The latest Climate Change News Digest, prepared for followers of the PLM Green Global Alliance, summarizes news from around the world about the changing climate and progress in decarbonizing the global economy. Our good news question of the month: what percentage of US power came from renewable sources in the first quarter of the year? Read on to find out and learn what you might have missed in your own climate news feeds during the past month. For news about the role of PLM in creating a more sustainable low-carbon economy, subscribe to our other news digest on the Intersection of PLM & Sustainability.
NOAA announced the final CO2 monitoring results for the month of May 2022 when Carbon Dioxide measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory peaked at 421 parts per mission. For the entire month, the average CO2 was 1.8 ppm higher than last year. Prior to the industrial revolution, C02 was around 280 ppm, but since then humans have emitted about 1.5 trillion tons of new carbon into the atmosphere which will remain for centuries. The last time it was this high was over 4 million years ago when temperatures were estimated to be 7 degrees F warmer and sea levels 5-25 meters higher than today.
👍 The US set an all-time record during the 1Q of the year for renewable energy generation with nearly 250K GW-hours of power, over 23% of total US electricity. Power from solar, wind, and hydroelectric were all up by substantial amounts. Coal-fired power was down, due to plant closures, but another fossil fuel, natural gas, was up at 35% total electricity. Of the 120 new power plants coming online, about 3/4 of them were new wind and solar. Total energy from carbon-free sources, including nuclear, provided 42% of electricity generated during the quarter. Hooray!
Unfortunately, the US power distribution grid is not being improved to support the renewable gains. With growing warning signs, state governments and public utilities are preparing contingencies for massive power outages and energy emergencies. The reasons cited are numerous and include: coal plants being decommissioned, slow construction and approval of new transmission lines, low water levels due to droughts in rivers that power hydroelectric plants and cool nuclear, coal, and gas plants, households now powering up their EVs at home and the lack of a single entity in charge of planning investments in the grid where the free markets have failed to do so.
As the economic reality of climate change sets in, property damage insurers are not writing new policies but also raising prices or even leaving existing markets all together. In Florida alone, nearly 70,000 property owners lost their existing policy from a single insurer. As a result, a state-run program now has 1 million policies, transferring risk for catastrophic damages from private markets to public taxpayers.
A mega-drought combined with warmer than average temperatures across the US Southwest continues to breed one extreme wildfire after another. The state of New Mexico just experienced five years of the worst fires on record. Over 600,000 acres burned across the state this Spring.
Due to higher temperatures and droughts from a changing climate, the Great Salt Lake of Utah continues to shrink in size as it has reached its lowest recorded levels. It has already shrunk by nearly two-thirds from over 3,000 square miles to under 1,000. Environmentalists warn that should it dry up, it will unleash an environmental disaster.
👍 The Biden Administration invoked emergency orders that will exempt tariffs on solar panels imported into the US from southeast Asia. The administration hopes this will help to accelerate the deployment of solar energy projects across the nation as part of its goal to triple solar manufacturing capacity by 2024.
Europe’s C02 emissions continue to drop, now having fallen by an estimated third since 1990 within the EU. Despite these gains, or perhaps because of them, some European auto makers are asking the European Parliament to slow down plans to ban the sale of new conventionally powered cars by 2035. Sales of EV and hybrids currently account for just under 20% of all new car sales so far this year. Some manufacturers like Nissan and Volkswagen have already announced their intention to stop producing gas-powered automobiles for the European market.
👍 Businesses and investors have so far this year announced about $2B of funding in emerging technologies that promise to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Investment in carbon removal is reported to be growing far faster than in any other climate sector, although there are many challenges in scaling it big enough to make a difference. Some argue that money should be spent finding ways to keep from putting carbon into the atmosphere instead of removing it. They worry that expectations of carbon removal will simply allow polluters to continue on with emitting GHG and buy carbon credits to greenwash their emissions.
While consumers across the world are paying record high prices for energy from all sources, oil companies are reporting blockbuster profits. As a result, many energy-sector stocks are rising while the stock market overall sinks into a bear market. How ironic if not tragic, that well into the most important decade where we have to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, the oil and gas industry is celebrating as consumers and the planet suffer.
Meanwhile, a new congressional report alleges what many suspected that oil and gas companies are substantially underreporting methane leaks. Methane is a far greater concern to climate scientists as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
👍 In a meeting of the Summit of the Americas, President Biden announced new climate initiatives to boost renewable energy production and spur cooperation to helping the most vulnerable nations prepare for climate adaption and create energy security.
As the western US suffers water shortages, in the US Midwest and South the higher frequency of extreme rainfalls and flooding events caused by a changing climate is said to be contaminating public and private supplies of well water. Flood waters can allow contaminants such as runoff trash, feces, pesticides and bacteria to enter well water. Over 50 million residents in the US depend on private wells for their water.
