As climate change marches on, world leaders and scientists alike have considered the potential of geoengineering solutions to capture and store emissions. In fact, scientists recently concluded that we need to have “carbon-sucking” geoengineering tech in place by as early as 2030.
As reported by Quartz, it seems Iceland is ahead of that deadline, with the help of a 300-megawatt geothermal power plant that’s been built in Hellisheiði. The plant captures more carbon dioxide (CO2) than it produces, meaning it produces negative emissions. That said, it’s true that the plant only produces about one third of the carbon a traditional coal plant would — but more than what it emits is both captured and stored underground.
To accomplish this engineering marvel, a wall of fans sucks in air, filters out CO2, and injects the CO2 into water which is then pumped into the ground where it becomes rock. This process is simple and produces usable energy while eliminating emissions from the environment; truly a win-win. So why hasn’t this technology been immediately adopted and replicated in every state in every country in the world? The short answer is cost.
The Cost of Energy
Currently, this process costs about $30 (USD) for every ton of carbon dioxide that is turned into rock, which is not particularly expensive. However, capturing the CO2 from the air would be significantly more cost-intensive. If the cost of pulling carbon dioxide could be whittled down to $100 per cycle, as its creators are aiming for, then the technology’s adoptability would be much improved.
The concept of capturing and storing carbon underground is nothing brand new: geoengineering solutions to climate change have been brewing and developing for years. However, the concrete completion of this plant proves not only that this process works as intended, but that the costs of producing energy in this manner aren’t completely out of reach. As the technology continues to advance and improve, they will hopefully continue to become more affordable, and in turn, more widely adopted.
If we continue to produce energy in the same manner, and at the same rate, as we currently are, climate change will only worsen. Its life-threatening repercussions will continue to become increasingly devastating — not to mention costly. While we shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources, it’s important to note that our emissions aren’t going anywhere.
Even if we were to eliminate our entire carbon footprint right now, we’d would still see years and years of energy usage left in our wake. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t do anything, as we’ve already jeopardized ourselves and the planet. Rather, it serves as a reminder that while we make changes regarding the types of energy we use, and how we use them, we can also invest in and support the elimination of existing emissions through emerging technology.
It is rare to encounter a scientific fact that stirs widespread debate and distrust quite like the matter of climate change.
Despite consensus among climate specialists about a theory that is supported by a mountain of facts from the physical, natural, and cultural sciences, the debate continues to be perpetrated by politicians, industrialists, academics, and armchair scientists.
When governments reject science, the rest of us are put at risk. By refusing to accept the facts and potential ramifications of climate change, as a society, we stand to delay or overlook actions that are urgently needed to reduce our impact on the environment and adapt our cities and farmlands to a different future.
Climategate Gave Wind to the Skeptics
Much of the intense skepticism about climate change science began in 2009, when thousands of emails and data files were stolen from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, in the UK, and later exposed under the guise of a purported conspiracy to alter facts.
The allegations claimed that scientists had only publicized results in support of their theory that climate change is driven by human activities. Other facts, that may negate this claim, were said to have been hidden.
A series of inquiries found no evidence that these scientists were in the wrong, though the investigations did generally call for more transparency. Selective reporting is indeed a serious issue in the scientific community, especially when it comes to theory building as theories require consideration of all available facts. Is it possible that the theory of climate change is based on a biased selection of facts?
We decided to find out.
Publication Bias in the Medical Sciences
But what exactly is publication bias? If researchers only publish results that confirm their specific view or previous expectations or hopes, then the bulk of results in this research field will be skewed towards that established belief.
For example, if a researcher is developing a medical drug to treat a disease, then all results of the clinical trial should be made public for the benefit of other researchers seeking the same cure.
We know that, in medicine, positive and statistically significant results are more likely to be published than non-results. This poses a risk to medical sciences as failed experiments that are not reported may lead other researchers to waste precious funds pursuing dead-ends. Moreover, if only positive results are published, people will think the drug may be more effective than it truly is.
Fortunately, there are established methods in numerical ecology and statistics that allow us to detect when non-significant results are missing from a field of research.
One such method is the “Fail-safe N” (or sometimes called “the file-drawer problem”). This refers to the practice of only publishing positive results but filing away studies with negative or non-confirmative results.
Statistically we can calculate the fail-safe N, that estimates how many negative studies would be required to make the statistical effect insignificant. This means that if publication bias was occurring in climate change science, we could detect it through “missing” negative results.
No evidence of publication bias
In our research, published in the journal Climatic Change, we analyzed more than 1,100 published results from the field of climate change science and found no evidence of under-reporting or missing results — even results that were not statistically significant or showing no positive effects were reported.
Our study revealed some stylistic biases in how articles are written, however. The largest, most prominent effects (as they relate to climate change) were reported in the upfront summary sections (also called the abstract) where they are most readily seen by readers, whereas the lesser effects and those that were not significant tended to be buried within the technical results sections where relatively few readers are likely to see them.
Stylistic biases are less concerning than a systematic tendency to under-report non-significant effects, assuming researchers read entire reports before formulating theories. However, most audiences, especially non-scientists including journalists who report on the findings, are more likely to read abstracts or summary paragraphs only, without perusing technical results.
The onus to effectively communicate science does not fall entirely on the reader; rather, it is the responsibility of scientists and editors to remain vigilant, to understand how biases may pervade their work, and to be proactive about communicating science to non-technical audiences in transparent and unbiased ways.
Climate science is built on a solid foundation
It is important to stress that we are not climate scientists. Rather, in this instance, we functioned as scientists holding climate scientists to account and tested to see if their reporting practices were sound.
Although climate scientists tend to highlight their most interesting results in the abstract of their articles, something that is hardly unique to their field, we can be confident that the theory of climate change is built on a solid foundation that gives credence to positive, neutral, and negative experimental results.
In scientific terms, we reject the accusation made by climate change skeptics and can confirm that there is no publication bias in climate change research.
This article is co-published with ScienceNordic and in Danish on ForskerZonen. It was co-written with Christian Harlos, formerly at Lund University and now working in local government marine conservation, and Tim Edgell, an ecologist for consultancy Stantec. Both were co-authors of the research that this article is based on.
The numbers spell grim news for wildlife: according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment in 2009, 17,291 species—36 percent of all species evaluated—are at risk of extinction. Our current biodiversity crisis is so bad it’s been dubbed the planet’s “sixth mass extinction.” However, not all is doom and gloom; one group of scientists hopes to turn this tide through an ambitious effort that has mapped all known vertebrate species. The finished product is known as an “atlas of life,” and using it, the team is able to find new areas that require focused conservation actions.
Yet climate change isn’t the only thing altering the environment around wildlife and threatening their existence. We’re also to blame through deforestation and habitat destruction. In 2016, for example, illegal logging depleted the Amazon Rainforest much faster than it did the previous year. In January, it was reported that the areas we fail to protect in favor of forests with high carbon stocks could be at a higher risk of deforestation.
Enter an international team of scientists, led by those from the University of Oxford and Tel Aviv University, who have completed a new series of detailed maps identifying the locations of every known vertebrate on Earth. The project’s final push was mapping the global distributions of reptiles, which were combined with existing maps made for birds, mammals and amphibians. Meet the atlas of life.
Atlas of Life
Thirty-nine scientists came together to work on the final catalog for the atlas, which accounts for nearly 10,000 species of snakes, lizards and turtles/tortoises. It took over a decade for this work to be completed, because many thought there weren’t enough well known reptile species to be mapped out.
When it comes to conserving wildlife, however, the University of Oxford notes that the atlas had to be compiled before it was too late.
As described in a press release detailing the scientists’ work, “in order to best protect wildlife, it’s important to know where species live, so the right action can be taken and scarce funding allocated in the right places.”
The map revealed several areas in need of attention, where reptile biodiversity is particularly fragile: the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, inland arid southern Africa, the Asian steppes, the central Australian deserts, the Brazilian caatinga scrubland, and the high southern Andes.
The 10,000 reptiles added bring the total evaluated species to 31,000, including some 5,000 mammals, 10,000 birds and 6,000 frogs and salamanders.
Improving Conservation Efforts
Conservationists also now have the means to review previous plans and programs to see if they’ve been as effective as possible. “This is not to say that the work done to date has been inaccurate: based on our knowledge at the time, conservationists have often made some really good decisions,” said Dr. Richard Grenyer, Associate Professor in Biodiversity and Biogeography at Oxford University, in the press release.
“But now conservation has the data and tools required to bring planning up to the same level as the businesses and governments who might have an eye on land for other uses. Maybe we’re actually a bit better, and we’re doing it in the open.”
Before the map can be used by businesses and conservation organizations, it has to go through IUCN. The organization is currently classifying the species identified, which includes adding a rating ranging from “critically endangered” to “least concern.” Once that’s done, the atlas of life will become available for public use.
“Mapping the distributions of all reptiles was considered too difficult to tackle,” explains Tel Aviv University Professor Shai Meiri. “But thanks to a team of experts on the lizards and snakes of some of the most poorly known regions of the world we managed to achieve this, and hopefully contribute to the conservation of these often elusive vertebrates that suffer from persecution and prejudice.”
“I don’t think we can have confidence that anything else can do this,” said Bill Hare, a physicist and climate scientist at the science and policy institute called Climate Analytics, to a London climate change conference. While trying to remain under a 1.5-degree rise, we have already had a global average increase of 1 degree. “It’s something you don’t want to talk about very much but it’s an unaccountable truth: we will need geoengineering by the mid-2030s to have a chance at the [1.5-C] goal,” Hare continued.
Of these “carbon sucking” solutions, some suggest the planting of specially-designed carbon-absorbing forests. The trees from these forests would be harvested for wood and energy, the emissions from which would be pumped back underground. Underground carbon storage is just one of the many possible ways that scientists hope to capture and store emissions in our environment, reducing the impact of emissions on climate change.
Hare elaborated, “if you’re really concerned about coral reefs, biodiversity [and] food production in very poor regions, we’re going to have to deploy negative emission technology at scale.”
Climate change may still be a matter of debate in some pockets of the United States, but globally, there’s not much controversy. These days, most world leaders are not reluctant to discuss climate change, one of the defining issues of our era. This was certainly the case at this year’s United Nations Global Summit, held at the UN headquarters in New York City in late September — there was no shortage of conversations dissecting strategies to cut emissions and slow the pace of warming.
But one leader framed the stakes in a way that left little room for debate. On September 21, during a panel discussion focused on uniting for climate change held in the media zone (outside the general assembly), Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s Minister of Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, told a small audience that mitigating climate change is necessary for our survival.
“For Fiji and the South Pacific, this is not just a matter of sustainable development, but it’s a matter of survival as well. For us it’s very critical to build resilience so that we can achieve sustainable development in the long-term,” Seruiratu said. He continued:
We [Fijians] are low-emitters. But we are also contributing towards mitigation. For us, more mitigation now means less adaptation in the future. We keep insisting that we have to equally balance between adaptation and mitigation because for us, as a small island state, mitigation is critical — it’s important because it’s a matter of survival. Therefore, for us to have resilience in the future, we have to have a balance between adaption and mitigation.
Fiji, as Seruiratu noted, is an island in the South Pacific, a region among the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of sea level rise and destructive storms. In February 2016, tropical cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, causing US$1.4 billion in damage. Fiji is better equipped to mitigate that damage and adapt to new conditions than some of its neighbors, such as Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, according to assessments from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index.
Financing this shift is critical, Seruiratu said. Nations like Fiji need to put money into updating infrastructure to be more resilient (and to put insurance policies on them), to implement climate policies like turning to energy sources that don’t emit as much carbon dioxide. Who, exactly, should pay for all that has been a matter of debate as more countries have agreed to international climate treaties such as the Paris Accord.
Seruiratu is one of the leaders for the COP23, the UN’s climate meeting that will be held in Bonn, Germany in November.
Seruiratu reiterated that taking action against climate change isn’t up to any one country, or community, or individual. Everyone must play a part. “In uniting for climate action, we must understand that first we are all vulnerable, and we must all act. We all have to take responsibility,” he said.
China has announced that automakers that want to manufacture fossil fuel-powered cars first must produce low-emission and zero-emission cars to attain a new energy vehicle score. The new rule applies to companies that make or import more than 30,000 fossil fuel cars annually. This means that by 2019, carmakers must be producing a fleet with a total of 10% or more electric vehicles, and 12% or more by 2020.
China’s new rule is part of an aggressive plan to phase out fossil fuel vehicles, a goal it shares with the UK and France, which both plan to ban sales of fossil fuel cars by 2040. A recent report indicates that China’s auto market will be all electric by 2030. While the country’s original plan was to ban fossil fuel vehicles outright — which was criticized as too ambitious — this revised version of the plan is aggressive, yet workable, allowing automakers time to adjust to the changing market.
Reducing Emissions Worldwide
This is part of a larger effort on China’s part to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency. In 2017 alone, China has surpassed many of its own ambitious environmental goals. By August, the country had already reached its 2020 solar energy installation target, reasserting itself as the largest producer of solar power on earth. In June, an entire region of China ran on 100 percent renewables for seven days. China has begun to build a large-scale carbon capture and storage plant — the first of eight — as part of its attempts to reduce its carbon footprint. The nation has invested more into renewables than any other country in the world, including the US, and has begun to reap the benefits, turning around many of its pollution problems.
The move toward electric vehicles is global. California is considering a ban on the sale of fossil fuel vehicles, and when it comes to technology, California is a national trendsetter for the US. Research shows electric vehicles will dominate the European market by 2035. India will sell only electric cars within the next 13 years, gutting emissions significantly. This latest development is merely the next link in a long, global chain.
Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, doesn’t see a low carbon future as a negative; he sees it as a positive prescription for a healthier future. In a recent opinion piece for The Guardian, he wrote: “This is not an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the risks facing our climate. Rather, it is about reframing the choice we face, away from the prospect of bleak minimalism often associated with a low-carbon future.”
Furthermore, the financial investment into greenhouse gas mitigation pays off 30-fold in terms of health benefits: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a return of US$30 on every dollar invested into air pollution reduction. Additionally, 26-1,050% of the cost of American low-carbon policies can be offset by health benefits as a result of improving air quality. Dr. Patz commented, “So, the irony is that strategies focused on greenhouse gas mitigation could, more immediately, save an estimated 1 to 4 million lives annually by mid-century from improved air quality.”
Kicking the Coal Habit
As people eat more meat and start driving more cars around the world, the frequency of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity rises. Increased rates of active travel, such as cycling and walking, help lower carbon levels and promote health. Active travel is also associated with lower rates of cancer and a reduction in mortality rates.
Kicking the fossil fuel habit would also mean fewer heat-related deaths — and this is highly significant. The 2003 heatwave in Europe caused an estimated 70,000 deaths, and the 2010 heatwave in Russia killed 15,000. By 2100, heatwaves could threaten almost three-quarters of the world’s population.
Reframing the issue of climate change as an opportunity to change human health for the better is a useful way to think about both problems. Dr. Patz writes: “The experience of quitting carbon is not unlike that of quitting smoking: it is a necessary change that will make us healthier. Quitting presents challenges, but it would be foolish to only understand the process through that lens. The decision to quit smoking should not be something the individual does alone; it requires all kinds of support, as well as taking on an industry that profits from addiction to killer substances. But in the long run, we will all benefit from this kind of transformation. The same is true for quitting carbon.”
Tens of millions of years ago, a landmass that’s being referred to as Zealandia was largely submerged beneath the Pacific Ocean. This summer, a team of scientists set out on an underwater expedition using an advanced research vessel, and the results might yield brand-new insight into Earth’s prehistory.
More than thirty scientists from twelve different countries were present on the two-month excursion. By drilling into the ocean floor some 4,000 feet below the surface, they were able to collect 8,000 feet of sediment cores that will give us a glimpse into geological processes that have taken place over the last 70 million years.
“The cores acted as time machines for us allowing us [sic] to reach further and further back in time, first seeing the ancient underwater avalanches then evidence of rocks forged from a fiery origin,” wrote Stephen Pekar, one of the scientists who took part in the study, in a blog post. “One could imagine somewhere near by on Zealandia laid mountains that belched fiery rocks and rolling smoke.”
It’s thought that Zealandia broke off from Australia between 60 and 85 millions years ago, forming New Zealand and other islands in the region. However, there’s still some debate as to whether or not it could be classified as a continent in its own right.
In February 2017, Northwestern University geologist Michael Scotese told National Geographic that while it was continental, it wasn’t a continent. He compared its relationship with Australia to the link between North America and Greenland, and Africa and Madagascar.
Over the course of the expedition, over 8,000 fossils were found, giving the team an opportunity to study hundreds of different species. Knowing more about the creatures that inhabited Zealandia before it was submerged allows scientists to make informed guesses about what conditions were like.
“The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and of spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia were dramatically different in the past,” read a statement from Gerald Dickens, who led the voyage.
Based on the remains that have been found, it’s thought that land-based animals once roamed around Zealandia. The region would have served as a bridge that could be used to cross between continents, according to a report from The Guardian.
Back to Zealandia
It’s expected that the findings of this expedition will help us better comprehend how life propagated through the South Pacific, and offer some fresh perspective to the debate as to whether or not Zealandia is a continent. Despite the region being well-known to geologists, this is the first peer-reviewed paper to look at it in detail.
The sediment cores and fossils gathered on this trip have given researchers plenty to work with now that they have returned home, but the expedition’s organizers are already eager to make their return.
There are hopes that further study could produce more information about climate change, relating to the history of Zealandia’s climate millions of years ago and today. A vessel equipped with drilling equipment is set to visit regions close to New Zealand, Australia, and Antarctica in 2018.
Offering a much-needed sign that human actions can be effective against climate change, new data published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) shows that global CO2 emissions largely remained static in 2016.
All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels.
However, even static emission levels mean that massive amounts of CO2 are being dumped into the atmosphere annually; more than 35 billion tons were released in 2016 alone. This CO2 is responsible for warmer ocean and air temperatures, plus more extreme, damaging weather, from droughts to hurricanes. Moreover, other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere—particularly methane, from agriculture and the oil and gas industries—rose by 1 percent in 2016. According to the report, total greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase by about 0.5% globally.
NEAA chief researcher Jos Olivier cautioned The Guardian: “There is no guarantee that CO2 emissions will from now on be flat or descending.” Still, following the near-halt in emissions seen in 2014 and 2015, even as the world economy continued to grow, this development is encouraging. Experts in China, for example, say their own coal burning has peaked, and the same is likely true in other major emissions nations.
London School of Economics climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern told The Guardian: “However, all countries have to accelerate their emissions reductions if the Paris goals are to be met. We can now see clearly that the transition to a low-carbon economy is at the heart of the story of poverty reduction and of the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
The Long Global Haul
This flattening of CO2 emissions in 2016 is proof that humans can make a difference when it comes to climate change. It also offers evidence that if we do not take steps to reduce emissions, they will continue to increase; they only stopped rising after a groundswell of public opinion pushed for change.
China continues to lead the world in its plans to clean up the environment. A Chinese expert recently announced that electric and hybrid cars will dominate the Chinese market by 2030. The Chinese government has begun building a large-scale carbon capture and storage plant, the first of eight. China also continues to be a world leader in renewable energy.
However, effective, collective action remains critical; positive news should not lull us into a false sense of security. Under Scott Pruitt’s EPA, fossil fuel companies are no longer going to be required to release information about their greenhouse gas emissions. Research from the Center for American Progress (CAP) cites the aggressive action that China is taking as embodying the kind of commitment required to effectively fight climate change. In other words, we need to get up to speed, too—all of us.
This branch of engineering focuses on large-scale technological interventions designed to physically manipulate our environment and planet in ways that will hopefully, at the very least, slow the advancement of climate change.
As our climate changes and temperatures increase, every aspect of life on our planet will change along with it, so it is important that we figure out how to keep life on Earth, well, alive, even if it means taking risks.
In a recent interview, astrobiologist, planetary scientist, and senior scientist of the Planetary Science InstituteDavid Grinspoon shared his thoughts on geoengineering and the future of planet Earth with Futurism.
Part of Grinspoon’s work focuses on looking at how the climates of planets like Mars and Venus have changed in the past in the hopes of using that knowledge to predict how Earth’s climate might change. “That gives me a little bit of a different kind of perspective on our climate evolution,” says Grinspoon. “It also leads into the possibility that we may want to manipulate the climate on this planet in the future to prevent it from going in a direction that is dangerous for everybody.”
By studying planets other than Earth, Grinspoon has garnered a better idea of not only how naturally changing climates might affect life, but how the specific changes we’re seeing on Earth might affect us and other creatures.
“Left to their own devices, planetary climates do change in ways that would be dangerous to our civilization,” says Grinspoon. “We will eventually have to learn how to handle that and assume this role of sort of caretaker.”
The climate will continue to change with or without our intervention, and most of us would probably like it to remain a habitable location. While Grinspoon is quick to note that geoengineering should be seen as a last resort — “We could make a cure worse than the disease” — he is confident that changes to our individual habits could go a long way toward combating the changing climate.
“I see the twenty-first century as a pivotal time. A lot of problems are coming to a head now, but there’s also a lot of potential for solving those problems,” Grinspoon asserts. “I do think there’s momentum for a widespread acceptance that we need to move beyond the fossil fuel economy, and I think 30 years from now, that transition is going to be really accelerated.”
Ultimately, geoengineering and our efforts toward sustainability are two sides of the same coin. If necessary, the former could allow us to make major changes to ensure Earth remains habitable, while the latter are comparatively easier, less risky ways for us to evolve along with our planet. It is important that we consider both as we move forward. As Grinspoon notes, “We cannot stop being planet changers. We just have to figure out how to do a better job — how to be smart planet changers.”
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.
A safe haven sounds like a good idea right about now.
Somewhere that’s warm but not too warm, free from roof-toppling hurricanes and ground-rumbling earthquakes, and close to a river or ocean but far enough to avoid the threats of flooding and sea-level rise.
