October 31 2018

October 31 2018

Trump talks climate (uh-oh), a low-carbon food system, New York sues ExxonMobil, cactus, hummingbirds and climate change, hurricane intensification

In an interview with President Trump Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes asked President Trump about climate change. As you might imagine, this did not go well. Trump asked Stahl to “show me the scientists [who conclude climate change is human-caused]…they have a very big political agenda.” He contradicted his previous statements by saying that climate change is not a hoax, “I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again.” Boy, is that wrong, as I pointed in a letter published by the San Francisco Chronicle:

President Trump says our climate “will change back again,” showing a complete disregard for physical reality. Greenhouse gases emitted by humans are trapping on the planet heat that used to escape into outer space, and so the planet is getting warmer. There is no other credible explanation for what is happening. Our climate can no more “change back again” than a tea kettle on the flame can start cooling down on its own.

Trump’s economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, joined the evidence-free response to the IPCC report as well. The New York Times fact-checks the President, and the Washington Post explains why Kudlow is spouting nonsense.

Meanwhile, the American Meteorological Society continued to build its reputation by responding to Trump forcefully, noting that multiple lines of evidence indicate that climate change is primarily caused by human activity. It was good to see the news networks respond to the IPCC report by actually asking politicians questions about climate change (for a day, at least) and not letting them off the hook for evasive answers. Texas scientists Andrew Dressler and Daniel Cohan describe climate science as a whodunit in the Houston Chronicle, explaining why scientists know human activity is causing climate change.

CNN reports on the Trump Administration’s systematic efforts to ignore science. Yale e360 interviews Elizabeth Southerland, who had a distinguished 30-year-career at USEPA, and she explains how the agency no longer consults with career staff scientists when making decisions.

The Washington Post reviews the quick intensification of Hurricane Michael, which went from a Category 1 to a Category 4 hurricane in 24 hours, and notes that this likely will be characteristic of storms in a warming world. Typhoon Yutu, the strongest storm to strike U.S. territory since 1935, slammed into the Mariana Islands after intensifying from Category 1 to Category 5 in just one day.

It is clear that to limit global temperature increases this century we will need to remove carbon dioxide from the air. While trees, soil and oceans do this as part of the natural carbon cycle, it will be necessary to augment these natural removal processes. The Guardian looks at nascent technologies that are attempting to remove carbon from the air and produce commercial products, which would be a valuable incentive for advancing these technologies (a more detailed review is available from the National Academy of Sciences).

In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nobel Laureate Mario Molina and his colleagues note that the recently released report from the IPCC, while describing a dangerous future, actually underestimates the risk to civilization because it does not consider self-reinforcing feedbacks (so called “tipping points”) that could cause climate change to accelerate despite human emission reductions. They note that the existence of this risk only underscores the need for immediate and sustained action.

The Washington Post reports that a low-carbon world requires both low-carbon energy and a low-carbon food system, and the need for the latter transformation is often overlooked. Presently, a land area equal to that of North and South America is dedicated to growing livestock, and 70% of the world’s fresh water is devoted to agriculture. A recent study examined the implications of this food system with a growing population, and concluded that major changes are required by 2050, including dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management and reductions in food loss and waste. The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that recent research concludes our agricultural system currently does not produce enough fruits and vegetables to allow transition by humans to plant-based diets by 2050.

Desert Magazine reports on the changed timing of ocotillo cactus blooming, which now can occur in winter instead of spring. This is having an impact on migrating hummingbirds, which arrive in the spring and have traditionally counted on the ocotillo blooms for food. Changes in the timing of natural phenomena, or phenology, constitute one of the clearest manifestations of climate warming, and the future impacts of these changes can be profound as they cascade through ecosystems. The New York Times describes one such cascade on the northern California coast, where a disease that struck starfish has lead to the loss of kelp forests.

Grist has a great profile of Miami TV meteorologist John Morales, who grew up in Puerto Rico. He is one of a growing number of TV meteorologists that are talking to their audiences about climate change, including its links to extreme weather and sea level rise. Mr. Morales and his colleagues are a vitally important force for educating the public about climate change, as are the record number of scientists running for Congress. The Washington Post reports on evolving attitudes towards climate change among Republicans in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, and the Governor of North Carolina just cited climate change as a reason he established an emission reduction goal of 40% of 1990 levels by 2025 for North Carolina.

Genevieve Guenther has a wonderful article on Slate about the common framing of the climate debate that “we are causing climate change,” which dampens our effectiveness at bringing about change. We does not include the hundreds of millions of people on the planet who live on less than $2 a day, or our children or the millions of us working to decarbonize our economy. Instead of thinking about climate change as something we are doing, which perpetuates the idea of the fossil fuel economy as unchangeable, we must recognize that climate change is something we are being prevented from undoing. She states that “the fossil-fuel industry and the governments that support it are literally colluding to stop you from creating a world that runs on safe energy.” Eric Holthaus at Grist notes that the Republican members of the “Climate Caucus” in the House of Representatives recently had a chance to support a cost for carbon in a vote on a non-binding resolution before the House, but only 4 of 45 Republican members could muster the courage to do so.

The New York Times reports that the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil claiming the company defrauded shareholders by downplaying the expected risk of climate change to its business. The suit states that ExxonMobil engaged in a “longstanding fraudulent scheme” to deceive investors, analysts and underwriters “concerning the company’s management of the risks posed to its business by climate change regulation.” The suit is different from previous climate lawsuits as it is alleging a violation of New York state securities law, as described by the Washington Post. InsideClimate News notes that the suit alleges the fraud reached the highest levels of ExxonMobil, including former Chairman and CEO (and later U.S. Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson, who it said knew about the misrepresentations for years.

One of former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s biggest projects, which would limit the scientific information that could be used in setting public health standards, has been put off to 2020 by the Trump Administration. The Washington Post reports that this “transparency” project, which would have required all raw data on which standards were based be made public (thus making public confidential personal health records), was seen by the Union of Concerned Scientists and many others (597,000 comments were received by EPA) as a disingenuous effort to limit the use of science.

And don’t miss the Liberal Redneck, Trae Crowder, talking about how to get folks to stop denying climate science.