September 30 2021

September 30 2021

Paris emissions cuts not enough, Arctic changes affect temperate latitudes, new mosquitoes for southern California, making flood insurance reflect real risk, banning fossil-fuel-powered ships

According to the United Nations, if all countries meet the emissions cuts they promised pursuant to the Paris Accords, the global average temperature will rise 2.7°C by 2100. The New York Times reports that emissions are projected to grow by 16% during this decade compared with 2010 levels, even as the latest scientific research indicates that they need to decrease by at least a quarter by 2030 to avert the worst impacts of global warming. These findings led the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres to state, “the world is on a catastrophic pathway.”

An article at NPR notes that there were warnings issued in the northeast for intense rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, but they were inadequate. Even those who heard the warnings could not really understand what 3-7 inches of rain in an hour would mean for their community. This is part of the communication challenge presented by the unprecedented weather coming our way in the new climate. An AP article explains why the remnants of Hurricane Ida were so deadly in New Jersey and New York, a meteorological phenomenon seen before during Hurricane Camille and other storms.

Climate scientists have been using a phrase to communicate the importance of observed changes in the Arctic climate: "what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic." The Arctic is warming more rapidly than any other region – at a rate more than twice the global average – which is melting sea ice and, in the late fall, increasing snow cover over Siberia. At the same time, very cold Arctic air has circulated to lower latitudes in the winter causing intense cold snaps as we saw last winter in the midwest (including Texas). An interesting article at the Conversation explains more about how these things are related. Two different lines of evidence show that surface warming of the Arctic can lead to an alteration of the stratospheric winds, "stretching" the zone of Arctic temperatures to the south.

The Washington Post visits the largest domestic solar-panel manufacturing facility in Toledo, OH. It reviews the challenges in meeting President Biden’s goal of tripling or quadrupling solar-panel production if the nation is to hit the 2035 decarbonization goal for electricity generation. Since 2004, U.S. production has fallen from 13% of global supply to less than 1%, while China’s share has soared from less than 1% to 67%. There are serious questions about whether Chinese panels are being produced by forced labor, and yet it does not appear that the U.S. can rely on domestic production alone to meet its goals.

An article in Grist describes the increasing prevalence of Valley Fever, a fungal-based lung infection. It appears that climate change is making this disease more prevalent by reducing the extent of freezing conditions. In addition, researchers speculate that a pattern of intense drought followed by intense rain may be driving the rise in Valley Fever cases. One analysis projects that, by the end of the century, the average total cost of Valley Fever infections could rise from $3.9 billion to $18.5 billion per year.

New invasive, disease-bearing mosquitoes originating from Asia and Africa are thriving in the increasingly long, hot and humid summers of southern California according to public health officials. An article in the Washington Post notes that of particular concern is Aedes aegypti, the Asian Tiger Mosquito, which can transmit yellow fever, zika, dengue fever and other diseases to humans and pets (there have been no recent instances of these tropical diseases). And unlike the native Culex mosquitoes that bite at dawn and dusk, Aedes bites humans all day long.

The New York Times reports that nighttime temperatures are rising faster than daytime temperatures, a trend long-predicted by climate scientists. The article charts long-term temperature trends from cities around the country, and concludes that nighttime temperatures that would have been unusually hot in the 1960s are increasingly common today. This makes heatwaves much more problematic, as people do not get a chance to cool off at night (unless they have air conditioning), making multiple hot days a bigger health threat. As with most environmental threats in our cities, communities of color are most susceptible, in part due to past practices (e.g., redlining, that limited mobility) and an underinvestment in infrastructure like parks that provide cool locations. The New York Times reports that NOAA is forecasting that drought will continue throughout the west into the fall, with dry conditions expanding eastward into Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma.

An article in the New Republic summarizes the preliminary results of a major survey about young people’s attitudes toward climate change. The study concludes that "84 percent of the young people surveyed were ‘at least moderately worried,’ nearly 60 percent were ‘very or extremely worried,’ and 75 percent felt that the future was ‘frightening.’ More than half felt sad, anxious, powerless, helpless, and guilty about the climate." The study’s authors note that this severe distress, while concerning, is a sign of sanity and mental health. Luisa Neubauer, a founder of Fridays for Future Germany, agreed, emphasizing that “the climate crisis itself is a burden we can handle. What we cannot handle is the inaction of governments everywhere." As I noted in my 2019 post, Kids These Days, I hope the younger generation continues to raise their voices ever louder — their activism is needed!

The Guardian has a wonderful personal interview with Greta Thunberg. The interview focuses predominantly on her personal journey and changes, rather than climate action and policy. Thunberg’s activism was extraordinarily effective, but also disruptive for her family. Yet she personally, now 18 and living on her own, has come to a place of happiness and meaning.

The New York Times reports on the new approach for pricing flood insurance by the federal government (Risk Rating 2.0), which will be raising many people’s flood-insurance rates to better reflect their actual risk. Traditionally, flood-insurance rates for many have reflected a major subsidy, as the greater risk for specific parcels was spread across all purchasing insurance. Some homeowner’s rates will rise substantially with the new approach, and this has many members of Congress from coastal states alarmed. Government officials and other impartial observers note that the new rates are more equitable, and represent the truth about risk. This reality-check is long overdue for coastal property owners.

The Biden Administration announced the goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. The Washington Post reports that the plan "targets annual production of 3 billion gallons of the fuels by 2030 — a level the White House says would enable a 20 percent cut in carbon emissions from flying compared with doing nothing. Production on that scale would represent just over a tenth of the fuel airlines consumed in 2019." The New York Times examines the sustainability of various jet-fuel alternatives, noting that not all options are climate friendly.

The BBC reports that, on the edge of Chile’s Atacama Desert, residents are using solar power for cooking – both in homes and restaurants. Over the last 20 years, a variety of parabolic cookers, ovens and dehydrators have become popular in this region. This allows residents to use the free and abundant sun, and also prevents the cutting of trees and other vegetation to use for cooking fuel. One solar restaurant now has the capacity to serve 130 diners.

The Guardian reports that more than three-quarters of the world’s planned coal-fired power plants have been scrapped since the Paris Accord was signed in 2015. The remaining planned coal plants are spread across 31 countries, with half of the plants in China.

As part of the Paris Agreement, rich countries pledged to provide $100 billion a year in climate aid to poor countries, which are suffering from the impacts of burning fossil fuels while not getting much benefit. Rich countries have yet to honor that pledge, however, and experts calculate that poor countries actually need at least twice that much money to adapt to climate impacts while also shifting their economies to clean energy. An article in the Guardian asks why it is that taxpayers in wealthy countries foot that bill — why don’t the oil companies pay for it?

The CEO of Maersk shipping, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, says that construction of fossil-fuel-burning ships should be banned. This is the kind of attitude we need from leaders of industry; we have got to transition off of fossil fuels — now! Maersk is in the process of constructing its first carbon-neutral ships, the first of which is due in 2023.