January 15 2019

January 15 2019

Florida TV meteorologist speaks out, U.S. carbon emissions rise, major storms changing attitudes in North Carolina, large midwestern utilities moving to renewables

Long-time Florida TV weatherman John Morales has an op-ed (in the four-paper south Florida media project The Invading Sea) about the importance of climate action for the future of Florida. It is vital that TV meteorologists, often the only scientists many Americans know, are speaking out more forcefully about climate change. The Climate Matters program of Climate Central has been helping these professional meteorologists, many of whom are working at Fox and Sinclair affiliated stations.

Unfortunately, as reported by the Washington Post and other media sources, U.S. carbon emissions spiked in 2018, rising 3.4% according to one estimate (and slightly less by another estimate). Either way, this makes it less likely we will meet our commitment under the Paris Accord, a commitment that was only a modest downpayment on the reductions needed to prevent the most serious impacts of global warming. Meanwhile, the concept of a Green New Deal continues to gain momentum, as described by InsideClimate News, and by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that California’s long-term drought has increased carbon emissions by reducing the amount of hydropower available in the state. The Guardian reports on a recent study examining the impact of sea level rise on California’s diverse coastal habitats. While it is not surprising that many of these habitats will diminish or disappear as sea level rises, strategic protection or redevelopment of coastal lands in the coming decades could mitigate 61% of the projected losses.

InsideClimate News reports on changing attitudes toward climate change in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. The Washington Post has a summary article about the weather extremes around the world last year. In the Guardian is an Alaskan mountaineer’s reflections on the changing arctic and its implications for our future.

InsideClimate News has an interesting article about the declining oyster and shrimp fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. A key problem for the oysters is too much freshwater as a result of the more intense downpours being driven by climate change, while for shrimp it is warmer waters. Grist reports that Antarctic sea ice is remarkably low this year, exposing the continental ice to ocean waves earlier than normal.

The New York Times reports on how the government shutdown is affecting the work of government scientists and their partners in the States and internationally. One amazing impact of the shutdown noted by the Washington Post is that NOAA cannot update the World Magnetic Model to account for a jet of magma within the earth that is moving magnetic north toward Siberia at a pace of 30 miles a year. The model is used by cellphone GPS systems and military navigators to orient themselves (although the missing update currently only affects those who need precise navigation at high latitudes).

The Washington Post summarizes 11 Policy Ideas to Save the Planet. Each short article presents the basics about topics such as carbon farming, the Green New Deal and competition in electricity markets. Dave Roberts at VOX reviews optimistic and pessimistic analyses of our society’s chance to keep warming to 2°C by 2100. The New York Magazine has an interesting reflection on the decision to have children given the knowledge of the altered climate future they will face.

Major midwestern utilities are moving to renewable power much faster than previously anticipated as costs have dropped, as reported by InsideClimate News. For example, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company has proposed closing all its coal-fired power plants within 10 years, which is striking because coal is 65 percent of the company’s power plant capacity.

A Bloomberg editorial makes the argument that keeping nuclear plants operating in coming decades is important as otherwise this carbon-free electricity will be replaced largely by electricity generated using fossil fuels. A more nuanced form of this argument has been made by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), who note that the poor economic performance of nuclear plants is resulting in planned shutdowns, and that policies which place a value on the carbon-free electricity from these facilities could change this outlook. UCS further points out that such support for nuclear plants should be coupled with stringent requirements for safety and consumer protection.

The Guardian has a great interview with Texas Tech Professor Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and evangelical Christian who has become one of the nation’s leading voices regarding the need for climate action. Katharine is a very engaging speaker and a wonderful person (her TED talk about addressing climate change is worth watching). If you want to hear her, she will be accepting the Stephen Schneider Award for Climate Science Communication at the Commonwealth Club on January 22, 2019 (tickets here).

The New York Times reviews the potential impact of the eleven new members of Congress with backgrounds in science, medicine or technology. For the first time since the 1990s, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will be chaired by a member with a scientific background (psychiatric nurse Eddie Bernice Johnson [D-TX]). She replaces Lamar Smith, who was a disaster (my take on Smith can be found here.) It is very important and gratifying to see members of the scientific community stepping into the political world to strengthen the link between science and democracy.