November 30 2018

November 30 2018

global warming and extreme weather, using the farm bill to combat climate change, growing air conditioning demand in Asia, shrimp fishery closed in the warming Gulf of Maine

A new study summarized by InsideClimate News provides more evidence that global warming, and particularly the warming of the arctic, is changing the jet stream and leading to more extreme weather events. Because the arctic is warming more quickly than the rest of the earth, the difference in temperature between the tropics and the arctic is declining. This reduced temperature gradient contributes to the jet stream taking on a more “wavy” shape that is more stable, leading to stationary highs and lows in atmospheric pressure that drive some extreme weather events (especially droughts, floods and wildfires).

In the New Yorker Bill McKibben’s article How Extreme Weather is Shrinking Planetsynthesizes our recent experiences with extreme weather. He notes that “until now, human beings have been spreading, from our beginnings in Africa, out across the globe—slowly at first, and then much faster. But a period of contraction is setting in as we lose parts of the habitable earth.”

An article in The Daily Climate describes how the farm bill could be used to help build soil carbon and a more climate-resilient agricultural sector. InsideClimate News reports on a new study that concludes a set of 21 “natural climate solutions,” deployed across agricultural lands, forests, grasslands and wetlands, could mitigate over 20 percent of the country’s net annual greenhouse gas emissions.

In the Guardian David Sirota notes the oil industry spent heavily to defeat state and local propositions that would limit fossil fuel use, while publicly endorsing a “carbon tax,” demonstrating their willingness to accelerate the climate crisis if it will be profitable for them. An op-ed in the New York Times by a former EPA official describes the impact on public health as the Trump administration eliminates independent science from the EPA’s decision-making.

A thoughtful article in the Atlantic explores how climate change is exacerbating inequality in America, and feeding the rise of authoritarians like Trump. As more and more extreme disasters occur, uprooting Americans, wiping out accumulated wealth and destroying tax bases, the basic model of how American government works is being challenged.

InsideClimate News reports on a Rocky Mountain Institute conclusion that growth in the use of air conditioning worldwide is going to add 0.5°C to the earth’s temperature due to electricity consumption and the leakage of coolants that are greenhouse gases. The article notes that growth in the demand for air conditioning is already outpacing growth in solar power, with new residential air conditioning units worldwide consuming approximately 100 GW of energy in 2017, compared to 94 GW of new solar energy generation. The New York Times reports on the continued use of coal in Asia to generate electricity.

Anthropocene reports on a study that concludes eating “local” is not as important for one’s carbon footprint as reducing consumption of meat and dairy products (a finding made in other studies as well). This study focused on the EU and noted that major sources of emissions associated with meat/dairy include land clearing, manure management (which can release greenhouse gases like methane) and fertilizer application for growing crops. The impact of transporting and importing goods to Europe was only 6% of the EU’s dietary emissions.

An op-ed in the Guardian by a fire scientist from the University of New Mexico describes why President Trump is wrong to insist that “forest management” is needed to alleviate fire risk. The Washington Post reports that as arctic sea ice retreats, the northern shore of Alaska (and other arctic land) is exposed to open water and waves for a longer period of time, resulting in more than a doubling of erosion along these regions (remarkable time lapse video is included in the article).

The Guardian reports on a study that has assessed the relationship between a nation’s ambition to cut emissions and the temperature rise that would result if the world followed its example. Not surprisingly, most nations are leading the world toward calamity, with fossil fuel exporters (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia) and major manufacturers (China) adopting policies and taking actions that will result in a 5°C global temperature rise by 2100. However, the US (4°C) and EU nations are not far behind. The authors argue that their study provides a metric to evaluate the climate actions made by nations pursuant to the Paris accord, so that these countries can be pressured through political and legal steps to be more ambitious.

Common Dreams reports on a letter from European students to EU officials arguing that these officials have been “hiding the science of global collapse” from the public. A Latvian student notes that “for 30 years governments have made no meaningful consumption or emission cuts, now they say that reductions required today are impossibly large,” which implies that collapse is an inevitable component of these young people’s lives. I think this truth will drive more and more civil disobedience and disruptive protest among their generation, which will be an essential part of bringing the type of action required for civilization’s survival.

At Yale e360 Elizabeth Kolbert interviews Princeton professor Stephen Pacala about direct capture and storage of carbon dioxide from the air (“negative emissions”). Because humans have been so slow to mitigate carbon emissions, negative emissions technologies (NETs) are going to be essential in order to reach climate goals. Pacala, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, just chaired a panel on this topic for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The panel calls for the launch of a substantial research initiative to advance NETs as soon as possible. In the interview, Pacala describes remarkable advancements made on NETs over the last 15 years. He argues that with political will, there is an opportunity to greatly reduce the cost of NETs, which will allow them to play a more prominent role in reducing future climate risk.

With the Camp Fire, we have just experienced the most deadly and destructive wildfire in California history, and possibly the worst North American wildfire in the modern firefighting era. Daniel Swain of UC Davis notes that “…it is genuinely astonishing that California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record has now occurred in Butte County in November – a place that has typically already received over 5-6 inches of rainfall by the date of the Camp Fire’s ignition. In this part of California, there is essentially no precedent for large wildfires at this time of year as the rainy season is typically well underway by this point.”

The Washington Post reports that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council has voted to close the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery for another three years due to low abundance of shrimp. The fishery, which produced millions of pounds of shrimp each winter, has been closed since 2013 due to warm waters and increased predation in the Gulf. InsideClimate News has a detailed look at the impact of sea level rise and storm surges on Naval Base Norfolk, a key facility for the U.S. Navy. Among the most important impacts is the potential to flood ships in dry dock, where their hulls are often open for maintenance. And there’s also the potential catastrophe associated with loss of power to operate cooling water systems that are needed when nuclear-powered submarines and other vessels are being serviced.

The University of Hawaii reports on a study in Nature led by one of its faculty that examines the projected frequency of climate-driven extreme events, focusing on the impact of co-occurring climate hazards. The study concludes that by 2100 New York is projected to face up to four concurrent climate hazards, Sydney and Los Angeles will face three, Mexico City will face four and the Atlantic coast of Brazil will face five. Last year Florida recorded extreme drought, record high temperatures, over 100 wildfires and the strongest ever recorded hurricane in its Panhandle region. Dealing with multiple hazards is more expensive and complex than addressing one, and is another key reason why inaction in the face of climate change is the most expensive option.

In case you missed it, the Flat Earth International Conference was in Denver.