November 30 2022

27th COP focuses on loss and damage in poorer nations, Arctic wildfires, local midterm-election results bolster climate resilience, home insurance market teeters in Florida, generating electricity from the tides

As the nations of the world gathered in Egypt for the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP), the danger posed by climate change is unassailable. The New York Times notes that the draft National Climate Assessment, released by the U.S. Government for public comment, concludes that “climate changes make it harder to maintain safe homes and healthy families, reliable public services, a sustainable economy, thriving ecosystems and strong communities.” While the report outlines many actions and policies to adapt to our new climate, these are being adopted too slowly. The report also notes that current efforts to reduce emissions are “not sufficient” to meet the Biden Administration’s 2050 target of net-zero emissions. Meanwhile, a recent analysis concludes that global emissions of carbon dioxide will reach an all-time high in 2022, as described by the study’s authors in The Conversation.

The global effort to reduce emissions appears inadequate to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. The Washington Post reports that new natural-gas projects, many initiated in response to the war in Ukraine, will have to be closed before the end of their useful life if the world is to meet its emissions goals. This is unlikely. The Post also describes a new study from the World Meteorological Organization reporting that global emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas, are rising faster than ever. Initial analysis has concluded that the methane increase is not from fossil fuels, but rather from natural sources such as wetlands or agriculture, suggesting that this is a response to climate change. The executive director of the U.N. Environment Program stated, “It’s a dismal, horrendous, incomprehensible picture.”

The Washington Post reports that only 24 countries have submitted new emissions-reduction pledges in the past 12 months. At present, the combined 193 climate pledges made since the Paris Agreement would actually increase emissions 10.6% by 2030, compared with 2010 levels. To reach the 1.5°C target, it is estimated that nations must reduce their emissions to about 45% of their 2010 levels, and an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times describes how far we have to go. An op-ed in the Guardian concludes that anybody who thinks the 1.5°C target is still achievable is delusional. The author argues that acknowledging this reality is essential for increasing action by corporations and governments. An editorial in the Washington Post argues that we should not lose hope…

November 15 2022

sea level rise getting real in many places, climate misinformation continues to circulate, drought causes more focus on recycling wastewater, a rare toad slows geothermal development, France requires solar over parking lots

The New York Times reports that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides $2.6 billion in grants over five years for coastal communities to prepare and respond to hazardous climate-related events. While less than 1% of the total funding provided by the IRA, this is the latest sign of a shift by the federal government toward funding nature-based climate solutions. These funds will be enormously valuable as the threats from sea level rise and coastal erosion mount.

The rate that sea level rises in any given community is a function of the vertical movement of both water and land. In places where land is subsiding, the relative rate of sea level rise is faster. Because of this phenomenon, the Humboldt Bay in northern California has the highest relative sea level rise in the state. The San Francisco Chronicle examines how this region is approaching its vulnerability to sea level rise.

The Washington Post visits Socastee, South Carolina, a community that is similar to many on the eastern seaboard impacted by rising sea level and storm surges. In this area of South Carolina, sea level is rising as fast as anywhere in the nation. The article chronicles the agonizing decision facing residents who don’t want to leave, yet are beginning to recognize that their communities will become more and more unlivable. The Washington Post also examines plans to protect Norfolk, VA, another community extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. This article points out that the method used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for assessing benefits and costs of flood-protection projects fails to account for ecological, cultural and historic values. This can lead to controversy about the relative worth of proposed projects. The New York Times reports on the Corps of Engineers’ $52 billion proposal for flood protection in New York harbor…

October 31 2022

tipping points may have already been crossed, climate-related disasters costing $200 million per day, offshore leases for wind more valuable than for oil, Greece powered entirely by renewables for 5 hours, a fast transition to renewables is cheapest

Grist reports on a new study warning that the 1.1°C (1.9°F) of warming that has already occurred may have pushed the planet past tipping points. These include the beginning of the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, tropical coral reef die-offs and the abrupt thawing of permafrost. As the planet warms further, these outcomes are more and more likely if they have not already occurred. In The Guardian, one of the authors of the study notes: “We’re not saying that, because we’re probably going to hit some tipping points, everything is lost and it’s game over. Every fraction of a degree that we stop beyond 1.5°C reduces the likelihood of hitting more tipping points.”

Greta Thunberg is a bit more forceful, writing in The Guardian that it is a very limited “we” who have caused climate disruption. “The fact that 3 billion people use less energy, on an annual per capita basis, than a standard American refrigerator gives you an idea of how far away from global equity and climate justice we currently are.” She criticizes the global carbon-reduction targets as incomplete and inadequate, noting that she takes “no pleasure whatsoever to keep calling out the bullshit of our so-called leaders.” She concludes that we are approaching a precipice of disruption that requires activists to “stand our ground. Do not let them drag us another inch closer to the edge. Not one inch. Right here, right now, is where we draw the line.”

Supporting Greta’s stance is the recent report from the World Meteorological Association (WMO). CNBC reports that, according to the WMO, climate-related disasters have increased fivefold over the past five decades and are now costing $200 million a day. UN Secretary General Guterres notes that “There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters.” He added that the report shows “climate impacts heading into uncharted territories of destruction … Yet each year we double-down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse.”…

October 15 2022

Powerful hurricanes strike the U.S. and Canada, Asian monsoon is stronger and less predictable, used car batteries have a second life as grid storage, closed fossil-fuel power plants have a renewable future

The Atlantic hurricane season, which had a quiescent August, roared to life in September. After causing widespread damage in Puerto Rico, which was still recovering from 2020’s Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Fiona traveled to the North Atlantic and struck Newfoundland. It was possibly the strongest storm to ever to make landfall in Canada and, according to Reuters, caused unprecedented damage. The Guardian describes how the storm was able to stay at hurricane strength this far north, by drawing energy from an Atlantic Ocean that was 2°C warmer than average. An article in Esquire notes that Fiona is another example of the need for climate action.

