The Netherlands has expressed a desire to end coal power by 2030, marking the beginning of the end for coal power plants in the European country.
The decision came from the new Dutch government earlier this week, which also announced plans to ban all petrol and diesel-powered cars by the same year. As reported by Megan Darby of Climate Home, the Netherlands will close all coal power plants by 2030, which includes three plants made in 2015 that are said to be more efficient that others. Despite their better performance, however, they quickly started to decrease in value in 2016.
In addition to phasing out coal, the Netherlands will also set a carbon floor price and seek deeper carbon cuts to make sure coal’s elimination doesn’t make it cheaper for companies to use coal elsewhere.
Making a Statement
In a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), IEEFA energy finance consultant Gerard Wynn said the government’s announcement “sent a dramatic signal to electricity markets today that no investment in coal-fired power in Europe is safe.”
Wynn continued, saying, “Today’s announcement highlights the risk of investing in either new or existing coal-fired power, and the lesson is clear: National coal phase-out plans such as this, combined with the rise of renewables and the impact on demand of improved efficiency, put old electricity-production models at risk.”
In September, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) revealed new information that showed how global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions remained unchanged in 2016. While this was a positive sign that people can prevent additional changes to our climate, the Netherlands wants to do better, hence its new goal to reduce emissions in the country by 49 percent, as well as increase the larger EU’s emissions goals from 40 percent to 55 percent.
“Failing that,” writes Darby, “the coalition said it would seek to agree [to] stronger action with ‘likeminded’ countries in northwestern Europe, to minimize any competitive disadvantage from tougher targets.”
Climate change may still be a matter of debate in some pockets of the United States, but globally, there’s not much controversy. These days, most world leaders are not reluctant to discuss climate change, one of the defining issues of our era. This was certainly the case at this year’s United Nations Global Summit, held at the UN headquarters in New York City in late September — there was no shortage of conversations dissecting strategies to cut emissions and slow the pace of warming.
But one leader framed the stakes in a way that left little room for debate. On September 21, during a panel discussion focused on uniting for climate change held in the media zone (outside the general assembly), Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s Minister of Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, told a small audience that mitigating climate change is necessary for our survival.
“For Fiji and the South Pacific, this is not just a matter of sustainable development, but it’s a matter of survival as well. For us it’s very critical to build resilience so that we can achieve sustainable development in the long-term,” Seruiratu said. He continued:
We [Fijians] are low-emitters. But we are also contributing towards mitigation. For us, more mitigation now means less adaptation in the future. We keep insisting that we have to equally balance between adaptation and mitigation because for us, as a small island state, mitigation is critical — it’s important because it’s a matter of survival. Therefore, for us to have resilience in the future, we have to have a balance between adaption and mitigation.
Fiji, as Seruiratu noted, is an island in the South Pacific, a region among the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of sea level rise and destructive storms. In February 2016, tropical cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, causing US$1.4 billion in damage. Fiji is better equipped to mitigate that damage and adapt to new conditions than some of its neighbors, such as Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, according to assessments from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index.
Financing this shift is critical, Seruiratu said. Nations like Fiji need to put money into updating infrastructure to be more resilient (and to put insurance policies on them), to implement climate policies like turning to energy sources that don’t emit as much carbon dioxide. Who, exactly, should pay for all that has been a matter of debate as more countries have agreed to international climate treaties such as the Paris Accord.
Seruiratu is one of the leaders for the COP23, the UN’s climate meeting that will be held in Bonn, Germany in November.
Seruiratu reiterated that taking action against climate change isn’t up to any one country, or community, or individual. Everyone must play a part. “In uniting for climate action, we must understand that first we are all vulnerable, and we must all act. We all have to take responsibility,” he said.
West Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier has lost a piece of ice measuring more than 100 square miles. This is the second piece of this size to break away from the glacier in the past two years, and the fifth large event to take place since 2000, prompting fears that this is a sign of things to come.
Pine Island is thought to lose 45 billion tons of ice every year, enough to raise the sea level by one millimeter every eight years. If the entire glacier were to melt, it could raise the global sea level by up to 52 centimeters (20.5 inches).
Last year, researchers from Ohio State University published a paper that suggested the Pine Island glacier was losing ice in an alarming fashion. Rather than breaking away from the sides, rifts were seen to form from the center of its floating ice shelf, coming up from underneath. This process was attributed to the impact of warmer ocean waters at its base.
The paper asserted that more rifts would result in large chunks of ice falling away more frequently. Based on this new development, it seems that this hypothesis was correct.
Calving — the process of ice falling away from a glacier — is perfectly natural. However, it’s the frequency of the losses suffered by the Pine Island glacier that has experts worried. Moreover, the fact that they seem to be caused by warmer ocean temperatures confirms that human activity plays a big role.
““We are very worried about what might happen to Pine Island glacier in relation to sea level rise,” Stef Lhermitte, a satellite observation specialist at Delft University of Technology, told the Washington Post. The worst-case-scenario here is for major ice shelf breakaways, calving and subsequent sea level rise to become so normalized that it loses its necessary sense of emergency, as a warning sign of imminent threat to an ecology suitable to our way of life. Make no mistake; this is happening, and it’s bad.
A safe haven sounds like a good idea right about now.
Somewhere that’s warm but not too warm, free from roof-toppling hurricanes and ground-rumbling earthquakes, and close to a river or ocean but far enough to avoid the threats of flooding and sea-level rise.
Which places does that leave? According to climate scientists and urban planners, not a lot.
“The bottom line is it’s going to be bad everywhere,” Bruce Riordan, the director of the Climate Readiness Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, told Business Insider. “It’s a matter of who gets organized around this.”
Still, there are some cities with a better chance of surviving the onslaught of a warmer planet, Vivek Shandas, an urban-planning professor at Portland State University, told Business Insider.
“There are places that might at least temper the effects of climate change,” he said.
Shandas is part of a research group studying this very question. When evaluating how prepared cities are for climate change, he and his team look at a handful of factors, including policy and politics, community organization, and infrastructure.
The research so far indicates that these locations could be your best bet over the next five decades — especially if you’re investing in a home or property.
The Pacific Northwest is the best US region for escaping the brunt of climate change, Shandas said.
Cities in the area aren’t perfect — he said they have “other challenges” — but “their infrastructure tends to be newer and more resilient to major shocks,” he added. That’s key when it comes to coping with heat and rising water.
Seattle is one of the most “well positioned” of these cities, Shandas said.
Portland was the first US city to come up with a plan to prepare for climate change. The city’s historic Climate Action Plan, created in 1993, is a set of policies and initiatives aimed at slashing the city’s carbon emissions. The goal is to cut them by 40% by 2030 and by 80% by 2050.
“There are not many cities in the US that rank well in terms of infrastructure, but newer cities fare much better,” Shandas said.
Access to natural resources like water will be important in the coming decades, Shandas said, especially as the planet warms and lakes and rivers begin to dry up. That helps put Minneapolis toward the top of the rankings.
In addition to its “tremendous lakes,” Minneapolis also has a “good climate-action plan and well-coordinated systems of emergency management and planning,” two things that will help it prepare for and bounce back from an event like a big storm, Shandas said.
Ann Arbor formally launched the plan in 2012, but according to Shandas, the city has “a long history of planning for climate change” that makes it highly adaptable to a warmer planet.
Madison also scores well on most of the metrics Shandas is looking at, such as policy, community organization, and infrastructure.
“Seattle, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Madison — these are places that are far more likely to do better, relatively speaking, than a lot of the other parts of the country,” he said.
One of the largest studies on the effects of heat waves took place in Chicago in the 1990s. An underlooked aspect of how well a city can adapt to natural disasters, that study found, is how connected people in a community are to one another. In Chicago, the people who fared worst during the heat wave were those who were isolated — typically, people with lower incomes and less access to resources.
Since then, the city has taken measures to boost organization and community building, and that makes it a good candidate for future resilience.
“Denver is one of those places that keeps coming up on my radar because of its new infrastructure and the fact that it has lots and lots of smart planning going on,” Shandas said.
When the city released its climate-action plan in 2007, it was one of the first large US cities to recognize the threats of climate change. Denver has since come up with a set of sustainability goals for 2020, released in 2013, and a revised action plan for addressing climate change.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Like Denver, Salt Lake City has made a lot of progress in the past few years when it comes to preparing for natural disasters and emergencies.
“There are some new researchers there that are doing great work and driving that,” Shandas said.
Phoenix might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of safe havens from climate change. It faces substantial threats from higher temperatures and drought.
But from a sustainability perspective, Shandas said, researchers “are really connecting with the city and the universities and coming up with a collaborative model where the researchers and practitioners sit together and work out risks and identify potentially vulnerable spots and populations” — a model that other slightly better-positioned cities can learn from.
Shandas said important sustainability work is happening in Austin, too.
“We often write off the South as somewhere that’s going get hammered by heat waves and hurricanes, but there are some really interesting places like Austin,” he said.
Researchers and officials there are planning for a warmer planet and ramping up infrastructure to tackle climate change. In fact, Austin plans to be carbon neutral by 2020 — one of the most ambitious deadlines of any city on this list.
For the city of Baltimore, flooding is a big concern, particularly after a major storm. But the city is investing heavily in what Shandas calls “green infrastructure.”
As a result, officials are coming up with creative ways to cope with and potentially stave off floods. Recently, the city put in several bioswales, bits of architecture designed to help remove pollution from surface runoff that can accumulate after rain. This helps keep the water supply clean and ensure people have access to clean drinking water.
Philadelphia is also investing in public works like transit, parks, and a resilient energy grid. “Lots of public and private dollars are going into that,” Shandas said.
Scotland is often home to patches of snow that can potentially last for decades, surviving the country’s summers to be replenished each winter. Two patches currently remain, and the oldest of these, “the Sphinx,” has been around for eleven years. However, it doesn’t seem that they are going to survive this year. This will be the first time Scotland has been snowless in eleven years, and likely only the sixth time in the past 300 years.
The Sphinx is located on at Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach in the Cairngorms mountain range. Braeriach is Britain’s third-tallest mountain. Groups of volunteers who call themselves “snow patchers” monitor the snow patches each year to keep track of their status. Every year, the snow patchers deliver a survey to the Royal Meteorological Society. One of the monitors, Iain Cameron, believes that the Sphinx only has a few days left.
All of this may not seem to amount to much, yet the larger implications of what’s causing the patches to melt is cause for concern. In an interview with The Scotsman, Cameron didn’t blame high temperatures for the melting, but the lack of snowfall. “It was an extraordinarily dry winter and not much snow fell at all,” he said. “The Scottish ski centers all reported very poor skier day numbers and it’s no coincidence that the patches of snow are correspondingly smaller.” Winters with less snowfall are a predicted result of climate change.
Skeptics may argue that this is not the first time that the patches have melted, and indeed they did in 1959, 1996, 2003 and 2006. However, as Cameron explains, “The rate of melt of these patches has accelerated in the past 20 years.” These snow patches are yet another indicator of the dire situation our planet is in.
There is plenty to be done to at least help curb the rapid progress of our warming planet. Melting snow patches in the Scottish Highlands may not seem to be much in the grand scheme of things, but they are a sign of bigger issues. There is a lot we can do to prevent climate change from reaching its full destructive potential.
New scientific analysis reveals that we can still hit the highly ambitious target of limiting global warming to less than 1.5C. The goal was set in 2015 to help mitigate the havoc being wrought by rising sea levels and extreme weather around the world. At the time, it was widely felt to be unattainable — since contemporary analyses said it would necessitate a drop to zero carbon emissions within seven years.
