The Weekly Climate #4: Aug 31-Sep 6 2020
Welcome to this weeks edition of The Weekly Climate! 🎉
Everything (Sep 5, 2020, Copenhagen) — In November 2018, I had just started on my climate journey, when this happened: The Sunrise Movement stormed Nancy Pelosi’s office in the White House, AOC joined them and the Green New Deal was born. Back then I was puzzled. I thought the Green New Deal was some weird attempt at jamming all kinds of social policies into a climate agenda. But boy was I wrong.
A major realization that I’ve had over the past couple of years is that solving the climate crisis is not about making sure that climate change doesn’t kill us. The more you dive in the more you realize that preventing climate change from killing us isn’t actually about stopping greenhouse gas emissions and removing already emitted greenhouse gases — doing that (which we of course needs to do) is just one positive side-effect of solving the climate crisis. That part is just the engineering challenge of the climate crisis: I’m an engineer, trust me, we can do that, no problem.
But once you realize that we technically could solve it you start to think about why we haven’t solved it. And that makes you realize that the climate crisis is just the effect of the real underlying cause of the climate crisis: Human activities. The problem is not greenhouse gas emissions, but the fact that every human activity in our modern life causes them. When you look at it from that angle and then look at the world you realize that we are relatively few countries in the world today that live in “modernity”, the so called developed countries. Whereas the majority of countries today are still developing. And it’s us, the developed countries, that got us in to this mess. If you then look at emissions per capita across the world you see this (from Our World in Data):
Then you realize that if all developing countries wants the same living standards as we in the developed world have, that likely means at least a quadrupling of their per capita carbon emissions which leads to an even bigger climate disaster than what we’re already heading towards.
That is why solving the climate crisis is not really about stopping carbon emissions and removing already emitted emissions. But about building the new future for the whole of humanity that we want. And yes, one feature of that future is zero carbon emissions, but that’s just a small part. We have to build a world that allows the developing countries to develop and the already developed countries to decarbonize all the while we still stay within our planetary resource boundaries.
The implication of motivating a zero carbon world, not from a climate change perspective but from a perspective of a better life for everyone on the planet, is disruptive because nobody, not even the biggest anti-climate-action organizations such as the fossil fuel industry lobby, can fight it. As we have already seen in past newsletters, there are plenty of non-climate change reasons to want a zero carbon world: It’s simply just a better future…
To get to that future, we must first envision it. What does such a future look like? How will your daily life change?
🏃♂️💨The quick overview
For those in a hurry here we go:
Climate & Science: More massive holes in the Siberian tundra has been discovered. Researchers believe these have been made by escaped methane, which have escaped due to melting permafrost. Plus a study of the Bering sea indicates that melting ice there is experiencing a 100 year lag in reaction on current CO2 levels.
Technology: Solar panels have come down so much in price (9x since 2006) that if you just 5 years ago considered to put solar on your roof, but concluded it was too experience, then look again. Also solar and wind installations worldwide accounted for 66% of all installed electricity capacity. Finally, anti-solar panels anyone?
Startups: Lots of startup funding this week and we dive into a couple of interesting startups. The most interesting one is HYBRIT, a swedish startup that aims to build a factory that produces fossil free steel.
Major emitters: Lots of activity from emitters this week. Most interesting is that fracking bankruptcies continue at an unprecedented pace, now expecting up to 150 by the end of the year. And what’s even better is that nobody wants to buy the assets. In addition, China’s big oil are pledging to go zero carbon by 2050.
Politics: Extinction Rebellion has carried out a lot of demonstrations in the UK this week.
Climate Justice: Lots of lawsuits. 33 portugese children sue countries in the EU and Hoboken, NJ sues big oil for misinformation related to climate change.
🐢The long overview
For those who want to dive deeper, brace yourselves, the long overview is coming.
🕵️♂️Stories we follow
California power outages amidst the heat waves. (Get an overview) California has experienced a series of rolling blackouts Aug 16 through 18 as a result of high power demand and a few mishaps. What we know is that power demand was high, but not higher than usual, when solar started to drop and a fossil gas power plant went unexpectedly offline. New heat waves are expected to hit California this weekend. It will be interesting to see how the grid will deal with these, as the scenario is more or less the same as when the blackouts occured a couple of weeks ago: Scorching heat (46C expected in L.A, in fact a lot of heat records were beaten this weekend) and very little temperature drop during the evenings. Measures are being taken to prevent more blackouts as it was decided to let four fossil gas plants stay open, which was scheduled to close by end of year. On the fire side of things, fortunately, fire fighters are making headway against 2 major fire complexes, which are now 40% contained. However, the many fires are spurring another crisis, which is that homeowners in the affected areas can’t get insurance on their properties. This just goes to show how all encompassing the climate crisis is and will be. If you want to try and understand what it’s like living in a wildfire prone area read this first person account.
