November 30 2023

latest National Climate Assessment reiterates the dangers of climate change, 2023 will be a record year for U.S. fossil-fuel extraction, global warming may be accelerating in this decade, electric school buses can stabilize the U.S. grid, California is drought free (for now)

The newest National Climate Assessment (NCA), a congressionally-mandated analysis of climate change produced every five years by the U.S. government, was released in mid-November. To nobody’s surprise, the Guardian reports that the NCA highlights “increasingly harmful impacts” striking the U.S. from Florida to Alaska. The Director of the NCA notes that “escalating dangers from wildfires, severe heat, flooding and other impacts mean that the US suffers a disaster costing at least $1bn in damages every three weeks now, on average, compared to once every four months in the 1980s.” The report documents impacts to human health, the economy and natural and agricultural ecosystems, noting that the costs of major emission reductions are dwarfed by the benefits.

The New York Times reports that the NCA, for the first time ever, contains a chapter on the economic impacts of climate change. This section notes that economic growth will be reduced because of climate change, but this is only part of the economic damage. Impacts on “non-market” goods — including human health, ecosystems, historic trades such as fishing and air quality (from wildfire smoke) — are real but hard to quantify. The lead author of this chapter noted that these “non-market effects of climate change in many cases are some of the largest.” Axios quotes the NCA: “Estimates of nationwide impacts indicate a net loss in the economic well-being of American society.”

Meanwhile, according to Grist, a new U.N. report concludes that 20 major fossil-fuel producing countries “plan to extract more than twice the amount of coal, oil, and gas by 2030 than what is needed to limit warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and around 70 percent more than would limit warming to 2 degrees C.” The report notes that, despite the current and growing danger of climate change caused by carbon pollution, humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an alarming rate. The New York Times points out that, “If current projections hold, the United States will drill for more oil and gas in 2030 than at any point in its history.” The Guardian reports that, in 2023, the U.S. is already on track to extract a record amount of oil and gas…

November 15 2023

Antarctica’s threatened ice shelves, Phoenix heat deaths in 2023 set record, Biden Administration announces $3.5 billion of electrical grid upgrade, “bomb cyclone” hits western Europe, understanding barriers to expanding solar power

The Washington Post reports on a new study that concludes, “waters around some of West Antarctica’s glaciers are forecast to warm at a pace three times faster than they have in the past.” This increase is expected to occur regardless of how quickly we reduce carbon emissions, and it will destabilize the ice shelves that hold back the continent’s glaciers (the Post also notes that “more than 40 percent of Antarctica’s ice shelves have dwindled in the past 25 years,” and that every ice shelf in western Antarctica is shrinking). As the ice sheets disintegrate, the land-based ice will flow faster into the sea, which will accelerate sea level rise. Salon quotes from the study: “these results suggest that mitigation of greenhouse gases now has limited power to prevent ocean warming that could lead to the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet." The New York Times reports that, since 1978, ice shelves in Greenland have lost more than 35% of their volume. In addition, Greenland’s mountain glaciers (separate from the island’s ice sheet), have “retreated twice as fast between 2000 and 2021 as they did before the turn of the century.”

The Biden Administration has announced another major initiative that is aimed at halving the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. Grist describes the “Affordable Home Energy Earth Shot,” which would cut the cost of decarbonizing homes by half and lower Americans’ utility bills by 20%. This is to be achieved by reducing the cost of retrofitting homes, with a focus on households that earn less than 80% of their area’s median income. Other “Earth shots” the Administration has undertaken to drive down costs are for hydrogen fuel, floating offshore-wind technology, geothermal energy and technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These efforts are modeled on the 2011 “SunShot Initiative,” which had the goal of reducing the cost of utility-scale solar to $1 per watt within a decade (prices hit that mark three years early in 2017). Meanwhile, The New York Times notes that the Republicans elected climate-science denier Mike Johnson as Speaker of the House.

Salon describes a very sobering study indicating that, if global temperatures increase by 1°C from present levels, billions of people will face heat so intense that their bodies will not be able to naturally cool themselves. At 2°C above pre-industrial levels, 4 billion people will encounter intolerable heat and humidity annually. Areas of particular concern include Pakistan, India, eastern China and sub-Saharan Africa. The impacts are summarized by Dr. Peter Reiners of the University of Arizona: “There is no universe in which this development will not lead to millions of deaths.” Wet-bulb temperatures of 95°F (35°C) are a fundamental physiological limit for human bodies. While air conditioning may save some people, increased demand leading to outages on already-strained power grids makes depending on air conditioning a risk. The only answer to this predicament is to drastically reduce fossil-fuel burning as quickly as possible…