However, the most recent data and an updated analysis reveal that a larger global carbon emissions budget than previously thought would allow us to achieve the 1.5C goal: equivalent to about 20 years of emissions at the current rate. This means a tremendous challenge remains, but if countries continue to pump up their emissions cuts under the Paris Climate Agreement as planned, we could still hit the more ambitious target.
Interestingly, while it was University College London climate economist Michael Grubb who called the 1.5C goal “incompatible with democracy” in 2015, Grubb is also the force behind the new analysis. “It is looking more hopeful that we can really achieve the Paris goals,” Grubb told The Guardian. “We are in the midst of an energy revolution.”
The team that produced the new analysis revealed that for a 66 percent chance of hitting the 1.5C target in 2100, we’d need a 240 billion ton carbon budget, which would require strong — and immediate — action. In other words, cutting carbon in lower amounts but starting far sooner is more likely to achieve the 1.5C goal.
Grubb acknowledged to The Guardian that the “politics is still not easy.” However, he also emphasized that the effect of President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris deal was minimal, because states and cities in the U.S. and other countries around the world are still committed to the goals — in part because the costs of green energy continue to fall.
“I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water’s edges, historically for commerce and transportation,” Tyson told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go.”
Given the overwhelming evidence that human activity has a grave influence on the climate, Tyson argued that questioning its scientific basis is a waste of time. He noted the problems that arise when members of the press and politicians “cherry pick” individual scientific studies that back specific positions while ignoring the larger scientific consensus.
“The day two politicians are arguing about whether science is true, it means nothing gets done. Nothing,” said Tyson. “It’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy, as I’ve said many times. What I’d rather happen is you recognize what is scientifically truth, then you have your political debate.”
He also asserted that building policy based on the relatively few papers that downplay human involvement in climate change is “simply irresponsible.”
While Tyson may well be correct in his assertion that climate change has already progressed to the point that destructive consequences are guaranteed, scientists aren’t giving up the fight just yet.
Still, seeing authorities bury their heads in the sand is incredibly discouraging, even if there are some small indications that policies might be changing for the better. For once, we can hope that Neil deGrasse Tyson is wrong and we aren’t too late to have the impact necessary to prevent widespread destruction.
In 2013, a study published in Environmental Research Letters asserted that 97 percent of scientific papers support the consensus that human activity has an effect on global warming. But now the other hand has been filled: there’s evidence that the remaining three percent are significantly flawed.
A review found in Theoretical and Applied Climatology saw researchers attempt to replicate the results of these studies. The team examined 38 papers that denied humans were a contributing factor to global warming, and found that their results were biased or otherwise faulty.
“Every single one of those analyses had an error — in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis — that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus,” lead author Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, wrote in a post published via Facebook.
Co-author Rasmus Benestad of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute developed a program using the statistical programming language R that would replicate the results of each paper and attempt to determine how they were produced. None of the papers’ results were found to be replicable using generally accepted scientific concepts.
The team established three main categories of problems that plagued the research. The first was a tendency to only select results that supported the conclusion being made, ignoring the broader context or other data. The second was the practice of framing data such that the curve matched an idea being put forward.
The third category collects examples of a full-blown disregard for physics. “In many cases, shortcomings are due to insufficient model evaluation, leading to results that are not universally valid but rather are an artifact of a particular experimental setup,” reads the paper.
There’s still plenty of work to be done in the field of climate science, from further investigations into the effects of rising temperatures, to new methods of mitigating natural disasters. However, at this point it seems that we can safely say that human beings are contributing to global warming.
Climate change is set to have massive consequences for all life on earth, so any time spent looking for a convenient explanation that absolves human beings of all responsibility is ultimately time that could be better spent.
July 2017 had tied July and August 2016 as the hottest month on record, according to a new analysis from NASA. May 2017 is not far behind, resting not-so-comfortably in second place.
According to NASA, last month was 0.83 degrees Celsius (1.49 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the average July temperature for the 1951 to 1980 period. July 2016 had a similar temperature difference of 0.82 degrees Celsius above average, while all previous months of July were recorded to be nearly a tenth of a degree cooler.
Mashable notes that we haven’t had a month that was cooler than the 1951 to 1980 average in over 30 years. The last time was in December 1984.
Mitigating Climate Change
A draft of the Climate Change Report, which was obtained by The New York Times, notes that July 2017’s higher-than-normal temperatures are just one example of the changes our planet has felt in recent years: “The last few years have also seen record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes, as well as the warmest years on record for the globe, and continued decline in arctic sea ice. These trends are expected to continue in the future over climate (multidecadal) timescales.”
Increasing temperatures from year-to-year are yet another effect of global warming, and the trend will continue if nothing is done to address our influence on our planet.
Fortunately, some are already taking steps in the right direction.
Earlier this week, police officers in Luxembourg confirmed they would be adding two Tesla Model S sedans to their police force. Those electric vehicles will help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide the force releases into the air while on patrol, and while that’s a relatively small initiative, every bit helps.
Meanwhile, others have much larger initiatives either already underway or on the horizon.
Prepared by scientists from 13 federal agencies, the CSSR concludes that human-made climate change is real and that its effects are being felt by Americans right now. According to the report, average temperatures in the U.S. have risen dramatically since the 1980s, and the past few decades have been the warmest of the last 1,500 years.
“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the CSSR reads. It’s “extremely likely” that more than half of the global average temperature increase since 1951 is linked to human influence. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change.”
The scientists also validate concerns over rising sea levels, which are already affecting some places in the U.S. The report also notes an unmistakable link between climate change and extreme weather conditions. However, this field of “attribution science” is complex.
The researchers found “relatively strong evidence” that man-made factors played a role in such extreme weather events as the 2003 European heat wave and the 2013 record heat in Australia. Other events, like the Texas heat wave in 2011, were more “complicated,” with La Niña playing a significant role.
While the CSSR doesn’t include any policy recommendations, it does predict some potential implications of climate change in the U.S.
Depending on future carbon emission levels, average annual temperatures in the U.S. could increase by 2.8 to 4.8 degrees Celsius (5.0 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of the century.
Indeed, to remain below the global mean temperature increase limit of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), worldwide emissions need to be significantly reduced.
The CSSR’s authors, however, have one other concern. One scientist who wished to remain anonymous told The New York Times that they’re worried the Trump administration might try to alter or suppress the report.
“It’s a fraught situation,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the CSSR, told TheNew York Times. “This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.”
The Earth is at a critical point in its evolution. When it comes to climate change we seem to be at a point of no return, or at least the point where markers normally signifying a “tipping point” is the very best we can hope for. According to a study recently published in Nature Climate Change, it is unlikely that the Earth will warm by less than 2 °C (3.6 °F) by the year 2100.
Those two degrees are a significant milestone in terms of warming on a global scale. Back in 1977, an economist from Yale University proposed that a rise of 2 °C stand as a threshold in the measurement of global climate change. As CNN’s Ashley Strickland puts it, passing that threshold will change life on Earth as we know it. “Rising seas, mass extinctions, super droughts, increased wildfires, intense hurricanes, decreased crops and fresh water and the melting of the Arctic are expected.” The Paris Climate Agreement adopted this threshold when drafting the accords and set 1.5 °C as the goal.
The reality may be even worse: the study shows that temperatures have a 90 percent chance of increasing by 2.0 — bringing the rise to to 4.9 °C. “Our analysis is compatible with previous estimates, but it finds that the most optimistic projections are unlikely to happen,”says lead author Adrian Raftery, a Universtiy of Washington professor of statistics and sociology. “We’re closer to the margin than we think.”
Death by the causes and effects of global temperatures rising are also set to spike. The World Health Organization estimates that 12.6 million deaths can be attributed to pollution alone. They also predict that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will be responsible for adding 250,000 more deaths around the world.
The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accords will not increase optimism. Still, states and individuals are picking up the slack left by the federal government. So, while there is little hope of avoiding the 2 °C threshold, there is hope that we can come together to mitigate future damage.
When it comes to discussing the fight against climate change, there are two facts we must behold: First, climate change is here; it’s happening; it’s been happening…and we’re already feeling the impact. Second, for those living in the United States, the current political climate is not one of change. The current administration has, in fact, taken steps that have sent us backwards in the fight against global warming, not forward.
But we can change the tide (literally).
Ten years ago, Former Vice President Al Gore released a documentary entitled An Inconvenient Truth. For many Americans, especially those of younger generations, the film brought about the first meaningful conversations they’d had about global warming. Notably, the film did more than just encourage awareness, it placed the responsibility of changing our course (and the culpability of creating our current path) firmly in the hands of corporations, politicians, and—most notably—everyday citizens.
Now, a decade—and a demonstrably warmer world—later, the Former Vice President is releasing another film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
There’s really only one place to start: Education.
In an exclusive interview with Futurism, he acknowledged that the current political climate is a precarious one, calling President Trump’s environmental policies “reckless and indefensible.” But the Former V.P is not without hope, largely due to the grassroots movement that has risen up around the country in response to some of President Trump’s more drastic decisions — such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Former Vice President Gore believes that the momentum behind the movement, and the commitment at the local level to uphold the work of the Paris Agreement, will be successful, “regardless of what Donald Trump says.”
But if we want to tackle climate change from the ground up, so to speak, where — and how — should we truly begin?
Where to Start
As far as the Former V.P. is concerned, there’s really only one place to start: Education. “Number one, learn about it,” he said, “People sometimes feel that it’s hard to talk about the climate crisis. But the more you know, the more confident you are, the easier it is to talk about it.” And he clarifies that his films, and their corresponding books, were conceived as tools to help facilitate these conversations.
But as they say, talk is cheap. It’s one thing to know that we need to reduce our carbon footprint collectively, but how do we do it individually? And furthermore, given the enormous, far-reaching scope of the problem, how do we convince ourselves that our efforts to do so aren’t futile?
“When you go into the marketplace, choose the most climate-friendly, environmentally-friendly alternative,” he offers, adding:
That may seem like a trivial matter, because it only reduces your impact a little bit as an individual, but it sends a signal to business and industry that — together with what others are sending — really does drive change.
Knowing whether or not something truly is environmentally-friendly, though, can be a challenge. One strategy is to buy locally when you can — whether it be food or other products. When you know exactly where something is coming from, how it’s been produced, who is producing it, and what it’s been sourced from, you can be more confident about any claims of “green” status it may tout. You’re also not just supporting the environment, but your community by strengthening local economies.
Investing in the assets readily available to you in your own neighborhood (and even your own backyard) can also help to reduce your carbon footprint in other ways, like using your car less. Whether you’re walking, biking, carpooling, or using public transit, you’re not just reducing emissions, you’re also sending a message to your municipal government. That message being that your community wants, and would use, infrastructure that would help you to drive less. Whether it’s repairing sidewalks or creating bike paths, the more people who come out in support (or who show up at town halls to bring up the issues), the more likely it is that a local government would deem it worthy to invest the time, money, and resources in development.
“We can, and we will, win this.”
Which brings us to the Former V.P.’s third suggestion: Getting involved in politics, whether it be at the city, state, or federal level. “Let the candidates asking for your votes know this is important to you,” he said. “Let the office holders who hold town hall meetings know that you really care about this.”
He concludes, “We can and will win this.” And there’s reason to hope he’s right. While governments and corporations play a role, and can have a major impact in terms of setting standards and writing policy (and, ideally, adhering to them), they aren’t the only ones who need to step up.
