June 30 2024

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.

The intense heat over the last few years is partially explained by El Niño, but not completely. Grist describes the current discussion among climate scientists who are considering what might be happening. “Climate change has warmed the planet by 1.3°C compared to preindustrial times. But the last 12 months have been about 1.6°C hotter, according to the latest data. Some of that heat — around 0.1 or 0.2°C — can be attributed to El Niño warming up the Pacific Ocean. That still leaves as much as 0.2°C unexplained.” About 0.1°C rise can be attributed to the reduction in particulates in the atmosphere due to pollution-control efforts (particularly for ships), as the particulates have a cooling effect by blocking sunlight from reaching the Earth. Among the possible explanations for the other 0.1°C are water vapor emitted during the underwater volcanic eruption in 2022 offshore Tonga, shifting weather patterns that reduced the dust from the Sahara that usually travels over the Atlantic Ocean or perhaps more successful pollution-control efforts in China that have also reduced particulates in the atmosphere. “More ominously, some scientists argue that the planet is more sensitive to climate change than previously thought.”

In addition to the global heat wave, intense rainstorms continue to batter humans around the world. iNews reports that “almost a month’s worth of rain fell in some areas of Moscow in a few hours.” The Telegraph has video of major flooding at the airport on the Spanish island of Majorca. The Washington Post describes major flooding in Southern Florida after intense rainfall. Portions of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin experienced major flooding in late June due to intense downpours. The New York Times reports that many cities in this region are without clean drinking water or electrical power, with some nursing homes and hospitals requiring evacuation. A railroad bridge collapsed in Sioux City, South Dakota, and a dam was threatening to collapse in Minnesota. Massive storms struck New Mexico, a state also dealing with wildfires and a major dust storm. “This is probably the first time we’ve seen this kind of rainfall come this quickly,” said Governor Noem of South Dakota. Gee, I wonder why that is? (Noem has denied that the burning of fossil fuels has affected the climate.)

As Texas A&M Professor Andrew Dessler explains on Climate Brink, these types of intense rain events are expected and with higher frequency in a warmer world, since warm air can hold more moisture. Florida Governor Ron De Santis and his communications team insisted that the flooding in his state is just normal summer rainfall, despite the governor’s declaration of a state of emergency. As Professor Dessler notes, “this will not end well for Florida.” The New York Times visits a neighborhood in St. Petersburg, FL, that has experienced frequent flooding. Those that can afford it are raising their homes or moving, but some residents can afford to do neither.

CNN reports: “The US has been thrashed with 11 extreme weather disasters with costs exceeding $1 billion so far this year, with a total price tag of $25.1 billion, according to an updated tally from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s tied for the second-most such disasters on record and doesn’t even include the extreme weather” of late May and June. This is putting a strain on FEMA’s major disaster response budget, which may be exhausted by August. And this summer is projected to have many major hurricanes and more heat waves.

The New York Times reports on the ground-breaking for America’s first “small modular reactor” in Kemmerer, WY. The project is using a new reactor design, and is smaller than traditional reactors, in an attempt to control the costs that have made nuclear power so impractical at present. But the cost of nuclear power remains a problem. “In 2022, the company [TerraPower] estimated that its Kemmerer reactor would cost $4 billion, with the Energy Department contributing up to $2 billion. That’s already pricier than modern gas or renewable plants, and costs could rise further.” Another nuclear-power startup, NuScale, abandoned plans last year to build six small reactors due to cost challenges. One analyst notes “there’s no evidence these small reactors are going to be built any faster or any cheaper than larger ones.” Procuring fuel may be another obstacle, as the only supplier of the specialized enriched uranium used by the new TerraPower reactor design is Russia.

Grist reports that a recent study in Antarctica has documented that the Thwaites Glacier, one of Antarctica’s largest, “is exposed to far more warming water than previously believed.” A new study using satellite imagery and hydraulic modeling determined that warm waters are permeating the ice at great depths, causing “vigorous melting.”

Inside Climate News notes that mangrove forests and coral reefs provide vital flood-protection services to coastal communities (among other benefits) by reducing wave heights and storm surges. However, these ecosystems “may be faltering,” as a recent study “found that more than half of mangrove ecosystems around the world are at risk of collapse by 2050 due to human development and climate change.” Meanwhile, coral reefs are in the midst of the fourth worldwide bleaching event ever documented, which dampens their ability to buffer coastlines. The article notes that the value of these systems is being recognized in new types of insurance policies, where a storm event of a predetermined magnitude triggers a payout to restore the ecosystem and protect future benefits.

Salon has a retrospective on The Day After Tomorrow, the 2004 film with climate change as the central plot element. While the film has been criticized by scientists for its inaccuracies, all of which are acknowledged by the writer and director, the success of the movie exposed many Americans to the issue and moved the needle of public opinion (a little). The article is based on an interview with the screenwriter, who noted that Fox insisted the film be marketed without using the term “global warming.” While he initially objected to this, he later accepted that this likely allowed for a much wider audience to engage with the film.

Grist reports that the American Climate Corps has begun, a program modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. Announced by President Biden in 2021, but delayed by funding issues, the first cohort of 9,000 people will be deployed around the country working on projects that foster climate resiliency. First proposed by Washington State Governor Jay Inslee as part of his presidential campaign (Volts has a great interview with Inslee), members of the Corps take an oath (authored by Barbara Kingsolver) to work “on behalf of our nation and planet, its people, and all its species, for the better future we hold within our sight.”