October 31 2022

October 31 2022

tipping points may have already been crossed, climate-related disasters costing $200 million per day, offshore leases for wind more valuable than for oil, Greece powered entirely by renewables for 5 hours, a fast transition to renewables is cheapest

Grist reports on a new study warning that the 1.1°C (1.9°F) of warming that has already occurred may have pushed the planet past tipping points. These include the beginning of the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, tropical coral reef die-offs and the abrupt thawing of permafrost. As the planet warms further, these outcomes are more and more likely if they have not already occurred. In The Guardian, one of the authors of the study notes: “We’re not saying that, because we’re probably going to hit some tipping points, everything is lost and it’s game over. Every fraction of a degree that we stop beyond 1.5°C reduces the likelihood of hitting more tipping points.”

Greta Thunberg is a bit more forceful, writing in The Guardian that it is a very limited “we” who have caused climate disruption. “The fact that 3 billion people use less energy, on an annual per capita basis, than a standard American refrigerator gives you an idea of how far away from global equity and climate justice we currently are.” She criticizes the global carbon-reduction targets as incomplete and inadequate, noting that she takes “no pleasure whatsoever to keep calling out the bullshit of our so-called leaders.” She concludes that we are approaching a precipice of disruption that requires activists to “stand our ground. Do not let them drag us another inch closer to the edge. Not one inch. Right here, right now, is where we draw the line.”

Supporting Greta’s stance is the recent report from the World Meteorological Association (WMO). CNBC reports that, according to the WMO, climate-related disasters have increased fivefold over the past five decades and are now costing $200 million a day. UN Secretary General Guterres notes that “There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters.” He added that the report shows “climate impacts heading into uncharted territories of destruction … Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse.”

The Guardian describes how the scale of devastation from the flooding in Pakistan continues to mount. Millions of acres of farmland are underwater, causing losses of crops and preventing the planting for next season, leaving farmers with no current income or prospects. Food insecurity is looming while many are homeless. The President of Pakistan was in Washington DC arguing for a “Green Marshall Plan,” despite the fact that previous promises by developed nations to invest $100 billion in the Green Climate Fund have been broken. The New York Times reports that flooding in Nigeria has killed over 600 people and displaced almost 1.4 million.

In preparation for the Conference of the Parties in Egypt in November, the New York Times highlights the UN’s announcement that the emissions-reduction commitments made by nations are inadequate. A new analysis concludes that the current national commitments will reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions by around 7% from 2019 levels, but a 43% reduction is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The New York Times examines drinking-water problems brought on by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak wildfire in New Mexico. A burn scar left by this blaze is being flooded by downpours, causing an ashy sludge to contaminate private wells and overwhelm the main water supply of Las Vegas, NM. The article notes that “Wildfires can dramatically alter the natural flow of water, leaving the ground charred while destroying the vegetation that absorbs rainfall and reduces runoff. In areas that are severely burned, it can take years for trees and other vegetation to be restored to a level that reduces flood risks.” An article in the Los Angeles Times describes the long-term challenges for residents of rural Northern California as fires become more intense. Many want to rebuild and maintain their way of life, but this tends to require subsidies from taxpayers in other regions who are beginning to question the wisdom of such investments.

The Washington Post examines the debate about tax credits for carbon capture and storage. Proponents argue that the subsidies are essential for driving down the cost of this technology, and for allowing fossil-fuel power to be free of carbon emissions in the coming decades. Opponents argue that it’s just a subsidy for the production of more fossil fuels, and point to how frequently captured carbon is pumped into oil fields to produce more oil.

Inside Climate News reports on emissions of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), one of the most potent greenhouse gases emitted by human civilization. SF6 is mainly emitted by electric utilities that use the gas as an insulator to prevent electrical equipment from arcing (sending a current through the air) and in high-voltage circuit breakers. A single pound of SF6 heats the planet as much as 25,200 pounds of carbon dioxide, and is essentially a permanent addition to the atmosphere. The article notes that Duke Energy is a particularly large emitter, and that the U.S. utility industry lags behind its European counterparts in controlling these emissions.

Grist notes that, for taxpayers, it makes much more sense to lease offshore waters for wind than for oil and gas. “From 2019 to 2021, the average winning bid from offshore oil and gas lease sales was $47 per acre. By contrast, the average winning bid for a wind lease sale was 125 times higher — just over $5,900 per acre.” CNBC reports that the largest offshore-wind farm in the world is now operational off the coast of England. Producing 1.3 GW of power, this array of wind turbines rivals the output of a nuclear-power plant.

Grist describes how the process of precision fermentation, in which genetically-engineered microbes produce milk proteins, has the capacity to replace dairy farming and its large environmental footprint. This process, which is commonly used to produce insulin and vitamins, is now being applied by food-technology startups to produce milk proteins such as casein and whey. The engineered yeast and fungi pump out the creamy base for dairy products that delivers the same taste, texture and performance as traditionally-sourced dairy. The Guardian examines the impact of climate change on winemaking and how vintners are attempting to adapt.

Greece’s independent power-transmission operator reported that on October 7, for a period of around five hours, the electrical grid was running entirely off of renewable power. Ecowatch visits Modhera, India’s first village that is completely solar powered.

Anthropocene Magazine reports on a new study from Oxford University concluding that transitioning the world’s energy system from fossil fuels to renewable technologies could save at least $12 trillion. These savings are in addition to the reduced costs from fewer health and climate impacts (the Washington Post notes a new study that says these costs are even higher than previously estimated). This modeling builds on the previous study I discussed in Viva la Revolution!, and underscores that the costlier future is the one in which we remain in the thrall of fossil fuels.

An op-ed in The Guardian notes some good news on climate action: reductions in carbon emissions in Australia and China, and the U.S. passing the Inflation Reduction Act. Renewable energy, new grids and energy storage account for more than 80% of the total power-sector investments last year.