May 31 2023

El Niño is coming with higher temperatures, insurance companies continue to fail and pull back, 80% of new cars in Norway are EVs, fossil-fuel power plants have reliability problems, the “big melt” reaches its peak

As El Niño conditions continue to develop in the Pacific Ocean, The Washington Post reports on a new study that found some of the most intense past El Niño events cost the global economy more than $4 trillion. The study authors were surprised how large the damage estimate was, and one notes “persistent depressions in economic growth that last for five or even ten years after these events because of the strength of those extreme events.” By accounting for losses in subsequent years, this study estimated a loss for the 1997-1998 El Niño 100 times greater than previous estimates. Axios notes that NOAA recently increased the chances of El Niño formation this year to well over 90%. The Guardian reports that the coming El Niño will likely cause the world to exceed the 1.5°C global average temperature increase for the first time ever.

I have previously described the failure of insurance companies in Louisiana and Florida (ten have become insolvent in Florida in just the last two years), and E&E News now reports that this problem has spread to Texas. Smaller insurance companies (more common in the south than in the west) have become insolvent in the past year, forcing the state to step into the market as an insurer of last resort. Yet these state programs lack the resources to respond in the case of a major storm, which will force surcharges to other insurance companies and taxpayers to cover damage claims. This problem is clearly a function of the higher frequency of extreme storms in our new climate, as three of the most destructive hurricanes in the history of the Gulf region (Laura, Ida and Ian) have occurred in the past three years. And then there was Winter Storm Uri which, in early 2021, knocked out power across Texas and caused $80-$130 billion in damage. (The Governor of Texas responded to the impacts of this storm by blaming wind power, which I noted was not true.) Inside Climate News reports that estimates of damage in Florida from Hurricane Ian have risen to $109.5 billion, making it the most costly hurricane disaster after Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Harvey (2017).

An op-ed in The New York Times notes that “Climate risk is driving insurer decisions like never before.” The author states that “the average cost of coverage has reached $1,900 a year nationwide, but it’s $4,000 a year in New Orleans and about $5,000 a year in Miami.” The San Francisco Chronicle reports that State Farm will stop writing property insurance in California next year (they will still provide auto insurance). The company cites “historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market.” The company provided 8.3% of property insurance in California in 2021…

May 15 2023

ocean temperatures break records, the challenge of “managed retreat”, 30-year-old federal policies get important updates, Colorado River diversion dilemma gets real, who should build and own transmission lines?

The BBC reports that average global ocean temperature has recently spiked to an all-time high. Such a rapid and large increase has never before been recorded, and it will likely have major implications for weather and ocean ecosystems. Wired notes that temperatures that used to be described as marine heatwaves have become normal, as greenhouse gases are adding more and more heat to the ocean every year. A warmer Southern Ocean is a key reason that Antarctic ice melt is accelerating.

Yale e360 reports on an important new study modeling the change of ice formation in the Southern Ocean, which has profound implications for global ocean circulation. With less ice forming in the ocean, and more freshwater entering coastal areas from glacial melt, surface water in the Southern Ocean and around Greenland is already becoming less salty and less dense, and so less able to sink. The sinking of denser ocean water is a key driver of circulation. “The slowing of ocean circulation will profoundly alter the ocean overturning of heat, fresh water, oxygen, carbon, and nutrients, with impacts felt throughout the global ocean for centuries to come,” concludes the study’s lead author.

Salon reports further that altered major currents in the Southern Ocean will impact phytoplankton production around the world because these currents carry vital nutrients to far-ranging locations. The study’s authors indicate that sometime between 2050 and 2100 the impacts on surface productivity will become apparent. While there is uncertainty in these conclusions because of the complexity of the processes being modeled, this is another example of how ecological linkages between the atmosphere and oceans can drive global change in ways that could be very damaging to civilization…

April 30 2023

emergence of extreme weather as climate warms now unequivocal, California’s “big melt” has begun, Biden Administration air-pollution rules will boost EVs, emissions of private jets and superyachts, changing climate story from despair to opportunity

A new study confirms with satellite data what has been predicted by physicists and computer models for decades. Our warming climate has fueled more intense drought and heavier rainfall globally over the last 20 years, which is indisputable evidence that the carbon we’ve emitted is exacerbating extreme weather. While there was much confidence in the model projections, “This is an observation,” one of the study’s co-authors told The Washington Post, “It’s actual data.”

