Thursday, December 09, 2021

Biden signs executive order to make federal government carbon neutral by 2050: Will spend billions on fleet of electric vehicles and upgrade buildings

President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order putting the United States government on a path toward being carbon neutral by 2050.

The order would leverage the government's buying power to spend billions of dollars cutting carbon emissions by 65 percent by 2030, among other reforms to make the federal vehicle fleet and government-owned properties more energy efficient.

'As the single largest land owner, energy consumer, and employer in the Nation, the Federal Government can catalyze private sector investment and expand the economy and American industry by transforming how we build, buy, and manage electricity, vehicles, buildings, and other operations to be clean and sustainable,' Biden stated in his executive order memorandum.

It expands on an executive order signed by former President Barack Obama in 2015 that set a goal of cutting the federal government's carbon emissions by 40 percent over a decade.

The order directs that government buildings use 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030; that the U.S. fleet of cars and trucks become all-electric by 2035; and that federal contracts for goods and services be carbon-free by 2050.

The federal government's portfolio includes roughly 600,000 vehicles and 300,000 leased or owned properties.

By 2027: All 'light duty' government vehicles to be electric

By 2032: Half of all US facilities and properties to have net-zero emissions

By 2030: Slash government's greenhouse gas emissions by 65%; 100% carbon-pollution free electricity

By 2035: 100% of federally-owned vehicles to be electric; Entire US electricity sector to be carbon-free

By 2045: All 300,000 leased or owned federal properties to have net-zero emissions

By 2050: Net-zero emissions from all federal operations including contracts for goods and services

To help generate locally-sourced clean electricity, Biden ordered federal agencies to use their existing property assets - roofs, parking garages, extra land - as space to build renewable energy sources.

The executive order also appears to account for delays in EV rollout caused by computer chip shortages, the time it takes to install more charging stations and creation of specialized government vehicles - Biden calls for the US government to stop buying passenger cars that run on gas by 2027 but gives the entire federal vehicle fleet eight more years to catch up.

Money could also cause some delay - while Biden allocated $7.5 billion toward expanding electric vehicle infrastructure in his $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill last month, federal agencies will have to figure out how to maneuver their budgets for the rest.

And with negotiations between the government and prospective sellers sure to move slowly, Biden runs the risk of spending federal dollars on technology that will be obsolete by the time a deal is completed.

The White House said the order shows how the government will 'leverage its scale and procurement power to lead by example in tackling the climate crisis.'

'It doesn't tell the private sector entities what to do, but to some extent it will demand a certain kind of good and service so companies can shift what's being made,' Duke University Law Professor Sarah Bloom Raskin explained to the Washington Post.

Biden is also ordering the government to drastically overhaul the 300,000 properties owned or leased by Washington and make them carbon-neutral by 2045.

That includes a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2032.

The government would renovate existing buildings to increase water and energy efficiency, reduce waste and work to find sustainable locations for all future federally owned and managed properties 'to strengthen the vitality and livability of the communities in which federal facilities are located,' the White House stated.

The president also directed the White House Council on Environmental Quality to create the first-ever federal standard to ensure both old and new properties are on a path toward carbon neutrality.

For new buildings, the government would begin weighing them against a Buy Clean standard to encourage green construction.

The executive action is a part of Biden's commitment to support the growth of clean energy and clean technology industries, while accelerating US progress toward achieving a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035, the White House said.

'The United States government will lead by example to provide a strong foundation for American businesses to compete and win globally in the clean energy economy while creating well-paying, union jobs at home,' the White House said in a statement.


Fossil Fuel Restriction Dam Starting To Break

Somewhere a couple of decades or so ago, the rich parts of the world embarked on a program of replacing energy from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) with energy from intermittent “renewables” (mainly wind and solar). In trendy academic, journalistic, and otherwise progressive circles, the idea took hold that this was the way to “save the planet.” This program was undertaken without any detailed engineering study of how or whether it might actually work, or how much it might cost to fully implement. In the trendy circles, there took hold a blind faith in the complete ability of the government, by dispensing taxpayer funds, to order up whatever innovation might be needed to move us forward to this energy utopia.

The latest UN-orchestrated effort to implement the renewable energy program, known as COP 26, has just broken up. To read the verbiage emanating from the affair, all is on track, if a bit slower than one might have hoped.

