March 15 2020

March 15 2020

declining flows in the Colorado River, reconnecting the Mississippi to its floodplain, agrivoltaics, climate change contribution to Australia’s wildfires, 20% of U.S. electricity will be renewable in 2020!

InsideClimate News reports on a study concluding that the flows in the Colorado River, which provide water to 40 million people in major cities and vast tracts of farmland in the Southwest, are even more sensitive to climate change than previously thought. Warmer spring temperatures since 1980 have cut the Rocky Mountain snowpack, the source of the Colorado river flow, by 20 percent. By factoring in the impact of reduced reflectivity of the surface as the snow level recedes, the authors conclude that increased evaporation rates mean that flows are declining at a rate of about 9.3 percent for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit increase in temperature. Flow reductions are evident throughout the basin, as the water storage in Lake Mead (the largest reservoir in the U.S.) has dropped 60 percent since 2000, to its lowest level since its creation in 1935. Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Michigan summarizes the predicament by saying, “the more oil and gas we burn, the less water will be available to the American Southwest.”

National Geographic reports on new research documenting a mechanism by which permafrost can abruptly thaw, releasing methane. Understanding the release of methane (and carbon dioxide) from permafrost melt is important, as the last major IPCC assessment in 2014 didn’t incorporate permafrost emissions when projecting future temperatures. The authors suggest that abrupt thawing, which can occur where there is a lot of ice in the soil, may double estimates of emissions from thawing permafrost.

The Los Angeles Times has an article about the town of Marina on Monterey Bay that – unlike most coastal communities in California – is embracing the concept of managed retreat as sea level rises. This is made easier since Marina has not developed its beaches and coastal dunes, which allows these ecosystems to respond as sea level rises, still providing protection to the town inland. The Washington Post takes a detailed look at the steps that Boston, which is one of America’s cities most vulnerable to sea level rise, is taking to become more resilient to higher waters.

The New York Times visits a model of the lower Mississippi River, where engineers are testing diversion schemes to be implemented by the State of Louisiana to return the sediment-laden waters of the Mississippi to flood plains. The goal is to return natural sedimentation to lands where this process has been interrupted by levees in order to counter the erosion from sea level rise and slow the loss of land in southern Louisiana.

Grist reports on agrivoltaics, the practice of deploying solar panels on agricultural land to generate electricity while providing enhanced conditions for growing food. This practice, which got its start in Japan, has the potential to provide more revenue for farmers. The article describes an installation in Colorado of 3,300 solar panels on six-foot and eight-foot-high stilts, providing shade for crops like tomatoes, peppers, kale and beans on a five-acre plot. One challenge is the need to harvest crops by hand, which will presently limit the size of these installations.

An article in Mother Jones describes the Agriculture Resilience Act, recently introduced into Congress. This act would establish a “national goal” of net-zero greenhouse emissions from agriculture by no later than 2040 by encouraging farmers to adopt regenerative agricultural practices such as winter cover crops and limited tillage. As the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, the act is a science-based approach to engaging the agricultural sector in mitigating climate change.

An article in Grist reviews recent research on social influence and personal energy habits that concludes peer pressure plays a major role in why we do what we do. This can be an even more powerful motivator than cost or considerations such as convenience or effectiveness. An article in Vox describes how natural-gas utilities are responding to the need to “electrify everything” in order to reduce carbon emissions (hint: they’re not happy).

A group of scientists explain in a Scientific American op-ed why it is important to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies. Based on a study published in Nature, the authors point out subsidies to fossil fuel companies pose formidable financial, institutional and political obstacles that impede the efficacy of greenhouse-gas emission reduction strategies. For example, extra revenue from subsidies can fund product promotion and political activities and bolster the contention that supporting this industry is beneficial for society.

Vox interviews Michael Klare, a Hampshire College professor who has written extensively about the impact of climate change on national security and military operations. Klare’s new book documents a very climatically and politically disrupted future for which the Pentagon is planning, at present by trying to make U.S. military bases more resilient to climate change. The book’s title, All Hell Breaking Loose, gives you a sense of this future into which we are heading.

A study summarized by the New York Times concludes that climate change made Australia’s wildfires at least 30 percent more likely than in a world without global warming. The authors note their estimate is quite conservative, and the impact of climate change could easily be larger. The study also found that climate change has made periods of extreme heat, like the two-week period prior to the fires, twice as likely as in 1900.

An excellent op-ed in the New York Times argues that the danger of the Trump Administration’s disdain for science is now on display as it struggles to deal with the rise of the novel coronavirus.

The Planetary Press reports on the announcements by JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, two of the largest financiers of fossil-fuel projects in the world, that they will not fund projects that drill for oil and gas in the Arctic. Similar announcements were made recently by BlackRock and Goldman Sachs. While much more needs to happen, these first steps demonstrate that the financial sector is beginning to move in the right direction.

The Guardian reports about Christiana Figueres and her new book, The Future We Choose. Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who was an architect of the worldwide Paris climate agreement, is encouraging all of us to adopt a stubborn optimism in the face of the climate crisis. She notes that society is “paralyzed and obsessed about the consequences of climate change,” and hasn’t been able to separate that fear from the upsides of cutting emissions: stronger economies, energy independence, a livable environment, breathable air, less time wasted commuting, improved health, an increased connection to nature and more.

In 2019, greenhouse-gas emissions from electricity production dropped by 2%, the biggest drop in 30 years according to a recent study summarized by the Guardian. The drop is mainly attributed to a mild winter, but also to the growing amount of solar and wind used to generate electricity. Wind and solar power rose by 15% in 2019 to make up 8% of the world’s electricity, but this rate of adoption must increase substantially if we are to successfully transition away from fossil fuels. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports on the latest data from the Energy Information Administration, which concludes that total renewable electricity generation will top 20% in the U.S. for the first time in 2020, twice the level in 2010. About 80% of electrical generation capacity added this year will be renewable, mostly wind and solar.