The Washington Post describes how climate change is driving up the price of homes throughout much of the American west. Fires and flooding both damage the existing housing stock and limit where new housing can be constructed. “The median price of a home in Sonoma County, where Santa Rosa is the seat of government, has risen by more than 25 percent since the Tubbs Fire, according to recent monthly sales figures. That increase was even more precipitous before recent interest-rate hikes cooled the market.”

This problem is exacerbated by our construction of millions of homes in places that were known to be vulnerable to fires or floods. This is causing a forced migration due to climate change. Over 3 million Americans have lost their homes in recent years, and many will never be able to return. An excellent op-ed in The Guardian notes that “the total number of displaced will swell by millions and tens of millions, forcing Americans from the most vulnerable parts of the country into an unpredictable, quasi-permanent exile from the places they know and love…”

April 15 2023

scientists continue to call for stronger action on greenhouse gases, needed new transmission capacity hard to build, we’re clearly in the midst of an EV boom, communities dealing with sea level rise and flooding, an anesthesiologist takes climate action

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a new report, and the New York Times explains it is another in a long line of dire warnings for humanity. As we have heard before, without an immediate shift away from fossil fuels, global average temperatures will exceed the 1.5°C target in “the first half of the 2030s.” The report also notes that worst-case climate scenarios considered in the past, such as a 4°C increase in global average temperature, now look unlikely, as at least 18 countries (including the United States) have managed to reduce their emissions for more than a decade. At the same time, even relatively modest increases in global temperature are now expected to be more disruptive than previously thought. “The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change,” said Hoesung Lee, the chair of the climate panel. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”

CNN reports on the growing likelihood of El Niño conditions developing in the Pacific in the coming months, which will have a profound impact on global weather. In particular, higher global average temperatures are normally associated with El Niño conditions, and 2024 could turn out to be the hottest year on record. Already, ocean temperatures are very high compared to past measurements, increasing the possibility of major coral-reef-bleaching events and accelerated ice loss in Antarctica.

The Washington Post notes the recent finding from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that “global emissions of carbon dioxide related to energy production grew by 0.9 percent in 2022, reaching a new high.” While the growth was slower than expected, the IEA said that “emissions still remain on an unsustainable growth trajectory.” Both China’s zero-Covid policy and the war in Ukraine contributed to the reduction in the rate of emissions increases last year, but increased use of coal as natural-gas prices rose was an offsetting factor…

March 31 2023

Biden approves drilling in Alaska, Antarctic sea ice declines, the Great Salt Lake continues to shrink, Glen Canyon Dam struggles to operate, hairdressers conduct climate-change education

President Biden, under significant pressure from Alaskan politicians, oil companies and political allies who fear rising gas prices, approved drilling in a pristine area of northern Alaska that the federal government had already leased to ConocoPhillips. Known as the Willow Project, it is the biggest pending oil development on U.S. public lands. The New York Times reports that this oil field is projected to produce 600 million barrels of oil over its lifetime, or about a 30-day supply for the country at our current rate of use. While Biden reduced the size of the overall project, and preserved vast stretches of neighboring land and ocean from drilling, he nonetheless violated his campaign pledge: “No more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.”

Climate activists, including leading environmental organizations and those representing young voters, were deeply disappointed in this decision (The Anchorage Daily News reports that multiple organizations have filed two lawsuits to prevent the project from going forward). While the government would have been sued by the oil company if it refused to allow drilling, which could have resulted in billions of dollars of damages awarded, climate activists argue that this is a small cost compared to the impact of not transitioning away from fossil fuels. In The Guardian, Rebecca Solnit notes, “The deal was inherited from the Trump administration, and rejecting it would have been a break with convention, but convention dooms us, and we need the break.” HEATED points out how most news organizations frame this issue as a political fight between environmental activists and the Biden Administration, rather than as an ecological fight for a stable climate. “Achieving [net zero by 2050] requires governments to stop approving new oil, gas and coal projects, according to the International Energy Agency.”

For more on the Willow Project, see Carrots Are Not Enough…