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.
Yesterday, the world’s first commercial carbon capture plant began sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air around it. Perched atop a Zurich waste incineration facility, the Climeworks carbon capture plant comprises three stacked shipping containers that hold six CO2 collectors each. Spongey filters absorb CO2 as fans pull air through the collectors until they are fully saturated, a process that takes about two or three hours.
The container then closes, and the process reverses. The collector is heated to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), and the pure CO2 is released in a form that can be buried underground, made into other products, or sold.
According to Climeworks, the startup that created this carbon capture facility, hundreds of thousands more like it will be needed by midcentury if we want to remain below the limits set by the Paris Agreement. However, to keep the planet’s temperature from increasing by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), we’ll need to do something more than simply lowering global emissions.
Other innovative efforts to reduce global CO2 levels are already underway all over the world. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have found a way to turn captured carbon into concrete for building, while scientists from Rice University have found that doping graphene with nitrogen allows it to convert CO2 into environmentally useful fuels. If enacted, various proposals to preserve wetlands, old growth forests, and other areas could also reduce CO2 levels.
Climeworks’ plant is particularly appealing because it can be used repeatedly, produces something commercially useful, and is about 1,000 times more efficient at CO2 removal than photosynthesis.
“You can do this over and over again,” Climeworks director Jan Wurzbacher told Fast Company. “It’s a cyclic process. You saturate with CO2, then you regenerate, saturate, regenerate. You have multiple of these units, and not all of them go in parallel. Some are taking in CO2, some are releasing CO2.”
Even so, Field emphasizes that the possibility of carbon capture should not be seen as a license to emit more CO2. We need to combine the technology with a low-carbon economy to ensure our planet’s survival. “It’s not either/or,” according to Field. “It’s both.”
President Trump is officially withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, following through with his campaign promise. The 2015 climate change agreement committed almost every country to action intended to slow global warming, and this withdrawal seriously weakens it.
The administration’s official position is that U.S. participation in the Paris accord hurts the economy, and reports coming from the Washington Post assert that Tump has made the call: The U.S. will not participate in the Paris Accord. The memo follows:
“The Paris Accord is a BAD deal for Americans, and the President’s action today is keeping his campaign promise to put American workers first. The Accord was negotiated poorly by the Obama Administration and signed out of desperation.”
This withdrawal is particularly troubling given that the U.S. is both the largest economy and the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. The absence of the U.S. might set a series of events in motion that could have major, irreversible effects on the planet as other countries choose to ignore their commitments to curbing pollution.
“The actions of the United States are bound to have a ripple effect in other emerging economies that are just getting serious about climate change, such as India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia,” Michael Oppenheimer told The New York Times. Oppenheimer is a member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a Princeton professor of geosciences and international affairs. Once the impact of U.S. withdrawal has sunk in, he continued, reaching extreme, irrevocable atmospheric conditions will be more probable: “it is now far more likely that we will breach the danger limit of 3.6 degrees.”
The World Carries On
Other countries, including the entire EU and China, have promised to adhere to the terms of the Paris accord, with or without the U.S. President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas and, more recently, a major force in the fight against climate change, has promised that China will continue its aggressive program to curb climate change. Mr. Xi has spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron and agreed that the two nations “should protect the achievements of global governance, including the Paris agreement.”
This example highlights the precarious position the withdrawal places the U.S. in on the world stage. “From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake — an abdication of American leadership,” retired diplomat R. Nicholas Burns and former under secretary of state for George W. Bush told The New York Times. “The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this.”
Ultimately, though, the biggest losers here will be Earth and its citizens. The architects behind the accord argue that the absence of the U.S. will definitely weaken the chances of the agreement being enforced. For example, the country has thus far been instrumental in pursuing transparent, robust oversight of emissions reporting, monitoring, and verification.
It is possible that this move will prove just as dangerous for President Trump, depending on how American voters perceive it. The Paris agreement will not be officially in force until 2020, the year during which countries are committed to enact their voluntary efforts toward reducing emissions. In other words, there is still time for the U.S. to get back on board, depending on how the 2020 election goes. However, this won’t be an easy process, and it will also involved winning back the trust of the rest of the world.
Regardless, hope comes from other sectors. Innovation in renewables is soaring, and some of the world’s most renowned scientists and innovators, such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Bill Nye, Stephen Hawking, and far far more are dedicating their efforts towards combating anthropogenic climate change. Moreover, the 147 nations that have since formally ratified the accord remain committed to the cause.
In Texas, a NET Power team is working towards building a power plant that runs off a form of carbon dioxide instead of steam. This would be the first plant of its kind. If successful, it could lead a massive transition towards green energy production.
Traditional power plants generate electricity by pushing and spinning turbines with steam created by boiling water. That sounds green enough until you think about how that water is boiled; most often by burning natural gas or coal. The new design will replace steam with carbon dioxide so hot and pressurized that it’s actually in a supercritical state. This means that it fills up space like a gas, but has the density of a liquid. The appeal of using carbon dioxide is in this density, which allows for the use of much smaller turbines.
This process will not only be greener because of the small size of the turbines: additionally, natural gas will be burned to heat the gas — but in an environment of pure oxygen. This will allow the release of only pure carbon dioxide without any additional byproducts. While this is not a completely emission free, environmentally friendly process, it’s by and large more efficient and green than previous methods.
The Future of Electric
This has never before been attempted because getting carbon dioxide into a supercritical state and building such small turbines are both incredibly difficult tasks. If the team is able to pull it off, it could be a major step forward in the fight against fossil fuels. The larger plant, set to be built after the initial “test plant” proves to be successful, will be capable of powering up to 200,000 homes. And, as more and more of our devices, technology, and vehicles rely on electricity, it is crucial that we create more efficient and more environmentally friendly ways to create it. While it is important that we make an effort to replace gas-guzzling SUVs with electric vehicles, if the production of that electricity creates an excess of emissions, we cannot move forward.
