Climate Change Blog 42

By Carl Howard posted 07-28-2021 08:34 AM


Climate Change Blog 42

Facts on the Ground:

Parts of central China received record-breaking rain in late July. The subway in Zhengzhou was flooded and people were trapped standing in water up to their necks frantically calling loved ones and for help. Streets turned into raging rivers and swept cars and people away, caused power outages and suspended rail services and flights. At least 25 people died in and around Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, including 12 people in the subway. Trapped subway riders waited in some cases 40 hours for rescue.

Scientists attribute record-breaking flooding, heating and wildfires to climate change which are entirely consistent with climate models and predictions. Horrific flooding killed over 170 people and over 1,000 are unaccounted for in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and France. Homes were washed away, cars picked up and tossed aside, roads washed out and communication and rescue impaired throughout Central Europe.

The flooding closely followed an announcement from the European Commission that the EU planned to move away from fossil fuels over the next nine years as the 27-country bloc intends to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, said “It is the intensity and the length of the events that science tells us this is a clear indication of climate change.” “It shows the urgency to act.”

Armin Laschet, the leader of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said “Our state is experiencing a flood catastrophe of historic scale.” “We have to make the state more climate-proof.” “We have to make Germany climate neutral even faster.”

“The catastrophic results of the heavy rain in the past few days are largely homemade,” said Holger Sticht, who heads the regional chapter and blamed lawmakers and industry for building in floodplains and woodlands. “We urgently need to change course.”

London, England, also experienced historic flooding in mid-July, receiving a month’s worth of average rain in a single day. Outside the capital, the downpour also spread across the south of England, flooding rail lines in the city as it is built on the River Thames floodplain. A movable flood barrier across the river, more than 1,700 feet wide, has been in place since 1982.

According to a 2019 report, about 37,000 homes are at high or medium risk of tidal or river flooding in London, and 250,000 businesses and homes could be at risk of losing access to electricity, gas and other services for up to two weeks. Buildings prone to trapping heat also needed to be upgraded with better ventilation to save lives this year, as there were 2,500 excess deaths attributable to heat waves last year.

Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, an island nation at acute risk from sea level rise, said “While not all are affected equally, this tragic event is a reminder that, in the climate emergency, no one is safe, whether they live on a small island nation like mine or a developed Western European state.” He spoke behalf of a group of countries called the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

India and the Philippines also experienced recent deadly flooding. This summer, India was hit by two powerful cyclones and deadly floods in the Himalayas and a heat wave that killed thousands of people. The monsoon in India killed at least 164 people, 100 were reported missing, nearly 300,000 people were evacuated, and thousands were in relief camps. More than 250 people have died in the state of Maharashtra related to monsoons since it began in June.

“The threat of rising sea level is something that we often overlook and underestimate,” said Roxy Koll, a climate scientist in India and one of the authors of a recent study on how a warming climate will make heat waves and cyclones more frequent and more ferocious in India.

Western US had the opposite climate impacts, record-breaking heat and wildfires, as the region suffered through its third heat wave of the summer. More than 30 million people endured excessive heat warnings and advisories.

The sweltering conditions reached into places that rarely see triple digits, like Grand Junction, Colo., which experienced its highest recorded temperature of 107F. Salt Lake City’s airport reached 104F, also an all-time high. California’s Death Valley reached a dangerous 130F matching a reading from August that may be the highest reliably recorded on earth.

Intense temperatures have led to an increase in heat-related deaths. An estimated 200 people, most of them homeless, sick or older, died in July in Oregon and Washington State — one that scientists say would have been virtually impossible without climate change. Heat waves are expected to persist for the rest of the summer as July and August are typically the warmest time months in the region. Climate models almost unanimously predict that heat waves will become more intense and frequent as the planet continues to warm.

This past June was the hottest in the country’s recorded history, and July continued the trend. In Nevada and Colorado mid-July highs set or equaled records: 118F in Daggett, Calif.; 117F at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, at least 364 flights were delayed by the heat; 117F in St. George, Utah; 113F in Desert Rock, Nevada; 107.7F in Stovepipe Wells, in Death Valley, is the warmest daily low temperature recorded in the US; 104F in Salt Lake City, etc.

Heat, drought and fire are connected, and because human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases have raised baseline temperatures nearly 2F on average since 1900, heat waves are becoming hotter and more frequent.

