November 30 2020

looking at both sides of clouds, a first: multiple major hurricanes in November, scientists raising their voices, developing solar electricity in West Virginia’s coal country

One of the greatest uncertainties in our projections of global warming is the influence of clouds. InsideClimate News reviews what we know about clouds and climate. Clouds can cool or heat the planet depending how high and thick they are, and how much water and ice they contain. While clouds presently appear to cool the planet, two new studies suggest that, as the world warms, clouds are likely to change in ways that will intensify warming. The article notes that “clouds have such a big effect on the climate system that, if their extent or reflective properties were to change by 20%, it would have more of an impact than all the greenhouse gases released by human activity.”

Hurricane Iota became the latest-forming Category 5 hurricane ever in the Atlantic, according to the Washington Post, and came ashore as a Category 4 storm only 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta came ashore just two weeks prior. In the New Yorker, Bill McKibben reviews the damage of Hurricane Eta in Honduras, which is estimated to amount to 20% of the country’s GDP. This is the first time there have been two major hurricanes in the Atlantic in November. Like many other recent storms, Iota intensified rapidly, an event atmospheric scientists link to warmer sea-surface temperatures that are being created by global warming…

November 15 2020

year of the hurricane, a Civilian Climate Corps, the political problems of a carbon price, more evidence of the rapidly warming Arctic, U.S. out of Paris Accord (but only for a couple months)

Among many other dubious achievements, 2020 has become the year of the hurricane, with 29 named storms with the formation of tropical storm Theta on November 9th (update: Iota became the 30th named storm just as this In Brief was being published). The New York Times reports that this is even more storms than predicted at the beginning of the season, but notes that this large number of storms should not be considered a result of climate change. Five named storms hit Louisiana this year, which is a record. Many of these storms were quite devastating, and more powerful storms are a predicted result of climate change.

While in the U.S. we focus on hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, climate change is powering typhoons in the Pacific Ocean and cyclones in the Indian Ocean as well. An article in the Washington Post describes super typhoon Goni, which slammed into the Philippines with 195 mile-per-hour winds. The article includes video from a weather satellite demonstrating the development of the sharply-defined eye and near-perfect symmetry that are characteristic of the most intense tropical cyclones…

October 31 2020

economic challenge for fossil-fuel-based state economies, drop in value of coastal real estate in Florida, climate-change denial loses influence, solar is now the cheapest electricity in history, it’s getting really hot in Phoenix

An article in The Conversation examines the predicament facing states that are highly dependent upon fossil-fuel extraction to power their economies, such as Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota. Energy production was responsible for 70% of Alaska’s revenue in 2019, and 52% of that for Wyoming. Wyoming is forecasting a 54% decline in fossil-fuel-derived taxes in 2021-22 as compared to the previous year. The authors explore the issues of developing and financing a “just transition” to a more diverse and future-focused economy for these states. A report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has concluded that climate change poses a significant financial risk to U.S. markets, according to the New York Times. The risks identified include falling home values due to climate change (including fires and floods) and wild variations in commodity prices driven by extreme weather. It recommends the declaration and consideration of climate risks in investment decisions.

And right on cue, the New York Times reports on research documenting a drop in real-estate values in coastal parts of Florida. In Bal Harbour near Miami Beach, prices fell 7.6 percent from 2016 to 2020, part of a larger decline in low-lying areas of Florida that appears to have begun in 2013. Sales and prices in less-vulnerable areas do not show this change. Elected officials and real-estate agents in South Florida contend that buyers aren’t worried and that infrastructure improvements are keeping pace with the problem. The market, economists note, appears to disagree with this rosy assessment. The Washington Post reports on high-tide flooding on the East Coast this month due to the king tides (the highest tides of the year — California’s king tides for 2020 are coming up November 15-16 and December 13-15). Because sea level rise is accelerating, the impacts from king tides are going to become more severe relatively quickly in the coming years…

October 15 2020

we can’t afford to not have a Green New Deal, “green” hydrogen, the importance of natural forest restoration, a “gigafire” arrives 30 years early

Critics of the Green New Deal suggest we can’t afford such an investment. The reality is that we can’t afford not to do it. An article in New York Magazine examines the public investment made by the U.S. government to fight World War II as an analogy. “Between 1940 and 1945, the U.S. government managed to increase military spending by an amount equal to 70 percent of 1940 GDP — while increasing productivity and technological innovation, raising civilian living standards, laying the groundwork for a decades-long postwar boom, and avoiding runaway inflation… If we could figure out how to execute public spending and planning on that scale 80 years ago, we can presumably execute it at a fraction of that scale (say, $5 trillion over five years?) today.” The article notes that the WWII mobilization resulted in the income of the top one percent of earners declining by a third. Are the richest Americans willing to make the same investment today?

An article in the New York Times addresses an important scientific truth about climate change through interviews with experts studying the issue. The truth is that the future is going to get worse than the present, even with aggressive reductions in greenhouse gases, because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time. But through our actions we can control how bad things get. As I wrote last year, “the world we get will be the world we choose. We just can’t choose the world we had.” Or, as Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler says, “If you don’t like all of the climate disasters happening in 2020, I have some bad news for you about the rest of your life.”

The Washington Post reports on recent evidence indicating that the physical restraint on the movement of the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers in Antarctica is diminishing as their ice shelves break apart. The glaciers already contribute around five percent of global sea level rise. The survival of the Thwaites glacier is seen as critical to slowing the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. From the other end of the planet, the New York Times describes the new climate of the Arctic – one that is characterized by warmer temperatures, open water and rain…