Which places does that leave? According to climate scientists and urban planners, not a lot.
“The bottom line is it’s going to be bad everywhere,” Bruce Riordan, the director of the Climate Readiness Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, told Business Insider. “It’s a matter of who gets organized around this.”
Still, there are some cities with a better chance of surviving the onslaught of a warmer planet, Vivek Shandas, an urban-planning professor at Portland State University, told Business Insider.
“There are places that might at least temper the effects of climate change,” he said.
Shandas is part of a research group studying this very question. When evaluating how prepared cities are for climate change, he and his team look at a handful of factors, including policy and politics, community organization, and infrastructure.
The research so far indicates that these locations could be your best bet over the next five decades — especially if you’re investing in a home or property.
The Pacific Northwest is the best US region for escaping the brunt of climate change, Shandas said.
Cities in the area aren’t perfect — he said they have “other challenges” — but “their infrastructure tends to be newer and more resilient to major shocks,” he added. That’s key when it comes to coping with heat and rising water.
Seattle is one of the most “well positioned” of these cities, Shandas said.
Portland was the first US city to come up with a plan to prepare for climate change. The city’s historic Climate Action Plan, created in 1993, is a set of policies and initiatives aimed at slashing the city’s carbon emissions. The goal is to cut them by 40% by 2030 and by 80% by 2050.
“There are not many cities in the US that rank well in terms of infrastructure, but newer cities fare much better,” Shandas said.
Access to natural resources like water will be important in the coming decades, Shandas said, especially as the planet warms and lakes and rivers begin to dry up. That helps put Minneapolis toward the top of the rankings.
In addition to its “tremendous lakes,” Minneapolis also has a “good climate-action plan and well-coordinated systems of emergency management and planning,” two things that will help it prepare for and bounce back from an event like a big storm, Shandas said.
Ann Arbor formally launched the plan in 2012, but according to Shandas, the city has “a long history of planning for climate change” that makes it highly adaptable to a warmer planet.
Madison also scores well on most of the metrics Shandas is looking at, such as policy, community organization, and infrastructure.
“Seattle, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Madison — these are places that are far more likely to do better, relatively speaking, than a lot of the other parts of the country,” he said.
One of the largest studies on the effects of heat waves took place in Chicago in the 1990s. An underlooked aspect of how well a city can adapt to natural disasters, that study found, is how connected people in a community are to one another. In Chicago, the people who fared worst during the heat wave were those who were isolated — typically, people with lower incomes and less access to resources.
Since then, the city has taken measures to boost organization and community building, and that makes it a good candidate for future resilience.
“Denver is one of those places that keeps coming up on my radar because of its new infrastructure and the fact that it has lots and lots of smart planning going on,” Shandas said.
When the city released its climate-action plan in 2007, it was one of the first large US cities to recognize the threats of climate change. Denver has since come up with a set of sustainability goals for 2020, released in 2013, and a revised action plan for addressing climate change.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Like Denver, Salt Lake City has made a lot of progress in the past few years when it comes to preparing for natural disasters and emergencies.
“There are some new researchers there that are doing great work and driving that,” Shandas said.
Phoenix might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of safe havens from climate change. It faces substantial threats from higher temperatures and drought.
But from a sustainability perspective, Shandas said, researchers “are really connecting with the city and the universities and coming up with a collaborative model where the researchers and practitioners sit together and work out risks and identify potentially vulnerable spots and populations” — a model that other slightly better-positioned cities can learn from.
Shandas said important sustainability work is happening in Austin, too.
“We often write off the South as somewhere that’s going get hammered by heat waves and hurricanes, but there are some really interesting places like Austin,” he said.
Researchers and officials there are planning for a warmer planet and ramping up infrastructure to tackle climate change. In fact, Austin plans to be carbon neutral by 2020 — one of the most ambitious deadlines of any city on this list.
For the city of Baltimore, flooding is a big concern, particularly after a major storm. But the city is investing heavily in what Shandas calls “green infrastructure.”
As a result, officials are coming up with creative ways to cope with and potentially stave off floods. Recently, the city put in several bioswales, bits of architecture designed to help remove pollution from surface runoff that can accumulate after rain. This helps keep the water supply clean and ensure people have access to clean drinking water.
Philadelphia is also investing in public works like transit, parks, and a resilient energy grid. “Lots of public and private dollars are going into that,” Shandas said.
Agricultural researchers have discovered that many of humanity’s most important food staples have been gradually losing nutritional value, with the mineral, protein, and vitamin content of vegetables dropping measurably over the past 50 to 70 years. In 2004, for example, a landmark produce study revealed that since 1950, everything from minerals to protein to vitamins had declined significantly in almost all garden crops.
Scientists have typically assumed that breeding choices were causing these changes; as we choose crops based on the need for higher yields rather than nutrition, we end up producing crops that are less nutrient-packed. However, recently some scientists have begun to suspect that climate change may also be changing the nutritional value of our food.
Plants need carbon dioxide to live, and if you don’t understand much about science, you might assume this means climate change is good for plants, and can only create higher quality food. However, scientists have found that while higher levels of CO2 are indeed speeding photosynthesis, this is causing plants to be filled with more carbohydrates, and fewer of the other nutrients that we need to live, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Comparative research on changes to nutritional value of plants is finally beginning to take off, to some extent. According to Politico, USDA researchers recently accessed and re-planted varieties of rice, soy, and wheat that the agency saved from the 1950s and 1960s, growing the older varieties around the U.S. where they had been grown in the past. This way, the scientists will be able to separate out how much CO2 contributes to the deficiencies, as opposed to different food strains. Scientists from the USDA are also experimenting with bell peppers, to see how rising levels of CO2 affect vitamin C levels, and with coffee, to assess whether caffeine levels change with CO2.
Earlier this year, a crop of new papers began to quantify the changes to the nutritional value of plants caused by climate change and what these changes might mean for humanity. Plants are a critical source of protein in the developing world. By 2050, researchers found that 150 million people may be at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in the developing world, because of climate change.
Researchers also found 138 million people may be at risk of a zinc deficiency, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health. Additionally, one study estimated that more than 354 million children and 1 billion mothers live in countries where dietary iron should fall significantly. This will worsen the already serious public health problem of anemia, which the World Bank estimates causes a million deaths per year.
The change in the dietary carbohydrate ratio toward more starch and away from protein is already associated with an increase in diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. A similar shift in the food system could make that problem far worse.
As if that weren’t enough, these changes will also be disastrous for bees. The pollen of goldenrod, a wildflower, is extremely important protein for bees, sustaining them through winter. However, protein levels in goldenrod have dropped by one-third since CO2 levels began to rise with the industrial revolution. This may be an important factor behind the worldwide decline in bee populations.
Scientists are only starting to investigate what the decline of nutritional value in plants means for humans, and for the rest of Earth’s denizens. The bad news is that research funds in the area are hard to come by, and that the area itself is so poorly recognized and understood. The better news is that almost any area researchers choose to dive into could have useful, new insights we can use.
Scotland is often home to patches of snow that can potentially last for decades, surviving the country’s summers to be replenished each winter. Two patches currently remain, and the oldest of these, “the Sphinx,” has been around for eleven years. However, it doesn’t seem that they are going to survive this year. This will be the first time Scotland has been snowless in eleven years, and likely only the sixth time in the past 300 years.
The Sphinx is located on at Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach in the Cairngorms mountain range. Braeriach is Britain’s third-tallest mountain. Groups of volunteers who call themselves “snow patchers” monitor the snow patches each year to keep track of their status. Every year, the snow patchers deliver a survey to the Royal Meteorological Society. One of the monitors, Iain Cameron, believes that the Sphinx only has a few days left.
All of this may not seem to amount to much, yet the larger implications of what’s causing the patches to melt is cause for concern. In an interview with The Scotsman, Cameron didn’t blame high temperatures for the melting, but the lack of snowfall. “It was an extraordinarily dry winter and not much snow fell at all,” he said. “The Scottish ski centers all reported very poor skier day numbers and it’s no coincidence that the patches of snow are correspondingly smaller.” Winters with less snowfall are a predicted result of climate change.
Skeptics may argue that this is not the first time that the patches have melted, and indeed they did in 1959, 1996, 2003 and 2006. However, as Cameron explains, “The rate of melt of these patches has accelerated in the past 20 years.” These snow patches are yet another indicator of the dire situation our planet is in.
There is plenty to be done to at least help curb the rapid progress of our warming planet. Melting snow patches in the Scottish Highlands may not seem to be much in the grand scheme of things, but they are a sign of bigger issues. There is a lot we can do to prevent climate change from reaching its full destructive potential.
During a summer characterized by extreme wet weather, it might have been easy to miss the cloud of smoke over western North America. But residents of the western US and British Columbia haven’t been able to ignore what’s literally hanging over them: this summer was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, and these blazes only seem to be growing worse.
The dramatic conflagrations were caused by record heat and drought in western North America. On September 1, San Francisco reached 106 degrees, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city. Vancouver, Seattle, and Montana all saw their hottest, driest summers ever.
That study also found that humans may have contributed to the growing size of wildfires in another way: by putting them out. Fires are a natural part of the cycle of life and death within a forest, serving to eliminate dead and dry plants and recycle nutrients into the soil.
“Most of these ecosystems that are burning have evolved with fire,” University of Montana fire ecologist Philip Higuera told CityLab. “We expect them to burn. We need them to burn if we want them to continue to exist.”
He noted that it’s too simplistic to suggest that we just let dry areas burn, given that humans share this environment; instead, it was suggested, humans need to be more aware of the way this ecosystem works, and how we influence it. “We need to develop in a way that is cognizant of these processes—that is not ignorant of the way the planet, and the environment you live in, works.”
Higuera also noted that while it’s difficult to say that an individual fire was exactly caused by climate change, the connection is there; he says it can be understood by an analogy to a baseball player using steroids.
“If a baseball player is using steroids and hits a home run, can you attribute that home run to steroids? You can’t—but you know that at some point some component of that was brought to you by this artificial input to the system.”
The association between such events and climate change is now beyond serious question: we have had 30 years of well-founded scientific warnings about the relationship between increasing global temperatures and the incidence and severity of extreme weather. Much more problematic is the question of responsibility for climate change itself, and who should justly pay compensation for the resulting damage.
This is complicated, and there are no clear categories of winners and losers, or responsible and blameless. Consider how the benefits from greenhouse gas emissions are usually divorced from the impacts of climate change, yet hurricane-hit Texas owes much of its wealth to oil. Or look at the extraordinary inequalities among those affected by the storms – most are relatively poor, but a few are among the world’s richest people.
The Long Struggle for ‘Climate Justice’
International debate on climate justice has usually occurred within the UN, via its Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a process which led to the Paris Agreement. For much of the time since its inception in 1992 there was a heavy focus on cutting emissions rather than on adaptation to the damaging consequences of climate change.
Responsibility for global warming was usually framed as an obligation for developed states to make the initial moves to reduce their emissions, under the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”. Climate justice was seen as something developed states owed less developed states, and were obliged to deliver so the latter had an incentive to cut their emissions, too.
However, by the Bali conference in 2007 it was clear that climate-related sea level rise and extreme weather events were already happening. Adaptation was therefore moved up the agenda alongside emissions cuts. In crude terms, if the developed world wanted a new comprehensive agreement on tackling climate change it would have to provide sufficient guarantees of assistance for the less developed majority. These included a proposed US$100 billion per annum Green Climate Fund but also new form of compensation for “loss and damage for countries vulnerable” to hurricanes and other climate-related disasters.
The “loss and damage” mechanism made it into the 2015 Paris Agreement but has not yet been fully implemented. It was a controversial topic, however, as it raised the question of liability or even reparation for climate damage. Direct responsibility was both difficult to establish and resolutely rejected by developed countries.
Focus on Vulnerable Individuals
The problem is these issues are discussed within the context of a system of self-interested nation states. Climate change requires a global, concerted effort, yet entrenched political structures within each country reinforce competitive and antagonistic outlooks. It is always difficult, for example, to make the case for foreign governmental assistance when this is ranged against domestic poverty.
To be sure, some of the more progressive rich countries do reflect a “communitarian” approach which recognises some moral obligations to assist vulnerable states. This goes beyond the strict minimum in international law of the avoidance of harm, but it certainly does not admit any direct responsibility or liability. At most, this conception of international climate justice is based upon a recognition that the populations of other countries should not be allowed to deteriorate below minimal standards of human existence and is common to other areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Yet such state-based thinking remains unable to handle the complexity and all-encompassing nature of climate change. What’s needed is an alternative “cosmopolitan” approach to climate justice. Under cosmopolitanism the focus is on individual human beings and their needs and rights, all of whom would exist in one community where nationality is considered irrelevant to moral worth. This means a Bangladeshi farmer or Caribbean fisherman have as much right to be protected from the impact of global warming as someone in Texas or London and, in this sense, cosmopolitan climate justice mirrors the evolution of international human rights principles.
Nationality is often used to indicate development, or vulnerability to natural hazards, yet such categories are essentially misleading. As illustrated by flooded homes and destroyed roofs everywhere from Barbuda to Houston, it is more useful to think of rich and poor (or safe and vulnerable) people rather than countries.
True climate justice will have to reorientate the debate away from state sovereignty and international standing towards a focus on personal harm. A system of individual carbon accounting would also help so that people make a contribution to poverty reduction and disaster relief appropriate to their wealth and lifestyle.
As hurricanes engulf numerous countries at once, and indirectly affect even more, climate change powerfully illustrates the need for creative thinking about a truly global cosmopolitanism in which the avoidance of human suffering comes before self-interest and it is recognised that there are many poor and vulnerable people in “rich countries” and fabulously rich people in “poor countries”.
New scientific analysis reveals that we can still hit the highly ambitious target of limiting global warming to less than 1.5C. The goal was set in 2015 to help mitigate the havoc being wrought by rising sea levels and extreme weather around the world. At the time, it was widely felt to be unattainable — since contemporary analyses said it would necessitate a drop to zero carbon emissions within seven years.
However, the most recent data and an updated analysis reveal that a larger global carbon emissions budget than previously thought would allow us to achieve the 1.5C goal: equivalent to about 20 years of emissions at the current rate. This means a tremendous challenge remains, but if countries continue to pump up their emissions cuts under the Paris Climate Agreement as planned, we could still hit the more ambitious target.
Interestingly, while it was University College London climate economist Michael Grubb who called the 1.5C goal “incompatible with democracy” in 2015, Grubb is also the force behind the new analysis. “It is looking more hopeful that we can really achieve the Paris goals,” Grubb told The Guardian. “We are in the midst of an energy revolution.”
The team that produced the new analysis revealed that for a 66 percent chance of hitting the 1.5C target in 2100, we’d need a 240 billion ton carbon budget, which would require strong — and immediate — action. In other words, cutting carbon in lower amounts but starting far sooner is more likely to achieve the 1.5C goal.
Grubb acknowledged to The Guardian that the “politics is still not easy.” However, he also emphasized that the effect of President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris deal was minimal, because states and cities in the U.S. and other countries around the world are still committed to the goals — in part because the costs of green energy continue to fall.
For his study, Rothman analyzed changes in the carbon cycle over the past 540 million years, including all five mass extinction events, and used mathematics to demarcate “thresholds of catastrophe” in the carbon cycle. Moving beyond those thresholds can catapult the Earth into an unstable environment, causing a mass extinction event.
Based on his research, Rothman asserts that, if we don’t change course, the world may enter what he calls “unknown territory” by 2100, causing an ecological disaster that would take 10,000 years to fully play out.
Those are scare quotes.
Rothman suggests that these mass extinction events are triggered after one of two critical thresholds are passed. The first takes place over a longer timeline. If changes in the carbon cycle, no matter how small, progress faster than global ecosystems can adapt, we have a mass extinction event. On a shorter timescale, the size and magnitude of the changes are important. If significant enough, the changes will increase the probability of a mass extinction event.
Five mass extinction events have occurred on the Earth in the last 540 million years. Each one caused massive disturbances in the normal cycling of carbon through the oceans and atmosphere. For thousands to millions of years, these events coincided with the extermination of marine species worldwide.
According to Rothman, the recent rapid spike in carbon dioxide emissions could lead to a sixth mass extinction. The deciding factor will be whether a critical quantity of carbon makes its way into our oceans. He calculates this amount to be about 310 gigatons — roughly the same amount of carbon that human civilization will have added to the oceans by the year 2100, based on Rothman’s estimates.
“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day,” Rothman explained in a press release. “It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would no longer be stable and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”
Parameters of Doom
Today, many scientists speculate about how the climate change we’re currently experiencing will potentially affect the planet’s carbon cycle. Could it push the world into a sixth mass extinction?
We’ve already seen a steady rise in carbon dioxide emissions since the 19th century, but interpolating the recent spike of carbon into a diagnosis of imminent mass extinction is no easy task. The difficulty lies in the dissimilar timespans — comparing changes that took place over thousands or millions of years to the century-long spike in which we’re currently living.
We like to think nobody wants to trigger mass extinctions on the Earth, above or below water. Sadly, preserving the ecosphere we need to survive is not a priority for many of those in power, on both sides of the American political spectrum. It’s up to us to spread the word that this “threshold of catastrophe” is a bullet we should most definitely be trying dodge.
On September 14, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new rules intended to dramatically reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The new mandates will force building owners to upgrade their buildings on an accelerated schedule, with serious penalties for failure to comply.
Fossil fuels used for hot water and heat in buildings are New York City’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, comprising 42 percent of the city’s total emissions. The new mandates require all owners of buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet fossil fuel caps over the next 12 to 17 years.
For most, this will mean improvements to hot water heaters, roofs and windows, boilers, and heat distribution systems. For the worst-performing 14,500 buildings, however, the rules will trigger efficiency upgrades and fossil fuel equipment replacement. These worst-performing buildings currently produce about one-quarter of the City’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
When President Trump announced that the U.S. would exit the Paris Climate Agreement earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio promised that New York City would stick to the treaty and increase its own efforts to reach the 2050 target of an 80 percent reduction in emissions. These mandates are one step in keeping that promise, a point de Blasio noted when announcing them:
Time is not on our side. New York will continue to step up and make critical changes to help protect our city and prevent the worst effects of climate change. We must shed our buildings’ reliance on fossil fuels here and now. To do this, we are mandating upgrades to increase the energy efficiency of our buildings, helping us continue to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement. No matter what happens in Washington, we will not shirk our responsibility to act on climate in our own backyard.
Big Goals, Bigger Impact
Meeting these new mandates will help in the worldwide effort to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change and hold global temperature increases to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
NYC’s most dramatic emissions reductions are expected to take place in the coming decade, and by 2035, these new targets will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent citywide — that’s equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the road. This will be the single biggest action ever taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The benefits of these mandates extend beyond the environment. The air pollution that results from fossil fuel usage can cause bronchitis, asthma, and premature death, especially among seniors and children. The city’s targets will improve air quality enough by 2035 to prevent 40 premature deaths and 100 emergency room visits, all asthma-related, annually.
The city’s residents will also benefit from energy cost savings of up to $300 million annually, and enacting the new mandates will create 17,000 green building retrofitting jobs. Building tenants will enjoy more comfortable and consistent indoors temperatures, as well.
Worldwide, higher greenhouse emissions are closely linked to urban areas. If all U.S. cities with populations over 50,000 followed the Paris plans for C40 cities, they would achieve 36 percent of the total emissions reductions the U.S. would need to meet its original Paris pledge. Since buildings are responsible for most of the emissions in these large cities, programs like New York’s could have a tremendous impact nationwide.
More than 300 companies worldwide have joined the Science Based Targets initiative, the aim of which is to set emissions reduction targets. More than 90 new companies have joined the initiative this year. Science Based Targets aims to demonstrate the private sector’s commitment to meeting the Paris Agreement’s climate change goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius during this century, and doing so as part of a global, aligned effort.
As Climate Week approaches, a new influx of high-end apparel companies have announced their commitment to setting science-based targets, including EILEEN FISHER, Gap Inc., GUESS, Levi Strauss & Co., NIKE, Inc., and VF Corporation. More than 90 percent of apparel brands’ emissions arise in the value chain, and apparel companies share many suppliers. Therefore, strategies for reducing supply chain emissions can improve collaboration and create efficiencies across the industry.
Thus far, the estimated market value of the companies that have joined the Science Based Targets initiative is $6.5 trillion — roughly equivalent to the value of the NASDAQ stock exchange. These businesses are responsible for 750 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, about as much as 158 million cars during that same timeframe. The companies represent 35 countries and a tremendous variety of industries, including apparel, banking, chemicals, consumer goods, hospitality, manufacturing, power, retail, and technology. Other new businesses committed to set science-based targets include CVS Health, Cummins, Epsom, Merck, Mahindra Sanyo, Olam, Veolia Environnement, Telefónica, and Wyndham Worldwide Corporation.
So far, the U.S. is leading the charge with 50 companies that have committed to set science-based targets — more than any other nation. The estimated total value of the U.S. businesses participating in the Science Based Targets initiative is $2 trillion, and the companies are responsible for 166 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.
“I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water’s edges, historically for commerce and transportation,” Tyson told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go.”
Given the overwhelming evidence that human activity has a grave influence on the climate, Tyson argued that questioning its scientific basis is a waste of time. He noted the problems that arise when members of the press and politicians “cherry pick” individual scientific studies that back specific positions while ignoring the larger scientific consensus.
“The day two politicians are arguing about whether science is true, it means nothing gets done. Nothing,” said Tyson. “It’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy, as I’ve said many times. What I’d rather happen is you recognize what is scientifically truth, then you have your political debate.”
He also asserted that building policy based on the relatively few papers that downplay human involvement in climate change is “simply irresponsible.”
While Tyson may well be correct in his assertion that climate change has already progressed to the point that destructive consequences are guaranteed, scientists aren’t giving up the fight just yet.
Still, seeing authorities bury their heads in the sand is incredibly discouraging, even if there are some small indications that policies might be changing for the better. For once, we can hope that Neil deGrasse Tyson is wrong and we aren’t too late to have the impact necessary to prevent widespread destruction.