“The Southwest is getting hammered by climate change harder than almost any other part of the country, apart from perhaps coastal cities,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan. “And as bad as it might seem today, this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”

Wildfires burned more than a million acres across the western U.S. and Canada. In mid-July there were 59 large fires burning; together, they have covered about 863,976 acres across 12 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Montana, Idaho and Arizona, where two firefighters were killed responding to a blaze, all had at least 10 fires. The intensity, and danger, of some of the larger fires is astounding. Some produce a towering cloud of hot air, smoke and moisture that reaches airliner heights and produces lightning which sparks new fires. Wind-driven fronts of flame have swept across the land, often leapfrogging firebreaks. Some fires produce fire tornados.

The Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon is the largest wildfire this year in the US having burned over 400,000 acres, or 625 square miles. It is the fourth-largest wildfire in the state since 1900 and it’s growing. And it started almost two months before the traditional peak of fire season in late August. It destroyed several homes in Klamath County, where officials ordered evacuations. “The fire is so large and generating so much energy and extreme heat that it’s changing the weather,” said Marcus Kauffman, a spokesman for the state forestry department. “Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”

Fires so extreme that they generate their own weather confound firefighting efforts. The intensity and extreme heat can force wind to go around them, create clouds and sometimes even generate fire tornadoes — swirling vortexes of heat, smoke and high wind.

The catastrophic Carr Fire near Redding, Calif., in July 2018 burned 130,000 acres, destroyed over 1,600 structures, killed at least eight people, and created a fire tornado with winds as high as 140 mph. Wind that high will blow an adult through the air like a rag-doll.

The town of Lytton, British Columbia, broke the Canadian temperature record three days in a row, ending with a reading of 121F on June 29. The next day, 90% of the structures of the town were burned and at least two people were killed. In early July, there were more than 300 active fires burning across the province of British Columbia. Wildfires farther east in Canada have forced officials in Minnesota to issue an air-quality alert, affecting much of the state.

Wildfire smoke from the Western US and Canada stretched across North America covering skies in a thick haze, tinting the sun a malevolent red and triggering health alerts from Toronto to Philadelphia.

Air quality remained in the unhealthy range across much of the East Coast on July 21, based on modeling from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The air quality index, a measure developed by the EPA, spiked across the Midwest and East Coast that week, with numbers hovering around 130 to 160 in NYC, a range where members of sensitive groups and the general public may experience adverse health effects. (The index runs from 0 to 500; readings over 100 are considered particularly unhealthy.)

Extreme heat also reached the East coast in late July: 126F in Baltimore, 121F in Narragansett, R.I., and 129F in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

The Atlantic season’s first hurricane, Elsa, battered the Caribbean on July 1 with sustained winds of 75mph effecting the islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The storm killed at least three people in the Dominican Republic and St. Lucia before causing heavy flooding in Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba. It flooded much of the Florida Keys before making landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast as a Tropical Storm (causing at least one death). It dumped heavy rain across the Southeast and prompted warnings as far north as Massachusetts.

Elsa is the fifth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Ana was the first named storm of the season, on May 23, making this year the seventh in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet likely will experience stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms.

In June, Tropical Storm Claudette brought heavy rains, gusting winds and tornadoes to several states across the South, destroying dozens of homes. It killed 14 people, 10 of them children, as it moved from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast. Claudette was closely followed by tropical storm Danny, which made landfall over South Carolina in late June.

About a week after Elsa hit Florida, it flooded parts of NYC. The police rescued more than a dozen people from the Major Deegan Expressway and subway riders had to wade through waist-deep filthy water at the Broadway and 157th street station. Parts of NJ and CT were also flooded.

Eric Adams, the newly elected Mayor of NYC, said “We need congestion pricing ASAP to protect stations from street flooding, elevate entrances and add green infrastructure to absorb flash storm runoff. This cannot be New York.”

As Californians have retreated indoors for protection and AC, pressure has grown on the state’s electrical system, with officials relying on backup power and urging people to conserve energy or risk rolling blackouts. Concerns grew as the Bootleg Fire in neighboring Oregon burned across a power line corridor, threatening Path 66, a major contributor to the power grid in California.

In mid-July, Gov. Gavin Newson formally urged all Californians to reduce their water use by 15%.  He also expanded the state’s drought emergency to 50 of the state’s 58 counties, including Santa Clara, the most populous county in the Bay Area.

