October 15 2021

October 15 2021

Americans getting more serious about climate change, Harvard to divest from fossil fuels, floating solar panels, how to cool a planet

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reports that American’s views about climate change have shifted significantly in the past six months. For the first time ever in its regular survey, over 70% of Americans polled are now very or somewhat worried about global warming. Those that think climate change is happening outnumber those that do not by a ratio of 6:1, and a majority of those polled say that global warming is harming Americans now.

An article in the Hill notes that Ford has announced it is going to be expanding its manufacturing of the Ford F-150 Lightning, the electric version of its best-selling pickup truck. The company has already received 150,000 orders for the vehicle, which will be available in the spring of 2022. Meanwhile, Car & Driver reports on the recall of every GM Bolt sold due to a battery defect that could cause a fire. Almost 150,000 Bolts have been sold, and a dozen fires have been publicly identified. No injuries or deaths are attributed to these incidents. Although this is a very small failure rate, GM stopped production of the Bolt in order to address what appears to be a rare battery-manufacturing defect. AP notes that the defect has been corrected and replacement batteries for Bolts are now being made.

The New York Times reports that the Harvard Board of Overseers has announced it will be divesting Harvard’s endowment from fossil fuels, which is a welcome if overdue step. An article in the Hill notes that Boston University has adopted a similar policy, and Politico reports that several other large institutions will be taking this action soon.

An op-ed in the Washington Post suggests that the water shortage in the West is not going away. With water levels of the Colorado River reaching all-time lows, the author (Assistant State Climatologist for Colorado) notes that the question is not how to change our practices to build the water levels back up. Instead, we need to ask: “How do we continue to meet the needs of the Southwest without Lakes Powell and Mead?” In the Los Angeles Times, climate scientist Peter Gleick argues that California must face the reality of our new climate by rethinking how we use our water resources.

An article in the New York Times examines the debate about economic growth and addressing the climate crisis. On one side are the advocates of "green growth", where economic growth is decoupled from greenhouse-gas emissions. On the other side are economists who suggest that ever-increasing resource use and consumption will make it impossible to achieve emissions targets, and we therefore must reduce economic growth in order to address climate change. Both sides of the debate acknowledge the enormous political problem that reducing consumption and the wealth it generates faces, leading one analyst to conclude, "humanity is going to find a way to get rich sustainably or die trying."

The New Yorker has a profile of Katharine Hayhoe, whose new book is Saving Us, A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. Hayhoe is a climate scientist at Texas Tech, newly appointed Chief Scientist at the Nature Conservancy and an evangelical Christian. She is also one of the premier climate-change educators in the country, who has the ability to speak to very religious and conservative audiences about climate change. Her open, conciliatory, non-judgmental approach to those who doubt the findings of climate science, combined with her religious values, has allowed her to reach thousands of people who would not be interested in the thoughts and opinions of a liberal Jewish scientist from California (I documented some of my experiences talking to skeptics in a earlier blog post). As Tony Leiserowitz of Yale notes, “so much of this is not about the facts, it’s about trusting the person the facts come from.” A video interview with Hayhoe is available from Climate One.

In what might be some good news, Phys.org reports on recent research concluding that coral reefs will change significantly, but have a chance of surviving future conditions of warming and acidification. While the total number of species did not change between the present-day and the combined future-ocean-conditioned treatments, the study results revealed that the composition of the coral reef community differed substantially between the treatments. The actual ecological implications of these projected changes, however, is not known.

An article in the New York Times describes the conclusion of the National Snow and Ice Data Center that Arctic sea-ice cover reached its minimum for 2021, which normally happens in mid to late September. This year, sea-ice extent was larger than in recent years, showing that inter-annual variations can sometimes overwhelm the impact of climate change. But despite this reprieve, there is no doubt that Arctic sea ice is continuing its long decline in areal extent and thickness.

KneeDeep Times has an article about floating solar panels, with the author paying a visit to two "floatovoltaic" facilities at the Far Niente Winery in the city of Healdsburg. While more expensive than installing solar panels on land, the application can have benefits that defray these costs. Axios reports that the city of Columbus, OH, is building a large-scale solar park located on the site of a former landfill. This facility, which will power 5,000 homes, is part of the city’s effort to be carbon neutral by 2050.

General Motors has announced that it expects to use only renewable electricity by 2025, five years earlier than it previously planned. An article in Axios notes that wind power is currently expanding at a rate that will result in it exceeding wind-power projections contained in the Paris Accord commitments (wind-energy production in 2018 provided about 6-7% of the global electricity supply). While this is exciting, we need even more wind power if we are going to prevent warming from exceeding the 2°C threshold.

CNN reports on extreme rainfall. A European record of 30 inches (750 mm) of rain fell in Rossiglione, Italy, in just 12 hours. Meanwhile, Cyclone Shaheen caused intense flooding in Oman. One city received the equivalent of a year’s worth of rain in 6 hours.

A thoughtful op-ed in the New York Times argues that, while eliminating carbon emissions will stop the planet from getting warmer, the planet will stay hot for centuries unless we take steps to cool it down. These steps are either enhancing removal of carbon from the atmosphere (over and above natural carbon sequestration), or reducing the amount of incoming solar energy through geoengineering. Without one of these two steps, the planet stays hot (with all the attendant impacts), and the carbon-removal option will take both innovation and a massive commitment to implement. Geoengineering, such as the injection of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, is something we know how to do, but will be temporary, is geopolitically risky (who decides when and how much to inject) and will likely produce side-effects (like changing weather for some countries but not others). The author argues that we must research geoengineering to better define these risks, not turn away from actual options to cool the planet.