Regardless of where you live (and whether or not your local or federal government supports the efforts). the first step is to acknowledge our responsibility for what has already happened and start a conversation. This is how all of our greatest movements—from the Civil Rights to the Campaign for Women’s Sufferage—got started.
We can’t reverse the damage that has already been done, but we can set our sights on what’s happening right now — and commit to doing better.
Elon Musk tweeted a few weeks ago that there’s “no need to rely on scientists for global warming — just use a thermometer.” While climate change is more complicated that that, with implications that extend far beyond just temperature, Musk’s point stands. Summers across the globe are hotter than they used to be, and extreme weather has never been more common.
According to Hansen’s data, 15 percent of summers between 2005 and 2015 fall into the category of “extremely hot,” while the number of “hot” summers has doubled compared to the base period (1951 to 1980), jumping from around 33 percent to 66 percent.
Todd Sanford, director of research at Climate Central, told The New York Times that the findings “really highlight that changes in the average, while they may seem modest, have big implications for the extremes. And that’s what’s going to affect society and ecosystems.” He also asserted that this upward trend provides “a glimpse to what’s in our future.”
However, the last few years have marked a shift in the way we approach climate change, as well. While the 2000s were marked by a distrust of statistics and skepticism regarding the true extent of the problem, the 2010s have seen more people asking the question, “What can we do?”
A new study projects that if climate change continues unabated, heat-related deaths will rise dramatically in 10 major U.S. metropolitan areas compared to if the predicted increase in global warming is substantially curbed and cities take steps to adapt.
“The conversation about climate change is typically focused on the costs of mitigation, but this paper shows the human toll of policy inaction,” said senior author Gregory Wellenius, associate professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health. “These results show the cost in terms of human lives due to just this one aspect of climate change: temperature. We have here an opportunity to save lives and improve people’s health.”
The analysis, published in the journal Environment International, is based on a set of internationally accepted temperature models through the decade 2085-2095 and the research team’s calculations of present-day temperature-related mortality specific to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
The study forecasts deaths due to heat and cold for two different possible futures: A “better case” in which policy and technology mitigate climate change, yielding only a 1.8-degree Celsius increase in average global temperature by 2100, and a “worse case” in which greenhouse emissions continue growing at the current pace, leading to a 3.7-degree Celsius increase globally by 2100.
Across all 10 metropolitan areas, assuming no population growth at all, the study forecasts a “worse case” range of mortality averaging 10,300 heat-related deaths a year by 2050 and 26,000 heat-related deaths annually by 2090, compared to only about 2,300 in 1997. In the “better case” the heat-related deaths rise “only” to around 7,700 by 2050 and 10,400 by 2090 from the 1997 baseline.
“This paper highlights the importance of both mitigating and adapting to climate change, because what we see is that heat related deaths are going to increase even under the better case scenario,” said lead author Kate Weinberger, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Public Health and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES). “We should try to avoid the worse case scenario, but we will still need to protect people from heat, even in the better case.”
The projected increase in deaths rose significantly when the researchers factored in predictions of population growth from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency With population growth, heat related deaths across the 10 metros rose to around 12,300 in the better case and 16,400 in the worse case in 2050 and then 21,100 in the better case or 52,339 in the worse case in 2090.
The study also looked at cold-related deaths under both climate change scenarios and with and without population growth. Overall the authors found that while rising temperatures reduced the risk of dying from cold, the reduced threat of cold was overwhelmed in 8 of 10 metro areas by the much greater increased risk from heat, leading to a net increase in the number of temperature-related deaths under climate change overall.
For example, without population growth, total cold-related deaths, which are just shy of 27,000 in 1997, decline to 22,000 in 2050 and 17,700 in 2090 in the worse case or to 23,000 in 2050 and 21,800 in 2090 in the better case. These declines fall short of the projected increases from heat-related deaths above.
The effects vary in each metropolitan area because each is forecast to experience a unique combination of temperature change and population growth, and each has shown different historical rates of death from cold or warm temperatures, the researchers said.
The local temperature projections for each metropolitan area in the study came from the 40 climate models encapsulated in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The population growth estimates are based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Integrated Climate and Land-Use project.
To determine each metropolitan area’s propensity for temperature-related deaths, the researchers analyzed the relationship between mean daily temperature and daily mortality between 1986 and 2005.
This article was provided by Brown University. Materials may have been edited for clarity and brevity. And make the name of the source a link back to their web
Two new studies have been published in Science outlining research on a pair of geoengineering methods, sulphur atmospheric injection and cirrus cloud modification, that could prove helpful if Earth’s climate reaches catastrophic levels. While the researchers behind these studies hope that the methods will never become necessary, they assert that researching them is important just in case a climate red button is ever needed.
The first method would involve attempting to mimic the effects of volcanic eruptions. Using dispersal planes, we would inject enough sulphur into the atmosphere to deflect a significant amount of solar radiation away from Earth, thus decreasing its surface temperature.
The second method is to modify cirrus clouds. These clouds are adept at trapping heat in the atmosphere, having a similar effects on the planet as greenhouse gases. The proposed geoengineering method would be to “seed” these clouds with tiny particles of chemicals, desert dust, or pollen in order to break them apart and let more heat escape.
Injecting sulfur into the atmosphere is a highly risky proposition. Financially, it could cost $20 billion a year for as many at 160 years. It could also potentially lead to the destruction of the ozone, which would have the domino effect of causing worldwide draughts while not decreasing acid levels in the ocean or carbon dioxide levels in the air.
Cloud seeing also comes with risks. If the seeding isn’t perfectly executed, it could lead to further cirrus cloud formation, which would have the counterintuitive effect of trapping more heat. It also wouldn’t decrease CO2 levels in the air or stop ocean acidification.
As Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at NASA and Columbia University, said in a Ted Talk, ultimately, geoengineering is like “going to a doctor who says ‘You have a fever, I know exactly why you have a fever, and we’re not going to treat that. We’re going to give you ibuprofen, and also your nose is going to fall off.’” They’re simply risky, temporary solutions that don’t address the core problem.
The Core Problem
We’re seeing more and more evidence that the climate is heading toward disaster and that humans are driving the change. Over the last decade or so, the general tone concerning the topic has moved from “we should do something” to “we must do something now to avoid planetary collapse.”
A team lead by Jim Hansen, NASA’s former chief of climate science, made the situation clear in a recently published study: “The world has already overshot appropriate targets for greenhouse gas amount and global temperature, and we thus infer an urgent need for rapid phasedown of fossil fuel emissions.”
However, some climate scientists remain optimistic that the environmental crucible we are facing is going to force change before we have resort to geoengineering. Alan Robock, an environmental science professor at Rutgers, told Business Insider that international agreements could be made necessarily more severe if the right person is leading the campaign: “With charismatic leadership, things can change very quickly […] I’m optimistic the world will do that and we won’t need to use geoengineering.”
Melting glaciers. Rising seas. Extreme weather events. Perhaps there are no melting ice caps in your backyard. Perhaps the ocean you swim in seems the same as always. Perhaps you haven’t found yourself caught up in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane.
But elsewhere in the world, people cannot say the same.
In our attempt to encourage action, we warn of the effects that global warming will have on the lives of our children and our children’s children, thinking those disasters are deferred. But the irrefutable truth, whether you have personally witnessed it or not, is this: Climate change is already transforming the lives of millions worldwide.
It’s no longer a question solely of prevention because much damage has already been done. And to this end, our efforts must be focused on stopping the damage that’s already begun—that’s already been done—and trying to repair the harm we have caused.
But there is a barrier to repairing this harm. Though it has become increasingly difficult to deny the existence of climate change and its impact, denialists continue to find a way. But in one place on Earth—the place that is the epicenter of the real-time, real-world impact of climate change—denial is not an option.
Feeling the Impact
According to the 2015 Global Climate Risk Index, the Philippines (the southeast Asian country made up of more than 7,000 islands) is one of the places the most affected by climate change — particularly when it comes to extreme weather.
Typhoons, hurricanes, and tropical storms form over oceans, drawing their strength from the water’s temperature. Global warming has caused the surface temperature of ocean waters to increase, and warmer waters contribute to stronger storm systems. Given its location, the Philippines has not been a stranger to these meteorologic phenomena, but in recent years the storms have been getting more intense—and so too has the damage left in their wake.
Related: Futurism’s exclusive interview with former Vice President Al Gore
Hurricane Katrina was still reverberating at the forefront of our collective consciousness when An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006. Fast-forward seven years. On November 8, 2013, the Philippines was ravaged by the strongest storm in modern history. In the new documentary, we see the devastating impact of 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan: We see a young Filipino cry as he recalls the fear and terror and loved ones lost. We see another describe how he had to break through the ceiling of his home so that he and his family could escape drowning.
But there are many, many more people who were there. And they, too, have stories to tell.
Futurism’s team is made up of writers, editors, and creators from many parts of the world. Several members of our staff live and work in the Philippines. We turned to them to go beyond the film and to understand what the people that we know and work with—the people that we call friends—have experienced as a result of our warming world.
Their observations and experiences give us a glimpse into what the future of the cities and towns we live in will be…if we fail to take action.
June Javelosa pointed out that the weather extremes in the Philippines — particularly, flooding — have long been seen as an inevitable part of life in the country: “I don’t think a year has passed that I don’t get stuck in my car because the highways are waist-deep in floodwater.”
June adds that, for a long time, these incidents were seen as more of an infrastructure or urban planning issue rather than an overly concerning weather pattern. Of course, that was before Typhoon Haiyan—the “super typhoon” that hit the region in 2013. “I think that’s when the public began to realize just how defenseless we were to climate change,” June states, adding that, “the death, loss of livelihood, food insecurity experienced in provinces where Haiyan hit the hardest…that made it clear that the government was ill-equipped to protect or even prepare the Philippines for climate change.”
She concludes by that, at this point, extreme weather events in the Philippines seem all too natural: “Most just see it as nothing more than a nuisance.”
In 2014, just one year after Haiyan, Typhoon Glenda hit. Joi Paras was living in the region that saw the highest death toll, and she remembers the experience quite vividly.
By 6 a.m., our livingroom was taking in water from the opening under our front door. The water spread out into the dining room. I had to move furniture and remove rugs by myself. My two brothers had to stay upstairs mopping up my room. Our staircase was flooded by rain water coming from the windows (that don’t open). It looked like we had an indoor waterfall. I told them not to go down for fear that they might slip and fall. I had to bring some bread up to them as a snack.
We did not have electricity for 2 weeks. My dad decided to buy a gas generator so that we could have power. We could not store food, and it was difficult because my mom only ate fish and no meat. My son was covered in mosquito bites. We had to camp out in the living room where it was cooler at night.
Joi also noted that, in rural areas, the aftermath of a natural disaster can be particularly devastating if supplies—or vital messages—are not received. “There are also a lot of people who refuse to leave their homes despite being warned,” she said, adding that many feel as though leaving really isn’t a viable option: “When they leave their homes, you can be sure that they will return to an empty and robbed house.”
Dom Galeon says that he feels a lot of people in the Philippines are “honest-to-goodness believers in climate change,” because, while flooding and typhoons are part of the country’s normal weather patterns, these patterns have become atypical over the last several decades.
The typhoon was locally called “Ondoy.” Its international name was “Ketsana.” It hit the Philippines in September of 2009. Back then, I was living in a house that had an elevated first level. It was high enough to allow for a garage below. When the typhoon hit, the flood rose very fast, and even reached the elevated first floor. The garage was flooded, of course. Water inside the house was almost knee deep. We had to move stuff to the second floor. It was really bad.
