April 15 2019

April 15 2019

climate action and individual freedom, floods on the Missouri River, the fading coal industry, science group disbanded by Trump reconvenes, a picture book on climate change for adults

The Los Angeles Times reports that the concentration of methane in the atmosphere has been recently rising, which is a troubling sign for controlling global warming. Although methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is much better at trapping heat, so over the course of 100 years it is about a 30% stronger greenhouse gas. The chemical composition of the methane suggests it is coming from natural sources in the tropics, including wetlands or agriculture (yes, including cow burps), but the actual reason for the rise is not yet understood.

An op-ed in the Sun-Sentinel makes the argument that if you want to maintain individual freedom, it is essential to control greenhouse gases and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. An op-ed in the Guardian compares President Trump’s support for climate denialism to Joseph Stalin’s support for the pseudo-scientific theories of Russian geneticist Trofim Lysenko, who claimed humans could pass on acquired traits to their offspring.

Reuters reports that federal taxpayers are going to step in again to provide construction loan guarantees to the Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia, which is already the recipient of a previous round of loans but is billions of dollars over budget. An op-ed in the New York Times argues that nuclear power is perhaps the only way to quickly decarbonize our energy system, and that we need to standardize reactor designs, support the industry and address irrational fears of radiation.

The New York Times reports on the damage to the levee system of the Missouri River, which now has so many breaks it is being described as “Swiss cheese.” Residents are frustrated as their land and livelihoods are damaged by flooding, and there is a growing recognition that with more extreme rain events coming the historic levee system is not going to be able to provide the flood protection it has provided in the past. Scientific American reports how many cities along the Mississippi are returning previously “reclaimed” lands to marshes to control flooding not only in their towns but also downriver. Another report describes how a growing body of evidence supports coastal wetlands restoration efforts as among the most cost-effective methods to build resilience to sea level rise. You can accompany the author of this article at Popula as she goes real estate shopping in Miami and asks about sea level rise.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on a recent study that examines projected changes in rainfall patterns, of great concern because 60 percent of farming on land in South Asia and 95 percent in sub-Saharan Africa is rain dependent. The study concludes that many drier places will get drier, while wet locations will get wetter, with the latter leading to impacts on agriculture that are difficult to predict. The authors noted that if emissions are reduced in keeping with the Paris Accord, farmers will have several decades to prepare for changes. If emissions continue to climb, the changes will be upon them in the next decade.

An article in the New Yorker examines conditions on the ground in the highlands of Guatemala, describing how climate change is an important factor driving migration to the U.S. A report in the Guardian describes similar forces at work in El Salvador, noting “if you live in an agricultural zone, come from a long line of farmers and can’t reliably harvest your crops any more, what else is there to do but leave?”

One dry place that is getting drier is the Colorado River basin. The two largest reservoirs in the country are on this river and are drying up, with Lake Mead at 41% of capacity and Lake Powell at 38%. The Arizona Republic takes a detailed look at the recent unprecedented negotiation among the states that are signatories to the Colorado River Compact, which was negotiated in 1922 when flows in the Colorado River were much higher than today. The article focuses on decision-making in Arizona, and highlights the challenges that will be faced (particularly by agriculture) in the Colorado basin.

An article in Reuters notes that two Swedish ferries were recently converted from diesel to battery power and are now serving the busy run between Sweden and Denmark. An article in the Guardian notes that climate change may increase the cost of insurance so that it is no longer affordable to many people.

The fading of the coal industry is hitting communities in Appalachia particularly hard. Transitioning away from fossil fuels will exacerbate this problem, which drives the call for a “just transition.” Grist reports on the successes and the challenges of a local effort in Kentucky to retrain coal workers in energy efficiency. An op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader notes that coal mining accounts for only 0.4% of jobs in Kentucky, and argues there is no more a “war on coal” than there was a “war on typewriters” or a “war on slide rules.”

CNN Business reports that Xcel Energy, a major midwestern utility, has announced an ambitious plan to deliver zero-carbon electricity by 2050, making it the first large American power company to set that challenging goal. Xcel generated over half of its electricity from coal just a few years ago, but plummeting prices for wind and solar had allowed it to close half of its coal plants with half of the remaining set to be shut down in the next few years.

Dave Roberts at VOX reviews the political debate (if you can call it that) about the Green New Deal (GND). He argues against seeking more incremental progress due to Republican obstructionism. He notes, Republicans “…have not made the minimal effort necessary to understand the GND, they are willfully lying about it, and their party has absolutely no answer to the problem of climate change, about which they have consistently lied and dissembled for decades.”

A federal advisory committee on climate adaptation that President Trump disbanded has reconstituted itself with support from a private foundation and Columbia University, as reported by Science Daily. They have issued a report focused on how to make the information in the National Climate Assessment more available to state, local and tribal governments to help them prepare for climate change (take a minute to consider what it means that the President of the United States did not think this was an important job for our government). I see this committee’s action as scientific civil disobedience, and I think we need more scientists to take such a stand. In Scientific American, climate scientist Ben Santer from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory issues a call for action.

Nine-year-old Zayne Cowie has a picture book for adults called Goodbye, Earth. It’s worth a read:

We’ve said our bit, now you get cracking.
No more pipelines, no more fracking!
We may be kids, but we are pissed.
We’re fighting now just to exist!