In June of this year, U.S. President Donald Trump made it clear that he doesn’t want anything to do with the historic Paris Climate Agreement, a deal accepted by 195 nations back in 2015. But on Saturday, White House officials attending a special global warming summit in Montreal, Canada, said that the Trump administration may opt to stay in the Paris deal, perhaps signaling a change in policy.
The initial report appeared in The Wall Street Journal,claiming the possibility of staying in the Paris deal was confirmed by multiple officials present at the Canada summit (which was taking place 30 years after the signing of the historic Montreal Protocol). The officials reportedly said the U.S. might review the terms of the Paris deal. The position was brought up, two participants said, by White House officials in Montreal led by senior adviser Everett Eissenstat.
“The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, according to the WSJ.
Many celebrated this supposed interest in working with the Paris deal. Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna even sent a statement to the WSJ saying they were pleased the U.S. continues to “engage and recognize” the importance of clean energy and and the economic opportunities of clean growth.
“There has been no change in the U.S.’s position on the Paris agreement,” deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the U.S. is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”
“For anyone who had any hope that two historically devastating storms striking our nation would wake up the Trump Administration to the reality of the climate crisis, think again,” Sierra Club global climate policy director John Coequyt told CNN — referring to the back-to-back hurricanes that devastated Texas and Florida just last week.
Yet despite this statement, some officials say there is an on-going discussion regarding new carbon emissions targets for the U.S. — which one of the participants at the Montreal meeting confirmed. Deal or no deal, though, U.S. carbon emissions and temperatures are expected to go lower in the coming years, as several states ramp up their dependence on renewable energy sources.
At any rate, we will probably know in the coming week where the U.S. really stands on the Paris deal, as climate ministers from over a dozen large-economy countries meet with U.S. National Economic Council head Gary Cohn in New York.
Earlier this year, NASA released a series of images titled Images of Change to show just how drastic an effect human activity has had on Earth in the last fifty or so years. They tell a story of melting glaciers, receding ice shelves, floods, and other natural disasters. They all provide evidence that climate change is very real and happening right now. It is time to take the hard, photographic evidence seriously. and learn from our past mistakes.
Tuvalu and the Rising Sea Levels
This image was taken in 2007, showing a town submerged in water on the Funafuti Atoll. Its population of more than 6,000 people has been battling with the direct consequences of rising sea levels. Residents of the capital Tuvalu have seen very frequent flooding in populated areas due to the fact that it is at most 4.57 meters (15 feet) above sea level. Dubbed one of “the most vulnerable Pacific Ocean islands,” its residents have to make the ultimate choice: leave the islands or deal with the consequences.
This image was taken from the International Space Station on August 25, 2017. The disastrous consequences of Hurricane Harvey wreaking havoc on central Texas saw a huge amount of media coverage. However, when it came to drawing links between the storm and climate change, the reporting was far more subdued. Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in an interview with The Atlantic: “the human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm.” But the trend of tying storms of this scale to human activity is still emerging.
Flooding of the Ganges River
These satellite images are part of an ongoing series of images called Images of Change released by NASA in 2017. In addition to images related to climate change, the series also looks at how urbanization and natural hazards are changing our planet. The two images above show the drastic effect the 2015 flood had on the Ganges River in eastern and central India. Over six million people were affected by it, and at least 300 people lost their lives.
“This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice. But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be,” says Walt Meiter, a sea researcher from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Increase of Sun’s Energy Absorbed in the Arctic
Since 2000, NASA has been using its satellites to measure the solar radiation absorbed in the Arctic. Since records began in 2000, the rate has increased by 5% — notably, the only region on our planet to see a change. Due to this increase, the ice melts sooner in the spring, and more older, thicker sea ice is lost permanently.
Glacier Melt in Alaska
The Northwestern Glacier in Alaska retreated an estimated 10 kilometers (6 miles) out of view. The small icebergs that can be seen in the foreground have retreated almost entirely throughout the decades.
Air Pollution in London
Commuters can be seen crossing the London Bridge on March 15, 2012 — a day with record-breaking levels of air pollution due to dirty air from the north, traffic fumes, and a lack of moving air. According to the World Health Organization, “92% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met,” and three million premature deaths were caused by ambient air pollution worldwide in 2012.
California is expected to take significant steps toward a clean energy future today, as the state’s lawmakers debate and vote on a bill that pushes for the use of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Drafted earlier this year, Senate Bill no. 100 (SB 100) is California’s response to the federal government’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, communicating a clear stance in favor of clean energy.
“We absolutely do not need natural gas or coal,” Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering, told NPR. “The costs of solar are so low. The costs of wind are very low.” Indeed, the declining cost of renewables is one of the strongest arguments in favor of the shift — that, and the job opportunities that renewable energy sources bring along with them.
SB 100, which has been recently revised, seeks to amend the existing California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program, which requires utilities to hit a 50 percent renewable energy target by 2030. Under SB 100, utilities will work “to achieve that 50% renewable resources target by December 31, 2026, and to achieve a 60% target by December 31, 2030,” to ultimately reach a 100 percent greenhouse-gas-free energy goal no later than December 31, 2045.
California, together with New York and Washington State, is a founding member of a bi-partisan coalition whose goal is to bring down carbon emission levels within acceptable amounts as prescribed by the Paris Agreement. This Climate Alliance now includes 13 states and Puerto Rico, representing more than 33 percent of the U.S. population.
Leading the states is Hawaii, which passed a Clean Energy Initiative bill back in 2015, which requires the islands to cease importing fuel and to run on 100 percent clean energy by 2045. With California expected to chip in, “It’s going to be a huge deal,” Jacobson said, “because other states will be inspired, other countries can be inspired.” California is the fifth largest economy in the world and uses about 30 times more electricity than Hawaii. So, if SB 100 passes into law tonight, it’ll really be a huge step forward for clean energy.
In 2013, a study published in Environmental Research Letters asserted that 97 percent of scientific papers support the consensus that human activity has an effect on global warming. But now the other hand has been filled: there’s evidence that the remaining three percent are significantly flawed.
A review found in Theoretical and Applied Climatology saw researchers attempt to replicate the results of these studies. The team examined 38 papers that denied humans were a contributing factor to global warming, and found that their results were biased or otherwise faulty.
“Every single one of those analyses had an error — in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis — that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus,” lead author Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, wrote in a post published via Facebook.
Co-author Rasmus Benestad of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute developed a program using the statistical programming language R that would replicate the results of each paper and attempt to determine how they were produced. None of the papers’ results were found to be replicable using generally accepted scientific concepts.
The team established three main categories of problems that plagued the research. The first was a tendency to only select results that supported the conclusion being made, ignoring the broader context or other data. The second was the practice of framing data such that the curve matched an idea being put forward.
The third category collects examples of a full-blown disregard for physics. “In many cases, shortcomings are due to insufficient model evaluation, leading to results that are not universally valid but rather are an artifact of a particular experimental setup,” reads the paper.
There’s still plenty of work to be done in the field of climate science, from further investigations into the effects of rising temperatures, to new methods of mitigating natural disasters. However, at this point it seems that we can safely say that human beings are contributing to global warming.
Climate change is set to have massive consequences for all life on earth, so any time spent looking for a convenient explanation that absolves human beings of all responsibility is ultimately time that could be better spent.
Our ever-changing environment is affecting, among other things, the plant-based biofuels we produce; changes that will continue until something is done to counteract it. Biofuels — yet another alternative to fossil fuels — rely on renewable organic material like cellulose, sugar cane, animal fat, and algae. A recent study suggests that changing weather conditions will have a negative effect on biofuel production.
The study, explained by Newswise, compared switchgrass and corn stover harvested after a major year-long drought to harvests from 2 years after of normal rainfall. Both plants were capable of producing more sugar, but the sugar eventually went through a chemical-induced change. Those changes resulted in the creation of toxic compounds known as imidazoles and pyrazines, rather than usable biofuel.
The problem created by warming temperatures and drought isn’t an unsolvable one. As the study suggests, there are a couple of things that can be done to salvage the plants so that they are still able to produce biofuel. As Newswise explained:
“To develop sustainable biofuel production systems, the deleterious effects of stress, such as fluctuations in precipitation and water availability, must be mitigated.”
The first step would be to remove the sugars behind the toxic compounds. These soluble sugars are changed during the pre-treatment phase of production — meaning they should be removed before the treatment occurs. Additionally, the process could be adjusted to incorporate microbial strains that are resistant to imidazoles and pyrazines.
From Fossil Fuels to Biofuels
Environmentalists continue to push for the use of biofuels, and in fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that, if done correctly, biofuels could be sustained indefinitely. Biofuels could lead to lower fossil fuel imports, reduce our reliance on petroleum, and reduce carbon monoxide emissions.
However, biofuel production and consumption isn’t as environmentally friendly as solar and wind energy. Biofuels, ultimately, won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or reduce the number of exhaustible resources we use — especially if they’re used alongside fossil fuels.
Before we attempt to make biofuels a sustainable form of energy, we need to ensure it will be better for the environment, so that we can also use it to offset climate change. And if recent events are any indication, it won’t come a moment too soon: Hurricane Harvey caused a shortage of ethylene — one of the most important materials in the world.
In an upcoming episode of ABC’s Catalyst, Australian environmentalist and global warming activist Tim Flannery will talk about an unusual idea brewing to fight climate change: seaweed. Featuring Adam Bumpus from the University of Melbourne and colleagues, the episode raises the possibility that these ubiquitous marine plants can help in reducing climate warming gasses.
While the technology to use seaweed to reduce greenhouse gasses remains largely unproven, its potential to do so has already been recognized. For starters, seaweed grows at about 30 to 60 times faster than land-based plants. This means that its ability to absorb carbon dioxide is greater than other plants and makes it ideal for large-scale production.
One possible use is in feeding seaweed or algae to cattle and sheep to reduce their methane emissions. Another involves cultivating giant kelp farms that could make the oceans less acidic, a problem that is growing as the ocean sponges up excess carbon dioxide. Seaweed could even potentially help reduce the huge problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, Bumpus suggests in an article for The Conversation. It could also be potentially easier to maintain than other large-scale plans to combat climate change.
Of course, for the global goal of reducing greenhouse gases and carbon emissions to match the numbers set by the Paris Climate Agreement, a single effort isn’t enough. In particular, developing nations like India could potentially add even more carbon emissions, as they bring new power sources online to keep up with booming populations.
Currently, nations all over the world are relying primarily on developing more renewable energy sources: reduced or zero-emissions technologies such as wind power and electric cars, and even building carbon-capture and storage facilities. But this will likely not be enough, as Bumpus writes: “we need an array of solutions, with complementary waves of technology handling different problems.”
Adding seaweed into the mix, one study shows, could contribute significantly. For example, using nine percent of the world’s oceans to farm seaweed on the surface could remove about 53 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. Since seaweed is also sturdy, it can store that CO2 in the long term.
Fully harnessing seaweed’s potential would take time and effort, however, just as renewables have before becoming a more popular solution. “With further research, development, and commercialization, the possibilities offered by seaweed […] are potentially game-changing,” Bumpus wrote. “We must support the scientists and entrepreneurs exploring zero-carbon innovations – and see if seaweed really can save the world.”
“We expect Ford to go ‘all-in’ on EVs. With an emphasis on pure EV,” writes Jonas. “Hybrids? Not so much. Prior management was vague with how its $4.5b investment in ‘electrification’ would be allocated. We are hopeful for a significantly upgraded level of transparency, given the pace of change in EV adoption and expenditure worldwide.”
Despite his optimism, and Ford’s previous announcements, Jonas is not confident in the company investors’ support the initiative.
“We expect Ford’s next strategy to be more open to partnerships, new structures and entities, and a far greater emphasis on all-electric powertrains. However, we are not convinced investors are prepared for the required sacrifice to near term profit.”
The “Issues” section of the White House is still bereft of any mention of climate change. Instead, it speaks only of reviving the coal industry. This has caused a number of experts to voice concern.
In March, President Trump signed an aggressive executive order reversing the course of US environmental policy and undoing some of the more significant environmental regulations of the Obama era. “The wrecking ball that is the Trump presidency continues,” Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell told Time. “The executive order undercuts a key part of the nation’s response to climate change, without offering even a hint of what will replace it.”
Shortly thereafter, in April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deleted all mentions of climate change from its website, saying in a press release that the website is being updated to “reflect the approach of new leadership.”
In May, the Interior Department released a US Geological Survey study showcasing the link between sea-level rise and climate change, but according to what the report’s authors told The Washington Post, it was edited to omit the phrase, “Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.”
Avoiding Key Issues
In June, CNN reported about the ongoing pattern of avoidance White House staffers have engaged in on the topic of climate change, citing comments from former deputy EPA administrator under President Barack Obama, Bob Perciasepe, who said the avoidance of the term “climate change” by the Trump administration, “just makes them seem out of touch with reality.”
“Climate change is happening, whether they speak about it or not,” Perciasepe, now president of the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told CNN. “You can’t make something not real if you just don’t talk about it. It doesn’t change reality — it’s just a way for them to de-emphasize something the rest of the world knows is going on.”
In July, climate scientist and former director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the US Interior Department Joel Clement became a reluctant whistleblower after the administration involuntarily relocated him to an accounting position based on his former work preparing Alaskans for climate change: “I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.”
Also in July, the three remaining employees of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) science division left their posts, leaving the division unstaffed. The White House denied that the division was empty, referring to the overall OSTP which still retained employees. Kumar Garg, an Obama-era OSTP staffer, commented of the White House to The New York Times, “They are flying blind when it comes to science and tech issues.”
Most recently in August, a team of climate scientists inside and outside of 13 government agencies leaked the most comprehensive report on climate change to date, based on their concerns that the White House would alter or suppress their findings. At the same time, leaked memos and emails from the USDA revealed that leadership have instructed staff not to use the phrase “climate change” in keeping with the White House and Trump administration position. Meanwhile, US envoys abroad have been instructed by the State Department via diplomatic cable to “sidestep questions” about what it would take for the US to reenter the Paris Accord.
At the time of this writing, the entirety of the White House’s position on the environment and climate change is this passage: “Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”
The sum total of this position and these policies on climate change, or lack thereof, is “reckless and indefensible,” as Al Gore told Futurism recently. The bottom line is that the White House is, at best, mute on the issue of climate change.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the current best estimate of Earth’s rate of climate change, if humans continue with our present use of fossil fuels, the average temperature on Earth will rise by 2.6 to 4.8 degrees Celsius (4.7 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This much has generated a consensus among scientists — about 97 percent of them worldwide.
As the climate warms, species of all kinds are observed migrating in attempts to survive in spite of climate change. Many populations of wildlife struggle and decline as areas become too dry or hot. Paradoxically, though, certain species are now found in regions that were too wet or cold in the past. The extinction and near extinction of various species has already been noted by the scientific community, often a result of climate change-related loss of habitat.
A team of researchers has recently published their findings on why some species are more threatened by climate change than others. In essence, they have tried to answer the question: what are the qualities that allow some species to adapt and survive climate change, colonizing new habitats, while so many others die out? Answering this question could help humans prioritize conservation efforts.
Ability to move great distances was previously thought to be the most critical factor. This ability is thought to have contributed to the widespread success of the wasp spider, quickly spreading north to cooler climates; this little arachnid can create “balloons” from fine threads of silk and float on them for long distances.
Yet the authors found that other factors were also crucial: the speed of the life cycle, the breadth of the choices of food the species has, how effectively they compete for resources when pitted against other species, and how flexible their habitat requirements are.
Based on these findings, the team predicts that the wood mouse will survive throughout Europe with far greater ease than the European ground squirrel. The former can live almost anywhere, eat many different foods, has a quick breeding cycle, and travels distances well. The latter, however, is limited to grasslands, which drastically limits its options. Conservationists will need to keep an eye out for the effects of animals on the move — and on the ones who might become extinct because they’re stuck.
Fighting Back the Tide
Other researchers have suggested that these predictions actually underestimate the risk Earth’s species will face.
Research conducted in 2016 by an international team of scientists, who studied the Earth’s climate over nearly 800,000 years, shows that the climate becomes more sensitive to greenhouse gases as it warms. In other words, the rate of climate change is nonlinear: as the temperature creeps higher, the climate will react more quickly and drastically than it has in the past.
The bottom line result from their work is that the true global rise in temperature could be as much as 4.78 to 7.36 degrees Celcius by 2100.
Penn State University professor Michael Mann told The Independent via email that the new research on nonlinear climate change and faster rates of warming appeared to be “sound and the conclusions quite defensible.” He also added that the research “provided support for the notion that a Trump presidency could be game over for the climate.”
“By ‘game over for the climate,’ I mean game over for stabilizing warming below dangerous (ie greater than 2C) levels. If Trump makes good on his promises, and the US pulls out of the Paris [climate] treaty, it is difficult to see a path forward to keeping warming below those levels,” Mann wrote.
“Our results mean it is not impossible to stay within 2C but it probably — if we are right and climate sensitivity is higher than this — would require even strong cuts in carbon emissions,” Dr. Ganopolski, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, told The Independent. “Whether it’s feasible politically … I believe it is feasible technically.”
If we do stick to the Paris goals as a species — with or without the federal government of the United States on board — many experts feel we have a good chance of limiting the change to the 2C degree range. Even a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2100 could result in deadly heatwaves experienced by almost half of the world’s population.
Meanwhile, as conservationists welcome new colonist species to new regions, they face difficult questions. Are their efforts to protect local wildlife helping heartier, potentially damaging species spread elsewhere? How can scientists tackle the issue of predicting how shifting species will change new places? Conservation in the Anthropocene epoch is posing some difficult questions.
Clearly, thinkers like Stephen Hawking don’t see any of these fears as especially alarmist. In 2016, he estimated that humans had about 1,000 years left on Earth; recently, he has cut that down to a mere 100 years before doomsday. A huge part of this issue for him is climate change. When both Stephen Hawking and NASA see Earth’s future looking more like Venus’s present, it’s time to stop denying the facts and get to work.
July 2017 had tied July and August 2016 as the hottest month on record, according to a new analysis from NASA. May 2017 is not far behind, resting not-so-comfortably in second place.
According to NASA, last month was 0.83 degrees Celsius (1.49 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the average July temperature for the 1951 to 1980 period. July 2016 had a similar temperature difference of 0.82 degrees Celsius above average, while all previous months of July were recorded to be nearly a tenth of a degree cooler.
Mashable notes that we haven’t had a month that was cooler than the 1951 to 1980 average in over 30 years. The last time was in December 1984.
Mitigating Climate Change
A draft of the Climate Change Report, which was obtained by The New York Times, notes that July 2017’s higher-than-normal temperatures are just one example of the changes our planet has felt in recent years: “The last few years have also seen record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes, as well as the warmest years on record for the globe, and continued decline in arctic sea ice. These trends are expected to continue in the future over climate (multidecadal) timescales.”
Increasing temperatures from year-to-year are yet another effect of global warming, and the trend will continue if nothing is done to address our influence on our planet.
Fortunately, some are already taking steps in the right direction.
Earlier this week, police officers in Luxembourg confirmed they would be adding two Tesla Model S sedans to their police force. Those electric vehicles will help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide the force releases into the air while on patrol, and while that’s a relatively small initiative, every bit helps.
Meanwhile, others have much larger initiatives either already underway or on the horizon.
The Tesla Model S will soon be seen paroling the streets of Luxembourg, as a pair of the electric cars has been chosen to become patrol vehicles used by the Grand-Ducale Police.
The Ministry of Sustainable Development decided to purchase the Model S for the police force in an effort to begin a shift towards electric cars. However, the police aren’t the only ones who will get new wheels, as members of the administration are also expected to receive new electric vehicles.
There are currently four versions of the Model S: the 75, 75D, 100D and P100D, but it’s unknown which version will be used for these patrol cars. Regardless, every Model S is designed to be extremely fast; they’re able to go from 0-60 in less than 3 seconds. In fact, just last month, a Model S was used to set a record for the fastest transcontinental run, making the trip from California to New York in 52 hours.
As explained by Electrek, the Model S’ agility paired with this push towards electric vehicles makes this partnership ideal for Luxembourg, which is only 82 km (51 miles) long and 57 km (35 miles) wide. Its implementation in the area could prompt other countries and companies to do the same, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air, which is a huge contributing factor to global climate change.
National and global transportation systems and the economic activity they support have been optimized for the climate in which it all developed: Machines are designed to operate in common temperature ranges, logistical plans depend on historical weather patterns and coastal land development is based on known flood zones. In the aviation sector, airports and aircraft are designed for the weather conditions experienced historically. Because the climate is changing, even fundamental infrastructure elements like airports and key economic sectors like air transportation may need to be redesigned and reengineered.
As scientists focused on the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on human society and natural ecosystems around the world, our research has quantified how extreme heat associated with our warming climate may affect flights around the world. We’ve found that major airports from New York to Dubai to Bangkok will see more frequent takeoff weight restrictions in the coming decades due to increasingly common hot temperatures.
Climate Changes Flights
There is robust evidence that extreme events such as heat waves and coastal flooding are happening with greater frequency and intensity than just a few decades ago. And if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the next few decades, the frequency and intensity of these extremes is projected to increase dramatically.
High air temperatures affect the physics of how aircraft fly, meaning aircraft takeoff performance can be impaired on hot days. The amount of lift that an airplane wing generates is affected by the density of the air. Air density in turn depends mostly on air temperature and elevation; higher temperatures and higher elevations both reduce density.
Lower the air density, the faster an airplane must travel to produce enough lift to take off. It takes more runway to reach a higher speed, and depending on how long the airport’s runway is, some airplanes might risk running out of room before reaching sufficient speed. When this occurs, the only immediate option is to reduce the aircraft’s weight to lower its required takeoff speed – by removing passengers, luggage and cargo. This is referred to as a weight restriction
Weight restrictions happen now, especially in hot places like Phoenix and Dubai and at airports with short runways like New York’s LaGuardia and Washington, D.C.‘s Reagan National, but our research suggests that they may become much more common in the future.