Where U.S. president Donald Trump stands on climate change is no secret, and his administration has already put into effect a number of efforts that clearly demonstrate this. Now, perhaps the biggest blow to climate change efforts is about to unfold, as new reports surface about president Trump’s plans to back out of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.
According to the New York Times, three officials who know about the decision have confirmed that President Trump indeed plans to abandon the 2015 climate agreement that spurred many of the world’s nations to implement stricter measures and goals to fight climate change. In a tweet posted just today, President Trump said he will be announcing his decision in the coming days.
Newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron had something to say about that decision, however. In a video posted on Facebook back in February, almost a month before he was elected, Macron expressed sympathy for U.S. climate experts.
“I do know how your new president now has decided to jeopardize your budget, your initiatives, and he is extremely skeptical about climate change,” he said then, at the height of news about the U.S. government’s controversial budget cuts. “I have no doubt about climate change.”
President Macron offered an alternative for climate scientists working in the U.S.
“Please, come to France. You are welcome, ” Macron said in the video. “We want people working on climate change, energy, renewables, and new technology. France is your nation.”
Canada has also made similar offers that that time. Backing out of the Paris Climate Agreements, however, is an even more serious matter.
While the U.S. is just one of the 195 nations that signed the Paris Agreement, it remains to be the second largest contributor to greenhouse gasses. Reversing on its commitment to the climate deal would have serious consequences on the environment, as well as to the policies of other countries.
“The actions of the United States are bound to have a ripple effect in other emerging economies that are just getting serious about climate change, such as India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia,” Michael Oppenheimer, member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the New York Times.
Clearly, fighting climate change is a global effort, as it takes the commitment of the rest of the world to reduce humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions. If the world’s largest economy to back out of such a fight, it could seriously push things back.
Earlier today, Musk took to Twitter, threatening to leave the White House advisory councils if Trump drops from the Paris accord. He began by outlining that he has done everything he can to show Trump that the U.S. must take a strong stance on climate change and keep to the agreement. In a subsequent tweet, he said he would resign as an adviser if his words were not heeded.
When asked what he would do if the U.S. did leave, Musk responded, “Will have no choice but to depart councils in that case.”
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 the New York Times, three officials with knowledge of Trump’s decision regarding the historic climate agreement have confirmed that the president is intent on backing out. It’s a stance that’s consistent with how the current administration has previously expressed their beliefs regarding climate change, and if he does follow through, Trump will simply be making good on one of his campaign promises.
Naturally, for a man who owns a company that develops climate-friendly technology—Tesla’s electric vehicles and solar roofs—working with a government that refuses to recognize the reality of climate change would be a contradiction. If it comes down to it, as Musk pointed out, he would have no choice but to leave his advisory post in the administration.
Musk has previously taken flack for his decision to stay as an adviser to Trump, but it seems like he won’t be able to tolerate the administration’s stance on climate change any longer.
The world’s largest floating solar power plant is now online in China. Built by Sungrow, a supplier of PV inverter systems, the 40MW plant is now afloat in water four to 10 meters deep, and successfully linked to Huainan, China’s grid. The placement was chosen in large part because the area was previously the location of coal mining operations; and, as a result, the water there is now mineralized and mostly useless. The lake itself was only formed after years of mining operations, the surrounding land collapsed and created a cavity that was filled with rainwater.
Floating solar plants are advantageous because they put otherwise useless water and land to good use, and the water naturally cools the system and the ambient temperatures, improving generation and limiting long-term damage from heat. They also avoid taking up space in densely populated regions, which is especially an issue in China; the country is currently home to more than 100 cities with populations of at least one million people each. Finally, the floating PV arrays, customized to work efficiently despite higher levels of humidity, prevent the evaporation of fresh water.
China Leading The Way
Although it was once among the worst offenders worldwide in the realm of carbon emissions and climate change, China has turned the page in a serious way. Now, it has become a world leader in the adoption of renewables in its quest to lead the way toward a greener, more sustainable future. This kind of dedication is what each country needs to commit to. As climate change progresses, we continue to see negative trends and changes; the last three years have all set horrifying temperature records. The future of humanity is directly tied to the future of renewables. Fortunately, innovations like the floating solar plant prove that there are almost endless ways to approach the problem in a practical, effective way.
In relation to global warming, the condition of the Great Barrier Reef has been described as the “canary in the coal mine.” Unfortunately for us, it looks like that bird is dead, with no hope of resuscitation. Experts in the sciences just testified to an Australian government committee, and they announced that the current plan set in motion to protect the reefcannot achieve its goals.
According to the experts who testified, the unprecedented (and unexpected) rate of mass coral bleaching in the region has made it impossible for the reef to bounce back using the plan as currently designed. They continued by note that the plan’s omission of precautions specifically addressing climate change are a major factor in our inability to save the reef.
To break down the issue a bit, rising ocean temperatures can be blamed for, in essence, “cooking” coral to death. The 700 km (435 mile) region of the Coral Sea has seen experiencing significant bleaching for the previous two years, events that no one was equipped to counter. In a survey of the region completed last year, 95 percent of the areas surveyed was shown to have been bleached.
And the only way to fix this is to stop the warming of the planet, which means addressing climate change, which the current plan to protect the reef doesn’t do.
The experts assert that, without changes, saving the reef is impossible, but that action can still be taken to maintain the reef’s “ecological function.” A spokesperson for Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority explained to The Guardian, “The concept of ‘maintaining ecological function’ refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today.”
