February 15 2020

February 15 2020

arctic changes influencing mid-latitudes and tropics, Trump continues assault on public health, will climate change blow up the economy?, climate models work after all, brewers and pot growers reducing carbon emissions The decline of sea ice and snow cover in the Arctic has resulted in this region heating more quickly than other parts of the planet. This effect, known as Arctic amplification, was predicted by scientists in the 1970s. Scientists have also hypothesized that these changes will influence weather in temperate and tropical regions, and InsideClimate News reports on a new study that suggests how this might be happening. Late summer heating in the Arctic is creating convection into southern latitudes, strengthening trade winds and El Niño oscillations while also weakening the Aleutian Low that drives storms toward the west coast of North America. There is still significant debate in the scientific community about the precise mechanisms that connect the changes in the Arctic with weather in the mid-latitudes and the tropics, but there is general agreement that such connections are likely.

Water Today examines the growing threat to water security posed by the changing climate in Australia. Major metropolitan areas have invested in, and are considering expanding, desalination plants. Change in flood patterns (fewer small floods and more larger floods where reservoirs must spill water), increased demand and higher temperatures (driving more evaporation) are key elements of the problem. A similar story is told by the Salt Lake Tribune for the Colorado River. Water levels at Lake Powell, a major reservoir on the Colorado River, are now about half of what they were in 2000.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded by Manhattan Project scientists, has just moved its doomsday clock to 100 seconds before midnight. It has never been this close, and Katrina vanden Heuvel explains why in the Washington Post.

The Trump Administration has continued its assault on environmental and public health protections. The Washington Post reports that the latest example (of 95 separate decisions) is to allow cities more time to continue to dump raw sewage into waterways during storm events. Many communities, particularly older cities, have combined systems that carry sewage and rainfall, and during major storm events these systems overflow (in the Bay Area only San Francisco has such a system). One impact of the more extreme storms driven by climate change is that these overflows are becoming more common.

In the Kansas City Star, an op-ed describes the potential of regenerative agriculture (or “carbon farming”) as a new revenue source for farmers who, by adopting these techniques, also are helping to address climate change. Another op-ed in the Guardian argues that “green agriculture” is the biggest election-year story that has been overlooked. Bloomberg reports on the rush to buy agricultural land in southern Chile as a hedge against the changing climate. The article centers on a decision by a major Spanish wine producer to buy a sheep farm in Patagonia, where he plans to eventually grow grapes. He does not expect to be alive to ever taste the wine to be produced there, which he thinks will be available in 50 years.

Could climate change blow up the world economy? The New York Times reports that the European Central Bank considers this a possibility, and is thinking about how to mitigate this risk. Anthropocene reports that mass timber construction (an emerging class of wood products strong enough to support mid-rise and even high-rise buildings) could result in buildings being an important carbon sink in the future.

Canada is getting ready to approve a huge tar sands project (the Teck mine). Bill McKibben notes in the Guardian that Canada, which will by itself use 30% of society’s remaining carbon budget if this mine is developed, demonstrates the hypocrisy and emptiness of its pledge to reduce carbon emissions. This is exactly what nations cannot do—invest our capital now in projects that will increase instead of decrease carbon emissions.

Grist reports that TV meteorologists, who 10 years ago were renowned for their skepticism about climate science, are now important climate-change educators for the nation. This change has been fostered by the Climate Matters program, and the article describes the activities some TV meteorologists discussed at the recent annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (disclosure: I am a supporter of the Climate Matters program). Many TV meteorologists are now expanding their reporting into solutions to the climate crisis, and Climate Matters is supporting other reporters to tell climate change stories.

At RealClimate, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt has updated his graphic that compares climate model predictions to actual temperature measurements since 1990. Guess what—climate models are quite accurate (particularly when the central trend of many models is used as the projection). James Hansen, one of our most famous climate modelers, has a short article that describes the important factors that influence the accuracy of models when compared to actual temperature measurements.

InsideClimate News has a series of stories about how southern states are preparing (or not) for climate-change. The series includes stories from South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Florida. The overview story notes that while the region is projected to suffer significant impacts, many communities are struggling with funding or with a lack of political will. The Guardian reports that sea level rise accelerated in 2019, particularly on the east and gulf coasts, continuing a trend that started in 2013. Grist describes a new federal disaster relief and preparedness program, signed into law by President Trump, that is allowing states to prepare for climate change without acknowledging its existence.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the decline of coal-fired power in the western U.S. There are 49 coal-fired power stations that have closed since 2010 or are scheduled to close, and only 20 coal plants whose owners haven’t committed to fully retiring them by specific dates. Utilities in the west, with a few exceptions, are increasingly looking to solar farms, wind turbines and giant batteries to replace their coal plants.

InsideClimate News reports on a new study that concludes extreme heat waves have already driven some local North American and European bumblebee populations to the edge of extinction. There are 46 species of bumblebees in North America, which one of the study’s authors notes, “…are the best pollinators in wild landscapes and really important for crops like tomatoes, squash and berries.” Habitat loss and pesticides are also threatening bumblebee populations.

Beer brewers and pot growers working together to save the planet? The Washington Post reports on how a carbon-capture technology developed by a small company in Colorado is allowing carbon dioxide that used to be vented to the atmosphere by brewers to be captured and sold to marijuana growers.