But I have long predicted that this program would come to an end when (absent some miraculous innovation that nobody has yet conceived) the usage of the renewables got to a sufficient level that their costs and unworkability could not be covered up any longer. Until very recently the pressure of elite groupthink has been able to maintain a united front of lip service to the cause. But consider a few developments from the past few weeks, just since the end of COP 26:


Japan tends to keep its head down in international affairs, and at COP 26 signed on to the happy talk group communiqués without raising any particular issues. But there is no getting around that Japan has the third largest economy in the world — after the U.S. and China, and larger than any European country — so its actions in energy policy are inherently significant. Also, Japan has relatively little energy production of its own, is heavily dependent on imports, has harsh winters, and has a growing Chinese military and economic threat right on its doorstep. Is Japan really going to trust its fate to intermittent wind and solar energy?

On December 1 Bloomberg reported: “Japan Is Backing Oil and Gas Even After COP26 Climate Talks.” It seems that this rather significant country may be seriously re-thinking the move away from fossil fuels. Excerpt:

Government officials have been quietly urging trading houses, refiners and utilities to slow down their move away from fossil fuels, and even encouraging new investments in oil-and-gas projects, according to people within the Japanese government and industry, who requested anonymity as the talks are private.

What is motivating Japan to break from the world groupthink? According to the Bloomberg piece, the main motivator is security of energy supply — which wind and solar obviously cannot provide:

The officials are concerned about the long-term supply of traditional fuels as the world doubles down on renewable energy, the people said. The import-dependent nation wants to avoid a potential shortage of fuel this winter, as well as during future cold spells, after a deficit last year sparked fears of nationwide blackouts. . . . Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry declined to comment directly on whether it is encouraging industries to boost investment in upstream energy supply, and instead pointed to a strategic energy plan approved by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet on October 22. That plan says “no compromise is acceptable to ensure energy security, and it is the obligation of a nation to continue securing necessary resources.”

Well, if “no compromise is acceptable” on “energy security,” that pretty much rules out principal reliance on wind and solar for powering the Japanese economy, at least until some magical new inventions come along.

United States

In the U.S., Republicans have only very gradually caught on to the idea that fossil fuel restrictions in the name of “climate” are becoming a political liability for the Democrats. Up to now, there have been some politicians willing to speak out in opposition to such restrictions, but little in the way of concrete steps taken in opposition. Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to move forward with initiatives at the SEC, Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to pressure banks and other financial institutions to reduce their participation in the fossil fuel industries.

So this is a big development: On November 22, a coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to large financial institutions threatening to end relationships, including the deposit of state and pension funds, with institutions that cut off financing for the coal, oil and natural gas industries. National Review reports in a November 22 piece headlined “Fifteen States Respond to ‘Woke Capitalism,’ Threaten to Cut Off Banks That Refuse to Service Coal, Oil Industries.” Excerpt:

A coalition of financial officers from 15 states sent a letter to the U.S. banking industry on Monday warning they plan to take “collective action” against banks that adopt corporate policies to cut off financing for the coal, oil, and natural gas industries. . . . The letter puts the financial institutions that have “adopted policies aimed at diminishing a large portion of our states’ revenue” on notice, saying the banks have “a major conflict of interest against holding, maintaining, or managing those funds.”

According to the NR piece, the state treasurers signing on to the letter include those from West Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Alabama, Texas and Kentucky. Recipients of the letter included JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs. Between the states’ own accounts and their pension funds, the amounts at issue would be well into the multiple hundreds of billions of dollars, if not approaching a trillion.

Meanwhile, over in Europe . . .

Another Bloomberg piece, this one from November 28, describes the sense of impending doom hanging over Europe with the combination of low natural gas supplies, price spikes, and complete inability to coax more production out of proliferating and essentially useless wind and solar generators. The headline is “Europe’s energy crisis is about to get worse as winter arrives.” Excerpt:

The situation is already so dire this early in the winter season because of a blistering rally in natural gas prices. Stores of the fuel, used to heat homes and to generate electricity, are lower than usual and are being depleted quickly. Analysts have warned that gas stores could drop to zero this winter if cold weather boosts demand. Rolling blackouts are a possibility, warned Jeremy Weir, chief executive officer of Trafigura Group, a Swiss commodity trading house on Nov. 16.

