New Scientist (paywall):

The three years since 2020 have been the driest in California in more than a century, with 35 per cent of the state under extreme drought conditions and more than 80 per cent under severe drought conditions by mid-December, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).

With the storms finished as of 19 January, no part of the state was under extreme drought and the portion under severe drought had shrunk in half, according to the NIDIS. Nearly all of the state remained under moderate drought conditions, however.

Jeanine Jones at the California Department of Water Resources says the NIDIS classification system is based on non-irrigated Midwestern agriculture so doesn’t accurately reflect California’s heavily managed water system or snowpack. But she says the storms have improved drought conditions, with total precipitation this year now up to 167 per cent of the annual average.

That water has brought the majority of the state’s major water supply reservoirs above average for this time of year, though these are kept around half full for flood control purposes during the current wet season. At three California reservoirs, managers are testing ways to rely on improved weather forecasts to safely store more water, says Jones.

The storms also left behind a mammoth snowpack already around a quarter larger than the average high point usually seen in April, though the amount of snow that will become runoff depends on a variety of factors such as the dryness of soil and the weather in 2023, says Jones.

Still, “from a surface water perspective, things are going to be good”, says Abatzoglou. “We’re not going to have a surface water drought this year in California.”

Things are more complicated when it comes to the state’s groundwater, which has seen huge losses from a combination of drought and a century of over-pumping. “One year, no matter how wet, is not going to recharge those groundwater basins,” says Jones.

There are numerous projects underway to capture more water from storms to recharge those aquifers, but even large-scale improvements probably won’t be enough to stop some farmland from being taken out of production to balance groundwater budgets, as has been mandated by the state, says Daniel Mountjoy at Sustainable Conservation, an environmental nonprofit in San Francisco.

And even with the recent deluge, California remains set to cut the water it gets from the Colorado river, which has been depleted to record low levels due to a megadrought in the US Southwest. Less affected by the atmospheric rivers, the Colorado river basin has still seen above average snow recently, but it is nowhere near enough to fill extremely low reservoirs along the river, says Jones. “That is literally the proverbial drop in the bucket.”

While rains and snow have helped California quite a bit, water levels are still critical in the Colorado River basin, which supports 40 million people in the Southwest.


Lake Mead’s water levels have continued to rise very slightly over the past week, but the projections for 2023 still look dire.

The reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River has water levels standing at 1,045.99 feet as of January 24. That’s a slight rise from the 1044.69 feet recorded at the beginning of January.

The increase is likely due to the weeks of heavy rainfall that swept across California and Nevada in recent weeks. The storms came during one of the severest droughts the region has ever seen, and since 2000, most of the western United States has suffered as a result.

Los Angeles Times:

The seven states that depend on the Colorado River have failed to meet a Tuesday deadline for agreeing on a water-use reduction plan, raising the likelihood of more friction as the West grapples with how to manage the shrinking river.

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Here in my Central Michigan area, (43 degrees north) we finally broke a spell of bare ground that stretched from right after a Christmas day snow melted almost immediately, when a decent 5 inches of powder finally fell on Saturday night.
It’s not unheard of to have bare ground in Michigan in January, but normally one would expect that ground to be frozen, and grass to be brown and dormant. The yard’s been squishy and green more like late march or early April for most of a month. Aside from some areas hit by gigantic Lake effect storms, it’s pretty widespread across the East.

I’ve not been able to find the word “climate” in this Wall Street Journal account of a record string of snowless days in New York City.

Wall Street Journal:

In New York, a mystery has captivated the city: Where is the snow?

It hasn’t snowed across New York City in 326 days, meteorologists say, dashing dreams of a white Christmas, sledding in the park or building a snowman.

The city broke the record on Sunday for the longest start to a winter without snow, according to the National Weather Service. The 1973 winter had set the record, when it didn’t snow until Jan. 29. The agency’s snowfall records date to 1869. 

New Yorkers typically dust off their snow boots by the middle of December, when the city often gets its first snowfall, according to the agency.

Instead of snow this winter, there has been plenty of rain and drizzles, forcing New Yorkers to swap their snow boots for umbrellas. Some residents have been anticipating their first flurries while others are looking forward to a cozy snow day.

Other East Coast cities are also setting records for snowless winters, including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., according to the National Weather Service.

Danielle Leong, 35 years old, has been waiting her whole life for what she called “the quintessential New York winter experience.” She moved to Brooklyn from California last year.

“I was excited for my first white Christmas and that did not happen,” said Ms. Leong, a vice president of engineering at a startup.