When the typhoon passed, it took as a whole day of cleaning to get things back. Then I joined my university’s volunteer drive to help in areas that were badly hit. I remember cleaning mud from a house that was flooded to the ceiling. That family lost so many things…
Many of the most pressing issues in science today contain a lot of missing pieces and are rife with unanswered questions. As technology advances, we hope that it will continue to guide us as we attempt to unravel the mysteries of the universe and help give us the clarity we need to devise solutions.
Climate change, however, is not an ambiguous issue: The answers to the most basic of questions are all right in front of us. We know the who, what, where, when, why, and how — but in accepting the answers, we must accept our own complicity and shoulder the blame.
We, in many respects, are the who. We know what we’re up against. We know where it’s happening. We know that it’s no longer a matter of when because it’s happening right now. And the evidence in support of why it’s happening is there.
We, as the who, will never be fully absolved of our role in climate change. But as we helped to create global warming, so can we help determine how this issue—indeed, if this issue—is solved.
Mary Ann Lucille Sering, secretary of the Philippines climate change commission, is one of the voices leading the charge. “We hope that the Philippine experience, no matter how difficult, can help unite all nations to take more concrete actions on climate change,” Sering said back in 2014 after Typhoon Hagupit swept through the same path that Haiyan had devastated the year before.
In the U.S., Former Vice President Al Gore became a force in the climate change conversation when he released An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. The sequel, like its predecessor, takes on some of the larger sociopolitical factors influencing the climate change fight, and it comes just weeks after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Whether we live in a region where the real-life effects of climate change are being felt, or we’re just watching them play out from afar, our task clear…as the closing credits roll: “Fight like your world depends on it. Because it does.”
In 2015, NASA revealed that Earth’s oceans are rising faster than expected, and the space agency projected that we’re now “locked in” to at least 90 cm of sea level rise in the coming decades.
That in itself would be enough to displace millions of people around the world, but if this trend continues and all our polar ice caps and glaciers melt, it’s been predicted that the oceans will rise by a mind-blowing 65.8 metres (216 feet). So where will all that water end up?
The Business Insider video team has created this animated map to take us on a virtual tour of what all the continents would look like without any ice, and we have to admit it’s kind of terrifying.
Some of the areas that go under first are probably unsurprising – low-lying islands and already water-logged cities such as Venice are quick to disappear. And at first glance, the planet doesn’t really look that much different.
But when the globe spins around to Asia around the halfway mark, things get pretty real, with huge cities like Calcutta and Shanghai disappearing into the ocean altogether (that’s a combined population of almost 19 million people). And suffice it to say, the US also gets a whole lot smaller. You can pretty much kiss Florida goodbye.
What’s most shocking is that this map isn’t some kind of crazy projection of an unlikely future – sure, things aren’t going to look like this in our lifetime, but scientists have regularly predicted a future where there’s no longer any permanent ice on Earth.
And, to be honest, if there was enough carbon in the atmosphere to heat things up that much, sea level rise would probably be the least of our worries, with the average temperature of the planet predicted to reach around 26.6 degrees Celsius, rather than the 14.4 degrees Celsius it is currently. This would wreak havoc with plant and animal life.
But while we’ve all heard those types of projections many times before, it’s different to actually see the affect our behaviour could have on the physical shape of our planet with our own eyes, which is what animations such as this one do so well.
Watch it, and remember just how fortunate we are to be alive during a time where we can witness wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef, Venice, and the Maldives in all their glory.
The report indicates that June 2017 was third warmest June on record, behind only 2016 and 2015. It also states that the average temperature for the year-to-date in the contiguous U.S. was 10.5 degrees Celsius (50.9 degrees Fahrenheit), roughly 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. This makes the first half of 2017 the second warmest on record, behind only 2012.
2017 is still unfolding, so it still may be the warmest year on record. If it isn’t, all indications point to it being in the top three.
As for precipitation, the total for 2017 in the contiguous U.S. has been 2.55 inches above average. That means the first six months of 2017 were the wettest since 1998 and the sixth wettest on record.
In terms of disasters, 2017 is even more notable. Between January and June, the U.S. experienced nine separate billion-dollar climate and weather disasters. These include six severe storms, a freeze, and two floods, which caused 57 deaths in total. Only 2011 and 2016 had more billion-dollar weather and climate disasters by this point in the year, with ten events each.
Climate in Context
Higher levels of precipitation in many places must be seen in the context of drought in others — both extremes are part of the massive chain reaction caused by upheaval in the climate. While there were floods and major storm fronts with high levels of precipitation along the Gulf Coast, for example, some of these areas had previously been experiencing drought conditions.
These significant fluctuations will cause unpredictable and destructive weather patterns, and experts like James Hansen, former NASA climate research head, see rising sea levels as a looming threat that could render much of the world ungovernable.
According to former NASA climate research head James Hansen, the effect of climate change we should be most focused on isn’t the warming of the atmosphere. It’s the rising sea levels.
Hansen told New York Mag that he doesn’t think the atmosphere will actually warm as much as some have predicted by the end of the century, but he does think that sea levels will rise significantly due to melting polar caps. “I don’t think we’re going to get four or five degrees [Celsius] this century, because we get a cooling effect from the melting ice. But the biggest effect will be that melting ice,” he asserted. “In my opinion that’s the big thing – sea-level rise.”
In a paper published last year, Hansen warned that continuous reliance on fossil fuels could increase sea levels by several meters in just a period of 50 to 150 years. That seems like a long time, but Hansen’s predictions are significantly greater than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projected range of sea level rise of 30 centimeters (~1 foot) to just under a meter (3.2 feet).
Coastlines are home to more than half the world’s large cities, so a significant portion of the population will be affected by these rising sea levels. “The economic implications of that, and the migrations and the social effects of migrations … the planet could become practically ungovernable, it seems to me,” said Hansen.
Of course, the rising temperatures themselves will impact the population, too. While they won’t really be an issue in the U.S., Hansen believes they could be a major problem for countries in the subtropics. If the prediction of a four to five degrees Celsius (7.2 to nine degrees Fahrenheit) increase does come true, it would make these places practically uninhabitable and potentially grind their economies to a halt.
“It’s already becoming uncomfortable in the summers, in the subtropics. You can’t work outdoors, and agriculture, more than half of the jobs are outdoors,” he explained.
Hansen asserts that a carbon tax could help stabilize the economy as the world transitions away from fossil fuels, but the important thing is that this transition happens. Without serious efforts on every level, from the individual to the institutional, we stand no chance of preventing climate change from wreaking havoc on our planet.
Earth’s climate is changing rapidly. We know this from billions of observations, documented in thousands of journal papers and texts and summarized every few years by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The primary cause of that change is the release of carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and natural gas.
One of the goals of the international Paris Agreement on climate change is to limit the increase of the global surface average air temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. There is a further commitment to strive to limit the increase to 1.5℃.
International plans on how to deal with climate change are painstakingly difficult to cobble together and take decades to work out. Most climate scientists and negotiators were dismayed by President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
But setting aside the politics, how much warming are we already locked into? If we stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, why would the temperature continue to rise?
Basics of Carbon and Climate
The carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere insulates the surface of the Earth. It’s like a warming blanket that holds in heat. This energy increases the average temperature of the Earth’s surface, heats the oceans and melts polar ice. As consequences, sea level rises and weather changes.
Ecosystems on both land and in the sea are changing. The observed changes are coherent and consistent with our theoretical understanding of the Earth’s energy balance and simulations from models that are used to understand past variability and to help us think about the future.
Slam on the Climate Brakes
What would happen to the climate if we were to stop emitting carbon dioxide today, right now? Would we return to the climate of our elders?
The simple answer is no. Once we release the carbon dioxide stored in the fossil fuels we burn, it accumulates in and moves among the atmosphere, the oceans, the land and the plants and animals of the biosphere. The released carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Only after many millennia will it return to rocks, for example, through the formation of calcium carbonate – limestone – as marine organisms’ shells settle to the bottom of the ocean. But on time spans relevant to humans, once released the carbon dioxide is in our environment essentially forever. It does not go away, unless we, ourselves, remove it.
If we stop emitting today, it’s not the end of the story for global warming. There’s a delay in air-temperature increase as the atmosphere catches up with all the heat that the Earth has accumulated. After maybe 40 more years, scientists hypothesize the climate will stabilize at a temperature higher than what was normal for previous generations.
This decades-long lag between cause and effect is due to the long time it takes to heat the ocean’s huge mass. The energy that is held in the Earth by increased carbon dioxide does more than heat the air. It melts ice; it heats the ocean. Compared to air, it’s harder to raise the temperature of water; it takes time – decades. However, once the ocean temperature is elevated, it will release heat back to the air, and be measured as surface heating.
So even if carbon emissions stopped completely right now, as the oceans’ heating catches up with the atmosphere, the Earth’s temperature would rise about another 0.6℃. Scientists refer to this as committed warming. Ice, also responding to increasing heat in the ocean, will continue to melt. There’s already convincing evidence that significant glaciers in the West Antarctic ice sheets are lost. Ice, water and air – the extra heat held on the Earth by carbon dioxide affects them all. That which has melted will stay melted – and more will melt.
Ecosystems are altered by natural and human-made occurrences. As they recover, it will be in a different climate from that in which they evolved. The climate in which they recover will not be stable; it will be continuing to warm. There will be no new normal, only more change.
Best of the Worst-Case Scenarios
In any event, it’s not possible to stop emitting carbon dioxide right now. Despite significant advances in renewable energy sources, total demand for energy accelerates and carbon dioxide emissions increase. As a professor of climate and space sciences, I teach my students they need to plan for a world 4℃ warmer. A 2011 report from the International Energy Agency states that if we don’t get off our current path, then we’re looking at an Earth 6℃ warmer. Even now after the Paris Agreement, the trajectory is essentially the same. It’s hard to say we’re on a new path until we see a peak and then a downturn in carbon emissions. With the approximately 1℃ of warming we’ve already seen, the observed changes are already disturbing.
There are many reasons we need to eliminate our carbon dioxide emissions. The climate is changing rapidly; if that pace is slowed, the affairs of nature and human beings can adapt more readily. The total amount of change, including sea-level rise, can be limited. The further we get away from the climate that we’ve known, the more unreliable the guidance from our models and the less likely we will be able to prepare.
It’s possible that even as emissions decrease, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to increase. The warmer the planet gets, the less carbon dioxide the ocean can absorb. Rising temperatures in the polar regions make it more likely that carbon dioxide and methane, another greenhouse gas that warms the planet, will be released from storage in the frozen land and ocean reservoirs, adding to the problem.
If we stop our emissions today, we won’t go back to the past. The Earth will warm. And since the response to warming is more warming through feedbacks associated with melting ice and increased atmospheric water vapor, our job becomes one of limiting the warming. If greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated quickly enough, within a small number of decades, it will keep the warming manageable. It will slow the change – and allow us to adapt. Rather than trying to recover the past, we need to be thinking about best possible futures.
Famous physicist Stephen Hawking issued a warning to humanity in response to President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Speaking to BBC News prior to a cosmology conference being held at the University of Cambridge this week in honor of his 75th birthday, Hawking said that Trump’s decision could cause irrevocable harm to the planet.
“We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible,” the celebrated scientist told Pallab Ghosh from the BBC. The consequences, he explained, would be truly dire for the planet. “Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid.”