However, as was just noted, all of this is working under the assumption that there are no significant revisions being made to the current plans. If better plans. which include ways to expressly tackle climate change, are put into place, then we can hope for better.
Panel Chairman and former Chief Scientist of Australia, Ian Chubb, notes the importance of making the necessary changes: “We can’t be passive bystanders in this. We’re the custodians of the reef and its ecosystem for the world,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
In a video from MinuteEarth, the channel discusses how a change of 0.8°C (1.4°F) in the air at Earth’s surface makes a big difference. Most of the extra energy from this seemingly tiny temperature change is absorbed by the Earth’s oceans. In fact, the oceans have absorbed the equivalent of an atomic bomb explosion every second for the past century. That heat stored in our oceans is the source of extreme weather.
As water gets warmer at its surface, it is more likely to vaporize into the air. For each degree warmer the air gets, it can hold more water vapor. This means that air over the oceans is sucking up more water than it ever did before, which causes more rain and snow. Meanwhile, air that’s over land is also warmer, so it also sucks up more water vapor. However, because it’s over land, there’s not enough water to vaporize, so the result is harsher droughts.
There have always been hot spots over the oceans, and these are where our planet’s most violent storms have been focused. Now that these hot spots are even hotter, and pulling up even more water vapor, they are causing more violent storms and more serious flooding. Storms, whether or not they’re more frequent, have more heat, water, and power under these conditions. As you can see, even though this temperature change is small, it’s a big deal for the planet.
Global sea level rise is precipitated by two factors: the thermal expansion of oceans due to warming and the increased melting of the polar ice caps and other land-based glaciers. Over the past century, sea levels have continued to rise, and new research suggests that it’s doing so at a rate faster than previously thought.
According to the study, oceans were rising at a rate of 1.1 millimeters per year (roughly 0.43 inches per decade) prior to 1990. However, from 1993 through 2012, the rate increased to about 3.1 millimeters per year (1.22 inches per decade). This rate is faster than what’s been presented in previous findings.
The Reality of Global Warming
The increased rate is believed to be due to melting ice sheets in the Antarctic and Greenland, although scientists seem to diverge when it comes to the rate. Still, they have clearly grasped the bigger picture. “Sea levels will continue to rise over the coming century, no matter whether we will adapt or not, but I think we can limit at least a part of the sea level rise. It will further accelerate, but how much is related to how we act as humans,” Dangendorf said.
In any case, humanity needs to work faster: sea levels could rise at an accelerated rate of 5 to 15 millimeters per year (1.97 to 5.9 inches per decade) in the years to come as a response to extreme climate conditions.
Between now and 2021, battery production all over the world will more than double, Bloomberg reports. With more companies getting into the game, expansion and competition are up, and prices are down. This will mean more opportunities for energy companies and electric car manufacturers, and better deals for consumers looking to purchase clean powered technology for less money.
Gigafactory One in Nevada is Tesla’s battery producer at the moment. Daimler, the parent company of Chrysler, Maybach, and Mercedes, will be buying batteries from Accumotive’s brand new plant in Kamenz, Germany, which just broke ground this week. The installation of large-scale battery factories, which will supply Renault, Volkswagen, and others, are also planned in Hungary, Poland, and Sweden.
Asia’s battery manufacturing industry will also be booming. BYD, LG, Samsung, and Tesla’s partner, Panasonic, are all major global battery producers. Right now, at least nine major new factories are being built in China.
Batteries make up about 40% of the cost of electric cars, and so with this increased competition and the resulting drop in the price of these batteries is going to cause the cost of electric cars to fall. Benchmark Minerals reports that costs per-kilowatt-hour have dropped from $542 in 2012 to $139 where they are now. Benchmark analysts indicate that kWh costs will plummet beneath the $100 mark by 2020.
All things considered, Bloomberg speculates that the 2020s will see the real rise of electric cars — including their eventual overtaking of gasoline-powered cars in both cost and value. “As battery costs fall and their energy density increases, we could see cheaper battery-electric cars than their fuel-burning equivalents by 2030,” Bloomberg analyst Nikolas Soulopoulos commented in their report.
Will costs drop too low for electric car companies to make a profit? It’s unlikely. India is aiming to ensure that all cars sold in the country are electric by 2030, and China is already replacing its enormous taxi system with electric cars. Tesla is also preparing to produce Model 3s on a massive scale for a broader market. And with all of this progress for electric cars, humans gain cleaner air, better public health, and more traction in the fight against climate change. So, while the fight against climate change will continue to be an uphill battle, the more countries, companies, and individuals that adopt technology that uses greener energy, the farther along we will be.
It’s a sad state of affairs when a structure designed to withstand the apocalypse can’t handle the current condition of our planet. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is supposed to withstand end of the world-caliber events, but it seems that the Earth’s current condition is already too much for it to handle as water from melting permafrost spilled into the entrance tunnel last week.
The flooding did not reach any of the seeds stored for safekeeping, so the vault has passed that major test. Cary Fowler, a figure instrumental in the creation of the seed vault, is confident in its ability to withstand this threat. He told Popular Science, “If there was a worst case scenario where there was so much water, or the pumping systems failed, that it made its way uphill to the seed vault, then it would encounter minus 18 [degrees celsius] and freeze again. Then there’s another barrier [the ice] for entry into the seed vault.”
The vault has already proven its usefulness when researchers in the Middle East made the first withdrawal from the backups stored at Svalbard back in 2015. They would traditionally retrieve their needed specimens from a facility in Aleppo, but instability in the city made those seeds impossible to extract. The vault provided the researchers with 116,000 samples so they could continue their research on drought-resistant crops.
