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.”
On May 1, Atlanta lawmakers approved a resolution committing the city to transitioning toward running entirely on renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, by 2035. The city council unanimously approved the measure, which will first transition all city buildings by 2025.
“We know that moving to clean energy will create good jobs, clean up our air and water, and lower our residents’ utility bills,” city council member Kwanza Hall said in a statement, according to The Huffington Post. “We never thought we’d be away from landline phones or desktop computers, but today we carry our smart phones around and they’re more powerful than anything we used to have. We have to set an ambitious goal or we’re never going to get there.”
Atlanta’s commitment comes just after a similar promise from the city of South Lake Tahoe, California, in April. This resolution makes Atlanta the 27th American city to commit to a 100 percent renewable energy plan, and the first in Georgia, according to the Sierra Club.
Ted Terry, director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, issued a statement praising the city of Atlanta’s leadership and commitment to fighting climate change.
“Just days after hundreds of thousands marched for climate action across the globe, city leaders here in Atlanta are answering the call,” Terry said in the statement. “Today’s commitment will inspire bold, ambitious leadership from cities throughout the United States and pave the way for a healthier and stronger Atlanta.”
This move from Atlanta is part of a growing recognition that cities all over the world can take a tremendous bite out of climate change, even without much support from larger government. In fact, in March, a top New York City official called on other officials from city governments across the U.S. to keep fighting climate change with or without the help of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Hopefully enough cities will follow suit to make a global impact.
The climate is changing. Most people know that it’s changing, and a sizeable majority even say they worry about those changes.But at the same time, just 40% of Americans think it’s going to harm them personally. And just 33% of Americans say they talk about climate change “even occasionally.”
One of the reasons for this discrepancy may be that discussion of climate science tends to happen at the 30,000-foot level — examining global shifts in average temperatures and weather — or focuses on extreme environments, like the Arctic, where the impacts of climate change are most extreme.But climate change is going to impact every corner of the Earth in some way or another.
That’s why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s slick new online Climate Explorer is so fascinating.
The updated system lets you zip across the 48 contiguous states (and Washington DC), and see for yourself how the local climate in any given neighborhood is likely to change between 2010 and 2100. The Climate Explorer also includes data on how the climate has behaved between 1950 and 2010; scroll forward in time, and you’re seeing data pulled from international climate models.
NOAA’s site plots out changes according to two possible futures — one in which global emissions peak in 2040 and then begin to decrease, and another in which emissions keep increasing apace. Take a look.
The first thing you notice when tooling around in the Climate Explorer is how dramatically different the first scenario looks from the second.
This image swipes back and forth between the two scenarios in a map of the country in 2090. Darker shades of red indicate more days each year above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
That darkest red, visible around Phoenix, Arizona, as well as parts of southern Texas and Florida in the high-emissions scenario, indicates as many as 225 days over 95 each year.
But this isn’t just a tool for looking at the whole country. It’s a tool for thinking about your town. Zoom in on Cherry Hill, New Jersey — the town I lived in as a kid — and a chart pops up.
The chart shows the difference between the two scenarios.
The red area indicates the range of possibilities for the higher-emissions scenario, and the blue area indicates the range for lower emissions. Those lines down the middle indicate the most likely outcomes.
You can see that for Cherry Hill, the difference between high and low emissions amounts to about 50 days with highs over 95 degrees each year by 2090. That’s a lot of dangerously hot weather.
But the map isn’t just good for examining changes in heat. Here’s what happens when you look at changes in precipitation in the West.
You can see the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest turning brown in both scenarios, signaling they’re likely to get much drier.
But California shows the most dramatic impacts to precipitation. Look at that deep brown in Northern California, where the climate is expected to dry out. Then flick your eye down to deep green Southern California, expected to get a whole lot wetter than it’s been historically.
The other area expected to get a bit wetter over time, particularly in the lower emissions scenario, is the mid-Atlantic. The change is nowhere near as intense as in California, however.
The tool also lets you explore what average temperatures are likely to be during four months of the year: July, October, January, and April. Here’s how the region around Texas looks in 2090 in the high-emissions scenario.
And here’s the low-emissions scenario.
The tool also shows how winters are expected to change over time. Here’s what winter in Chicago looked like in 1970.
The darkest blue indicates deep subfreezing temperatures — highs of 20 degrees or lower.
As it gets lighter, we’re in the territory of 32 degrees — highs right around freezing.
And here’s 2090.
Some counties in these scenarios, particularly the high emissions scenario, show average highs above freezing in January. That’s a major shift for the region, with potential impacts on local life, ecosystems, and economies.
And here’s what all that data for Cook County’s average daily maximums in January looks like on the chart.
(Cook County includes Chicago.)
You can find your own hometown in the explorer on NOAA’s website by clicking here.
The pilot Swiss plan is similar to the proposed Arctic solution, except instead of entire ice caps, the target would be a small, artificial glacier at the foot of the Diavolezzafirn glacier. While the Arctic plan proposed the use of wind-powered pumps to spew water on top of ice, this mini-version of the project will use snow machines to preserve the glacier over the summer by covering it with artificially created snow.
Oerlemans and his colleagues, however, don’t just plan to keep the Swiss glaciers from receding. They want to grow them back, and 4,000 snow machines might just do the trick. “In principle, even the snout could grow back,” said Oerlemans. Within 20 years, he concluded, the glacier might be able to grow by 800 meters (2,625 feet) if researchers blow just a few centimeters of artificial snow over a 0.5 square kilometer (.19 sqaure mile) plateau each summer to give it cover.
In the case of the Arctic, however, it wouldn’t be that simple. The area is huge, roughly 107 square kilometers (3.8 million square miles), and the plan to refreeze it with water pump would require a huge investment. If it worked, however, an extra meter of sea ice could be added in just one year, according to the Arctic plan, winding the ice cap clock back by 17 years.
Buying that sort of time might just be worth the effort required to put seemingly impossible ideas to fight climate change into action, and this smaller project in Switzerland could provide the confidence needed to give them a shot.
Too often, the media focus their attention on climate-change deniers, and as a result, when scientists speak with the press, it’s almost always a discussion of whether climate change is real. Unfortunately, that can make it harder for those who recognize that climate change is a legitimate threat to fully understand the science and impacts of rising global temperatures.
I recently visited the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO and met with climate scientists Dr. Kevin Trenberth and CU Boulder’s Dr. Brian Toon to have a different discussion. I wanted better answers about what climate change is, what its effects could be, and how can we prepare for the future.
The discussion that follows has been edited for clarity and brevity, and I’ve added occasional comments for context. You can also listen to the podcast above or read the full transcript here for more in-depth insight into these issues.
Our discussion began with a review of the scientific evidence behind climate change.
Trenberth: “The main source of human-induced climate change is from increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And we have plenty of evidence that we’re responsible for the over 40% increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, and more than half of that has occurred since 1980.”
Toon: “I think the problem is that carbon dioxide is rising proportional to population on the Earth. If you just plot carbon dioxide in the last few decades versus global population, it tracks almost exactly. In coming decades, we’re increasing global population by a million people a week. That’s a new city in the world of a million people every week somewhere, and the amount of energy that’s already committed to supporting this increasing population is very large.”
The financial cost of climate change is also quite large.
Trenberth: “2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States. There was a very widespread drought that occurred, starting here in Colorado, in the West. The drought itself was estimated to cost about $75 billion. Superstorm Sandy is a different example, and the damages associated with that are, again, estimated to be about $75 billion. At the moment, the cost of climate and weather related disasters is something like $40 billion a year.”
We discussed possible solutions to climate change, but while solutions exist, it was easy to get distracted by just how large – and deadly — the problem truly is.
Toon: “Technologically, of course, there are lots of things we can do. Solar energy and wind energy are both approaching or passing the cost of fossil fuels, so they’re advantageous. [But] there’s other aspects of this like air pollution, for example, which comes from burning a lot of fossil fuels. It’s been estimated to kill seven million people a year around the Earth. Particularly in countries like China, it’s thought to be killing about a million people a year. Even in the United States, it’s causing probably 10,000 or more deaths a year.”
Unfortunately, Toon may be underestimating the number of US deaths resulting from air pollution. A 2013 study out of MIT found that air pollution causes roughly 200,000 early deaths in the US each year. And there’s still the general problem that carbon in the atmosphere (not the same as air pollution) really isn’t something that will go away anytime soon.
Toon: “Carbon dioxide has a very, very long lifetime. Early IPCC reports would often say carbon dioxide has a lifetime of 50 years. Some people interpreted that to mean it’ll go away in 50 years, but what it really meant was that it would go into equilibrium with the oceans in about 50 years. When you go somewhere in your car, about 20% of that carbon dioxide that is released to the atmosphere is still going to be there in thousands of years. The CO2 has lifetimes of thousands and thousands of years, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of years. It’s not reversible.”
Trenberth: “Every springtime, the trees take up carbon dioxide and there’s a draw-down of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but then, in the fall, the leaves fall on the forest floor and the twigs and branches and so on, and they decay and they put carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. People talk about growing more trees, which can certainly take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to some extent, but then what do you do with all the trees? That’s part of the issue. Maybe you can bury some of them somewhere, but it’s very difficult. It’s not a full solution to the problem.”
Toon: “The average American uses the equivalent of about five tons of carbon a year – that’s an elephant or two. That means every year you have to go out in your backyard and bury an elephant or two.”
We know that climate change is expected to impact farming and sea levels. And we know that the temperature changes and increasing ocean acidification could cause many species to go extinct. But for the most part, scientists aren’t worried that climate change alone could cause the extinction of humanity. However, as a threat multiplier – that is, something that triggers other problems – climate change could lead to terrible famines, pandemics, and war. And some of this may already be underway.
Trenberth: “You don’t actually have to go a hundred years or a thousand years into the future before things can get quite disrupted relative to today. You can see some signs of that if you look around the world now. There’s certainly studies that have suggested that the changes in climate, and the droughts that occur and the wildfires and so on are already extra stressors on the system and have exacerbated wars in Sudan and in Syria. It’s one of the things which makes it very worrying for security around the world to the defense department, to the armed services, who are very concerned about the destabilizing effects of climate change around the world.”
Some of the instabilities around the world today are already leading to discussion about the possibility of using nuclear weapons. But too many nuclear weapons could trigger the “other” climate change: nuclear winter.
Toon: “Nuclear winter is caused by burning cities. If there were a nuclear war in which cities were attacked then the smoke that’s released from all those fires can go into the stratosphere and create a veil of soot particles in the upper atmosphere, which are very good at absorbing sunlight. It’s sort of like geoengineering in that sense; it reduces the temperature of the planet. Even a little war between India and Pakistan, for example — which, incidentally, have about 400 nuclear weapons between them at the moment — if they started attacking each other’s cities, the smoke from that could drop the temperature of the Earth back to preindustrial conditions. In fact, it’d be lower than anything we’ve seen in the climate record since the end of the last ice age, which would be devastating to mid-latitude agriculture.
“This is an issue people don’t really understand: the world food storage is only about 60 days. There’s not enough food on that planet to feed the population for more than 60 days. There’s only enough food in an average city to feed the city for about a week. That’s the same kind of issue that we’re coming to also with the changes in agriculture that we might face in the next century just from global warming. You have to be able to make up those food losses by shipping food from some other place. Adjusting to that takes a long time.”
Concern about our ability to adjust was a common theme. Climate change is occurring so rapidly that it will be difficult for all species, even people, to adapt quickly enough.
Trenberth: “We’re way behind in terms of what is needed because if you start really trying to take serious action on this, there’s a built-in delay of 20 or 30 years because of the infrastructure that you have in order to change that around. Then there’s another 20-year delay because the oceans respond very, very slowly. If you start making major changes now, you end up experiencing the effects of those changes maybe 40 years from now or something like that. You’ve really got to get ahead of this.
“The atmosphere is a global commons. It belongs to everyone. The air that’s over the US, a week later is over in Europe, and a week later it’s over China, and then a week later it’s back over the US again. If we dump stuff into the atmosphere, it gets shared among all of the nations.”
Toon: “Organisms are used to evolving and compensating for things, but not on a 40-year timescale. They’re used to slowly evolving and slowly responding to the environment, and here they’re being forced to respond very quickly. That’s an extinction problem. If you make a sudden change in the environment, you can cause extinctions.”
As dire as the situation might seem, there are still ways in which we can address climate change.
Toon: “I’m hopeful, at the local level, things will happen, I’m hopeful that money will be made out of converting to other energy systems, and that those things will move us forward despite the inability, apparently, of politicians to deal with things.”