Of course, this might seem like an exaggeration on the part of Hawking, and becoming a Venus 2.0 may well be an extreme. Nevertheless, the effects of global warming and climate change are real and shouldn’t be ignored. “By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children,” Hawking added.
Facing the Problem
While the U.S. has indeed exited the Paris accord, several states have chosen to act independently to uphold the historic agreement’s commitment to fighting climate change. Three states have already formed an alliance, while Hawaii put a law into effect that formalizes its efforts to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. A number of industry leaders and innovators have pledged to uphold the mission of the accord, even in the absence of support from the federal government.
As governments the world over debate on the politics of climate change and global warming, the planet continues to endure its effects. The polar caps are still melting, even in spite of periodic freezing and refreezing. Simply put, there’s just less and less ice left with each year that passes. Several areas are also in danger of sinking, like the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana. Elsewhere in the U.S., a new study said that climate change will hit Florida, Arizona, Texas, and the states of the Deep South particularly hard, with not just longterm environmental, but economic, ramifications.
Hawking previously predicted that humanity’s days on Earth are numbered — down by about a hundred years, to be exact. At that time, Hawking posited, we’d have no choice but to flee to another planet. It’s a point he reiterated in the BBC exclusive. “I fear evolution has inbuilt greed and aggression to the human genome,” Hawking said. “There is no sign of conflict lessening, and the development of militarized technology and weapons of mass destruction could make that disastrous. The best hope for the survival of the human race might be independent colonies in space.”
Whether or not we leave Earth for good eventually, the ongoing climate problem is one we have to deal with for as long as we remain here. As Hawking noted, “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now.”
A new study from the Climate Impact Lab, a consortium of 25 economists and policy experts from across the country, shows that the American South will be more affected by climate change than any other region in the United States. The analysis also shows that the effects of climate change will transfer wealth from poor counties in the Midwest and Southeast to wealthier counties on the coasts and in the Northeast. This will aggravate the trend of economic inequality in the U.S. that already exists.
States that are already warm or hot such as Florida, Arizona, Texas, and the states of the Deep South will therefore lose income potential when jobs and other benefits migrate to cooler areas. Counties in states that border the Gulf of Mexico in particular are likely to experience the equivalent of a 20 percent, county-level income tax solely attributable to climate change. This “tax” will come in the form of skyrocketing summer energy costs, struggling harvests, rising seas that engulf real estate, and heatwaves that trigger public health crises and inflate mortality rates.
The U.S. GDP will decrease by around 1.2 percent for every additional degree Celsius of warming. Although the Paris Agreement terms would allow a rise of four degrees Celsius by the end of this century, but even if we didn’t surpass that limit, the GDP of our country will still contract by 1.6 to 5.6 percent. If the Paris terms are not met, the damage will be more severe. (To put this into perspective, the biggest drop in GDP during the Great Recession was 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. It took years to recover from the drop, and the ramifications were felt all over the world.)
The study is an exhaustive, detailed effort, which models every single day of weather in each county in the U.S. during the 21st century in order to simulate the economic costs of climate change. It is by far the most in-depth economic assessment of human-caused climate change to date. It is also highly significant because it takes a bottom-up approach, building on multiple microeconomic studies with regional economic data to provide a more detailed picture of the future of the U.S.
The study’s economic projections also end in 2099. While certain regions in the Northern regions of the U.S. might initially benefit from the pain the Southern states are feeling thanks to climate change, that won’t last. The authors of the study point out that the North will also experience more severe economic damages should climate change continue unchecked into the next century.
There are those who say the climate has always changed, and that carbon dioxide levels have always fluctuated. That’s true. But it’s also true that since the industrial revolution, CO₂ levels in the atmosphere have climbed to levels that are unprecedented over hundreds of millennia.
So here’s a short video we made, to put recent climate change and carbon dioxide emissions into the context of the past 800,000 years.
The Temperature-CO₂ Connection
Earth has a natural greenhouse effect, and it is really important. Without it, the average temperature on the surface of the planet would be about -18℃ and human life would not exist. Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is one of the gases in our atmosphere that traps heat and makes the planet habitable.
Modern scientists and engineers have explored these links in intricate detail in recent decades, by drilling into the ice sheets that cover Antarctica and Greenland. Thousands of years of snow have compressed into thick slabs of ice. The resulting ice cores can be more than 3km long and extend back a staggering 800,000 years.
In previous warm periods, it was not a CO₂ spike that kickstarted the warming, but small and predictable wobbles in Earth’s rotation and orbit around the Sun. CO₂ played a big role as a natural amplifier of the small climate shifts initiated by these wobbles. As the planet began to cool, more CO₂ dissolved into the oceans, reducing the greenhouse effect and causing more cooling. Similarly, CO₂ was released from the oceans to the atmosphere when the planet warmed, driving further warming.
But things are very different this time around. Humans are responsible for adding huge quantities of extra CO₂ to the atmosphere — and fast.
Before the industrial revolution, the natural level of atmospheric CO₂ during warm interglacials was around 280 ppm. The frigid ice ages, which caused kilometer-thick ice sheets to build up over much of North America and Eurasia, had CO₂ levels of around 180 ppm.
Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, takes ancient carbon that was locked within the Earth and puts it into the atmosphere as CO₂. Since the industrial revolution humans have burned an enormous amount of fossil fuel, causing atmospheric CO₂ and other greenhouse gases to skyrocket.
In mid-2017, atmospheric CO₂ now stands at 409 ppm. This is completely unprecedented in the past 800,000 years.
The fundamental science is very well understood. The evidence that climate change is happening is abundant and clear. The difficult part is: what do we do next? More than ever, we need strong, cooperative, and accountable leadership from politicians of all nations. Only then will we avoid the worst of climate change and adapt to the impacts we can’t halt.
The authors acknowledge the contributions of Wes Mountain (multimedia), Alicia Egan (editing), and Andrew King (model projection data).
In 2020, Norway will become the first country in the world to ban the use of oil and paraffin to heat buildings. Vidar Helgesenlaid, the nation’s Environment Minister, laid it out clearly in a statement: “Those using fossil oil for heating must find other options by 2020.”
The nation recommends citizens look into alternatives such as heat pumps, hydroelectricity, or even special stoves that burn wood chips. Eventually, the legislation could expand to include limitations on using natural gas to heat buildings.
Marius Holm, head of ZERO, a foundation that promotes emissions cuts, shared his enthusiasm about the ban in a statement, saying, “This is a very important climate measure that significantly cuts emissions, sending a powerful signal that we are moving from fossil to renewable energy.”
The Scandinavian Climate Change Charge
The ban marks a radical change in policy for Norway. Despite ratifying the Paris Agreement, the nation showed a 3.3 percent increase in emissions last year compared to 1990, and it was the 15th largest oil exporter worldwide based on 2016 statistics. This new policy could potentially decrease the country’s emissions by 340,000 tons per year.
Perhaps more importantly, Norway’s ban could set a precedent that encourages other countries to decrease their own emissions by targeting the building sector, which accounts for 39 percent of CO2 emissions in the United States. This could make a huge difference in our climate situation when combined with pledges to limit the energy consumption of the transport sector.
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has proposed a plan to make cows more resistant to the temperature increase caused by global warming. The proposal has received a three-year, $733,000 federal grant.
The scientists’ plan aims to retain the quality meat cows provide while increasing the efficiency of the process in spite of a changing climate. The first step is conducting research on cows that already handle the heat pretty well. By studying the Brangus cow, researchers hope to identify how it regulates its body temperature, which allows it thrive in hotter climates. Once identified, researchers could use a gene editing tool to give that ability to other breeds.
Dr Rachel Mateescu, associate professor in the UF/IFAS department of animal sciences, told Digital Trends:
“Heat stress is a principal factor limiting production of animal protein and negatively affecting health and welfare of cattle in subtropical and tropical regions, and its impact is expected to increase dramatically due to climate change […] the ability to cope with heat stress is imperative to enhance productivity of the U.S. livestock industry and secure global food supplies.”
What Humans Can Learn
That a venture like this received funding is a sign of two things that many in the scientific community have been well aware of, but that they may not have yet connected: the rate at which the climate is changing, and the potential of gene editing software.
As funding for this research is contingent on viability, it’s also a chance to demonstrate the rapid progress made in gene editing software, which has been catalyzed by CRISPR. Since its first demonstration in 2013, an enormous amount of research has been conducted using it. The future of gene editing with CRISPR’s help looks bright, too: many trials have or are set to begin this year, including attempts to modify viruses to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria and revive extinct species.
While it seems more logical to reduce global warming rather than try to deal with its consequences, should the preventative method fail, the only solutions that we could turn to are those previously reserved for the realms of science fiction, like changing our genetic makeup — or migrating to another planet.
The Global Seed Vault was designed as a back-up plan for humanity in the case of an apocalyptic event. The seeds in its collection would allow future societies to maintain the planet’s botanical diversity while covering the spectrum of nutrition in case no other sources of food were available. 50,000 more seeds were recently added to the collection, but now, climate change is threatening the world’s Plan B.
The vault, which is owned by the Norwegian government, was designed to function in a permafrost. However, global warming made 2016 the hottest year on record, and melting permafrost due to the rising temperatures caused water to flood the entrance to the enormous vault, undermining its “failsafe” status.
In response, the Norwegian government has pledged to spend $4.4 million to upgrade the vault. The first $1.6 million will got toward investigating the problem and potential solutions, efforts that will be spearheaded by consultancy firm Dr. Techn. Olav Olsen.
Current suggestions for future improvements include building an entrance tunnel that slopes upward toward the seed vault to drain water away. For now, the government is attempting to improve the situation by relocating a heat-emitting transformer station inside of the tunnel to decrease thaw, and plans are in place to dig drainage ditches around the complex and build a waterproof wall within it as well.
The silver lining of the situation is that these concerns have arisen at a time when there is still sufficient human infrastructure to repair and plan. Running into these problems post-global disaster would no doubt be much more troubling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most people are familiar with carbon dioxide (CO2) as a leading cause of global warming, but it isn’t the only one. Methane, while it doesn’t linger in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does, contributes its own fair share as a greenhouse gas. Methane is also more potent than CO2, and can remain in the atmosphere for roughly five years. Recent estimates put the amount of methane in the atmosphere at 1,834 parts per billion (ppb) while CO2 is at just 399.5 ppb.
A team led by researchers from the Colorado State University (CSU), the Environmental Defense Fund, and Google Earth Outreach came up with a creative way of monitoring these leaks. They detail their project in a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The team added pollution trackers to Google Earth’s Street View cars. The tracker uses an infrared laser that act as a methane analyzer, capable of identifying methane fumes in real time. Previously, this could only be done in labs using a gas chromatography analysis.
“The air contains gases that make it look foggy in the infrared spectrum,” explained Joe von Fischer from CSU. “The laser can scan through colors of infrared light and ‘see’ how much methane is present.” The researchers have tested the the device in Indianapolis, Boston, Staten Island, Syracuse, and Burlington, Vermont and Indianapolis.
“This is a huge challenge that almost nobody had been thinking about. Now we’re finding out just how widespread these leaks are,” said von Fischer. “The faster you fix them, the bigger the environmental benefits are. But utilities and regulators didn’t have the data to focus their efforts. […] Our goal is to make it faster, cheaper and easier to find and measure methane leaks from natural gas lines to help accelerate crucial repairs.”
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.
In an interview with Joe Kernen, who hosts the morning news program Squawk Box, Pruitt was asked directly if he believed that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the “primary control knob on climate.”
To which Pruitt replied, “No.”
