March 15 2022

yet another warning from world scientists, climate change alters the Gulf of Maine, beavers enter the Arctic, White House seeks to counter climate misinformation, record-setting federal lease sale is for wind — not oil and gas, a solar steel mill in Colorado

The Washington Post describes the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “a warning letter to a world on the brink.” The report notes that, even if humanity limits further warming to 1.5°C, a person born in the last 10 years will experience a fourfold increase in the number of extreme weather events during his/her lifetime. By 2100, 8% of the world’s farmland would become unsuitable for growing crops. Robinson Meyer summarizes the report in the Atlantic, noting that “by the middle of the century, it will be too hot to work outside many days of the year across large swaths of the world.” He also highlights the adverse impacts on human health, and stresses that the degradation of ecosystems will occur with often unquantifiable but quite real impacts (as noted in an article in Vox).

Of course, chances are that the planet will warm more than 1.5°C, and so the impacts to civilization will be even greater. “Each increment of additional warming brings more devastation, more death — and more dollars spent on coping.” With 2°C warming, hundreds of millions of people will be exposed to water scarcity, tens of millions will be exposed to extreme heat waves and millions more will die due to climate-related diseases. The New York Times notes that the IPCC suggests these changes can outstrip society’s ability to adapt. A Washington Post editorial concluded that this report cannot be a wake up call, as there is “no excuse for policymakers to be asleep to the threat of climate change at this point.” Indeed, some climate scientists are calling for a strike, telling their colleagues to refuse to produce a subsequent set of reports as a way to call attention to the urgency of the situation. An op-ed in the Guardian quotes one of the IPCC lead authors: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future…”

February 28 2022

seas continue rising and the megadrought persists, world’s glaciers smaller than previously thought, bitcoin mining keeps coal plants operating, eliminating meat consumption a major climate solution, solar canopies for canals could reduce emissions and conserve water

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has concluded in a recent assessment that sea level along the U.S. Coastline is projected to rise an average of 10-12 inches in the next 30 years (2020-2050). This is as much as the rise measured over the last 100 years (1920-2020), reports the Washington Post, and it “will create a profound increase in the frequency of coastal flooding, even in the absence of storms or heavy rainfall.” NOAA’s lead scientist for sea level rise notes that “there will be water in the streets unless action is taken in more and more communities.” Inside Climate News examines NOAA’s findings in more detail, including sea level rise impacts in Mexico and other nations. An article in The Conversation provides a short primer on sea level rise. In the Guardian, UC Berkeley Professor Kristina Hill provides some thoughts on how the world’s coastal communities might respond to rising seas.

The megadrought in the American Southwest, which began in 2000 and continues today, is now the driest two decades in the region in at least 1,200 years, according to a new study summarized by the New York Times. The study was conducted by analyzing tree rings, and also showed that human-caused warming played a major role in making the current drought so extreme. Several previous megadroughts in the 1,200-year record lasted as long as 30 years, which currently appears likely for this one as well…

February 15 2022

damage from melting permafrost, Senator Manchin a global climate villain, nuclear power gets more expensive, fossil-fuel lease decisions must consider climate impact

An article in the New Yorker describes the remarkable changes occurring in Siberia as permafrost thaws due to global warming. All the buildings and other infrastructure designed and built for the frozen ground are facing serious structural challenges (or failing entirely) as the ground thaws. The article notes that, as of 2016, 60% of the buildings in the city of Norilsk were compromised due to permafrost thaw.

Unfortunately, damage to infrastructure is not the most serious problem posed by thawing permafrost. The frozen ground releases carbon dioxide and methane as it thaws and frozen organic matter in the soil decomposes. This represents an accumulation of so much heat that it won’t be possible to refreeze the ground. The expansion of shrubs and trees across the tundra will take up some of the carbon (see below), but there is a limit to how large this vegetation can be, and the decomposition season is longer than the growth season. An experiment is underway to reintroduce large herbivores, as their grazing activity can reduce snow cover, which exposes the ground to cold winter air and reduces thawing.

Measurements of carbon release make it clear that these ecosystems are now emitting much more greenhouse gas than they used to before extensive thawing commenced. In 2016, an anthrax outbreak was detected, triggered by the activation of “old” infection sites after very high air temperatures led to the thawing of the sites to a depth not previously seen…

January 31 2022

temperatures and carbon emissions at high levels, the rich are the world’s major emitters, automakers make major push with EVs, solar projects keep growing in size, American concern about climate change at all-time high

Recent studies summarized by the Washington Post conclude that the past seven years have been the hottest in recorded history, with 25 countries that are home to about 1.8 billion people setting new annual records in 2021. July was the hottest month humanity has ever recorded, and the heat dome that seared the Pacific Northwest this past summer was “the most anomalous extreme heat event ever observed on Earth." Although 2021 was a bit cooler than 2020, it shows that natural variation, like the cooling influence of La Niña in 2021, can barely put a dent in the relentless man-made warming trend. For seven years in a row, global average temperature was more than 1°C above the preindustrial average. It’s unlikely that anyone alive today will see the world’s temperature drop below that one-degree benchmark again. “There is no going back,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Most of the heat from global warming is going into the ocean, and the Washington Post notes that the evidence for record warmth is clear in the most recent analysis of heat energy in the ocean. An article by John Abraham, one of the study’s authors, concludes "we took the Earth’s temperature – and the Earth’s fever is getting worse." He notes that the heat going into the ocean in 2021 was equivalent "to seven Hiroshima atomic bombs detonating each second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year." In my 2018 post, The Unseen Atomic Bombs, I explain how the the average increase in ocean heat over the last 50 years is equivalent to about 4.5 bombs per second. As expected, ocean heating has accelerated in recent years. In The Conversation, climate scientist Kevin Trenberth reviews the impact of ocean warming on the climate system…

January 15 2022

lithium’s role in Chile’s constitutional convention, the big thaw, climate and historical human crises, whales as a climate solution, Don’t Look Up

In Chile, the worldwide demand for lithium (which Chile has in abundance) has initiated a series of controversies and precipitated a constitutional convention. The New York Times reports that the convention will consider many things: "How should mining be regulated, and what voice should local communities have over mining? Should Chile retain a presidential system? Should nature have rights? How about future generations?" Facing a crippling drought supercharged by climate change, the convention also will decide who owns Chile’s water. The previous constitution, written in 1980 by Pinochet’s people, has produced an economy where mineral-rich areas became known as “sacrifice zones” of environmental degradation. The incoming president finds lithium mining a major issue he must consider.

The New York Times takes a detailed look at the Goro nickel mine in New Caledonia, with which Tesla has recently signed an agreement to purchase a major proportion of the nickel for its car batteries. The company seeks to brand this source as "green nickel", citing major changes in the mining operation that will reduce pollution (including greenhouse-gas emissions). Given the socio-political history of the mine, achieving this admirable and valuable goal will be a great challenge. The article notes that the carbon footprint of electric vehicles is relatively large because of the energy used to mine the metals contained in car batteries…