September 30 2023

September 30 2023

California’s coolest summer in a decade still warm, the siesta could make a return, California sues oil companies for deception, Republican climate position is “hurl ourselves into the fire”, “staggering” growth of renewable energy is hopeful sign

Despite 2023 likely being the hottest year on record, The New York Times reports that California had its coolest summer in 10 years. But it was only cool in a relative sense. The summer of 2023 still ranks as the 34th warmest in the past 129 years. Despite annual variability, global warming will remain relentless until we eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

The AP reports that the State of California filed a civil lawsuit against major oil and gas companies, claiming that they deceived the public about the risks fossil fuels pose to the climate. California alleges that the companies knew, even in the 1950s, that use of their products would result in devastating impacts. Instead of acknowledging the risk, the companies (and their front groups) pursued an organized and deceptive disinformation campaign to hide it from elected officials and the public. The suit seeks damages to cover costs incurred by Californians due to extreme weather events.

A bill that California governor Newsom has said he will sign would require major companies (greater than $1 billion in revenue) to publicly disclose their greenhouse-gas emissions. The New York Times reports that climate activists support such legislation, as it provides transparency to investors about the exposure of companies to greenhouse-gas regulation and encourages firms to reduce their carbon emissions. Opponents are concerned that compliance will be expensive and onerous. For example, clothing manufacturers wonder if they would have to report not only the emissions associated with their manufacturing plants, but also the growing, weaving and transporting of textiles.

Inside Climate News describes how more intense rainfall in Greenland is accelerating ice melt. This could be a mechanism that contributes to the collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which would add a meter to sea level rise projections. As glaciers melt, water sometimes collects before being released, all at once, in what is called a glacial outburst flood. The Washington Post reports on the recent outburst flood from the Mendenhall and Suicide Glaciers outside of Juneau, Alaska. In The Washington Post, Peter Gleick reviews the many extreme storms and floods and what we can do to make ourselves more resilient to these consequences of our new climate.

The Washington Post examines the recent melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet in more detail, noting that, even in aggressive emissions-reduction scenarios, Greenland is on track to produce a foot or more of global sea level rise. A new scientific expedition is drilling down to the bedrock under the ice, as these rocks can be analyzed to determine the last time they were exposed to sunlight. This would indicate when Greenland was last ice-free. The reporter also does an excellent job describing the extraordinary challenge of working in Greenland’s extreme conditions.

Grist reports on a new study concluding that “not all beef eaters are created equal. A small percentage of the country’s population — just 12 percent — accounts for half of the country’s beef consumption on any given day.” Just as emissions of greenhouse gases are heavily tilted towards the wealthiest people on the planet, the same is true of meat consumption. “From a climate standpoint, these beef guzzlers are not all that different from gasoline superusers — the 10 percent of drivers who account for one-third of the country’s gas use.”

On MSNBC, Chris Hayes notes that the Republican position on climate change “is literally to just actively hurl ourselves into the fire.” The Guardian profiles the Wilks brothers of Texas, who are fracking billionaires that have given enormous sums to fund climate-science denial. One of the brothers observes that “if [God] wants the polar caps to remain in place, then he will leave them there.” (I think God expects us to understand and respect the physical laws inherent in his creation.) An op-ed in Scientific American examines the ideological sources of climate denial, explaining why additional rational scientific arguments are not convincing many Republicans. Meanwhile, all around the world people are exhibiting “eco-anxiety,” a “chronic fear of environmental doom,” that is characterized in The New York Times by “frustration, powerlessness, feeling overwhelmed, hopelessness, helplessness.”

Grist examines how extreme heat may give rise to a rebirth of the tradition of a siesta. The Washington Post investigates how air conditioning (AC) “is evolving rapidly from an appliance that adds comfort and convenience to an ever-present life-support system.” The author notes that, in the past, AC was an escape from occasional hot conditions and was combined with traditional ways of mitigating heat. It has now become a mechanism for living beyond or without weather, “because the weather we made is killing us.” Many places that have gotten by without air conditioning no longer can, and greenhouse-gas emissions will increase as more and more AC is installed and used.

Increased costs from suppliers is driving a potential postponement or cancellation of U.S. offshore-wind projects, reports Inside Climate News. Major developers who bid for offshore leases along the Atlantic coast are now seeking modifications of agreements with state and federal authorities due to the rising costs of materials and construction. It is possible that some of these projects may not go forward, demonstrating that scaling up offshore wind is still a challenge in many instances. The largest U.S. offshore-wind turbine array, just south of Cape Cod, is in the final stages of construction and will go into operation next year.

The New York Times describes the growing number of electric arc furnaces being built around the world in an effort to reduce the climate impact of steel manufacturing. These furnaces produce only about 14% as much carbon dioxide as a traditional blast furnace, and use scrap steel instead of iron ore as their raw material. The U.S. is leading this industry trend, with over 70% of American steel now being produced using electric arc furnaces. By comparison, 88% of China’s steel still comes from blast furnaces, in part because the supply chain for scrap metal is less developed.

Anthropocene Magazine reports that a new Australian study has demonstrated coffee grounds can be used to strengthen concrete. When heated first to 350°C to form biochar, the coffee grounds can be substituted for sand and produce a stronger concrete while diverting this organic material from landfills where its decomposition produces greenhouse gases.

An op-ed in The New York Times notes that the accelerating expansion of renewable energy is necessary and exciting but, until we take meaningful steps to stop the production and burning of fossil fuels, our climate problems will only get worse (I made the same argument in Carrots Are Not Enough). A critical first step in this regard is to reduce and then eliminate the subsidies that drive fossil-fuel development, and to stop building new fossil-fuel projects that will lock in more emissions for decades. This is much easier said than done given the political power of the fossil-fuel industry but, if we don’t, the damages from climate change will continue to escalate.

The Guardian reports on a new analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA) concluding that the “staggering” growth of renewable energy and green investment in the past two years has improved the world’s chance of hitting the 1.5°C target for global average temperature. Fatih Birol, Executive Director of IEA, said, “despite the scale of the challenges, I feel more optimistic than I felt two years ago,” noting that solar installations and electric-vehicle sales are on track with projections necessary to meet the target. But the problem, as highlighted above and as you will hear more and more frequently, is that we are not reducing fossil-fuel use fast enough. The article also identifies the heart of the problem: “Just five nations – the US, Canada, Australia, Norway and the UK – are responsible for over half of all planned oil and gas field developments from now to 2050.”