Science has been warning of the dangers of global climate change for decades, and we are beginning to see the widespread results of years of inaction. Last year was the hottest on record, and 2017 looks like it will also be one for the record books.
The area housing the doomsday vault is particularly vulnerable. As Ketil Isaksen from Norway’s Meteorological Institute told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, “The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically, and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going.”
Truly, this breach says more about the state of the planet than it does the vault’s construction. The structure is meant to be a stronghold to protect plant life in their seed form to ensure the survival of crop diversity, and even it can’t keep up with global warming.
To mitigate these effects, Norway is working on making some improvements to the area surrounding the vault to ensure proper drainage away from it. As Åsmund Asdal at the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre told The Guardian, “We have to find solutions. It is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously. We are doing this for the world. This is supposed to last for eternity.”
Systemic changes across the entire globe are the only real way to not only ensure the safety of the stored seeds but also lessen the probability that we’ll need to call upon the vault’s services.
The Indian government has abandoned plans to build a second coal power station, choosing to focus on renewable energy instead in the state of Gujarat. Chimanbhai Sapariya, the country’s energy minister, said in an interview with the Business Standard that 4,000 Megawat ultra-mega power project (UMPP) was rejected because “Gujarat had proposed the UMPP last year but we now feel we do not need more […] We already have more than sufficient generation capacity.” The region already has one such plant existence.
Sapariya also said in the interview that, “Our focus is now on renewable energy. The government will encourage solar power.”
India agreed at the Paris climate change conference in 2005 to derive a much higher percentage of its power from green sources by 2030. This transition could have a global impact, as the Hindustan Times reported in 2016 that India was the fourth biggest polluter worldwide.
India agreed to extract 40 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuels, and planned to do this by producing one terawatt of energy through solar power — this is four times the worldwide total currently produced. In addition, the country aims to become a nation that only uses electric cars by 2030.
The Indian government has been extremely successful in pursuing these aims. Recently, the price of solar-produced energy dropped below the price of energy produced by fossil fuels, the Kumuthis power plant has shown that it can produce as much energy as most coal and nuclear plants, and the country is exceeding its predictions by three-and-a-half years — on track to produce 60 percent of energy through green sources by 2027.
Climate change denial has made numerous headlines in recent weeks. David Rose stated in The Daily Mail that there has been a global warming hiatus covered up by dubious science, Bret Stephens criticized the certitude of evidence in The New York Times, and Trump is rapidly making decisions based on his belief that humans have not impacted climate change.
David Rose’s claim in The Daily Mail that “we now know that [there is a climate change hiatus] for a fact” is based on “the bravery of a whistleblower” who purportedly revealed that the data from a 2015 NOAA Study is flawed due to it being adjusted upwards.
This claim is debunked in two ways. Firstly, this manipulation is reasonable due to the history of the methods used to measure sea temperatures. Up until fairly recently, ships have been used to measure water temperatures, but their results are skewed by the engine room warming the water. The reason for the adjustment was so that the new and superior data taken from buoys and floats could be compared to the figures gathered from these ships.
Secondly, John Abraham pointed out in The Guardian that Rose’s whistleblower never worked on data, and highlighted that Rose did not mention that the study had been independently verified.
Donald Trump has insisted throughout his campaign that climate change is not caused by humans, and more specifically that CO2 does not cause global warming, a claim which has been bolstered by Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, since he arrived in the White House.
This has also been disproved by numerous studies and a deluge of research, as is shown by the composite of figures on skepticalscience.com (a website that is highly worth looking through on other climate change related topics):
“CO2 and other greenhouse gases keep the Earth’s surface 33°Celsius (59.4°F) warmer than it would be without them. We have added 42% more CO2, and temperatures have gone up […] According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)…the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8°Celsius (1.4°Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.”
So What’s To Be Done?
In order to slow climate change, action can be taken on two fronts: challenging claims such as the examples presented above and developing international systems to combat climate change.
The response to Bret Stephens’s article was vitriolic but it was logical, justified, and supported by facts. While we must fight in the same arena, it is crucial that we use weapons other than undermining truth, manipulating the public through disinformation, and cherry-picking facts. A group of climate scientists responded perfectly by penning an open letter in response, which culminated with the line “it must be made clear that there are facts that are not subject to opinion.” These facts must be made known.
Of late, there have been huge successes in combating climate change on an international level. The importance of the Paris Agreement, which aims to implement a “global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change,” has been verbally reasserted by China. The BBC reports that President of China Xi Jinping told the newly-elected President of France Emmanuel Macron that China and France “should protect the achievements of global governance, including the Paris agreement.”
In addition to this, a London School of Economics (LSE) study has found that 1200 laws designed to decrease the pace of climate change have been adopted in 164 countries — these include 47 implemented by the Paris Agreement. Patricia Espinosa optimistically stated at an international meeting on climate change in Bonn, Germany that now “most countries have a legal basis on which future action can be built.”
The Center for American Progress (CAP) just released its coal-fired power generation data analysis concerning China and the United States. The research was intended to enhance understanding of trends in coal-fired power in both countries and provide data upon which to base the analysis.
In the United States, coal-fired plants can shift to natural gas to lower emissions. However, that’s not really an option in China as natural gas is neither as plentiful nor as accessible. Therefore, China has to take a different path to clean energy.
That path begins with phasing out the worst coal-fired offenders. To that end, the nation is retiring older coal-fired power plants and replacing them with newer ones with lower emissions. It is also increasing transparency, providing citizens with emissions-related data and information, ensuring that the entire country remains invested in its energy efforts.
The final conclusion of the report is that China’s coal plan has actually been very aggressive and effective. What’s working for China, however, will not necessarily work for the U.S as the countries are very different.
