July 15 2024

Hurricane Beryl disrupts Houston, old dams challenged by a new climate, who has priority for water in the Colorado?, heat records fall in the U.S., Supreme Court overturns precedent that deferred to government’s technical expertise

The New York Times reports that Hurricane Beryl became a Category 5 storm earlier in the season than any previous hurricane, a direct result of the hot ocean temperatures. The Atlantic calls Beryl a terrifying omen, and quotes a consulting meteorologist from Florida, who said the storm “is not normal, in any way, shape, or form.” A large hurricane early in the year is consistent with the predictions that the 2024 hurricane season will include many powerful storms, and the Times describes how strong hurricanes represent a threat to the electrical grid.

Right on cue, Beryl struck Texas as a powerful tropical storm on July 8, knocking-out power to over two million people. The Washington Post examines the flooding in Houston which, despite investing billions in flood protection, was still inundated by a storm that was not massive by today’s standards (Inside Climate News calls Beryl a warning shot for Houston, given the likelihood of stronger storms in the future). The Guardian reports that five days after the storm, 800,000 Houston residents remain without power as a heat advisory is in effect, with heat index values over 100°F. This is becoming all too familiar to Houston residents, as about one million people in the area were without power for several days in May after an intense rain storm.

The New York Times describes the search for portable generators, and how the roar of these devices indicates the more well-to-do parts of the city during power outages. A line stretched out the door at Home Depot in north Houston as people sought generators and chain saws (for cutting downed trees). One store had generators, but did not have power to process credit-card purchases. The gas to power generators is also in high demand and can be hard to find. The local utility is trying to set up larger generators for critical facilities like cooling centers, health-care facilities, police and fire stations, senior centers and educational centers…

June 30 2024

extreme heat strikes around the world, extreme rainfall is also widespread, Antarctic glaciers under threat from intrusion of warmer water, mangroves and coral reefs provide vital flood protection, the American Climate Corps

Record heat waves exposed billions of people around the world to dangerous conditions in June. The Washington Post reported that, in New Delhi, the temperature reached 126°F, causing deaths there and in other cities in the region. The associated aridity has restricted the water supply to Bangalore and New Delhi. Over 1,300 Muslims participating in the holy pilgrimage to Mecca died due to the heat. 1,400 heat records fell across five continents, including in the United States, where tens of millions residents of the Midwest and the East were exposed to extreme heat.

There is no doubt that our emissions of greenhouse gases have made heat waves worse. The Post noted that “for some 80 percent of the world’s population — 6.5 billion people — the heat of the past week was twice as likely to occur because humans started burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” The New York Times reports that, “between May 2023 and May 2024, an estimated 6.3 billion people, or roughly 4 out of 5 people in the world, lived through at least a month of what in their areas were considered abnormally high temperatures.” While there was some expectation that temperatures this year would moderate as La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean replace El Niño, 2024 appears on pace to eclipse 2023 as the hottest year ever. Readers of The Washington Post describe how their experience of summer has changed. The Guardian notes that Texas and Florida have rejected regulations that would protect outdoor workers from extreme heat, something several other states have already adopted.

Albawaba.com reports that Kuwait is struggling to meet electricity demand during the heat, and the Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy announced rolling black-outs on June 20th. The chief sustainability officer for American University in Beirut noted that the entire Middle East is challenged by rising temperatures, adding that “the length of heat waves is growing.” A massive power outage struck the Balkans, causing widespread disruption in Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and Albania…

June 15 2024

carbon emissions may be declining (slowly), EV sales grow worldwide, fossil-fuel industry disinformation still rampant, federal rules designed to accelerate new transmission lines, health benefits of reduced fossil-fuel burning already in the billions of dollars

An extraordinary economic transition is underway around the world to move our energy system from fossil fuels to renewables. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable-electricity capacity increased last year by almost 50%, and the transportation and building sectors are electrifying as well. (As Amory Lovins noted: “The energy revolution has happened. Sorry if you missed it.”) While the task before us remains enormous, we are making a difference. The New York Times reports that global carbon emissions in 2024 may be less than in 2023. Except for major economic recessions, this would mark the first time that the amount of emissions has declined year over year.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) describes the change in electricity sources, noting that the “world broke a record by generating 30 percent of all electricity from renewable sources in 2023.” This was primarily due to the rise of solar and wind, which increased by a factor of five in the U.S. from 2015-2023 (we produce more renewable electricity than any country except China). But to make the necessary progress toward climate goals, we must reduce fossil-fuel use. UCS notes that “per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are three times higher than the global average and remain among the highest of all major economies.”

