November 15 2019

November 15 2019

Paris exit countdown begins, regenerative agriculture as a climate solution, sea level rise is inflating another real estate bubble, the sand wars in Florida’s future, climate change highlights electrical-grid weakness

The New York Times reports that the Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The action begins a yearlong countdown to the formal exit, which would be the day after the 2020 Presidential election. Trump’s supporters say this move is a positive step; a spokesman for The Climate Mobilization calls it “a betrayal of the next generation.” While a Democratic president will undoubtedly request that the U.S. rejoin the agreement, our nation is demonstrating itself to be an unreliable international partner who is completely uninterested in the welfare of other nations.

The self-defeating foolishness of this decision is described well by former Secretary of State, John Kerry, and former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, in an op-ed in the Washington Post (I made a less-effective effort in an earlier blog post, We Will Always Have Paris). In an op-ed in the Guardian, Elizabeth Warren describes her opposition to this decision, which will raise the issue of climate change to further prominence in the 2020 election. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce now supports the U.S. staying in the Paris Agreement. It is hard to imagine how harshly history will judge Trump’s move to exit the Paris Accord.

Despite Trump’s decision, cities, states, businesses and other organizations remain committed to reducing carbon emissions. This includes more than 400 Climate Mayors, the 25 states and territories in the U.S. Climate Alliance, and the local governments, businesses, universities, investors and faith groups that have signed the We Are Still Indeclaration (here’s an op-ed criticizing Trump’s decision by an Executive Vice-President of Walmart). The Los Angeles Times notes that these players account for almost 60% of the U.S. economy, half the country’s population and 37% of its greenhouse gas emissions, although there are challenges to how effective they can be with the federal government not just staying on the sidelines but actually fighting against climate action.

The New York Times has an excellent article about regenerative agriculture that focuses upon Hope Well vineyard in Oregon. The article describes not only a variety of the alternative techniques practiced at the vineyard, but also how their success requires an evolution of the mindset of farmers. An article in Time describes how reversing desertification of degraded lands globally can be accomplished economically, resulting in a significant increase in the sequestration of atmospheric carbon by soils. Grist reports on a program that is engaging rural communities in Minnesota regarding climate science and solutions. An article in Vox notes that, despite the importance of restoring ecosystems to fight climate change, there are financial, technical and political challenges standing in the way of this goal.

Science Daily summarizes new research that concludes climate-change effects have shifted the El Niño onset location from the eastern Pacific to the western Pacific and caused more frequent extreme El Niño events. Continued warming over the western Pacific promises conditions that will trigger more extreme events in the future.

Vice reports that denial of climate change, both explicit through poor leadership and implicit through old-fashioned incentives like inadequate flood maps, is inflating a real-estate bubble that will burst just as in 2008. This time, the properties driving the bubble will stay underwater (literally), leading to very slow recovery from the shock. The article includes an interview with one of the investors who anticipated the sub-prime mortgage bubble (and was featured in The Big Short), who is now investing in anticipation of the new real-estate bubble bursting. Bloomberg Businessweek describes how questions about climate change are becoming much more common by underwriters of municipal bonds in their due diligence about future risks.

The Guardian describes the growing impact of sand erosion on Florida’s beaches and tourist economy (nearly half the State’s beaches are “critically eroded”). The cost of replenishing beach sand is growing (30% in the last three years), and the former general counsel of Florida’s environmental agency predicts a “sand war” in the future as wealthier regions seek to mine sand from less-prosperous areas. The Washington Post describes how coastal erosion is threatening residents in northern Quebec. At this latitude, sea ice used to protect sandy soils from the erosive power of winter waves, but warming has reduced the protective winter ice cover.

An op-ed in the Sun-Sentinel explains the changing public sentiment in Florida regarding climate change. The author quotes Republican Sen. Tom Lee, chairman of the Committee on Infrastructure and Security, who told reporters “we lost a decade” to prepare while Rick (“I’m not a scientist”) Scott was Governor. While only 27 percent of self-described Republicans indicate they are worried about climate change in a national poll, 44 percent of Florida Republicans now agree that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

An article in Vice describes the sobering conclusions of a recent U.S. Army study of climate change. The report, which was commissioned by the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and included input from a variety of U.S. government agencies, notes stress on the U.S. electrical grid and disease outbreaks as two climate-change impacts that could require U.S. military response within the country. In addition, the report documents the challenges facing other nations (particularly Bangladesh), and the implications of these challenges for global security. (Interesting fact: delivering water is currently 30-40 percent of the costs required to sustain a U.S. military force operating abroad).

InsideClimate News reports on the Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in California as PG&E attempts to prevent their transmission equipment from sparking fires during the strong, dry Diablo wind events. While it might reduce fires from occurring, this strategy has enormous costs. One researcher estimated the cost of a single PG&E PSPS at $2.5 billion.

In the wake of the recent PSPS, the Los Angeles Times looks at how we can make the electricity grid more resilient to the impacts of climate change. This issue is a major priority as the reliability of the electrical grid will be essential given the need to transition much more of our energy to electricity (from natural gas, gasoline, propane and other fossil fuels) to meet emission-reduction goals. An article in the Atlantic suggests there is actually a paucity of ideas for how to address the impact of fires on the electrical grid, particularly in the short term.

The New York Times reports on a recent study (and accompanying scientific paper) by Climate Central. Using a new method for correcting satellite measurements of land surface elevations, the new study shows how major coastal cities such as Bangkok, Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai and Alexandria (Egypt) are much more vulnerable to flooding than previously thought. For example, it was previously estimated that 1% of Thailand’s population was vulnerable to sea level rise impacts by 2050, but the new method suggests that it is closer to 10% of the population. An article in the Guardian describes the painful physics of sea level rise. There is a long time lag between rising global temperatures and the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, so the world will be dealing with ever-rising sea levels into the 2300s, regardless of prompt action to address the climate crisis.

An op-ed in the New York Times describes why climate-change impacts are going to be more costly than economists have estimated. Meanwhile, in another rare meteorological event that will become more common, Hurricane Pablo appeared farther east than any other Atlantic hurricane on record, and it was second place on the list of storms forming farthest north (developing at the same latitude as Boston).

Mother Jones reports on research that concludes as carbon dioxide concentrations rise in the atmosphere, plants become richer in carbohydrates but less nutritious as other essential nutrients are diluted. An op-ed in the New York Times describes the environmental impact of the $2.5 trillion apparel industry, and how slow this industry and its customers have been to consider ways to reduce its footprint.

Energy News Network reports from Ohio on the development of wind energy on farms. While many farmers are enjoying the alternative revenue source – particularly this year as heavy rains prevented planting on about one-sixth of Ohio’s farming land – there are also people worried about the impact of wind turbines on the feel of their communities. The Ohio legislature recently made it more difficult to site wind turbines by tripling the setback requirements.

The voice of the younger generation is one of the most important signs for developing the political will to address the climate crisis. Yale e360 interviews a young leader from New York, Xiye Bastida Patrick, whose words and attitude give me hope that big change is on the way, even though we don’t see it now.