As noted in Blog 41, conflict is rapidly escalating over water allotment. Farmers and ranchers are being forced to contemplate a future without, or with much less, water. Difficult decisions must be made about what to grow, if anything.

The San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland, is projected to lose more than a 10th of its acreage of agricultural production by 2040. The consequences will be felt not just in California’s $50 billion agricultural sector, but also in the nation’s food supply as the state supplies two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of America’s vegetables. Much of this is at risk from the heat, the drought and the fires.

The extreme weather disasters across Europe and North America have accentuated two realities: The world as a whole is neither prepared to slow down climate change (mitigation), nor live with it (adaptation). Recent impacts ravaged some of the world’s wealthiest nations, whose affluence derives from more than a century of burning coal, oil and gas — activities that pumped GHGs into the atmosphere that are warming the world.

“I say this as a German: The idea that you could possibly die from weather is completely alien,” said Friederike Otto, a physicist at Oxford University. “There’s not even a realization that adaptation is something we have to do right now. We have to save people’s lives.”

Humans are not the only beings dying from the heat. Marine wildlife has been dying en masse in the Pacific Northwest. Dead mussels and clams have been found coating rocks, their shells gaping open as if they’d been boiled. Sea stars were baked to death. Sockeye salmon swam sluggishly in an overheated Washington river, prompting wildlife officials to truck them to cooler areas.

“It just feels like one of those postapocalyptic movies,” said Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia who studies climate change and coastal marine ecosystems.

He estimated losses for the mussels alone in the hundreds of millions. Factoring in the other creatures that live in the mussel beds — barnacles, hermit crabs and other crustaceans, various worms, tiny sea cucumbers — puts the deaths at easily over a billion.

Such extreme weather conditions will become more frequent and intense, scientists say, as climate change, driven by humans burning fossil fuels, wreaks havoc on animals and humans alike.

But the obvious mass victims were blue mussels, an ecologically important species that feeds sea stars and sea ducks and creates habitat for other animals. A domino effect may be that the sea ducks, which feast on mussels in the winter before migrating to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic, will not have enough food to survive the journey.

Biologists are also watching river temperatures with alarm. Salmon migrate, often hundreds of miles, from natal inland rivers and lakes, out to sea, and back again to spawn. Longstanding dams in western states complicate the journey. Heat waves and droughts may be the final straw.

“We are already at critical temperatures three weeks before the most serious heating occurs,” said Don Chapman, a retired fisheries biologist who specialized in salmon and steelhead trout, talking about conditions along the Snake River in Washington, where four dams are the subject of longstanding controversy. “I think we’re headed for disaster.”

The plight of the salmon illustrates a broader danger facing a wide variety of species as climate change worsens. Many animals are already struggling to survive because of human activity degrading their habitats. With the addition of extreme heat and drought, their odds of survival plummet.

“I want to find the positives and there are some, but it’s pretty overwhelming right now,” said Dr. Harley, the University of British Columbia marine biologist. “Because if we become too depressed or too overwhelmed, we won’t keep trying. And we need to keep trying.”

Not only was last June the hottest on record in North America, with more than 1,200 daily temperature records broken from June 24 to June 30 alone, but of even greater significance was the larger number of daily records set by a different and likely more dangerous measure of extreme heat: overnight temperatures.

On average, nights are warming faster than days across most of the US, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment Report. This too is a global trend fueled by climate change. The danger is that increasingly hot summer nights have led to a significant number of deaths because people are unable to cool down from the day’s heat. More nighttime temperature records were broken this June than in any previous June on record.

“What’s making the news is the highs, but nighttime minimums have an impact on mortality,” said Lara Cushing, an environmental health scientist at the U.C.L.A. Fielding School of Public Health.

When it’s both too hot and too humid for sweat to dissipate the body’s heat, it can lead to organ failure and death. This disproportionately affects poorer communities lacking AC. Heat-related deaths and hospitalizations in the 2006 California heat wave were higher in ZIP codes with fewer air-conditioners.

In parts of the Pacific Northwest recently, temperatures were nearly 30F above average, an extreme that “would have been virtually impossible without climate change,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

Warmer air holds more moisture in the form of water vapor. Water vapor accounts for around 85% of the greenhouse effect, according to Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Water vapor traps heat close to the earth’s surface, like a blanket, which causes warming.