U.S. Presidential Election. The U.S. is a major emitter and are run by a climate sceptic and fossil fuel friendly… person. We need a change. And after Joe Biden was elected as the democratic candidate that change has to be him. Hence we keep a close watch on his climate aspirations. California attorney general sues Trump for the 100th time in 4 years for violating the law. Last monday, Trump rolled back regulation, which means that less limits on how coal plants can dispose of their toxic waste and he introduced a new rule that enables oil drilling in U.S. national forests.. To put it bluntly (as Greentech Media does), if Trump wins climate action will be postponed out into the 2050s, where as Biden’s plan could put the U.S. on a path to decarbonize by 2035. Still activists still need to pressure Biden to exclude fossil fuel execs and lobby orgs from his transition team, if he wins the election. But it does seem as if he still wants to keep fossil gas as part of the mix. However, on the happy side of things, Trumps vow to keep coal plants open hasn’t worked. Despite trying to do a lot and throwing billions of taxpayer dollars after it, coal power in the U.S. is down 31% from 2016 levels and was just this year surpassed by renewables.
👩🔬Climate & Science
| #covid | — NASA has funded 8 new projects that will explore connections between COVID and climate change. For instance, when stay-at-home orders started the world over, the U.S. Forestry service decided to temporarily suspend controlled burns (controlled burns are done in order to limit wild fires), what does this mean for the fire season?
| #permafrost | — If you want to see something scary take a look at these massive holes in the Siberian tundra. Unfortunately, it looks like these massive holes are starting to appear again. So what are they? Massive releases of methane (a 30x more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2) due to thawing permafrost.
| #wildfires | — And related: It’s not just the U.S. that are experiencing devastating forest fires. Wildfires in the Arctic has already released 35% more CO2 than in 2019 — the smoke from these fire are as large as the area of the EU landmass. In particular the Siberian Arctic are hard hit. Peat bogs are also threatened, which are vegetation that contains very high amounts of carbon. In fact, a recent study indicated that peat lands store about half the amount of carbon contained in all tress. In particular, the Siberian Arctic fires are hard to put out (as this video explains). because they often burn in completely unpopulated areas.
| #beringsea | — 2018 was a weird and worrying year for the Bering sea. By May the sea ice was completely gone, about one month ahead of schedule. There hasn’t been a winter like this in the Bering sea for 5.500 years. But what’s more worrying is that a team of researchers has uncovered that the sea appears to be reacting on increases in carbon dioxide levels from 100 years ago, suggesting that there’s a 100 year lag between carbon emissions and sea ice reaction. If this is true, then there’s probably nothing we can do to prevent the Bering sea from being permanently ice free. It would be interesting to learn whether this lag is just true for Bering or whether it’s true for all ice covered areas, as Greenland and the Arctic are already melting at worst-case rates.
| #ev | — A topic that is just too debated is how much better EVs are. There has been a number of studies about that they pollute as much as ICE cars. Then a number of counter studies shown that that is not the case. Here’s another study that shows that they pollute very little. And the big change this time is that this study uses updated numbers on how much battery production pollutes. In 2017 battery production emitted 175kg CO2 per kWh, that number has in 2019 fallen to 85kg per kWh.
| #ev | — And staying on EVs. The Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology will be key to achieving a zero carbon future. However, at present only cars equipped with CHAdeMO charging technology can provide V2G services — and currently only Nissan has that. Those of us with CCS (one of the most popular charging technologies) will not be able to provide V2G services until at least 2025.
| #antisolarpanel | — An anti-solar panel? Sounds like a fossil fuel industry scheme, but it’s not. In fact, it’s a new technology developed by researchers that utilizes the fact that at night the surface of the Earth cools and radiates the heat back. This new thermoelectric generator utilizes an effect known as the Seebeck effect.
| #energystorage | — Fossil gas is struggling to compete with batteries. In order to deploy vast amounts of renewable energy, we need batteries for when the renewables are not available. Usually this is a great job for fossil gas peaker plants, that sits idle until renewables runs out of juice. These big utility scale peaker plants are now having bigger and bigger problems with competing with batteries, as the cost of batteries are falling even more rapidly than solar!
| #solar | — And while we’re talking about solar power price drops. Solar power is falling so rapidly in price (9x since 2006) that if you considered to put solar on your roof just 5 years ago but decided against it because it was too expensive, then you need to look again. And that is a problem because most people do not expect so rapid price drops. That’s why solar power companies in the U.S. are launching a campaign to tell people about it.
| #renewables | — And we end the technology section on a sunny — and windy — note. The world added more solar and wind than anything in 2019. Total solar installations amounted to 119GW, which represents 45% of all new capacity added to the grid that year. Together wind and solar accounted for 66% of all new capacity, which is up from 25% last year. On the literal dark side of that is coal. We still added 39GW of coal last year, which is also up from a 10 year low of 19GW in 2018.
| #AI | — Two interesting AI startups have raised funding, California based Myst AI (6M$ Series A) and EU-based Overstory (2M$ seed). Both companies wants to help utilities de-risk dangers of climate change. Myst AI tries to forecast renewable energy production and Overstory uses satellite data to help utilities track forest growth.
| #SaaS | — SenseHawk, a Software-as-a-Service startup that helps customers develop, build and operate solar farms, has raised 5.1M$ in Series A funding. Their platform is used by over 80 customers with 28GW of solar assets deployed in over 15 countries.