The frequency and magnitude of weight restrictions is projected to increase – in some locations, the number of days requiring at least some amount of weight restriction for certain aircraft could double or triple, perhaps covering 50 or more days per year.
The Economics of Adaptation
On most affected flights, the amount of cargo, passengers and fuel that must be removed to allow for takeoff will usually be small – between 0.5 percent and 4 percent of the total load. That means fewer paying customers on airplanes, and less cargo on board. When those restrictions add up across the global air transport system, the costs can be significant.
Carrying just a fraction of a percent fewer passengers or less cargo can add up to millions of dollars in lost revenue for an airline over years of operation. That makes even small weight restrictions a concern in such a highly competitive and optimized industry. These limits could disproportionately affect long-haul flights, which require large fuel loads and often take off near their maximum weights.
There are ways that airlines could mitigate increasing weight restrictions. The most feasible is to reschedule some flights to cooler hours of the day – although with air traffic increasing and many airports already operating near capacity, this could prove difficult.
Another potential solution is to build longer runways. But that’s not always possible: Some airports, like New York’s LaGuardia, are on coastlines or in dense urban environments. Even where a longer runway is technically possible, buying the land and expanding an airport’s physical area may be expensive and politically difficult.
These changes are merely examples of the countless procedures, processes and equipment requirements that will have to be adjusted for a changing climate. Even if those adaptations are successful, they will take effort and money to achieve.
Many sectors of the economy, including the aviation industry, have yet to seriously consider the effects of climate change. The sooner, the better: Both airport construction and aircraft design take decades, and have lasting effects. Today’s newest planes may well be flying in 40 or 50 years, and their replacements are being designed now. The earlier climate impacts are understood and appreciated, the more effective and less costly adaptations can be. Those adaptations may even include innovative ways to dramatically reduce climate-altering emissions across the aviation sector, which would help reduce the problem while also responding to it.
The Hyperloop One’srecent speed record of 308 kmh (192 mph) is an important step (however small) toward surpassing the first goal of the Hyperloop: to achieve quicker transit than other alternatives. But, while the hyperloop was initially designed to achieve 1,200 km/h (750 mph) with a chic micro-craft built for three passengers, it is developing into something quite different.
In his original outline, Musk illuminated some glaring problems at the conceptual stage of several other “high speed” rail systems — namely the high expense per mile, the cost of operation, and that other propositions were less safe than flying by two orders of magnitude.
No one thought the proposal would come so far a mere four years after Elon Musk released his initial plans for Hyperloop system. But with tubes 3.3 meters (11 feet) in diameter, the craft looks more like the cargo version from Musk’s original concept. Instead of a bobsled, we’re seeing something more like an ordinary train. Additionally, the thin concrete pylons planned for minimal terrestrial footprint will be significantly larger. Since this is more on the scale of a train or highway, the disruptive potential of compact tubes would seem, alas, reneged.
The environmental pitch of Hyperloop was simple. Having speed, high acceleration and deceleration, and a high frequency of available stops would give the world’s population centers incentive to switch away from “traditional” modes of transportation. This would mean less greenhouse gases emitted, potentially slowing the advance of global climate change.
However, the recent Hyperloop One test shows multiple branching routes that resemble more of a linear track than a loop, which was a key factor for energy efficiency of the system. Without high-speed winds that travel in a constant direction, the main form of propulsion would seem to default to the magnetic levitation system, omitting the complex on-boarding/off-boarding feature that made Hyperloop feel not only innovative, but feasible.
But last month Musk moved back towards that feasible direction when he announced that Boring Company’s boring (if not mysterious) tunnels could create a Hyperloop vacuum-tunnel betwixt New York and Washington, D.C., with a transit time of 29 minutes. He then met with Hawthorne, Calif., Mayor Alex Vargas to explain the physics, and (presumably) the economics of implementing the Hyperloop, which on the scale of the state of California, was estimated to cost $7.5 billion.
It may sound cynical, but — at its core — engineering is physics with compromise. And as these compromises mount, it’s difficult to keep sight of the final goal. But as with any technological revolution, it takes a prolonged and sober engagement with the real-world drawbacks, and even failures, to predict the final outcome.
Prepared by scientists from 13 federal agencies, the CSSR concludes that human-made climate change is real and that its effects are being felt by Americans right now. According to the report, average temperatures in the U.S. have risen dramatically since the 1980s, and the past few decades have been the warmest of the last 1,500 years.
“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the CSSR reads. It’s “extremely likely” that more than half of the global average temperature increase since 1951 is linked to human influence. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change.”
The scientists also validate concerns over rising sea levels, which are already affecting some places in the U.S. The report also notes an unmistakable link between climate change and extreme weather conditions. However, this field of “attribution science” is complex.
The researchers found “relatively strong evidence” that man-made factors played a role in such extreme weather events as the 2003 European heat wave and the 2013 record heat in Australia. Other events, like the Texas heat wave in 2011, were more “complicated,” with La Niña playing a significant role.
While the CSSR doesn’t include any policy recommendations, it does predict some potential implications of climate change in the U.S.
Depending on future carbon emission levels, average annual temperatures in the U.S. could increase by 2.8 to 4.8 degrees Celsius (5.0 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of the century.
Indeed, to remain below the global mean temperature increase limit of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), worldwide emissions need to be significantly reduced.
The CSSR’s authors, however, have one other concern. One scientist who wished to remain anonymous told The New York Times that they’re worried the Trump administration might try to alter or suppress the report.
“It’s a fraught situation,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the CSSR, told TheNew York Times. “This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.”
According to a new study conducted by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, extreme weather could kill as many as 152,000 people in Europe each year by 2100 if no action is taken to slow the effects of climate change. This would be about 50 times as many climate/weather caused deaths as are currently reported. 99 percent of these weather-related deaths would be caused by heat waves, and southern Europe would be affected the most.
This research also showed that by 2100, climate related disasters will affect two out of every three people in Europe, compared to one in 20, which was the rate at the start of the 21st century. Furthermore, the study predicts a substantial rise in coastal flooding deaths, which the researchers estimated could reach 233 annually by 2100 compared with the six victims a year rate Europe experienced in 2000. These findings are in line with what researchers are seeing in the US, with more summers being much hotter than before, and southern states being hit hardest by climate-related conditions. Other studies have also predicted that it is unlikely that the world will warm less than 2C by 2100, against the Paris goals.
To draw their conclusions, the researchers looked at disaster records from the 28 EU countries as well as Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland from 1981 to 2010. They analyzed the impact of the seven most dangerous kinds of weather-related events: coastal floods, cold snaps, droughts, heat waves, river floods, wildfires, and windstorms. The team then estimated population vulnerability and predicted both the ways populations might increase and migrate and how climate change might progress.
The Paris Agreement
The timing of this study has coincided with the first written notification from the US to the United Nations, confirming to the rest of the world that the US will indeed withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement. However, the notice from the State Department also indicates the US will continue to participate in international climate change negotiations and meetings, to protect its own interests. It further stated that the US will remain open to “re-engaging” in the Paris Agreement if “more favorable” terms for the country can be reached. Leaders in the international community have already rejected this idea.
This withdrawal and other regressive environmental policies have been harshly criticized. “The policies are are really reckless and indefensible,” Former Vice President Al Gore told Futurism. “But in spite of that we’re seeing a big movement in the U.S. to pick up where Trump is leaving off.” He also pointed out that various cities and states are still working to uphold the Paris Agreement — and Gore thinks they will succeed. “We’re going to meet the commitments. [It] looks like the U.S. will meet the commitments made by former President Obama regardless of what Trump says.”
The consequences of climate change are not only real and imminent, but increasingly catastrophic. Currently, climate change is has been attributed to dangerously increasing temperatures, sea levels rising, the extinction of a variety of species, and much more. Without fierce opposition, the effects of climate change will only become more and more destructive. Natural disasters, mass flooding, food shortages and other crises are all possible (some already happening, in fact) if current trends continue. One part of the world may even become uninhabitable in our lifetime.
Elfatih Eltahir, a professor at MIT, recently published new research in the journal Science Advancesthat shows how, by the end of the century, areas in South Asia could be too hot for humans to survive there. In a Skype interview from Khartoum, Sudan with CBC News, Eltahir said, “The risk of the impacts of climate change in that region could be quite severe.”
Eltahir and his colleagues analyzed this projected situation under two conditions: a “business-as-usual” model and a model in which we increase our efforts to mitigate emissions. The team concluded that the “business-as-usual” model was not only most likely, but would yield unlivable conditions by the year 2100.
The Only Way is Forward
The effects of the projected heat waves will not fall over sparse landscapes that would be easily escapable. They will wash over the densely populated, agricultural areas of South Asia, directly threatening the lives of countless inhabitants who — because many of the people living there live in poverty — will be essentially trapped in the deadly conditions.
Climate change has already taken lives, and isn’t slowing down. This deadly heat wave scenario would only be a piece of the puzzle in the year 2100. Where will the people of the agricultural regions of South Asia go if the rest of the planet is also facing the catastrophic effects of global warming? (That is, of course, if they are able to leave at all in future socioeconomic conditions.) The only way is forward, and the only way forward includes our best efforts against climate change.
The Earth is at a critical point in its evolution. When it comes to climate change we seem to be at a point of no return, or at least the point where markers normally signifying a “tipping point” is the very best we can hope for. According to a study recently published in Nature Climate Change, it is unlikely that the Earth will warm by less than 2 °C (3.6 °F) by the year 2100.
Those two degrees are a significant milestone in terms of warming on a global scale. Back in 1977, an economist from Yale University proposed that a rise of 2 °C stand as a threshold in the measurement of global climate change. As CNN’s Ashley Strickland puts it, passing that threshold will change life on Earth as we know it. “Rising seas, mass extinctions, super droughts, increased wildfires, intense hurricanes, decreased crops and fresh water and the melting of the Arctic are expected.” The Paris Climate Agreement adopted this threshold when drafting the accords and set 1.5 °C as the goal.
The reality may be even worse: the study shows that temperatures have a 90 percent chance of increasing by 2.0 — bringing the rise to to 4.9 °C. “Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen,”says lead author Adrian Raftery, a Universtiy of Washington professor of statistics and sociology. “We’re closer to the margin than we think.”
Death by the causes and effects of global temperatures rising are also set to spike. The World Health Organization estimates that 12.6 million deaths can be attributed to pollution alone. They also predict that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will be responsible for adding 250,000 more deaths around the world.
The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accords will not increase optimism. Still, states and individuals are picking up the slack left by the federal government. So, while there is little hope of avoiding the 2 °C threshold, there is hope that we can come together to mitigate future damage.
In his 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Former Vice President Al Gore quoted author Upton Sinclair in regards to those who refuse to believe, or even acknowledge, the reality of climate change. “You know, more than 100 years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote this, that ‘It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’”
Gore’s choice of quote could not have been more precipitous: a decade later, the current presidential administration has positioned itself unapologetically in the climate change skepticism camp. In fact, several members (arguably even President Trump himself) have aligned in toto with those who deny climate change entirely — even in the face of blatant evidence, regarded as fact by the vast majority of the scientific community. A community whose job it is to understand — and to help the rest of us understand — climate science irrespective of any fiscal interest or compensation.
In the first six months since taking office, the Trump administration made drastic changes to several of the United States’ environmental policies – with many of those decisions coming within the president’s first hundred days. The appointment of Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the administration’s decision to remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, set the tone and intention.
The rollbacks to come, predominantly in the form of slashed funding and repealed regulations, dealt a major blow to the integrity of the U.S.’ climate strategy. The gamut of repeals included rules that protected land and water supplies from toxic chemicals (like arsenic and lead) being dumped there, to the lifting of regulations that were designed to track, and ultimately reduce, emissions by oil and gas companies. Criticism of standards abounded, including those that have guided vehicle fuel efficiency and are aimed at reducing pollution.
The rewriting of the EPA’s clean power plan, which began in March, ended a moratorium on coal mining and effectively ended requirements for climate change considerations when approving projects. Moratoriums put in place to prevent drilling on federal land were also lifted, and the Trump administration was quick to approve the controversial Keystone and Dakota access pipelines.
“The policies are are really reckless and indefensible,” Gore said in an exclusive interview with Futurism. “But in spite of that, we’re seeing a big movement in the U.S. to pick up where Donald Trump is leaving off.” He added, referring to the grassroots movement in several cities, driven by state and municipal governments and citizens, to uphold the Paris Agreement at the city level — efforts which Gore praises and believes will prevail. “We’re going to meet the commitments. [It] looks like the U.S. will meet the commitments made by former President Obama regardless of what Donald Trump says.”
Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, aptly titled An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, drops this week. When the first film came out ten years ago, it aimed to help people understand the real-time and longterm consequences of global warming. The sequel, then, will hopefully invigorate and mobilize this knowledge into action— if not at the federal level, then the local level.
According to Former V.P. Gore, that’s the message that he hoped to convey all along: That the fight against global warming has to happen where it started, which is with us, in our communities, our workplaces, and our homes. “I don’t even like to think about the prospects for humanity if we fail to act,” he said. “I think we will act. The remaining question is, how long will it take to really cross this political tipping point where we get bold action?”
According to We Forum, blockchain‘s key property in fighting climate change is its decentralized nature, which enables interconnection between the human “swarm.”
Climate change is a fundamentally international problem, and a major difficulty in tackling it is navigating the web of different languages and regulations between countries. Blockchain provides a solution by cutting out middlemen and bureaucracy, providing a way for individuals to have interpersonal relationships that can be the beginning of a bottom-up solution, rather than politicians dictating from the top-down after lengthy and often inefficient political communication.
This application of blockchain to climate change is one of many potential uses of the technology — and the others that have been proposed are just as ingenious.
Perhaps most promisingly is that blockchain could also allow us to have much cleaner information. Currently, emissions data is frequently fiddled with, inadvertently laden with mistakes, or incorrectly taken in the first place.
Blockchain data cannot be changed when it is in the network, meaning that — coupled with the internet of things — we could receive totally secure information from machines, devices, or producers that could not be tampered with, intentionally or unintentionally. This is would allow for a much better diagnosis, which could lead to a more targeted prognosis — in which those responsible could be disciplined and those who are helping are rewarded.
In May 2017, at the UN Climate Change Conference, the idea of blockchain being used against climate change was discussed extensively. Ideas included improved trading of carbon emissions, facilitating clean energy trading between consumers, financing climate change research transparently, and tracking and reporting of emissions reduction. IBM and Energy Blockchain Labs, out of China, are developing a marketplace that uses blockchain to trade carbon assets. The Australian company Power Ledger allows people to buy, sell, and exchange surplus renewable energy without a middleman by using blockchain. Many companies are also working on blockchain-powered smart energy grids, which regulate the demand on the grid so that power outages don’t happen.
The future of energy looks sunny. According to the latest Renewables Global Status Report from REN21, more renewable power capacity was added in 2016 than all new fossil fuel capacity combined. In fact, for the fifth consecutive year, investment in new renewables was roughly double fossil fuel investments, with $264.8 billion invested in renewables worldwide in 2016.
Across the globe, renewable electricity costs are dropping, and of all the forms of renewable energy, REN21’s report asserts that solar energy-capturing technology was the most popular in 2016.
This report is big news for the planet. Burning oil, coal, and other carbon-based fuels generates carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. A trend toward clean energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower can only help the environment, but that’s not the only reason for the switch.
As Australian National University professor Andrew Blakers wrote in The Conversation, “It is probable that construction of new coal power stations will decline…because PV (solar photovoltaics) and wind are now cost-competitive almost everywhere.”
The financial benefits of renewables may not be enough to spur their adoption in the U.S., however. The current administration’s America First Energy Plan withdraws the nation from the Paris Agreement, rescinds the Clean Power Plan, and supports new investment in coal — three acts that could stymie the switch to clean energy. Additionally, President Trump’s position on trade has the solar industry, which manufactures mostly in China, nervous.
Despite being the star of the Global Status Report, solar faces its own environmental drawbacks, also. As IEEE outlines, huge amounts of energy are required to manufacture solar panels, and in China, that energy is often generated through the burning of fossil fuels.
The process requires lots of water, produces toxic chemicals, and can expose workers to unsafe working conditions. The price cuts that come from manufacturing solar panels abroad have been a huge boon to the industry, but it has further polishing to do before it can be considered truly green.
First there were three — California, New York, and Washington State. “I don’t believe fighting reality is a good strategy — not for America, not for anybody,” California governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. previously said in a statement. “If the President is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavor, then California and other states will step up.”
Now, the alliance boasts a membership of 13 states and Puerto Rico representing a bi-partisan coalition “committed to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions [26-28 percent from 2005 levels] consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.” Latest to join the group is Colorado, after governor John Hickenlooper passed an executive order to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions before 2025.
California is striding closer to a future that includes 100 percent renewable energy, faster than ever before. California Senate President Kevin de León (D) has proposed a bill which would simultaneously limit California’s hydrocarbon consumption and increase its consumption of renewables according to several goals, and the bill has, as of now, officially cleared the committee stage. Experts feel it is likely to be signed into law by Governor Brown, and when it is, it will push California to produce 50 percent renewable energy from 2030 to 2026, and set new goals for 60 percent renewable energy by 2030, and 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
This comes at a critical time in the US. President Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Agreement and significantly weakened the EPA and other relevant agencies. Now is a crucial time for states, especially larger states with strong economic chops like California, to show leadership against climate change. Jerry Brown and the California state legislature are making it known that they are committed to doing just that. Should the bill pass, California and Hawaii will be the only two states with legal requirements for 100 percent renewable energy use by 2045, although Massachusetts is considering a goal of 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050.
When it comes to discussing the fight against climate change, there are two facts we must behold: First, climate change is here; it’s happening; it’s been happening…and we’re already feeling the impact. Second, for those living in the United States, the current political climate is not one of change. The current administration has, in fact, taken steps that have sent us backwards in the fight against global warming, not forward.
But we can change the tide (literally).
Ten years ago, Former Vice President Al Gore released a documentary entitled An Inconvenient Truth. For many Americans, especially those of younger generations, the film brought about the first meaningful conversations they’d had about global warming. Notably, the film did more than just encourage awareness, it placed the responsibility of changing our course (and the culpability of creating our current path) firmly in the hands of corporations, politicians, and—most notably—everyday citizens.
Now, a decade—and a demonstrably warmer world—later, the Former Vice President is releasing another film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
There’s really only one place to start: Education.
In an exclusive interview with Futurism, he acknowledged that the current political climate is a precarious one, calling President Trump’s environmental policies “reckless and indefensible.” But the Former V.P is not without hope, largely due to the grassroots movement that has risen up around the country in response to some of President Trump’s more drastic decisions — such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Former Vice President Gore believes that the momentum behind the movement, and the commitment at the local level to uphold the work of the Paris Agreement, will be successful, “regardless of what Donald Trump says.”
But if we want to tackle climate change from the ground up, so to speak, where — and how — should we truly begin?
Where to Start
As far as the Former V.P. is concerned, there’s really only one place to start: Education. “Number one, learn about it,” he said, “People sometimes feel that it’s hard to talk about the climate crisis. But the more you know, the more confident you are, the easier it is to talk about it.” And he clarifies that his films, and their corresponding books, were conceived as tools to help facilitate these conversations.
But as they say, talk is cheap. It’s one thing to know that we need to reduce our carbon footprint collectively, but how do we do it individually? And furthermore, given the enormous, far-reaching scope of the problem, how do we convince ourselves that our efforts to do so aren’t futile?
“When you go into the marketplace, choose the most climate-friendly, environmentally-friendly alternative,” he offers, adding:
That may seem like a trivial matter, because it only reduces your impact a little bit as an individual, but it sends a signal to business and industry that — together with what others are sending — really does drive change.
Knowing whether or not something truly is environmentally-friendly, though, can be a challenge. One strategy is to buy locally when you can — whether it be food or other products. When you know exactly where something is coming from, how it’s been produced, who is producing it, and what it’s been sourced from, you can be more confident about any claims of “green” status it may tout. You’re also not just supporting the environment, but your community by strengthening local economies.
Investing in the assets readily available to you in your own neighborhood (and even your own backyard) can also help to reduce your carbon footprint in other ways, like using your car less. Whether you’re walking, biking, carpooling, or using public transit, you’re not just reducing emissions, you’re also sending a message to your municipal government. That message being that your community wants, and would use, infrastructure that would help you to drive less. Whether it’s repairing sidewalks or creating bike paths, the more people who come out in support (or who show up at town halls to bring up the issues), the more likely it is that a local government would deem it worthy to invest the time, money, and resources in development.
“We can, and we will, win this.”
Which brings us to the Former V.P.’s third suggestion: Getting involved in politics, whether it be at the city, state, or federal level. “Let the candidates asking for your votes know this is important to you,” he said. “Let the office holders who hold town hall meetings know that you really care about this.”
He concludes, “We can and will win this.” And there’s reason to hope he’s right. While governments and corporations play a role, and can have a major impact in terms of setting standards and writing policy (and, ideally, adhering to them), they aren’t the only ones who need to step up.
Regardless of where you live (and whether or not your local or federal government supports the efforts). the first step is to acknowledge our responsibility for what has already happened and start a conversation. This is how all of our greatest movements—from the Civil Rights to the Campaign for Women’s Sufferage—got started.
We can’t reverse the damage that has already been done, but we can set our sights on what’s happening right now — and commit to doing better.
Elon Musk tweeted a few weeks ago that there’s “no need to rely on scientists for global warming — just use a thermometer.” While climate change is more complicated that that, with implications that extend far beyond just temperature, Musk’s point stands. Summers across the globe are hotter than they used to be, and extreme weather has never been more common.
According to Hansen’s data, 15 percent of summers between 2005 and 2015 fall into the category of “extremely hot,” while the number of “hot” summers has doubled compared to the base period (1951 to 1980), jumping from around 33 percent to 66 percent.