“In general, minimum temperatures are warming faster than maximum temperatures in the U.S.,” said Claudia Tebaldi, an earth scientist and climate modeler at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She said it was certain that climate change will lead more frequent and severe heat waves in coming decades. As a general rule, she explained that for every 1F increase in the global average temperature, the extreme temperatures, that is, the high highs and the high lows, will rise by up to twice as much.

“It’s one of those things that unfortunately is known to be a fact,” she said. “There is not much uncertainty about the fact that warming is going to make these extremes much more severe.”

The high temperatures in June were not limited to North America, according to the Copernicus analysis. Europe suffered through its second-warmest June ever, with only June 2019 being warmer. Temperatures were above average in Northwestern and Southern Africa, across parts of the Middle East, and in China and much of Southeast Asia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 505 heat-related deaths in the US in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. But the real numbers could be much higher. Another study, which looked at excess deaths in the country’s 297 most populous counties, found that approximately 5,600 deaths could be attributable to heat each year.

As horrific as the wildfires in the US are, they may be dwarfed in size and global significance in terms of carbon contribution to the atmosphere by the fires in Siberia. For the third year in a row, residents of northeastern Siberia are combating fires in futile efforts with tractor-drawn buckets of water. In a scene seemingly from Jaws, one driver screamed, “We need a bigger tractor!”

Last year, wildfires consumed over 60,000 square miles of forest and tundra, an area the size of Florida, which is more than four times the area that burned in the US last year. This year, more than 30,000 square miles have already burned in Russia, after merely two weeks of its peak fire season.

Scientists blame the huge fires on the extraordinary summer heat in recent years in northern Siberia, which has suffered warming temperatures more than just about anywhere else in the world. The terrifying implication is that this feeds a positive feedback loop as the fires release immense amounts of GHGs which not only destroy Russia’s vast boreal forests, but also decreases the amount of CO2 absorbed by those forests, while also melting permafrost which releases methane, a GHG, which adds to global warming which promotes burning and melting, etc.

Russia is taking advantage of the changes from climate change which has opened a summer passage through the previously frozen Arctic Ocean which shortens trade routes for ships and opens land to mining. Both of which add to carbon emissions. The country is also uniquely vulnerable to climate change impacts as two-thirds of its territory is covered by permafrost, which is thawing and visibly warping the land, breaking apart roads, undermining buildings and vastly complicating farming and hunting as the forests turn to swamps.

For years, President Putin had denied that humans are responsible for global warming. But he recognizes the dangers in the north, saying the thawing permafrost could lead to “very serious social and economic consequences” for the country, and may be accepting of the science. “Many believe, with good reason, that this is connected primarily to human activity, to emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere,” he said. “Global warming is happening in our country even faster than in many other regions of the world.”

Russia is the world’s fourth larger emitter of GHGs and the question of whether it will act to reduce emissions is of crucial importance. Putin recently signed a law requiring businesses to report their GHG emissions, hinting at possible future carbon regulation. And in mid-July, Russia hosted John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, for talks in Moscow, raising hopes that Russia may work with Washington on combating global warming despite conflict on other issues.

Siberian forests are not the only crucial, but declining, carbon sinks. A new study found that parts of the Southeast Amazon have turned from absorbing CO2 to emitting It. Deforestation and an accelerating warming trend have contributed to change in the carbon balance and perhaps atmospheric water vapor as the area has experienced reduced rainfall in the dry season. The most affected regions have warmed by 4.5F during the dry season in the last 40 years, comparable to the changes seen in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The same positive feedback loop noted above for Siberia is playing out in the Amazon.  Deforestation for agriculture, rising temperature and changing weather patterns have reduced its effectiveness as a buffer for climate change, and the conditions (less rain) and rising levels of CO2 emissions, led Luciana Vanni Gatti, a scientist at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research to conclude “This is a negative loop” (she used “negative” in the sense of bad, not “positive” as used by most climatologists in the sense of reinforcing).

Recent studies have suggested that the region’s ability to remove carbon from the air and store it, so it won’t contribute to rising global temperatures is being degraded. A 30-year study in the journal Nature published in 2015 found that the Amazon’s ability to absorb CO2 is showing “a long-term decreasing trend of carbon accumulation,” in part because of greater climate variability and earlier deaths of trees.

