July 31 2020

Biden links climate action with economic stimulus, methane emissions climb, tipping points drawing near, the challenge of managed retreat, record high-tide flooding

An article in New York Magazine describes how Joe Biden’s climate plan is being framed as a key part of the economic stimulus the country requires to recover from the pandemic. This is an important and welcome development, as transitioning from fossil fuels requires a major investment, and if we invest in the “business as usual” fossil-fuel-powered economy, our climate goals will be out of reach (the Biden campaign video introduces this plan for a clean-energy revolution and environmental justice). An article in the New York Times describes how climate change and other environmental issues are emerging as a clear difference between the presidential candidates, and Governor Jay Inslee discusses Biden’s climate plan in an interview in New York Magazine.

An article in the New York Times documents that global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, reached a record high in 2017, driven mainly by leaks from fossil-fuel facilities and emissions from agriculture. The article notes that a given amount of methane produces 86 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a twenty year period. Rob Jackson, a Stanford earth scientist who leads the Global Carbon Project, notes that “if we continue to release methane as we have done in recent decades, we have no chance” to keep global temperature increases to just 2°C. Newsweek reports how scientists are using satellites to measure methane emissions from remote lakes in the Arctic…

July 15 2020

climate may be more sensitive than we thought to carbon dioxide, California publishes electric-truck rule, Siberia is as warm as Las Vegas, Democrats release ambitious climate plan, a new endangered species: the 30-year mortgage

The Guardian reports on modeling results from more than 20 institutions compiled for the sixth assessment by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the news is a bit alarming. Compared with the last assessment in 2014, 25% of the results demonstrate that the sensitivity of the climate to carbon dioxide (e.g., the temperature increase associated with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) is close to 5°C. This is at the high end of previous ranges and, if true, would mean we’ll be lucky to keep global average temperature rise to 2°C even with ambitious emissions reductions. The key factor here is the complex science of clouds. With supercomputers able to run finer scale simulations, and advances in understanding the microphysics of clouds, many models are suggesting that the warming effect of clouds (capturing heat) significantly outweighs their cooling effect (reflecting sunlight).

An article in Grist notes that a green economy must also be a just economy. Transitioning to renewable energy is important, but we also must address the serious inequities in our society to achieve a sustainable outcome. “You can take as many fossil fuels out of the economy as you want and it won’t address the problem that the only American households to accumulate wealth in the 21st century are the wealthiest third, that CEOs are making 287 times the salary of the average worker, or that white families’ median wealth is about 10 times that of black families.”

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) just passed the nation’s first electric-truck standard. The Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule, which will help put more electric trucks on the road, is a major step in reducing air pollution and global warming emissions in California and beyond…

June 30 2020

increased likelihood of severe rainstorms in North America, 90% carbon-free and affordable electricity by 2035, carbon storage in private forests, manure power, New Jersey wants to be the capital of offshore wind power

InsideClimate News reports on a new study concluding that the likelihood of intense storms is rising rapidly in North America, and that if carbon emissions continue on pace, bigger storms will be even more frequent in the future. The warming we’ve experienced—about 1.8°F—has resulted in extreme rainstorms that in the past occurred once every 20 years but now occur once every five years. If the rate of warming continues, by 2100 our current 20-, 50- and 100-year extreme storm events could happen every 1.5 to 2.5 years, the researchers concluded.

The Washington Post reports that the wildfire season in the West is off to a roaring start in Arizona, where June is often the peak of the fire season. Major fires are burning near Phoenix, where thousands have been evacuated, and there is also a large fire burning near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The California fire season is also starting, with many worried about relatively high aridity leading to large fires later in the year. There are presently forecasts for anomalously hot conditions and near-to-below-average rainfall over the next three months. The 2020 fire season will obviously be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which will complicate fire-fighting and evacuation efforts…

June 15 2020

wind power in deep water, the Colorado River mega-drought, zombie fires burn in the Arctic, climate policy could unite the left behind Biden, tropical deforestation continues

Nobel Laureate economist, William Nordhaus, writes in Foreign Affairs that international climate policy has not progressed over the last three decades. The dangers of global warming are much better understood, but nations have not adopted effective policies to slow the coming peril. This is mainly due to the fact that countries have an incentive to be “free riders”—to rely on the emission reductions of others without making costly domestic reductions themselves. He argues that an effective climate treaty must have strong incentives to participate, and that nations that do not participate or do not meet their obligations must incur penalties.

While virtually all offshore wind turbines are mounted on foundations fixed to the seafloor, most of the world’s wind resources are over water too deep for this type of deployment. Yale e360 examines the development of floating offshore wind turbines, which are anchored to the seafloor by cables. Many see this technology as an important component of a decarbonized electrical grid, as the best onshore and nearshore wind-power locations will eventually be utilized.

AZCentral.com has a detailed article on water scarcity in the West that is well worth a read. The Colorado River basin currently appears to be in a historic decade-scale “mega-drought,” despite the high precipitation year of 2019. There is no doubt that this drought has been made more severe by climate change (“regular” droughts are now more likely to be “extreme” droughts), and there is a growing recognition among western states that we must plan for a future with less water. The good news is that conservation efforts have made a difference, and that there is growing interest in using recycled water and other strategies to conserve even more of our most precious resource…

May 31 2020

hurricane strength increasing as predicted, economic stimulus is a chance to build resilience, our changing forest ecosystems, electrifying mail trucks, regenerative agriculture catching on

One of the challenging aspects of our new climate is the greater likelihood of stronger tropical cyclones (also known as hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and typhoons in the Pacific Ocean). As has been predicted for years by climate scientists, the Washington Post reports on a new study concluding that the strength of hurricanes is increasing worldwide. A key to this study was the effort of the scientists to standardize 39 years of cyclone data across the world’s ocean basins, allowing assessment of the long-term trend. Another unfortunate trend is toward hurricanes that suddenly make leaps in their intensity, like Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Cyclone Amphan this week in the Bay of Bengal.

These findings are of great concern as damage costs rise exponentially with wind speed (costs have historically increased by 10 percent for every 5 mph increase in wind speed). Many communities in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Puerto Rico are still recovering from recent major hurricanes. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) notes that FEMA is presently stretched thin due to COVID-19 and other disaster relief. New guidance indicates that much of FEMA’s on-the-ground assistance will now be online, complicating storm response efforts (disclosure: I sit on the UCS Board of Directors). Planning and managing evacuations is greatly complicated by “compound risk” from multiple factors, including COVID-19 exposure. Evacuees already face the challenge of social distancing in normal evacuation centers (during the current flooding in Michigan, citizens are choosing to sleep in their cars rather than risk exposure to the coronavirus). According to NOAA, 2020 will be an unusually active hurricane season…