Todd Sanford, director of research at Climate Central, told The New York Times that the findings “really highlight that changes in the average, while they may seem modest, have big implications for the extremes. And that’s what’s going to affect society and ecosystems.” He also asserted that this upward trend provides “a glimpse to what’s in our future.”
However, the last few years have marked a shift in the way we approach climate change, as well. While the 2000s were marked by a distrust of statistics and skepticism regarding the true extent of the problem, the 2010s have seen more people asking the question, “What can we do?”
A new study projects that if climate change continues unabated, heat-related deaths will rise dramatically in 10 major U.S. metropolitan areas compared to if the predicted increase in global warming is substantially curbed and cities take steps to adapt.
“The conversation about climate change is typically focused on the costs of mitigation, but this paper shows the human toll of policy inaction,” said senior author Gregory Wellenius, associate professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health. “These results show the cost in terms of human lives due to just this one aspect of climate change: temperature. We have here an opportunity to save lives and improve people’s health.”
The analysis, published in the journal Environment International, is based on a set of internationally accepted temperature models through the decade 2085-2095 and the research team’s calculations of present-day temperature-related mortality specific to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
The study forecasts deaths due to heat and cold for two different possible futures: A “better case” in which policy and technology mitigate climate change, yielding only a 1.8-degree Celsius increase in average global temperature by 2100, and a “worse case” in which greenhouse emissions continue growing at the current pace, leading to a 3.7-degree Celsius increase globally by 2100.
Across all 10 metropolitan areas, assuming no population growth at all, the study forecasts a “worse case” range of mortality averaging 10,300 heat-related deaths a year by 2050 and 26,000 heat-related deaths annually by 2090, compared to only about 2,300 in 1997. In the “better case” the heat-related deaths rise “only” to around 7,700 by 2050 and 10,400 by 2090 from the 1997 baseline.
“This paper highlights the importance of both mitigating and adapting to climate change, because what we see is that heat related deaths are going to increase even under the better case scenario,” said lead author Kate Weinberger, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Public Health and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES). “We should try to avoid the worse case scenario, but we will still need to protect people from heat, even in the better case.”
The projected increase in deaths rose significantly when the researchers factored in predictions of population growth from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency With population growth, heat related deaths across the 10 metros rose to around 12,300 in the better case and 16,400 in the worse case in 2050 and then 21,100 in the better case or 52,339 in the worse case in 2090.
The study also looked at cold-related deaths under both climate change scenarios and with and without population growth. Overall the authors found that while rising temperatures reduced the risk of dying from cold, the reduced threat of cold was overwhelmed in 8 of 10 metro areas by the much greater increased risk from heat, leading to a net increase in the number of temperature-related deaths under climate change overall.
For example, without population growth, total cold-related deaths, which are just shy of 27,000 in 1997, decline to 22,000 in 2050 and 17,700 in 2090 in the worse case or to 23,000 in 2050 and 21,800 in 2090 in the better case. These declines fall short of the projected increases from heat-related deaths above.
The effects vary in each metropolitan area because each is forecast to experience a unique combination of temperature change and population growth, and each has shown different historical rates of death from cold or warm temperatures, the researchers said.
The local temperature projections for each metropolitan area in the study came from the 40 climate models encapsulated in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The population growth estimates are based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Integrated Climate and Land-Use project.
To determine each metropolitan area’s propensity for temperature-related deaths, the researchers analyzed the relationship between mean daily temperature and daily mortality between 1986 and 2005.
This article was provided by Brown University. Materials may have been edited for clarity and brevity. And make the name of the source a link back to their web
Yesterday, Lamar Smith, the U.S. Representative for Texas’s 21st congressional district and Chair of the House Committee on Science, published an opinion piece on The Daily Signal touting the “benefits” of climate change. In the political arena, global warming is a contentious issue. It is also an issue that could have a dramatic impact on humanity’s future (and the future of many other species). With this in mind, here, we examine how the Representative’s statements align with what science actually has to say.
Does it Benefit Life on Earth?
One of the most notable statements made by Representative Smith is that higher carbon levels are good because it will benefit plant life: “A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth. This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food. Studies indicate that crops would utilize water more efficiently, requiring less water. And colder areas along the farm belt will experience longer growing seasons.”
Representative Smith continues by further discussing the impact that carbon will have on crops in particular: “While crops typically suffer from high heat and lack of rainfall, carbon enrichment helps produce more resilient food crops, such as maize, soybeans, wheat, and rice. In fact, atmospheric carbon dioxide is so important for plant health that greenhouses often use a carbon dioxide generator to increase production.”
Representative Smith’s claims do not align with what peer review evidence reveals about resilient food crops.
According to the most up-to-date scientific studies, the increased temperatures that are associated with carbon ultimately increase the dryness of Earth’s soil, which depletes the nutrients that plants need to survive. And as micronutrients dwindle in major crops worldwide, research indicates that food production will ultimately decrease.
The most recent research also shows that the net effects of climate change will lead to increases in crop pests and increased vulnerability to these pests—things that are not beneficial for food production.
Representative Smith’s claims also do not align with what peer review evidence reveals about resilient food crops. Such crops are mostly grown in hotter areas, such as Africa. Research on the effects of climate change on agricultural yields in Africa shows the following changes: up to 72% of the current yield projected to decline for maize, rice, and soybeans; up to 45% yield reductions are expected for millet and sorghum. Consequently, any benefits would be limited to higher latitudes, such as those of the United States, Canada, and Europe, but even in these locations, the benefits would be time-limited.
Representative Smith also asserts that, contrary to some assertions, the world will not become a desert as a result of increased temperatures, but will grow greener: “Besides food production, another benefit of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the lush vegetation that results. The world’s vegetated areas are becoming 25-50 percent greener, according to satellite images. Seventy percent of this greening is due to a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.”
Long-term research shows that plants with overly high supplies of CO2 face limited availability of other nutrients. This means that, despite a brief burst of “greening” upon initial exposure to increased atmospheric C02, effects caused by the “nitrogen plateau” soon outweigh any benefit. This is one reason why scientific evidence reveals that planting trees is not enough to fight our emissions problem—carbon decreases nutrient supplies and plants wither; planting new vegetation cannot alleviate this problem.
Next, Representative Smith asserts that climate change increases species diversity: “Greater vegetation assists in controlling water runoff, provides more habitats for many animal species, and even aids in climate stabilization, as more vegetation absorbs more carbon dioxide. When plant diversity increases, these vegetated areas can better eliminate carbon from the atmosphere.”
However, according to science, climate change is hurting species globally. Recent research asserts that changes caused to ecosystems as a result of global warming are harmful disruptions. Studies indicate that only two groups of mammals (rodents and insect-eaters) may benefit. This is due to their fast breeding rates coupled with their ability to adapt to many habitats (most species do not have this ability).
Does it Benefit the Economy?
Representative Smith then turns to our oceans and how climate change will improve the economy, asserting: “As the Earth warms, we are seeing beneficial changes to the Earth’s geography. For instance, Arctic sea ice is decreasing. This development will create new commercial shipping lanes that provide faster, more convenient, and less costly routes between ports in Asia, Europe, and eastern North America. This will increase international trade and strengthen the world economy.”
According to scientists, a decrease in Arctic sea ice is not beneficial. More than 20,000 scientists have so far indicated that the loss of Arctic sea ice is a major problem for both habitats and plant and animal life. Arctic habitats are being destroyed; native cultures are dying; the presence of increased ships is polluting waters and increasing the risk of oil spills; and sea temperatures are rising faster than before, which kills species (this happens because heat from the Sun is absorbed rather than reflected).
Representative Smith proceeds by turning to human society, asserting: “Fossil fuels have helped raise the standard of living for billions of people. Furthermore, research has shown that regions that have enjoyed a major reduction in poverty achieved these gains by expanding the use of fossil fuels for energy sources.”
While industrialization may increase the standard of living for many, according to science, these same gains can be acquired by powering society with cleaner sources of energy. Furthermore, fossil fuels do not benefit all humans. They are proven killers. The pollution they cause is responsible for numerous childhood deaths worldwide and contributes to 1.2 million premature deaths in China alone.
Representative Smith continues by emphasizing the need for cheap energy: “For nations to progress, they need access to affordable energy. Fossil fuels provide the energy necessary to develop affordable food, safe drinking water, and reliable housing for those who have never had it before.”
According to studies, renewables are more affordable in context. Solar energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many areas. And China and India have both created health crises in urban areas by their overuse of fossil fuels. This results in a dramatic increase in healthcare spending.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the hidden costs of fossil fuels include: fatalities and disease; environmental destruction and associated crop loss caused by mining, and habitat loss; contamination of drinking water from oil pipelines, strip mining, and oil and gas drilling; sea pollution and loss of species diversity from offshore drilling; among other costs.
Following this, Representative Smith focuses on job creation: “Studies indicate that in the U.S. alone, the natural gas industry is responsible for millions of jobs and has increased the wealth of Americans by an average of $1,337. Economic growth, as well as greater food production and increased vegetation, are just some of the benefits that can result from our changing climate.”
More people are employed in the solar industry than in oil, coal, and gas combined — about twice as many.
According to statisticians, more people are employed in the solar industry than in oil, coal, and gas combined — about twice as many — and those people are not at health risk, unlike their peers in fossil fuels. Solar is creating jobs 17 times faster than the rest of the US economy.
The Paris Accord is the next point raised: “The Obama administration planned to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on policies that would have a negligible impact on the environment. The Clean Power Plan would have reduced global temperatures by only three one-hundredths of 1 degree Celsius. If we stop over-reacting to climate change hysteria, we can allocate those funds to benefit Americans in such areas as educational opportunities, health care, and technological innovation.”
However, as an MIT analysis of the Accord notes, “the temperature reduction is much larger, on the order of 1 degree Celsius….though much more is needed if the world is to achieve its goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less.” According to NASA and other scientists, even half of one degree at a planetary scale is enormously significant.
Likewise, a 2016 study published by the European Geosciences Union examined the difference between a global temperature increase of 1.5 degree Celsius vs. a 2.0 C by the end of the century. It found that: heatwaves would last about a third longer; sea levels would rise higher; rainstorms would be around a third more intense; tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be greater, and while at 1.5 C some might recover, at 2 C they would be permanently gone; water loss in the Mediterranean area almost doubles; losses in wheat and maize harvests in the tropics double; and any carbon increase advantage in crops, Smith’s favorite “benefit,” disappears at 2 C rather than 1.5 C.
Representative Smith continues along these same lines, highlighting the impact on jobs and the economy: “Bad deals like the Paris Agreement would cost the U.S. billions of dollars, a loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and have no discernible impact on global temperatures. Instead of succumbing to fear tactics and exaggerated predictions, we should instead invest in research and technology that can help us better understand the effects of climate change.”
Researchers estimate that the GDP of the US between 2016 and 2099 will actually be 36% lower if climate trends continue. And many major US companies — including Apple, Gap, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips— support the Paris accord. It is logical to infer that, as these leaders of industry support the cause, there is no great threat to jobs in, at least, these sectors. Moreover, turning to clean energy (as noted above) creates many new jobs.
In short, according to science, is dangerous to add CO2 to the atmosphere. Research shows that any positive impact that climate change has on agriculture is realized only in the very short term, and the benefits are overwhelmed by the negative effects. Increased atmospheric CO2 will increase the size of deserts and shrink the range available to other plants. It will increase plant damage from insects, and water and soil fertility requirements will become unfulfillable. Increased CO2 levels are beneficial inside small enclosed spaces like greenhouses, not on a planet-wide basis.
Two new studies have been published in Science outlining research on a pair of geoengineering methods, sulphur atmospheric injection and cirrus cloud modification, that could prove helpful if Earth’s climate reaches catastrophic levels. While the researchers behind these studies hope that the methods will never become necessary, they assert that researching them is important just in case a climate red button is ever needed.
The first method would involve attempting to mimic the effects of volcanic eruptions. Using dispersal planes, we would inject enough sulphur into the atmosphere to deflect a significant amount of solar radiation away from Earth, thus decreasing its surface temperature.
The second method is to modify cirrus clouds. These clouds are adept at trapping heat in the atmosphere, having a similar effects on the planet as greenhouse gases. The proposed geoengineering method would be to “seed” these clouds with tiny particles of chemicals, desert dust, or pollen in order to break them apart and let more heat escape.
Injecting sulfur into the atmosphere is a highly risky proposition. Financially, it could cost $20 billion a year for as many at 160 years. It could also potentially lead to the destruction of the ozone, which would have the domino effect of causing worldwide draughts while not decreasing acid levels in the ocean or carbon dioxide levels in the air.
Cloud seeing also comes with risks. If the seeding isn’t perfectly executed, it could lead to further cirrus cloud formation, which would have the counterintuitive effect of trapping more heat. It also wouldn’t decrease CO2 levels in the air or stop ocean acidification.
As Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at NASA and Columbia University, said in a Ted Talk, ultimately, geoengineering is like “going to a doctor who says ‘You have a fever, I know exactly why you have a fever, and we’re not going to treat that. We’re going to give you ibuprofen, and also your nose is going to fall off.’” They’re simply risky, temporary solutions that don’t address the core problem.
The Core Problem
We’re seeing more and more evidence that the climate is heading toward disaster and that humans are driving the change. Over the last decade or so, the general tone concerning the topic has moved from “we should do something” to “we must do something now to avoid planetary collapse.”
A team lead by Jim Hansen, NASA’s former chief of climate science, made the situation clear in a recently published study: “The world has already overshot appropriate targets for greenhouse gas amount and global temperature, and we thus infer an urgent need for rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions.”
However, some climate scientists remain optimistic that the environmental crucible we are facing is going to force change before we have resort to geoengineering. Alan Robock, an environmental science professor at Rutgers, told Business Insider that international agreements could be made necessarily more severe if the right person is leading the campaign: “With charismatic leadership, things can change very quickly […] I’m optimistic the world will do that and we won’t need to use geoengineering.”
Melting glaciers. Rising seas. Extreme weather events. Perhaps there are no melting ice caps in your backyard. Perhaps the ocean you swim in seems the same as always. Perhaps you haven’t found yourself caught up in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane.
But elsewhere in the world, people cannot say the same.
In our attempt to encourage action, we warn of the effects that global warming will have on the lives of our children and our children’s children, thinking those disasters are deferred. But the irrefutable truth, whether you have personally witnessed it or not, is this: Climate change is already transforming the lives of millions worldwide.
It’s no longer a question solely of prevention because much damage has already been done. And to this end, our efforts must be focused on stopping the damage that’s already begun—that’s already been done—and trying to repair the harm we have caused.
But there is a barrier to repairing this harm. Though it has become increasingly difficult to deny the existence of climate change and its impact, denialists continue to find a way. But in one place on Earth—the place that is the epicenter of the real-time, real-world impact of climate change—denial is not an option.
Feeling the Impact
According to the 2015 Global Climate Risk Index, the Philippines (the southeast Asian country made up of more than 7,000 islands) is one of the places the most affected by climate change — particularly when it comes to extreme weather.
Typhoons, hurricanes, and tropical storms form over oceans, drawing their strength from the water’s temperature. Global warming has caused the surface temperature of ocean waters to increase, and warmer waters contribute to stronger storm systems. Given its location, the Philippines has not been a stranger to these meteorologic phenomena, but in recent years the storms have been getting more intense—and so too has the damage left in their wake.
Related: Futurism’s exclusive interview with former Vice President Al Gore
Hurricane Katrina was still reverberating at the forefront of our collective consciousness when An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006. Fast-forward seven years. On November 8, 2013, the Philippines was ravaged by the strongest storm in modern history. In the new documentary, we see the devastating impact of 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan: We see a young Filipino cry as he recalls the fear and terror and loved ones lost. We see another describe how he had to break through the ceiling of his home so that he and his family could escape drowning.
But there are many, many more people who were there. And they, too, have stories to tell.
Futurism’s team is made up of writers, editors, and creators from many parts of the world. Several members of our staff live and work in the Philippines. We turned to them to go beyond the film and to understand what the people that we know and work with—the people that we call friends—have experienced as a result of our warming world.
Their observations and experiences give us a glimpse into what the future of the cities and towns we live in will be…if we fail to take action.
June Javelosa pointed out that the weather extremes in the Philippines — particularly, flooding — have long been seen as an inevitable part of life in the country: “I don’t think a year has passed that I don’t get stuck in my car because the highways are waist-deep in floodwater.”
June adds that, for a long time, these incidents were seen as more of an infrastructure or urban planning issue rather than an overly concerning weather pattern. Of course, that was before Typhoon Haiyan—the “super typhoon” that hit the region in 2013. “I think that’s when the public began to realize just how defenseless we were to climate change,” June states, adding that, “the death, loss of livelihood, food insecurity experienced in provinces where Haiyan hit the hardest…that made it clear that the government was ill-equipped to protect or even prepare the Philippines for climate change.”
She concludes by that, at this point, extreme weather events in the Philippines seem all too natural: “Most just see it as nothing more than a nuisance.”
In 2014, just one year after Haiyan, Typhoon Glenda hit. Joi Paras was living in the region that saw the highest death toll, and she remembers the experience quite vividly.
By 6 a.m., our livingroom was taking in water from the opening under our front door. The water spread out into the dining room. I had to move furniture and remove rugs by myself. My two brothers had to stay upstairs mopping up my room. Our staircase was flooded by rain water coming from the windows (that don’t open). It looked like we had an indoor waterfall. I told them not to go down for fear that they might slip and fall. I had to bring some bread up to them as a snack.
We did not have electricity for 2 weeks. My dad decided to buy a gas generator so that we could have power. We could not store food, and it was difficult because my mom only ate fish and no meat. My son was covered in mosquito bites. We had to camp out in the living room where it was cooler at night.
Joi also noted that, in rural areas, the aftermath of a natural disaster can be particularly devastating if supplies—or vital messages—are not received. “There are also a lot of people who refuse to leave their homes despite being warned,” she said, adding that many feel as though leaving really isn’t a viable option: “When they leave their homes, you can be sure that they will return to an empty and robbed house.”
Dom Galeon says that he feels a lot of people in the Philippines are “honest-to-goodness believers in climate change,” because, while flooding and typhoons are part of the country’s normal weather patterns, these patterns have become atypical over the last several decades.
The typhoon was locally called “Ondoy.” Its international name was “Ketsana.” It hit the Philippines in September of 2009. Back then, I was living in a house that had an elevated first level. It was high enough to allow for a garage below. When the typhoon hit, the flood rose very fast, and even reached the elevated first floor. The garage was flooded, of course. Water inside the house was almost knee deep. We had to move stuff to the second floor. It was really bad.
When the typhoon passed, it took as a whole day of cleaning to get things back. Then I joined my university’s volunteer drive to help in areas that were badly hit. I remember cleaning mud from a house that was flooded to the ceiling. That family lost so many things…
Many of the most pressing issues in science today contain a lot of missing pieces and are rife with unanswered questions. As technology advances, we hope that it will continue to guide us as we attempt to unravel the mysteries of the universe and help give us the clarity we need to devise solutions.
Climate change, however, is not an ambiguous issue: The answers to the most basic of questions are all right in front of us. We know the who, what, where, when, why, and how — but in accepting the answers, we must accept our own complicity and shoulder the blame.
We, in many respects, are the who. We know what we’re up against. We know where it’s happening. We know that it’s no longer a matter of when because it’s happening right now. And the evidence in support of why it’s happening is there.
We, as the who, will never be fully absolved of our role in climate change. But as we helped to create global warming, so can we help determine how this issue—indeed, if this issue—is solved.
Mary Ann Lucille Sering, secretary of the Philippines climate change commission, is one of the voices leading the charge. “We hope that the Philippine experience, no matter how difficult, can help unite all nations to take more concrete actions on climate change,” Sering said back in 2014 after Typhoon Hagupit swept through the same path that Haiyan had devastated the year before.
In the U.S., Former Vice President Al Gore became a force in the climate change conversation when he released An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. The sequel, like its predecessor, takes on some of the larger sociopolitical factors influencing the climate change fight, and it comes just weeks after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Whether we live in a region where the real-life effects of climate change are being felt, or we’re just watching them play out from afar, our task clear…as the closing credits roll: “Fight like your world depends on it. Because it does.”
A new study indicates that warming temperatures caused by climate change may be releasing heat-trapping methane from layers of gas and oil that’s been lurking beneath the Arctic permafrost for thousands of years. Until now, anyway. As the permafrost melts, millions of tiny openings are created, and some of these greenhouse gases rise to the surface, escaping into the atmosphere.
Scientists sampled air in different parts of the atmosphere to detect sources of methane emerging from beneath the permafrost in northwestern Canada along the Mackenzie River Delta. The 10,000 square-kilometer area has long been known to have gas and oil deposits. Their findings indicate that pockets in the permafrost that have deeply thawed are responsible for 17 percent of all measured methane in the region. What’s more staggering is that these hotspots for emissions comprise just 1 percent of the permafrost’s surface area.
Bacterial decomposition is commonly found in permafrost, and typically causes peak concentrations of methane emissions that are far lower than those seen in this case — which were about 13 times higher than average. This higher level of emissions indicates that there are also geological sources of the methane, such as gas and oil. The scientists concluded that global warming will continue to open new pathways for greenhouse gas emissions as it causes the permafrost to thaw, which in turn feeds the carbon-climate feedback loop.
Previous research in Alaska had focused on single sources of deep methane. Findings from 2012 came to similar conclusions as researchers reached in the more recent case; although, those findings were based on areas around melting glaciers and along the edges of permafrost areas. All these findings prove that, over time, the loss of glaciers and permafrost can cause greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere. Furthermore, complete melting isn’t needed for those gases to be released.
“I think another critical thing to point out is that you do not have to completely thaw thick permafrost to increase these geologic methane emissions,” permafrost researcher and author of the 2012 study Katey Walter Anthony said to InsideClimateNews. “It is enough to warm permafrost and accelerate its thaw. Permafrost that starts to look like Swiss cheese would be the type that could allow substantially more geologic methane to escape in the future.”