She said she hasn’t mailed out her Christmas cards yet because she is waiting to take pictures in the snow. As soon as it snows, she said she plans to run outside, jump around and make a snowball.

Meteorologists say there isn’t one particular reason why people like Ms. Leong haven’t seen any snow in New York this winter.

“We just haven’t been in a favorable pattern for it this year,” said James Tomasini, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New York. He added that last winter it snowed on Christmas Eve.

Below, the Detroit Free Press does discuss climate in the context of low ice cover on the Great Lakes.

Detroit Free Press:

Several days of frigid temperatures around Michigan didn’t put much of a dent into the record-warm Great Lakes.

The lakes collectively are only about 3% ice-covered, and scientists are forecasting a peak ice cover of only 12.3% this winter. That would be the lowest since 12% in the winter of 2002, which was the lowest ice year on the Great Lakes since record-keeping began in 1973.

“Now we’re back into a warmup after a few days of cooling. The lakes right now are wide open,” said Jia Wang, ice climatologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

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How the World Works Now

January 31, 2023

OK, it’s a tall order to draw a big audience to climate discussion. Maybe Kal can do it.

While Republicans wrestle with how to polish their public face on climate change, their operatives continue to sharpen attacks on anything that would mitigate fossil fuel power or dominance in the economy.

I’ve looked at the shift that big investment groups are making towards clean energy and climate-aware investing – and there is room to criticize the speed and scale of some of those actions, but for the fossil fuel interests, any deviation from total obeisance is intolerable, and must be punished. Now with congressional power, Big Oil will bring their dark money leg breakers to bear on those they consider disloyal.

Washington Post:

Bankrolled by mysterious donors, a little-known group named Consumers’ Research has emerged as a key player in the conservative crusade to prevent Wall Street from factoring climate change into its investment decisions.

On Dec. 1, the group joined 13 state attorneys general in calling for a federal regulatory agency to investigate Vanguard, one of the world’s three biggest financial asset managers. Consumers’ Research accused Vanguard of “meddling with [the] energy industry to achieve progressive political goals at the expense of market efficiency.”

Within days, Vanguard announced it was quitting a coalition called the Net Zero Asset Managers Alliance and shelved its own modest pledges to cut the amount of greenhouse gas emissions linked to companies in which it invests. Leaders of Consumers’ Research were surprised — and elated.

“I knew we had found something important,” said Will Hild, who became executive director of the organization in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit. “But I didn’t know Vanguard would just capitulate.”

Vanguard didn’t put it that way. In a statement, it affirmed its commitment to “helping our investors navigate the risks that climate change can pose to their long-term returns,” despite leaving the business coalition.

Even so, Hild’s group and other opponents of “woke capitalism” are feeling emboldened now that Republicans control the House of Representatives. They see themselves as part of a political alliance that can scrutinize and possibly derail the environmental, social and governance — or ESG — goals of corporations and the Biden administration.

Some big Wall Street firms — most notably BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard and Fidelity Investments — have publicly embraced sustainable investing, partly because of investor demands and pressure on businesses to speed up climate measures.

But Republicans have promised to reverse what Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr (R) called a “cancer on our capital markets.” In mid-December, Barr and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) introduced legislation to nullify a Labor Department regulation that allows ESG strategies to be used in retirement plans. In addition, Barr and Rep. Bill Huizenga, (R-Mich.) hope to revive legislation they introduced in December that would block the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their climate risk.

These activists hope that House leaders will haul corporate executives before Congress to defend their ESG practices. The hearings will examine how many financial asset managers have used their large shareholdings to pressure other companies to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, improve sustainability or bolster corporate governance.

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This one’s in circulation again, thanks to this week’s episode of “The Last of Us”.

Love will abide, take things in stride
Sounds like good advice but there’s no one at my side 
And time washes clean love’s wounds unseen
That’s what someone told me but I don’t know what it means

‘Cause I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine
And I think I’m gonna love you for a long long time

Caught in my fears
Blinking back the tears
I can’t say you hurt me when you never let me near
And I never drew one response from you
All the while you fell all over girls you never knew
‘Cause I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine
And I think it’s gonna hurt me for a long long time 

Wait for the day 
You’ll go away
Knowing that you warned me of the price I’d have to pay
And life’s full of flaws
Who knows the cause? 
Living in the memory of a love that never was 
‘Cause I’ve done everything I know to try and change your mind
And I think I’m gonna miss you for a long long time
‘Cause I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine 
And I think I’m gonna love you for a long long time

Pro Tip: If you can’t say the word, you probably can’t deal with the problem.

Washington Times:

A group of conservative energy and environmental organizations want House Republicans to make good on their agenda to address climate change and rising energy costs.

