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Climate

What to Know About the Rare Severe Solar Storm Watch

On mass coronal ejections, China tariffs, and the Panama Canal

What to Know About the Rare Severe Solar Storm Watch
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Central Florida could see severe storms today • The cicadas are out in St. Louis • Kenya’s president declared today a public holiday to mourn the 238 people who have died in recent flooding.

THE TOP FIVE

1. NOAA issues rare severe solar storm watch

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a rare “severe geomagnetic storm watch” due to intense explosions on the sun that are spewing solar material toward Earth. This week a “large sunspot cluster” that’s about 16 times the diameter of Earth has produced at least five mass coronal ejections, huge bursts of plasma and magnetic fields that can damage satellites and disrupt electrical grids. They will start to hit Earth today and could continue to do so through the weekend. NOAA is advising operators of satellites and grids to prepare. On the plus side, the event could mean people as far south as Alabama will be able to see the Northern Lights.

NOAA

NOAA

2. Biden slated to announce China tariffs on EVs and other tech

Looking ahead to next week: On Tuesday, President Biden is expected to announce new China tariffs targeting “strategic sectors” including electric vehicles, batteries, and solar cells, according toBloomberg. Existing levies will remain in place. Biden wants to “contrast his approach” with that of former President Trump heading into the November election, Reutersadded. Trump has proposed sweeping tariff hikes on China that some analysts say would boost inflation. But both candidates no doubt want to be seen as tough on China, which largely dominates in global EV sales and is a major producer of cheap solar and battery tech. The Biden administration is worried “that Chinese dominance of the global market for these essential technologies would harm the U.S. economy and national security,” as Somini Sengupta explained for The New York Times.

Earlier this week, climate envoy John Podesta sat down with his Chinese counterpart Liu Zhenmin to discuss climate issues ahead of COP29 later this year. No word yet about what came out of those talks…

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  • 3. Trump reportedly asked Big Oil execs for $1 billion to boost his presidential campaign

    And speaking of Trump, a bombshell Washington Postreport details the goings on at a Mar-a-Lago dinner where the former president rubbed shoulders with oil executives and lobbyists last month. Unnamed sources say Trump told the wealthy attendees to raise $1 billion to help him take back the White House, and in return, he promised to:

    • reverse the pause on LNG export terminal permits on “the first day”
    • increase auctions for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and green light Alaskan oil drilling
    • ditch emissions targets for car manufacturers that are projected to spur on the EV transition

    Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa told the Post that “Donald Trump is selling out working families to Big Oil for campaign checks. It’s that simple.”

    Heatmap’s Jeva Lange reported recently on how allies of Big Oil pumped more than $6.4 million into Trump’s joint fundraising committee in just the first three months of 2024 — on pace to surpass the $6.9 million the industry contributed in all of 2023.

    4. LNG producers push for priority in Panama Canal as drought eases

    Water levels are rising in the lake that supplies the Panama Canal, and authorities say they expect the passage to be back to its full operating capacity by early 2025. The canal is one of the world’s biggest shipping routes, moving some $270 billion worth of cargo every year. But a record prolonged drought in the region has reduced the number of daily crossings over the last year or so. Increased rainfall means the drought is beginning to ease, and authorities will start slowly permitting more traffic over the coming months.

    As Reutersreported, U.S. liquified natural gas exporters are jostling for some of those additional slots, and the canal’s administrator Ricaurte Vasquez is exploring how to reasonably accommodate them. “They have very big aspirations in which they would like to have a canal dedicated to them,” Vasquez said, “but that is not possible, since this is a canal that should be open to every type of commerce internationally.”

    The canal authorities have been exploring ways to safeguard against future droughts brought by a warming climate. One suggestion involves creating a “dry canal” that would move cargo using existing infrastructure like roadways, railways, and ports. The president-elect Jose Raul Mulino this week said he would speed up permitting for building new water reservoirs by 2030.

    5. Atmospheric CO2 concentration sees record jump

    The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere jumped in March, marking the biggest year-over-year increase ever recorded. According to UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the global average concentration of CO2 in March was 4.7 parts per million (ppm) higher than in March last year, which is a greater leap than the previous highest increase of 4.1 ppm recorded in 2016. “We sadly continue to break records in the CO2 rise rate,” said Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 program at the institute. “The ultimate reason is continued global growth in the consumption of fossil fuels.”

    The unusual jump is due partly to the El Niño event and an “unusual dip” in March 2023. But the records show that the rate of growth is generally increasing as we continue to burn fossil fuels. Keeling added that a very high growth rate could continue for several more months. “This recent surge shows how far we still need to go to stabilize the climate system,” he said. “Stabilization will require that CO2 levels start to fall. Instead, CO2 is rising faster than ever.” Back in 2022, NOAA confirmed that modern CO2 concentration levels match those not seen since 4 million years ago, when “sea levels were between 5 and 25 meters higher than today, high enough to drown many of the world’s largest modern cities.”

    THE KICKER

    “Now that I’ve seen a glimpse of what’s going on in China, the Western manufacturers, particularly the American ones, don’t seem like they’re trying at all.”Kevin Williams writing for Inside EVs about his trip to the Beijing Auto Show, where he realized just how advanced China’s EVs really are.

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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Bitcoin becoming the sun.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Categorizing Crusoe Energy is not easy. The startup is a Bitcoin miner and data center operator. It’s a “high-performance” and “carbon-negative” cloud platform provider. It’s a darling of the clean tech world that’s raised nearly $750 million in funding. The company has historically powered its operations with natural gas, but its overall business model actually reduces emissions. Confused yet?

    Here are the basics. The company was founded in 2018 to address the problem of natural gas flaring. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil extraction, and if oil field operators have no economical use case for the gas or are unable to transfer it elsewhere, it’s often simply burned. If you, like me, have spent time sourcing stock images of air pollution, you’ve probably seen the pictures of giant flames coming out of tall smokestacks near oil pump jacks and other drilling infrastructure. That’s what flaring natural gas looks like, and it is indeed terrible for the environment. That’s largely because the process fails to fully combust methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.

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    Climate

    AM Briefing: Displacement Fears

    On the Biden administration’s carbon removal investments, the climate refugees of Brazil, and more

    Wednesday sunrise.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

    The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

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    Technology

    Carbon Removal’s Stamp of Approval

    The Department of Energy is advancing 24 companies in its purchase prize contest. What these companies are getting is more important than $50,000.

    Heirloom DAC.
    Heatmap Illustration/Heirloom Carbon

    The Department of Energy is advancing its first-of-a-kind program to stimulate demand for carbon removal by becoming a major buyer. On Tuesday, the agency awarded $50,000 to each of 24 semifinalist companies competing to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere on behalf of the U.S. government. It will eventually spend $30 million to buy carbon removal credits from up to 10 winners.

    The nascent carbon removal industry is desperate for customers. At a conference held in New York City last week called Carbon Unbound, startup CEOs brainstormed how to convince more companies to buy carbon removal as part of their sustainability strategies. On the sidelines, attendees lamented to me that there were hardly even any potential buyers at the conference — what a missed opportunity.

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