April 30 2020

April 30 2020

Coronavirus and climate change, ocean heat waves, the future of Florida, Iowa a leader in wind energy and wind-energy jobs

A thoughtful article in Politico compares the challenges and possible responses to the coronavirus and climate change. The author notes that both are “problems whose dimensions are largely the province of scientific experts—employing complex data models aimed at illuminating future trends that the average citizen can understand in broad concept but not in detail. The essential question: Do you trust these experts, or not?” The remedies, however, touch on personal and community values, which engender much wider and chaotic discussion.

An article in Grist explores how certain human behavioral patterns contribute to our differing responses to these two threats. At Yale e360, an article reviews opinions on whether our experience with coronavirus make us more willing and able to address climate change, or less.

In Time, Naomi Oreskes argues that American conservatives’ aversion to “big government” left us woefully unprepared for the coronavirus, and we should not let the same thing happen for climate change. While it is too late for early action on climate change, “it is not too late to be organized and take action. It will require government, and some of that government will necessarily be big.”

Climate scientist Andrew Dessler notes in the San Antonio Express-News that the “coronavirus pandemic is arising for exactly the same reasons as the feckless U.S. response to climate change: failure to listen to experts, failure to take action before the problem becomes a catastrophe, failure to recognize that these problems move exponentially, failure to prioritize public well-being and many others.” He argues that unless we learn from the coronavirus pandemic that strong government institutions are necessary for public health and safety, we will be unable to protect ourselves from future disasters driven by climate change.

Many are wondering what our society would look like if we took actions to combat climate change that were as aggressive as the actions taken in response to the coronavirus. The Los Angeles Times asked eight experts what a coronavirus-like response to climate change would look like, and here’s what they said. As I noted in a previous post, Al Gore argues we have reached a point of political inflection where Dornbusch’s law will prevail: “things take longer to happen than you think they will, but then they happen much faster than you thought they could.”

A “runaway” greenhouse effect has left Venus without liquid water and a surface temperature akin to a self-cleaning oven. Could the same thing happen on earth? The Washington Post examines this question. An article in Grist summarizes why the link between tornadoes and climate change is still uncertain.

Ethical considerations prevent us from conducting experiments in which we purposely expose humans to dangerous substances, and so we use animals (where many claim the ethical problems remain). However, in a recent experiment, toxic substances were instead removed from a human population, and InsideClimate News reports on the important results. In Louisville, KY, a coal-fired power plant closed while three others installed pollution-control equipment. The resulting 55% reduction in sulfur dioxide concentrations led to reduced hospital admissions, asthma attacks and inhaler use (the article notes another such experiment, when Beijing air quality was purposely improved for the Olympic Games in 2008). The results of these experiments make the Trump Administration’s recent refusal to control microscopic particulates all the more infuriating and horrifying. This decision, which actually does represent a decision to purposely expose Americans to a dangerous substance, will result in tens of thousands of premature deaths each year in the U.S.

Changes to the availability of water will be one of the most challenging impacts of climate change, and this will be particularly complex in Asia where great rivers arise from the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau and flow from one country into others. The New York Times describes the situation for the Mekong River, on which the operations of dams in China (where the river is called the Lancang) is having drastic impacts on life in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Similar challenges will face India with Brahmaputra, and Pakistan with the Indus.

A different kind of water challenge faces the American Southwest, where the New York Times reports on a recent study that concludes we may be in the midst of a multi-decade “mega-drought” in the Colorado River basin that is being enhanced by climate change. Using tree rings as a proxy for soil moisture, the recent study concludes that our current very low soil-moisture levels have only been replicated once in the historical record (during the mega-drought of the 1500s). About half of the current low flows of the Colorado River have been attributed to human-caused climate change.

In Foreign Affairs, Republican leaders James Baker and George Schultz note that “in the United States, the case for greater action on climate change is typically made on environmental grounds. But there are equally compelling economic, geopolitical, and national security rationales for the United States to lead the world on climate policy.” They go on to propose “an environmentally ambitious, economically sound, and politically feasible plan that situates the United States at the forefront of a clean energy future, enhances the competitiveness of U.S. firms, and allows all Americans to benefit directly from emission reductions.”

In Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell has a great article about ocean heat waves and their cascading impacts in the ocean and on land. Marine heat waves are driving a massive reorganization of underwater life, with many creatures migrating to cooler waters. The article focuses on “the blob,” the ocean heat wave that started in the middle of the last decade along the Pacific coast of North America.

In other marine warming news, Bloomberg reports that “Parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans all hit the record books for warmth last month, according to the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information. The high temperatures could offer clues on the ferocity of the Atlantic hurricane season, the eruption of wildfires from the Amazon region to Australia, and whether the record heat and severe thunderstorms raking the southern U.S. will continue.”

The Guardian reports on a new study that argues for a focused effort on restoring ocean ecosystems. The report notes the resilience of ocean life when restoration actions are undertaken, and that a major restoration effort could pay enormous benefits. The researchers found that global fishing is slowly becoming more sustainable and the destruction of habitats such as seagrass meadows and mangroves has almost ended, and there is a large and growing effort to establish marine protected areas to foster ocean health.

The Guardian has an excellent report on the future of Florida, which faces multiple climate-change challenges including sea level rise (with concomitant threats to drinking water and damage to sewage systems), stronger storms, loss of wildlife habitat and a challenging political climate. While the state has “woken up” to the threat of climate change (and an improvement from its head-in-the-sand attitude I described in my 2018 post, Observations from Another Planet), it is not yet clear how effective the response is going to be in the face of the physical reality engulfing this state.

The Guardian examines the recent climate-action pledge of Microsoft. Unlike most other corporations that have pledged carbon neutrality by 2030, Microsoft has set a goal of being carbon negative by that time. This so-called “climate moonshot” is an enormous challenge, yet it’s necessary if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The Des Moines Register reports that Iowa is now generating more than 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, accounting for more than 40% of the state’s electricity. Wind became the leading source of electricity in both Iowa and Kansas this year, making them the first states to reach that benchmark. Previously, coal-fired power generation had been Iowa’s main source of electricity. The state now has 9,000 wind industry jobs (second in the nation to Texas).