“I believe that measuring, with precision, human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact,” Pruitt said. “So, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
According to Pruitt, despite evidence presented by the global scientific community, we still don’t know whether human influence does indeed play a part in the steady deterioration of our environment. To that end, he insists that more efforts to debate, review, and analyze the data are necessary.
Pruitt’s appointment as the head of the EPA saw strong opposition from environmentalists due to his close relationship with fossil fuel companies and history of casting doubt on climate change.
The basic science behind climate change has track record that goes as far back as the 70s, when climate scientists first began suggesting that the accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would spur global warming. Since then, numerous studies have provided staggering evidence that clearly points to human influence as the primary cause for the environment’s current state. The impact of human pollution on climate has scientific consensus, and is not simply the belief of a few researchers.
Pruitt’s assertion ultimately contradicts decades of research, including data and analysis presented by the very organization he now heads.
Back in 2014, the EPA detailed rules in order to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions from power plants, a move that was part of a world-wide effort to address global warming. Pruitt’s doubt of CO2 emissions’ impact on the environment puts him in conflict with the regulations that the EPA is responsible for enforcing.
His comments come after a recent report from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the planet’s surface temperature rose by about 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century.
To date, nearly 100 scientific organizations from all over the world hold the position that climate change is indeed influenced by human activity. Their consensus notes that global warming is a result of human dependence on fossil fuels that led to massive emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.
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.
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.
Magnum, Oklahoma, saw temperatures close to 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) last week. This would be nothing exceptional in the tropics on a summer day, but this spike occurred in the Northern Hemisphere in the dead of winter. In fact, this weather was so extreme it broke a daily record in the state, which had an average February high of 13 degrees Celsius (56 degrees Fahrenheit) prior to this phenomenon.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an emergency burn ban due to the sweltering heat, but a grass fire that caused some residents to evacuate their homes still broke out. Temperatures have since returned to the normal range for the region.
Proof of Climate Change
Fire hazards aside, most would normally welcome a rare warm February. However, it should be noted that such extreme shifts in temperature are very unusual during the winter, and they tangibly illustrate the effects of climate change on our environment. Warm temperatures during traditionally cold months are enough to disrupt and destabilize the natural ecosystem. The balmy weather may prompt trees and flowers to bloom, only to suffer frost damage when the temperatures return to normal. That may seem like a very minor thing, but it can have a ripple effect on the industries that are dictated by the seasons, such as agriculture.
These record-breaking temperatures are invariably associated with humanity’s influence on the environment. Carbon emissions caused by our dependence on fossil fuels are trapping heat inside the planet’s atmosphere, resulting in very erratic temperatures.
As much as climate change deniers would like to classify this weather anomaly as an isolated event, similar extreme weather shifts are happening in various parts of the world, providing overwhelming evidence of climate change: Australia is still recovering from a major heatwave during which temperatures reach 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit); temperatures in the Arctic exceeded the average three times in the last few months; and the North Pole’s temperature has risen to 20 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) above its normal average.
Fortunately, it looks like public opinion is changing as a new study just reported that a majority of adults in the UK now recognize the reality of man-made climate change. “Over just three years, there has been a discernible shift in public opinion towards acceptance that climate change is both happening and mainly caused by human activity,” according Andrew Hawkins, chairman of ComRes, the organization behind the study. “Seven in ten now believe that almost all, or a majority, of climate scientists believe the same.”
Hopefully, governments and policy makers will follow suit. Their support for renewables, electric vehicles (EVs), environmental regulations, and similar initiatives that address climate change is critical to making sure that we protect the planet and work to reverse the damage we have already done.
The Senate just confirmed Scott Pruitt, a man who has been very critical of the EPA, as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If you aren’t familiar with the agency, the EPA exists as a federal measure to protect human health and the environment. The agency oversees regulations for corporations and other organizations in order to ensure that the needs of the environment are taken into consideration.
Thus, it is a necessary piece to a fully functioning government (and biosphere).
Republicans have been trying to curtail the reach of the EPA for some time, a move which Pruitt has supported. Previously, he vowed to curb the EPA’s regulatory reach once in office.
This promise is in line with the moves made by other republicans. Case in point, on Friday February 3, republican Florida congressman Matt Gaetz presented the bill H.R.861, which would eliminate the EPA and, instead, focus efforts on preserving jobs. Kentucky representative Thomas Massie, a republican, supported this move, noting that “The EPA makes rules that undermine the voice of the American people and threaten jobs in Kentucky.”
Today’s vote was largely along party lines, coming in at 52-46.
Several congressmen spoke out against the confirmation, noting Pruitt’s ties to the fossil fuel industry and his history of favoring, what they call, the special interests of corporations over the public and the needs of the environment.
“Mr. Pruitt has extreme environmental policy views. And he has zero experience running an environmental protection agency. In fact, he does not believe in the fundamental mission of EPA,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico. “Attorney General Pruitt made his name opposing EPA rules that protect human health and the environment, fighting against clean air and clean water, disregarding the science behind the EPA’s protections for human health and the environment, on behalf of for-profit special interests, not the public interest.”
“This Trump administration has nominated as administrator at the EPA a tool of the fossil fuel industry, a man who demonstrably will not take his government responsibilities seriously because he never has,” stated Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) “He has never taken EPA’s responsibility seriously. He has done nothing but sue them.”
Of course, there are many who are not displeased with this confirmation.
“He’s exceptionally qualified,” said republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He’s dedicated to environmental protection. And, as someone with state government experience, he understands the real-world consequences of EPA actions and knows that balance is the key to making policies that are sustainable over the long-term.”
A Warming Reality
However, it is important to remember that, regardless of who is heading the EPA (or whether or not it even exists), the science is sound and irrefutable: Human-made climate change remains part of our daily reality, a reality which is progressively worsening.
The Antarctic ice sheet goes through a cycle of expansion and contraction every year. Ultimately, the ice that exists around the continent melts during the southern hemisphere’s summer, which occurs towards the end of February, and expands again when autumn sets in.
However, that melting is increasing dramatically.
This week, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that the sea ice contracted to just 883,015 sq. miles (2.28m sq. km). The announcement came on February 13, and these numbers mean that the ice is now at the smallest extent on record, reaching just a little smaller than the previous low of 884,173 sq. miles, which was recorded February 27, 1997.
NSIDC director Mark Serreze asserts that we will need to wait for measurements in the coming days before officially confirming this new all-time low; however, he is not optimistic. “Unless something funny happens, we’re looking at a record minimum in Antarctica,” Serreze told Reuters.
Putting the Brakes On It
Climate change skeptics have often pointed to the tendency of the Antarctic ice sheet to expand as evidence against global warming. But with world average temperatures hitting an all time high in 2016, the impact of climate change on planet Earth is getting more pronounced and harder to deny. “We’ve always thought of the Antarctic as the sleeping elephant starting to stir,” Serreze stated; “Well, maybe it’s starting to stir now.”
That said, all is not lost. Despite the hesitancy of some world governments when it comes to taking action against fossil fuels and climate change, efforts to reverse the effects of global warming are in no short supply.
Scientists have devised a new mathematical equation that allows them to determine just how much humans are affecting the climate. According to the researchers, global temperatures have decreased by an average of 0.01 Celsius per century over the last 7,000 years. This figure is what they considered the baseline rate. In the last 45 years however, trends show that it has increased at 1.7 Celsius per century, due to greenhouse gas emissions.
In the paper, published in the journal The Anthropocene Review, the researchers go on to explain that across billions of years, Earth’s climate has been dependent on astronomical and geophysical forces, as well as internal dynamics of the planet. In the equation, these natural forces tend to zero because of how slow they affect the Earth’s climate, in contrast to human activity. In short, while these factors still affect Earth’s climate, human activity overtakes it significantly. This change represents a climate shift driven by humans that is 170 times faster than those caused by natural forces.
“We are not saying the astronomical forces of our solar system or geological processes have disappeared, but in terms of their impact in such a short period of time they are now negligible compared with our own influence,” co-author of the paper Will Steffen said.
“While it would seem imprudent to ignore the huge body of evidence pointing to profound risks, it comes at a challenging time geopolitically, when both fact-based world views and even international cooperation are questioned. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the US in recent weeks,” adds co-author of the study Owen Gaffney.
The relevance of this equation is two-fold. First it manages to clearly illustrate our current predicament. Attaching a specific number to demonstrate how much humans are affecting the climate in such a short time frame (in contrast to natural forces, which took millions and millions of years), clearly shows the impact we have on the environment.
“Crystallising this evidence in the form of a simple equation gives the current situation a clarity that the wealth of data often dilutes,” notes Steffen.
Second, it could also help drive action—given that we only have a small window to address the damage we have caused. As they explain in their paper, “the human magnitude of climate change looks more like a meteorite strike than a gradual change.” Earth may have shown remarkable resilience, but human societies aren’t likely to do as well.
Failure to reduce anthropological climate change could “trigger societal collapse”, their research concluded.
An old episode of Futurama gave a tongue in cheek solution to global warming—drop a giant ice cube into the ocean every now and then.
In theory, however, the sarcastic solution actually has some merit. It takes a lot of energy to melt ice, so if we somehow managed to funnel the energy of greenhouse gases trapped within Earth’s atmosphere into this ice cube, then it would absorb all 300 terawatts of extra heat caused by climate change.
Easy? Not quite. For starters, where would that much ice come from? To complete this task, you would need around three quintillion grams of ice, roughly 31,000 cubic kilometers. Even if every single person on Earth produced 5 kilograms of ice per day, it would take over 2,000 years to make an ice cube that big.
As Kyle Hill points out in the video below, this method “theoretically makes sense, but is ridiculous.”
As absurd as the idea is, even Futurama knew it was only meant to be a band-aid solution.
What we need now are ways that address the root issues of climate change, like the Clean Energy Fund’s recent investment in research and technology to lower greenhouse-gas emissions, cutting use of fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy sources, and focusing on putting electric vehicles (EVs) on the road. These solutions may not be as quick as dropping a giant ice cube into the sea, but these initiatives are our best hope in actually combatting climate change.
In the course of a century, people made a lot of predictions about the future of technology.
Some were right—like H.G. Wells who, in 1903, described metal-hulled warships on land that could be considered the precursor to military tanks today; or George Orwell’s vision of 1984 (written in 1949), where the world was monitored by an interconnected web of security cameras; even John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, who wrote his version of 2010 back in 1969, and it basically described the reality of 2013.
Others were way off—like Ken Olsen who said no one would ever want a computer in their home back in 1977. Or the President of the Michigan Savings Bank who said horses were here to stay and automobiles would be nothing but a fad.
Some, however, foresaw a future that stood at the cusp of possibility; like the writer who wrote a piece for the Lincoln Evening Journal called Looking Forward. In it, he describes 2017 as a world that is no longer dependent on coal for energy. The author envisioned a future where technology would be able to harvest energy from the sun and run it through pipes for electricity.
Obviously, we’re not quite there yet.
Our reality now is defined by a world threatened by climate change because of man’s dependence on energy produced from fossil fuels. Because of this, 2016 was the hottest year the Earth has ever seen since scientists began tracking temperature records in 1880. The planet’s carbon dioxide levels continue to rise considerably. And electricity generated from coal is still the largest source of greenhouse gasses.
But we’re doing something about it.
Climate change is serving as the big push we need to get to that point.
In an effort to lower carbon emissions from vehicles, companies are working towards putting electric-powered cars on the road. Countries are actively doing something about reducing our dependence on coal, like China who just shut down 104 new coal plants.