Trenberth: “The real way of doing this is probably to create other kinds of incentives such as through a carbon tax, as often referred to, or a fee on carbon of some sort, which recognizes the downstream effects of burning coal both in terms of air pollution and in terms of climate change that’s currently not built into the cost of burning coal, and it really ought to be.”
Toon: “[There] is not really a question anymore about whether climate change is occurring or not. It certainly is occurring. However, how do you respond to that? What do you do? At least in the United States, it’s very clear that we’re a capitalistic society, and so we need to make it economically advantageous to develop these new energy technologies. I suspect that we’re going to see the rise of China and Asia in developing renewable energy and selling that throughout the world for the reason that it’s cheaper and they’ll make money out of it. [And] we’ll wake up behind the curve.”
In what is part of a growing trend, Europe is accelerating its shift away from coal and to more renewable alternatives. According to Bloomberg, companies all over Europe, such as Drax Group Plc, Steag GmbH, and Uniper SE, are closing or converting existing coal-burning generators.
The fast-paced phase out is a practical and economical choice, as the cost of renewable energy — particularly solar and wind — continues to drop. “It’s an entirely different fuel-price world,” explained analyst from the International Energy Agency Johannes Truby. Accordingly, the agency predicts that by 2030, European coal use will be left at a 114 gigawatts capacity. That’s a huge drop compared to capacity levels at 177 gigawatts back in 2014.
Of the record 10 gigawatts of coal closures in Europe, nearly half came from the UK, as a result of the government’s efforts to double carbon price. The country’s greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector dropped by almost a fifth, the government said.
An Environmental Cause
The UK isn’t the only one leading this shift. In Germany, a policy called Energiewende is focused on shifting energy production from coal to more solar and wind. Currently, there are about 27 coal plants in the country that are awaiting approval for closure. Similar efforts are being done in France, which plans to close down all coal plants by 2023, and in Denmark.
All of this is welcome, especially with climate change increasingly being experienced all over the world. Such efforts are key in order to reach the goals agreed upon at the historic Paris Climate Agreement. The future of coal is bleak, and that spells a brighter one for us.
On April 18, Earth breached its latest climate change milestone when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were measured at 410 parts per million (ppm). The Keeling Curve, a University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography program, recorded the milestone at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This was sobering for scientists, albeit hardly surprising: since last year — when our planet’s dangerous new normal atmospheric CO2 levels were 400 ppm — scientists have warned the public that the next milestone of 410 ppm was coming.
“We’re in a new era,” Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s CO2 Program in San Diego told Yale Environment 360. “And it’s going fast. We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”
There is nothing uniquely significant about the numbers 400 or 410, but they offer points for comparison to scientists. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record,” University of Southampton paleoclimate researcher Gavin Foster told Climate Central in March.
Beating Back The Tide
Now more than ever it is critical that all countries work together to achieve a greener world. While natural factors like El Niño have driven more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past two years, these new records are mostly driven by humans burning fossil fuels in tremendous amounts, in turn creating record amounts of carbon dioxide.
“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) atmospheric scientist Pieter Tans told Climate Central. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”
Recognizing the importance of taking action to stop climate change, scientists and laypeople across the United States marched for science on Earth Day, April 22. The focus of the march was science rather than political ideology. Addressing the crowd in San Diego, Keeling declared: “The climate change debate has been over for decades.”
Recent research shows that the global energy supply must be only 25 percent (or less) dependent on fossil fuels by 2100 to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Various countries are taking action to meet their own goals that are in accord with these global guidelines. China, for example, has introduced a cap on coal and will peak coal emission by 2030. Germany will ban combustion engines by 2030. Here in the U.S., high-profile advocates for the environment have funded a 20-year clean energy fund to the tune of $1 billion.
Britain recently set a record the world was happy to see: it had its first coal-free power day in 135 years. Now is the time for a concerted, worldwide effort, so hopefully we’ll start seeing more positive records like that one.
This year we celebrated Earth Day with marches being held across the nation, including the capital and even around the world. The marches are set up to counter the anti-science policies that have been put in place by the current administration. The United States government is completely under control of a political party that is one of very few around the world that does not recognize the threat of global climate change. According to Paul Getsos, national coordinator of People’s Climate Movement, “It also sends a dangerous message to the world that the United States does not care about climate change or protecting front-line communities.”
One of Trump’s biggest campaign promises was to bring back coal, a fossil fuel that has a deleterious effect on the environment. This runs contrary to current trends in the energy market here in the US as well as around the world. The price of generating renewable power is rapidly falling and it’s starting to make more financial sense. Local governments and business are starting to embrace a switch from fossil fuels to more sustainable forms of power generation.
Cleaning Up Costs
Solar power is a clear leader in the renewable energy game. According to Bloomberg, “Just since 2000, the amount of global electricity produced by solar power has doubled seven times over.” The technology that makes it possible to collect the sun’s energy is getting cheaper to produce, partially fueled by increased innovation but also by governments’ willingness to invest and subsidize the tech.
However, not all of the world has the luxury of being able to easily move to renewable sources of energy. Many developing nations are focusing their energy on providing the infrastructure to get power to underserved regions.
Prices for renewable energy are already cheaper in more technologically advanced nations, but within the next decade those prices could be extended to all parts of the globe. Not all nations have the kind of space that solar power generation requires, therefore there is no single renewable source of clean energy that is one size fits all. Thankfully, the world is not relegated to a few choices, and there are already novel ideas developed that can cater to regions’ unique capabilities.
One such example is tidal wave generation. Scotland is a leader in this emerging field. The MeyGen tidal stream project off the northern coast of Scotland is the first of its kind. Each turbine in the planned 269 turbine farm can produce 1.5 megawatts of power, which is collectively enough to power 175,000 homes. This could be a great technology to further develop for small island nations who may not have the room to install other sources of energy generation.
As clean energy technology gains traction, the tech will continue to develop. Researchers are working to improve on existing technologies. There is even talk of the benefits of manufacturing solar panels in space to take advantage of the benefits of making panels in zero gravity. In the meantime, Elon Musk’s SolarCity has developed solar power generating roofing tiles. Other innovations such as transparent solar panels could turn entire metropolises of skyscrapers into mammoth solar farms.
Confronting Climate Change
A major piece (by no means, the entire puzzle) of tackling climate change is shifting our reliance on fossil fuels. Regardless of who sits in the oval office, climate change is real, and humans are to blame. The habitability of the only planet we can live on (at least at this point) is not an issue on which politicians can score political points.
This is not an issue that will be a problem for our grandchildren’s children to worry about; we are already seeing the ill effects around the world. The very landscape of the planet is changing all around us. Holding politicians accountable is not just an excuse to carry snarky signs in Washington on a single day in spring. Real change needs to happen, even starting at the level of personal decisions. We need to think globally but act locally.
On April 18, Earth breached its latest climate change milestone. For the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were measured at 410 parts per million (ppm). The Keeling Curve, a University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography program, recorded the milestone at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This was a sobering moment for scientists, albeit hardly surprising.
Since last year, when our planet’s dangerous new normal atmospheric CO2 levels were 400 ppm, scientists have warned the public that the next milestone of 410 ppm was coming.
Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off.
“We’re in a new era,” Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution’s CO2 Program told Yale Environment 360at the time we passed this milestone. “And it’s going fast,” Keeling added. “We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”
There is nothing uniquely significant about the numbers 400 or 410, but they offer points of comparison to scientists. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record,” University of Southampton paleoclimate researcher Gavin Foster explained to Climate Central in March.
Beating Back The Tide
Now, more than ever, it is critical for all countries to work together to achieve a greener world. While natural factors like El Niño have driven more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past two years, these new records are mostly driven by humans burning fossil fuels in tremendous amounts and, in turn, creating record amounts of carbon dioxide.
“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) atmospheric scientist Pieter Tans told Climate Central. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”
Recognizing the importance of taking action to stop climate change, scientists and laypeople across the United States marched for science on Earth Day, April 22. Addressing the crowd in San Diego, Keeling declared: “The climate change debate has been over for decades.”
Recent research shows that the global energy supply must be only 25 percent (or less) dependent on fossil fuels by 2100 to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Various countries are taking action to meet their own goals that are in accord with these global guidelines. China, for example, has introduced a cap on coal and will peak coal emission by 2030. Germany will ban combustion engines by 2030. Here in the U.S., high-profile advocates for the environment have funded a 20-year clean energy fund to the tune of $1 billion.
Britain recently set a record the world was happy to see: it had its first coal-free power day in 135 years. Now is the time for a concerted, worldwide effort, and hopefully we’ll start seeing more positive records.
Seemingly every day, new evidence of climate change’s devastating impact on our planet emerges. The latest sounds like something out of a horror movie: creatures are literally dissolving right before our eyes.
“We thought there would be some thinning or reduced mass,” said the study’s lead author Dan Swezey in a news release. “But whole features just dissolved practically before our eyes.”
A Planet Under Attack
Unfortunately, this wasn’t some “what if?” undertaking. The conditions created as part of the study accurately mimic those currently found in the creatures’ natural habitat off the Californian coast. The increase of carbon in our atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels is being absorbed by the ocean, increasing its acidity, and animals like the bryozoa can’t survive in these new environments.
Thankfully, many world leaders are not content to sit by and do nothing. In 2015, 196 nations made a commitment to cut emissions as part of The Paris Agreement, and cities across the globe are doing their part to meet new standards. Private institutions are investing in a sustainable future as well, with companies like Tesla promoting the use of electric vehicles and solar power.
Though the situation is dire, it’s not too late to undo some of the damage we’ve done. We owe it not only to future generations, but also to the many creatures that share this planet with us right now.
“Decades of saltwater intrusion, subsidence and rising sea levels have made the Louisiana coast the nation’s most rapidly deteriorating shoreline,” WWNO’s Travis Lux told the NPR Newscast unit. “It loses the equivalent of one football field of land every hour.”
More than half of the population of Louisiana lives on the coast, and the land is critical to the energy and maritime industries as well as trade. The pace of erosion is quickening, with the governor writing, “More than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone.” He continues to write in the declaration that if no action is taken right now, within 50 years, “2,250 square miles of coastal Louisiana is expected to be lost.”
Lux also told NPR that the governor is hoping that the declaration will enable coastal projects to proceed: “The state has a plan to implement more than 100 restoration and protection projects — like rebuilding marshes and barrier islands — but some of those projects are getting slowed down by federal environmental permits.”
The Perfect Storm
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the Louisiana coast is the eye of a perfect storm for land loss caused by multiple factors, including climate change, natural river delta patterns, damage from oil and gas industry projects, coastal changes caused by the loss of marsh and mangrove ecosystems, and hydrological mismanagement in general. With all of these factors in play, one of the worst problems becomes managing the crisis as each player in the drama seeks to avoid responsibility and shift the blame elsewhere.
The projects the governor is focusing on are part of the “Master Plan,” a 50-year, $50 billion plan that was approved this month by a unanimous state panel. According to The Times-Picayune, the plan “relies largely on money from settlement of the 2010 BP oil spill litigation to speed restoration of coastal land and wetlands and protect them from hurricanes.” The state of emergency is intended to force the federal government to cooperate with the Master Plan, possibly providing funding — and perhaps overlooking its environmental flaws.
However, it’s not entirely clear that the Master Plan will work. The Climate Change Law and Policy Project of the Louisiana State University Law Center argues that it won’t, for several reasons:
The Master Plan proposes to slow the loss of land using river diversions and dredging; if possible, this will raise only land at the edge of the coast to sea level, or slightly higher, and not interior land that will be flooded in the future as the land subsides.
Building land at the edges of the coast will not prevent inland property from losing elevation; because how far above sea level something is determines how high the flood risk is, the risk will not be reduced by slowing land loss.
The Project opposes dredging and sediment pumping to build wetlands which would need to be repeated and would leave a huge carbon footprint.
The Project thinks the proposed river diversions are unlikely to work and should be abandoned.
The Master Plan also proposes massive levee projects which will cost billions and have to run through huge areas of open water, causing massive environmental harm; it is unlikely to be built at all, even though the success of the plan rests on it. Since success is predicated on this one unlikely piece of the Master Plan, it should be scrapped unless they can prove it will be executed and workable.
The first priority should be “the maintenance of the post-Katrina levee and pumping stations.”
“In the longer term, required lifts for the levees will run into hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The Project agrees with the Master Plan idea of “putting the sediment dredged from the Mississippi River into the wetlands along the river to provide a wave buffer for the existing levees.”
“Other low cost projects such as closing old canals by pushing the spoil bank into the canal may also make sense.”