And then there’s this comment:

“If the weather gets cold in Europe there’s not going to be an easy supply solution, it’s going to need a demand solution,” said Adam Lewis, partner at trading house Hartree Partners LP.

I think that a “demand solution” means some combination of either blackouts or intentionally cutting people off and, I guess, leaving them to freeze. The “supply solution” mentioned by Lewis would be allowing fracking in the extensive shale formations underlying Western Europe. Such fracking is currently banned. Even if those bans were lifted today, it would be way too late for this winter.

Predicting the date when the Europeans will wake up to their ridiculous energy folly is a lot like predicting the date of the demise of the regimes in North Korea or Venezuela. You know that it has to happen eventually, but this can go on for a long time. But enough blackouts and heat cutoffs could turn things around fairly quickly.


Recent European droughts are not unprecedented, new study finds

The 2003 European heatwave and drought has a special place in the history of the study of our changing climate. It was the first event that scientists attributed to human-induced climate change. A paper by Stott et al published in Nature concluded, “Human influence has at least doubled the risk of a regional heatwave like the European Summer of 2003.” This was later strengthened and the event was said to be directly caused by humans.

Alongside the increasing attribution of such events to human-influence has been the assertion that the incidence of droughts is on the rise, along with their human toll. Looking back at 2004 Peter Stott of the UK Met Office has written that at that time “heatwaves, floods and droughts were on the rise.

This was a view that was at odds with the science, in 2004 and for many years afterwards. In 2013 the IPCC AR5 report said there was low confidence that droughts had increased. But by AR6, just eight years later, the situation had changed. AR6 said that there was now medium confidence that droughts had increased, but then it goes on to say, “there is low confidence that human influence has affected meteorological droughts in most regions but medium confidence that they have contributed to the severity of some specific events. It add that there is medium confidence that human-induced climate change has contributed to increasing trends in the probability or intensity of recent agricultural and ecological droughts.” So, AR6 has a set of contradictory stances.

Some, however, exhibit no such equivocation. In the epilogue to his book “Hot Air,” Peter Stott says, “The global toll from floods, droughts and heatwaves continues to rise at a startling rate, their increasing intensity attributable, our research shows, to human-induced climate change.”

Europe in the 21st Century has experienced a series of long-lasting dry and hot summers. Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) was also considered the culprit behind a heatwave and drought in Russia in 2010, and again in Europe in 2013, 2015 and 2018. There is no doubt, according to a group of scientists studying the attribution of such weather events to AGW, that they are unusual enough to have been the specific result of AGW. The website Carbon Brief labelled recent droughts as unprecedented.

But are they? Writing in the journal Nature Monica Ionita from the Alfred Wegner Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany. Along with colleagues from the Faculty of Physics, Bucharest University, the Faculty of Forestry, Ștefan cel Mare University, Suceava, Romania, and Bremen University ask if the data is really good enough to determine if these recent events are all that unusual. They use several independent datasets, observations, paleo data reanalysis, historical evidence and climate/weather proxies, to gather a picture of changes over the past thousand years or so.

Droughts in the past thousand years.

They find that between 1901 -2012 the driest years in Europe were 1921 and 1976 and in the past thousand years they were 1102, 1503, 1865 and 1921. During the past millennium there were two megadroughts in Central Europe, in 1400-1480 and 1770-1840.

They conclude that when placed into a long-term context recent drought events are within the range of natural variability and they are not unprecedented over the last millennium. Their conclusion that recent drought events are nothing unusual stands on its own, the researchers however go further and consider their climatic influences. They note that the two megadroughts appear to be linked with a cold state of the North Atlantic Ocean and increased frontal blocking activity over the British Isles and the western part of Europe. They also note that they are also coincident with the Sporer and Dalton minima of solar activity.

The researchers add that future climate projections indicate that Europe will face substantial drying, even for the least aggressive emission pathways scenarios. They say that although the greenhouse gases and their associate global warming will contribute to future drought risk their study indicates that future drought variations will also be strongly influenced by natural variations. In particular a possible decrease in total solar irradiance over the next few decades and its concomitant effects on the earth could result in a higher frequency of drought events in central Europe, which could add to the drying induced by AGW. They recommend further work on how the combined effect of natural and anthropogenic factors will shape the drought magnitude and frequency.

