January 15 2020

January 15 2020

73-year-old President bullies 16-year-old girl, catastrophic fires in Australia, EPA neglects established science, farmers see promise in regenerative agriculture, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions drop in 2019

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old from Sweden who started the Fridays for the Future movement, was named Time’s Person of the Year (the article is well worth reading). The President of the United States attacked Greta on Twitter. His cyberbullying demonstrates insecurity and immaturity that are at once pathetic and frightening (if you are wondering why this happens, check out the Mayo Clinic’s definition of narcissistic personality disorder). We already know how history will view Thunberg and Trump, and it will not go well for the President. Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL, proposes this 2020 resolution, “Be Like Greta. Meet derision with humor. Weakness with strength. Insecurity with self-knowledge. Narcissism with vision. Cruelty with humanity.”

InsideClimate News reviews key findings from climate science over the past decade. Unfortunately, the upshot is that changes are occurring faster than previously predicted. This will challenge our ability to respond effectively, and makes our political inaction all the more alarming.

The Los Angeles Times reports on a new study that shows intensified ocean acidification on the west coast of North America. Using the sedimentary record of the shells left by the tiny sea creatures known as foraminifera, scientists documented how stronger upwelling periods that bring more carbon-rich waters to the surface combine with the carbon dioxide dissolving into the ocean to cause more acidification in our region.

An article in the Guardian projects life in 2050 with continued global warming (adult beverage recommended). The author pays homage to a previous article written in 2004 about 2020, which has proven to be remarkably prescient. The Washington Post has an excellent article about the “climate change bankruptcy” that has hit PG&E, and the challenges the company faces to keep the lights on for northern Californians.

The Guardian reports on the horrifying fire season in Australia that has required response of the military and vaulted the climate emergency into the national political discussion. I highly recommend the New York Times op-ed, Australia is Committing Climate Suicide. Climate scientist, Michael Mann, describes his experience in Australia, where he is starting a sabbatical, by noting that Australians don’t need to look to the future anymore to understand climate change.

The New York Times reports that citizens are angry about Prime Minister Morrison’s downplaying of the role of global warming in the wildfire problem. A bookstore in a fire-ravaged town in New South Wales has a sign that states, “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs.”

InsideClimate News reports on the possibility that eastern Australian forests have passed a tipping point where they cannot recover from fire, and some will not be able to regrow in the new climate (the article also has an amazingly cute photo of a koala at a rehab center). Similar indicators from other locations show that extreme fire regimes are arriving much earlier than scientists predicted. This has many scientists worried about wildfires causing an enormous net release of greenhouse gases, further exacerbating climate change.

A key part of the solution to climate change is accelerating the natural ecological processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere. Anthropocene Magazine reports on a new study that concludes limiting deforestation, advancing reforestation, altering agricultural practices, reducing food waste and moving toward plant-based diets could provide 30% of the emission reductions required to meet the ambitious 1.5°C global temperature target.

The Trump Administration has proposed to eliminate the need to consider climate change (or other “cumulative impacts”) when preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), reports the New York Times. The rationale for this change – that important projects are delayed for decades – is not supported by the evidence. Most projects receiving federal money do not require an EIS, and the full EIS required of 1% of federal projects takes 4.5 years on average. That Trump cannot distinguish between informed decision-making and wasteful delay is no surprise.

This rule change is simply an effort to define away problems that conflict with Trump’s ideological and rapacious agenda. A federal Judge in Montana recently sent the Trump Administration back to the drawing board on its effort to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, noting that to support its position it “simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change.” Indeed, the EPA Science Advisory Board, despite being replete with Trump appointees, just reported that EPA “neglects established science” in three major proposed policy reversals. For example, in its analysis in support of the proposal to relax auto emission standards, the administration “ended up with this result that basically violated introductory economics.” The New York Times notes that Trump has proposed to roll back or eliminate 95 environmental protections. Because these efforts are idealogical rather than factual, 68 legal challenges have resulted in 64 defeats for the Trump Administration.

President Trump, of course, remains undeterred by facts and evidence: in Hershey, PA, he told his supporters that sea level will rise one-eighth of an inch in the next 250 years, which is wrong by a factor of at least 300, and likely much, much more. At least he’s consistent: we’re now at over 15,000 Presidential lies since inauguration day.

After a very wet winter delayed planting and generated great losses in the agricultural industry, InsideClimate News reports that many farmers and members of Congress are growing more interested in techniques that allow farmers to enhance (and get paid for) carbon storage in soils. No-till practices and winter cover crops are examples of techniques that increase soil health and sequester carbon. The soils on farms using these techniques for years drained more quickly this winter, allowing these farmers to plant crops, while those using more conventional techniques could not plant.

An op-ed in the New York Times examines how America could operate on carbon-free electricity by 2030, a key component of solving the climate crisis. The authors note we would need to build wind and solar capacity three to four times as fast as the maximum annual pace we have achieved so far (in 2012 for wind turbines and in 2016 for solar panels). Using rural electrification and the interstate highway system as examples of what America can do if we commit to a major goal for public infrastructure, they conclude that political will is the key to achieving this goal.

Due mainly to the replacement of coal-fired power with natural gas and renewables, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped 2% in 2019 according to an article in InsideClimate News. While this is a welcome development, this reduction is not enough to meet the U.S. commitment under the Paris Accord, and reductions from transportation and industry are going to be hard to achieve without federal leadership.

A Boston Globe editorial calls for Americans to vote in 2020 with climate change as their top priority, and in an op-ed in The Hill, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) describes her commitment to climate action. An op-ed in the Washington Post describes how political shifts about climate change are occurring in the U.S., and calls Trump’s denialism his greatest dereliction of duty. An article at Grist provides a heartening perspective on the importance of the international youth movement for climate action. In Time, Bill McKibben describes an important shift toward sustainability in the world of banking and finance.