It’s not yet clear how rapidly climate change will trigger methane releases, or in what amounts greenhouse gases will invade the atmosphere. Scientists are also concerned that melting permafrost may lead to the revival of viruses that haven’t been active for thousands of years. Experts around the world are issuing dire warnings, making it clear that the planet we know and love will not be the same if we don’t act now.
According to new research, humans must start removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere immediately in order to avoid the extreme repercussions of climate change. Otherwise, future generations will be spending hundreds of trillions of dollars to battle these catastrophic effects. The international team who came to this stark conclusion was led by NASA’s former chief of climate science, professor Jim Hansen.
An academic paper on this topic drafted by the team, and depressingly yet accurately titled, “Young people’s burden: requirement of negative CO2 emissions,” establishes their case.
The report indicates that June 2017 was third warmest June on record, behind only 2016 and 2015. It also states that the average temperature for the year-to-date in the contiguous U.S. was 10.5 degrees Celsius (50.9 degrees Fahrenheit), roughly 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. This makes the first half of 2017 the second warmest on record, behind only 2012.
2017 is still unfolding, so it still may be the warmest year on record. If it isn’t, all indications point to it being in the top three.
As for precipitation, the total for 2017 in the contiguous U.S. has been 2.55 inches above average. That means the first six months of 2017 were the wettest since 1998 and the sixth wettest on record.
In terms of disasters, 2017 is even more notable. Between January and June, the U.S. experienced nine separate billion-dollar climate and weather disasters. These include six severe storms, a freeze, and two floods, which caused 57 deaths in total. Only 2011 and 2016 had more billion-dollar weather and climate disasters by this point in the year, with ten events each.
Climate in Context
Higher levels of precipitation in many places must be seen in the context of drought in others — both extremes are part of the massive chain reaction caused by upheaval in the climate. While there were floods and major storm fronts with high levels of precipitation along the Gulf Coast, for example, some of these areas had previously been experiencing drought conditions.
These significant fluctuations will cause unpredictable and destructive weather patterns, and experts like James Hansen, former NASA climate research head, see rising sea levels as a looming threat that could render much of the world ungovernable.
Le Journal du Dimanche, a weekly French newspaper, has reported that French President Emmanuel Macron has been holding talks with U.S. President Donald Trump concerning the U.S.’s possible re-entrance into the Paris Agreement.
Macron reportedly told the paper that “[Trump] told me that he would try to find a solution in the coming months,” and that the two “spoke in detail about the things that could make him come back to the Paris accord.” In addition, Macron claims that the most notable point of the discussion was “the link that exists between global warming and terrorism.”
Trump himself has remained opaque about the discussion. Politico report that he said “we will talk about [the Paris Agreement] over the coming period of time. And if it happens, that will be wonderful, and if it doesn’t, that will be OK, too. But we’ll see what happens.”
However, France, Germany, and Italy made their position clear when they issued a joint statement upon Trump’s reneging from the agreement. In essence, the statement said that the deal cannot and will not be changed to suit the president’s wishes by asserting that:
“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies, and economies.”
Despite Trump’s federal withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June, numerous states and institutions have released statements and implemented measures to uphold the landmark climate deal.
According to former NASA climate research head James Hansen, the effect of climate change we should be most focused on isn’t the warming of the atmosphere. It’s the rising sea levels.
Hansen told New York Mag that he doesn’t think the atmosphere will actually warm as much as some have predicted by the end of the century, but he does think that sea levels will rise significantly due to melting polar caps. “I don’t think we’re going to get four or five degrees [Celsius] this century, because we get a cooling effect from the melting ice. But the biggest effect will be that melting ice,” he asserted. “In my opinion that’s the big thing – sea-level rise.”
In a paper published last year, Hansen warned that continuous reliance on fossil fuels could increase sea levels by several meters in just a period of 50 to 150 years. That seems like a long time, but Hansen’s predictions are significantly greater than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projected range of sea level rise of 30 centimeters (~1 foot) to just under a meter (3.2 feet).
Coastlines are home to more than half the world’s large cities, so a significant portion of the population will be affected by these rising sea levels. “The economic implications of that, and the migrations and the social effects of migrations … the planet could become practically ungovernable, it seems to me,” said Hansen.
Of course, the rising temperatures themselves will impact the population, too. While they won’t really be an issue in the U.S., Hansen believes they could be a major problem for countries in the subtropics. If the prediction of a four to five degrees Celsius (7.2 to nine degrees Fahrenheit) increase does come true, it would make these places practically uninhabitable and potentially grind their economies to a halt.
“It’s already becoming uncomfortable in the summers, in the subtropics. You can’t work outdoors, and agriculture, more than half of the jobs are outdoors,” he explained.
Hansen asserts that a carbon tax could help stabilize the economy as the world transitions away from fossil fuels, but the important thing is that this transition happens. Without serious efforts on every level, from the individual to the institutional, we stand no chance of preventing climate change from wreaking havoc on our planet.
The Milky Way Galaxy alone is home to between 100 billion and 400 billion stars, and each is potentially orbited by planets. There are probably at least 2 trillion galaxies like ours in the observable universe, each one populated by trillions of planets orbiting hundreds of billions of stars. Even if planets capable of sustaining life are exceedingly rare, on the numbers alone there should be intelligent life somewhere in the universe. For example, according to Business Insider, if a mere 0.1 percent of planets in our galaxy that might be habitable harbored life, that would mean there were about a million planets with life on them.
These numbers prompted Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi to ask in regard to alien life forms: “Where are they?” This question has come to be known as the Fermi paradox, and most possible answers to it would be concerning for humans.
“The Uninhabitable Earth” makes for a really catchy title for an equally engaging article recently published by the New York Magazine. Yes, it’s a climate change piece, except this one claims that all climate news before it have been mincing words and have lost sight of the real threat — that global warming and climate change could potentially make the Earth uninhabitable by 2100.
The article identifies many doomsday scenarios — including extreme heat, worldwide food shortages, plagues, and war — presenting the “best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action,” author David Wallace-Wells wrote. He did mention that, “It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule.”
But are they? Prominent climate scientist Michael Mann disagrees. He posted a rebuttal of the article in Facebook, where he pointed out that the article’s overly alarmist tone makes huge claims that are hardly backed up with proof. “The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Mann wrote. “The article fails to produce it.”
“I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks,” Mann explained. “But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability, and hopelessness.”
Getting the Science Right
Wallace-Wells claims that the article is “the result of dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields and reflects hundreds of scientific papers on the subject of climate change.” However, Mann was one of those interviewed, but wasn’t named in the piece.
He pointed out factual errors in the the article, including the one about frozen methane. “It exaggerates for example, the near-term threat of climate ‘feedbacks’ involving the release of frozen methane (the science on this is much more nuanced and doesn’t support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb […]).”
He also commented on a bit about satellite data showing the pace of global warming since 1998 was double than previous estimates. “That’s just not true,” Mann wrote. “The study in question simply showed that one particular satellite temperature dataset that had tended to show *less* warming that the other datasets, has now been brought in line with the other temperature data after some problems with that dataset were dealt with.”
“The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now, is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence.” — Michael Mann
Climate researcher Andrew Dressler at Texas A&M University said that Wallace-Wells is showing “the worst, worst, worst case scenario,” he told Mashable. “While that could happen, I think a more likely scenario is not as bleak. And as someone who talks to climate scientists a lot, I’ve never heard anyone tell me that they think this is a likely scenario for the planet.”
Of course, climate news shouldn’t be casually disregarded, but the piece by Wallace-Wells needs to be taken with a pair of extra-critical eyes. Instead of making unsupported doomsday prophesies, we should be working to lay out the available evidence clearly and highlight the efforts that are already underway to curb the effects of climate change.
As Mann pointed out: “The evidence that climate change is a serious problem that we must contend with now, is overwhelming on its own. There is no need to overstate the evidence, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.”
In 1979, in the throes of the U.S. energy crisis, then President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation as he installed 32 solar panels designed to use the Sun’s energy to heat water. He told the country, “A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”
Former President Carter’s vision for clean, renewable energy proved to be far ahead of his time.
While his successor, former President Ronald Reagan, had the panels removed, Carter and his family have continued their work toward ensuring that those 32 panels became a part of a much bigger story.
Carter leased 10 acres of land in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, to be used as a solar farm. This February, the solar development firm SolAmerica finally completed the project, which will have the capacity to meet more than half of the town’s energy needs.
This is, in essence, one action taken by one man…and it is powering half a town.
Then, in June of this year, the Carter family had 324 solar panels installed on the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, which will provide about seven percent of the library’s power.
The Power of People
“Distributed, clean energy generation is critical to meeting growing energy needs around the world while fighting the effects of climate change,” Carter said in a SolAmerica press release. “I am encouraged by the tremendous progress that solar and other clean energy solutions have made in recent years and expect those trends to continue.”
Carter’s continued activism in support of renewables showcases the importance of local and individual efforts to reduce humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels, even in the absence of strong national initiatives.
We, the people, have power.
The solar farm in Plains is expected to generate 1.3 MW of power per year, which is equal to burning about 3,600 tons of coal. Over time, that will prevent a sizable amount of greenhouse gases from being emitted into our atmosphere.
Many individuals, communities, and even states are joining with Carter in working toward shifting to clean energy sources. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has invested in developing technology and products that are making solar energy cheaper than ever before. The U.S. states of New York, California, and Washington have banded together to form the “United States Climate Alliance” after President Donald Trump announced the country would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.
These are just a few examples of people and communities who are working towards a sustainable future. And their work is bearing fruit — the construction of coal power plants is declining worldwide, and a new report projects that the U.S. will exceed its Paris Accord goals despite the recent withdraw. Regardless of the opposition, people around the world are choosing to embark on exciting adventure to a bright, renewable (and clean) tomorrow.
In “Renewable Energy: What Cheap, Clean Energy Means for Global Utilities,” a report published Thursday by financial services firm Morgan Stanley, analysts confirm that renewable energy is fast becoming the cheapest option.
“Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation,” the report noted. “A dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020.” The report continued:
By our forecasts, in most cases favorable renewables economics, rather than government policy, will be the primary driver of changes to utilities’ carbon emissions levels. For example, notwithstanding president Trump’s stated intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, we expect the U.S. to exceed the Paris commitment of a 26-28% reduction in its 2005-level carbon emissions by 2020.
A Cheaper, Better Alternative
Indeed, the cost of renewables — particularly solar — has recently decreased significantly, with the price of solar panels dropping by 50 percent in just two years, according to the report. This certainly makes reaching the carbon emission limits set by the historic climate accord much easier, and the increased affordability is helping major polluters like India and China step up their renewable energy efforts.
The impact of renewable energy adoption extends beyond the environment — it also benefits the economy.
So, despite the U.S. officially withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Morgan Stanley analysts believe that industries in the country will continue to see renewable energy as the more economically attractive and environmentally sound alternative to fossil fuels. Not even politics can stop this trend.
Exxon Mobil announced in late June that they support the carbon tax proposal made by the Climate Leadership Council (CLC). Billed by the groups as a “conservative climate solution,” the CLC has conceived a plan that they say will fight climate change by taxing greenhouse gas emissions and paying the money back to taxpayers as an Alaska fund-style “climate dividend.” Over time the tax would rise, reducing demand for fossil fuels naturally in the free market, which would then shift more effectively and rapidly toward renewables. The proposal would also protect emitting companies from climate change lawsuits.
The CLC’s plan would begin with a tax of $40 per ton of CO2 produced. This would raise the price of gas by 36 cents per gallon and bring in more than $200 billion annually. The tax rate would rise gradually, and demand for fossil fuels would drop naturally as a result of market forces. The carbon dividend for the average family of four in the first year would be about $2,000. According to the CLC, this tax plan would reduce American carbon emissions regardless of whether or not the White House participates in the Paris Accord.
Exxon has said in the past that it supports carbon tax in principle — even as the company’s actions seem to indicate otherwise. For example, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, in previous years the corporation donated far more money to members of Congress that oppose carbon tax than those who support it. Former Exxon CEO Rex W. Tillerson, who is currently the U.S. Secretary of State, spoke in favor of carbon tax in 2013 — even as he denied that there was any certainty about the causes of climate change, or humanity’s role in it.
Getting With The Program?
Some critics of Exxon’s position say that the support is an empty gesture, given that there is almost no chance such a tax would be passed by the current Republican-controlled Congress (something even the authors admit). Still, while some doubt Exxon’s commitment and the issue remains complicated, it is possible that Exxon sees the writing on the wall. While the bill is unlikely to pass — at least the first time around — moving forward, the industry may have to change if it wants to survive
Exxon is getting sued in climate change lawsuits, and the bill might afford it some protection in court. Moreover, as the rest of the world makes a more serious committment to fighting climate change, companies like Exxon are likely to be hit with higher taxes, more penalties, and other climate change-fueled woes in the countries where it does business. To meet the 2 degree Paris goals, Exxon and other big oil and gas companies would also have to refrain from burning a lot of their carbon. So, taking a long-term view, it might make fiscal sense for them to support the carbon tax.
In any case, Exxon is in good company in terms of support for the carbon tax plan. Other endorsers include Stephen Hawking, the World Resources Institute, Laurene Powell Jobs (philanthropist and widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs), Steven Chu, the Obama-era energy secretary, the Nature Conservancy, Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, Clinton-era treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers, and Michael R. Bloomberg. Most climate change scientists support the carbon tax strategy, and it is one of the most bipartisan solutions to the issue of climate change to date. Dividends from a carbon tax could support anything from universal basic income to tax cuts. The real question may be how to get lawmakers to support the relatively reasonable solution — one that will inure to the benefit of their constituents and the world, in spite of political resistance.
Earth’s climate is changing rapidly. We know this from billions of observations, documented in thousands of journal papers and texts and summarized every few years by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The primary cause of that change is the release of carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and natural gas.
One of the goals of the international Paris Agreement on climate change is to limit the increase of the global surface average air temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. There is a further commitment to strive to limit the increase to 1.5℃.
International plans on how to deal with climate change are painstakingly difficult to cobble together and take decades to work out. Most climate scientists and negotiators were dismayed by President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
But setting aside the politics, how much warming are we already locked into? If we stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, why would the temperature continue to rise?
Basics of Carbon and Climate
The carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere insulates the surface of the Earth. It’s like a warming blanket that holds in heat. This energy increases the average temperature of the Earth’s surface, heats the oceans and melts polar ice. As consequences, sea level rises and weather changes.
Ecosystems on both land and in the sea are changing. The observed changes are coherent and consistent with our theoretical understanding of the Earth’s energy balance and simulations from models that are used to understand past variability and to help us think about the future.
Slam on the Climate Brakes
What would happen to the climate if we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide today, right now? Would we return to the climate of our elders?
The simple answer is no. Once we release the carbon dioxide stored in the fossil fuels we burn, it accumulates in and moves among the atmosphere, the oceans, the land and the plants and animals of the biosphere. The released carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Only after many millennia will it return to rocks, for example, through the formation of calcium carbonate – limestone – as marine organisms’ shells settle to the bottom of the ocean. But on time spans relevant to humans, once released the carbon dioxide is in our environment essentially forever. It does not go away, unless we, ourselves, remove it.
If we stop emitting today, it’s not the end of the story for global warming. There’s a delay in air-temperature increase as the atmosphere catches up with all the heat that the Earth has accumulated. After maybe 40 more years, scientists hypothesize the climate will stabilize at a temperature higher than what was normal for previous generations.
This decades-long lag between cause and effect is due to the long time it takes to heat the ocean’s huge mass. The energy that is held in the Earth by increased carbon dioxide does more than heat the air. It melts ice; it heats the ocean. Compared to air, it’s harder to raise the temperature of water; it takes time – decades. However, once the ocean temperature is elevated, it will release heat back to the air, and be measured as surface heating.
So even if carbon emissions stopped completely right now, as the oceans’ heating catches up with the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature would rise about another 0.6℃. Scientists refer to this as committed warming. Ice, also responding to increasing heat in the ocean, will continue to melt. There’s already convincing evidence that significant glaciers in the West Antarctic ice sheets are lost. Ice, water and air – the extra heat held on the Earth by carbon dioxide affects them all. That which has melted will stay melted – and more will melt.
Ecosystems are altered by natural and human-made occurrences. As they recover, it will be in a different climate from that in which they evolved. The climate in which they recover will not be stable; it will be continuing to warm. There will be no new normal, only more change.
Best of the Worst-Case Scenarios
In any event, it’s not possible to stop emitting carbon dioxide right now. Despite significant advances in renewable energy sources, total demand for energy accelerates and carbon dioxide emissions increase. As a professor of climate and space sciences, I teach my students they need to plan for a world 4℃ warmer. A 2011 report from the International Energy Agency states that if we don’t get off our current path, then we’re looking at an Earth 6℃ warmer. Even now after the Paris Agreement, the trajectory is essentially the same. It’s hard to say we’re on a new path until we see a peak and then a downturn in carbon emissions. With the approximately 1℃ of warming we’ve already seen, the observed changes are already disturbing.
There are many reasons we need to eliminate our carbon dioxide emissions. The climate is changing rapidly; if that pace is slowed, the affairs of nature and human beings can adapt more readily. The total amount of change, including sea-level rise, can be limited. The further we get away from the climate that we’ve known, the more unreliable the guidance from our models and the less likely we will be able to prepare.
It’s possible that even as emissions decrease, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to increase. The warmer the planet gets, the less carbon dioxide the ocean can absorb. Rising temperatures in the polar regions make it more likely that carbon dioxide and methane, another greenhouse gas that warms the planet, will be released from storage in the frozen land and ocean reservoirs, adding to the problem.
If we stop our emissions today, we won’t go back to the past. The Earth will warm. And since the response to warming is more warming through feedbacks associated with melting ice and increased atmospheric water vapor, our job becomes one of limiting the warming. If greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated quickly enough, within a small number of decades, it will keep the warming manageable. It will slow the change – and allow us to adapt. Rather than trying to recover the past, we need to be thinking about best possible futures.
As part of the Paris Agreement, French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot has announced a series of measures to make France a carbon neutral and more sustainable country by 2050. Most prominent among the goals are his plan to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles in the country by 2040, ceasing the use of coal to produce energy by 2022, and reducing the country’s nuclear usage from 75 percent to 50 percent.
In addition, Hulot intends to start a campaign against unsustainably sourced goods by no longer importing palm oil and soya farmed in ways that contribute to deforestation. ClientEarth CEO James Thornton established France as a progenitor that could start a wider trend, telling the Independent:
“This is a huge statement of intent from the French government and an example of how we’re likely to see exponential change in the coming years as governments grapple with the necessary changes we have to make for air quality and our climate.”
A Planet is Saved by Degrees
France is one of many European countries that have recently announced plans to reduce emissions and change the lifestyles of their citizens to become more environmentally friendly. Recently, Norway made waves when they announced that they would ban the use of oil to heat homes by 2020. Sweden, taking a similar road as France, has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2045.
Changes are not just being made on a national level, though: industry leaders are also announcing gambits to be more green. Most notably, Volvo just announced they will only produce electric vehicles from 2019 onwards. Tesla, meanwhile, is continuing its crusade to bring electric cars to the masses with the Model 3 — the first models of which are already in production.
A common argument against climate change is that a single country or industry’s contribution is but one “drop in the ocean.” But the ocean is made of drops, and it is only through country by country and company by company changes that we’ll fight to save our planet from the damage we’re responsible for.
Famous physicist Stephen Hawking issued a warning to humanity in response to President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Speaking to BBC News prior to a cosmology conference being held at the University of Cambridge this week in honor of his 75th birthday, Hawking said that Trump’s decision could cause irrevocable harm to the planet.
“We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible,” the celebrated scientist told Pallab Ghosh from the BBC. The consequences, he explained, would be truly dire for the planet. “Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid.”
Of course, this might seem like an exaggeration on the part of Hawking, and becoming a Venus 2.0 may well be an extreme. Nevertheless, the effects of global warming and climate change are real and shouldn’t be ignored. “By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children,” Hawking added.
Facing the Problem
While the U.S. has indeed exited the Paris accord, several states have chosen to act independently to uphold the historic agreement’s commitment to fighting climate change. Three states have already formed an alliance, while Hawaii put a law into effect that formalizes its efforts to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. A number of industry leaders and innovators have pledged to uphold the mission of the accord, even in the absence of support from the federal government.
As governments the world over debate on the politics of climate change and global warming, the planet continues to endure its effects. The polar caps are still melting, even in spite of periodic freezing and refreezing. Simply put, there’s just less and less ice left with each year that passes. Several areas are also in danger of sinking, like the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana. Elsewhere in the U.S., a new study said that climate change will hit Florida, Arizona, Texas, and the states of the Deep South particularly hard, with not just longterm environmental, but economic, ramifications.
Hawking previously predicted that humanity’s days on Earth are numbered — down by about a hundred years, to be exact. At that time, Hawking posited, we’d have no choice but to flee to another planet. It’s a point he reiterated in the BBC exclusive. “I fear evolution has inbuilt greed and aggression to the human genome,” Hawking said. “There is no sign of conflict lessening, and the development of militarized technology and weapons of mass destruction could make that disastrous. The best hope for the survival of the human race might be independent colonies in space.”
Whether or not we leave Earth for good eventually, the ongoing climate problem is one we have to deal with for as long as we remain here. As Hawking noted, “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now.”
A new study from the Climate Impact Lab, a consortium of 25 economists and policy experts from across the country, shows that the American South will be more affected by climate change than any other region in the United States. The analysis also shows that the effects of climate change will transfer wealth from poor counties in the Midwest and Southeast to wealthier counties on the coasts and in the Northeast. This will aggravate the trend of economic inequality in the U.S. that already exists.
