October 31 2021

October 31 2021

we’re using too much fossil fuel, getting hot in Texas, the big fires are in Siberia, Senator Manchin throws gas on the global fire, EV sales booming

The Guardian reports on a recent study concluding that nearly 60% of the planet’s remaining oil and gas, and 90% of its coal reserves, must remain in the ground by 2050 for the world to have a shot at limiting global warming to 1.5°C. To meet the goals of the Paris agreement, researchers estimate oil and gas extraction must decline 3% each year until 2050, while every region of the world must reduce and eliminate coal extraction. The researchers acknowledge that their findings are "bleak."

A new United Nations report, however, projects that we’re moving in the opposite direction. An article in the New York Times reports its conclusion that 15 major fossil-fuel-producing countries (including the United States) are currently planning to produce more than twice as much oil, gas and coal through 2030 as would be needed if governments want to limit warming to 1.5°C. While coal extraction in China and the United States is expected to drop in the coming decades, the report notes that the decline would be offset by plans for new mining in places like Australia, India and Russia. An article in the New York Times notes that we have made progress in changing our future, as a feared 7°F rise by the end of the century no longer appears plausible, but we are still far from where we need to be.

In The Equation, journalist Derrick Jackson notes that the International Energy Agency said keeping global temperature rise under 1.5 C requires such a “total” energy transformation that it means “no new oil and gas fields approved for development.” He points out the many ways that the Biden Administration is not acting on this knowledge, but instead is taking steps that ensure the continued production and use of new fossil-fuel resources. Jackson notes, "code red for humanity has to translate into a red light on fossil fuels. Under this administration, though, the United States is too often acting like the arrogant speedster who, after taking a look at the changing yellow light, blasts right through."

The Texas Tribune reports on how climate change is altering life in Texas. A hotter Texas will threaten public health, squeeze the state’s water supply, strain the electric grid and push more species toward extinction. Heat stroke is becoming more common, and the number of days and hours each year when it’s safe to work outdoors has been reduced. More frequent interruptions in water supplies are projected as the state warms, and the state’s power grid will be strained during extreme heat when Texans turn up the air conditioning to stay cool. While there is currently joy in northern California now that rain has started to fall, CNN notes that the drought in the West is so severe that it will take more than one wet winter to end it.

An article in Grist notes that California fires this year burned portions of at least 11 funded forest-protection projects before they even had a chance to get started. Millions of dollars spent carefully planning the implementation of fuel reduction and other efforts, in order to make sure that endangered species and vulnerable habitats were protected, literally went up in flames. It is also clear that where these projects do get completed, they can have beneficial effects, and some are calling for suspending requirements for extensive planning studies. Still, in this era of incredibly dry forest lands, a forester notes that sometimes “we just need to get out of the way” when they start to burn.

Meanwhile, another article in Grist states that the fires burning this year in Siberia dwarf the wildfires in North America. Preliminary data suggest that 65,000 square miles have burned — more than six times the area burned in the United States so far this year. It is estimated that in July and August these fires released an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to the annual emissions of Germany. The Greek island of Evia, the site of intense fires that burned 1/3 of the island’s forest last summer, has now been struck by extreme rainfall leading to flooding and mudslides.

The Virginian-Pilot reports on the development of rich marine ecosystems around the base of offshore wind turbines. The steel tower (and associated riprap to prevent erosion at the tower’s base) provide habitat for a variety of marine life. This phenomenon, also seen at Scandinavian wind installations and offshore oil rigs, has led to these structures being termed "artificial reefs."

From the "it will be you in the future” department: Inside Climate News reports on the imminent disappearance of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana’s bayou country. In 1955, this island had 22,000 acres of land, but as of last year that had diminished to 320 acres. The state received $48 million from the federal government to resettle residents of Isle de Jean Charles. The residents face the choice of leaving now or staying until the island is entirely gone.

The Guardian reports on a new film, The Trick, which is a dramatization about the manufactured controversy known as "ClimateGate." For those who don’t recall this painful episode, it started when hackers stole thousands of emails from the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University in Norwich in 2009. Parts of these messages were then carefully selected and used by climate-change deniers to promote the idea that scientists were falsely alleging fossil-fuel emissions were warming the planet. Multiple subsequent inquiries rejected all these allegations as baseless. In a sign that climate change denial continues to lose legitimacy, Axios reports that Google announced it would no longer allow climate-denial ads, and that YouTube would demonetize climate-denial content. This is a small but serious win, particularly for advertisers who don’t want their ads running next to toxic climate-denial content.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia appears ready to sink our nation’s most ambitious attempt to transition away from fossil fuels – on false pretenses, as Dave Roberts describes – despite the fact that it would generate jobs for his constituents and reduce future energy costs in his state. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on how West Virginia is being severely impacted by climate change due to the increasingly intense floods. The article documents a sad state of affairs: despite having a visceral fear of "the next rainstorm," the cultural taboo regarding talking about climate change is preventing action needed to help the residents of the state. Alexandra Petri lampoons Manchin in the Washington Post.

Due to Senator Manchin’s decision, President Biden has crafted a "Plan B" for U.S. carbon-emissions reductions in the coming decade that does not require Congressional approval. Many analysts think the complexity of implementation through state and federal regulations makes it unlikely the plan will achieve carbon-reduction goals, but this is what the President has to take to Glasgow as evidence of "U.S. leadership" on climate change.

The New York Times reports that 23 U.S. government agencies released climate-change adaptation plans that describe major threats to their missions and how these might be addressed. The plans include some core strategies: "ensuring that new facilities meet tougher construction standards, using less energy and water at existing buildings, better protecting workers against extreme heat, educating staff about climate science, and creating supply chains that are less likely to be disrupted by storms or other shocks." The report also documents, in very frank terms, threats to the U.S. food supply, transportation system, hazardous waste sites and homeland security. CNN reports on a new study by the First Street Foundation concluding that 25% of critical infrastructure in the U.S., such as police and fire stations, hospitals, airports and wastewater treatment facilities, is vulnerable to being rendered inoperable by flooding.

The New York Times reports on the growing fusion-energy industry. There are now at least 35 companies in several countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Canada and China, that are pursuing the goal of commercial fusion power. Fusion, the process that occurs in the sun, requires enormous temperatures to initiate, making it an exceedingly complex engineering problem. Analysts have often joked that, decade after decade, fusion power remains decades in the future. Many people hope this is not the case, but I’m not holding my breath.

Inside Climate News reports that, in the first nine months of 2021, U.S. consumers bought 305,324 all-electric vehicles, an increase of 83 percent from the same period in 2020. Analysts expect an even larger increase in 2022. Teslas accounted for about 70 percent of new all-electric vehicle sales this year, and about 40 percent of the country’s EV registrations have occurred in California. Analysts project that there will be 140 EV models available in the U.S. market by the end of 2026, up from about 20 today.

The New York Times reports on the success of water conservation efforts in San Diego, which many consider a model for how cities in the western U.S. should be preparing for our more arid future. Officials in the region are confident that the city will have water supplies even if the drought lasts until 2045. Conservation, education and desalination have all been part of the solution.