September 30 2020

September 30 2020

more evidence of a Gulf Stream slowdown, not just California is on fire, climate migration in the U.S., climate change is finally an election issue, age of electric cars is dawning

Two new studies support the growing body of evidence that the Gulf Stream (part of what is formally known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or AMOC) is slowing down in response to global warming. This has long been projected as possible, although the large natural variability means that it is still difficult to measure evidence for this change directly. Unfortunately, indirect evidence is leading more scientists to conclude this might be occurring, as summarized on RealClimate. The potential of the slowing of the AMOC to cause major changes in the Earth’s climate, including pushing the climate past potential “tipping points,” is described in an article in the Guardian. The New York Times discusses the results of a new study concluding that global warming is making marine heatwaves 20 times more likely than in the past.

MIT Technology Review describes the importance of controlled burns and forest thinning in managing the impact of forest fires in California. Almost a century of suppressing fires, which are an integral part of the ecosystem, has resulted in the massive accumulation of fuel that is becoming ever-more combustible as climate change enhances the aridity of the landscape. While we must transition away from fossil fuels to stabilize our climate, the Guardian notes that the massive fires we are seeing will be an inevitable part of our lives for many years to come (Max Moritz of UCSB says, “We are going to have to coexist with wildfire and change the way we build and live”).

The fires are also releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide and soot, which further warm the planet and increase the fire risk. An article in the Washington Post notes that “the carbon dioxide from California’s recent fires added the equivalent of the total greenhouse-gas emissions by some countries.”

The New York Times calls attention to the important point that fires are not just a California problem—Alaska, Siberia, Indonesia, Australia and South America are also burning. The New York Times reports on the large fires burning in the Pantanal, the huge wetland that is part of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, during a major drought. Many of these fires were deliberately set.

Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann describes in Newsweek how misinformation is being spread about the role of climate change in the megafires burning in the west. He describes how the Murdoch media empire promoted similar misinformation when megafires were burning in Australia in 2019.

In the New York Times, a detailed article examines how climate migration will affect the U.S. Presently, people are still migrating to parts of the country that are getting hotter and drier. The author’s analysis indicates that nearly one in every two Americans will experience more heat and less water in the coming decades. Ninety-three million people will experience a severe change in their environment by 2070. One in ten Americans may be forced to move, creating a chaotic urbanization beyond our capacity to manage.

The New York Times reports on a recent experiment in which tropical-forest soils were heated to mimic expected warming in the coming decades, producing very troubling results. The heated soils released 55% more carbon dioxide than did nearby “unwarmed” areas. This suggests that more carbon stored in soils will be released as the planet warms, which will cause warming to intensify in a positive feedback loop. While it is possible that plants in the ecosystem might take up some of the additional carbon dioxide, this is another example of a “tipping point,” where emissions from human activity cause the climate system to start heating on its own. It is these types of responses that underscore the need to reduce carbon emissions immediately. The Washington Post reports on efforts to encourage conservation of native prairie areas in Texas by paying landowners for the value of carbon storage.

An op-ed in the New York Times by a hurricane expert from Louisiana State University calls on elected officials to pay more attention to science in planning for the stronger and wetter storms that are now part of our world. She notes that lives and property can be saved if we carefully consider scientific projections when planning “where we build, how we make what we’ve built resilient and how we prepare residents for storms of growing strength.” Meanwhile, Hurricane Sally struck the Gulf Coast very slowly, moving onshore at 2 MPH. An article in the New York Times describes how destructive slow-moving storms like Sally can be, and notes that researchers are concluding that this is a likely impact of a changing climate.

In Vox, Dave Roberts summarizes the environmental destruction wrought by the Trump Administration during its first term (and InsideClimate News explains how this has been a boon to the fossil-fuel industry). Roberts notes that Trump’s re-election would mean that any hope of rapidly decarbonizing the U.S. economy is off the table, and this could lead to climatic alterations that would be felt for thousands of years.

An op-ed in the Washington Post describes how climate change has become an important issue defining the difference between Trump and Biden in the election, which is important news. The fires, the destructive hurricane season, the derecho in Iowa and the record-setting heat wave are bringing climate change into the campaign. President Trump has responded with ignorant proclamations, appointing a climate-science denier to a leadership position at NOAA (called “dangerous” by Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists). In a break with its 175-year history, Scientific American has endorsed Joe Biden for President. The Guardian notes that the editors of Scientific American conclude “Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science.” The Guardian reports that some members of Generation Z are being called “Doomers” because they’ve accepted a narrative that all is lost; luckily, many reject that notion.

Climate change is an issue in other political campaigns as well. InsideClimate News reports on how Senate candidates in Kansas are speaking about climate change, and how Alabama voters face a choice between climate denial and climate action. The Republican candidate, Tommy Tuberville, insists that only God controls the climate. Dan Pfeiffer, a senior political advisor to President Obama, has concluded that “This election is a choice between someone that wants to save the planet and someone that wants to destroy it so that rich old people can get richer.” He says that, if Biden wins, we have no choice but to end the filibuster in order to take climate action (“I hate to say it, but if saving the planet depends on the good will of seven to eight Republican Senators, we are all going to die.”) Thirty-seven Senators have sent a letter to the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates asking that questions about climate change be included in this year’s debates.

An article in the Guardian describes how coal-mining communities in Appalachia — promised a renewal of their industry by President Trump — have gotten nothing. However, they continue to support Trump because he promotes coal-fired industrial development, rather than suggesting that these regions transition their economies.

I previously summarized a recent assessment of what it would take to decarbonize the economy. Vox has produced an 11-minute video that very clearly explains what’s needed. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that NOAA scientists announced that June, July and August 2020 represent the hottest summer ever recorded in the Northern hemisphere, eclipsing the summers of 2016 and 2019.

The Polestar 2, an electric vehicle produced by Sweden’s Volvo and China’s Geely, is about to be released in the United States according to the Los Angeles Times. The author reviews the car very favorably, noting that buyers will be able to take advantage of Volvo dealerships for customer service. An article in the Houston Chronicle examines the coming innovations in vehicle battery technology that will improve battery and charging performance while reducing cost. The New York Times describes Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order that calls for all new passenger vehicles sold in California after 2035 to be electric.

Anthropocene Magazine reports on recent research in which orange peels were used instead of toxic chemicals to recycle lithium ion batteries, and on personal cooling technology that requires about half the energy of traditional air conditioning. Offshore Magazine describes the upcoming upgrade to the first tidal-power project in the U.S., in the East River near Manhattan.

Good News Network reports on Unilever’s announcement that it will transition away from fossil-fuel-derived chemicals in its products. The giant multi-national corporation noted that these chemicals are a larger part of the carbon footprint of its products than packaging. This commitment is part of Unilever’s Clean Future commitments, which include being carbon neutral by 2039. Changes by major corporations (including Walmart and others) committed to the Paris Accords and part of the We Mean Business Coalition are starting to add up.