The critique of the Master Plan from the LSU Law Center ends with this quote regarding the grim reality of the situation, particularly in light of climate change:
“In the long term, the state must acknowledge that large areas of the coast cannot safely support communities and businesses. Surrounding communities with ring levees or elevating houses makes no sense if they end up as islands in the Gulf on every high tide. If the federal government withdraws most of its funding from disaster relief, as conservative foundations are urging, or reduces the subsidy to the National Flood Insurance Program, getting people out of harm’s way will have to become the first priority for coastal spending in Louisiana.”
In a Facebook post on April 19, Neil deGrasse Tyson commanded the attention of his followers: “Dear Facebook Universe, I offer this four-minute video on ‘Science in America’ containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken.”
He starts the clip by reminding us that the United States was an underdog, an upstart that achieved something amazing, transforming itself from a “backwoods country” into “one of the greatest nations the world has ever known,” thanks to science and an unwavering trust in its pursuit. That’s how we traveled to the Moon and got online, and it has always been a fundamental element of what America was — until now.
A disturbing trend has gripped our nation in the 21st century, a time when people need science and a rigorous method for testing truth more than ever: “People have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not,” he said. “It’s not something to say ‘I choose not to believe E = mc^2.’ You don’t have that option.”
Tyson highlights issues that have somehow become highly controversial despite overwhelming scientific evidence that should stamp out any such dispute: human-caused climate change, evolution, and vaccinations, for example.
He then points out that some of the people who both understand science the least and deny it the most now hold the most power in our society, and he calls this catastrophically dangerous situation out: “That is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”
Scientific Literacy on the Brink
The scientific method is more important than ever in this era of “alternative facts.” Tyson explains the elements of the scientific method — hypothesis, experimentation, and how they work even more effectively when rivals employ them — in the space of about 30 seconds. Applied properly, these tools lead to emergent truths, and they do it more effectively than anything else. “The scientific method does it better than anything else we have ever done as human beings,” explained Tyson.
Emergent scientific truths don’t care about your opinions; they are true regardless of your beliefs about them. “And the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us,” said Tyson in the video.
That is why scientific literacy is more important than ever in this age of lightning-speed innovation. Each moment of science denial only delays the potential solution. The end result is the same problems, worsened by neglect and ignorance. Tyson wants citizen-voters to understand how science works so we can make more informed decisions. As Tyson asserts, we are the only ones who can: “It’s in our hands.”
In this era of global warming, cracks in ice sheets are, unfortunately, not all that rare or surprising anymore. However, the massive rift that was just spotted by Dutch scientist Stef Lhermitte from Delft University of Technology in Greenland’s Petermann Glacier, which boasts the largest ice shelf in the Northern Hemisphere, is particularly worrying.
After being alerted to the crack via Lhermitte’s Twitter account, NASA’s cryosphere-monitoring initiative, Operation IceBridge, flew out to take new images and confirmed that the situation is worse than expected.
Typically, glacial cracks happen along the edges of a glacier where ice melts. This particular crack, however, is actually cutting through the middle of the glacier’s ice shelf, the portion of the glacier that floats over the ocean. The farther inland a crack is, the greater its chances of causing a glacier to destabilize. The location of this new crack implies that the ice shelf has actually gotten too thin in the middle.
“The ice shelf is slowly, but surely falling apart. It has been stable from 1901 ’til the 2000s, then started to break up, especially in 2010-2012. We have seen the glacier speed up for the first time around 2014-2015,” said Eric Rignot, a NASA Earth Scientist, in a report by The Washington Post.
Indicative of Climate Change
Quite simply, the fact that this pretty significant glacier is disintegrating right before our eyes is very worrying. Scientists still don’t know for sure how the crack even started or what will happen next. In addition, this current rift is also inching closer to an older one. If the cracks meet, it could cause a calving event that would cause a massive chunk of the iceberg to break off.
Calving events regularly take place and are actually an important part of an ice sheet’s life cycle. But unusual rifts raise questions about how changes in the environment are affecting calving rates. Annually, around 8mm (0.3 inches) of water from the oceans goes into Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets as snowfall. If no ice returns to the oceans, sea level will go down by 8mm each year.
Researchers have yet to determine if the volume of ice going in and coming out is equal, but the mass balance (the difference between ice input and output) will affect global sea levels. To put this into context, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), sea levels would rise 80 meters (256 feet) if all of the glacial ice on Earth melted, causing flooding in coastal cities across the planet.
Scientists believe that the rifting will continue as we approach summer, and it could actually cause the shelf to break off into a massive iceberg and float away. To truly understand what’s causing the ice shelf to thin, however, the team has to conduct further research. One thing is for certain, the effects of climate change are quickly proving to be both drastic and, in many cases, irreversible.
Burning fossil fuels, such as the gasoline that powers most of our cars, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Along with other greenhouse gases, this causes the climate change and global warming that we’re seeing today.
People aren’t likely to stop driving any time soon, so the best way to decrease these emissions? Through the adoption of vehicles that are powered by clean energy instead of fossil fuels.
Though electric vehicles were initially a niche offering from a select few manufacturers, they are gaining remarkable traction in the marketplace. In the U.S. alone, 2016 sales increased by 36 percent over 2015’s figures, with just under 160,000 new vehicles hitting the road. By the end of that year, consumers could choose from between 30 different EVs, and that number is expected to reach as high as 70 in the next five years.
“Wisconsin Clean Cities is thrilled to build on the successes of the two previous REV UP WISCONSIN cycles to allow for expanded use of electric vehicles in the state at a reduced price to consumers,” said Wisconsin Clean Cities Executive Director Lorrie Lisek in a press release. “When you are able to combine cost savings with emissions reductions and cleaner air, everyone wins.”
The discount will be effective until June 30, and in total, customers can save a staggering $17,500 on a vehicle purchase. $10,000 is thanks to a group buy discount for participating utility company employees and customers, while $7,500 is in the form of a federal tax credit. With a starting MSRP of just $30,680, that means customers are getting a whopping 57 percent discount on the vehicle. Even with their newly announced price reductions, Tesla’s cheapest EV currently costs roughly five times as much: $69,500.
Incentives like that offered by Wisconsin Clean Cities will no doubt contribute to the continued adoption of electric vehicles, and as more of these environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional modes of transportation hit the road, we’ll lessen humanity’s devastating impact on our planet.
A major river that originated from one of the largest glaciers in Canada vanished last year in only four days. In new research, scientists describe this event as a dramatic illustration of the extreme changes global warming can have (and is having) upon Earth’s geography. The disappearance of the Slims river, unexpected and abrupt, is the first case of “river piracy,” in which the flow of one river is suddenly diverted into another, that has ever been observed.
For centuries, the Slims carried meltwater from the vast Kaskawulsh glacier in Yukon territory, Canada, north into the Kluane river. From there, it traveled into the Yukon river until it ended up in the Bering Sea. However, in spring 2016, global warming caused a period of melting of the glacier so intense that the drainage gradient redirected the meltwater thousands of miles into the Gulf of Alaska. A team of scientists who had been monitoring the long-term, incremental retreat of the glacier documented this continental-scale rearrangement.
Scientists studying the process concluded with 99.5% certainty that the cause of this is man-made climate change
Geoscientist Dan Shugar, the paper’s lead author, told The Guardian that, although geologists have noted evidence of river piracy in the distant past, they had not documented it in human history—until now. “[N]obody to our knowledge has documented it happening in our lifetimes,” said Shugar. “People had looked at the geological record, thousands or millions of years ago, not the 21st century, where it’s happening under our noses.”
The local landscape was transformed in a geological instant. Fresh vegetation growth patterns have changed, and animals have followed them, moving out of Kluane National Park and into unprotected territory, in danger of being hunted. Winds disturb the sediment from the riverbed, creating a haze in the air. The chemistry of the lake is changed and fish populations are changing with it.
The statistical analysis completed by the scientists studying the process have concluded with 99.5 percent certainty that the cause of this phenomenon is human-caused climate change. Although the Yukon is sparsely inhabited, river piracy in the future is likely to have catastrophic effects on more populated areas.
Ohio State University paleoclimatologist Lonnie Thompson, who was not involved in the work and has documented glacial retreat on Mount Kilimanjaro, predicts that piracy events will be observed more frequently as glaciers retreat globally. “I think we could see similar divergence in streams in the Himalayas as well as throughout the Third Pole region, the Andes of Peru, other sites in northern Canada and Alaska,” he said. “Often these events occur in remote and poor parts of our planet and thus go largely unnoticed by the larger population but greatly impact the livelihood of many families downstream.”
Other significant and novel effects of human-caused climate change have been observed recently. Bristlecone pine, the world’s oldest species of tree, is nearing extinction due to habitat loss caused by climate change; many of these trees are nearly 5,000 years old. The Bristlecone pine is just one such example, as researchers studying range-shifts in flora and fauna have discovered local extinction events in more than 450 of the 976 plant and animal species being studied. In 2016, the Australian Rat became the first mammal to go extinct due to climate change. In the past month, scientists have also announced that the Great Barrier Reef is at the terminal stage, and large portions of it will never recover.
However, scientific research is also offering us hope and concrete strategies for survival, if we’ll only implement them. A new comprehensive review studying global carbon provided recommendations for reducing the effects of climate change, which included protection of the world’s carbon sinks, increased dependence on renewable energy, and the reduction of fossil fuel use—all totally feasible goals.
If we want to avoid river extinctions elsewhere on our planet and the havoc they will wreak on local ecosystems, not to mention other harmful effects of climate change, now is the moment to act.
The historic agreement, which has been signed by 143 of the 197 total participating nations, aims to reduce the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Concretely, it sets a goal of limiting global average temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and of pursuing efforts to limit temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
The IIASA researchers, led by World Bank consultant Brian Walsh, used a global model of the carbon system which monitors both natural and anthropogenic activities that account for carbon uptake and release. “This study gives a broad accounting of the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, where it comes from, and where it goes” Walsh explained in an interview for a IIASA press release. “We take into account not just emissions from fossil fuels, but also agriculture, land use, food production, bioenergy, and carbon uptake by natural ecosystems.”
The findings showed that, for the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals to be realized, global energy supply must only be 25 percent dependent on fossil fuels by 2100. However, simply limiting greenhouse gas emissions is not enough. In addition, carbon sinks, like forests, must be preserved so they can continue to absorb carbon. The researchers found that land use must change in order to reduce cumulative emissions to 45 percent by end of the century.
If nations can work together to attack climate change by both reducing fossil fuel consumption and by enforcing environmentally friendly land use, we could reach zero net anthropogenic emissions well before 2040. This could allow us to achieve the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, according to coauthor Michael Obersteiner, Ecosystems Services and Management Program Director at the IIASA.
The model of a “high renewable” future for energy showed an ambitious but possible alternative. In this scenario, a yearly 5 percent increase in renewable energy dependence could lead to a peak in net carbon emissions by 2022. It’s an entirely plausible scenario, especially since renewable energy consumption has been on the rise. However, renewables have to be combined with negative emissions technologies, for without these global average temperature could still rise to 2.5°C — missing the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals.
It was the hottest year on record in 2014…and then again in 2015…and that’s right, you guessed it, again in 2016. For the third consecutive year, it was the hottest year in all of recorded history. Now, don’t dwell on these past years for too long because, as you might be disappointingly anticipating, 2017 is promising to be even warmer.
The record temperatures of last year didn’t just cause some of us to sweat a little bit more, they actually led to the severe wildfires that ran rampant in Alberta, Canada. These wildfires cost insurers $3.58 billion and came as a result of the combination of both record dryness and temperatures.
There have also been major heat waves in the Arctic, contributing to rapidly rising sea levels and the destruction of Arctic wildlife. Climate change, which has led to these environmental and temperature changes, has also caused the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. In fact, as of recently, scientists have listed the reefs as “terminal,” with many portions well beyond repair.
In Haiti, people are experiencing first hand the deadly toll that climate change can take. Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc throughout the country, and its citizens are still picking up the pieces. These consistently warming temperatures are not going to wait fifty, twenty, or even five years to take effect. As the Earth warms and sea levels rise, we will quickly see more and more of the effects of climate change.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that last year, temperatures increased to 1.1°C above what was recorded in the pre-industrial era. Global temperatures increased consistently and drastically. Now, many people see 1.1°C and it’s difficult to see why this temperature variation would cause such mass mayhem.
To put things in perspective, during the last Ice Age, global average temperatures were only approximately 5°C different from what they are today. So, when looking strictly at the numbers, it can seem like these increasing temperatures aren’t that big of a deal, or at least they’re a problem for the future. But, when we look at the past and see what can happen when global average temperatures are altered even slightly, we can see just how serious climate change is.
As Canada repairs the damages of the wildfires and Haiti mends the wounds of Hurricane Matthew, we need to take the threat of climate change more seriously. According to WMO spokesperson Claire Nullis in an interview with CBC, “We need to bear in mind that the [UN’s] Paris climate change agreement commits us to keeping temperatures well below two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era. We are already halfway there and this is indeed very worrying.”