American Conservation Coalition Action led 33 groups in a letter urging GOP leadership that they expect the House to pass bills that address a warming planet and boost domestic energy production that they say has been stifled under the Biden administration.

“The climate is changing, and Americans of all backgrounds want effective, commonsense solutions,” the groups wrote. “We look forward to your leadership in streamlining onerous regulations holding back all energy development, encouraging clean energy innovation, bolstering domestic supply chains, and unleashing the power of American energy producers to compete on the world stage against the likes of China and Russia.”

The advocacy comes amid a new focus on energy in the House, where GOP lawmakers have launched a six-pillar agenda that it brands as pragmatic solutions with the potential to garner bipartisan support. Those themes include increasing domestic energy production of all forms; slashing environmental red tape for renewable and fossil fuel projects; achieving energy independence; critical minerals development and exporting more liquefied natural gas; conserving the environment; and fortifying communities against natural disasters.

But the plan’s inclusion of more oil and natural gas drilling is a non-starter for Democrats and green activists.

The push from the conservative climate and energy groups follows the passage of two energy bills during Republicans’ first weeks in the majority. Both bills pertain to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. One would prevent future sales from the stockpile going to China, and the other would curb some of the president’s authority over non-emergency releases from the SPR.

“The American people want a cleaner environment and lower energy costs. House Republicans can deliver both through smart legislation,” said American Conservation Coalition Action’s Christopher Barnard. “The 118th Congress is a prime opportunity to pass common-sense energy and environmental policy.”

E&E News:

House Republicans say they have a climate plan, even if they aren’t officially using the word “climate” to describe it.

In the coming months, Republicans intend to vote on a series of bills taking aim at existing federal regulations the GOP believes is stifling domestic clean energy production and innovation, a leadership aide aware of the party’s climate strategy told E&E News.

The centerpiece of the broad legislative package will be an overhaul of the nation’s energy project permitting system which will at its core take aim at the National Environmental Policy Act — a bedrock environmental protection law sacrosanct to many Democrats.

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These news items are not unrelated.

Radio Free Europe:

What You Need To Know: The decision last week by Germany — not only to allow other countries to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine but also to provide Kyiv with its own Leopards — is significant, not only for the Ukrainian war effort, but also for the credibility of organizations such as the European Union and NATO.

Atlantic Council:

Vladimir Putin expected to use gas exports this winter to blackmail Europe and weaken Western support for Ukraine. Instead, this tactic appears to have backfired disastrously and critically undermined Russia’s position on European energy markets.

In September 2022, I anticipated that Putin’s plan to cut gas supplies to Europe and leave consumers to freeze would fail. With the cold season now almost over, this prediction has so far turned out to be correct. Contrary to the Kremlin’s expectations, Western consumers not only stayed warm in their homes; many European companies have actually been turning to Ukraine to place surplus gas volumes in local storage facilities.

Admittedly, Europe has been lucky. Demand and supply have been balanced because consumption remained muted thanks to unseasonably mild temperatures and falling industrial demand. Meanwhile, there have been sufficient alternative deliveries of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the global market amid a lack of competition from China, which has been struggling with the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.

Much was also due to the resilience of European markets, which responded promptly to Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to a trickle in 2022, forcing gas prices to reach record levels. Far from breaking Europe’s resolve, Putin’s energy war against the EU has shocked the bloc into fast-tracking its energy transition, completing projects which had been long overdue or forgotten and seeking alternative supplies to plug the gaping Russian shortfall.

With Russia’s share of European imports plummeting from 40% to less than 10% towards the end of 2022, European companies turned to global LNG markets, sourcing 96.3 million tons in 2022, up from 56.3 million tons the year before. Thanks to a raft of policies mandating storage targets, most underground facilities reached 90% fullness or higher by the start of the heating season on October 1, overshooting the target by ten percentage points. This means that as winter comes to an end, storage facilities remain at some of their highest levels and gas prices have fallen to a 16-month low.

There are still lingering risks. An unexpected cold snap later in February or the early weeks of spring, a steep recovery in Chinese demand, or the possibility of a major escalation in Ukraine could spook markets and lead to more volatility or price spikes. Despite these potential threats, European energy markets are now clearly better prepared to absorb potential shocks.

Europe has been working to expand its LNG importing capacity, which is set to increase by no less than 20% this year. Undoubtedly, much will also depend on the availability of LNG supplies globally. However, the fact that Germany managed to commission three LNG terminals within less than a year to replace lost Russian pipeline imports points to the extraordinary ability of European markets to respond in the face of formidable challenges.