And a 2018 essay in the journal Science Advances warned that the combination of deforestation, climate change and burning have caused parts of the rainforest to shift to savanna: “The precious Amazon is teetering on the edge of functional destruction and, with it, so are we,” the authors wrote, adding, “we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.”

Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University, an author of the “tipping point” essay, praised the new study, which he did not take part in, saying that there is still hope for restoring balance. “The ability to build back a margin of safety” through reforestation is very real and could help bring back the role of trees in producing the moisture within the forests. “I don’t think you’ll ever get it back to what it was, but you can certainly improve it,” he said.

The forests are a critical part of the region’s water cycle; moisture put into the air by trees is responsible for as much as 35% of the region’s rainfall.

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has supported deforestation and agricultural development in the Amazon. He has recently announced plans to counter the trend, but deforestation has continued.

The Biden administration's push for more wind and solar power must be aided by batteries to store energy. To this end, the Energy Department announced an Energy Earthshots Initiative to pursue low-cost “long-duration energy storage.” The goal is to reduce the cost 90% below the cost of today’s lithium-ion batteries by 2030. The agency’s national labs will focus on improving such technologies while it seeks funding from Congress for early demonstration projects.

“If we want to get to net-zero emissions, we not only need to deploy solutions that are already proven, like wind and solar power,” Jennifer Granholm, the energy secretary, said. “We also have to figure out how to take clean-energy technologies that have been demonstrated in a laboratory and scale them up in the world. There’s a real sense of urgency about this.”

Last month, Ms. Granholm announced a goal of reducing by 80% the cost of clean hydrogen fuels, which could help curb emissions from factories, trucks or the electric grid. Both programs are modeled after the Obama-era Sunshot Initiative, which helped lower the cost of solar power during the 2010s and brought the technology into the mainstream.

Biden is counting on increasingly cheap solar and wind power to meet his goal of zero carbon electricity by 2035. The White House is currently trying to persuade Congress to enact a clean electricity standard that would require utilities nationwide to meet that target.

The electricity sector generates one-quarter of US GHG emissions with roughly 60% of electricity still generated by burning fossil fuels, mostly natural gas and coal. The administration sees curbing electricity emissions as central to its climate plans and is promoting EVs and heat pumps that will plug into the grid.

But cleaning up the power sector requires more than just new laws it also requires new technologies and/or technological advancements. Studies show that utilities could get 80% clean electricity with existing technology, mainly by installing vastly more wind turbines and solar panels.

But cleaning up that last 20% of emissions must address the fact that wind and solar farms generate power only when weather conditions are favorable. Utilities still rely on gas- or coal-burning plants for backup. To fill this gap there are numerous possibilities including: lithium-ion batteries (but those batteries typically store electricity for just four to six hours at a time);  massive new transmission lines across the country since it’s always windy or sunny somewhere; Hydrogen (its large-scale implementation has never been tested and is currently a more expensive than burning natural gas); Nuclear (but they’re hard to power on and off as needed. And the waste….expensive and forever); Geothermal plants or gas plants that can capture and bury their emissions underground (but much of this technology is in its infancy); Pumped storage hydropower; injection of compressed air or hydrogen into underground salt caverns; and aqueous air battery, to name a bunch.

It may take years to know which technologies work best to fill the gap left by wind and solar power. Jesse Jenkins, an expert at Princeton University, said  “There’s a lot of focus on energy storage as the Holy Grail answer for wind and solar intermittency,” Dr. Jenkins said. “And we found it can be a solution, but it’s one of many. So, we need to be making as many bets as we can today on new technologies, so that when we really need them a decade or two from now, they’re ready to go.”

There remain numerous, mostly little-known, obstacles to achieving the administration’s clean energy goals. One obstacle is a United Nations agency, the International Maritime Organization, that regulates international shipping. It is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns oil so thick it could be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much CO2 as all of America’s coal plants combined and the agency’s data says emissions may rise by 30% for years.

The organization is run by individuals with obvious conflicts of interest.  Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with financial interests in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations and they speak on behalf of their governments. Public records are sparse, journalists are rarely allowed at its meetings and if allowed are typically prohibited from quoting people by name. Thus, the IMO has repeatedly delayed and weakened regulations as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise and threaten to defeat the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

“Sometimes you cannot tell the difference. Is this actually the position of a nation or the position of the industry?” said David Paul, a Marshallese senator who attended an IMO meeting in 2018.

