February 29 2024

global heat continues in 2024, ice loss from Greenland is larger than previously estimated, climate-change denialists continue to confuse the public, Florida legislature considers bill to remove mention of climate change from state statutes, EV sales growth slows

The New York Times reports that January 2024 was the hottest January ever recorded. Given the ongoing strong El Niño, higher temperatures are expected, although scientists are surprised by the intensity of the heating being observed in both the atmosphere and the oceans. The Guardian notes: “Humanity is on a trajectory to experience the hottest February in recorded history, after a record January, December, November, October, September, August, July, June and May.”

While we tend to be focused on the impacts of El Niño in the Northern Hemisphere, The Washington Post reminds us that this oceanic feature impacts weather globally. In South America, the impacts of El Niño this winter have been significant. These impacts include major outbreaks of dengue fever, deaths of dolphins and other wildlife in the Amazon, drought in the normally wet Columbian highlands and devastating fires in Chile.

People are working around the world on methods to capture carbon dioxide from power plants, and directly from the air, to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases. These methods are expensive, and so efforts are being made to harness natural carbon-capture processes that could be cheaper. Anthropocene Magazine reports that “researchers have developed a biosynthetic pathway that efficiently captures carbon dioxide from air and converts it into an industrially useful chemical.” The article describes this remarkable feat of bioengineering, in which the genes for the biosynthetic pathway was placed into E. coli cells, allowing them to act as “carbon-sequestration factories.” “The work paves the way towards harnessing bacterial cells to produce biofuels in a sustainable way from carbon dioxide…”

October 31 2022

tipping points may have already been crossed, climate-related disasters costing $200 million per day, offshore leases for wind more valuable than for oil, Greece powered entirely by renewables for 5 hours, a fast transition to renewables is cheapest

Grist reports on a new study warning that the 1.1°C (1.9°F) of warming that has already occurred may have pushed the planet past tipping points. These include the beginning of the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, tropical coral reef die-offs and the abrupt thawing of permafrost. As the planet warms further, these outcomes are more and more likely if they have not already occurred. In The Guardian, one of the authors of the study notes: “We’re not saying that, because we’re probably going to hit some tipping points, everything is lost and it’s game over. Every fraction of a degree that we stop beyond 1.5°C reduces the likelihood of hitting more tipping points.”

Greta Thunberg is a bit more forceful, writing in The Guardian that it is a very limited “we” who have caused climate disruption. “The fact that 3 billion people use less energy, on an annual per capita basis, than a standard American refrigerator gives you an idea of how far away from global equity and climate justice we currently are.” She criticizes the global carbon-reduction targets as incomplete and inadequate, noting that she takes “no pleasure whatsoever to keep calling out the bullshit of our so-called leaders.” She concludes that we are approaching a precipice of disruption that requires activists to “stand our ground. Do not let them drag us another inch closer to the edge. Not one inch. Right here, right now, is where we draw the line.”

Supporting Greta’s stance is the recent report from the World Meteorological Association (WMO). CNBC reports that, according to the WMO, climate-related disasters have increased fivefold over the past five decades and are now costing $200 million a day. UN Secretary General Guterres notes that “There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters.” He added that the report shows “climate impacts heading into uncharted territories of destruction … Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse.”…

July 15 2022

Supreme Court limits the EPA’s ability to act on climate, extreme weather collapsing insurance markets, the value of natural infrastructure, record-breaking floods hit Bangladesh and Australia, indoor agriculture’s use of fossil fuels

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the case West Virginia v. EPA, limited the ability of the federal government to require reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. While not preventing the EPA from regulating these emissions, the court constrained how the EPA could approach the problem, specifically preventing the agency from issuing a rule that would transform the entire electricity sector. Instead, the EPA must take a plant-by-plant approach and restrict emissions with devices such as scrubbers on smokestacks. Of course, the science dictates that such a sector-wide transformation is necessary to protect public health and safety. The New York Times describes how the court’s decision makes it almost mathematically impossible to meet the emissions-reduction goals the Biden Administration has announced.

The plaintiffs in the case, a group of Republican Attorneys General, were originally led by Scott Pruitt when he was AG of Oklahoma before becoming Trump’s first EPA Administrator (I know you hoped that we were done with him… at least he did get crushed in the Republican primary for Senate in Oklahoma). This group argued that Congress did not give the EPA explicit authority to take a sector-wide action, and therefore it should not be able to do so. The majority of the court agreed, embracing the “major questions” doctrine for the first time. Historian Heather Cox Richardson notes that this “reversed almost 100 years of jurisprudence by arguing that Congress cannot delegate authority on ‘major questions’ to agencies in the executive branch,” and in a broader context signals “the end of the federal government as we know it.” The major-questions doctrine could be invoked to prevent federal government agencies from taking technically-nuanced action on any number of issues, all depending upon what the Supreme Court might decide is a “major question.” For a deep dive into the complexities of the decision, you can listen to the Volts podcast that interviews one of the attorneys supporting the EPA’s position (spoiler: even the attorney is not sure what the decision actually requires)…

June 30 2022

the Arctic is warming quickly, early-season heat waves abound, flooding in Yellowstone, green aluminum, is creating fossil-fuel PR immoral?

Recent measurements have documented that a region of the Arctic is warming faster than any place on Earth. The Guardian reports on these temperature increases on the islands of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea. That the Arctic would warm more rapidly relative to the rest of the planet has been predicted since the 1970s, due mainly to ice (that reflects solar radiation) being replaced by water (that absorbs solar radiation). However, the heating appears to be happening faster than previously estimated. This will likely have significant impacts on weather outside of the Arctic as the historical temperature gradient between the tropics and the Arctic gets smaller.

Water availability is declining in the western U.S. through a combination of drought, population growth and lack of conservation (John Oliver has a nice primer on the problem). This reduction can be seen in Utah as the Great Salt Lake dwindles in size. The New York Times examines the implications of this change, which extends far beyond the loss of water itself. In particular, the exposed lake bed is becoming an air-quality hazard for the region, and there is no indication yet that the growth in water use that’s driving this problem is being addressed. A similar problem has already played out at Owens Lake east of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, which has resulted in the town of Keeler essentially being abandoned. An article in the Washington Post describes the potential for taps to go dry in the South African city of Gqeberha, due to climate change and inadequate water-system maintenance.

The Washington Post reports that the “immediate crises — among them war, spiking gas prices and an open-ended pandemic — are hindering the ability of leaders to take necessary action on the longer-term threats posed by climate change.” At our present rate of emissions, we will fly past the 1.5°C target by 2030. One leading climate scientist noted, “we know what we need to do, but we are not doing it yet.” An article in the New York Times describes the growing challenges facing countries in Asia due to climate change and extreme weather…