March 15 2022

March 15 2022

yet another warning from world scientists, climate change alters the Gulf of Maine, beavers enter the Arctic, White House seeks to counter climate misinformation, record-setting federal lease sale is for wind — not oil and gas, a solar steel mill in Colorado

The Washington Post describes the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “a warning letter to a world on the brink.” The report notes that, even if humanity limits further warming to 1.5°C, a person born in the last 10 years will experience a fourfold increase in the number of extreme weather events during his/her lifetime. By 2100, 8% of the world’s farmland would become unsuitable for growing crops. Robinson Meyer summarizes the report in the Atlantic, noting that “by the middle of the century, it will be too hot to work outside many days of the year across large swaths of the world.” He also highlights the adverse impacts on human health, and stresses that the degradation of ecosystems will occur with often unquantifiable but quite real impacts (as noted in an article in Vox).

Of course, chances are that the planet will warm more than 1.5°C, and so the impacts to civilization will be even greater. “Each increment of additional warming brings more devastation, more death — and more dollars spent on coping.” With 2°C warming, hundreds of millions of people will be exposed to water scarcity, tens of millions will be exposed to extreme heat waves and millions more will die due to climate-related diseases. The New York Times notes that the IPCC suggests these changes can outstrip society’s ability to adapt. A Washington Post editorial concluded that this report cannot be a wake up call, as there is “no excuse for policymakers to be asleep to the threat of climate change at this point.” Indeed, some climate scientists are calling for a strike, telling their colleagues to refuse to produce a subsequent set of reports as a way to call attention to the urgency of the situation. An op-ed in the Guardian quotes one of the IPCC lead authors: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

With this grim news, it is vital to remember that, even though the climate of our past is gone, the climate of the future will be the one we choose. Dan Lashof says it well in an op-ed in The Hill: “While significant impacts from climate change are already occurring and additional damages are now inevitable, how quickly we curb emissions of heat-trapping pollution and how well we prepare for and respond to those impacts will determine the extent of the harm.” In The Guardian, Alice Bell encourages all of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work as a way to combat the dread and despair this news can generate. Because climate change is influencing everything, there are many ways to bring on the transformation we need. She recommends doing something that brings you joy. In Fast Company, social psychologist Thomas Bateman and climate scientist Michael Mann argue that we must believe we have the capacity to transform society or it won’t happen. Keys to developing this are intentionality, forethought, self control and self reflection. These build personal agency that then leads to collective agency that drives societal change.

An article in the Guardian takes a look at Las Vegas, one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. despite the fact that it is warming faster than any other place in the country. Future water availability is a big concern, despite the fact that per-capita water use in the region decreased roughly 47% between 2002 and 2020. An activist fighting increased urban sprawl in the region says, “One day this place will be uninhabitable. And the question I pose when people say that is, ‘Who gets to leave?’” The Oroville Mercury-Register notes in an editorial that California is not preparing adequately for the droughts that are projected for its future.

An excellent article in The Equation describes the ecological changes — triggered by climate change — that are underway in the Gulf of Maine. A key alteration is the decline of calanoid copepods, a type of zooplankton that are a nutritious food for many creatures from larval fish to baleen whales. Some changes are indirect, such as the loss of the northern shrimp fishery because warm water brought predatory longfin squid to the region. This article does a great job of describing how climate change can cause cascading impacts throughout a major ecosystem.

Inside Climate News describes how the expansion of beavers into the warming Arctic is causing cascading impacts in this ecosystem as well. These range from changing stream flows and fish habitat, to thawing permafrost that releases stored greenhouse gases. In the Canadian Arctic, beaver activity is disrupting the lifecycle of Arctic char, fish that are a key food source for Nunavik communities in northern Quebec. One scientist noted that "Beavers are simultaneously the result of climate change and one of the factors amplifying climate change."