States that are already warm or hot such as Florida, Arizona, Texas, and the states of the Deep South will therefore lose income potential when jobs and other benefits migrate to cooler areas. Counties in states that border the Gulf of Mexico in particular are likely to experience the equivalent of a 20 percent, county-level income tax solely attributable to climate change. This “tax” will come in the form of skyrocketing summer energy costs, struggling harvests, rising seas that engulf real estate, and heatwaves that trigger public health crises and inflate mortality rates.
The U.S. GDP will decrease by around 1.2 percent for every additional degree Celsius of warming. Although the Paris Agreement terms would allow a rise of four degrees Celsius by the end of this century, but even if we didn’t surpass that limit, the GDP of our country will still contract by 1.6 to 5.6 percent. If the Paris terms are not met, the damage will be more severe. (To put this into perspective, the biggest drop in GDP during the Great Recession was 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. It took years to recover from the drop, and the ramifications were felt all over the world.)
The study is an exhaustive, detailed effort, which models every single day of weather in each county in the U.S. during the 21st century in order to simulate the economic costs of climate change. It is by far the most in-depth economic assessment of human-caused climate change to date. It is also highly significant because it takes a bottom-up approach, building on multiple microeconomic studies with regional economic data to provide a more detailed picture of the future of the U.S.
The study’s economic projections also end in 2099. While certain regions in the Northern regions of the U.S. might initially benefit from the pain the Southern states are feeling thanks to climate change, that won’t last. The authors of the study point out that the North will also experience more severe economic damages should climate change continue unchecked into the next century.
There are those who say the climate has always changed, and that carbon dioxide levels have always fluctuated. That’s true. But it’s also true that since the industrial revolution, CO₂ levels in the atmosphere have climbed to levels that are unprecedented over hundreds of millennia.
So here’s a short video we made, to put recent climate change and carbon dioxide emissions into the context of the past 800,000 years.
The Temperature-CO₂ Connection
Earth has a natural greenhouse effect, and it is really important. Without it, the average temperature on the surface of the planet would be about -18℃ and human life would not exist. Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is one of the gases in our atmosphere that traps heat and makes the planet habitable.
Modern scientists and engineers have explored these links in intricate detail in recent decades, by drilling into the ice sheets that cover Antarctica and Greenland. Thousands of years of snow have compressed into thick slabs of ice. The resulting ice cores can be more than 3km long and extend back a staggering 800,000 years.
In previous warm periods, it was not a CO₂ spike that kickstarted the warming, but small and predictable wobbles in Earth’s rotation and orbit around the Sun. CO₂ played a big role as a natural amplifier of the small climate shifts initiated by these wobbles. As the planet began to cool, more CO₂ dissolved into the oceans, reducing the greenhouse effect and causing more cooling. Similarly, CO₂ was released from the oceans to the atmosphere when the planet warmed, driving further warming.
But things are very different this time around. Humans are responsible for adding huge quantities of extra CO₂ to the atmosphere — and fast.
Before the industrial revolution, the natural level of atmospheric CO₂ during warm interglacials was around 280 ppm. The frigid ice ages, which caused kilometer-thick ice sheets to build up over much of North America and Eurasia, had CO₂ levels of around 180 ppm.
Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, takes ancient carbon that was locked within the Earth and puts it into the atmosphere as CO₂. Since the industrial revolution humans have burned an enormous amount of fossil fuel, causing atmospheric CO₂ and other greenhouse gases to skyrocket.
In mid-2017, atmospheric CO₂ now stands at 409 ppm. This is completely unprecedented in the past 800,000 years.
The fundamental science is very well understood. The evidence that climate change is happening is abundant and clear. The difficult part is: what do we do next? More than ever, we need strong, cooperative, and accountable leadership from politicians of all nations. Only then will we avoid the worst of climate change and adapt to the impacts we can’t halt.
The authors acknowledge the contributions of Wes Mountain (multimedia), Alicia Egan (editing), and Andrew King (model projection data).
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has proposed a plan to make cows more resistant to the temperature increase caused by global warming. The proposal has received a three-year, $733,000 federal grant.
The scientists’ plan aims to retain the quality meat cows provide while increasing the efficiency of the process in spite of a changing climate. The first step is conducting research on cows that already handle the heat pretty well. By studying the Brangus cow, researchers hope to identify how it regulates its body temperature, which allows it thrive in hotter climates. Once identified, researchers could use a gene editing tool to give that ability to other breeds.
Dr Rachel Mateescu, associate professor in the UF/IFAS department of animal sciences, told Digital Trends:
“Heat stress is a principal factor limiting production of animal protein and negatively affecting health and welfare of cattle in subtropical and tropical regions, and its impact is expected to increase dramatically due to climate change […] the ability to cope with heat stress is imperative to enhance productivity of the U.S. livestock industry and secure global food supplies.”
What Humans Can Learn
That a venture like this received funding is a sign of two things that many in the scientific community have been well aware of, but that they may not have yet connected: the rate at which the climate is changing, and the potential of gene editing software.
As funding for this research is contingent on viability, it’s also a chance to demonstrate the rapid progress made in gene editing software, which has been catalyzed by CRISPR. Since its first demonstration in 2013, an enormous amount of research has been conducted using it. The future of gene editing with CRISPR’s help looks bright, too: many trials have or are set to begin this year, including attempts to modify viruses to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria and revive extinct species.
While it seems more logical to reduce global warming rather than try to deal with its consequences, should the preventative method fail, the only solutions that we could turn to are those previously reserved for the realms of science fiction, like changing our genetic makeup — or migrating to another planet.
The public forum discussion covered both common and niche questions regarding climate change’s origins, progressions, causes, and, of course, what we can do to stop it. When asked about the role of smaller countries going green, Forster responded:
In terms of climate change – the big emitter countries share most of the blame for sure (China, US, Europe, India etc.) but more and more countries such as Nigeria are becoming significant emitters. And the world needs to get all emissions of CO2 to zero to prevent further warming , not just reduce them. So every sector and country has a role. Also when you break it down – the top 10% of a countries population are typically responsible for over half the emissions, so it is really the wealthy of the world that drive climate change.
He certainly didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the situation. As most scientists aim to do, Forster took an objective and pragmatic stance while providing the necessary facts.
A Changing Future
Not afraid of ruffling a few feathers, Forster spoke of the shared responsibility between both producers and consumers. He specifically indicated the responsibility for those who have the resources and can afford to replace high-emission creating and otherwise outdated equipment. He spoke about how both production and consumption play a role in continuing the progression of climate change, “Whether or not polar bears will drown thanks to my leaf blower, we can probably agree that lowering emissions is likely to improve quality of life.”
Discussing the future of renewable resources and how we might best shift our current fossil fuel consumption behaviors, Forster said:
Today, they have really hit climate targets by moving from coal to gas. Renewables have helped, but I fear that the gas move (fracking in US, importing gas in the EU) is a short term fix. And I know my own country (UK) keeps wavering on longer term plans. Biomass is another 10 year option. Renewables can grow of course but take space. I see either a renewable/nuclear future and/or one that sees lots of carbon capture of fossil fuel and biomass. No country really tries to tackle demand.
Forster’s outlook, judging from this AMA, and the fact that he’s continuing to push climate science further instead of just giving up and going home, is surprisingly hopeful. It’s not unrealistically optimistic, but he does explore how it is possible for us, as a species, to undo what has been done — as much as is possible, anyway. For now, as technology continues to progress and legislation changes, it seems it’s more and more a matter of personal responsibility. It’s up to all of us, as part of the human species, to ask if there’s more we can do in our daily lives to combat climate change.
The world’s first “Forest City,” created to fight pollution, is now under construction in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province, China. Designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti, a team that develops green projects all around the world, the futuristic Forest City will be home to a community of about 30,000 people. It will be covered in greenery, including nearly 1 million plants of more than 100 species and 40,000 trees that together absorb almost 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of pollutants, and produce approximately 900 tons of oxygen annually. As a result, Forest City will help to decrease the average air temperature, improve local air quality, create noise barriers, generate habitats, and improve local biodiversity in the region.
Rapid and numerous advances in medical science are keeping us alive longer and helping us deliver the next generation of healthy babies. A new report from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects that the world’s population is going to continue to boom, with the worldwide population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. The projection also indicates the population will top 8.5 billion by 2030.
Fertility rates are down in almost every region of the world, yet the ever increasing life expectancy is still allowing population growth continue to increase — albeit with an increasingly older populace.
That being said, many of the resources our survival here on Earth depends on are finite. Conversations on how to sustain those resources with some semblance of equity are paramount to our ability to accommodate such a big population increase.
In 2013, famed British naturalist David Attenborough scathingly expressed his feelings on the population boom, telling The Radio Times that humans are a plague. Adding the warning that “Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us.” He cites climate change as one such factor that will limit humanity’s time on Earth if trends are not changed.
Regardless if the situation is as dire as Attenborough and Hawking believe, increasing Earth’s population while refusing to focus on better sustainability practices is a recipe for catastrophic global disaster.
London is taking its commitment to reducing its impact on climate change to a new level: the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, recently announced a major initiative with the goal of significantly reducing carbon emissions within the next few decades. Ultimately, the plan sets out to make London’s entire transportation network zero emission by the year 2050.
A major facet of the city’s public transport system is already electric, chiefly the Underground rail system. Therefore, the bulk of the efforts will be aimed at reducing emissions from vehicles. The plan hopes to cut down the number of trips by three million each day. To do this, the city is calling on people to switch to walking, cycling, and relying on the electrified public transit system.
Among the first steps in the plan is to create a zero-emission zone in central London by 2025 in order to set the preconditions for a full city expansion by the projected end date in 2050. Other steps include mandating all taxis and minicabs be zero emission by 2033, with the city’s buses following suit by 2037. Then, by 2040, all road vehicles in London will be required to to be zero emission.
One of the major obstacles facing the city’s plan, however, is ensuring the proper infrastructure will be in place to allow it to be successful. One challenge that the city has already identified and will be getting to work on is providing adequate charging stations throughout the city, which will be paramount to the plan’s success since it heavily relies on the adoption of electric vehicles.
The Climate Leadership Council (CLC), founded in February by Ted Halstead, has already attracted an impressive pantheon of corporate and individual founding members, including Shell, BP, General Motors, Laurene Powell Jobs, Michael Bloomberg — and, most recently, Stephen Hawking. The group, according to their website:
Is an international policy institute founded in collaboration with a who’s who of business, opinion, and environmental leaders to promote a carbon dividends framework as the most cost-effective, equitable, and politically-viable climate solution.
They aim to challenge human-caused global warming and climate change by developing an economically sustainable approach that builds on the work of other organizations but also aims to affect change “at the necessary scale or speed.” Their mission consists of four pillars:
Implementing a gradually rising and revenue-neutral carbon tax.
Paying a carbon dividend payments to all Americans, funded by 100 percent of the revenue.
Rolling back carbon regulations that are no longer necessary.
Adjusting border carbon to level the playing field and promote American competitiveness.
Swaying Public Opinion
These high-profile individuals have the potential to not only impact climate change through their focus on politically feasible environmental solutions, but also through their capabilities as trendsetters. The idea is that even if their proposals are not as resilient in the current political environment as we would hope, the CLC could still sway public opinion towards coming together to protect our world.
On a more quantifiable level, adoption of the CLC’s $40 per ton carbon tax could catalyses the American economy’s transition into becoming more carbon neutral. A recent Resources for the Future (RFF) study said that even a $20 per ton tax could, by 2025, achieve emissions reductions of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels. This means that the CLC’s suggested rate could help the U.S. reach Obama’s ambitious climate goals in half the time his own policies could have.
The CLC’s efforts could go a long way towards counteracting the negative consequences of U.S. president Donald Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The members’ public acknowledgement that climate change is a real problem requiring real solutions may also undermine the arguments of those who still doubt the scientific evidence for human impact on the environment.
Sweden has passed a law via cross-party committee that dedicates the country to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2045. This makes Sweden the first nation to adopt serious post-Paris Accord goals; its previous aim was to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This new law requires an action plan to be updated every four years, and creates an independent Climate Policy Council to ensure its goal is met.
Sweden is already operating with 83 percent renewable energy, split between hydropower and nuclear energy. This high level of success reflects an earlier target — which they beat eight years early — of 50 percent renewables by 2020. Moving forward, the nation’s strategy will focus heavily on reducing domestic emissions by at least 85 percent, in large part through the increased use of electric vehicles and biofuels. The rest of this carbon neutral goal will be met by investing abroad or planting trees.
Climate change is real, and according to a recent tweet from serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, all you need is a thermometer to confirm it. While the tweet about thermometers was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, there’s nothing to laugh about when it comes to the severity of climate change, which Musk gave attention to by linking to a recent article in Forbes.The articleexplained why certain airline flights in the Southwest U.S. have been canceled this week due to record high temperatures.
In reality, you’d need more than one thermometer — more like thousands of them, actually. And not your everyday type of thermometer, either. Ordinary thermometers placed in individual locations can’t prove that the warming trend our planet is following is due to man-made climate change, because you have to account for globalized cooling and warming patterns.
To be exact, one would need to get an average surface temperature reading using measurements from thousands of weather stations, as well as average sea surface temperatures from ship- and buoy-based observations. You’d get something similar to what NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showcased in this video from earlier this year, even which included temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations.
Musk’s point is clear, however: climate change is real. And despite the flack from some of his Twitter followers over the difference between weather and climate, climate change does lead to extreme weather conditions and rising global average temperatures.
There are other indicators that clearly show the effects of climate change — from the unabated melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, to changes affecting even the world’s ecology. There’s even a town in the U.S. that’s now in danger of completely sinking into the Gulf of Mexico due to rising sea levels. Countless studies have shown the link between such events and climate change, so it’s not being an alarmist to simply point out the facts.
For many, warm weather has traditionally meant beaches and BBQs, but according to a new study published in Nature,climate change is pushing the human capacity to survive heatwaves to — and in some cases, beyond — its limit.
Right now, for 20 days or more each year, roughly 30 percent of Earth’s population is exposed to climatic conditions that exceed the researchers’ estimated global threshold for mortality risk. In other words, almost a third of us are living in places where the humidity and surface air temperatures exceed the point at which conditions are likely to be deadly 20 days every year.
By 2100, the number of people living under these conditions will be higher, but how much higher depends almost entirely on how aggressively we combat climate change.
If greenhouse gas emissions are reduced dramatically between now and then, about 48 percent of us will be living under this deadly heatwave threat. If we do nothing, 74 percent of people will. Some of those people will unquestionably die, and they’ll probably be the most vulnerable among us, such as the elderly and children who are not receiving adequate care.
Thankfully, efforts are already underway to combat climate change and keep the mercury from rising.
Their actions reveal that the country is not unilaterally in support of the Trump Administration’s climate change denial and withdrawal of the U.S. from the international agreement, a move that also prompted waves of protests from individual citizens.
Other countries, including China and India, have confirmed their commitment to the deal, and France has even extended an invitation to climate change scientists from the U.S. to continue their work as part of the French community.
Will these efforts be enough? No one can say for sure, but given that this new report concludes that even very aggressive action will still result in nearly half of the world living in danger from heatwaves, it seems obvious that there is no such thing as too much effort in the battle against climate change.
Summer is rapidly approaching and bringing along with it the highest temperatures of the year, for most of the world. It already seems that this year will be keeping pace with recent years and offering up some of the warmest months in all of recorded history.
This past May has been recorded as the second hottest in history, being beaten only by May 2016, which was 0.93 degrees C (33.7 degrees F) higher than the mean temperature between 1951-1980. Every month this year has ranked in the top three warmest months in recorded history. According to The Weather Channel“February, March and April 2017 ranked as second warmest, while January 2017 finished in third place.”
Yesterday, June 15, the Swedish government passed a proposal intended to make the country carbon neutral by 2045. The legislation was approved by a 254 to 41 majority (86 percent) and will take effect on January 1, 2018. The drafters of the proposal call it the “most important climate reform in Sweden’s history.”
The law is divided into three key areas:
A climate act that forces the government to provide an environment report every year and to draw up a targeted plan every four years, as well as compels it to base policy on the legislation’s climate goals
Climate goals that include a minimum 63 percent decrease in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030 and at least a 75 percent decrease by 2040, as well as complete carbon neutrality by 2045
The establishment of a Climate Policy Council that will carry out an “independent assessment of how the overall policy presented by the Government is compatible with the climate goals”
As part of the Paris Climate Agreement, Sweden originally planned to be carbon neutral by 2050. By bringing this target forward by five years, it becomes the first nation to set a significantly higher standard for itself since the 2015 adoption of the agreement.
Sweden’s signing of the Paris Climate Agreement meant that the country agreed to efforts to limit the global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). To meet that goal, 50 percent of the world’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2060, according to a study by the University of Maryland. Sweden’s new legislation of becoming a completely carbon neutral nation by 2045 is taking that to the next level.
According to a report from the research group Wood Mackenzie, the analysis of how worldwide changes in demands for energy will transform the sector in the next decade proves that the largest oil and gas companies should place at least one-fifth of their investments in wind and solar power. Dwindling demand for oil and other fossil fuels and rising demand for renewable energy will drive this change in the sector, which will, in turn, necessitate new investment strategies.
The biggest energy companies today now enjoy a market share in oil and gas of about 12%. To maintain that share, analysts say, the companies will need to spend more than $350 billion (£275 billion) on wind and solar power by 2035. Even if they don’t spend enough to maintain that market share, Wood Mackenzie forecasts that renewables may account for one-fifth, or more, of their capital allocation from 2030 onward.
This level of investment arises from a recognition, even by fossil fuel companies, that demand, availability, climate change, and policies designed to cope with climate change are all permanently changing the industry. “The momentum behind these [renewable] technologies is unstoppable now,” Wood Mackenzie director of research Valentina Kretzschmar told The Guardian. “They [the oil companies] are recognizing it is a megatrend; it’s not a fad, it’s not going away. There is definitely a risk to their core business.”
While the White House and Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, have indicated their plan to roll back vehicle emissions standards set by the Obama administration in 2011, the attorneys general of 12 states and Washington District of Columbia have pledged to sue the EPA if the roll back happens. The states — California, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Oregon, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland — made their intentions clear in a letter to Pruitt.
Back in 2011, President Obama’s administration made the deal with automakers, who agreed to work on doubling their average fuel efficiency fleet-wide until it reaches 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025. The parties also agreed to undergo mid-term evaluations no later than April 2018 to ensure progress was on track. Under former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the evaluations were ahead of schedule, so the administration did not make any adjustments before President Obama left office.
Once President Trump took office, however, Fiat Chrysler, VW, Ford, Toyota, GM, Nissan, Honda, and Hyundai asked for a re-evaluation of the efficiency guidelines. Trump ordered the EPA to review the standards for fuel efficiency, and Pruitt is clearly onside, calling the standards “costly for automakers and the American people.”
The states all dispute these characterizations, as well several unusual procedural issues the Trump administration and Pruitt have cited: “Although EPA is often faulted for missing deadlines, we are unfamiliar with any occasion on which the EPA Administrator has criticized his own agency for fulfilling its regulatory obligations ahead of schedule,” reads the letter. “[T]here are at least three separate reports by scientists, engineers, and other experts analyzing the standards and concluding that they are feasible. The record is clear that appropriate technology exists now for automakers to achieve the current standards for model years 2022-25 at a reasonable cost.”
Managing Climate Change
Efforts to create vehicles that use renewable energy and run clean are just one important aspect of managing climate change — an area that states as well as municipalities and private companies have taken the lead in as the federal government effectively abdicates its leadership role. Some of the largest states in the U.S., along with several major cities, have formed the United States Climate Alliance with the intent of adhering to the Paris Accord despite President Trump’s removal of the U.S. from it. Various American cities, including Burlington, Vermont, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, and New York City have all stepped up to the plate in recent weeks wth plans to continue to their fight against climate change.This latest move by state attorneys general to defend against the EPA’s backsliding is another major boost for fighting climate change at the state and local level, as these officials are recognizing the importance of their role. “Any effort to roll back these affordable, achievable, and common-sense vehicle emission standards would be both irrational and irresponsible,” attorney general Eric Schneiderman of New York wrote in the letter. “We stand ready to vigorously and aggressively challenge President Trump’s dangerous anti-environmental agenda in court – as we already have successfully done.”
Recently in an interview with The Guardian, Ellen Stofan, NASA’s former chief scientist, discussed how America is “under siege” from disinformation about climate change. It’s no secret that fake news exists. Especially in recent months, most citizens have become increasingly aware of the misinformation that permeates through social media, sometimes even through news sources that superficially appear to be trustworthy. But, while many of us are now aware that this issue exists, it hasn’t gone away.
Specifically referring to oil and coal companies, Stofan said:
“We are under siege by fake information that’s being put forward by people who have a profit motive. Fake news is so harmful because once people take on a concept it’s very hard to dislodge it. The harder part is this active disinformation campaign. I’m always wondering if these people honestly believe the nonsense they put forward. When they say ‘It could be volcanoes’ or ‘the climate always changes’… to obfuscate and to confuse people, it frankly makes me angry.”
The Future of News
Stofan asserted that this “erosion of people’s ability to scrutinize information” is not something limited to those leaning either to the right or left. This is a problem that we all face, and climate change isn’t going anywhere. Populations are increasing, as are the emissions that we are pumping into the atmosphere. Whether or not fake news sites spread misinformation, climate change is real and threatening life on planet Earth.
It can be difficult to distinguish between what’s real and fake when it comes to information online. But, when it comes to science, alternative facts do not exist. Any credible scientific topic covered should be able to be verified by multiple sources and true beyond a doubt. It might take us a little bit of extra time to be sure about the information that we absorb, share, and believe, but that extra time is what will make the difference. The important thing is, in Stofan’s words, “Job one is to keep this planet habitable. I’d hate us to lose focus on that.”
Isle de Jean Charles, a small island in southeastern Louisiana’s bayous, is drowning as the Gulf of Mexico rises. Twenty-nine homes remain, housing 100 people, but they are all being relocated because the flooding is unstoppable. The island has already lost 98% of its land since 1955, making it one of the most visible victims of climate change — so far. The residents can either leave their homes or die in them, and they are leaving.
