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July 2022, Volume 28, Number 3

Climate Change

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in June 2022 that human activities pumped 36 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2021, raising CO2 levels to 420 parts of CO2 per million, up from 280 per million in preindustrial times. Carbon dioxide levels vary throughout the year, increasing as vegetation dies and decays in the fall and winter to a peak in May and then decreasing as growing plants absorb CO2 through photosynthesis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the third of three reports in April 2022. The August 2021 IGCC report focused on why the earth is warming, the second in February 2022 outlined the effects of global warming, and the April 2022 report laid out options to reduce emissions. Farming and forestry contribute 22 percent to greenhouse gas emissions.

The earth’s temperature has risen by about 1.1C since 1850. Governments pledged to take actions to prevent the world’s average temperature from rising by more than 1.5C or 2.7F above pre-industrial levels by 2050. The IGCC report concluded that current policies will not be able to keep the temperature increase below 1.5C as economic growth generates emissions faster than climate polices reduce them.

Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries experienced multi-day sand and dust storms in May-June 2022 that grounded flights and sent people with respiratory problems to hospitals. The storms result from seasonal shamal winds from the northwest that kick up dust from the Tigris-Euphrates basin and transport it to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. Desertification has made the dust storms more intense, giving Iraq over 250 dusty days a year. The Saudi-led Middle East Green Initiative aims to plant 40 billion more trees in the region to mitigate the dust storms.

China is mining and burning more coal, increasing its emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, which is 80 times more damaging than CO2. China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, accounting for a third of global emissions in 2021. China produces and consumes about half the world’s coal.

Satellites detected 13 plumes that were emitting 87 metric tons of methane gas an hour in January 2022 from a Russia’s largest coal mine in Raspadskya, the largest single-site source of methane emissions ever detected. The largest US methane emissions were from leaks at the natural gas storage facility at Alsio Canyon, where emissions were 50 metric tons an hour in 2015-16. Over time, methane can result in 80 times more warming of the same amount of carbon dioxide.

Despite gas prices that topped $5 a gallon in summer 2022, the US goals of having half of all new cars that are sold be electric by 2030 and to have a carbon-neutral electricity-generation sector by 2035 look hard to achieve because of new investments in fossil fuels to reduce inflation. Congress is not willing to enact a tax on carbon or a cap-and-trade system that would require firms to buy permits to emit carbon, and there have been difficulties siting wind and solar projects and transmitting electricity from them.

Maine voters in 2021 rejected New England Clean Energy Connect, a transmission line that would bring electricity from hydroelectric plants in Canada. The US-partner, Central Maine Power, has a dismal customer service record and a history of outages. Offshore wind turbines are required to be built with US ships and crews, which raises their cost.

The USSC in June 2022 ruled 6-3 that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the power to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The question before the USSC was how much authority administrative agencies have to interpret the broad provisions of laws enacted by Congress.

Under the 1984 Chevron doctrine, federal courts must defer to reasonable interpretations of ambiguous statutes by federal agencies with expertise in the sector being regulated. The USSC changed Chevron in a new “major questions doctrine” that requires Congress to provide explicit authority to allow agencies to make broad regulations.

The EPA wants to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the power industry by 2035. Wind and solar are expanding, but not fast enough to achieve net zero emissions by 2035, prompting a new look at nuclear power plants that could be built on sites where coal-fired plants close. The US has 92 nuclear plants that produce 20 percent of US electricity and half of US clean energy including Diablo Canyon, which produces 10 percent of California’s electricity. Nuclear power costs about $50 a megawatt hour, more than the $30 to $40 cost of wind and solar, but is more reliable.

Antarctica has 90 percent of the world’s ice and 70 percent of its fresh water in ice sheets that are on average more than a mile thick; if all Antarctic ice melted, sea levels would rise by 260 feet. Antarctica ice melts when glaciers calve into the Southern Ocean, so that speeding or slowing the movement of Antarctica’s glaciers affects global sea levels.

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