October 31 2023

September temperatures are “gobsmackingly bananas”, Otis changes from storm to Cat 5 hurricane in 12 hours, the challenge of phasing out fossil fuels, mosquito-borne illnesses on the rise in U.S., electric delivery vans are making economic sense

In The New York Times, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather calls attention to the enormous record warming in September 2023, when temperatures were almost 1°F above the previous high (“gobsmackingly bananas” according to one analyst). He notes: “there is increasing evidence that global warming has accelerated over the past 15 years, rather than continued at a gradual, steady pace.” He points to the reduction of particles in the atmosphere due to air-pollution controls and less coal burning (these particles reflect sunlight and provide a cooling effect), as does James Hansen, while others are not so sure — but all are worried. These scientists note that a long-standing projection of atmospheric modeling has been a possible acceleration of warming if “our aerosol emissions declined while our greenhouse gas emissions did not.” This suggests that, as we transition away from fossil fuels, there will be an additional increase in temperature due to a further reduction in atmospheric particles, making it essential that greenhouse-gas emissions be eliminated as expeditiously as possible. Hausfather concludes that “despite the recent acceleration of warming, humans remain firmly in the driver’s seat, and the future of our climate is still up to us to decide.”

The New York Times reports that a new study concludes “hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean are now twice as likely to grow from a weak storm into a major Category 3 or higher hurricane within just 24 hours.” This makes it much more difficult to forecast how severe a given storm might be, and particularly impacts the ability to accurately recommend evacuations. This study contributes to a growing body of evidence that climate change is accelerating storm intensification.

As if on cue, Hurricane Otis struck Acapulco. It intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in 12 hours, defying predictions from meteorological agencies. This provided virtually no warning to a city of 852,000 people, what a forecaster with the U.S. National Hurricane Center called a “nightmare scenario.” This was the strongest storm ever to hit western Mexico, and 24 hours later at least 27 people were dead and Acapulco was without power, water or communications…

October 15 2023

El Niño is here, the cumulative cost of carbon emissions, impacts of EVs v. fossil-fuel cars, the American Climate Corps, toxicity and waste from solar overstated

The Washington Post reports that NOAA’s climate forecasters, and those at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, have stated that the coming winter could bring a strong or even a “super” El Niño, the latter with strength rivaling the historic El Niño of 1997-1998. During that El Niño, there was extreme rainfall in California and intense drought in Indonesia. The Post also describes weather trends for different regions of the U.S. in an El Niño winter, although there is much variability.

The Washington Post reports that September 2023 is going to be the hottest September ever, and by a very large margin, displaying July-like temperatures. The average temperature in September was about 1.7°C (3.2°F) above the normal from pre-industrial times. The extreme warmth is attributed to both human-caused climate change and the growing El Niño.

While it is clear that climate change is already resulting in significant monetary damages to the world’s economy, actually calculating those damages is not straightforward. In The New York Times, David Wallace-Wells takes a look at a recent study that tries to account for the cumulative damages caused by carbon emissions over their lifetime in the atmosphere, which can be a century or more (e.g., carbon emitted in 1990 will still be affecting our climate into the late 21st century). This leads to some astonishing conclusions, not only about the cost of future emissions, but also the cumulative cost of emissions from past decades…

September 30 2023

California’s coolest summer in a decade still warm, the siesta could make a return, California sues oil companies for deception, Republican climate position is “hurl ourselves into the fire”, “staggering” growth of renewable energy is hopeful sign

Despite 2023 likely being the hottest year on record, The New York Times reports that California had its coolest summer in 10 years. But it was only cool in a relative sense. The summer of 2023 still ranks as the 34th warmest in the past 129 years. Despite annual variability, global warming will remain relentless until we eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

The AP reports that the State of California filed a civil lawsuit against major oil and gas companies, claiming that they deceived the public about the risks fossil fuels pose to the climate. California alleges that the companies knew, even in the 1950s, that use of their products would result in devastating impacts. Instead of acknowledging the risk, the companies (and their front groups) pursued an organized and deceptive disinformation campaign to hide it from elected officials and the public. The suit seeks damages to cover costs incurred by Californians due to extreme weather events.

A bill that California governor Newsom has said he will sign would require major companies (greater than $1 billion in revenue) to publicly disclose their greenhouse-gas emissions. The New York Times reports that climate activists support such legislation, as it provides transparency to investors about the exposure of companies to greenhouse-gas regulation and encourages firms to reduce their carbon emissions. Opponents are concerned that compliance will be expensive and onerous. For example, clothing manufacturers wonder if they would have to report not only the emissions associated with their manufacturing plants, but also the growing, weaving and transporting of textiles…