The U.S. has fewer people, different natural resources, and its own infrastructural strengths and weaknesses to contend with. However, as Vox suggests in its analysis of the CAP research, the U.S. should emulate China’s ambition, if not its actual plans.
China has taken massive steps to reduce its coal dependency even as its demand for power continues to grow. In fact, its aggressive stance against climate change has transformed China into one of the world’s leaders in the fight to save the planet. Its ongoing anti-coal position is yielding real results, even if those results may not be instantaneous. The U.S. must do its part to lower emissions and help the planet recover from the devastating effects those emissions have had on it.
New research has revealed that climate change is negatively impacting migratory songbirds. This is because as the spring season continues to shift, environments birds migrate to may be too cold and nutrient deprived in order to sustain their survival. As climate change continues to affect delicate natural processes like this, we will continue to see similar tragic consequences unless policymakers step up and take action.
The impact of climate change has reached a new location: American backyards.
The arrival of migratory birds at northern breeding grounds typically coincides with the growth of spring plants. A team of researchers from several universities studied data collected by citizen scientists and satellites between 2001 to 2012 in an attempt to see how climate change is affecting the birds’ ability to accurately time their arrival at these breeding grounds. Their research has been published in Scientific Reports.
Of the 48 North American songbird species that migrate north, the researchers found that nine — almost 20 percent — didn’t reach the grounds by the deadline critical for mating and breeding the next generation of birds. On average, the gap stretched by more than half a day each year across all species, for a total of five days per decade. However, the change for some species was far more drastic — double or triple that pace.
This delay was due to the effect of warmer temperatures on the growth cycles of plants. The birds leave their southern homes at the same time every year, basing their departure on the amount of daylight, which remains unaffected by climate change. However, climate change is altering when plants put out new leaves, with plants in eastern North America “greening up” sooner than normal, while plants in the western part of the continent are undergoing the process later.
This means birds are arriving either too soon and being met with frigid temperatures or too late and missing out on the insect boom that coincides with the new plant growth. Either condition means the birds have a much lower chance of surviving and reproducing, so the nine species identified in the study are therefore in danger of dwindling numbers.
Wreaking Worldwide Havoc
It’s easy to think that migratory birds would be immune to climate change since they can “get away” from a particular location at will, but that isn’t the case.
“If anything could adapt to climate change, you’d think that birds that migrate thousands of miles could,” University of Florida postdoctoral researcher Stephen Mayor, the study’s first author, said in a press release. “It’s much easier for them to move in response to climate conditions than salamanders, for example, or trees.”
“But because every species relates to another, one of our fears is that climate change can disrupt these relationships between organisms such that their critical life events are not timed optimally, putting them at risk,” he continued.
Meanwhile, evidence of climate change endangering and even wiping out entire species is apparent all over the world. A 2016 international study of plants found that at least 20 percent of all species are now threatened with extinction, and the oldest species of tree on Earth is directly threatened by warmer temperatures. The Australian rat was the first mammal go extinct due to climate change, and various local extinction events are already occurring as a result of climate change.
As for the fate of these migratory birds, that really depends on how far we’re willing to go to end manmade climate change. “These are birds people are used to seeing and hearing in their backyards. They’re part of the American landscape, part of our psyche,” said Mayor. “To imagine a future where they’re much less common would be a real loss.”
In the first study of its kind, the U.K.’s Global Food Security Programme and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme have found that swapping beef for insects or chicken could have huge benefits for the environment in two ways. First, by decreasing the amount of greenhouse gasses produced, and second, by freeing up millions of acres of land.
Gidon Eshel at Bard College in New York told the Guardian in 2014 that giving up beef will have a greater impact on the environment than giving up cars. Eating more insects or other imitation meat would also free up 4,150 million acres of land — a distance roughly equivalent to 70 times the size of the U.K.
Lead researcher Peter Alexander from the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences said in an interview for a press release, “A mix of small changes in consumer behavior, such as replacing beef with chicken, reducing food waste and potentially introducing insects more commonly into diets, would help achieve land savings and a more sustainable food system.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), state that meat production is responsible for 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this staggering statistic, scientists are working to find more sustainable forms of food production.
For example, researchers recently made an meatless burger for more carnivorous people that actually “bleeds.” There is also rising interest in replacing some of our inefficient conventional farms with edible insect farms, which are recommended by this study. In fact, six of these farms are being considered for construction in the U.K. alone.
But all these developments are meaningless if people are not willing to change their eating habits. David turner, a food and drinks analyst at Mintel, says that the biggest problem with food technologies is to overcome the “yuck” factor, but Fred McVittie, the founder of Cornish Edible Insects — one of the farms in England — told the Guardian, “most are fine about trying them once you speak to them.”
Forests have been removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing carbon for more than 300 million years. When we cut down or burn trees and disturb forest soils, we release that stored carbon to the atmosphere. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from human activities have come from deforestation.
To slow climate change, we need to rapidly reduce global emissions from fossil fuels, biofuels, deforestation, and wetland and agricultural soils. We need to also accelerate the removal of carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere.
In a new report published by the nonprofit Dogwood Alliance, my co-author Danna Smith and I show that we have a major opportunity to make progress on climate change by restoring degraded U.S. forests and soils. If we reduce logging and unsustainable uses of wood, we can increase the rate at which our forests remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ensure that it will remain stored in healthy forests.
An undervalued resource
At the 2015 Paris climate conference, the United States and 196 other nations agreed to combat climate change by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement recognizes that forests play an important role in meeting climate goals by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing carbon in trees and soils. But the agreement calls for steps only to protect and restore tropical forests.
These forests clearly are important. They hold such enormous amounts of carbon that if they were a country, their emissions from logging and forest clearing would rank them as the world’s third-largest source, behind China and the United States.
