January 15 2024

January 15 2024

2023 temperature records reflect “global boiling”, Antarctic octopus genetics suggests West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse possible, the electrification of the automobile industry is underway, U.S. Treasury Department describes massive costs of climate change, global greenhouse-gas emissions may have peaked in 2023

To those paying even the slightest bit of attention last year, it comes as no surprise that 2023 was the hottest year on record. The Guardian reports that both NASA and NOAA reached this conclusion, as did another analysis by EU scientists. These air temperature records were accompanied by record high ocean temperatures and a new low in Antarctic sea ice extent. NOAA stated that, over the last 40 years, each decade has been warmer than the last and the most recent 10 years are the hottest decade ever recorded. The article quotes climate scientists who are finding it difficult to explain why 2023 was so much hotter than previous years.

The Washington Post quotes UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who called 2023 the year of “global boiling,” as the year saw the hottest single day (July 6), the hottest-ever month (July) and the hottest June, August, September, October, November and probably the hottest December. On November 17, global average temperature was 2°C above preindustrial levels, providing a reminder of where we are headed without a much more ambitious effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The impact of these extremes was visible everywhere. This includes intense drought in Brazil, where some towns are being forced to ration drinking water. The BBC notes that the Amazon has never seen a drought like this. Because the rivers are the major transportation corridor, the drought has major impacts throughout society in the region. There were vast wildfires in Greece and Canada, hot-tub temperatures in the ocean in Florida, quickly intensifying major storm systems and unrelenting heat in Phoenix and other places around the world. The Washington Post notes: “The U.S. alone suffered a record number of extreme weather disasters that caused at least $1bn in damages in 2023.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that, with a powerful El Niño present in the Pacific Ocean, scientists are predicting 2024 could be as hot or hotter than 2023.

The New York Times describes how a recent genetic study of small octopuses living on the bottom of the ocean has revealed important results for understanding the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). These small creatures don’t travel long distances, and so there are separate populations on either side of the WAIS (in the Weddell and Ross Seas). But new genetic analysis shows that, 120,000 years ago, these populations were interbreeding. That only happens if there is no WAIS, and 120,000 years ago corresponds to the last interglacial period when the average temperature of the Earth was 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (and sea level was 5-10m higher than today). This is strong evidence that the WAIS did indeed collapse at that global average temperature, suggesting we’ll see the ice sheet disappear in the coming century. That will lead to 5m (16 feet) of sea level rise.

Grist explores why people continue to accept misinformation about climate change. This year on X, posts containing the hashtag #climatescam received many more likes and reposts than #climatecrisis or #climateemergency. A key reason is that disinformation that plays to people’s emotions is more compelling than scientific facts. In addition, “it’s a lot easier and cheaper to push doubt than to push certainty.” Media Matters reports that, in 2023, right-wing media amplified climate disinformation by “facilitating comebacks for long-discredited climate deniers, cheering on violence against climate activists, and attributing deadly climate-driven events to conspiracies or religious calamity.” These claims then spread far and wide on social media, such as TikTok videos claiming that “catastrophic wildfires plaguing Canada over the summer were started deliberately via helicopter, drone, or ‘Directed Energy Weapons.’” Others attributed the heat waves and wildfires of 2023 to “God’s anger” and a “decline of morality.”

The Atlantic describes the transition underway as automobiles electrify. While we tend to think of the transition just in terms of the nature of the vehicle’s propulsion system, this is actually a broad transformation across the entire automobile industry. Auto companies need workers with new and different skills, and enormous capital investment is required to produce the new vehicles. One of the attractive features of many new electric vehicles is their ability to power household devices directly. The Guardian describes how one Australian family used their EV to power their son’s dialysis machine during a grid outage on Christmas.

Inside Climate News reports on a program in California that is paying landowners if they manage their land so as to recharge the local groundwater basin. Called “recharge net metering program” as an analogy to how solar-system owners get paid for electricity they send back to the grid, landowners install a handful of “recharge basins” (described as empty, dirt swimming pools) that catch water when it rains. Initial results are very promising, with water saved at a cost of $570 per acre-foot compared to $3,892 per acre-foot for desalination. Grist visits the largest floodplain-restoration project in California, the Dos Rios Ranch Preserve, where the natural ecosystem is now providing flood protection, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration and other public benefits (it will soon become California’s newest State Park).

The Messenger reviews a recent report from the U.S. Department of Treasury that documents the costs Americans are now incurring due to climate change. Supply-chain disruptions, higher insurance premiums, expenses for health care and cleanup from extreme weather events cost American households over half a trillion dollars from 2018-2022 (this time period includes four of the most costly years for hurricane damage in U.S. history). The article notes that the Treasury Department is taking climate impacts very seriously under the Biden Administration, describing actions being taken by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Federal Housing Financing Agency and the Treasury’s Federal Insurance Office.

While the offshore-wind industry has hit some rough waters recently, with many projects being delayed, downsized or canceled due to rising costs (driven by inflation and higher interest rates), the AP reports that large offshore-wind turbines began delivering electricity to the grid in the last month. The first turbines of The South Fork project, off the coast of New York, and the Vineyard project off the coast of Massachusetts, delivered electricity to the mainland. Both projects will grow this year as more turbines are completed and connected to the grid.

The New York Times reports on a recent analysis concluding that “America’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 1.9 percent in 2023, in large part because the burning of coal to produce electricity plummeted to its lowest level in half a century.” This means that, since the peak in 2005, U.S. emissions have declined by about 17%. This is welcome news, but we have a ways to go. To reach President Biden’s goal of reducing America’s greenhouse-gas emissions 50% by 2030, emissions would have to decline three times as fast each year for the rest of the decade.

The Guardian notes that many analysts think that 2023 may be the year global carbon emissions peak, and that we are now beginning the period of annual reductions in global emissions. “In the IEA’s flagship report, widely considered to be one of the most influential in the climate and energy debate, it found that the steady rise of wind and solar power was on track to outpace the world’s growing demand for energy – meaning renewables will start to displace fossil fuels on a global scale. At the same time the rollout of electric vehicles globally is expected to start eroding the demand for road fuels, which makes up about 50% of the oil demand in developed countries.” As with the news of the decline in U.S. emissions, this is great news but must be placed in context. Emissions must fall almost 10% annually to meet the goal of limiting the increase of global average temperature to 1.5°C. Even during the economic downturn at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the global emissions decline was only 5%.