June 30 2022

the Arctic is warming quickly, early-season heat waves abound, flooding in Yellowstone, green aluminum, is creating fossil-fuel PR immoral?

Recent measurements have documented that a region of the Arctic is warming faster than any place on Earth. The Guardian reports on these temperature increases on the islands of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea. That the Arctic would warm more rapidly relative to the rest of the planet has been predicted since the 1970s, due mainly to ice (that reflects solar radiation) being replaced by water (that absorbs solar radiation). However, the heating appears to be happening faster than previously estimated. This will likely have significant impacts on weather outside of the Arctic as the historical temperature gradient between the tropics and the Arctic gets smaller.

Water availability is declining in the western U.S. through a combination of drought, population growth and lack of conservation (John Oliver has a nice primer on the problem). This reduction can be seen in Utah as the Great Salt Lake dwindles in size. The New York Times examines the implications of this change, which extends far beyond the loss of water itself. In particular, the exposed lake bed is becoming an air-quality hazard for the region, and there is no indication yet that the growth in water use that’s driving this problem is being addressed. A similar problem has already played out at Owens Lake east of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, which has resulted in the town of Keeler essentially being abandoned. An article in the Washington Post describes the potential for taps to go dry in the South African city of Gqeberha, due to climate change and inadequate water-system maintenance.

The Washington Post reports that the “immediate crises — among them war, spiking gas prices and an open-ended pandemic — are hindering the ability of leaders to take necessary action on the longer-term threats posed by climate change.” At our present rate of emissions, we will fly past the 1.5°C target by 2030. One leading climate scientist noted, “we know what we need to do, but we are not doing it yet.” An article in the New York Times describes the growing challenges facing countries in Asia due to climate change and extreme weather…

June 15 2022

carbon dioxide at all-time high, it’s cheaper to transition off fossil fuels, consumer demand for EVs grows, Americans reduce beef consumption, flows decline in Colorado and Rio Grande rivers

NOAA announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached nearly 421 parts per million in May. This means that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any time in at least 4 million years. It comes as no surprise. As reported by the New York Times, emissions totaled 36.3 billion tons in 2021, the highest level in history. As three past Secretaries of the UNFCCC note in an op-ed, this makes the failure to pursue aggressive decarbonization by the leadership of the major industrialized nations all that more sad and painful.

This increase in carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) continues to heat the planet. The Washington Post describes a recent atmospheric river that caused it to rain at the summit of Greenland. This led to an enormous melt event on the ice sheet. “In the past decade, Greenland experienced three major melt years, 2012, 2019 and 2021, which were all tied to atmospheric rivers. Before 2012, the last major melt event connected to an atmospheric river was more than 100 years ago.”

A recent study examined the net warming effect of carbon dioxide and non-carbon-dioxide pollutants from both fossil-fuel and non-fossil-fuel sources. Anthropocene Magazine reports that the short-lived greenhouse pollutants methane, black carbon soot, ground level ozone and hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants cause just as much warming as carbon dioxide. This shows that, while decarbonization is crucial to meeting our long-term climate goals, it is essential that we also reduce short-lived climate pollutants this decade to keep global temperatures lower by mid-century…

May 31 2022

future threat of a mass marine extinction, restoring river floodplains, keeping nuclear plants operating, Governor DeSantis sides with solar, most-popular U.S. vehicle goes electric

A new study summarized by the New York Times concludes that a mass extinction of ocean life will occur by 2300 if humans continue emitting greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The risk of this extinction event, on par with the five great extinctions in the fossil record, can be reduced by 70% if emissions are kept to the upper limit of the Paris Accord. As with so many other assessments of the future, this study demonstrates again that the world we get will be the world we choose. We have great agency now, as argued in a Times Magazine op-ed, to impact the future if we can find the political will to use it.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the Great Barrier Reef has been hit with a sixth mass coral-bleaching event. This one has occurred during La Niña ocean conditions, which are cooler than El Niño. Scientists had hoped La Niña years would be periods where the reef could recover. One scientist states: “Unexpected events are now to be expected. Nothing surprises me any more.”

Rising sea levels and more intense storms are generating a smelly health hazard as septic systems stop functioning. These systems were designed with the assumption that groundwater levels would remain static but, in many places, groundwater is rising with higher sea levels and heavy precipitation. The Washington Post notes that about 20% of U.S. households rely on septic systems, and of particular concern are the systems in coastal communities from New England to Florida. While experts note that we lack a comprehensive understanding of rates of failure, the numbers are already daunting. In Miami-Dade County, more than half of the 120,000 systems experience inadequate functioning at some point during each year. A key solution is to connect the most vulnerable homes and businesses to a sewer, but this can be very costly, and many low-income communities are particularly hard hit by the problem…

May 15 2022

heat wave in Asia, deforestation in South America and Africa, drought and fire in the southwestern U.S., methane leaks in New Mexico, innovations in battery technology

The Guardian describes a powerful heat wave that is gripping India and Pakistan. For weeks, daily high temperatures in Pakistan’s Balochistan region have exceeded 120°F, and it’s only April. When the humidity of monsoon season arrives, many experts are worried that conditions will become ever more dangerous. The heat is impacting agriculture, with yields of wheat in the hottest areas dropping 50%. An article in The Atlantic describes the challenge India faces to meet its renewable-energy goals as electrical demand climbs (in large part due to the growing amount of air conditioning). Last month, more than 600 passenger and postal trains were canceled so that the railroad could deliver more coal to power plants to prevent blackouts, as India faced its worst electricity shortage in six decades. Yet even with these steps, many communities faced outages. This also underscores the need for developed nations to help countries like India accelerate their renewable-energy deployment so that rising demand for electricity does not result in rising greenhouse-gas emissions. (Grist notes that per-capita emissions in the U.S. are over seven times higher than in India).

Coal-burning is also on the rise in China, where many municipalities suffered power outages last year, as described by the New York Times. At the same time, China is building huge amounts of renewable power as well (it will add more wind and solar power capacity this year than the entire rest of the world did last year). China is still committed to having greenhouse-gas emissions peak in 2030 but, with more coal-fired plants built in the next few years, any decline in emissions will likely be gradual. Meanwhile, in the U.S. Reuters reports delays in deployment of solar (due in part to a Department of Commerce investigation into Chinese tariff violations), resulting in a utility in Indiana delaying closure of a coal-fired power plant by two years…