But these activities are also having a serious and little-recognized impact in the United States. Net U.S. forest growth each year removes an amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere equal to 11 to 13 percent of our fossil fuel emissions. This is only about half of the average carbon uptake by forests worldwide. In other words, U.S. forests are much less effective at capturing and storing carbon relative to our fossil fuel emissions than forests globally.
When European settlers arrived at the start of the 17th century, forests covered much of the eastern and northern portion of North America. By the late 1800s, 85 to 90 percent of these forests had been cut. Only about 1 percent of original intact old-growth forest remains in the lower 48 states. Regrowth now covers 62 percent of areas that originally were forested, and commercial tree plantations cover an additional 8 percent.
And we are still logging our forests at a significant rate. According to recent studies, timber harvesting in U.S. forests currently releases more carbon dioxide annually than fossil fuel emissions from the residential and commercial sectors combined.
These harvests support a large wood and paper products industry. The United States produces about 28 percent of the world’s wood pulp and 17 percent of timber logs – more than any other country in the world. It is also the leading producer of wood pellets and wood chips for the growing forest bioenergy sector (burning wood in various forms for energy) at home and abroad.
But proponents assert that forest bioenergy is carbon-neutral because new tree growth, somewhere now or in the future, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and “offsets” carbon emissions when biofuels are burned. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated clearly that bioenergy is as carbon-intensive as fossil fuels, the European Union and many U.S. states classify biomass as a zero-carbon energy source like wind and solar power.
Needless to say, it does not make economic sense to import eight million tons of wood pellets yearly across the Atlantic Ocean. However, the British government has provided over $1 billion in annual subsidies to utilities to pay the cost of pellet production and transport.
Moreover, under climate accounting rules, emissions from burning wood for energy are counted as coming from land use change — that is, harvesting trees. This means that the United Kingdom is outsourcing carbon emissions from its wood-fired power plants to the United States. And the U.S. forest products industry and U.K. power companies are profiting from activities that have serious harmful impacts on Earth’s climate.
To make forests part of our climate strategy, we need a carbon accounting system that accurately reflects flows of carbon between the biosphere and the atmosphere. Bioenergy emissions should be counted as coming from energy production, rather than as a land use change.
We also must manage our forest systems on a sound ecological basis rather than as an economic growth-oriented business, and value the multiple ecosystem services that forests provide. One way to do this would be to pay landowners for maintaining standing forests instead of only subsidizing logging for timber, fiber or fuel. We cannot log and burn our way to a low-carbon, stable climate future.
Human-created pollution is not a minor threat to our oceans, but a massive and worsening issue. The biggest example, literally, is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s the largest collection of trash in the world’s oceans, a mass of both visible and microscopic debris that floats around, wreaking havoc on wildlife and the fragile ecosystem.
Thankfully, one group has taken it upon themselves to try to solve this problem: The Ocean Cleanup. The Dutch organization that is taking on the monumental task of tackling ocean pollution, and on May 11, the foundation publicly announced their intention to start cleaning up the garbage patch in 2018 with a new, redesigned version of their cleanup system.
The organization claims that this improved system is capable of cleaning the patch in as few as five years. The system uses the natural power of ocean current to operate. Fifty U-shaped screens weighed down by anchors collect plastic in a central location, and the plastic is later brought to shore for recycling. The items created out of the recycled plastic will help fund the project, which is expected to cost a great deal less than the original design’s $320 million pricetag.
Our Future Oceans
The cleanup of this garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is just the start. This technology, invented by The Ocean Cleanup’s CEO and founder Boyan Slat, has no small task ahead of it. Currently, an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are polluting our oceans, amounting to 269,000 tons of waste, and marine animals are consistently harmed by this debris.
More and more species are going extinct due to human-caused issues like climate change, pollution, and deforestation, so conservation efforts must become a priority. As the inventive and monumental efforts of The Ocean Cleanup dive deep into this task, hopefully, others will take notice and be inspired to follow suit. Pollution is our problem, so it is up to us to deal with it. Perhaps in five years, this garbage patch will, indeed, be gone, and the Pacific Ocean will be one step closer to being trash-free.
This May, the 2,000 residents of Block Island, Rhode Island are making a fresh start when it comes to powering their lives. As of May 1, Block Island is the first location in the U.S. to be powered by an offshore wind farm — a wind farm that has eliminated the need for a diesel plant that was burning about one million gallons of dirty diesel fuel annually. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), diesel produces more carbon emissions than every other fossil fuel except for fuel oil.
The Block Island Wind Farm is intended to bring significant change, and not just on Block Island. The project was designed to serve as an example of the tremendous potential that offshore wind power holds for the United States. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has created a wind resource assessment and characterization study, which depicts this potential.
Block Island residents, who are now connected to the larger grid will enjoy not only cleaner energy, but also lower and more predictable electric bills. “The simplest way to explain the immediate impact to the bills is that the Fuel Cost Adjustment is going to be replaced by a Standard Offer and Transmission Charge that will be a combined 12.44 cents/kWh,” Interim Block Island Power Company President Jeffery Wright told the Block Island Times. With prices that have risen to five times that amount, there’s no question that the wind farm is benefitting everyone involved.
Renewables Replacing Fossil Fuels
This is just one example of an overarching trend: all over, renewables are replacing fossil fuels on the power grid. Solar is now cheaper than fossil fuels, and experts believe that wind energy will also be competing with or beating fossil fuels in terms of cost within ten years. Even our military forces are making the most of renewables for field operations.
However, even though climate change is more pressing now than it has ever been, and immediate adoption of renewable energy sources is necessary to fighting it, change is coming slowly. The success of the Block Island Wind Farm will hopefully prove the viability of offshore wind in the U.S. for anyone who still has doubts. This global battle against the increasingly dire issue of climate change depends on our efforts.
