January 31 2019

January 31 2019

oceans warming and ice melting faster than previously thought, septic tanks failing in south Florida as seas rise, the future of the Colorado River, more Americans accept human role in climate change

InsideClimate News reports on a new synthesis of several studies (including the corrected version of one I reported on previously) concluding that the ocean is actually heating up faster than previously thought. A more detailed description of the study is available on Carbon Brief in a special article prepared by the study’s authors. This is unfortunately a big deal, as warmer ocean waters are a key driver of extreme storm events, sea level rise and are a major contributor to changing our climate over the long term. Warming oceans also put stress on marine ecosystems (the New York Times notes this is particularly important for coral reefs, which provide food for millions of people – 20% of all corals have died in the last three years). The key reason that the study concludes oceans are warming faster is improving estimates of ocean temperatures during the 20th century. These temperatures were lower than previously estimated, which leads to the conclusion that the oceans are warming faster in response to the intensified greenhouse effect. In addition, because these new estimates of past temperatures agree well with the output of climate models, these projections of future ocean heating can be considered more reliable.

Additional recent findings that contribute to our understanding that global warming may be advancing more quickly than expected are the conclusions that loss of ice in Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating. Ice loss in Greenland in 2012 was four times the rate in 2003, and new research documents major ice loss of glaciers in Eastern Antarctica, suggesting that meltwater will drive sea level rise faster this century than many have projected. A good summary of these major developments and their implications can be found in the Pacific Standard. The Independent describes Santa Barbara’s efforts to plan for sea level rise.

The Miami Herald reviews the growing problem with septic tank failure in Miami-Dade County. There are tens of thousands of septic tanks in this region, and many are already failing as sea level rise drives up groundwater levels and disrupts tank operations. It is estimated to cost over $3.3 billion to connect these properties to the sewer system. The New York Times has an interesting review of four key issues economists are grappling with as they try to project the future cost of climate change.

An op-ed in the New York Times explains the scientific basis for the EPA rule limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, and why a promoter of eliminating this rule, Andrew Wheeler, should not be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Dave Roberts at VOX reviews a recent study that suggests Colorado could benefit from closing its existing coal plants as fast as possible, and Houston Public Media reports on a Rice University study that concludes Texas could replace all of its coal capacity with wind and solar in the next decade. An editorial in the Guardian reviews the recent cancellations of nuclear power stations in England due to economic issues and the implications this may have for developing carbon-free power in the coming decade.

Yale e360 has the first of a five-part series on the future of the Colorado River, where demand continues to rise as supply declines, leading to emerging conflicts between states and different sectors of water users. The second installment reviews the current water sharing agreement among the states of the Colorado River basin, and the likelihood that supplies will continue to decline as climate changes. The Salt Lake Tribune has an article about Lake Powell on the Colorado, which currently holds only half as much water as it did in 2000. The New York Times has an article (accompanied by great photography) about the threat to water supplies in Asia from glacial retreat, focusing on the Tuyuksu glacier in Kazakhstan.

The Guardian reports on the collapse of insect populations in a rainforest in Puerto Rico, a phenomenon that is being documented around the world as climate changes (the altered distribution of water is particularly influential). Many scientists are warning that the decline of insects (including Monarch butterflies in California) is a grave indicator of adverse impacts to the ecosystems that support life on earth.

The New York Times reports the recent conclusion that 60% of the world’s 124 coffee species are at risk of extinction in the wild due to climate change and deforestation (I must report that if there’s no more coffee, this blog will end). January 28, 2019, marked the 50th anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill, an event reviewed by the Ventura County Star. Along with the Cuyahoga river catching fire in Ohio, the Santa Barbara oil spill was a foundational event that led to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Guardian reports on how the Trump administration is substituting ideology for science in the operations of government to the detriment of Americans. While the President’s denial of climate science is well known, this attitude is also impacting school lunches, availability of contraceptives and other government programs where evidence of the effectiveness of policies is being ignored.

Grist reports on recent results from annual surveys showing that more and more Americans are accepting the reality of climate change, driven predominantly by their personal experience with extreme weather. Sixty-two percent of respondents understood that humans are the main cause of climate change, while those attributing it mostly to natural causes were at a record-low 23 percent. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University, one of the survey’s authors, notes in the New York Times that “I’ve never seen jumps in some of the key indicators like this.” One unexpected factor driving this change could be President Trump; his tweets dismissing climate change are encouraging those who disapprove of him to accept the scientific consensus. Wyoming Public Media notes that one region that remains resistant to this trend is the Intermountain West, where fossil fuel extraction is an important part of the local economy (also resistant is a real estate developer in Miami). As Upton Sinclair famously said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

A wonderful blog post by Erika Spanger-Siegfried of the Union of Concerned Scientists (The Miraculous Hope of Climate Realists) explores hope and commitment in this time of climate crisis. I take hope from the growing action of young people like the thousands of Australian, Belgian and Swiss students who left school to protest the inadequate policies of their governments, and those working with iMatter on projects such as the Climate Inheritance Resolution. Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist who addressed the recent Conference of the Parties in Poland, has started a movement called Fridays for the Future. Not going to high school (see also the Australian youth movement School Strike 4 Climate) is a powerful way for people too young to vote to get the adults’ (i.e., their parents’) attention.