| #mobility | — An electric motorcycle taxi service is launching in Kenya, called Ecobodaa. Motorcycle is the fastest way to get around in Kenya. Ecobodaa started off using regular ICE bikes, but after analyzing the data from the trips they were making they ended up designing an electric motorbike together with a chinese firm. The bike makes it possible for drivers to exchange the battery in route, which is simple in Kenya as passengers tend to use the same pickup points. Turned out: It’s saving the company a ton of money.
| #steel | — A swedish startup HYBRIT just launched a pilot programme to build a fossil free steel plant. Steel production world wide accounts for 8-9% of CO2 emissions, most of these comes from the energy needed to produce steel which is typically coal powered. HYBRITs factory though will use electricity from renewable energy and hydrogen to produce steel and water.
| #energystorage | — After 10 years in stealth the company Quantumscape appears in a so-called SPAC IPO at a valuation of 4.1B$. Quantumscape has developed a pure lithium battery technology, which is the holy grail of batteries, but which have always been out of reach due to these types of batteries fire problems. Quantumscape claims to have solved lithium’s problems.
⛽️Major Carbon Emitters
| #fracking | — Fracking bankruptcies continue and apparently, nobody wants to buy their assets. Great news, as this hopefully means they will be gone forever. Last week we reported that 36 fracking companies had declared bankruptcy, now that number is 57. And we reported that 100 companies expected to declare bankruptcy, that number is now 150. However, the bankruptcies may still hurt the climate as it has been documented that many bankrupt fracking companies leave their wells leaking methane. But they’re not just going to hurt the climate but also communities as many people stand to loose their jobs with these bankruptcies.
| #bigoil | — China’s oil giants also announce net zero ambitions. I’m still skeptical that these fossil fuel industry will ever follow-through on these. But it’s probably a good thing that other countries big oil companies start to make these claims as well. One could hope for a FOMO thing rising in the fossil fuel industry the world over.
| #plastic | — The fossil fuel industry is in trouble. Therefore it is looking elsewhere for profits: Plastic in Kenya. The fossil fuel industry is lobbying the U.S. to object against Kenya’s imposed plastic bag ban as well as forcing the country to accept more plastic garbage as it used to.
| #utilities | — A study by University of Oxford shows that utility companies are working against a global zero carbon world. The study analyzed activities by more than 3000 companies over the past two decades and concludes that the utilities are not investing nearly enough in non-fossil fuel sources to reach a zero carbon world.
| #racism | — The Marathon refinery in Detroit is being supported heavily by the U.S. government in terms of government bonds, while it’s been unleashing environmental death and destruction on the surrounding neighborhoods including a Februar 2019 rupture of a propane pipeline that causes people living in the neighborhood to experience labored breathing and vomitting. Not only that, but the Marathon refinery is the 33rd worst polluter in the country and it disproportionately affect communities of color. It is a disgrace and once again just goes to show how deep the fossil fuel lobby are screwing our governments.
| #XR | — Extinction Rebellion in the UK are hard at work trying to force the government to back a climate bill. They’ve delivered massive demonstrations across the UK the past week.
| #lawsuit | — Portuguese children sue 33 countries through the European court of human rights demanding that the states make more ambitious emission cuts in order to safeguard their future physical and mental wellbeing.
| #lawsuit | — And more lawsuits. Hoboken, NJ becomes the first NJ city to sue big oil companies and American Petroleum Institute (API) for climate change damages. The suit especially attacks big oil and APIs decades of misinformation saying that this lead to worse damage from climate change.
| #racism | — Arlington, TX, has stopped the expansion of a fracking site citing racial injustice. The new sites would expand into hispanic and black neighborhoods. However, it is unclear whether the city violated state laws that might reverse the decision.
| #lowincome | — SunRun and GRID Alternatives have said in a joint press release that they will provide 100% free solar power to low income home owners in wildfire prone areas. Well done.
How to save a planet — 20 million trees: About MrBeasts campaign to raise 20M$ to plant 20M trees and how he used social media and his 20M followers to reach that goal. Best environmental crowdfunding until that point was 3M$ for a shower head that uses less water. They discuss the campaign with the campaign director and discusses trees as a climate change solution in general.
Decouple — Stand Up for Nuclear feat Paris Ortiz Wines: Dr Keefer interviews the Director for Outreach at Stand Up for Nuclear a pro-nuclear organisation. It’s a great discussion about talking to the public about nuclear energy.
My Climate Journey (Member bonus) — Nan Ransohoff & Ryan Orbuch, Stripe Climate Team: Jason interviews Nan and Ryan from Stripe, the company that makes payments work across the Internet. Stripe has realized that climate change poses a long term risk to its mission of growing the GDP of the Internet and that is why it is making bold climate commitments for a tech company.
That’s it for this week folks! If you feel like I’m missing something, please let me know.
If you enjoyed this newsletter don’t forget to share it with your friends, coworkers or other people you think could benefit from getting it. If you got directed here by a friend or another link on the Internet don’t forget to subscribe!
See you all next week 👋