The organization has proposed a toothless GHG regulation that does not cut emissions, is unenforceable and leaves key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional rule is likely over the next five years.

Brazil and India have opposed setting emissions caps. China, home to four of the five busiest ports in the world, has insisted for years that it was too soon to set emissions targets. The Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera, publicly urged world leaders to make “more ambitious climate commitments,” while his diplomats in London worked to undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Shipping was omitted from the Paris agreement, so responsibility fell to the IMO which has standardized the rules since 1948. “They have gone out of their way to try to block or water down or discourage real conversation,” said Albon Ishoda, a Marshall Islands diplomat.

His tiny Pacific island nation initially benefited from commercial shipping and the industry’s hold on the agency. But with global warming and sea level rising, homes are washing away and the land will become uninhabitable in the coming decade if carbon concentration in the atmosphere isn’t rapidly reduced.

“My voice is coming from my ancestors, who saw the ocean as something that brought us wealth,” said Kitlang Kabua, the Marshallese minister who proposed a carbon tax that would penalize polluters. “Today we’re seeing it as something that will bring our ultimate death.”

Maybe things will change. The EU intends to include shipping in its emissions-trading system. The US, after years of being minor players at the agency, is re-engaging under Biden and suggested it may address shipping emissions itself.

At an IMO meeting last winter, the mere suggestion that shipping should become sustainable sparked an angry response. “Such statements show a lack of respect for the industry,” said Kostas G. Gkonis, the director of the trade group Intercargo.

More recently, delegates met in secret to debate what should constitute a passing grade for the dirtiest ships under a new rating system. China, Brazil and others set the bar so low that emissions can continue to rise at roughly the same rate as if there had been no regulation at all. Delegates will re-revisit the issue in five years.

Another obstacle to offshore wind development is the Jones Act. It blocks wind farm developers from using American ports to launch foreign construction vessels which is of enormous import. The US could push through more projects if it was willing to repeal the Jones Act’s protections for domestic shipbuilding, but that would undercut the president’s employment promises.

Europe has established a thriving complex of turbine manufacturing, construction ships and an experienced work force. That’s why the US could have to rely on European components, suppliers and ships for years.

Installing giant offshore wind turbines, the largest one, made by General Electric, is 853 feet high, requires enormous ships. Only a few ships can handle the biggest components, and none are US made.

Lloyd Eley, is a project manager at Dominion Energy overseeing the construction of two wind turbines off the Virginia coast. Because of the Jones Act, ships that travel from a US port to anywhere within the country, including its waters, must be made and registered in the US and owned and staffed by Americans.

The largest US-built ships designed for doing offshore construction work are far too small for the giant components that Mr. Eley’s team was working with. So, Dominion had to use three European ships and operated them out of the Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Eley’s crew waited weeks at a time for the European ships to travel more than 800 miles each way to port. The installations took a year. In Europe, it would have been completed in a few weeks. Without the Act, Dominion could have run European vessels out of Virginia’s ports. The law is untouchable in Congress as labor unions and other supporters argue that repealing it would eliminate thousands of jobs at shipyards and on boats.

Demand for large ships could grow significantly over the next decade because the US, Europe and China have ambitious offshore wind goals. Just eight ships in the world can transport the largest turbine parts, according to Dominion. Obviously, the US needs to build some big ships.

Dominion is spending $500 million on a big ship being built in Brownsville, Texas. The ship will be 472 feet long and able to lift 2,200 tons. It will be ready at the end of 2023. The company said the ship could enable it to install roughly 200 more turbines by 2026. Dominion spent $300 million on its first two turbines but hopes the others will cost $40 million each.

There are additional obstacles to constructing offshore turbines: fisheries. Those working the area planned for turbines worry it will harm their catch.

Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, which includes hundreds of fishing groups and companies, says “What they’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s take this thing we’ve really never done here, go all in, objectors be damned.’” “Coming from a fisheries perspective, we know there is going to be a massive-scale displacement. You can’t just go fish somewhere else.”

Fishing groups point to recent problems in Europe involving  Orsted, the world’s largest offshore wind developer which sought a court injunction to keep fishermen and their equipment out of an area of the North Sea set for new turbines so it could safely study the area.

Another obstacle is NIMBY (Not In My Backyard (where I can see it)). This defeated the Cape Wind project between Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Powerful opponents included Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and William I. Koch, a billionaire industrialist.