It is essential that renewable energy resources start to be used more instead of fossil fuels. And, through education and research, we can innovate and continue to create new and better ways to power our lives that don’t put the planet in danger. It is our planet to enjoy, and our planet to protect.
The Tesla Gigafactory produces lithium ion batteries, supporting the Tesla vehicles and providing low-cost batteries using alternative energy sources. And, in a recent video, CEO and founder Elon Musk was actually quoted as saying:
“We actually did the calculations to figure out what it would take to transition the whole world to sustainable energy. You’d need 100 Gigafactories.”
Leonardo DiCaprio met with Musk at the Gigafactory this past year to discuss renewable resources and the future of energy as it relates to climate change. Leo is no stranger to discussions about alternative energy and climate change. In fact, he recently used his first Oscar acceptance speech as an opportunity to discuss the grave realities of our changing climate and warming planet.
One main goal of the Gigafactory is to reach and maintain net zero energy. A leader in advancement and innovation, they claim that “By 2018, the Gigafactory will reach full capacity and produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013.” The Gigafactory also aims to continue to drive down the price of these batteries, financially incentivizing the use of alternative energy sources.
As Leo enters the factory, he is struck by the sleek efficiency, exclaiming, “Holy crap, that’s a good robot.” He and Musk continue on, with Musk emphasizing that “the sooner we can take action, the less harm will result,” in regards to man-made climate change.
As put simply by Musk in the video, “the sun doesn’t shine all the time, so you’ve got to store it in a battery.” And, if we are able to shift more completely towards alternative and renewable energy sources, Musk claims that, “you could avoid building electricity plants at all.”
When some people think about alternative energy, they think of outdated, bulky solar panels that lack efficiency and are a massive financial drain. However, alternative energy technology is far beyond that. As the realities of climate change set in, it is becoming more and more obvious that we cannot wait. We cannot go another ten years using fossil fuels at the rate that we currently do and not experience the effects.
Solar cells are more efficient than ever. In fact, inspired by photosynthesis, researchers recently combined the principles of quantum physics and biology to drastically improve current solar capabilities. Solar cells are no longer even necessary to capture solar energy, as scientists have created a synthetic leaf that does just that, while converting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.
There is no question: alternative energy is the future. We will not progress without it, and, as recent advancements have shown, it is becoming a more possible and powerful option with each passing day. If Musk is right, and these low-cost, green batteries could help to support a future where alternative energy is the majority, then his Gigafactory could be one of many steps in the right direction.
President Trump, congressional Republicans, and most American farmers share common positions on climate change: they question the science showing human activity is altering the global climate and are skeptical of using public policy to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
But farmers are in a unique position to tackle climate change. We have the political power, economic incentive, and policy tools to do so. What we don’t yet have is the political will.
As a fifth-generation Iowa farmer and the resilient agriculture coordinator at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, I deal with both the challenges and opportunities of climate change. I also see a need for the agriculture community to make tough choices about its policy priorities in the face of dramatic political shifts in Washington.
Pundits, agriculture groups, and President Trump have identified farmers as a key demographic in the Republican victory. How we leverage this influence remains to be seen. Trade and immigration policy and the president’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal are already creating disagreements between farmers and the Trump administration. We will need to be strategic in using our political power to shape agriculture policy.
Prior to 2009, thousands of farmers across the United States participated in two large-scale projects designed to maintain or increase carbon storage on farmlands: the National Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program and the Iowa Farm Bureau AgraGate program. These programs paid farmers for limiting the number of acres they tilled and for maintaining or establishing grasslands. Payments came through the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), a voluntary market in which businesses could buy and sell carbon credits.
But after Barack Obama became president in 2009, farmers overwhelmingly joined the opposition to climate change action. As agriculture journalist Chris Clayton documents in his 2015 book The Elephant in the Cornfield, farmers viewed Obama’s climate strategy — especially the push for cap-and-trade legislation in 2009-2010 — as regulatory overreach by a Democratic Congress and president.
For example, after the Environmental Protection Agency briefly mentioned livestock in a 2008 report on regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, farmers and agriculture trade groups erupted in outrage at the prospect of a “cow tax” on methane releases from both ends of the animal. When Congress failed to enact the cap-and-trade bill in 2010, the CCX went out of business.
The election of President Trump and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress eliminates the regulatory “bogeyman” that many farmers organized to reject in 2009. In our opposition, farmers rejected an opportunity to be paid for providing environmental services. Forgoing new sources of income might have made economic sense during the historic commodity boom between 2009 and 2013, but it no longer does.
Recently the farm economy has soured. After several years of historic profitability, 2017 looks to be the fourth straight year of declining income. American farmers face forecasts of stagnant to declining revenues.
Farmers may now be willing to consider new ways of generating income by adopting environmentally friendly practices, such as planting cover crops, extending crop rotations or eliminating tillage. Many farmers are already using these practices on a small scale. To combat climate change, we need to apply them on nearly all of our acres. And we need to develop new environmentally friendly practices.
Farmers are motivated by economic incentives to implement environmental practices. As an example, they recently enrolled nearly 400,000 acres in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program CP-42 which pays farmers to take land out of production and establish habitat for pollinators. Ironically, today we may need to embrace a source of revenue that just eight years ago seemed to many like regulatory overreach.
Opportunities under the Paris Agreement
The world came together in December 2015 to complete the Paris Agreement, which signals a major advance in global commitments to address climate change. All participating countries commit to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions. A number of American businesses have started to support putting a price on carbon.
Agriculture was noticeably absent from global climate discussions, but farmers could profit from policies that monetize carbon and create new markets for carbon emission allowances. At the Paris conference, the French government introduced the 4 per 1000 Initiative, which challenges farmers to increase the carbon in their soils. Other national governments, universities and agricultural organizations have joined this effort to advance agriculture that captures and stores carbon.
Now American farmers face a choice. Do we want to explore ways of providing environmental services to fight climate change? Or will we sit back and allow farmers in other parts of the world to develop these agricultural solutions? California is already showing the way by inviting farmers to participate in public-private efforts to address climate change.
Leveraging the 2018 Farm Bill
The Trump administration rejects policy efforts to protect the climate and indicates the United States may pull out of the Paris Agreement. Therefore, farmers will need to flex our political muscle to support climate solutions. Fortunately, we have powerful policy tools at our disposal.
Agriculture organizations and lawmakers are developing the 2018 farm bill, which will guide U.S. agriculture policy for several years, likely through 2022. Forward-thinking farmers can use this legislation to develop programs to pay for climate-friendly environmental services without radically changing the way we farm. Relatively small innovations can deliver payments for environmental services, which initially would be supported by American taxpayers but later could be funded by carbon markets.
For example, conservation programs currently target soil erosion. Policymakers would need to add rewards for reducing emissions and sequestering carbon. As a starting point, the next farm bill can identify practices that produce these outcomes and incorporate them into existing programs. The bill could also develop new programs to accelerate farmer innovation.
Farmers have a history of working together. Federal programs supporting ethanol and biodiesel production and wind turbines on farmlands all came about because farmers advanced public policies to support these products before clear market demand existed. In the same way, we can use the farm bill to increase farm income by monetizing the public benefits of climate services.
How farmers can lead
When the CCX collapsed in 2010, farm groups had already lost money trying to develop a program before there was enough public support to sustain it. We learned that it requires both government action and business leadership to successfully reward farmers for environmental services.
By advancing payments for climate services in the next farm bill, we can make our farms more resilient and align American agriculture with global business interests. If history is a good predictor of our future, no one is going to do this for farmers. We will have to do it for ourselves.
Why care about reefs? In a word—biodiversity. The reef is home to 3,000 varieties of mollusks, over a hundred types of jellyfish, 1,625 species of fish, hundreds of shark and ray species, and over 30 kinds of whales and dolphins. These sea creatures call the soft and hard corals that make up the reef “home.” And without it, many of them will die.
If that’s not enough, it has the distinction of being the largest living structure on the planet.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to 3,000 individual coral reefs stretching across a staggering 2,575 kilometers (1,600 miles), covering an area of about 344,400 square kilometers (133,000 square miles.)
Unfortunately, because of back to back mass bleaching events, scientists are telling us that the massive, impressive Australian Great Barrier Reef is now at a ‘terminal stage’—with large portions having no hope of recovery.
Mass bleaching, a phenomenon caused by global warming, is prompted when the water warms to a point that corals begin ejecting the symbiotic algae in their tissue, essential for their survival. Throughout history, there have only been four instances of this occurrence, and after such an event, it will take decades to recover.
“This is the fourth time the Great Barrier Reef has bleached severely – in 1998, 2002, 2016, and now in 2017. Bleached corals are not necessarily dead corals, but in the severe central region we anticipate high levels of coral loss,” said researcher James Kerry from James Cook University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. He clarifies why the 2017 bleaching is significant: “It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016.”
The newest aerial surveys covered over 8,000 kilometers (5,000) miles, which includes 800 individual coral reefs.
According to the surveys, 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) of the Great Barrier Reef is now bleached. These new statistics come less than a year after 93 percent of the reef suffered severe damage, with reports adding that the effects have also spread further south.
Combined with the mass bleaching event, the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Debbie added to the devastation, as it struck a section of the reef that managed to escape the worst of the bleaching.
“We’ve given up,” said Jon Brodie, a James Cook University water quality expert, who was referring to inaction on the part of the Australian government. “It’s been my life managing water quality, we’ve failed.”
Unfortunately, in this age of global warming, temperatures are expected to continue rising, which means more of these bleaching events will happen, and they will cause even more damage. And the reality is, this could be the last generation who will get to see the grand beauty of this reef.
Fortunately, it’s not too late for us to save the rest of the planet from the worst effects of climate change. But we must act now.
Atmospheric CO2 has hit more than 400 parts per million (ppm), the highest peak in 800,000 years, which has caused global surface temperatures to rise about one degree Celsius (33.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. 15 of the 16 warmest years in recorded history have occurred since 2001, and 2014, 2015, and 2016 have each taken the title of warmest year on record. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has acknowledged that climate change constitutes a serious problem for the U.S. government and merits a “whole-of-government response.”
Chicago is heeding that message, providing that response at the municipal level. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, leading a coalition of Chicago municipal agencies, announced on April 9 that the city has committed to transitioning all city buildings to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2025. Once this transition is completed, Chicago will be America’s largest city to supply its public buildings with 100 percent renewable energy.
In 2016, the city, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Park District, Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and Chicago City Colleges (CCC) together used almost 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — about eight percent of the city’s total electricity use. This amount of energy would take 300 wind turbines one year to generate and could alone power around 295,000 Chicago homes. The city plans to meet their ambitious commitment through a combined strategy of on-site generation, utility-supplied renewable energy via Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, and acquiring renewable energy credits.
Cleaner Cities, Cleaner World
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution in many large cities around the world is well above guidelines, with almost 90% of people in urban centers breathing air that exceeds dangerous levels. In fact, around half of global urban populations endure pollution at least 2.5 times higher than what the WHO recommends.
Chicago and its agencies are working to ensure that its citizens are not among those statistics. In 2013, the city eliminated coal energy completely. CPS, CCC, and the Park District have been using solar arrays and other renewable energy sources since 2009 and they continue to expand their use of renewables. In addition, despite a 12% growth in jobs and a 25,000 person population increase between 2010 and 2015, the city managed to reduce its carbon emissions by seven percent.
One week before this announcement, Mayor Emanuel announced that the city’s Smart Lighting Project, which will replace outdated lighting fixtures with an energy-efficient management grid, will begin on the south and west sides of the city this summer. And, earlier this week, the city of Chicago was awarded a 2017 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its protection of the environment through outstanding contributions to energy efficiency.
“By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st century economy here in Chicago,” Mayor Emanuel said in a press release.
As reported by William Thomas, a senior policy analyst at the American Institute of Physics, the hearing “represented the latest in a string of committee activities revolving around methodological legitimacy in scientific research. Notably, Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) used the occasion to further articulate his conception of what constitutes ‘sound science.’ The hearing also explored in some detail the question of whether entire fields of research can become corrupted, thus necessitating congressional attention.”
Chairman Smith accused climate scientists of straying “outside the principles of the scientific method.” Smith repeated his oft-stated assertion that scientific method hinges on “reproducibility,” which he defined as “a repeated validation of the results.” He also asserted that the demands of scientific verification altogether preclude long-range prediction, saying, “Alarmist predictions amount to nothing more than wild guesses. The ability to predict far into the future is impossible. Anyone stating what the climate will be in 500 years or even at the end of the century is not credible.”
