November 30 2023

November 30 2023

latest National Climate Assessment reiterates the dangers of climate change, 2023 will be a record year for U.S. fossil-fuel extraction, global warming may be accelerating in this decade, electric school buses can stabilize the U.S. grid, California is drought free (for now)

The newest National Climate Assessment (NCA), a congressionally-mandated analysis of climate change produced every five years by the U.S. government, was released in mid-November. To nobody’s surprise, the Guardian reports that the NCA highlights “increasingly harmful impacts” striking the U.S. from Florida to Alaska. The Director of the NCA notes that “escalating dangers from wildfires, severe heat, flooding and other impacts mean that the US suffers a disaster costing at least $1bn in damages every three weeks now, on average, compared to once every four months in the 1980s.” The report documents impacts to human health, the economy and natural and agricultural ecosystems, noting that the costs of major emission reductions are dwarfed by the benefits.

The New York Times reports that the NCA, for the first time ever, contains a chapter on the economic impacts of climate change. This section notes that economic growth will be reduced because of climate change, but this is only part of the economic damage. Impacts on “non-market” goods — including human health, ecosystems, historic trades such as fishing and air quality (from wildfire smoke) — are real but hard to quantify. The lead author of this chapter noted that these “non-market effects of climate change in many cases are some of the largest.” Axios quotes the NCA: “Estimates of nationwide impacts indicate a net loss in the economic well-being of American society.”

Meanwhile, according to Grist, a new U.N. report concludes that 20 major fossil-fuel producing countries “plan to extract more than twice the amount of coal, oil, and gas by 2030 than what is needed to limit warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, and around 70 percent more than would limit warming to 2 degrees C.” The report notes that, despite the current and growing danger of climate change caused by carbon pollution, humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an alarming rate. The New York Times points out that, “If current projections hold, the United States will drill for more oil and gas in 2030 than at any point in its history.” The Guardian reports that, in 2023, the U.S. is already on track to extract a record amount of oil and gas.

At the upcoming COP28 global climate meeting, there will be a renewed call for a “phaseout” of fossil-fuel use in the coming decades. In The Guardian, Kim Heacox notes that the continued use of fossil fuels will be “our greatest failure: how a single intelligent species abandoned its better, wiser self and destroyed its own home.” An excellent analysis in the Atlantic notes “the math just doesn’t add up.” Despite our success expanding wind, solar and other renewables, we continue to burn fossil fuels, and so the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing rather than declining quickly as is urgently required.

The Washington Post reports on a new study by famed climate scientist James Hansen and colleagues, which concludes that “the 1.5-degree benchmark will be passed in the 2020s, and 2 degrees of warming will be passed before 2050 — a markedly faster rate than the prognosis from other scientists.” Hansen attributes the acceleration of global warming to a reduction in aerosol emissions from oceangoing vessels, and a conclusion that the Earth’s climate is actually at the high-end of estimates of sensitivity (in The New York Times, David Wallace-Wells looks at this in more detail). Critics of the study, including climate scientist Michael Mann, note that “the ocean’s heat content is growing steadily, but — in contrast to Hansen and his co-authors — is not accelerating.” Mann also cites data showing that there does not appear to be a sudden shift in pollution from aerosols over the past few years, and calculations suggesting that reductions in aerosols would not have as large an impact as Hansen projects.

Grist describes the conclusions of a new study about the emissions from lawn-care equipment, which found that these devices release more carbon dioxide than the total emissions of the city of Los Angeles. “The report found that gas-powered lawn equipment belched 21,800 tons of PM2.5 in 2020 — an amount equivalent to the pollution from 234 million typical cars over the course of a year.” California has lower emissions than the rest of the country, which the authors attribute to regulations on emissions from these engines and incentives to switch to electric equipment.

Yale e360 reports that, while in the past the onset of El Niño has been linked to changes in solar output, El Niño is now more heavily influenced by human-caused warming. The study uses geologic evidence from “stalagmites collected from two caves on Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. The stalagmites, formed by the slow drip of groundwater, serve as a record of the climate over the past 3,500 years, and indicate when El Niños took place.” These data show a clear connection between global warming and El Niño formation from the 1970s onwards.

The New York Times describes an electric airplane that recently flew from Vermont to Florida (albeit with several stops.) The article reviews recent developments in electric aviation. Initially, the small aircraft will have limited range, and are expected to compete with helicopters, trucks and cars rather than existing commercial aircraft. The Times also reports on how electric school buses could also serve an important role in supporting the electric grid. “The buses are a test of the idea that electric vehicles, which skeptics often see as an expensive burden that could bring down electric grids, could be just the opposite: a buffer that soaks up power when there is too much and provides it when demand for electricity surges.” The buses have large batteries, and they’re only tapped during parts of the day on a regular schedule. This would make them very useful to the grid, especially their major availability during summer’s high temperatures when electricity demand peaks due to running air conditioners. Grist reports on the reuse of EV batteries for grid storage. Reuters describes how large battery arrays are now becoming cheap enough to out-compete natural gas as a way to complement intermittent sources of renewable electricity.

The Washington Post notes that the combination of a very wet winter and summer rain from Tropical Storm Hilary ended the drought in California (and created a lake in Death Valley). Major reservoirs sit at 125% of their average levels, and the growing El Niño suggests this winter will not be a dry one. Weather West describes how last year’s precipitation, combined with cool temperatures and few Diablo wind events, have limited forest fires in the state. The AP reports that “Federal money and a good winter that shored up water supplies across California and the West” have supported an agreement for water conservation in the Colorado River basin. Arizona and California have reduced consumption and, with last year’s wet winter, Lake Mead and Lake Powell have recovered to the point where power production and water deliveries are not imperiled for the next few years. Critics of the recent draft agreement note that, in the long term, the drought problem will return and can only be addressed by significant long-term reductions in water withdrawals from the river system.

The Washington Post examines the challenges facing American farmers, including the impact of climate change, as extreme weather has adversely impacted yields. This and other challenges have given rise to new farming techniques, including indoor vertical farms and regenerative agricultural practices. While some of these new techniques are successful and more sustainable, the article stresses the real-world challenges of trying to implement these new techniques within an established industry.

Carbon Brief rebuts 21 misleading myths about EVs. The Guardian is starting a series on these myths, and the first article is about whether vehicle fires are more likely with EVs (spoiler: fires are more likely in gasoline-powered vehicles). An op-ed in The New York Times examines the questions facing potential EV buyers, who are wondering if an EV is the right choice for the climate-conscious buyer.

Fast Company describes a new design for a wind turbine that is likely to address some of the complaints made against standard turbines, while also being less expensive to install. This could lead to expanding sites where wind energy can be harvested economically.