewable energy that has made the state, ironically, the leader in the production of wind and solar energy. The state is considering more subsidies for natural gas production, tax incentives for fossil fuels, and imposing regulations to make solar and wind farms more difficult to construct.

Energy experts are warning that widespread power failures will become more frequent as climate change is causing a greater number of more extreme weather events combined with a grid that has become less reliable.  As a result, there is a growing divide between wealthy Americans who can afford backup generators, or even second residences to escape to, and the poor, elderly, or frail who cannot so easily escape excessive heat, cold, droughts, and floods exacerbated by climate change.

A study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology predicts that multiple-day electricity blackouts during a heat wave could send hundreds of thousands of people in cities like Phoenix to seek emergency care for heat-related illnesses. Researchers warned that the US infrastructure of electricity and health care is ill-prepared to deal with worsening climate emergencies.

World leaders of the G7 who met in Japan this month faced growing pressure from member states, like host country Japan, to continue to support coal-fired power plants and natural gas production. Yet another year passes where world leaders resist doing what must be done; unequivocally stating that the burning of coal must urgently be phased out.

With the help of some Democrats, the Republican-led US House of Representatives voted to overturn the Biden administrations recently announced new rules on emissions from heavy-duty trucks. A resolution also passed the Senate, but it is expected the president will veto the legislation.

A study in the journal Science has found more evidence that a warming globe is affecting the hibernation and mating cycles of some mammals. Scientists report that female Arctic squirrels are emerging more than a week earlier due to warmer conditions that thaw the soil. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming 4-5 times faster than the average on the rest of the globe.

As polar sea ice melts due to climate change, the Arctic is becoming a new front of competition and potential conflict between NATO members and Russia both of whom maintain vast Arctic naval powers. China is also investing in the region as a polar economic silk road. All three are investing in and expanding their military presence in the Arctic.

👍 The US western states of California, Arizona, and Nevada have agreed to a federally brokered plan to reduce their water usage by 14% by 2027. It is hoped this will keep the Colorado River, which tens of millions depend upon, from becoming completely dry during droughts made worse by climate change. However, the deal comes with a price to taxpayers across the country as the federal government will have to pay cities, farmers, and water districts over a $1 billion in incentives to cut their usage.

As a result, Arizona has determined that there is not enough ground water or river water to allow the unrestrained growth that cities like Phoenix have experienced in recent years. Permits for new housing developments are being shelved. Rising temperatures are increasing not only the rate of water usage but also the rate of evaporation of water sources across the southwest US.

The new president of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, is facing pressure in his first 100 days to make climate change adaptation and mitigation a higher priority.  Mr. Banga’s predecessor, David Malpass, was often said to be a climate denier by his opponents. The World Bank continues to finance fossil fuel projects.

As production of electric vehicles explodes across the globe, competition for the mining and production of the minerals needed is becoming more of a concern. China currently dominates the processing of many minerals needed in electric batteries such as lithium. As a result, the US and EU are pushing for global mineral security agreements with countries like Australia for its lithium and Indonesia for nickel.

A new report in the journal Nature from the Earth Commission says that the planet is really quite sick now. The study’s scientists found that the Earth has surpassed seven of eight safety limits, including those related to the climate, and is now in the danger zone. The study also included measures of justice in preventing harm for countries and their most vulnerable populations.

Climate change had become a financial crisis for homeowners in California and Florida. State Farm and Allstate insurance companies have announced they will not sell new homeowner policies in California due to increasing risk of losses from wildfires, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather calamities. In Florida, some insurance providers have either failed or fled the state, leaving their former customers with only a state-subsidized company to fill the void. However, poor families are finding they cannot afford the higher premiums and wealthy families often have homes that are beyond the limits covered.

👍 A federal judge in Oregon will allow a climate change lawsuit from 21 young Oregonians between the ages of 8 and 18 to proceed to trial. The suit attempts to hold the federal government accountable for allowing fossil fuel energy systems to destabilize the climate they will face as adults.

However back east in Ohio, Republican state legislators are trying to make it more difficult for students to learn about climate change. A proposed bill will designate climate change as being a controversial belief or policy that faculty members should avoid discussing.

👍 Ending the month with good news in reducing carbon emissions, France is now prohibiting short-haul commercial air flights inside the country where alternative travel by train in less than two and a half hours is available. The country is also restricting private jet flights. Global aviation is responsible for some 2-3% of all man-made CO2 emissions.

Featured image credit of rising ocean temperatures is from a Guardian article at