“Now there’s just a little strip of land left,” resident Rita Falgout tells Quartz. “That’s all we have. There’s water all around us. I’m anxious to go.”
Residents of places like Isle de Jean Charles can compete for a chance to relocate through the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), a program organized by the federal government. The goal of the program is to help states and communities recover from disasters and lower risks from future disasters. However, the looming threats from climate change are growing, and affecting more and more communities; Louisiana alone is losing the equivalent of one football field’s worth of land every hour.
Climate change is affecting larger coastal areas in the U.S., from Alaska down to Florida and Louisiana. Climate-induced migration is now a concrete reality for citizens of our country, not an abstract idea for politicians to talk about. Research from a March 2016 study indicates that collapsing polar ice caps are likely to cause sea levels to rise by 6 feet (1.8 meters) by 2100; this will in turn force at least 13.1 million Americans living in coastal areas to become homeless. A less drastic rise of 3 feet would leave at least 4 million homeless.
The only solution to these problems is combating climate change before it is too late. States like Hawaii are sticking with the Paris Accord goals, and various cities, states, and businesses are also banding together to maintain a commitment to this important issue, regardless of the action the federal government does or does not take. We can’t relocate everyone, and our window for making a difference is closing. Thankfully, the world isn’t giving up.
Recently elected French president Emmanuel Macron has made his offer to U.S. climate scientists more official: the French government has launched a program that gives four-year grants to scientists, teachers, business people, and even students who are working on climate change solutions. Of course, to receive the grant, the individual must be willing to move in to France.
“To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the President of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland,” Macron said. This echoes an earlier message the French president posted via video on Facebook almost a month before he was elected.
With this new initiative, France is affirming the importance of a combined global effort to combat climate change, which remains a global problem. It’s necessary to pool the minds of the world’s experts and to fund projects — particularly those devoted to research — aimed at curbing climate change. As Macron said, it’s crucial for all of us “to work together on concrete solutions for our climate, our environment.”
President Trump has proposed using solar panels in the construction of a wall along the 3,200 kilometer (1,988 miles) border separating Mexico and America — a key point in his election campaign. According to three individuals who have direct knowledge of the meeting with Republican leaders, Trump claimed he wanted to cover the wall segments with solar panels so they’d be “beautiful structures.”
Trump cited the wall’s economic benefits as well as its environmental ones. Thomas Gleason, managing partner of Gleason Partners LLC, the company that proposed the design, told Business Insider that each solar panel on the wall would produce 2.0MWp per hour of electricity, and, because of this, the wall would pay off the cost of its construction in 20 years through the energy it sells.
The cost of solar panels has decreased rapidly over the last nine years, from around $8 per watt in 2009 to roughly $1.50 per watt in 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, and Gleason believes the cost will continue to diminish over time.
While the bottom of the wall would still be built out of stone, the solar panels situated on the Mexico-facing side would be double tiered, with the upper layer moving to capture maximum sunlight.
Solar Power and America
Though any wall between Mexico and the United States is likely to still be controversial, one equipped with solar panels would have benefits on both a small and large scale. It would provide those on both sides of the border, which is currently underserved by electricity companies, with greater access to power. On a larger scale, it would contribute to the amount of electricity the U.S. generates from clean energy sources, which would in turn contribute to fighting climate change.
Opinions on the proposal are split.
Wunder Capital CEO Bryan Birsic told Business Insider, “While we would prefer a different location and purpose for a large solar installation, we strongly support all additional generation of clean power in the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Nezar AlSayyad, a UC Berkeley professor of architecture and planning, told The Guardian that the wall was still “indefensible” and that “trying to embellish it with a technical function or a new utility … is a folly.” Political theorist Langdon Winner was even more outspoken in his criticism: “I’m wondering what the solar electricity would be used for? Electrocuting people who try to climb the wall?”
Although the wall itself is controversial, any move by the U.S. government to promote solar energy is positive as it would lessen the country’s own carbon footprint and help the world combat climate change.
Tuesday was a historic moment for Hawaii as it became the first state in the U.S. to make its stand on the Paris Climate Agreement formal. The Pacific state signed two bills to honor the climate deal after the federal government’s decision to withdraw from it. In his statement during the signing of the two bills, Hawaii governor David Ige said that he’s looking “forward to working with other states to fight global climate change.”
Governor Ige signed Senate Bill 559 which would “ensure statewide support for Hawaii’s green initiatives and to further the State’s commitment to combat climate change by systematically reducing and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through the enactment of principles that mirror many of the provisions adopted in the Paris Agreement.”
Technology is teaming up with cuisine to provide realistic alternatives to meat, and the first prototype products are starting to interest consumers. Mimicking the taste, texture, look, and smell of meat isn’t easy, and creating these first few products demands a significant investment from companies. However, more companies are taking a chance on synthetic meats, hoping for major returns in the long run.
In 2016, Beyond Meat became, arguably, the first startup to bring a plant-based meat alternative — one that could really stand in for real meat — to grocery stores. Impossible Foods, its main competitor, is instead approaching restaurants first with the intention of penetrating the grocery market later.
Other companies are literally growing synthetic meats, called “cellular-agriculture meats,” fiber by fiber in labs. These are extremely expensive to produce, but their prices are falling fast. The price of the first lab-grown beef burger, created by Mosa Meats, was equivalent to about $1.2 million per pound, retail. Now, lab-grown hamburger runs for about $11.36 per pound, similar to the Beyond Meat alternative which goes for about $12 per pound — although both are still out of reach for most consumers. In contrast, ground beef retails for around $3.54 per pound on average.
Meanwhile, Memphis Meats is currently in the process of growing chicken meat in the lab. Although comparatively, its retail price of $6,000 per pound is much more accessible than $1.2 million, it still has a way to go before it will be attainable for consumers.
Kinder To The Environment
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), livestock feed production eats up 26% of the ice-free land on Earth, and 13 billion hectares (32.1 billion acres) of forest are lost to land conversion for pastures or cropland annually. Livestock farming also contributes to about 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. All of this damage could be alleviated by transitioning to lab-grown meats.
Scaling — the ability to consistently meet demand in a cost-effective way — is the main problem holding lab-grown meats back. Although companies are working toward solutions, animal-free meat will not be affordable for average consumers before 2020. Still, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown aims to completely replace the meat industry by producing more realistic meat alternatives with products like whole turkeys, and companies like Tyson are investing in his idea. For now, that’s just a pipe dream, but if lab-made and plant-based meats can prove to be friendlier to the environment, healthier, and cost effective, they might just have a fighting chance.
Natural gas may be cleaner burning than other fossil fuels like coal, but leaking methane can cause issues much more serious than those we are mitigating. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), “…methane leaking during the production, delivery, and use of natural gas has the potential to undo much of the greenhouse gas benefits we think we’re getting when natural gas is substituted for other fuels.”
A partnership between the EDF and Google has uncovered more than 5,500 leaks since trials began in 2012. Equipping Google’s fleet of Street View cars with an array of low-cost sensors has allowed the EDF to collect enough data to make maps of methane leaks for 11 cities.
Methane leaks in Boston. Image source: EDF
Identifying these leaks could have a huge impact on climate change, as the EDF reports that “methane is more than 100 times more potent at trapping energy than carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal contributor to man-made climate change.” Even more, its conversion to CO2 makes methane “84 times more potent after 20 years and 28 times more potent after 100 years.”
Google (Clean) Cloud
The maps can help utility companies prioritize the allocation of resources to better address these leaks. Also, the partnership has expanded the scope of their efforts by measuring overall air quality. Two years after the initial program began, the Street View fleet was equipped with a “Environmental Intelligence” mobile platform.
Defending the Earth from climate change has been an uphill battle for decades. The recent move from the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is only the latest example of this unfortunate reality.
However, efforts similar to that of Google and the EDF are helping people to understand of the problem climate change, ultimately leading to numbers like 70 percent of Americans supporting the Paris accord. These maps can equip environmental activists with hyperlocalized data enabling them to target specific problem areas in their communities. Such localized efforts can have big impacts despite apathy on the national level.
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi vowed today that his country will not only stick with the 2015 Paris Accord, but will go “above and beyond” its goals aimed at fighting climate change, selling only electric cars throughout the country within 13 years, for example. Attending a news conference today with French President Emmanuel Macron, Mr. Modi made his remarks as he described the accord as part of “our duty to protect Mother Earth.”
The agreement commits 195 countries including the U.S. — every country in the world except war-torn Syria and Nicaragua, who argued the agreement was not strong enough — to ensure that global temperatures remain “well below” 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, and “endeavor to limit” them to 1.5ºC. India’s commitment is critical to the agreement’s success, as it is currently the world’s fourth-biggest producer of carbon emissions, after China, the U.S., and the EU.
On Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his country would cooperate with European leaders who “worry about global uncertainty,” in the wake of the decision. At the same conference, EU Council President Donald Tusk referred to a joint statement from the EU and China promising to “step up” efforts to fight climate change, including the raising of $100 billion annually by 2020 to support reducing emissions in poorer countries: “China and Europe have demonstrated solidarity with future generations and responsibility for the whole planet.”
Mr. Modi’s views appear to be in tandem with those of other world leaders, along with much of the U.S. at the state and local levels, as well as corporate America. After his meeting with Mr. Macron, Mr. Modi indicated that India and France had “worked shoulder to shoulder” on the Paris accord, and emphasized in the same press conference that both nations see it as critically important for all nations. “The Paris agreement is the common heritage of the world. It is a gift that this generation can give.”
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised up to $15 million toward the U.S.’s share of the Paris climate accord financial commitment. The businessman, who is also an envoy to the UN on climate change, says lack of cooperation from the federal government will not stop the U.S. from meeting its carbon reduction goals, and pledges to support the UN’s climate change work using his Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation.
“Americans are not walking away from the Paris climate agreement,” Bloomberg said in a press release. “Just the opposite — we are forging ahead. Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties are signing onto a statement of support that we will submit to the UN, and together, we will reach the emission reduction goals the U.S. made in Paris in 2015. As a sign of our commitment, Bloomberg Philanthropies, in partnership with others, will make up the approximately $15 million in funding that the U.N.’s Climate Secretariat stands to lose from Washington. Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up — and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.”
According to the statement, the $15 million will assist other countries in implementing their Paris accord commitments.
Bloomberg is in good company, joining many Americans who have spoken out against the U.S. withdrawal. Governors of four states, along with numerous of mayors, heads of corporations, and university presidents are pledging to meet Paris accord climate change goals. The coalition plans to ask the UN to accept their own document as if they were a national government.
“We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” Bloomberg told The New York Times. If they do, they will have a significant impact on carbon emissions and climate change. Major cities have both the most to offer climate change programs and the most to lose if global warming is not abated; more than 90% of urban areas are coastal, and these are the places that can cut down on pollution by implementing green transit plans and capping emissions.
“One man cannot destroy our progress,” former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a video statement. “One man can’t stop our clean energy revolution.”
On Monday, May 29, leading economists warned that unless nations around the world boost carbon taxes to as much as $100 per metric ton, the world risks global warming at “catastrophic” levels within only thirteen years. The group of experts includes former chief economist of the World Bank, Nicholas Stern, and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz. The economists stated that by 2020, governments would need to tax carbon dioxide at $40 to $80 per ton, increasing to $100 per ton by 2030 at the latest to avoid a 2°C rise in global temperatures.
The opinion was part of a report from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank backed High Level Commission on Carbon Prices, which suggested that the more vulnerable economies of poor countries could aim for lower taxes, but that the overall upward trend would need to happen quickly, and all over the world. This shift will be central to meeting the Paris Agreement goals.
European leaders, while supportive of the Paris goals, have coasted since 2005 with a carbon trading plan that lets major polluters slide, paying €6 ($6.71) for every ton of carbon they pump into the air. Of course that’s more than the U.S. is doing; the country has taken the position that carbon tax of any kind is dangerous to American jobs and cannot be supported. Whether the taxes are too low or non-existent, the criticism is the same: it is cheaper to pollute than to change behavior.
Curbing Climate Change
Other ideas for curbing climate change are out there; the carbon tax isn’t the only answer, although almost all experts agree that it is a necessary part of the answer. Industrialists like Elon Musk agree; Musk has characterized the era of tax-free carbon the “dumbest experiment in history.” Experts also agree that reducing carbon emissions isn’t enough. Carbon sinks like forests must also be preserved so that carbon dioxide can be absorbed.
Farmers need to do their part in the fight against climate change by adopting environmentally-friendly farming practices, such as eliminating tillage, extending crop rotations, or planting cover crops. Researchers are now proving that AI can help fight climate change by finding ways to reduce energy demand and the most energy-efficient options for energy use. Finally, experts have shown that by restoring degraded soils and forests and reducing logging and other unsustainable uses of wooded areas in the U.S., we can increase our forests’ rate and ability to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The bottom line is that all of these efforts are necessary, and that climate change is at a critical point now — and so is humanity.
Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement dealt a major blow to combating the irrefutable reality of climate change. Given that the U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, it will set progress back significantly. Shocking figures and statistics — like sea levels rising faster than previously thought and rivers drying up in a matter of days — are reported terrifyingly frequently: therefore, keeping climate change in the public eye, maintaining debate concerning it, and informing people of its cost despite the White House’s stance is vital.
Al Gore, former Vice President and world-famous climate change campaigner, responded to the news by stating:
Removing the United States from the Paris Agreement is a reckless and indefensible action. It undermines America’s standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis in time. But make no mistake: if President Trump won’t lead, the American people will.
Civic leaders, mayors, governors, CEOs, investors, and the majority of the business community will take up this challenge. We are in the middle of a clean energy revolution that no single person or group can stop. President Trump’s decision is profoundly in conflict with what the majority of Americans want from our president; but no matter what he does, we will ensure that our inevitable transition to a clean energy economy continues.
On July 28, Al Gore is releasing a sequel to his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which will be directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. The trailer for the film begins with a clip of Trump refuting global warming. The first film contributed hugely to bringing the effects of pollution into the public eye: Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace, said that “it wasn’t until An Inconvenient Truth that the issue tipped over into popular consciousness” and that it “gave celebrities and business leaders the social license to speak out against climate change.”
The sequel will continue the first’s work and follow its general format, mixing Al Gore’s public lectures with behind-the-scenes footage and clips of the horrendous damage climate change is doing to our planet. While it is damning about several aspects of modern industry, it is also optimistic and reveals how close we may be to a “real energy revolution” — indeed, several promising avenues of change have opened in recent months, including prices of renewable energy sources falling rapidly, the world’s largest floating solar plant coming online, and renewable energy sources breaking records frequently.
If we want to seriously combat climate change, collective information is as important as collective action — films like Gore’s are vital if we are to teach as many people as possible about climate change, as they provide a counter discourse to the misinformation being propagated by Trump.
Every car sold in India from 2030 will be electric, under new government plans that have delighted environmentalists and dismayed the oil industry.
It’s hoped that by ridding India’s roads of petrol and diesel cars in the years ahead, the country will be able to reduce the harmful levels of air pollution that contribute to a staggering 1.2 million deaths per year.
More than a million people die in India every year as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, with an investigation by Greenpeace finding that the number of deaths caused by air pollution is only a fraction less than the number of smoking-related deaths.
The investigation also found that 3% of the country’s gross domestic product was lost due to the levels of toxic smog.
In 2014, the World Health Organization determined that out of the 20 global cities with the most air pollution, 13 are in India.
Efforts have been made by the country’s leaders to to improve air quality, with one example coming in January 2016 when New Delhi’s government mandatedthat men could only drive their cars on alternate days depending on whether their registration plate ended with an odd or even number (single women were permitted to drive every day).
While such interventions have enjoyed modest success, switching to a fleet of purely electric cars would have a much greater environmental impact.
As India’s ambitious electric vehicle plans begin to take shape, oil exporters will be frantically revising their calculations for oil demand in the region.
In its report into the impact of electric cars on oil demand, oil and gas giant BP forecast that the global fleet of petrol and diesel cars would almost double from about 900 million in 2015 to 1.7 billion by 2035.
Almost 90% of that growth was estimated to come from countries that are not members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), such as India and China.
China is also gearing up for a move away from gas-guzzling cars.
Oil bosses claim it’s too early to tell what the implications of a move away from petrol and diesel cars will be. However, Asia has long been the main driver of future oil demand and so developments in India and China will be watched extremely closely.
The largest states in the nation have formed the United States Climate Alliance, taking charge of climate change leadership for the U.S. The announcement comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s Thursday announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change, which caused waves of protest both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as statements of renewed commitment from India, China, and other countries around the world. Now, Americans are working to circumvent the fallout from Trump’s announcement and ensure that the U.S. continues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the Paris goals regardless of federal action (or inaction).
Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York, Jerry Brown of California, and Jay Inslee of Washington have announced the formation of United States Climate Alliance, a partnership between states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and upholding the Paris Agreement.
“The White House’s reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement has devastating repercussions not only for the United States, but for our planet. This administration is abdicating its leadership and taking a backseat to other countries in the global fight against climate change,” Cuomo told Business Insider. “New York State is committed to meeting the standards set forth in the Paris Accord regardless of Washington’s irresponsible actions. We will not ignore the science and reality of climate change which is why I am also signing an Executive Order confirming New York’s leadership role in protecting our citizens, our environment, and our planet.”
According to the World Resources Institute, if the three U.S. states that comprise the United States Climate Alliance and support the Paris Agreement were a single country, their economy would be the fifth-largest in the world. They’d also be the sixth-largest producer of carbon emissions in the world. That being said, they have ample reason to participate in the accord, and their actions in support of it would undeniably have a significant impact.
Keeping The Pressure On
Meanwhile, mayors of more than 85 American cities signed a letter the same day President Trump made his announcement, confirming the commitment of their cities to promoting clean energy and reducing emissions. According to Business Insider‘s Dana Varinsky, “In the US, cities and surrounding areas are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, since they have the largest populations, heaviest industry and highest volume of cars. Because of that, they are in a position to make a big impact.”
Many U.S. corporations from companies like Apple, Exxon-Mobil, Microsoft, Google, Tesla, and Morgan Stanley have also openly urged the President to support the accord and indicated that they will continue to support its goals. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has pledged $15 million to help make up the U.S.’s previously promised share under the agreement. At this point, only time will tell how hard states, municipalities, and private companies will work to achieve the Paris goals, and how much pushback they will get from the administration if they do.
If Bloomberg’s position is any indication of how American businesses will approach the situation, we will likely keep seeing notable commitments across the board:
“Americans are not walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement,” Bloomberg said in a press release. “Just the opposite – we are forging ahead. Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties are signing onto a statement of support that we will submit to the UN – and together, we will reach the emission reduction goals the U.S. made in Paris in 2015. Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up – and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.”
Fast Company obtained a copy of this email, and in it, Cook didn’t mince words. “I know many of you share my disappointment with the White House’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement,” he wrote. “Climate change is real, and we all share a responsibility to fight it.”
Apple is far from the only company to express alarm over Trump’s decision. Several large corporations, including Microsoft, Walmart, PepsiCo, General Motors, and Ford, have released statements affirming that climate change is a real problem that the world must address. Industry experts, including Mark Zuckerburg, Elon Musk, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, also voiced their concerns.
On Thursday Elon Musk pushed back on some of President Donald Trump’s claims in the wake of the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Musk placed the new American stance in the context of the ongoing Chinese commitment to producing clean power in a tweet.
Under Paris deal, China committed to produce as much clean electricity by 2030 as the US does from all sources today https://t.co/F8Ppr2o7Rl
Musk is referring to a set of data on China’s current and predicted performance under the accord, which it has pledged to uphold. This information contradicts some of President Trump’s claims that the Paris agreement gives China a free pass to use fossil fuels.
In fact, China has already been outpacing the U.S. in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. According to The Washington Post, “[E]xperts now predict that China’s carbon emissions will peak, and then begin to decline, significantly earlier than the country’s 2030 target, and the country is investing more in renewable energy than any other nation in the world, pledging a further $360 billion by 2020.”
Impact Of Paris Withdrawal
The U.S. withdrawal will make it harder for the rest of the world to reach the Paris goals, not only because the U.S. produces about 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but also because the nation has been an important source of energy technology and financing for developing countries. The dropping of the agreement will also likely have international diplomatic fallout, as nearly all other nations have agreed to the accord.
Domestic problems may also arise. Corporate America has strongly supported the Paris accord, including tech companies such as Apple, Google, and Tesla, and even fossil fuel producers such as Exxon Mobil. This support is based in the recognition that the U.S. will be less competitive on the global stage when it loses its place at the negotiating table — which this withdrawal may ensure. Meanwhile, coal jobs will not be coming back, and industries like solar continue to grow.
In the end, emissions from the U.S. will keep falling, because the green energy paradigm shift can’t be stopped by a single person or political move. However, in the meantime, the U.S. may miss out on this critical opportunity to invest in renewable technology, and the world will struggle to meet the Paris goals in the fight to save our planet.
Elon Musk is a man of his word. After today’s announcement that the Trump administration is pulling out of the historic Paris climate agreement, Musk sent a tweet out confirming that he will be resigning from the presidential advisory councils on which he sits, as he promised yesterday.
Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.
Yesterday, Musk also expressed that he has done all he could to dutifully advise the president on this matter, tweeting: “Don’t know which way Paris will go, but I’ve done all I can to advise directly to POTUS, through others in WH & via councils, that we remain.”
According to a November 2016 poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, nearly 70 percent of Americans were in favor of the Paris agreement. The decision to remove the United States from the accords deals a significant blow to international efforts to reduce carbon emissions and quell or reverse the impact of climate change. This decision will also give China the opportunity to emerge as the world’s climate leader ahead of the U.S., as the country said prior to Trump’s decision that they intended to remain committed to the agreement.
Elon Musk’s Tesla is at the forefront of the clean energy revolution building popular electric vehicles, solar roofs, and battery packs to integrate energy consumption.