At the same time, President Trump has been dismissive of climate change and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in March that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do…so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
The kinds of statements made by Smith, the president and Pruitt are misguided. They show a woeful ignorance about science and how it works, and in particular about climate science. Consequently, they ignore sound advice on how to best plan for the future.
Why Climate Scientists Use Models
The wonderful thing about science is that it is not simply a matter of opinion but that it is based upon evidence and physical principles, often pulled together in some form of “model.”
In the case of climate science, there is a great deal of data because of the millions of daily observations made mostly for the purposes of weather forecasting. Climate scientists assemble all of the observations, including those made from satellites. They often make adjustments to accommodate known deficiencies and discontinuities, such as those arising from shifts in locations of observing stations or changes in instrumentation, and then analyze the data in various ways.
In most cases, these adjustments can be performed very rigorously because of neighboring observations and overlapping observations. For example, sea surface temperatures come from multiple sources, such as ships and drifting buoys, the latter of which have increased over time. While the data are of mixed quality and length, they encompass many variables that can be related physically – temperatures, winds, humidity, rainfall, etc. – and together they tell a very compelling story.
One form of model may be statistical and empirical in nature, such as how often to restock supermarket shelves. This is not the case for climate science. Because we don’t have a physical system to experiment with, climate scientists build a virtual planet Earth in a computer. Computer models are based upon the physical laws of nature represented by mathematical equations that are solved using numerical methods applied to a three-dimensional grid over the globe.
Modeling the atmosphere and oceans as fluid dynamical systems has become very sophisticated and can be used to simulate the motions and evolution of weather systems. This is done on a daily basis for weather forecasting, which has seen major successes and improved forecasts, as observations have become better and global while computers have become much faster. As models, they may represent imperfect simplified depictions of the real world, but as tools they are extremely valuable.
There are many groups around the world who collaborate to advance the field while competing for the most realistic simulations. Owing to the chaotic nature of the atmospheric circulation (often depicted by the flap of a butterfly’s wings changing the future weather), the detailed day-to-day weather cannot be forecast accurately more than about two weeks into the future. Many repeated computer runs with small perturbations in initial states (forming ensembles) are used to bring out the robust features. This is done even for two-week weather forecasts and is essential for climate simulations.
For climate, this means dealing with the statistics of weather. For instance, just as the weather in every winter is different, the character of winter is quite different than summer; those aspects can be simulated well. Hence the focus is on the average, the character and the variability of weather, rather than the instantaneous values.
This does not imply that we cannot predict anything, even hundreds of years from now. In much the same way as we can predict the orbits of planets around the sun for millions of years, so climate models tell us that ice will melt in a much warmer world and sea level will rise as a consequence. It takes thousands of years for the Earth to come to a new equilibrium climate even if we stop emitting carbon dioxide, and winter will still be colder than summer even in a much warmer world. The reason we can make such predictions is that the laws of physics 500 years from now are the same as today.
Projections, Not Predictions
With climate models as tools, we can carry out “what-if” experiments. What if the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had not increased due to human activities? What if we keep burning fossil fuels and putting more CO2 into the atmosphere? If the climate changes as projected, then what would the impacts be on agriculture and society? If those things happened, then what strategies might there be for coping with the changes?
These are all very legitimate questions for scientists to ask and address. The first set involves the physical climate system. The others involve biological and ecological scientists, and social scientists, and they may involve economists, as happens in a full Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment. All of this work is published and subject to peer review – that is, evaluation by other scientists in the field.
The question here is whether our models are similar enough in relevant ways to the real world that we can learn from the models and draw conclusions about the real world. The job of scientists is to find out where this is the case and where it isn’t, and to quantify the uncertainties. For that reason, statements about future climate in IPCC always have a likelihood attached, and numbers have uncertainty ranges.
The models are not perfect and involve approximations. But because of their complexity and sophistication, they are so much better than any “back-of-the envelope” guesses, and the shortcomings and limitations are known.
These models are designed to provide scenarios of the future that can be used for guiding decisions about what policies to follow, such as how to reduce undesirable climate impacts and build resilience, and to plan for the future in the most cost-effective ways. Because human actions themselves are not predictable, these are not predictions, but rather they are called projections and depend on the nature of the “what-if” question.
Data for All to See
Based on the points above, the criticism raised in the hearing by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has no basis: Science using observed data and models is transparent and reproducible. The data are in almost all cases public; the models are as well; and if we run the same code twice on a computer, we get exactly the same answer.
Anyone can check the results, and many more people have in fact scrutinized the IPCC’s assessments and looked at the key conclusions than in other fields. The essential statements made several decades ago still hold, and projections made with early models were remarkably accurate. Recent reviews of past projections for temperature, precipitation and decades-length changes have confirmed earlier model projections.
Notably, there is an element of risk here: When the stakes are high, then even a small probability for massive failure prevents us from doing certain things. Imagine hearing that the airplane you are to fly on has a large crack in the wing. It may fly, but we do not know. Would you board the airplane? We do not need full certainty that the airplane will crash – or in the climate change context, we do not need full certainty that the impacts will be catastrophic – to justify some measures to mitigate the outcome, or find an alternative.
In fact, what we need is very high probability that the airplane will not crash. Using this argument, we should not emit CO2 unless we know for sure that it is not harmful. In complex problems like predicting the climate of the Earth, we will never have complete certainty, nor is it needed.
Accordingly, we have many facts and physical understanding of the Earth’s climate. The role of scientists is to lay out the facts, their interpretation, and the prospects and consequences as best we can. But the decision about what is done with this information is the responsibility of everyone, including and often led by politicians. The failure of Lamar Smith and his ilk to recognize that climate scientists ask legitimate scientific questions, and moreover, that they that they provide very useful information for decision-makers, is a major loss for the public.
There’s no question that the world is getting warmer. Sure, the history of the Earth’s billions of years of existence have been marked by global temperature fluctuations, but we’re heading toward some unprecedented conditions in the relative near future. New research is showing that the planet is on track to return to carbon dioxide levels not seen in 200 million years.
A new study published in Nature Communications doesn’t solely focus on the levels themselves but also the rate at which they are increasing. Since the industrial revolution about 150 years ago, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have skyrocketed from 280 ppm to almost 405 ppm when measured last year.
Should this trend continue, we could see CO2 levels at 2000 ppm by the year 2250. There haven’t been levels that high since the Triassic era. And, even though levels may have been that high in the past, that does not mean that we know what to expect if they return to those levels. This is, in part, because 200 million years ago, those levels existed naturally and were not caused by the actions of humans, as is the case today.
An Evolved Sun
It’s important to know that CO2 is not the only factor that contributes to a warmer planet. The amount of sunlight hitting the planet also has a major impact. And it just so happens that our sun is significantly brighter than it was 200 million years ago.
According to Gavin Foster, lead author, and Professor of Isotope Geochemistry at the University of Southampton, “…because the Sun was dimmer back then, the net climate forcing 200 million years ago was lower than we would experience in such a high CO2 future. So not only will the resultant climate change be faster than anything the Earth has seen for millions of years, the climate that will exist is likely to have no natural counterpart, as far as we can tell, in at least the last 420 million years.”
However, there is still hope of halting, if not reversing, this ruinous march. There are plenty of solutions that we can implement, some immediately, to start getting us back on the right track. Renewable energy is booming in the United States and around the world, despite (or perhaps in spite of) certain world leaders’ anti-regulatory policies. Public opinion has even shifted in favor of recognizing the threat of climate change, so we must harness that goodwill into effective action.
In Greenland, the effects of climate change are quickly proving to be drastic and irreversible. Greenland’s coastal glaciers and ice caps have officially melted past the point of no return. That’s right, past the proverbial tipping point, Greenland’s ice is quickly and significantly melting. Now, if this were due to a freak heat wave and conditions returned to normal, it is theoretically possible that the ice would return. But, scientists agree that in current conditions and predicted future conditions, it is incredibly unlikely that this would ever happen.
What might be the scariest part of all is that this tipping point was identified in 1997, and no one noticed us pushing past this point until now.
Thankfully, if such a term can be used here, the ice caps and coastal glaciers are relatively small bodies of ice compared to Greenland’s ice sheet (the second largest ice cache in the world). While this is a massive finding and shows the serious ill-effects of climate change, there is no immediate need for panic. So, please, don’t start bringing bags of ice to Greenland.
Looking to the Future
Now, while there is no dire immediate catastrophe following this news, it is definitely not something to ignore. If these glaciers were to melt fully (researchers predict they will be gone by 2100) they would raise sea levels drastically, by 3.8 cm (1.5 inches). Of course, other large formations of ice will also continue to melt and add to this rising, but that 3.8 cm alone could yield serious consequences.
One positive outcome of this news is, surprisingly, for scientists. Now that we have just passed the tipping point and there is a clear timeline of melting for this ice, scientists have a concrete frame to work within. Though the clock is ticking, it is always advantageous to have as much information as possible. While this information can make you feel a little bit hopeless, it is the key to actually solving the problem at hand.
Speaking of the problem at hand, this melting is no surprising coincidence or casualty of freakish one-time-only warm weather. It is the direct result of climate change—and our contributions to climate change are actually both a blessing and a curse. While it is easy to fret over the havoc brought by the long-term excessive burning of fossil fuels and creation of greenhouse gases, this is a problem that we could instead grab by the horns. Because it’s something we’ve created, that means we have some ability to destroy it. As renewable energy resources become more powerful and more available, and options to detract from (instead of contribute to) climate change become more possible, it is up to us to make the decision to save our planet.
A team of scientists from the United States is ready to send aerosol injections 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) up into the stratosphere to assess the technique’s feasibility as a technical fix for global warming. The purpose is to safely simulate the atmospheric cooling effects of a large volcanic eruption. The $20 million Harvard University project is the world’s largest solar geoengineering program ever, and it will launch within the next few weeks.
The scientists behind the project intend to complete two small-scale dispersals by 2022. The first will disperse water into the stratosphere, and the second will disperse calcium carbonate particles. In the future, tests may include seeding the upper atmosphere with aluminum oxide or even the more exotic option: diamonds.
These techniques mimic the natural alterations to Earth’s normal radiation balance seen after large-scale volcanic eruptions. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, for example, lowered global temperatures by 0.5 degrees Celsius (.9 degrees Fahrenheit). On the other hand, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora cooled the Earth with more sinister results — disease, crop failure, and famine followed Europe’s “year without a summer” caused by that eruption. Indeed, a 2013 Met Office study warned that dispersing fine particles in the stratosphere could cause a disastrous drought in North Africa.
Stemming a Rising Tide
This unpredictable and possibly dangerous range of results is just one of the reasons the program is being met with opposition from within the scientific community. Unproven technical fixes should not take the focus away from mitigation efforts with proven results, but some critics fear that they might.
“[S]olar geoengineering is not the answer,” Kevin Trenberth, a lead author for the United Nation’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, told The Guardian. “Cutting incoming solar radiation affects the weather and hydrological cycle. It promotes drought. It destabilizes things and could cause wars. The side effects are many, and our models are just not good enough to predict the outcomes.”
Even the scientists running the Harvard program acknowledge that geoengineering must be seen as a complement rather than a substitute for aggressive reduction of emissions. Still, they assert that it is essential that we know how geoengineering might work in case we should ever need to deploy it. Frank Keutsch, the atmospheric sciences professor leading the experiment, calls the deployment of a solar geoengineering system “a terrifying prospect.” However, he’s right when he adds, “At the same time, we should never choose ignorance over knowledge in a situation like this.”
A group of teenagers has one-upped the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) as the state’s Court of Appeals just decided in favor of reversing a lower court’s decision against them. The ruling effectively reinterprets the mission of the COGCC as more than just striking a balance between the interests of oil and gas industries and the protection of people and the environment.
The COGCC was originally created to regulate and monitor oil and gas development in Colorado. Since its inception, however, it has approved the creation of more than 50,000 wells in Colorado. Thousands of these are located in areas near people north of Denver, while hundreds more are found within municipal limits.
The mandate of the COGCC, according to the appeals court, “was not intended to require that a balancing test be applied. […] Rather, the clear language (of the agency’s enabling legislation) […] mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”
The COGCC isn’t happy with the ruling. “We disagree with the majority and believe the District Court and the dissenting opinion have it right,” COGCC spokesman Todd Hartman told The Denver Post. “We are evaluating whether to appeal this decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.”
Setting Priorities Straight
The case was first brought to court in 2013 when Boulder resident Xiutezcatl Martinez and other teenagers proposed a new rule for the COGCC. Their idea was for the commission to not issue any new permits for oil and gas drilling “unless the best available science demonstrates, and an independent third party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, with other actions, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health, and does not contribute to climate change,” notes The Denver Post.