After several federal court rulings supporting the consideration of the costs of climate change when deciding to lease federal land for oil and gas development, the New York Times reports on a decision by a federal judge in Louisiana that blocks this practice. The cost of climate change (and other social costs such as health effects) are currently incorporated in regulatory decisions (using what is known as “the social cost of carbon”). The judge stated that this practice “would harm his native Louisiana and other energy producing states.” The judge is therefore concluding that costs “external to the market," such as those of pollution, should only be borne by the public and not incorporated into the actual cost of production. While the Attorney General of Louisiana called the social cost of carbon "voodoo economics," internalizing an external cost is a basic principle of market economics. This principle has been historically avoided by the fossil-fuel industry, which wants to privatize profit but socialize cost. The federal government is going to appeal this decision. Meanwhile, an article in Scientific American describes how a decision in a case just heard before the U.S. Supreme Court (West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency) could greatly restrict the capacity of the U.S. EPA and other federal agencies to adopt regulations to protect public health and safety. An editorial in the Washington Post tells the Supreme Court to let the EPA do its job.

An op-ed in The Hill argues that government investment in carbon-capture and -storage (CCS) technology has been a failure and should come to an end. The author notes "it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Congress keeps spending money on CCS not because it’s the best way to reduce carbon pollution but because it would postpone the retirement of fossil fuels from the world’s energy mix.” Instead, Bill McKibben suggests that the U.S. should be producing heat pumps for Europe to displace Russian natural gas next winter. He argues that the Defense Production Act should be invoked to support this effort on behalf of national security, and that this is consistent with NATO joint defense commitments. Canary Media examines Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, and various strategies for reducing this dependence.

Climate scientists are questioning whether the scientific publishing giant, Elsevier, which publishes important scientific journals in the environmental space, has a conflict of interest as it also publishes journals and for-profit mapping products that support the fossil-fuel industry. The Guardian quotes one scientist who says, "It’s hard to believe that a company that publishes research about the dangers of the climate and ecological crises is the very same company that actively works with oil and gas companies to extract more fossil fuels, which drags us towards disaster."

The Washington Post notes that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is hosting a meeting among leading scientists regarding how to counter misinformation and denial about climate change. While many people are aware of the decades-long effort to deceive Americans about climate change, many are unaware that this effort continues today. USA Today noted that this is especially true on social media platforms, and Media Matters gives a sample of recent disinformation from Fox News. A Senate candidate in Oklahoma still calls climate change a hoax, and oral arguments in a recent Supreme Court hearing suggest that at least two justices question whether climate change is a problem. A recent report concluded that Facebook continues to fail to flag climate misinformation, despite its commitment to do so. The authors document that ten digital publishers account for up to 69% of Facebook interactions with climate-denial content.

The New York Times reports that, as part of the Biden Administration’s effort to expand offshore wind, the U.S. netted a record $4.37 billion from the sale of six offshore-wind leases off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. When fully developed, the area is expected to generate up to 7,000 megawatts of electricity. Inside Climate News has more detail on this remarkable event, which was the highest-grossing competitive offshore-energy lease sale in history, including oil and gas lease sales. Reuters notes that the proceeds from the lease sale are more than three times the revenue received from all U.S. offshore oil and gas lease auctions over the past five years. Electrek reports that offshore-wind companies will be spending $250 million to remodel the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to support the offshore-wind industry, leading to more than 1,000 jobs annually in the region.

Yale Climate Connections has an interesting article about the Big Horn solar-power plant in Pueblo, Colorado. The plant was constructed to power the EVRAZ steel mill, which is now the only solar-powered steel mill in the world. This is an interesting story of how a community came together to reimagine the power supply for a key employer, working creatively with a local utility, governments and other stakeholders.

An article in the Atlantic reviews the Biden Administration’s efforts to develop policies to advance the decarbonization of heavy industry. These include efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the production of cement, steel and other high-temperature processes. Policies are also under development to ensure demand for these products. TechCrunch reports on the efforts of the firm, Better Dairy, to produce hard cheese using precision fermentation. This is one of many firms working on animal-free products that could make an extraordinary contribution to sustainable agriculture, including enormous reductions in water use and carbon emissions.

The scientific community has been outspoken in its support for Ukraine, including Russian scientists who have taken very courageous steps to voice their opposition to the invasion (a letter, signed by thousands of Russian scientists and science journalists, was posted online but has now been taken down by the Russian government). Politico reports that, at a recent climate-science meeting, Russian representative Oleg Anisimov apologized to Ukraine for not being able to prevent what he called an unjustified conflict. Thousands of Russians have been jailed for voicing their opposition, and the valor of Russian citizens like Mr. Anisimov is extraordinary.