November 15 2021

November 15 2021

infrastructure for resilience to climate change, “nuisance flooding” is more than a nuisance, deforestation continues at record pace, climate change still concerns the Pentagon, Lovelock warns of GAIA’s revenge

An article in the New York Times describes the historic, bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives to pass President Biden’s “infrastructure bill,” which includes for the first time a major federal commitment to fund projects that build resilience to climate change. The bill contains $47 billion for projects around the country that increase flood protection, desalination, water recycling and flood and wildfire forecasting among many other provisions. The bipartisan nature of the vote, although meager (11 Republicans voted yes), is an unmistakable indicator that the reality of climate change is sinking in for Americans. In 2020, there were 22 climate disasters that cost at least $1 billion each, shattering the previous record of 16 events (set in 2017 and 2011), and that record is on track to be broken again this year. But, as Senator Whitehouse noted, this is only treating the symptoms of climate change. “It’s not enough to just do repair work,” he said, “we need to prevent the worse scenarios.” The President’s yet-to-be-passed Build Back Better plan contains vital funding for mitigation efforts.

An article in Anthropocene Magazine reports on research concluding that, from the perspective of climate action, it is better to drive your existing car for a few more years rather than replacing it with a moderately more efficient one. A major reason for this is that the greenhouse-gas impact of manufacturing is pretty hefty — responsible for nearly one-quarter of the cumulative carbon footprint of automobiles. When people hold on to their vehicles for longer, the reduced emissions from manufacturing more than cancel out the increased emissions from driving a slightly less-fuel-efficient older car.

Inside Climate News reports that flooding is now threatening the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, and critics are saying that this threat (and others from the rapidly changing Alaskan climate) need to be considered much more seriously and systematically. No thought was given to climate change when the pipeline was planned and constructed.

According to NOAA, the frequency of high-tide floods along the U.S. coast has doubled in the last two decades. These events have been called “nuisance flooding,” but an article in Yale Climate Connections notes that this name is a bit misleading. There is serious economic damage that occurs during these tides, and that accrues over time as communities deal with repeated flood events.

The Washington Post reports that, while representatives of 100 nations signed a pledge in Glasgow to halt deforestation, the world lost 411 million hectares of forest (10 percent of global tree cover) between 2001 and 2020. In 2020, the world lost a near-record 25.8 million hectares — almost double the amount in 2001. Activists are concerned that this new agreement is going to be no more successful than those in the past. 200 governments signed a declaration in 2014 that called for halving the rate of deforestation by 2020 and halting it by 2030. That hasn’t happened due to lack of political will, enforcement and funding. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Russia are two countries where deforestation is continuing.

The UK International Environment Minister writes in the Guardian about the new deforestation pledge, and why forest protections are required for addressing climate change. Reuters reports that Brazil’s greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 9.5% in 2020 largely due to increased deforestation in the Amazon. An article at AP describes a recent UNESCO study that concludes that even some forests that are UNESCO Heritage Sites are actually emitting more carbon than they absorb. Among the sites that are net emitters are Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Parks in the U.S.

We should stop and note that the news on the forest front is not all bad. Indeed, while 10 UNESCO sites are net emitters, there are 257 UNESCO-listed forests. Of those, about 80 sites were net neutral, while the rest were net absorbers of carbon. Pakistan is in the midst of a “Ten Billion Tree Tsunami” reforestation campaign, a combination of tree planting and forest-protection initiatives. In Costa Rica, the government has been paying farmers to protect forests near their farms, and the Congo intends to ban all log exports and implement other measures to lessen threats to its carbon-absorbing tropical rainforest. The Washington Post describes the work of a Canadian company that is using drones to reseed forests.

An op-ed in the Guardian by a small farmer argues for the spread of agroecological farming (or “regenerative agriculture”), as this is a way for farmers to be part of the solution to ecological crises rather than being part of the problem. This approach to farming is not just focused on producing crops for market, but rather to “nurture the soil, insects, grassland, plants, animals and trees on our land to provide healthy affordable food for our local community.” She notes that, for her family, “farming isn’t just a business, and it isn’t just about feeding human beings — it’s about feeding all living things on the planet.” The New York Times notes that Sonoma County winemakers are among the leaders in this movement, with regenerative agriculture, carbon sequestration and sustainability now part of their tourist offerings. Inside Climate News describes how, despite the importance of regenerative agriculture, economic incentives and policies still favor large industrial farms that rely on chemicals and fossil fuels and raise only a few types of livestock or crops.

The Pentagon and U.S. Intelligence agencies released reports that, once again, describe climate change as a major threat to national security. An article in the Washington Post notes that the National Intelligence Estimate on climate “concludes that geopolitical tensions are likely to rise in the coming decades as countries struggle to deal with the physical effects of climate change.” The Estimate, which represents the consensus view of 11 government agencies, notes that a number of countries face acute risk from climate stressors: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea, Nicaragua and Pakistan. In one scenario considered, “fisheries devastated by rising ocean temperatures and acidity, grain harvests depressed by changes in precipitation and rising food prices conspiring to trigger ‘widespread hoarding’ that leads to a global famine — all by the early 2030s.”

As most people realize, a single atmospheric river storm even a big one like we just had, which dropped about one fifth of an average year’s precipitation in just one day does not end California’s drought. The California Water Blog has a nice quantitative look at how California’s precipitation accumulates over the year. While Water Year 2022 is off to a great start, we have a long way to go, as we need enough precipitation to replenish depleted reservoirs, raise the water table and restore soil moisture.

One of the most egregious deregulatory efforts in the Trump Administration was to eliminate the requirement to account for climate change when preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. In essence, Trump’s guidance tried to ensure that EISs for major projects ignore environmental impacts. The Biden Administration has now moved to restore rationality and require federal agencies to consider the direct, indirect and cumulative climate impacts of permitting decisions. The Washington Post reports that the proposed rule would encourage agencies to study alternatives to projects that face opposition from affected communities, and it would clarify that the law’s requirements are “a floor, rather than a ceiling” when it comes to environmental reviews.

An article in Wired looks at the the fate of used electric-car batteries, a small issue now but one that will become bigger and bigger in the coming decades. There are a variety of companies working to figure out how old EV batteries can become a resource to be reused or recycled, not a waste product.

Almost 60 years ago, James Lovelock suggested that the Earth self-regulated like a living organism. He called this the Gaia theory, and noted that if humans acted to disrupt natural systems, Gaia (the Earth as a living organism) would respond to restore order. Now 102, Dr. Lovelock has an op-ed in the Guardian suggesting that his concept is still valid, and humans must act to restore and live in harmony with natural systems or face greater and greater disruptions.