The COGCC held a hearing in 2014 to discuss this. The proposal was, however, denied as the COGCC believed it contradicted their mandate and was beyond their authority. Backed by a number of advocacy groups, Martinez filed a suit against the COGCC with the Denver District Court, which ruled in favor of the COGCC. The teenagers brought the case to the state’s appeal’s court, claiming that the judge misinterpreted the plain language of the COGCC’s mandate. The result was a 2-1 split ruling in favor of Martinez’s appeal.
To be clear, the court isn’t making the COGCC adopt the proposed rule by Martinez. Instead, it simply decided that the COGCC illegally dismissed it. The ball is now back in the control of the district court.
Bruce Baizel, energy program director at environmental advocacy group Earthworks, praised this outcome as a shift toward “health, safety, and welfare concerns above development-as-usual permitting.” He went on to add, “Now, the state of Colorado, after removing communities’ power to ban fracking and drilling themselves, might have to effectively ban fracking inside cities to protect residents’ health.”
This ruling set a precedent for similar cases in the future. Eventually, all government regulatory agencies like the COGCC may be forced to keep the interests of people and the environment above those of the fossil fuel industry.
The political climate change countermovement is an even bigger obstacle. A Drexel University study revealed that organizations and individuals have invested $560 million in climate change denial in the form of lobbying and political donations. This funding and a persistent demand for “equal time for opposing viewpoints” has catapulted climate change deniers into the political spotlight. Unfortunately, these players are motivated not by any genuine scientific interests, but by economic interests in industries tied to carbon emissions.
The tired old conflict between religion and science also rears its ugly head in the context of climate change. For example, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma believes that humans cannot alter nature, which is created by God, in significant ways: “God’s still up there, and the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what he is doing in the climate, is to me, outrageous.”
Finally, Americans are generally ignorant when it comes to science. Various polls and studies have shown that Americans are not well-educated in the sciences and often reject scientific facts. This ignorance exists among many of our policymakers too, and leads to snowball fights in the Capital Building—as if the mere presence of a winter storm and snow negate all climate change science. This science ignorance is also why deniers seize upon the fact that the climate’s temperature has changed before, as if that fact means there is no reason to be concerned now.
Combating Climate Change Denial
Randall Munroe, the physics degree-wielding artist behind the webcomic xckd, created this climate change comic to illustrate why past changes in Earth’s climate shouldn’t make any of us feel better about global warming. Munroe tackles difficult scientific topics by turning them into lucid, amusing infographics and comics, and this one is no exception.
The comic depicts Earth’s recent climate history—just the last 22,000 years—and focuses on the “who cares” part of the denier’s mantra: “The climate has always changed, so who cares if it’s changing now?” Munroe illustrates that the temperature of the Earth has indeed fluctuated since 20,000 BCE, due to changes in solar activity, orbital wobbles, rock weathering, and volcanic activity. However, he also shows that our climate was remarkably stable starting 12,000 years ago, which allowed humans to develop agriculture and permanent civilizations.
That stable climate is now on its way out as the Earth warms at the fastest rate seen in millions of years, thanks to changes in land use and the burning of fossil fuels. This is a pace that may be difficult or impossible for us to adapt to. In fact, many of our habitats and much of our infrastructure may be rendered obsolete by droughts, floods, heat waves, and sea level rise. So, yes, the planet itself will survive it, and perhaps cockroaches, tardigrades, and many other creatures. However, it’s not entirely clear that we humans will—and the mere fact that dinosaurs enjoyed a much hotter Earth really doesn’t have anything to do with it.
In 2015, a Yale University study revealed that about 63 percent of Americans accept that climate change is real but only about 48 percent accept that humans are causing it. 56 percent of republicans in congress denied that climate change was an issue in that same year. Furthermore, President Trump has stated repeatedly that climate change “is a hoax.” This kind of resistance makes progress difficult, whether measured by legislative change or smaller day-to-day differences in our lives.
Science communicators like Nye believe that starting small, person-to-person, is the best way to change minds and grow community engagement. Sharing illustrative comics like Munroe’s and engaging in meaningful conversations with deniers may be the only way that lasting change happens.
Two major issues facing the world today are finding clean, affordable energy and disposing of waste in ways that don’t cause harm to the environment. Climate change is making the clean, affordable, sustainable fuel problem more pertinent every day. A new study in Nature Energy has some suggestions on both scores, showing how natural light can be used to convert biomass into hydrogen.
Biomass has been used for energy and heat throughout history. Oil, as an example, is nothing more than a derivative of ancient biomass, transformed by the heat and pressure of the planet. Until now, lignocellulose — the main component of plant biomass — has been convertible into hydrogen only through a high temperature gasification process. This is mostly because lignocellulose plays an important role in providing structural stability in trees and plants.
Clean, Cheap Power
This new technology is based on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. The biomass is suspended in alkaline water, to which catalytic nanoparticles are added. The mixture is then exposed to light. The solution absorbs the light and produces gaseous hydrogen. The nanoparticles use the solar energy they absorb to catalyze complex chemical reactions, producing organic chemicals such as carbonate and formic acid as well as hydrogen. The hydrogen is collected at the top, free of substances like carbon monoxide, which makes it ideal for use as a power source.
This is a tremendous advance: although raw biomass is filled with chemical energy, it’s unrefined — meaning it wouldn’t work to power complex machinery. This new system bypasses this issue, using the power of the sun to transform the chemical energy in biomass into usable gaseous hydrogen. There are many ways to achieve the outcome, too: leaves, paper, and wood all worked in the system without any processing.
While all of those predictions are for a time in the relatively distant future, Hawking’s latest fear is more grounded in the present. He’s afraid that he may no longer be welcome in the United States. “I would like to visit again and to talk to other scientists, but I fear that I may not be welcome,” Hawking said during an interview today with Piers Morgan for Good Morning Britain.
The British thinker is known to be critical of President Donald Trump’s administration, previously calling the Trump a “demagogue.” “Trump was elected by people who felt disenfranchised by the governing elite in a revolt against globalization,” he said during his morning TV show appearance today. “His priority will be to satisfy his electorate, who are neither liberal nor that well informed.”
Though Hawking’s fears may be well-founded, that hasn’t stopped him from offering a word of advice to President Trump. “He should replace Scott Pruitt at the [EPA],” Hawking said emphatically, The Guardian reports. “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent. It affects America badly, so tackling it should win votes for his second term. God forbid.”
According to reports, the Trump administration is preparing to enact an executive order to reduce the role and consideration of climate change in policy decisions. This move will rescind much of the environmental progress made by the Obama administration. The order would affect policy in a variety of fields, impacting drilling, coal mining, pipeline construction, and even appliance standards. Ultimately, the order would set back climate change progress in a major way.
The executive order would drop the metric of climate change from official environment reviews. It would also remove the “social cost of carbon” from these same reviews. This metric was used to evaluate the potential damage that climate change could have on the economy.
This order is also likely to be just the beginning of the administration’s regulation rollback. The source of the information regarding this order mentioned that the new rules could set new requirements for the EPA to determine if current regulations are harmful to energy production.
One of the many promises that helped propel the current POTUS to victory in the Electoral College was his promise to coal miners. He seems intent on attempting to keep that promise. These new rules will make it easier for the industry to mine coal, and incentivize coal more as a more attractive energy resource.
Bolstering Climate Change
Many scientists, environmentalists, and average citizens are vehemently against this newly presented executive order. Paul Getsos, national coordinator of People’s Climate Movement stated, “It also sends a dangerous message to the world that the United States does not care about climate change or protecting front-line communities.”
To compound the effect of this upcoming order, the administration has released the president’s 2018 budget proposal. The proposal guts funding to such environmentally centered departments like the EPA and the Department of the Interior. The Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune stated the following in a press release:
Money talks, and Trump’s budget proposal screams that the only thing that matters in his America is corporate polluters’ profits and Wall Street billionaires. If Trump refuses to be serious about protecting our health and climate, or our publicly owned lands, then Congress must act, do its job, and reject this rigged budget. The American people are watching, and they will continue to demand that their voices are heard and protected. Any member of Congress that fails to put the American people first will need to start updating their resume.
Regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, climate change is real. And regardless of who is the head of the EPA, carbon dioxide is causing the planet to warm. There is no debating the science of these claims. In fact, the debate is largely subsiding since the majority of people now all agree on the legitimacy of climate change, and that human activity is causing it. Hopefully, these orders will not be a sign of future action, because no matter what is happening in politics, the effects of climate change are becoming more real and more drastic each and every day.
China, being one of the world’s biggest industrial nations, is also one of the planet’s biggest contributors to global warming.
The country’s coal consumption is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, which get trapped in our atmosphere. To date, the country releases twice the CO2 emissions as the US. But it’s something that the Chinese government is working hard to change.
In recent years, the country has made significant strides towards implementing and enforcing nationwide proposals and policies towards minimizing their carbon emissions. For instance, in keeping with the Paris Agreement, China introduced a cap on coal use in the country; they also demonstrated how serious they are about their anti-coal stance by cancelling 104 new coal plants and shifting focus towards renewable energy sources, such as hydro, wind, and solar.
As a result, the country was able to reduce its coal consumption for the third year in a row and establish itself as a global leader in the battle against climate change.
Based on initial data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the country’s coal consumption declined by 4.7 percent last year. The share of coal in China’s total energy mix sits at 62 percent, with solar capacity growing 81.6 percent and wind power growing 13.2 percent since 2015.
China Tackles Climate Change
Back in 2014, China reported that it managed to bring down coal use by 1.28 percent—while it may not seem like a significant number, it’s notable because this was first time coal use dropped in China in this century.
Since then, a trend that saw a steady decline of coal use and CO2 emissions was maintained by China, which they hope to continue well into the coming years.
Their efforts to address the effects of climate change on our environment has “completely revolutionized the prospects for bringing global emissions and bringing climate change under control,” says senior coal campaigner for Greenpeace Lauri Myllyvirta.
According to Myllyvirta, the steady fall of global emissions in recent years can largely be credited to the efforts made by China and the US, who are the world’s leading producers of carbon emission.
In addition, energy demand is no longer tied to China’s economic activity. Combined with the country’s efforts to diversify their power sources and support for renewable energy installations, the country is truly making a mark in the fight against climate change.
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget was released on March 16, and analysis of its cuts began almost immediately. The so-called “skinny budget” will slash funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $6 billion in 2018 — almost 20 percent. The Office of Science of the Department of Energy (DOE) will lose $900 million, which is also about 20 percent of its budget. Research science programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will also experience radical cuts of 25 and 40 percent, respectively, while the entire $300 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy budget (part of the DOE) will be eliminated. At NASA, the earth science budget will be cut by 5 percent. The draft proposal is silent on some agencies, like the National Science Foundation (NSF), but the budget in its entirety is a dramatic departure from previous spending patterns.
Biomedical research advocates have expressed grave concerns and stated their opposition, particularly to the cuts being made at the NIH. “A $6 billion cut to [NIH] is unacceptable to the scientific community, and should be unacceptable to the American public as well,” said Benjamin Corbin a statement on behalf of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 spending plan erases years’ worth of bipartisan support for the NIH, and the American biomedical research enterprise which has long been the global leader for biomedical innovation. Cuts this deep threaten America’s ability to remain a leader.”
Corb’s concerns were echoed by numerous other scientists, “Cutting [research and development] funding from our budget is same as cutting the engines off an airplane that’s too heavy for takeoff,” said Jason Rao, Director of International Affairs at the American Society for Microbiology. The greatest threats to the United States, he says, are those presented by infectious diseases, climate change, and energy production—which cannot be addressed effectively without scientific research.
The NIH is the primary United States government agency responsible for health-related and biomedical research and the largest biomedical research agency in the world. The agency was slated to receive a budget increase of $1-2 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, which started in October of 2016. However, since Congress failed to finish its plan for 2017, spending has been frozen at 2016 levels.
Trading Science For Arms
The DOE’s Office of Science is the country’s lead federal agency supporting fundamental scientific energy research and the largest supporter of basic physical sciences research in the U.S. The office carries out this work through a variety of programs. It also supports research at 10 of the 17 national labs and more than 300 universities. The budget will eliminate the Title 17 loan guarantees for new low-carbon energy projects and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program — which has helped such companies as Ford develop more-efficient light materials and combustion engines and Tesla develop electric cars. The budget does, however, leave programs related to nuclear arms intact.
The proposed cuts would eliminate funding for coastal management and “coastal resilience,” programs, which boost the ability of coastal areas to withstand rising sea levels and major storms.NOAA scientists study the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change research. The cuts would also impact external research and estuary reserves programs.