A recent poll found that 20% of adults without children say the fear of climate change is one of the reasons. Despite all the climate doomism, there are good reasons for optimism and hope, argues NYT editorialist Ezra Klein in this recent OpEd “Your Kids Are Not Doomed to a Grim Life.” 👍
A methane-sensing satellite has discovered the largest methane release ever observed from space due to a Russian coal mine. Methane emissions were reported to be just under 100 metric tons per hour, a rate that if sustained over a year would be equivalent to five average coal power plants.
Due to a worsening European energy crisis after Russia cut natural gas imports by over 50%, Germany has been forced to place back into service a number of idle coal-fired power plants that were set to be retired. As a result, the country’s use of coal for power may increase by a third and officials warn of possible rationing.
Other European counties, including Italy, the Netherlands and Austria may soon follow. Dutch officials have declared an early warning stage of a gas crisis and was lifting limits on coal-fired power plants. Honoring previous GHG emission targets amidst a growing oil crisis was a top issue when G7 leaders met in Germany this month where the leaders recommitted to the 17 UN Sustainability Development Goals.
Progress in negotiating a UN agreement to accelerate GHG emission reductions is reported to have stalled out. The Ukraine war, energy crisis, consumer inflation, and oil-company profiteering are all blamed. But we now live in a time of non-stop crises and emergencies, so when will the time be better?
👍 More oil companies are abandoning their leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, due largely to the lack of financial firms willing to fund drilling there. This is great news in that these oil reserves will be left in the ground and not burned, emitting GHG in the process.
While one part of the Biden Administration works to reduce America’s reliance on oil and emissions, the other part demands that oil giants increase their oil refining capacity to put more gas on the market that lowers prices but unfortunately encourages more consumption. Instead of using the current energy crisis as one more reason to be done with autocratic petro-states and fossil-fuels, the US like an addict just can’t kick our dependency even though it is killing us.
Much of the US has experienced record high temperatures over 100 degrees F with deadly heat indices for the month of June. The mega drought across the American west is worsening. Some 90 million Americans are now living in areas under drought conditions.
Europe also experienced a heat wave in June that broke previous records. Temperatures between 104 and 110 were felt across southern and central Europe. Spain experienced the earliest and hottest heat wave ever recorded so early in the year.
In southeast Asia, a deadly heat wave that started in March raised temperatures above 100 degrees for 51 straight days in the city of Jacobabad, Pakistan. The highest temperature was 124 degrees, pushing the limits of human livability.
China also experienced extreme heat and flooding during the month, damaging farmland crops, further exasperating a growing global food crisis. As record heat required record levels of electricity for cooling, President Xi announced that country must increase coal production to prevent power outages in the future.
As is typical with extreme weather fueled by climate change, when it rains it does so in far greater volumes of water. The US Yellowstone National Park experienced flooding never before seen by humans, destroying roads, displacing wildlife, and damaging other tourist attractions within America’s oldest national park. Quickly-warming temperatures caused rapid melting of snow packs that coincided with record consecutive days of rainfall. The park region has warmed by over 2 degrees between 1950 and 2018, and is expected to be 5-6 degrees F warmer by late mid-century. As a result, snow pack levels are projected to rise from an elevation of 7,000 to 9,500 feet, dramatically changing landscapes and wildlife habitats. Conservationists are warning that all of Americas national parks will soon face the effects of climate change if they are not already.
Increasing numbers of climate scientists are advising that capturing and sequestering existing carbon in the atmosphere, not just reducing current emissions, may become necessary to head off the worst consequences of climate change. Even though we have had over three decades of warnings with growing evidence, humanity is still not moving fast enough. As a result, a number of new carbon removal technologies are emerging, however some fear a growing moral hazard from these will only delay decarbonization of industry.
A valid debate has broken out within the climate movement as to whether too much doom and gloom reporting on the growing climate crisis in fueling climate doomism instead of climate action. (We worry about this with our own news digest.) Psychologists and other mental health professionals are reporting that climate anxiety is widespread, especially among young adults who are losing so much faith in their future prospects that fewer are having children. Climate activists warn that this despair is exploited by fossil-fuel interests who weaponize hopelessness to ward off substantial changes, as if it is too late to make any difference. On the other side of the argument is the Deep Adaption and Scientist Rebellion movements who claim it is already too late to stop catastrophic global warming and extreme adaptive measures will be needed.
👍 A state judge in Hawaii has ruled that a lawsuit against major oil companies for their climate disinformation campaigns can proceed to the discovery phase. The state claims that it is at increased risk for flooding, sea level rise, and extreme weather events due to the actions, inactions, and manipulation by oil and gas producers.
Featured image is from Inside Climate News at https://insideclimatenews.org/news/02062022/inside-clean-energy-renewables-2022/.