July 15 2019

July 15 2019

warming will happen faster, continued public subsidies for fossil fuels, states adopt ambitious carbon-free goals, seaweed in cow feed controls methane burps, Arnold Schwarzenegger is “Kicking Gas”

A commentary in Nature explains why global warming is likely to happen faster than predicted. The authors (all scientists) note that reductions in air pollution, natural ocean temperature cycles and rising greenhouse-gas emissions will accelerate warming in the coming decade. They argue we must focus more policy on short-term actions that reduce temperatures (through control of soot, methane as well as hydrofluorocarbons) and prepare communities for the inevitable changes. The Guardian reports that the United Nations is urging people and their governments to recognize that climate-related disasters are now happening weekly around the world. They note that making new infrastructure more resilient to these impacts will be much less expensive than repairs after the fact.

An article in the Guardian, by a reporter on board a research vessel where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Arctic Ocean, reviews changes in the Arctic. One researcher stated that they are there monitoring “the end of the Arctic as we know it.” The surface melt on Greenland this year is extraordinary, with temperatures 40°F above normal for June (see photo of sled dogs walking on water). An article in Yale e360 notes that in the last two decades melting rates for Greenland’s ice are 33 percent higher than 20th century averages, and these rates are accelerating.

InsideClimate News reports on the continuing transition away from coal-fired power plants in the U.S. (the article includes a video of the implosion of the Cane Run coal-fired power plant in Louisville, KY, a physical manifestation of this transition). Unfortunately, the Guardian reports that in 2018 coal made up 38% of world electricity generation, about the same as in 1998. At Vox, Dave Roberts describes the devastating impact of recent coal company bankruptcies in Wyoming, in which the biggest losers (just like in Appalachia) are mine workers and their communities.

Grist reviews the remarkable number of legislative actions by states to move ambitiously toward carbon-free electricity. The New York Times notes that there is a growing divide among the states, with the ambitious standards being adopted only in the “blue” states controlled by Democrats (with the exception of Maryland).

A late June heatwave scorched Europe, with the highest temperature ever recorded in France. InsideClimate News reports that this heat wave was made five times more likely due to climate change. A Washington Post editorial clarifies the choice before us: “Global warming is not just some theory scrawled on a professor’s chalkboard somewhere. It is a reality that will burden human civilization for generations to come. The question for those in positions of power now is how much their children and grandchildren will have to suffer.” The New York Times reports on the expected spread of Dengue Fever (and other diseases spread by Aedes mosquitos) as the world warms.

InsideClimate News reports on a recent study from Stanford highlighting the connection between climate change and armed conflict. The study concludes that climate change so far has not played a large role in stoking conflict, overshadowed instead by other factors such as poor governance and weak economic development. But the experts convened by this project agreed that climate change will play a far greater role in destabilizing countries as the planet warms. Vice reports on an analysis from Australia of the “business as usual” scenario, which suggests the possibility of civilization reaching the point of unraveling in 2050.

Forbes reports on a recent study by the International Monetary Fund that describes how fossil fuels continue to receive huge amounts of taxpayer funding. Fossil fuels receive 85% of all global subsidies (direct and indirect), and the $649 billion the U.S. spent on these subsidies in 2015 is more than the country’s defense budget and 10 times the federal spending for education.

New research described in the Washington Post concludes existing fossil fuel infrastructure (power plants, cars, industrial plants), if operated through their expected lifetimes, will produce enough emissions to push global warming past the 1.5°C target. We therefore need not only to cancel all new fossil fuel projects, but also close existing projects early in order to bring emissions down adequately. (This conclusion is conservative as it does not account for the growing emissions from deforestation.)

The Washington Post reports that a start-up company (Indigo AG) has announced the Terraton Initiative, a program with the ambitious goal of removing 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by paying farmers to modify their practices. There are proven techniques for having agricultural operations sequester carbon, and providing the incentive of another revenue stream will be important for encouraging farmers to participate. The first effort will include 3,000 farmers, and soil and satellite measurements will be used to verify carbon accumulation upon which farmers will be reimbursed.

A new study summarized by the New York Times concludes tree planting could be a very important long-term strategy for removing carbon from the atmosphere. The study was carefully conducted to not assume trees would be planted on farms or replace cities. It finds that two-thirds of historic carbon emissions could be sequestered, suggesting tree planting should be a very high priority. Critics noted that while the study does make clear tree planting is an important part of our carbon-reduction portfolio, some of the carbon projected to be absorbed by trees would have gone into the soil or the oceans anyway.

The Boston Globe reports on a new study that documents how increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to a longer pollen season in cities around the world (hmmm… I’ve noticed this year I’m taking more antihistamines than I have in the past). The number of frost-free days is also increasing, which contributes to more robust plant growth in most areas.

An article in Anthropocene notes recent research concluding that feeding cows just 0.5% seaweed in their diet drastically reduces the amount of methane they burp into the air. This methane, originating in the rumen of cows (and other ruminants like sheep and goats), is an important component of the carbon footprint of livestock operations.

An op-ed in the Sacramento Bee by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mary Nichols documents the growing interest in electric cars among drivers, and the creation of a new multi-stakeholder nonprofit to educate the public about these vehicles (and don’t miss Arnold in Kicking Gas, a video where he poses as a used-car salesman pushing gas guzzlers on consumers).