But Fiona was only the prelude to Hurricane Ian, which knocked out all the power in Cuba, destroying crops and homes, before making landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast. After devastating the Fort Myers area and flooding other parts of the state, the storm moved into the Atlantic, re-strengthened, turned back to the northwest and made landfall again in South Carolina. The fifth-mostpowerful storm to ever strike the United States, the New York Times notes that it will certainly be another in the growing list of billion-dollar disasters, and is the deadliest storm to hit Florida in 35 years. The Washington Post examines the frequency of billion-dollar disasters, which is rising. There was an annual average of 7.7 such events over the past four decades but, in the last five years, that average has jumped to nearly 18.

Ian rapidly intensified before striking Florida, a characteristic of hurricanes super-charged by the warmer ocean waters caused by climate change (other atmospheric conditions, particularly low wind shear, also contributed to the intensification). Ian went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in just 72 hours. An op-ed in the Guardian notes that “Human-caused warming is not just heating the surface of the oceans; the warmth is diffusing down into the depths of the ocean, leading to year after year of record ocean heat content. That means that storms are less likely to churn up colder waters from below, inhibiting one of the natural mechanisms that dampen strengthening.” The authors also note that the power of these storms increases exponentially as roughly the cube of wind speed — which is why a Category 4 storm is so much more damaging than a Category 3…

September 30 2022

Senate ratifies Kigali amendment, wildfires undoing benefits of Clean Air Act, sea level rise drives rising groundwater, eroding Nantucket, French nuclear power fails to rescue Europe

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Senate has ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, becoming the 138th nation to do so. The 2016 Kigali Amendment will greatly reduce the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are powerful greenhouse gases. The article notes that Americans for Prosperity, a political action committee founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, sent a letter to lawmakers last week saying that ratifying the Kigali Amendment would be an “abdication (to the UN) of U.S. sovereignty over environmental regulation”. The group also argued it would raise the price of air-conditioning, refrigeration and industrial cooling for American consumers, a claim refuted by a spokesman for the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, an industry trade group. The spokesman noted that the industry has spent years preparing for this change, and “if you’re a consumer, this isn’t going to make any difference to you whatsoever.”

Inside Climate News reports that California is considering legislation that would support “natural carbon sequestration programs” to encourage regenerative agriculture and the greening of the state’s cities and suburbs. The goal of these programs is to encourage practices that use ecological processes to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soil. Critics note that it is difficult to measure the actual carbon sequestration that occurs from regenerative agriculture, and that this sequestration (like other natural carbon solutions) can be impermanent if land-use practices change in the future. An excellent article in Sierra Magazine notes that, while agricultural practices such as not tilling the soil can store carbon (and improve water retention and soil health), there is a danger of over-hyping the beneficial impacts of these practices (Anthropocene Magazine describes how conclusions among studies vary depending upon how long they run and how deep into the soil they sample). Carbon sequestration by natural systems (such as peatlands and intact forests) is considerably greater. The Washington Post notes that the Inflation Reduction Act includes support for regenerative-agriculture practices such as planting cover crops, better managing water sources and conserving grasslands and other landscapes that sequester carbon. The bill also supports reforestation and forest conservation…

September 15 2022

California and General Motors plan for emission-free cars by 2035, the need for charging stations and lithium for batteries, fake local news used to spread climate misinformation, devastating flooding in Pakistan, the benefits of beavers

The Guardian reports that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has adopted a plan to eliminate the sale of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. California is the largest car market in the United States, so this decision will have a major effect on national vehicle sales and manufacturing. The rule requires that 35% of new cars be emission-free by 2026, 68% by 2030 and 100% by 2035 (last year 12% of new cars sold in California were zero-emission). The decision faced little pushback from an auto industry that is committed to producing EVs. Indeed, General Motors has said it plans to sell only electric vehicles by 2035 (Time Magazine notes that Chrysler-Fiat [now Stellantis] has not moved aggressively to develop electric models, and the company appears to be behind the market transition). In the New York Times, transportation expert Margo Oge, who served as Director of the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality from 1994 to 2012, states that “California will now be the only government in the world that mandates zero-emission vehicles.” (Morning Edition has an excellent interview with Oge, who serves with me on the Board of Directors of the Union of Concerned Scientists.)

An op-ed in the Washington Post criticizes California’s decision, based on weak assumptions such as car-battery technology not improving between today and 2035, and ignoring the industry’s commitment. Another op-ed comes to a very different conclusion, noting that the next generation of drivers will probably view the tailpipe the same way the current generation views the rotary phone. In Salon, Carl Pope provides a historical perspective on California’s commitment to clean cars, noting that in 1969 “the California legislature came within one vote of phasing out the internal combustion engine.” The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that California’s commitment to EVs also requires a plan to phase out the state’s petroleum industry. “A petroleum phaseout plan will help regulators appropriately target climate policies, but it is also essential to help communities and workers plan for the future.”…