Energy executives want the Biden administration to mediate such conflicts and speed up permit approval. “It’s been artificially, incrementally slow because of some inefficiencies on the federal permitting side,” said David Hardy, chief executive of Orsted North America.

Renewable-energy supporters said they were hopeful because the country had added lots of wind turbines on land — 66,000 in 41 states. They supplied more than 8% of the country’s electricity last year.


The solar industry is booming but the US banned imports of some Chinese solar panel materials due to concerns over forced labor. A significant portion of the world’s polysilicon, which is used to make solar panels, comes from Xinjiang, where the US has accused China of committing genocide through its repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. As a result, US Customs and Border Protection has banned imports of silica-based products.

The Departments of Commerce and Labor have both banned trade with specific Chinese entities. Allegations of forced labor in the solar panel supply chain have created a dilemma for Biden. The administration wants to press China over human rights abuses, but it also wants to expand the use of clean energy sources like solar power in the US as it seeks to reduce carbon emissions.

China is the dominant global producer of the polysilicon products that are a key part of solar energy panels, and Xinjiang has over the past decade risen as the country’s main production base for the material. Xinjiang makes about 45% of the world’s polysilicon.

A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, said that Beijing could retaliate against the possible bans, though he did not specify what form that could take. Mr. Zhao said that the US wanted “turmoil in Xinjiang to contain China’s development.”

Some Republicans have begun to recognize the need to act on climate change. Representative John Curtis (R, Utah) announced the formation of the Conservative Climate Caucus, aimed at educating his party about global warming and developing policies to counter what the caucus terms “radical progressive climate proposals.” So far, 52 Republican House members have joined.

“Younger conservatives aren’t focused on the election being stolen or the cultural sound bites,” said Benji Backer, the president of the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative climate action group

“There is a recognition within the G.O.P. that if the party is going to be competitive in national elections, in purple states and purple districts, there needs to be some type of credible position on climate change,” said George David Banks, a former adviser to former President Trump and now a senior fellow at the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center, a centrist Washington think tank. Some Republicans realize it is now “a political liability” to dismiss or even avoid discussing climate change, he said.

On Capitol Hill, Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, plans to start a Republican task force on climate change.

The work in progress that is the infrastructure bill contains useful climate-related provisions including money for charging stations for electric cars, and for communities to fortify themselves against climate-related disasters.

The White House and top Democrats agreed in principle to a $3.5 trillion budget package that includes many of the important climate provisions that did not make it into the infrastructure bill. This too is a work in progress headed for a giant budget reconciliation bill which can be approved with only 51 votes, thus avoiding a Republican filibuster.

Two key climate provisions include billions in tax incentives for electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The other is a national clean electricity standard, a mandate requiring electric utilities to steadily reduce emissions. It is unclear what the standard will include. Moderates favor allowing utilities to use not only wind and solar but also nuclear power as well as carbon capture and sequestration, which strips off harmful GHGs and buries them in the ground. But climate activists reject both nuclear power, though it is carbon-free, and CCS fearing that it extends a lifeline to fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

Also, the EPA proposed regulating hydrofluorocarbons, man-made chemicals used in refrigeration and air-conditioners that are many times more potent than CO2 as a GHG. And, earlier this year, Congress reinstated an Obama-era rule to reduce emissions of methane, another powerful GHGs, from new drilling wells.  Biden plans to now have EPA write new rules requiring oil and gas companies to control methane leaks from existing drilling sites.

The administration likely will also reinstate Obama-era rules mandating reductions in tailpipe emissions of GHGs (vehicles are the largest source of GHG emissions in the US) and then work on even more ambitious rules to prompt automakers to convert to EVs.

The administration is also promoting “nature-based” adaptations to climate change, which preserve lands and help endangered species. Climate scientists have made clear that we cannot meet our climate targets without utilizing natural carbon absorption processes of forests, fields (vegetation and soils) and oceans (water and vegetation). Interior Secretary Deb Haaland stated as much at the global summit, “achieving net zero by 2050 will not be possible without nature.”

Consistent with that, Biden, in an America the Beautiful initiative, intends to align the US with more than 50 other countries that have pledged to preserve 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030. (Currently, about 12% percent of US land and 26% of its oceans are protected.) Biden then restored environmental protection for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, one of the world’s largest intact temperate rain forests that is home to a wide variety of wildlife and is a vital sink for CO2 emissions.