Solar power doesn’t necessarily go through pipes to deliver electricity, but it does exist, and it has proven itself more than capable of delivering our energy needs. In addition to this, we continue to develop sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.
Unlike the futurists from the early 1900s, we now have the technology to do something about a situation that frankly, we put ourselves in, in the first place. It’s now a matter of making it accessible and available for widespread use. A century ago, this writer believed humanity was going to do so much better for our environment–we’re in a position to prove him right.
It looks like Massachusetts is following in the footsteps of other states with already very aggressive decarbonization goals as state lawmakers have proposed a bill that aims to phase out the use of fossil fuels by 2050. This is on top of the already existing Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
Bill SD.1932, dubbed as the 100 Percent Renewable Energy Act, is sponsored by Democratic lawmakers Rep. Sean Garballey, Rep. Marjorie Decker, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge. It sets a clear goal “to steadily transition the commonwealth to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050.”
“This legislation provides a bold step by placing the Commonwealth on a path to a cleaner and more sustainable future,” Garballey said in a statement. “It encourages job creation, protects and sustains our natural resources, reduces our carbon footprint and would benefit the health and well-being of our citizens in immeasurable ways.”
SD.1932 would also increase Massachusetts’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — a policy that requires utilities to purchase a minimum amount of their electricity from renewable sources — to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Currently, it has mandated 1,600 MW of offshore wind power and is seeking to set an energy storage goal. Furthermore, the bill also seeks to eliminate fossil fuel use from the heating and transportation sectors.
Relying on Renewables
The bill is also about sending a message. With the White House administration seemingly all too keen on reviving the oil industry, the state of Massachusetts is taking a stand. “As President Donald Trump takes office, this bill sends a clear message to officials in DC: Massachusetts is determined to keep moving forward on clean energy,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts.
It’s definitely a step in the right direction with global trends in favor of renewable energy sources, which are increasingly becoming cheaper than their fossil fuel counterparts. But aside from this, the push for renewable energy can also bring jobs into Massachusetts. As a U.S. Department of Energy report released earlier this year showed, solar energy alone provided 374,000 jobs from 2015-2016, more than all fossil fuels combined.
Precisely because of this, SD.1932 includes a provision about job generation:
The [council for clean energy workforce development] shall identify the employment potential of the energy efficiency and renewable energy industry and the skills and training needed for workers in those fields, and make recommendations to the governor and the general court for policies to promote employment growth and access to jobs.
As things shift on a federal level, Massachusetts remains firm in its commitment to fight climate change. According to Garballey, “[This bill] signals to the country our commitment to long-term solutions in meeting the very real challenges of climate change, and lights the way for similar efforts across the nation.”
We’ve already talked about how 2016 kept up with the three-year trend of successively higher global temperatures each year. Now, NASA has given us a way to watch the climate change over the course of nearly a century and a half.
It is clear to see in this video that the world is much warmer than it was even 50 years ago, let alone over a century into its past. According to NASA, “Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.”
Even large companies are urging for the support of renewable energy given the longterm and even immediate monetary benefits, so with the bottom line and the needs of the environment now in alignment, we can only hope more will be done to mitigate this epic problem on a bigger scale.
Today, there were updates to the official government website of the United States, and climate change is not mentioned on any of the new White House pages.
Well, that’s not entirely true. On the page called the “America First Energy Plan,” Donald Trump says that he is “committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” If you didn’t know, the Climate Action Plan is focused on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, preserving forests, promoting the use of alternate fuels, and focusing new efforts on climate change research and how to combat it.
The new White House policy says that “lifting these restrictions [i.e., getting rid of the Climate Change Action Plan] will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.” Oh, also, it will allow corporations to continue to destroy the environment and pollute Earth’s air without any ramifications. This last point is (rather notably) absent.
White House: “The Trump Administration is committed to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.”
Trump has also previously vowed to combat a number of other environmental regulations and acts currently in place. That could put in jeopardy the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which regulates carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Air Act, which established air quality standards, and any funding allocated for clean energy research.
The rest of the page is, likewise, disheartening. It asserts that “the Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.” Of course, job loss is a real concern; however, we must not stagnate and try and slow progress. History shows us that this never works. We also must not try and revive industries that are (quite literally) destroying our biosphere and leading to a mass extinction event.
But to clarify what is happening here, the official government website usually changes over to the new administration at noon on inauguration day. That happened just hours ago. Now, the only mention of global warming is a vow to dismantle a plan introduced by President Obama to help curb anthropogenic global warming.
This is not good. Here’s why.
Manmade Climate Change is Real
Contrary to what is asserted by a host of politicians, scientists agree that humanity is responsible for climate change. While the debate still rages in the public sector, scientific organizations around the world have come to a consensus that the Earth is, indeed, undergoing a human-induced change in climate.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
Although researchers are still investigating how it operates in a number of different scenarios, there is no real academic debate regarding the negative impact that we are having on the environment. And while a study done by Yale University researchers last year showed that many Americans accepted the reality of climate change (around 63%), only 48% accepted that humans are responsible.
A government that lends credence to this false assumption—that humans don’t cause global warming, or that the economy is more important than the environment that sustains us—will only foster more misinformation.
Fortunately, other nations are stepping up to the plate.
The Climate Action 2016 summit was held in May of 2016 in Washington D.C. It came just a few weeks after more than 170 countries signed the Paris Agreement, which aims to slow the rise of global temperatures due to greenhouse gasses. Ultimately, this agreement plans to get the global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which is comparative to pre-industrial levels, by 2100.
At the Summit, key UN leaders urged governing officials to take actions towards reducing emissions. “We are in a race against time,” U.N. secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the gathering at the United Nations headquarters in New York. “The era of consumption without consequences is over….the poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create,” Ban added.
Even if Trump managed to withdrawal the U.S. from the Paris Agreement (which some experts argue would be very tricky), he won’t be able to stop the other countries from moving forward with it. Funding would take a hit and progress wouldn’t be as quick as it could be with U.S. support, but progress could still be made…but it would be slower.
Note: it’s gone. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if there was something to replace it—if there was some equivalent elsewhere on the website. There’s not.
We really cannot emphasize the significance of this issue enough. Case in point, in the field of geology, an epoch is a period in Earth’s history used to identify a specific era. For most of the Earth’s history, these periods last for millions of years. That
Case in point, in the field of geology, an epoch is a period in Earth’s history used to identify a specific era. For most of the Earth’s history, these periods last for millions of years. That is, until we (humans) came along. Officially, we are currently in the Holocene epoch which only covers, roughly, the past 12,000 years.
Now, a team of international scientists and researchers who gathered at the International Geological Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa are saying that it’s time that a new epoch should be declared. They’re calling it the Anthropocene, signifying the significant role human activity is having on the currently developing sediment.
This human-influenced epoch is marked, unfortunately, by climate change, air pollution, population growth, and significant rainforest loss. There is still some debate as to when the epoch’s start was, but some are pointing to the 1950s, when nuclear testing began and prompted radioactive elements to become a part of the sediment. In order to declare the new epoch, there has to be a clear signal, defined as a “golden spike,” of a change in the geological record.
In order to declare the new epoch, there has to be a clear signal, defined as a “golden spike,” of a change in the geological record. Aside from radioactive sediment, other candidates include deposits caused from the burning of fossil fuels, the effects of fertilizer on soil, and plastic pollution, among others.
It boils down to this: We have an impact on the environment. While these effects do operate alongside Earth’s natural systems, our impact is consistent and continuous. It never stops. We must take action. We must fix this…because we are the problem.
Usually, setting a world record is a positive achievement. Not this time, though – we have set another world record for the warmest temperatures ever on the planet. According to separate reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, 2016 is the hottest year ever recorded.
Humans have been consistently setting record-breaking temperature levels since 2005, but last year’s is now the worst of them all. In fact, the NOAA report notes that 2016 was the hottest year the Earth has ever had since since scientists began tracking temperatures in 1880.
The NOAA’s annual State of the Climate Report was prepared by scientists from its National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The report also notes that 2016 had the eight consecutive warmest months on record, from January to August.
During 2016, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 137 years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.07°F (0.04°C). [The] globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.57°F (1.43°C) above the 20th century average, [while] the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.35°F (0.75°C) above the 20th century average.
NASA’s separate analysis, made by its Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, supports these figures: “Globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.”
The trend is very straightforward; it’s all going up and not letting up.“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” GISS Director Gavin Schmidt said. “We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.” On record, the Earth’s average surface temperatures have gone up by about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century.
It Keeps Getting Hotter
Despite criticism from presumably well-meaning folk, man-made climate change isn’t (man) made up. Studies on climate change have also been very clear — the Earth’s carbon dioxide levels have been rising considerably since the Industrial Revolution, much more than what’s supposedly naturally occurring.
So, since we are on the subject of record-breaking temperatures, it’s good to set the record straight on climate change. It has been happening and will continue to happen, unless we adjust and change our ways. The options to do so are much more varied now than ever before. We just have to be as unrelenting as the warm temperatures of years past.
Almost three years ago, China declared their intentions to wage a war against pollution – a move in direct response to the dire state of the country’s air quality and worldwide efforts to address climate change. Even now, as the country announces plans to shut down the construction of more than one hundred coal-fired power plants, some of its major cities are still reeling from the toxic smog that blanketed the nation at the beginning of 2017. Around the globe, the very real consequences brought on by climate change continue to be felt.
But with China’s National Energy Administration cancelling a significant number of its planned coal-fired projects, it looks like China is going to make significant strides toward winning this war. According to The RAND Corporation, China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and shutting down 104 coal-fired projects across 13 provinces – which are expected to deliver a total of 120 gigawatts of power – will have a significant impact on their total volume of carbon emissions.
It might actually be possible for the world’s biggest industrial nation to meet its target of limiting coal-fired power generation to 1,100 gigawatts by 2020.
Electricity generated from coal is by far the largest source of greenhouse gasses that lead to global warming; and China, as well as the rest of the coal-dependent countries around the world, have a long way to go. For instance, while the steps China is taking right now are notable, the recent government-ordered cancellations total to only a third of the United States’ massive coal fleet.
Recognizing how coal affects the environment is one thing, stepping up and doing something about it is another – especially if leaders of the biggest nations are not going to make it a priority. But, as we pointed out in a previous report, numerous initiatives are already in place, or are being started, in a global and concerted effort to address global warming. While Donald Trump will be in a powerful position as the president of the United States, even he won’t be able to stop the global community from fighting back against man-made climate change.
Renewable energy sources are becoming more accessible, while awareness regarding the environmental consequences of continued use and dependence on fossil fuel is growing. To that end, high-profile investors are also coming together to dedicate money and time towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Technology designed to provide clean and affordable energy is also on the rise–constantly evolving and improving.
It really is encouraging to know that so many — be they governments, corporations, or private institutions — are already doing something about the climate problem. While some prefer to debate the issue, others are busy actively trying to help alleviate the strain on our environment. Of the many efforts in place, one that’s particularly popular is the establishment of protected areas or conservation regions. A new study, however, is making people rethink the standard approach to forest conservation.
Published in the journal Scientific Reportsand written by lead author Martin Sullivan from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, the study is the result of a collaborative effort by a team of scientists from 22 countries. They scrutinized the effectiveness of climate-protection policies designed for tropical forest preservation and concluded that these policies could be leaving out some of the most diverse forests simply because there is no clear correlation between the number of tree species in a forest and its capacity to store carbon.