Projects that have been long delayed or forgotten have not only been resurrected but also promptly completed. For example, after many years of hesitation, Bulgaria managed to bring an interconnector with Greece into commercial operation that allows the Bulgarians to tap alternative Caspian gas and LNG. Meanwhile, Germany and France established bidirectional gas flows, which will allow not only Germany to export gas to France, but also to import from this direction. Even Romania, which had long been averse to exporting domestically produced gas, has seen some volumes shipped physically to neighbouring Bulgaria.

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Refined tellurium – AP Photo


The world has enough rare earth minerals and other critical raw materials to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy to produce electricity and limit global warming, according to a new study that counters concerns about the supply of such minerals.

With a push to get more electricity from solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants, some people have worried that there won’t be enough key minerals to make the decarbonization switch. 

Rare earth minerals, also called rare earth elements, actually aren’t that rare. The U.S. Geological Survey describes them as a “relatively abundant.” They’re essential for the strong magnets necessary for wind turbines; they also show up in smartphones, computer displays and LED light bulbs. This new study looks at not only those elements but 17 different raw materials required to make electricity that include some downright common resources such as steel, cement and glass.

A team of scientists looked at the materials — many not often mined heavily in the past — and 20 different power sources. They calculated supplies and pollution from mining if green power surged to meet global goals to cut heat-trapping carbon emissions from fossil fuel.

Much more mining is needed, but there are enough minerals to go around and drilling for them will not significantly worsen warming, the study in Friday’s scientific journal Joule concluded.

“Decarbonization is going to be big and messy, but at the same time we can do it,” said study co-author Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the tech company Stripe and Berkeley Earth. “I’m not worried we’re going to run out of these materials.”

Much of the global concern about raw materials for decarbonization has to do with batteries and transportation, especially electric cars that rely on lithium for batteries. This study doesn’t look at that.

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 BWRX-300 Small Modular Reactor (SMR)

There are a large number of advanced reactor designs currently in development. None in the western world, so far as I know, that will be in service before the 2030s.
China is moving on a small, experimental Thorium reactor, which will be a test bed for the technology. (below the jump)

Most important take-away is that the “pro-nuclear” and “anti-nuclear” labels are meaningless, and have been for a long time. What has held nuclear back has been the industry’s own failures to learn from mistakes, resulting in economic boondoggles like the current Vogtle plant in Georgia – which may, after 18 years, horrendous delays and cost overruns, and a major bankruptcy, be ready to start producing power, or not – see at bottom.
Point is, I hear people talk about nuclear as if it is a current live option for deployment as we shut down aged coal, (and some nuclear) plants, as if we could just go to the nuclear plant store and buy a nuclear plant. That’s not an option, and won’t be until well into the 2030s, and we need zero carbon power today. Yesterday, in fact.
Immediate need is to permit solar and wind energy as rapidly as possible.
Fingers crossed and hope for the best with these new technologies, but we have stuff that works now. Let’s get on with it.

General Electric:

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), Ontario Power Generation (OPG), SNC-Lavalin and Aecon have signed a contract for the deployment of a BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) at OPG’s Darlington New Nuclear Project site. This is the first commercial contract for a grid-scale SMR in North America.

“This contract is an important milestone and solidifies our position as the leading SMR technology provider,” said GEH President and CEO Jay Wileman. “We aim to deliver the first SMR in North America and, in doing so, lead the start of a new era of nuclear power that will provide zero-emission energy generation, energy security and energy reliability around the globe. We can’t express our appreciation enough for the leadership role that OPG and the Province of Ontario are taking for a project that will benefit Ontario, Canada and the world.

Here, a GE executive expresses confidence that nuclear electricity at a cost of $60 MW/hr is “achievable”.

Meanwhile, Georgia Public Service Commission estimates the Levelized Cost of Electricity from solar with storage at $30 MW/hr, (and falling).

Here, another addition to my collection of cool renderings of advanced nuclear plant kitsch, as well as an update on another approach.

Will Lockett:

When I say nuclear power is expensive and slow, I really mean it. Take the 3.2 GW Sizewell C nuclear plant being built in Britain. It is predicted to take 12 years to construct, but its actual date of arrival could easily surpass that. Plus, the total price to build the plant is estimated at up to £30 billion ($36 billion), which is monstrous!

Imagine trying to pitch this build to an energy company. It will cost tens of billions up front and won’t produce energy for over a decade. Meanwhile, solar farms and wind turbines cost a good chuck less and can be built in three to five years. No wonder nuclear power is falling out of favour.

But this is where Holtec’s SMR-160 comes in.

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