September 15 2023

emissions reductions falling short of goals, fossil-fuel subsidies continue, enhanced geothermal shows great promise, surge in sea level on the Gulf Coast, California meets renewable-energy goal two years early

A key assessment completed by the U.N. has concluded that countries are falling far short of the emissions reductions needed to slow global warming. The New York Times reports that, despite a slowing in the rate of global emissions increases — which means that many of the worst-case scenarios considered 15 years ago are no longer likely — the world is still on its way to around 2.5°C of warming. Given what we have seen this summer with only 1.2°C of warming, it is clear that further emissions reductions must occur to avoid a calamitous future.

One of the reasons emissions are not slowing enough is revealed in The Guardian, which reports that the G20 countries delivered over $1 trillion in direct subsidies for fossil fuels in 2022. This was over twice the amount provided to renewable energy, and more than double the subsidies in 2019. The increase was due in part to governments interceding in the market to protect consumers from fuel-price spikes due to the war in Ukraine. When you include the “implicit” or “indirect” subsidies, which are costs incurred due to the climate and health impacts of fossil fuels, the International Monetary Fund concludes that annual subsidies totaled $7 trillion. While the “power of the free market” is often cited as a preferred way to change our energy system, a market warped by such subsidies will not provide the price signals to bring about the change required.

The New York Times has a three-part story on the rise of renewable energy. The first article describes how renewables are expanding faster than anyone thought possible. Most Americans don’t realize that 23% of our electricity is expected to come from renewable sources this year, up 10% in ten years. In Britain, roughly one-third of electricity is generated by wind, solar and hydropower. In May, for the first time ever, wind and solar power in the E.U. generated more electricity than fossil fuels. China, which produces more wind and solar power than any nation, is expected to double its capacity by 2025, five years ahead of schedule (unlike the U.S., however, The Guardian reports that China also continues to add coal-fired power)…

August 31 2023

a world on fire, tropical storm arrives in California, Republican 2025 plan to dismantle climate action, young people demanding climate action win in court, coal-plant closing brings quick local health benefits

The city of Lahaina on Maui has been devastated by a wildfire that became an urban inferno, killing more people than any U.S. fire in over a century. There are many threads to this story, including the lack of preparation and public awareness about this previously identified threat. For our purposes, it is important to recognize that climate change contributed to the likelihood of this fire, including months of drought, followed by high winds from a hurricane and a high-pressure system in different parts of the region. This is an example of how climate-change impacts can interact to create severe consequences (a “compound hazard”).

As Eugene Robinson notes in The Washington Post, climate change came for Maui, but it is only one of many places that ignited this summer. The New York Times describes a record fire season underway in Greece, including the ignition of 209 fires in a 24-hour period. In Canada, British Columbia recently declared a state of emergency, as 380 wildfires are burning with several out of control (the entire population of Yellowknife, the provincial capital of the Northwest Territories, was evacuated as a fire advanced on this community of 20,000). Twice as much land in Canada has burned in 2023 than in any previous year, igniting an area equal in size to the state of Alabama. The AP reports that a well-timed rainstorm is helping fire fighters around Kelowna, British Columbia.

Inside Climate News reports on the growing fire risk in the northern hemisphere’s boreal forests, including Canada. These forests represent a vast store of carbon, and global warming is drying them out and making them more prone to very large fires. This leads to the release of more greenhouse-gas emissions as the forests burn, contributing to more warming and an even higher fire risk. The emissions from these fires can be significant globally. In 2021, fires in boreal forests released twice as much carbon as global aviation…

August 15 2023

ocean temperatures at all-time high, Antarctic sea ice at all-time low, farm bill may contain important climate provisions, the insurance crisis continues to mount, heat pumps a big success in Maine

The Guardian reports that ocean temperatures around the Florida Keys reached 101.19°F, which could be a global record. The frequency of marine heat waves, such as this one, has tripled in recent years. These temperatures will put great stress on fish, sea grasses and coral reefs in the region. The Washington Post notes that, in July, ocean temperatures were extreme in many places around the globe, including Florida, the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the eastern and northern Pacific. These extremes were so anomalous that many scientists were surprised. While the extremes likely express natural variability in addition to human-caused warming, it is not clear what is creating the conditions we are observing (for the technically-minded, climate scientist Zack Labe reviews the factors involved).

Of particular concern to scientists are the extreme temperatures in the North Atlantic, as these have implications for global ocean circulation. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is a vital ocean current that moves heat around the planet and thus drives climate and weather. A slowing of the AMOC would have profound implications for the climate of northern Europe (it will get colder) and the temperature and height of the sea along North America (these will go up). It could possibly also lead to stronger Atlantic hurricanes and less precipitation in already water-stressed parts of Africa. Previous research examining a variety of indicators has suggested the AMOC is slowing although, given the large natural variability in measurements of the current, it is difficult to detect the slowing directly. Grist reports that a new study applying statistical techniques to historical records from the last 150 years concludes that the weakening of the AMOC is accelerating. This grave finding is being debated among scientists, as some consider it very uncertain until it is validated with direct measurements. But, as one oceanographer noted, “by the time any of this is settled science, it’s way too late to act.”

