May 31 2019

May 31 2019

a low carbon diet, earthworms impact climate, a political tipping point for climate, don’t be the laughingstock of the galaxy

What we eat is a big part of our climate footprint, especially in California with relatively low-carbon electricity. The New York Times has a superb analysis of the climate impact of various dietary choices (based in part on a recent study in Science) that concludes: (1) some foods (beef, lamb, cheese) have a bigger impact than others (pork, chicken and eggs), with plant-based foods typically having the lowest impact; (2) what you eat matters a lot more than whether it’s local or organic; (3) even small shifts, like eating less meat and more plants, or switching from beef to chicken, can reduce your climate footprint, and; (4) food waste is a significant part of our carbon footprint. Interestingly, the scientific study noted that the carbon footprint of producers of particular foods can vary by a factor of 50, suggesting there are important opportunities for individual producers to reduce the carbon footprint of their products (a key argument for a carbon tax).

A report by the Associated Press describes recent flooding in Houston, which is becoming a common occurrence. The Guardian reviews the link between climate change and hurricanes, noting that the intensity of hurricanes (not necessarily their frequency) is expected to increase as the world warms. InsideClimate News reports on a recent study that concludes it would be prudent to plan for 6.5 feet of sea level rise by 2100, over twice what was previously suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The difference is due to a developing understanding about ice sheet dynamics.

While the basic physics of climate change is no longer a subject of scientific debate, understanding the response of complex ecosystems is a continuing challenge. As an example, consider a recent article from the New York Times that examines the role of earthworms in the climate puzzle. Indeed, even the lowly earthworm, through its impact on forest soils, might accelerate the release of carbon to the atmosphere from the boreal forest, amplifying the future impacts of climate change.

David Wallace-Wells has a long article in New York Magazine about fires in Los Angeles – past, present and future. An article in the New Republic takes aim at the current Republican talking point that we “can’t afford the Green New Deal,” noting that the cost of doing nothing is higher and that taking action will stimulate the economy. The Republican rhetoric ignores the fact that the Green New Deal is simply a statement of principles. As an example of what comes next, Presidential candidate Jay Inslee’s Climate Mission agenda is producing a set of plans with policy recommendations and legislative priorities (Clean Energy (Vox review), Evergreen Economy, Climate Corps).

Can you build resilience to climate change in communities without talking about it? The New York Times reports on this approach, which is common in Iowa cities along the Mississippi River. The Mayor of Davenport uses the term “weather-related challenges” instead of “climate change,” which he says is too divisive. This intellectual foolishness may be politically practical now, but it shows how people have been encouraged to think that “climate change” is a statement of belief, rather than a conclusion of physics.

I don’t think things will end well for those communities that turn their back on physics. Luckily, our kids may solve this problem. Scientific American reports on new research that concludes teaching 10-14 year-old students about climate change not only can change their thinking on the issue, but also their parents’ thinking. Fathers and conservative parents showed the biggest change in attitudes, and daughters were more effective than sons in shifting their parents’ views.

An op-ed in Scientific American documents the damage being done as the Trump Administration marginalizes and ignores science, and calls eloquently for scientists and citizens to reject this practice as we need science-based policy now more than ever. As Paul Waldman notes in the Washington Post, the Trump Administration’s actions are akin to subsidizing tobacco companies, encouraging people to take up smoking, then instructing the National Institutes of Health to not only shut down its cancer research but to also cease all mentions of the word “cancer.”

Yale e360 reports on a major wetlands restoration effort in Delaware Bay that is an example of a worldwide effort to restore wetlands for flood protection as sea level rises. Coastal planners are recognizing that wetland restoration is a cost-effective investment. A recent study concluded these projects can provide an average of $8 in flood-reduction benefits for every $1 invested, reducing projected 2050 flood risk by over $50 billion on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast. InsideClimate News reports on a new plan issued by the State of Louisiana for coping with the impacts of climate change, including the human migration that has already begun.

The Christian Science Monitor describes how Belize has altered its approach to coastal development and coral reef conservation in an effort to build climate resilience, restore its remarkable coral reef ecosystems and invigorate its tourist economy to benefit local communities. It is heartening to read a bit of good news about the tropical marine environment.

An excellent article in Ensia documents the economic problem many communities face — how to prepare for the impacts of climate change without scaring away homeowners and investors and setting off a damaging downward economic spiral. Acknowledging the economic risk presented by sea level rise and enhanced fire danger can set off a chain of economic decisions – likened to dominos falling by an economist colleague of mine – that can leave communities more vulnerable. The Governor of the Bank of England and some of his associates have penned an open letter describing the Network for Greening the Financial System, urging financial institutions to integrate climate risk into their decision-making.

In the Guardian, Bill McKibben says that the 2020 election is our last chance to impact climate change with our votes. To have a transition to a low-carbon economy in full swing by 2030, we need to start by voting for politicians in 2020 who are committed to that goal. Another op-ed in the Guardian asks if we’ve actually reached a political tipping point for climate action, and Axios examines growing support among corporations. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post posits that destroying the future in the name of contempt for intellectualism and ticking-off liberal voters are dumb politics, as suggested by the recent success the Green parties in Europe.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the redefinition of the kilogram and other key physical metrics, using universal physical constants instead of specific physical objects. Among other implications of this change is that these key metrics then become the same on any planet. This may not be important now, but as Stephan Schlamminger, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology said, “…if you tell aliens that our units of measurement are based on a hunk of metal, you will be the laughingstock of the galaxy.”