A key reason for this is the organized disinformation campaign of the fossil-fuel industry (the most recent example being the “Don’t Ban Our Cars” campaign, which equates tailpipe-emissions reductions with a ban on cars). The industry is doubling-down on these efforts as it becomes clearer that their efforts at deception have resulted in great harm for which they should be held accountable. The AP reports on a recent law in Vermont that requires fossil-fuel companies to pay a share of the damages caused by climate change, a response to costs incurred by the state from intense flooding and other extreme weather events. Similar measures are being considered by Maryland, Massachusetts and New York…

May 31 2024

the grief of climate scientists, accelerating sea level rise along southern U.S. coast, extreme storm strikes Houston, the grim truth of Republican plans for another Presidential administration, septic tanks begin to fail in Florida

The scale of climate-driven change appearing on the planet, combined with inadequate efforts to transform our energy system, is leaving many climate scientists in a place of grief. The Guardian reports on its survey of climate scientists, in which almost 20% of the female scientists indicate that they did not (or are not going to) have children because, as one scientist put it, “the world is going to hell in a handbasket.”

80% of the respondents to the survey expect that global average temperature will be at least 2.5°C above preindustrial levels by 2100, while only 6% thought the ambitious international goal of 1.5°C will be met. “Many of the scientists envisage a ‘semi-dystopian’ future, with famines, conflicts and mass migration, driven by heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms of an intensity and frequency far beyond those that have already struck.” (A separate article in The Guardian describes this unpleasant likelihood.) Jesse Keenan of Tulane University said, “this is just the beginning: buckle up,” while a South African scientist who chose anonymity stated: “The world’s response to date is reprehensible — we live in an age of fools.”

But before you throw up your hands, many scientists point out that we can still influence the outcome. Peter Cox of the University of Exeter said: “Climate change will not suddenly become dangerous at 1.5°C — it already is. And it will not be ‘game over’ if we pass 2°C, which we might well do.” As I’ve noted previously, the world we get will be the world we choose. We just can’t choose the world we’ve had…

May 15 2024

heat records continue to be broken, a global coral bleaching event underway, more EV charging stations needed, too much solar electricity in California sometimes, battery costs continue to drop

April 2024 continued 11 months of record-setting heat across the globe. The Washington Post describes heat waves in Africa and Asia as climate change and El Niño combine to push temperatures into uncharted territory. Axios notes that this heat wave is affecting hundreds of millions of people, with temperature records being set in some of the world’s largest cities. The New York Times reports that, based on an analysis of tree rings, the summer of 2023 was the hottest in 2,000 years. As El Niño wanes, it is expected that temperatures will fall below record levels in the latter half of 2024.

Grist reports that, for the second time this decade, a global coral bleaching event is underway, with over half of the world’s reef areas affected. Bleaching, caused by elevated ocean temperatures, is when the coral polyp ejects its photosynthetic partner, resulting in a white or “bleached” appearance. If temperatures stay elevated for too long, the corals will die, imperiling the ecosystems of which they are a foundation, including $11 trillion of human economic activity around the world. This may represent coral reefs going through a “tipping point” where their continued survival becomes impossible. Already, “the Great Barrier Reef, for example, has gone through five mass bleaching events in the last eight years, leaving little chance for recovery. Florida has already lost more than 90 percent of its coral reefs.”

Global warming is reducing the mass of ice sheets and glaciers globally, and most glaciers are expected to continue retreating at an accelerated pace. ZME Science reports that Venezuela has officially lost its last glacier, as the La Corona (or Humboldt) glacier is now “a piece of ice that is 0.4 percent of its original size.” Many other countries will follow, and this will impact drinking water availability, agriculture and river ecology around the world. My post, the The Breath of a Dying Glacier, includes a photo from my trip to one of California’s last glaciers…

April 30 2024

the challenges of geo-engineering, “zombie fires” portend another bad Canadian fire season, coastal land subsidence increases sea level rise impacts, new nuclear-power plants operational in Georgia, peak use of fossil fuels in electricity sector

As it becomes clear that we are making little headway in reducing fossil-fuel burning, more attention is being paid to climate- or geo-engineering to reduce the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions. These efforts fall into two groups: reducing incoming solar radiation and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Inside Climate News describes the serious technical, political and moral challenges associated with “solar radiation management,” where particles are injected in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight (major volcanic eruptions like Mount Pinatubo in 1991 act on the Earth’s climate in this manner). An op-ed in The New York Times argues for the need for transparent experimentation as this technology is investigated. The Times also reports on marine cloud brightening, a technology that attempts to reflect sunlight on a more local scale (rather than injecting particles into the stratosphere). By purposely altering the energy balance of the earth, these technologies will undoubtedly lead to unanticipated changes in the weather in different places. Critics argue that we should be focusing all of our efforts on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, not further manipulating the planet’s climate.

The New York Times examines the largest projects that are attempting direct air capture, where renewable energy (geothermal or solar) is used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These efforts are highly criticized as too expensive to be meaningful, and imply that it is possible to keep burning fossil fuels. The large plants under construction, when complete, will still only capture 1% of global emissions.

Inside Climate News reviews another way to remove carbon from the atmosphere, creating biochar from plants and other organic materials and returning it to the soil. Biochar, created by burning materials in the absence of oxygen, not only ties up carbon in a very stable chemical structure, but also is a valuable soil amendment for farmers (although right now it is much more expensive than fertilizer). “The process of making biochar has other byproducts, like oil that can easily be made into asphalt, sugar and liquid fuel that can be used for shipping and aviation…”