July 15 2018

July 15 2018

TV meteorologists, agroecology, a sand mafia, solar panel recycling

A remarkable and important development in the effort to educate Americans about climate change has been the evolution of meteorologists on television from mis-informers to active educators. TV meteorologists are the closest many Americans get to science, and the number of stories on global warming by TV meteorologists has increased 15-fold over five years (at this link you can also find some excellent interviews with TV meteorologists). Key to this shift has been the Climate Matters program of Climate Central, which develops relevant data analyses and graphics for use by meteorologists. InsideClimate News reports that Republican Senators are now questioning the National Science Foundation’s support for Climate Matters, claiming this is a political rather than an educational effort.

Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society, explains in Forbes why many meteorologists were previously skeptical about climate science due to their training, and how many TV stations shy away from discussing such a “controversial” topic. Dr. Shepherd and other meteorologists recently participated in #MetsUnite to raise awareness about climate change.

An op-ed in the New York Times reviews the growing influence of agroecology, which uses ecological science as the organizing principle for agriculture to reduce erosion, chemical dependence and soil depletion. The Times also reports on the impacts of climate change on the lobster fishery in Maine.

For those who would like a survey of the history and implications of climate science, I highly recommend the recent NOVA episode Decoding the Weather Machine. I also highly recommend that you apply great skepticism to anything about climate on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Dana Nuccitelli debunks the latest piece of astonishing misinformation published by the Journal, which does a great disservice to American businesses by publishing such nonsense.

Europe’s first solar panel recycling facility has opened in France, reports Thomson Reuters Foundation News (information on recycling solar panels in the U.S from the Solar Energy Industries Association can be found here). Reuters also reports on the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma on the Florida Keys, which some residents don’t think will ever completely recover. The latest region struck by record rainfall is southern Japan, where torrential rains killed dozens according to the New York Times (update here).

Natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than coal per unit of electricity produced, causing many to suggest that substituting gas for coal can be a way to “transition” to a lower carbon economy. However, natural gas (methane) is a powerful greenhouse gas, and the Washington Post reports on a new study that concludes way more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere from gas wells and pipelines than previously estimated. The authors of the study suggest that unless this leakage is stopped, it will offset the climate benefits of switching from coal to natural gas. 

Climate models are often criticized by “deniers” for overestimating both warming from CO2 (Carbon Brief debunks this myth) and the economic impacts the world will endure from climate change. Dave Roberts at Vox reviews these claims, and concludes that models are likely underestimating the cost of climate change and overestimating the price tag to fight it.

Time Magazine reports on the impact of climate change on the future of coffee, and how major corporations such as Starbucks are responding. The Los Angeles Times reports that the water level of Mono Lake is not achieving the regulatory target of 6,392 feet above sea level, possibly due to climate change. Large areas of lakebed remain exposed to the air. When winds suspend the fine alkali dust of the lakebed, the result is very unhealthy air, generating a conflict between the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The US Geological Survey has projected that coastal cliffs in southern California will erode on average between 19 to 41 meters (62 to 135 feet) by the end of the century, reports the Los Angeles Times (Washington Post coverage here, with some dramatic photos). The large range in the estimate is the product of the many influences on erosion besides sea level rise, including the strength of the rock, cliff height, sediment composition, the slope of the beach, the slope of the seafloor, wave action and human intervention. The Guardian reports that the global demand for sand has risen by a quarter in just five years, mainly for construction but also to replenish eroding coastlines. This has given rise to “sand mafias” around the world that steal beaches among other sources of sand, destroying public resources in the process. Reporters have been killed for covering this issue.

For those with political inclinations, the Atlantic has an in-depth look at the events leading up to Scott Pruitt’s resignation as EPA Administrator. And the Washington Post has produced a look at the tenure of Scott Pruitt through the eyes of cartoonist Tom Toles.

The New York Times reports on the recent heat wave in southern California, part of a larger record-setting heatwave across North America (and other parts of the world, including northern Siberia where daytime temperatures reached 95°F). This heat, along with a lot of dead vegetation left over from the drought, has California off to its worst fire season in ten years, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Grist reports on fires burning across the west, with Colorado experiencing a “fire tsunami” as part of the enormous Spring Creek fire (one of the largest in the state’s history).

I experienced this weather first-hand while visiting my parents in Santa Barbara over the July 4th holiday, where their coastal home was blasted by Santa Ana winds pushing temperatures to 101°F. It was 117°F in Pasadena, causing power outages across Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Times notes this is going to be more common in the future and the City must be better prepared. Stepping outside felt like standing next to a bonfire, and 20 homes went up in flames in nearby Goleta. My parents have lived in southern California since the 1920’s, and they had never experienced weather like this. Such testimony from older people in communities all over the country is helping Americans recognize that the climate is changing.

Climate Liability News reports on the judgment in Federal court against the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, who are seeking damages from oil companies for the impacts of climate change. The judge concluded that the climate problem “deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.” Mashable reports that this ruling is not the end for these suits or the others that have been filed by state and local governments around the nation, particularly as many of these other suits are in state courts. It is also important to note that the judgment in the Oakland/San Francisco case “details that 120 years of advancing climate science shows fossil fuel burning has unquestionably driven climate change by releasing substantial amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere.”