Not Doomed Yet: For Several Hours, the U.K. Glimpses a Coal-Free World

The island nation got none of its power from coal-fired power plants last week.

The Fiddlers Ferry coal-burning power station in northeastern England (Phil Noble / Reuters)

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Occasionally, the climate-friendlier future seems to peek in to our world. This week, it happened in the United Kingdom, whose coal-fired power plants generated no electricity for several multi-hour spans. As far as anyone can tell, it was the first time this happened since 1882, the year that the country constructed its first coal plant.

There were a complex set of causes. The U.K. just uses less power during the summer, so many coal plants go offline for maintenance. May, June, and July are also the best months for solar power in the northern latitudes, as electricity generation can start before people wake up and continue well through the evening. So this is a natural month for the milestone—yet it is a milestone nonetheless.

In the American context, you can check something like this on the website of California’s grid operator, which posts solar and wind output graphs every day. On Monday, renewable energy generated 30 percent of the state’s power.

It’s been a busy month for climate news, so let’s dive in.

The Macro-Trends

The atmosphere is filling with greenhouse gases. For the week beginning May 8, 2016, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured atmospheric carbon levels at 407.84 parts per million. Atmospheric CO₂ levels will soon peak for the year, as leafed-out vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere begins absorbing carbon.

Carbon-dioxide levels were measured at 403.83 ppm during the same week last year. Ten years ago, they were measured at 385.12 ppm.

Renewable energy continues to cheapen, as oil prices appear to climb after a long.

During Monday trading, oil prices hit a seven-month high, almost reaching $50 per barrel. The price of oil is now much less volatile than it was at the beginning of the year. Goldman Sachs has a chart of all the oil price shocks earlier this year, which is fairly interesting if you are fairly interested in these sorts of things.

American carbon emissions are at their lowest level since 1993, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have teamed up with prominent environmental nonprofits to make it easy for large corporations to buy renewable energy; they aim to add 60 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity to the grid by 2025.

And there were many small successes across the activist front:

The Obama administration is trying to implement the first major greenhouse-gas limiting regulations.

The Clean Power Plan case will now not be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. until September. The full judge panel of the D.C. Circuit will hear the case then, instead of the three judges who were scheduled to do so next month. In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration could not begin enforcing the regulations until it heard its case.

The EPA released the final version of regulations governing methane emissions from new fracking installations last week. It also began the process of regulating pre-existing fracking, which Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly pledged to start doing in March.

China is planning a cap-and-trade program to regulate carbon emissions.

China appears to have cancelled the construction of about 200 coal plants. “The total of 105 gigawatts of power those plants would have been able to produce is considerably more than the electricity-generating capacity of Britain from all sources,” reports The New York Times.

This week in the Earth system