Retired Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher — the NOAA administrator under President George W. Bush — said, “I think the cuts are ill-timed given the needs of society, economy and the military.” He went on to add that, “it will be very hard for NOAA to manage and maintain the kind of services the country requires” with the proposed cuts.
Rick Spinrad, a former chief scientist for NOAA, said: “NOAA’s research and operations, including satellite data management, support critical safety needs. A reduced investment now would virtually guarantee jeopardizing the safety of the American public.”
“This is serious stuff. We’re all concerned about what might happen, not just to our livelihoods, but to our ability to support the agency’s mission. This is a premier research organization, and it doesn’t take much for the best and the brightest to start looking for other places for work. Even the uncertainty can cause a place to implode, almost, and you don’t build that back quickly if it happens.”
NASA’s relatively lightweight 1 percent cut will focus entirely on canceling four climate-related missions: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem program, the Orbiting Carbon-Observatory-3, the CLARREO Pathfinder, and the Deep Space Climate Observatory.
These cuts aren’t entirely due to the president’s disbelief in climate change research, though: they are also needed for the $54 billion cut required to offset the proposed rise in military spending. Dr. Corb commented, “It is of grave concern to the research community that President Trump’s budget proposal—which would fund [NIH] at a 15-year low—values investments in defense above all other federal expenditures.”
Jonathan Adler of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law points out that decisions at the agency level can be modified or overruled by federal courts, which means that the only way to fundamentally change programs is to change the law by working with Congress—something that requires time, money, staff, and a will to compromise.
“If you cut an agency too much, all you’ve really done is hand the agency’s priorities over to the courts and litigants,” Adler says. “And I’m not really sure that’s what the Trump administration wants.”
At more than 400 ppm, atmospheric CO2 has achieved its highest peak in 800,000 years. This increased level of atmospheric carbon dioxide has caused a rise in global surface temperatures of about one degree Celsius since 1880. Since 2001, Earth has experienced 15 of the 16 warmest years on record, and 2014, 2015, and 2016 have each been the warmest year ever recorded.
For U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, these facts are not just environmental matters; they impact national security and constitute a serious problem for the U.S. government. This overt position seems to indicate that Mattis will not be strictly toeing the Trump administration line, which is in contrast to Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who recently denied that carbon dioxide is causing global warming.
“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”
Asked how the military should prepare to address the threat posed to the United States by climate change, General Mattis responded, “[c]limate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response.”
This is not a new stance for Mattis, who has repeatedly taken the position that the armed forces should explore renewable energy and cut dependence on fossil fuels. As commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command in 2010, Mattis signed off on the Joint Operating Environment, which includes climate change among expected security threats to be confronted over the next 25 years.
His view isn’t even a new one for the U.S. government: top officials have discussed the national security implications of global warming for decades, under both Republican and Democratic presidents. A “whole-of-government response” was initiated in 2016 by President Obama, who ordered more than a dozen federal offices and agencies — including the Defense Department — “to ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans.” These agencies were also told in December to form a Climate and National Security Working Group within 60 days — as yet, no action has been taken on that front.
It remains to be seen how Mattis will achieve his defense goals if the administration succeeds in defunding the NOAA and other bodies that conduct oceanic and atmospheric research. Mattis said it was the U.S. military’s job to consider how changes like drought in regions of conflict and open-water routes in the thawing Arctic can pose challenges for defense planners and troops. He also indicated that climate change is not a distant possibility, but a real-time issue.
“I agree that the effects of a changing climate—such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others—impact our security situation,” Mattis said, “I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”
It has been clear for a while that the planet is warming. Human activity has contributed to the ever-increasing release of carbon dioxide in the air, and that increased CO2 traps heat, warming the planet. A great deal of that extra heat ends up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and natural currents. And, as if all of this was not bad enough, new research is saying that all of this is happening at a rate thirteen percent faster than previously believed.
The new study, published in Scientific Advances, has reevaluated data collected from 1960 – 2015 regarding the temperature of the ocean. Before 2015, ocean temperature data was collected using devices called bathythermographs that recorded the data from 285 meters (935 feet) below the surface. The devices were not only limited to the depths they could travel, but were also only placed along specific shipping routes. Now, researchers collect ocean temperature data using the Argo float system. The Argo system is a global array of 3,800 floating sensors that can automatically dive to depths of up to 2,000 meters (more than 6,561 feet).
Professor of thermal and fluid sciences at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering and a co-author of the study, John Abraham, explained the process of revising the data in an article for The Guardian. It involved correcting data bias, advanced climate models, data extrapolation, and matching and comparing to recently observed temperatures.
Approaching the Point of No Return
The results of this research were shocking. According to Abraham, “One main outcome of the study is that it shows we are warming about 13% faster than we previously thought. Not only that but the warming has accelerated.” Warmer waters lead to faster thawing of the massive ice sheets at our poles, thus contributing to rising sea levels. Vulnerable areas across the world could be subject to sea levels rising up to nearly 61 meters (200 feet).
The study also shows that the rising temperatures are spreading to deeper depths, and across greater distances. Such a disruption in the natural order leads to greater, more devastating storms across the globe.
This puts humanity even closer to a planetary life or death crossroads. The science of global climate change is clear, and public opinion has even finally caught up with reality. The time to act has long since begun. We must make major changes to the way we steward the Earth. A greater focus on renewable energy sources is just a start. We must revolutionize our collective society if we ever want to halt or reverse the damage we have done and continue to do to our home.
100 percent of global warming over the past century has been caused by humans. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report stated a clear expert consensus that: “It is extremely likely [defined as 95-100% certainty] that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic [human-caused] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”
Then in 2014, research in the journal Climate Risk Management using rigorous statistical techniques revealed an objective link between global temperature increases and human activity, with a probability exceeding 99.999 percent. In fact, according to a Skeptical Science review of studies on human and natural contributions to global warming:
“Most studies showed that recent natural contributions have been in the cooling direction, thereby masking part of the human contribution and in some cases causing it to exceed 100% of the total warming.”
The overwhelming majority of scientists—about 97 percent—agree not only that climate change is happening, but that it is caused by humans. Nevertheless, most people don’t agree: they tend to disbelieve these kinds of statistics, or see climate change denial as an equally valid, “alternative” point of view.
Despite clear evidence that global warming is caused by humans, many people believe natural processes are playing a major role: only 43 percent of people in the U.K., 49 percent of Germans, 34 percent of Norwegians, and 55 percent of the French believe that climate change is mostly or completely caused by humans. Even fewer people—only about one-third of all people in these four countries—believe that more than 80 percent of scientists agree that climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon.
In the U.S., Pew data shows that about 48 percent of all adults believe climate change is caused by humans, but about 31 percent believe that global warming is the result of natural causes. A full 20 percent believe that it doesn’t exist at all. Only about 40 percent of Americans expect global warming will have harmful effects on wildlife, weather patterns, and shorelines. When it comes to that figure citing “almost all” climate scientists agreeing that global warming is caused by humans, only 27 percent of Americans believe that’s true. As for everyone else? 35 percent saying “more than half,” of global warming is caused by humans, 20 percent saying “about half,” is and 15 percent believe “fewer than half or almost none.”
Although these differences in opinion exist along political lines in the U.S. in particular, it is critically important to drive conversations about climate change. Forcing policy changes in the current political climate isn’t easy, and without public pressure and widespread support, it’s near impossible. This is why helping people understand the facts about climate change is so important. Species are already dying, and extreme, climate change-induced weather is already killing people. This is terrible news, but it does mean that the facts will be harder and harder to ignore. Maybe then the conversations will be easier to have.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics show a 4.7 percent drop in coal consumption in 2016, indicating that the plan is working already. In fact, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook Report estimates that China’s coal use probably peaked in 2013, and has been falling significantly since that time. China is using multiple clean energy tactics to achieve its goals, and has begun a $474 billion renewable energy program; $361 billion of that will go into renewable fuel by 2020.
According to China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), in 2016 the country more than doubled its solar energy production. By the end of the year, China hit 77.42 gigawatts, allowing the generation of 66.2 billion kilowatt-hours of power. This made them the largest producer of solar energy in the world, at least in terms of capacity. NEA’s development plan indicates that China intends to add over 110 gigawatts of capacity by 2020.
China is also in the process of building the largest waste-to-energy plant in the world. The Shenzen East-to-Waste plant is only one of 300 facilities that generate sustainable energy as they address the mounting waste problem in the world’s most populous country. The Shenzen plant is scheduled to be online by 2020, and although it is not solely a green solution (as it produces some CO2 emissions), given its role in waste reduction, it is part of the overall green picture in China.
The rise of the solar energy industry is astounding. Though virtually nothing in the early 2000s, the world’s solar capacity is now at 305 gigawatts. The countries taking the lead in this worldwide solar power surge are the United States and China, with the United Kingdom leading the rest of Europe.
In Europe, despite suffering setbacks due to cuts in government incentives for solar adoption, the U.K. managed to increase its solar capacity by 29 percent, with Germany following at 21 percent and France with 8.3 percent.
As the world faces the realities of climate change, with global temperatures hitting another all-time-high record in 2016, efforts to fight the climate problem are now more crucial than ever. One of the ways governments and various groups in the private sector can contribute to this fight is through the increased use of renewable energy sources, like solar energy.
“In order to meet the Paris [climate agreement] targets, it would be important if solar could continue its rapid growth,” explained James Watson, chief executive at SolarPower Europe. “The global solar industry is ready to do that and can even speed up.” To reach the goals of the agreement, half of the world’s energy must be generated from renewables by 2060.
Solar energy isn’t the only alternative source currently being explored and developed. Other efforts include harnessing wind energy, which just covered more than 50 percent of one U.S. power grid’s energy demands. Efforts are being undertaken to improve nuclear energy production, specifically research in sustainable fusion, as well as developments in solar fuel technology. With all of these efforts combined, humanity has a chance to stop or even reverse the damage done to the planet.
A new study reveals that the UK’s efforts to decreases its carbon footprint are working. The report from the non-profit Carbon Brief shows that carbon dioxide (CO2) emission levels in the UK are now at their lowest since the 1920s. The UK achieved this drop by adopting a multi-pronged approach that includes shifting away from coal, expanding energy efficiency programs, decreasing energy demand, rapidly growing renewable energy sources, taxing coal carbon, and burning more natural gas.
In the past 10 years, coal use has dropped by 74 percent in the UK. According to Carbon Brief, this has helped to lower CO2 emissions levels to 36 percent below the 1990’s level. From 2015 to 2016 alone, coal burning emissions dropped by 50 percent, causing total emissions to fall by 5.8 percent. This was fueled by the closing of large coal users during that time, like Redcar steel in 2015, and three power plants in 2016.
Recent Advances In Renewables
Renewable energy sources are experiencing exciting innovations all over the world. These kinds of advances are enabling the UK — and others — to lower Greenhouse Gas emissions and fight climate change through the use of green energy. An increased reliance of green energy may also save lives that are being threatened by air pollution, heavy metals in water, oil spills, and natural disasters, which are linked to non-renewable energy sources.
Many countries are making strides towards renewable energy. In February, Denmark generated enough wind energy to power the entire country for the day thanks in large part to a new offshore wind turbine installation. Iceland is about to take its use of geothermal energy to the next level by drilling into a volcano for clean energy. In 2016, renewables accounted for 90 percent of the new power used in the EU.
Asia has also been stepping up its green-energy game. India is now home to the largest solar power farm in the world, which covers 10 square kilometers (over 6 square miles) and has a 648 MW capacity. As of February of this year, China was the largest solar power producer in the world. China also announced that it will begin implementing an electric taxi program in Beijing this year, targeting the city’s 70,000 existing cars.
Closer to home, real progress is happening in states that back clean energy. As a result of a $1.5 billion investment, New York State increased its solar power usage by almost 800 percent over the past five years, from 83 MW in 2011 to 744 MW in 2016. Since the price of generating solar energy has dropped 58 percent in the past five years alone, it is a great investment for states to make.
Now that states and countries can see that making these transitions can make a measurable, positive impact on our environment, they may be even more motivate to invest in clean energy.
Scientists don’t have to predict when human pollution and catastrophic climate changes will start killing humans—it already has. Even more alarming is that it’s killing children. According to the World Health Organization, a quarter of all global deaths of children below five years old are caused by polluted environments.
“A polluted environment is a deadly one — particularly for young children. Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water,” said WHO director-general Margaret Chan in a statement.
Going further into detail in the Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment report, WHO’s staggering statistics illustrate how much a rapidly deteriorating environment impacts children’s lives:
570,000 children die from respiratory infections like pneumonia, which can be caused by indoor and outdoor pollution, as well as second-hand smoke.