In The New York Times, David Wallace-Wells describes another ocean circulation threat, this one in the Southern Ocean. The formation of sea ice around Antarctica is a fundamental component of creating circulation on a large scale, which brings nutrient-rich waters from the Southern Ocean to other parts of the world. This year, the formation of sea ice in Antarctica is at an all-time low — well outside the range of previous measurements. Wallace-Wells describes recent research concluding that this circulation is also slowing, just as for the AMOC. The BBC points out that warmer water can hold less carbon dioxide, so a warming ocean removes less and less carbon from the atmosphere…

July 31 2023

July 2023 may be the hottest month ever, Antarctic sea ice at an all-time low, there’s water in California (for now), the cost to the Bay Area for adapting to sea level rise by 2050, China will add massive amount of renewable energy in 2023, some challenges facing offshore wind

Heat waves continued on three continents in July, which is likely going to be the hottest month ever recorded. The New York Times describes the situation in the U.S., Europe and Asia, which is impacting hundreds of millions of people. Dangerously high temperatures, especially in combination with high humidity in some areas, are causing enormous health impacts and driving people into air-conditioned spaces (if available). The heat and dryness is also exacerbating wildfires. (A former Weather Channel meteorologist has suggested that we name heat waves, just as we name hurricanes, but name them after oil companies.)

While the heat in the northern hemisphere is in the news, there is an unsettling winter trend in the southern hemisphere. Sea ice in Antarctica is not re-forming as normal. ABC News reports that “scientists observed an all-time low in the amount of sea ice around the icy continent, following all-time lows in 2016, 2017 and 2022. Vast regions of the Antarctic coastline were ice free for the first time in the observational record.” Loss of sea ice means the planet will reflect less sunlight, warming it further. In addition, the annual cycle of sea ice formation and melt is important for maintaining the currents that transport nutrient-rich water from Antarctica to support productivity in other oceans. While some of this sea-ice loss represents natural variation, scientists are increasingly convinced that global warming is a major reason for the change. One noted, “We know that this is what the world is going to look like as it warms.” (The Guardian digs into this issue in more detail, including an interesting look at the scientists trying to understand it.)

Coastal California, where I live, has a natural air conditioner this time of year due to the upwelling of colder ocean water. This, combined with an atmospheric circulation pattern that brings cool moist air flowing into the state, has kept temperatures under control (and prevented our huge snowpack from a fast and dangerous melt). For the first time since record-keeping began in 1877, the temperature didn’t reach 80 degrees in May or June in Los Angeles. Of course, our hottest temperatures tend to be in the coming months, so I’m expecting extreme heat in my neighborhood later this year…

July 15 2023

July 4th the hottest day ever recorded, methane emissions are major problem and opportunity, many localities building flood protection designed for our previous climate, climate-science denial is still widespread, Michigan makes strides on renewable energy

The New York Times notes that, with climate change, high temperatures once considered improbable are now more commonplace, and intensifying heat and dryness is leading to larger and more catastrophic wildfires. These physical facts have been on conspicuous display recently, in the U.S. and around the world, as the summer of 2023 becomes the hottest we’ve ever recorded. 50 million Americans were living under heat advisories from the National Weather Service on June 28th, and it only got worse from there.

The Washington Post reports that July 4th was likely the hottest day on the planet in 125,000 years (and explains the evidence supporting this conclusion). Emerging El Niño oceanographic conditions, combined with global warming and summer weather patterns, suggest records will continue to fall this year. Sea ice levels in Antarctica are at record lows, while ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic are at record highs by significant margins. June was the hottest month ever recorded, with heat waves striking Texas, Mexico and India, and the El Niño is not expected to peak until December or January.

The AP reports that the heat wave in India “has overwhelmed hospitals, filled a morgue to capacity and disrupted power, forcing staff to use books to cool patients, as officials investigate a death toll that has reached nearly 170.” The heat stress has been exacerbated by consistent power outages, leaving people with no running water, fans or air conditioners. Heat waves are becoming more likely and severe due to climate change. The New York Times describes conditions in Hermosillo, Mexico, where the temperature hit 121°F. Jeff Goodell, who just finished a new book about climate change and heat waves, describes in a Times op-ed the impacts of heat he witnessed both around the world and where he lives in Austin, Texas…

June 30 2023

carbon-dioxide concentrations rise and temperature records fall around the world, storm drains are now bringing water into low-lying communities, Republicans like EVs too, Texas’ renewable energy survives political onslaught, the challenge of modernizing the U.S. electrical grid

The AP reports that, as expected, carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to climb. In May of 2023, concentrations reached 424 parts per million (ppm) at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, 3 ppm more than last year’s May average and 51% higher than pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm. This is one of the largest annual increases on record. The Guardian notes that June 2023 has produced record heat in many places around the world. As El Niño conditions develop in the second half of the year, many are predicting that 2023 or 2024 will be the hottest year ever recorded.

The Conversation summarizes recent research documenting “very strong variability in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation after 1960,” which supports the hypothesis that human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions are a cause. The strong variability is associated with more frequent extreme-weather events and, in the future, we can expect more swings from a strong El Niño in one year to a strong La Niña the following year. Even if greenhouse-gas emissions drop precipitously, the heat already stored in the ocean means that more powerful El Niño and La Niña events can be expected for a century. The New York Times explores in-depth the swings in climate that California can expect in the future, and how the natural landscape can be used to help us adapt to the world that is coming.

The New York Times visits the English coast northeast of London, where stronger storms are accelerating coastal erosion. Houses and roads are being lost, and the government has responded by devising a plan that defends some areas but not others. As you can imagine, there are many people frustrated by this approach, but it is a realistic attempt to deal with the problem. The Washington Post visits Santa Cruz, CA, where beautiful West Cliff Drive is falling into the ocean, as are many other places along the California coast (one recent cliff collapse was caught on video). This is a trend that is expected to accelerate in coming decades…