June 30 2018

June 30 2018

Antarctic melting, the Pope does the math, 30 years after Hansen’s warning, support for the Kigali amendment

The Washington Post reports on a recent a study that concludes the rate of ice melt in Antarctica has tripled over the past decade and is now raising sea levels half a millimeter each year. The result is the product of the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-Comparison Exercise, an international scientific collaboration that compared estimates of melt using multiple techniques. The increased melting is largely attributable to just two huge glaciers in West Antarctica, Pine Island and Thwaites, and if this acceleration continues it makes higher estimates of future sea level rise much more likely.

In a piece of good news from Antarctica, a study summarized in the Washington Post notes that the land mass of West Antarctica is rising relatively quickly as the glaciers melt (the phenomenon of glacial isostatic adjustment). If this rate continues and is widespread, it could slow ice loss from West Antarctica.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a new report that examines the projected impacts of sea level rise on property along the coast of the United States (disclosure: I am a member of the UCS Board of Directors and was a reviewer of this report). Using estimates of sea level rise in combination with data from the real estate firm Zillow, the report concludes that hundreds of thousands of residences worth hundreds of billions of dollars are threatened with chronic flooding by 2045. By the end of the century as many as 2.4 million homes with a value of $912 billion will be threatened. The report notes that this risk is not priced into the real estate market, and it reflects a bubble that will burst. Unlike other real estate bubbles, the values of these homes will not eventually recover, because ever-worse flooding will cause further property devaluation, increasing the losses for homeowners and for the tax base of coastal communities. The results were reported on widely by major news outlets in many vulnerable coastal communities (e.g., San Francisco Chronicle (editorial here), the Charleston Post & Courier, and the Asbury Park Press).

Scientific American reports that a Federal judge has ruled EPA must produce the “opposing body of science” that Administrator Scott Pruitt has relied upon to claim that humans are not the primary drivers of global warming. After Pruitt said on CNBC that “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the studies Pruitt used to make his claims. As pointed out by many critics (including me), this evidence does not exist. While the wheels of justice turn slowly, this case demonstrates the challenges faced by Pruitt and other deniers, as the evidentiary record to support action to address the impacts of climate change is very solid.

In the Guardian, Bill McKibben describes the recent meeting between oil executives and Pope Francis, noting that the Pope understands clearly that the math of the climate problem makes further fossil fuel exploration immoral. The Pope noted that “civilization requires energy but energy use must not destroy civilization!”

The New Republic has an in-depth article about the vulnerability of Hunts Point Market, the major food distribution center for New York City, to tidal flooding. This story highlights how our urban systems and economy operate as a tight network, allowing the vulnerability of key assets to threaten the entire system. The Invading Sea is a new media collaboration to bring information about sea level rise to the citizens of South Florida, including the perspectives of scientists, business leaders and elected officials.

It was thirty years ago that NASA scientist James Hansen gave another in a long series of warnings to the U.S. Government about global warming. Delivered to Congress in the middle of a heat wave, this warning attracted much media attention. An article in the New York Times takes a look at Dr. Hansen’s 1988 statement and how his projections for the future have fared (a more detailed look is available on RealClimate). As Elizabeth Kolbert notes in the New Yorker, Hansen’s predictions “for the most part have proved to be spectacularly accurate.” Joe Romm has a good perspective entitled The Doomsayers Were Right, and Hansen has published an op-ed in the Boston Globe about the need for a price on carbon.

Using examples from the U.S. and Europe, Inside Climate News reports on the growing mismatch between plant growth and insect emergence. In Austria, warmer temperatures are causing butterflies to emerge before the flowers they feed on, leaving the insects with no food and the plants with no pollinators. The Associated Press reports on the vast array of changes in the biosphere as the world warms.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that G7 nations continue to subsidize fossil fuel production, to the tune of $100 billion annually, despite pledges to eliminate these subsidies by 2025. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry has become a less and less attractive option for investors.

The New York Times reports on water scarcity in India. Some 600 million Indians, about half the population, face high to extreme water scarcity conditions, with about 200,000 dying every year from inadequate access to safe water, according to a recent government report. By 2030, it said, the country’s demand for water is likely to be twice the available supply.

The Trump administration is considering forcing utilities to buy electricity from coal and nuclear power plants in a bid to prevent these uneconomic plants from closing, a policy that is being widely criticized across the political spectrum (including by the oil and gas industry), reports the New York Times.

One of the most important actions we can take today to limit future warming is to limit the emission of refrigerant gases (hydrofluorocarbons) to the atmosphere as the use of air conditioning expands across the world. As reported by the New York Times, reducing the use of these chemicals could help avoid up to 0.44 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. Last year in Kigali, Rwanda, an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol (that controlled earlier forms of these gases to protect the ozone layer) was negotiated. This treaty amendment must be submitted for approval to the U.S. Senate by President Trump, which has yet to occur. The good news is that support is growing for this action from Republican Senators, industry leaders and other “unusual suspects” for such an endeavor. The argument being made by industrial leaders to the President is economic: it would increase American exports by $5 billion and lead to 33,000 new manufacturing jobs.