May 15 2020

May 15 2020

2020 could be warmest year yet, the challenge of planning for sea level rise, reducing methane emissions, disinfecting the White House of quackery, solar and wind the cheapest sources of electricity

The Washington Post reports that last month tied for the warmest April on record for the globe. There is now a 75% chance that 2020 will be the warmest year since 1880 (and likely long before that). It is noteworthy that this is occurring despite there being no El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, as the latter phenomenon contributed to 2016 being the hottest year on record. James Hansen cautions that a La Niña may form later this year, and the cooling effect of this oceanic shift might keep 2020 from being a record year.

The Guardian reports on the dramatic melting of the Greenland ice sheet in the summer of 2019. This was driven by a high-pressure system above the region that caused melting over 96% of the ice sheet at some time in 2019, compared with an average of just over 64% between 1981 and 2010. Most importantly, the researchers conducting the study noted that IPCC scenarios do not include such high-pressure events, meaning that future melting could be twice as high as currently predicted. This result could have serious consequences for sea level rise.

The Washington Post Magazine has an excellent article examining the challenges coastal planners and residents face as sea level rises and flood risk increases. We can’t build walls everywhere—in some places we will have to learn to live with water as we retreat. But this represents a huge change in thinking and policy. Current policies subsidize living in floodplains, which distorts markets and hides true risk. As one coastal professional asks, “How do we make the transition from protecting ourselves to leaving?”

Part of the reason this conversation hasn’t happened is the magnitude and complexity of the potential retreat in the United States. More than 126 million people, about 40 percent of the U.S. population, live in coastal counties that produce more than $8.3 trillion in goods and services, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A 2019 study found that a sea level rise of six feet by 2100 could displace 13 million people, including more than 2.5 million refugees from Miami alone. Yale e360 has an excellent article examining the challenges facing Charleston, South Carolina, as it attempts to change development patterns and protect its vulnerable downtown.

InsideClimate News looks at how the experience of Hurricanes Matthew (2016), Florence (2018) and Dorian (2019) have accelerated climate-change planning in North Carolina. You may recall that in 2010 the North Carolina Legislature officially rejected the idea of sea level rise as described by its coastal commission. Now, under Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, a report was commissioned from independent climate scientists based in North Carolina, and this information is being used to develop a statewide strategy to respond to climate change.

The Washington Post reports that storm winds and high tides brought flooding in Baltimore and Annapolis to heights last seen during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. From 2000 to 2015, the incidence of high-tide flooding has doubled from an average of three days per year to six, and by the end of this century high-tide flooding could easily be occurring every other day. The Guardian reports on a recent study that interviewed 106 sea-level-rise specialists around the world. These experts think sea levels will rise faster than previously estimated, easily reaching one meter by 2100 and five meters by 2300.

Over the last decade, methane emissions have increased significantly, and NOAA reports that methane concentrations in the atmosphere are at an all-time high. Emissions from fracking wells is one important source. InsideClimate News reports on a study of the natural-gas producing region known as the Permian Basin. The study concludes that 3.7 percent of all the methane produced from wells in the region is emitted into the atmosphere, more than twice the official EPA estimate for the region. This confirms an earlier study that demonstrated high emission rates, and it’s bad news for using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a future of carbon-free electricity. It is estimated that if leakage is 3.2 percent or higher, natural gas as a source of electricity becomes worse for the climate than burning coal.

Because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, many researchers are examining ways to reduce these emissions. In addition to fossil-fuel production, agricultural activities are also a source of methane. The New York Times has a detailed look at a company that has developed a garlic-based feed supplement that greatly reduces the methane burps of cows (if cows were a country, they would rank as the world’s sixth-largest emitter according to data compiled by Rhodium Group). Anthropocene Magazine reports on promising experiments that suggest introducing a certain type of bacteria to rice paddies can greatly reduce the methane production from these soils without reducing crop yields.

Yale e360 has an interesting look at the industrial transition underway in Alberta. Since 2014, when the U.S. fracking boom drove down the price of oil, 53,000 jobs have been lost in the Canadian oil industry. Now, with the price of oil at just $25/barrel, more jobs will be lost. Some nonprofits and the Canadian government have started programs to retrain oil workers for the renewable-energy industry, which is growing fast in Alberta. Five hundred people recently applied for a renewable-energy training course that had space for only 50 students.

In the Guardian, George Monbiot provides a brief summary of the errors and bias in Michael Moore’s new movie Planet of the Humans (Michael Mann also has a critique in Newsweek). An excerpt from The Future We Choose, by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, describes the world in 2050 if we do not take ambitious action to address greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Boston Globe summarizes the danger we face because of President Trump’s denial of science, and calls for America to Disinfect the White House of Quackery. Joel Clement of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who recently appeared on CNN just after President Trump’s idiotic and dangerous words about the internal use of disinfectants, notes what he would have said if he had more time.

Rolling Stone describes how the Green New Deal, criticized as an expensive economy-wrecking plan, is actually cheap compared to taking no action in the face of climate change. Even if we hold global temperature rise to 2°C by 2100, climate damages are estimated to be $36 trillion, making the $7.8 trillion investment in the Green New Deal a wise choice.

Transitioning to renewables is getting cheaper every year. Bloomberg reports that solar and wind are now the cheapest sources of electricity in most of the world. A decade ago, solar was more than $300 a megawatt-hour and onshore wind exceeded $100 per megawatt-hour. Today, onshore wind is $37 in the U.S. and $30 in Brazil, while solar is $38 in China, the cheapest sources of new electricity in those countries.