On April 30, 85 percent of the electricity consumed by the European nation was generated by renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. “Most of Germany’s coal-fired power stations were not even operating on Sunday, April 30,” Patrick Graichen of the Agora Energiewende initiative told Renew Economy.
The New Normal
Though noteworthy right now, Graichen expects days like April 30 to be “completely normal” by 2030 due to Germany’s firm commitment to clean energy.
Indeed, that commitment compelled National Geographic to call Germany “a leader” in the energy revolution amongst large industrial nations, and it’s easy to see why. By 2030, the nation hopes to have banned combustion engines altogether and, by 2050, it plans to have its carbon emissions at just 20 percent of 1990’s levels.
However, Germany’s not the only country setting a good example for the rest of the world.
The sense of urgency around the need to slow climate change is only growing in the scientific community. If widely implemented, a newly proposed measurement system could give policymakers more specific information regarding the ways different greenhouse gases affect our atmosphere on varying timelines.
Breaking news has surfaced in the world of renewable energy sources. In the U.S. alone, a new wind turbine is completed every 2.4 hours, and, in 2016, 5.6 percent of all electricity generated in this country was produced with wind energy. This is more than twice what it was in 2010.
This surge in renewables is actually largely due to greater participation from major corporations like GM, Home Depot, Microsoft, and Walmart. Wind energy requires low (and stable) costs over time and produces viable and reliable energy. Big companies are catching on that renewables are good for the planet — and the bottom line.
In fact, Alex Morgan, a wind energy analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, told Insider Climate News that, in the U.S, unsubsidized onshore wind energy will be cheap enough to give fossil-fuel power plants a run for their money in the next 10 years.
It is especially important for renewable energy sources like wind continue to become more affordable and more efficient now, as climate change becomes a much more massive and pressing issue. This development shows how investment in renewables is moving us forward.
The Fight Against Climate Change
Climate change is not slowing down, and so our efforts to combat it must be greater and move faster. Wind energy is proving to be an essential tool in doing just that. However, to have any chance at really pushing against the progression of climate change, we must use all of the tools that we have.
Solar power has become the cheapest option and is providing countless people with jobs — more so than Apple, Facebook, and Google combined. Canada, in 2015, was able to produce more than half of its energy from renewables like solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric.
Renewable energy is no longer a lesser alternative. It is a more stable, cost-effective, and flexible option than fossil fuels, and, as climate change continues to threaten our continued existence, it is becoming our smartest option. Hopefully, as more people, governments, and corporations participate, we can one day be fossil fuel free.
Drilling and clean energy are concepts rarely used together in the same sentence, but when it comes to geothermal energy, drilling is a major part of the process. In Iceland, engineers have created a drill — which goes by the name “Thor” — that has drilled up to a record-breaking depth of 4,659 meters (almost 3 miles). While this drilling project is experimental, it could potentially produce 10 times more energy than conventional fossil fuels.
Geothermal energy comes from the Earth, and since the team is digging in volcanic areas, it’s abundant. These areas, when accessed with a drill like Thor, contain extremely hot (427 degrees C (800 F), pressurized liquids that give off enough steam to turn a turbine, which then generates clean electricity. This project, the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), is still in its experimental phases, and has been given two years to demonstrate how successful and economically viable it can be.
A Geothermal Answer?
Iceland currently runs on 100% clean, renewable energy: approximately 25% geothermal and 75% hydroelectric energy. However, while geothermal energy is much more environmentally-friendly than the use of fossil fuels, it is not completely green. According to Martin Norman, a Norwegian sustainable finance specialist for Greenpeace, drilling for geothermal energy is not “completely renewable and without problems. As soon as you start drilling you have issues to it, such as sulphur pollution and CO2 emission and they need to find solutions to deal with it.”
While Iceland is making great progress with renewable energy, there are still improvements that can be made to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, according to The Institute of Economic Studies at the University of Iceland, due to their produced emissions, the country will not be adherent to the Paris climate agreement.
However, while Iceland still has a lot to accomplish in order to lessen their carbon footprint, this type of progress is what will make it possible for us to fight the progression of climate change.
While there has long been scientific consensus that humanity is influencing our environment for the worse, especially through the increased emissions of greenhouse gases, public consensus has yet to be attained. In fact, a 2014 Gallup Poll revealed that about one in four Americans are solidly skeptical of climate change, believing that claims about it are exaggerated.
For those who are convinced by the science behind climate change, the questions persists: what is the best way to communicate the science in a clear way so that skeptics can draw conclusions based on the best data? Some believe that the simplest way to accomplish this is through the use of visual aids. And, fortunately or not, there are many figures to choose from.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: global temperatures. Scientists have observed an increase in global temperatures since the beginning of the 20th century. These increased temperatures are not in dispute. But what evidence is there that people are causing this warming?
One indicator that the increasing temperature is linked to human activity is its correlation with our greenhouse gas emissions. While there are a number of greenhouse gases, perhaps the most famous is CO2, of the “carbon footprint” fame. Researchers have tracked CO2 emissions over time, and they, like the earth’s temperature, have experienced a dramatic increase after 1900. The majority of the emissions originate from our use of fossil fuels.
And where do these emissions go? In fact, CO2 “partitions” into several places — the land, the ocean, and the atmosphere. While CO2’s greenhouse effect in the atmosphere is its most well known effect, the gas also changes the chemistry of the water it enters.
CO2 reacts with water molecules to generate carbonic acid. Not only does this acidify the ocean, negatively impacting many aquatic species, but this process also lowers the overall amount of carbonate ions in the water. This threatens shelled marine animals that require calcium carbonate, like coral. So, if the CO2 we are producing is harming our world today, is there evidence it will continue impacting the environment in the future?