The conclusions of this research should be considered alongside claims about droughts made by some scientists involved in climate attribution studies. Some will dismiss it as being “just one paper,” but that would be unscientific. Perhaps we don’t appreciate just how variable climate is or consider too short a timescale when deciding that heatwaves, floods and droughts are on the rise?

There are statistical and philosophical questions surrounding the process of climate attribution. How does one assess what would have happened in the absence of rising greenhouse gas influence? How does one compare our planet today, with a hypothetical planet B? It’s an approach enthusiastically supported by some but not by everyone. At the recent GWPF annual lecture Professor Steven Koonin of New York University said climate attribution studies were the scientific equivalent of being told you had won the lottery, after you had won the lottery.


Energy poverty in Europe is linked to expensive renewables

With the recent rise in the price of natural gas in Europe to five times where it was in early 2021, expect to see many more Europeans and those in United Kingdom plunged into what’s known as “energy poverty.”

From Greece to Great Britain and everywhere in between, the European electricity grid has increasingly been delinked from reliable affordable fossil fuels and hooked up to more expensive and intermittent wind and solar projects.

One result is Europeans pay twice for generated electricity: once for the existing sunk costs of existing fossil fuel (and nuclear in some countries) projects and again for renewable-based electricity projects. Another result is when wind and solar are not available, multiple nations in Europe and elsewhere are chasing the same available oil, natural gas and coal, pushing those fuel prices dramatically higher.

Stephen Bouzarovski, a University of Manchester professor and chair of an energy poverty working group, estimated pre-pandemic, 80 million Europeans were already struggling to adequately heat their homes. Meanwhile, at least 12 million European households were in arrears on their utility bills.

The European Union attempted to provide an objective measurement of the problem, but its best data is six years old. The EU Energy Poverty Observatory’s most recent estimate from 2015 showed 16% of EU consumers faced a “high” share of energy costs. “High” was defined as the proportion of European households whose energy expenditures relative to income was more than twice the national median share (of energy expenditures relative to income).

To get a better sense of the challenge faced by European households and energy poverty, we used 2008 as a start year and then compared the rise in household median incomes (with the full set of data ending in 2019) with the rise in electricity prices (ending in 2020) in 30 European countries.

We found for lower-income European countries that have seen strong growth in incomes since 2008 (mainly ex-communist states such as Estonia, Bulgaria and Poland as examples), most such states could handle the rise in power prices because median incomes rose faster.

This was not the case in mature countries where median incomes were already relatively high in 2008, but barely grew in the ensuing years, this while power prices zoomed up. For example, electricity prices jumped by 61% in France between 2008 and 2020 with median household income rising by just 19% (using 2019 as our end date given the limited data). The United Kingdom and Ireland saw a 51% and 48% rise in electricity prices in that period while incomes rose by just 14% and 11% respectively.

Worst off was Spain, where median household income was below more prosperous European states in 2008 (at €13,963 that year) and has barely grown since (to just €15,015 in 2019). Median household income thus rose by just 8% in the years available for comparison but electricity prices soared by 68%.

The response of some European governments to this has been to subsidize utility bills. But as with Ontario which does the same to mask the expense of past government policy which drove the province’s electricity prices dramatically higher, all that does is shift the burden of high power costs from the “consumer pocket” to the “taxpayer pocket.” Of course, it’s the same household that bears the cost, or their children and grandchildren if present-day utility bills are subsidized through government borrowing.

The source of high-cost electricity can be found in European Union and United Kingdom policy. Governments there have attempted to “transition” from fossil fuels despite their superior energy density (their “power punch” as Vaclav Smil, retired environment professor at the University of Manitoba characterizes it) vis-à-vis renewables.

The result can be seen in the declining share of fossil fuels in EU electricity production from about 50% in 2000 to 38% as of 2019, with nuclear-generated electricity also discouraged and declining from 32% in 2000 to just over 26% in 2019.

Meanwhile, renewables as a share of EU electricity production more than doubled, from just over 16% in 2000 to over 34% in 2019. That would be fine, except solar and wind are not inexpensive. They are also not as reliable as fossil fuels, something Brits just noticed again when wind power dropped and coal was again used to prop up that country’s electricity grid.




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