August 31 2019

August 31 2019

land use and climate change, regenerative agriculture, the conservative process of science, it’s the heat and the humidity, the more-pollution President

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report called Climate Change and Land. The report concludes that climate change is having a severe impact on arable land and farming, with a half-billion people already facing desertification. Soil erosion rates are estimated to be 100 times soil formation rates, and average temperatures over land are rising twice as fast as global average temperature. These impacts, along with growing water scarcity, are challenging our ability to feed the world and manage migration. The report also reviews how changes in land use practices and other policies can help address the problems (an article in the New York Times notes that food waste accounts for 10% of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases). An overview of these actions is available at Vox, and Robinson Meyer has an excellent summary and perspective on the report in the Atlantic.

An op-ed in the New York Times by a California farmer describes how he and his colleagues are preparing their farms for a changing climate and seeking to adopt regenerative agricultural techniques that can help store carbon in the soil. An article at InsideClimate News describes how climate change, its impact on agriculture and the role of regenerative agricultural techniques as a solution are being discussed actively by Democratic candidates in Iowa.

The Atlantic reports on a recent study of the growing wildfire season in California. Since 1972, the area that burned annually in California has increased by 500%. The rise in average temperatures is a clear cause, as fire extent has an exponential relationship to temperature (so each subsequent degree increase in temperature has a larger fire impact than the previous degree increase). Grist notes that, as predicted, it is getting harder to get fire insurance in California (340,000 policies were not renewed in the last four years). The Guardian reports on the growing threat of wildfire in Alaska, as major fires are burning later than the historical normal due in part to the record-breaking temperatures in July.

An article at VOX describes the threat to global climate presented by the fires in the Amazon rainforest, which are tied to the rise of right-wing populism in Brazil. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is called “Captain Chainsaw.” Deforestation in Brazil is on the way to rising 20-30% this year reports the Guardian, reaching a record level that brings the rainforest closer to a point where it will transition to a savannah ecosystem. That would have drastic consequences for global climate, causing many to call the changes in Brazil’s forest management a “suicide path” and to suggest the possibility of international intervention.

For those interested in how climate science works, and why it is inherently a conservative enterprise, I encourage you to review a recent post at RealClimate about ice loss in western Antarctica. While a bit technical in places, the story that emerges is how carefully glaciologists and oceanographers consider alternative hypotheses to explain observations in the Antarctic, and consequently how slow they are to draw conclusions about causal factors. An article in the Washington Post presents the findings of a recent paper investigating the connections (or lack thereof) between the warmer Arctic and changes in mid-latitude weather. Again, this article shows the scientific process in action, and completely refutes the denier argument (parroted by President Trump) that climate scientists draw their conclusions based upon political judgments.

An interesting article in Scientific American suggests, however, that such behavior by climate scientists is not really “conservative” as it leads to under-reporting the pace of climate change. When examining questions that have policy implications, scientists’ natural tendency to avoid statements that have not been proved conclusively leads to relatively watered-down consensus documents (the drumbeat in the press labeling climate scientists as “alarmists” reinforces this behavior). The authors observed this phenomenon when scientists reported about acid rain and the ozone hole, and now when reporting about the future of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This behavior is not beneficial as it leaves people with less time to prepare for changes that are coming.

The Washington Post notes that the recent heatwaves in the U.S. are worse than those from the last century not only because temperatures are higher, but also because of the rise in humidity. A humid heat wave increases the heat index (the “feels like” temperature), which is a better indicator of the danger of the heat as humidity interferes with our body’s ability to cool itself down. The AP reports that the heat index recently topped 120°F in Mississippi, and the Guardian describes the growing threat posed by global heating to residents of U.S. cities with a detailed look at Dallas and Washington D.C.

The New York Times reports on how life is changing in Phoenix, AZ, where last year there were 128 days of temperatures at 100°F or above. Construction jobs, particularly concrete pours, are being conducted in the middle of the night, and recreational activities are occurring early in the morning or late at night. People are inside at mid-day (the zoo opens at 6 AM and closes at 2 PM), although they come outside when it rains. Unshaded playground rubber and metal can reach upward of 170 degrees, and nights are 9 degrees warmer than they were in 1948. Indeed, overnight low temperatures are rising faster than daytime highs, which is a predicted impact of the intensified greenhouse effect and thus a “fingerprint” that observed warming is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The Guardian describes working outside in Tucson.

The key provisions of President Trump’s “more-pollution policy” have been to expand coal-fired electricity and to freeze auto-emission standards for vehicles, as he does the bidding of the Republican party’s fossil-fuel overlords. As an article in Salon notes, this isn’t working out too well. The largest automaker in the world (VW) along with five others have struck an agreement with California to continue producing more fuel-efficient cars, and multiple coal companies are declaring bankruptcy (Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its outlook on the coal industry from “stable” to “negative”). Scientific American reports on how really large coal-fired power plants are now closing (AZCentral describes the closing of the Kayenta mine and the Navajo Generating Station). And while the President was dissing wind power at his latest campaign rally (an opinion not shared by his Secretary of Energy), Axios notes that wind power is continuing its expansion. Wind now provides 6.5% of U.S. power, and it’s over 30% in Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma. Yet, E&E reports from West Virginia that despite the struggles of the coal industry since his inauguration President Trump is more popular than ever.

Solar Industry Magazine reports on the completion of the California Flat’s Solar Project, a 280-megawatt facility located on the historic Jack Ranch. This project was a combined effort by many parties working collaboratively to demonstrate that solar electricity generation is an activity that is compatible with a working ranch. The developers hope this will be a model for bringing solar generation to working lands in California, helping the state meet its goals for carbon-free electricity while providing an additional revenue stream for ranchers.

An editorial in the New York Times offers an excellent perspective on the value of Jay Inslee’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for President, which he recently abandoned. Inslee provided thoughtful and detailed proposals for realistic and ambitious policies to address climate change that I expect will become important parts of the Democratic platform.