For quite a long time, actually. Once a large amount of CO2 is dumped, or “pulsed,” into the atmosphere, about 70 percent of it is still present after 100 years, and 40 percent remains even after 1,000 years. This is one reason why so many climate scientists urge immediate action. Researchers have made projections of what Earth will look like if we do not take action — and it’s not pretty.
Then, in 100 years or so, our world may be unrecognizable.
Changing the Conversation
Let’s face facts, and, overwhelmingly, they support the reality of climate change. But that’s not to say that there can’t be legitimate discussion on how to combat it. New environmental regulations on the federal level often get pushback, but could we incentivize development of green technology in the private sector? Could we implement stronger environmental initiatives locally? There are even some out-of-the-box solutions we could consider.
Rather than denying that there is a problem, we should be focusing our energy on determining the best solution. After all, the fate of the entire planet is at stake here. Are we really willing to risk it on a hunch that 97 percent of climate scientists are wrong?
In a TV series called “The Last Ship,” humanity is almost wiped out by a plague that emerges from the frozen Arctic as a result of global warming. The idea of a disease originating from a remote landscape makes for good science fiction, but it looks like we could potentially experience that devastation first-hand.
The source of these real-world outbreaks? Permafrost soil in the polar regions.
“Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark,” evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie from the Aix-Marseille University in France explained to BBC. “Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.”
Already, a number of viruses trapped in permafrost have spread when the formerly frozen soil melted. Most recently, an anthrax outbreak in 2016 was believed to have originated from an infected deer that died and froze in permafrost some 75 years ago. Now, scientists believe that the increased pace of permafrost melting could unleash a host of other viruses that haven’t been around for thousands or even millions of years.
Keeping Things Frozen
The idea that viruses could be revived after being frozen for a long period of time isn’t really new. A 2007 study showed that a 1918 Spanish flu virus could survive in infected corpses buried in the Alaskan tundra, and in a 2011 study on the potential of anthrax emerging from cattle burial grounds, researchers Boris Revich and Marina Podolnaya wrote, “As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back, especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.”
Due to climate change, permafrost melting has increased to alarming rates. Efforts to combat it are underway, including an idea to refreeze polar ice caps, but we have no way of knowing just how imminent a viral outbreak is from previously frozen viruses hiding under the now-thinning permafrost layers. “[T]here is now a non-zero probability that pathogenic microbes could be revived, and infect us,” Claverie said. “How likely that is is not known, but it’s a possibility.
The best thing we can do is ensure we are able to combat any such outbreaks if they do occur by keeping adequate vaccine stores on hand. That, and continue our efforts to end global warming and, perhaps, even reverse some of the damage that’s already been done.
According to a new report from the National Energy Board (NEB), in 2015, 66 percent of Canada’s energy was generated by renewable sources. Fifty-nine percent of that energy was created with hydro, making the country responsible for 10 percent of all hydro-electricity produced worldwide.
The other 41 percent of this energy was generated through a combination of wind, solar, and biomass, and Shelley Milutinovic, chief economist at the NEB, thinks that those sources are on the rise. “Now, as solar, wind and other technologies become more cost competitive, we expect to see a continuing increase in their adoption in the future,” she told The Independent.
As Canada and others lead the way, this increased adoption of renewable energy will go a long way to halting, and perhaps even reversing, some of the damage that’s already been done to the planet we call home — at least for now.
As the Arctic loses ice and breaks high temperature records, it experiences a profound shift into a new state of “normal.” This is as clear a sign as any that climate change’s worst effects are already here. Taken in context with the jarring changes scientists have already tracked — including alarming accidental findings such as green ice caused by microorganism growth in waters at unprecedented high temperatures — the findings from the northernmost regions of our planet all spell out the urgency of the climate change fight in no uncertain terms.
River ice now melts one month earlier than it did only 15 years ago, and in at least one instance a melting glacier cut off its water source, causing an entire river to disappear over the course of four days. Thinning sea ice, glaciers riddled with holes, unusual cycles of seasonal ice, and disruptions to the Arctic food chain are all apparent.
Like the rest of the planet, the Arctic’s warmest temperatures in recorded history occurred between 2011 to 2015. However, unlike the rest of the planet, temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic. Over the past four decades, sea ice has declined by 65 percent. In fact, whereas most sea ice used to remain frozen, now, for the first time, most Arctic sea ice is new.
Aggressive Action Now
Climate scientists have always monitored the Arctic because it is so sensitive to even a few degrees’ worth of temperature change that warming trends could not fail to be noticed. NASA research scientist Walt Meier told E&E News, “We can’t really say the Arctic is going to change, and we can’t really say the Arctic is changing,” he said. “The Arctic has changed. It is different than it was even 10 or 15 years ago. It’s a profoundly different place.”
These changes have worldwide consequences. A new survey shows that, without action to curb CO2 emissions, sea levels may rise an additional foot. According to a report from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, scientists are now measuring changes in the Arctic that are significant enough to have global repercussions from flooding in coastal cities and extreme record temperatures to intensifying monsoons.
Even so, Environment and Climate Change Canada cryosphere scientist Ross Brown insists there is hope. The report also shows that aggressive intervention can slow the warming of the Arctic that climate change is causing. If strong enough steps to reduce emissions were taken, parts of the Arctic, including sea ice cover, could recover.
“There is a choice there to be made, and if we can actually follow through, there is a chance we’ll be able to stabilize the changes that are happening,” he said to E&E News. “I don’t know if it’s optimism, but I think it shows that if we do take action, there is a real concrete result to it.”