361,000 kids die because of diarrhea, typically caused by unsafe drinking water, unsanitary environments, and lack of hygiene.
270,000 children die in their first month because of conditions that could have been prevented if they were given access to clean water and protected them from air pollution.
200,000 deaths caused by malaria could have been prevented if clean water was available to reduce breeding sites of mosquitoes.
200,000 children lose their life because of environmental injuries such as poisoning, falls, and drowning.
The WHO also notes the importance of properly managing emerging environmental hazards like electronic and electrical waste. Without proper recycling, this can lead to children being exposed to dangerous toxins known to harm intellectual development and cause attention deficits, as well as more serious conditions like lung disease and cancer. Constant exposure to chemicals like fluoride and lead — which can be found in water, paint, pesticides, and even our food — can affect a child’s brain development and cause a slew of health problems.
Because of climate change, we can expect temperatures and carbon dioxide levels to continue rising, which supports pollen growth. Add that to air pollution and secondhand tobacco smoke, and it could raise the incidence of asthma in children. An increased risk of diarrhea and pneumonia is also expected in communities that are dependent on coal or other unclean fossil fuels for cooking and heat. These cases can prove to be fatal, and could also increase a child’s lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
The report outlines the real cost of a polluted environment—the lives 1.7 million children. Clearly, a concerted effort to ensure that they are protected from these environmental hazards is needed. Global initiatives for improving water quality and moving us away from fossil fuels will not only protect our environment, it will also save children’s lives.
Cutting global emissions by half by 2050 calls on the full deployment of existing energy efficient potential. Despite energy efficient technologies’ proven track record as a cost-effective mean to reduce energy consumption and related emissions, its full potential is yet to be tapped. The investment gap is a key element in explaining the remaining potential.
Public money is increasing – but more is still needed from the private sector. Today, an average of around $130 billion has been invested in energy efficiency improvement yearly, equivalent to 15% of fossil fuel investment, or one fifth of power sector investment. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that to achieve the below 2-degree scenario, energy efficiency (EE) investments need to reach $560 billion/year over the next 15 years, an increase of over four times the current level.
Higher private investments are needed to bridge the gap. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) shows that 86% of those investments need to be private.
In 2016, low-interest rates prevailed in mature economies, at close to zero. Money is available and cheap, with Bain & Company projecting that the volume of total financial assets will be 10 times larger than the value of global GDP growth to 2020. Concurrently, an increasing number of private financial players are willing and stringently committing to greening their finance. Yet, the EE gap is still unfilled. Why?
Private investments are still hindered by the enduring (if unfounded) risk perception of energy efficiency projects. Contrary to traditional investments, EE gains are intangible in nature (they don’t come with incremental physical production) and difficult to measure. The uncertainties surrounding EE savings, reinforced by the absence of an internationally recognized monitoring protocol, result in a perception that EE operational risks are high. Energy efficient technologies are often assumed to be unreliable; with a concomitant risk of not transforming into adequate return cash flows. This results in much higher transaction costs.
Making the Transition to a Low-Carbon World
In the coming 15 years, 3 billion additional people will join the middle class. Today, around 2 billion people still lack access to reliable electricity. Our challenge in the next 40 years is to provide energy services for close to 5 billion additional people, building a system that delivers 100GJ per capita to more than 9 billion people, while cutting our emissions by half. This entails a sharp decrease in our carbon intensity and an efficiency improvement by a factor of three.
It’s time for action. Projects are not happening at the necessary scale or pace. Cities, for instance, soon host to more than 70% of the world population, have a significant potential for increased savings. While smart city projects are on the rise worldwide, their development remains at the planning phase and viable business models for easy scaling up are still to be found. Execution challenges pile up and have led for instance to the push back of Masdar City completion from 2016 to 2030. Similar hurdles also plague China’s ambition to build 154 smart cities, where several newly created eco-cities are abandoned by developers before completion.
Buildings, where half of world’s electricity is consumed, are among the most inefficient infrastructures, with 80% untapped EE potential. The IEA estimates that buildings energy performance per square meter needs to improve from a rate of 1.5% per year in the past decade to at least 2.5% per year over the next decade to 2025. Solutions exist to get us there. Building control systems can deliver 30% energy savings by combining comprehensive automation, control, and monitoring of energy use, with a payback of less than 3 years. Similarly, in other sectors, deploying available technologies by bridging market barriers, could unlock the 79% unrealized efficiency potential in infrastructure, and the 58% potential of Industries.
The digitization of the economy and the advancement of smart grid technologies, such as intelligent metering, automated analytics, demand response, enable customers to produce, consume, store and sell within a dynamic electricity system.
Customers are at the center of the New Energy World transformation. Yet in our current energy system, less than one third of total generation reaches end-users. The rest is scattered along the energy value chain in production and T&D losses. Lagging behind in this transition will be detrimental to individuals and the planet, by giving citizens less choice on how, what, and when they consume energy.
What Can be Done?
Scaling up of risk-sharing instruments. Previous experiences with risk mitigation instruments have been very successful. The case of the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s risk-sharing facility and programs come to mind with Commercializing Energy Efficiency Finance (CEEF): a program that provides guarantees to EE investments in Eastern Europe. IFC guarantees up to 50% of the loss from loan defaults, a risk-sharing arrangement that encourages commercial banks to lend. Local banks select projects and design their credit facilities. The IFC has also been active in China under a similar mechanism. From 2006 to 2009, the China Utility Based Energy Efficiency Finance Program (CHUEE) provided USD 512 billion in loans to 78 companies without a default loss.
The European Union should be commended for building on such success and launching the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), jointly with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the EU Commission. Such initiative provides a EUR 16bn guarantee from the EU budget and EUR 5 billion of EIB’s own capital, and encourages higher risk projects in Europe. This scheme has recently loaned EUR 100 million to Energies POSIT’IF, a public-private company that aims to make condominium buildings in Paris region more energy efficient. The loan and risk guarantee enables the provision of financing to owners and resulted in the tripling of apartments expected to undergo renovation in the coming year.
Additional work is still needed to analyze the best combination of financial and other instruments (such as training, education, capacity building or awareness building) for reducing high levels of perceived risk. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is working closely with local financial institutions and technical partners to transfer international best practice skills, supporting the origination of technically feasible investment opportunities.
To unlock private investments, policy-makers need to rise up and provide adequate policy signals. Risk-sharing instruments should be scaled up and deployed. Subsidies and other market failures insulating customers from the true price of energy should be corrected; including the internalization of climate change externalities. The establishment of a platform for continuous public-private dialogue would facilitate alignment of stakeholders involved in enabling and accelerating this transition: financiers; industries; policy makers; citizens. Leveraging existing institutions and initiatives that facilitate international public-private exchanges, data and resource sharing on these issues, is urgently needed.
Climate change is often a contentious issue at the heart of debates in our national politics. However, the facts about climate change are quite clear. 97% of allclimate scientists agree that we have human activity to thank for the climate-warming trend over the past century. Eighteen different scientific organizations have come together to concur with the following assertions, which are based on mounting scientific evidence of the unprecedented rate of warming these past 1,300 years:
Still, many people remain skeptical — some even go so far as to deny that climate change exists at all.
While science is a discipline that does not concern itself with our feelings, and is grounded only in pure evidence-based research—society as a whole is not.
How Do We Hold A Conversation?
With that said, how should we approach those who are skeptical of evidence and facts? Especially when they are some of the most powerful people in our society? In 2015, 56% of republicans in congress denied climate change was an issue, and the incoming administration stated that it’s a hoax. Those in search of the best way to hold a civil conversation on this issue may want to refer to suggestions made by popular scientific communicator Bill Nye.
The science guy himself notes that in order to emphasize the importance of climate change, one must “chip away” at any stonewalling arguments in search of some mutual understanding. Whether it be television commentators or US senators, Nye is confident that if you push your knowledge of facts surrounding money, politics, and society you will see results.
The next assertion is the concept of asking your peers to make predictions from their theories. As an example, Nye personally bet $40,000 that 2016 would be one of the top ten warmest years — and prominent deniers refused to entertain the bet entirely.
Having a discussion with someone who doesn’t agree with you is never easy, but finding common understanding and conveying facts and figures is usually the best way forward. As our planet’s future may well hang in the balance, the only conversation that’s guaranteed to be unhelpful is the one you don’t have.
According to The Washington Post, The White House’s proposed 2018 fiscal plan prioritizes defense spending at the expense of discretionary funds for programs that are more likely to affect the day-to-day lives of Americans. “The administration’s 2018 budget blueprint will prioritize rebuilding the military and making critical investments in the nation’s security,” the document reads. “It will also identify the savings and efficiencies needed to keep the nation on a responsible fiscal path.”
Part of those saving will be found in the government’s spending on basic science, which will drop by 10.5 percent compared to recent years, reports Science. According to someone familiar with the administration’s plans, the EPA’s Office of Research and Development could lose up to 42 percent of its budget as well. This would trickle down into the grants the EPA gives out to states, as well as its air and water programs, with potential funding decreases of 30 percent. The agency itself would be downsized, with the current staff of 15,000 people slashed to about 12,000, and the annual budget dropped from $8.2 billion to $6.1 billion.
“This budget is a fantasy if the administration believes it will preserve EPA’s mission to protect public health,” former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy told The Washington Post. “It ignores the need to invest in science and to implement the law,” she continued. “It ignores the lessons of history that led to EPA’s creation 46 years ago. And it ignores the American people calling for its continued support.”
The Environment Needs Protecting
This won’t come as a surprise to many. The new administration has not shown through its actions that it sees protecting the environment as a priority, and President Trump himself once described climate change as a “Chinese hoax.” Clearly, the EPA is being relegated to the status of low priority. “Basically, the direction is to reduce enforcement, which is already pretty strained,” said Eric Shaeffer, former head of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement.
Surprisingly, EPA head Scott Pruitt says he is worried by the looming budget cuts. “I am concerned about the grants that have been targeted, especially around water infrastructure, and those very important state revolving funds,” Pruitt told E&E News. It isn’t clear, however, what Pruitt meant when he said he will make sure “that we reallocate, re-prioritize in our agency to do regulatory reform to get back within the bounds of Congress.” Does this include existing programs that fight climate change? It’s hard to know how he plans to run an agency he has sued more than a dozen times in the past.
While Congress isn’t obliged to follow the budget proposal from the White House, there isn’t any certainty that these cuts won’t be implemented. Until then, we keep our fingers crossed and be thankful that several states have taken up the challenge of fighting climate chance through efforts to seriously reduce their carbon footprint.
The world is spending a lot of money in an attempt to reverse the effects of climate change. Investments are being made to fund the creation of emission-free vehicles, infrastructure is being built to support sustainability, research is being conducted to find new sources of non-carbon-emitting energy, and technology is being developed to prevent us from feeling the full brunt of a deteriorating environment.
Due to climate change, the Arctic has been experiencing unseasonably warm weather that’s causing the ice to melt. The money the scientists are asking for would go toward building 10 million wind-powered pumps that will bring water from beneath the ice to the surface in an effort to refreeze the Arctic. In theory, the water that is pumped to the surface will automatically freeze in the below-zero temperatures and thus add to the ice sheet’s thickness.
The scientists behind the paper estimate that these wind-powered pumps will have to be deployed across 10 percent of the region. They believe they’d need 100 million tons of steel to build the pumps over the course of 10 years. If they could do that, they think they could restore the Arctic to what is was roughly 15 years ago.
The Arctic Crisis
The scientific community is working hard to find more novel solutions to the Arctic crisis, which they argue the 2015 Paris Agreement won’t do enough to remedy. Proposals such as this highlight the need for tangible initiatives that aren’t solely focused on limiting fossil fuel usage.
While the proposal is noteworthy, not everyone is convinced that this plan to refreeze the Arctic is at all feasible.
“Global warming in response to rising CO2 concentrations would continue despite efforts to grow ice in the Arctic,” Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told CNN. “Thus, the excess heat at lower latitudes would still be transported towards the Arctic via atmospheric and oceanic circulation and this would counter efforts to grow ice in the Arctic.”
If we do nothing, however, the Arctic will significantly disrupt the ecosystem of the region, leading to the endangerment of various species. It will also trigger more warming across the Earth. Essentially, the Arctic ice serves to reflect the solar radiation that enters the planet’s atmosphere back into space. Without it, the Earth will experience more erratic weather in the Northern Hemisphere and the permafrost will melt, which will release more carbon into the atmosphere.
Whether or not this is the plan that will solve the Arctic crisis, it’s important that we find some solution soon. According to studies, if we do nothing about the world’s carbon emissions and let the Arctic continue on as it is, summer Arctic sea ice will disappear by 2030.