August 15 2021

August 15 2021

climate scientists to humanity: time’s up!, extreme weather events everywhere, Chicago struggles as the level of Lake Michigan keeps changing, helping abalone populations recover… from fire?, DHL orders all-electric cargo planes

The Guardian has several articles describing the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is a stark warning to humanity. Carbon dioxide levels in the air are now at their highest point in at least two million years, altering the energy balance of the earth and disrupting the climate that gave rise to human civilization. The climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities and is already affecting every corner of the planet’s land, air and sea. If we do not take immediate and sustained action to reduce (and soon eliminate) fossil-fuel burning, all of the impacts will get more severe, costly and dangerous. As Washington Post columnist, Eugene Robinson, puts it, "We’re out of time." The New York Times summarizes the report’s findings: "Nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, though there is still a short window to prevent the most harrowing future."

Meanwhile in the Washington Post, George Will wrote a contrarian op-ed about climate change, in which his sole source of information is the recent book by Stephen Koonin (yes, that Stephen Koonin, whose book has been canned by scientists). The article is full of misinformation and scientific inaccuracies (a thorough debunking is available here). It is quite disheartening that the Washington Post would publish such a misleading and inaccurate article about climate change at this juncture. In the New York Times, Paul Krugman considers the similarities and differences between climate-change denial and Covid-19 denial, and tries to decide which one is worse.

Inside Climate News reports on a recent study concluding that greenhouse-gas emissions from our food system are actually much higher than previously thought. "Recent estimates put agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions at about one-fifth of the global total, but that figure only includes emissions from on-farm activities, mostly raising crops and livestock. When the researchers looked at the entire food system — including the raising of crops and livestock, the conversion of land to agriculture, transportation, retail sales, food consumption and food waste — the total was significantly higher, between 20 and 40 percent, or about 16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide." A quarter of the emissions came from converting natural ecosystems to agricultural land.

In the Conversation, an environmental historian describes the parallels between modern Syria and the Ottoman Empire. In both cases, political and military conflict were driven by extreme environmental conditions, especially drought. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that, in California, it is rural residents and those served by smaller water systems that are the most vulnerable to drought.

As North America reels from a heat wave that was possibly the most anomalous weather event in recent human history, extreme flooding hit Germany, leaving over a hundred people dead and entire towns in ruin. The New York Times describes the damage, and notes that these extreme events demonstrate that no nation is safe from the impacts of climate change. This situation is an emergency that requires bold reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions while also preparing for the inevitable impacts that past emissions have already ensured. We must manage for the unavoidable impacts while avoiding the unmanageable.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has an op-ed in the New York Times about the need for stronger actions to address climate change, as evidenced by the impact of fire on her state. The enormous Bootleg fire in Oregon is not likely to be fully contained until October. The Guardian reports that the big island of Hawaii is fighting the largest wildfire in its history. I think I see a pattern here. Governor Brown concludes, "Climate change is playing out here now, with a fury, but it will be in your backyard next. People are dying. Congress must act, now." The Washington Post has a detailed look at the benefits and challenges of using proscribed burns to reduce wildfire intensity.

An article in Inside Climate News describes the rescue and relocation of black abalone along the Big Sur coast in California. These intertidal abalone were buried by landslides after the Dolan fire, and a group of scientists is rescuing and re-locating them.

In Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell ponders the relationship between our approach to climate change and the approach to building safety in south Florida. He notes that in both cases humans demonstrate their refined capacity to kick the can down the road. An article in the Guardian notes that sea level rise could play a part in the erosion of the rebar and concrete that apparently led to the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex in Miami.

The New York Times reports on how the collapse of the Champlain Towers South has roiled an already uncertain insurance market in south Florida. Climate change is bringing warmer air with more moisture to the region, which is accelerating the degradation of buildings. Insurance companies will respond to the increased risk by raising rates or leaving the market altogether, as has already happened for storm and fire insurance in parts of the western U.S. "But insurers are also being squeezed by the rising cost of what is called reinsurance — insurance that insurance companies themselves buy, to protect themselves against higher-than-expected losses in any given year. The cost of that reinsurance has surged as climate change leads to more frequent and intense disasters around the world." Obtaining insurance has also become one amongst many challenges brought by climate change to northern California’s wine industry.

The New York Times has an interesting review of the challenges facing Chicago as more intense rainstorms impact the city as it tries to deal with variations in the water level of Lake Michigan. Monthly average rainfall set an all-time record in May 2018 — a record that was broken in May 2019, and then again in May 2020. For years, Lake Michigan has been a last-straw option for dealing with sewer overflows during major storms, but as the level of the lake becomes more variable with climate change, Chicago is sometimes finding itself without this option.

Inside Climate News reports on the production of sponge iron, the precursor to steel, without emitting carbon. This is a major step toward decarbonizing steel production, which will be essential for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. ABC describes a pilot project in Indiana to create a magnetized pavement that can be used to charge electric vehicles as they drive.

Yale Climate Connections describes the recent report from the International Energy Agency Net Zero by 2050, which provides a roadmap for how humanity could have a 50% chance of achieving the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal. The IEA has long been criticized for having a conservative, pro-fossil-fuel stance, but this report is a major step away from this bias and could be quite influential in accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. Bill McKibben stated that the IEA report could “very well signal the start of the end of the fossil-fuel era.” Axios reports that DHL has placed an order for 12 all-electric cargo planes. DHL expects to take delivery of these aircraft, manufactured by Seattle-based Eviation, in 2024.