“International programs often encourage the conservation of forests with high carbon stocks, because their focus is to try to slow climate change,” explained Sullivan. “Until now, we didn’t know whether these programs would also automatically protect the most biodiverse forests. It turns out they probably won’t.”
The team reached their conclusions after measuring and studying tree diversity and carbon storage in 360 lowland rainforest areas in the Amazon, Africa, and Asia. They measured the carbon stored within a hectare of trees, using the diameter and species of every tree in the given plot, ultimately measuring a total of 200,000 trees.
Diversity in Efforts
The team realized that biodiversity, while important and effective in helping stabilize the climate, did not really boost carbon storage. “In many ecosystems, sites with more species tend to lock up more carbon,” said co-author Joey Talbot. “But this doesn’t work for tropical forests. Most tropical forests already have many species, and it may be that beyond a certain point, adding even more species makes no difference to carbon stocks.”
Solving the climate problem goes beyond just carbon dioxide. “It’s critically important to keep this carbon out of the atmosphere,” co-author Simon Lewis acknowledged. “But we need to remember that forests are more than just sticks of carbon. Local community uses, species diversity, and the many other values of forests should be taken into account to plan adequate conservation strategies for the 21st century. A simple focus on carbon is never enough.”
If President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t believe in climate change, he can keep it to himself and not let it inform government policies. That’s the message, essentially, of more than 630 companies and investors who are calling on the president-elect and a Republican-dominated Congress to help in the fight against climate change. The businesses and investors made their voices heard via a signed letter released Tuesday.
The petition, signed by companies and institutions like Campbell Soup, Johnson & Johnson, and the New York State Retirement Fund, as well as Monsanto, eBay, Levi Strauss, and Staples, urges Trump to reconsider his views on the subject, emphasizing the economic impact:
We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy. Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness.
The more than 530 companies that expressed their concern over President-elect Trump’s seeming dismissal of man-made climate change boast a collective revenue of almost $1.15 trillion per year and employ about 1.8 million people. The 100 investors on the list, which include the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the California State Teachers Retirement System, manage more than $2 trillion in assets.
In fact, CO2 levels are now higher than 400ppm, a figured considered by many to be a point of no return. According to NASA’s latest readings, we’re currently at 405.6ppm. Then, of course, there are the increased temperatures felt by many in 2016, not to mention the atypical storms that have been buffeting different parts of the world.
Man-made climate change is detrimental to the economy, as well. For instance, a recent study by Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley shows that extreme heat is bad for the economy because it destroys crops and reduces worker productivity. Government policies that deny climate change would only exacerbate the problem.
“It’s imperative that businesses take an active role in meeting the goals set out by the Paris climate agreement,” said Anna Walker, senior director of global policy and advocacy at Levi Strauss & Co, according to Independent. “It will be critical that we work together to ensure the U.S. maintains its climate leadership, ultimately ensuring our nation’s long-term economic prosperity.”
While the evidence supporting global warming is plentiful, those looking to deny it have had very few fact-based arguments in their arsenal. One of those arguments has been an apparent slowdown in the increase of ocean temperatures during a period around the turn of the century, from 1998 to 2012, which has become known as the “global warming hiatus.”
Though the reason behind the phenomenon was unclear, this hiatus was generally accepted by the scientific community. Then, in 2015, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a controversial paper in the journal Science that made sense of the slowdown by proving that it never actually happened. They proposed that the tools used to measure the surface temperature in the decades before the hiatus actually delivered warmer readings than modern tools, giving the false impression of decreased rates of warming.
After they corrected for this “cold bias,” the NOAA researchers concluded in their 2015 study that ocean temperatures had risen 0.12 degrees Celsius (0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade since 2000, almost double the previously estimated 0.07 degrees Celsius (.13 degrees Fahrenheit). These revised figures are in line with the rate of increase seen in the three decades prior.
Now, a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Berkeley Earth, a non-profit research institute focused on climate change, has confirmed that controversial paper. They’ve published their findings in the journal Science Advances.
Those researchers looked at independent data from a combination of satellites, robotic floats, and ocean buoys to test NOAA’s claims. By looking at just one type of data at a time, rather than trying to make judgment calls based on readings from a variety of instruments, they were able to get several unbiased data sets, and each set — whether from just the buoys, just the satellites, or just the floats — confirmed NOAA’s findings.
“Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books,” said lead author Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.
“In the grand scheme of things, the main implication of our study is on the hiatus, which many people have focused on, claiming that global warming has slowed greatly or even stopped,” Hausfather said. “Based on our analysis, a good portion of that apparent slowdown in warming was due to biases in the ship records.”
United States senators Lamar Alexander from Tennessee and Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island belong to two different parties. Lamar, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, is a Republican, while Whitehouse has been serving as a Democrat junior senator since 2007. Both, however, agree on a crucial thing: We need nuclear power to effectively fight global warming.
“We come from different political parties, but we agree on the overall goal of leveling the playing field for nuclear power, and the need to find a bipartisan solution to achieve it,” the pair writes in an article published by The New York Times.
Nuclear energy is generated either through fission, which is what’s currently available to us, or the elusive but potentially more powerful fusion. Fission is relatively clean and efficient. One fission event generates around 200 MeV of energy (about 3.2 x 10-11 watt-seconds), and it produces low carbon emissions, about 12 grams of CO2 per kWh. However, the process also creates radioactive nuclear waste, which carries its own environmental and health risks.
Currently, 99 active reactors are scattered across the country, providing low-cost and reliable electricity to the US — a nation that uses almost 20 percent of the world’s electricity despite accounting for only 4.4 percent of the global population. However, these reactors won’t be around for long.
“In roughly two decades, the United States could lose about half its reactors,” Alexander and Whitehouse explain. “That’s because, by 2038, 50 reactors will be at least 60 years old, and will face having to close, representing nearly half of the nuclear generating capacity in the United States.” This would greatly affect the country’s ability to reduce carbon emissions.
Beefing Up Support
Alexander and Whitehouse lament the fact that, despite being obviously more efficient and clean, nuclear energy has been at a disadvantage in the renewable energy business:
Unfortunately, some of our federal policies to encourage clean energy, such as the Clean Energy Incentive Program within President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, do not explicitly include or incentivize nuclear power. Likewise, some states have chosen to adopt policies, such as renewable portfolio standards, that do not include or incentivize nuclear power. At the same time, our energy markets do not currently account for the value of carbon-free power, a failure that puts nuclear power at an unfair and economically inefficient disadvantage to fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.
The two senators agree that “it’s time for the United States to get serious about clean energy.” Among other things, this means “supporting safely operating nuclear power plants that produce carbon-free electricity.”
While various states and even some in the private sector are pushing to put nuclear energy at the forefront of anti-climate change efforts — which Alexander and Whitehouse say the government should support — they can’t do it alone. Policy-wise, the government should take a more active role in supporting a stronger nuclear energy sector. “For one thing, we should extend existing reactor licenses from 60 to 80 years, in cases where the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it is safe to do so,” the senators write.
Some people might argue that the waste left behind by the process and the potential danger it poses make it difficult to accept nuclear energy as a truly viable clean-energy option. Alexander and Whitehouse think that those problems could be solved by investing in research for new reactor technologies:
We should also invest more in research to develop advanced nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors and accident-tolerant fuels. Advanced reactor designs may substantially reduce the threat of a meltdown. Many new, modular designs are much smaller than their predecessors, meaning they can be built in factories at lower cost and plugged into the grid as needed.
Whether or not increased investment in nuclear power is the answer, it’s good to see those in the U.S. government putting party politics aside to address this very real problem of carbon emissions.
The Dust Bowl was a terrible time for farmers and other residents of the North American plains during the 1930s. A series of heavy droughts led to debilitating conditions both agriculturally and ecologically. Fearing the impact of potential similar conditions, a team of researchers ran a computer simulation of how we would fare in another Dust Bowl. The simulation also illustrated the deleterious impact global warming will have on our ability to grow food.
The researchers, Michael Glotter and Joshua Elliot from the University of Chicago, expected to find that modernization had provided for more resilient crops. However, the push for higher crop yields has done nothing to make them less vulnerable to drought and heat. According to Elliot:
We expected to find the system much more resilient because 30 percent of production is now irrigated in the United States, and because we’ve abandoned corn production in more severely drought-stricken places such as Oklahoma and west Texas. But we found the opposite: The system was just as sensitive to drought and heat as it was in the 1930s.
The simulation mimicked the conditions of the 1936 drought on today’s agriculture and found that the impact would be comparable to the Dust Bowl crisis, with 30 – 40 percent losses in yields for some of our most essential crops like corn, soy, and wheat.
Climate change is a major factor in these frightening numbers. Even when just factoring climate change and not accounting for the one-two-punch of droughts, crop yields plummeted by up to 80 percent. And this was simply caused by an increase of four degrees above the average temperature. With temperature potentially climbing at rates of 0.55 °C (1 °F) per decade, it won’t be long until we reach those temperatures.
Unfortunately, we still are at the preliminary stages in terms of tackling this issue. We are still trying to get people to realize (or admit) that man-made climate change is real and an immense threat to the world’s organisms. According to a recent study “more than 450 of the 976 plant and animal species studied are experiencing local extinction events.” Once the threat is realized it will be much easier to inspire action.
The authors of the study added a few recommendations on how to best combat such a future. Aside from tackling greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers also want us to look into engineering crops to have higher heat tolerance to battle the rising temperatures, shifting to drought-resistant crops, and moving the most vulnerable crops to cooler northern climates. Still, these changes are prohibitive in that they come with a high monetary cost. We need to be more forward thinking in our policy-making. Extra bucks today may make all the difference when it comes to feeding the world of tomorrow.
Science is full of questions. But one thing that it’s not questioning? Anthropogenic climate change, or, as it’s more commonly known, manmade climate change.
Let’s be clear: Global warming is real, and we’re causing it. While scientists do debate the various processes related to the rate and effects of our warming planet, they do not debate whether or not humans are having a negative impact on the environment and warming the world.
Similarly, the European Physical Society states, “The emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, among which carbon dioxide is the main contributor, has amplified the natural greenhouse effect and led to global warming. The main contribution stems from burning fossil fuels. A further increase will have decisive effects on life on Earth.”
A host of organizations concerned about preserving precarious federal data on Earth’s environment and climate have come together to host “DataRescue events.” Their goals are outlined on their website, but in short, they are activists who are working on a “long-term, sustainable archive for this [environmental] data, which all researchers will be able to continue to access.”
A hackathon is scheduled for this weekend in Toronto in order to build this toolkit, so if you care about data or the environment, well, now is a good time to take some real action. The event is taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on December 17 (tomorrow).
Climate change is upsetting the fragile balance in many ecosystems, and it has pushed many species to migrate toward colder and higher-elevation locales. Many places where certain animals and plants previously thrived have now been abandoned by those species. In this new study, researchers looked at range-shift studies of flora and fauna and discovered that among 976 plant and animal species studied, more than 450 are experiencing local extinction events.
These have been most prevalent in the warmest parts of the ranges of these species, but the new study didn’t only look at local extinctions based on range. The researchers also studied the frequency of local extinctions with respect to region, habitat, and groups of organisms. For habitats and groups, the number was also nearly half, but the findings varied across regions, with tropical regions twice as likely to have local extinctions as temperate ones.
Worse on the Way?
The study is particularly alarming since global temperature increases have not yet broken 1°C (1.8°F). Scientists expect that milestone to be passed soon, and the limits set by the Paris Agreement are between 1.5°C and 2°C (2.7°F and 3.6°F).
How many more species will be killed off if temperatures increase that significantly is impossible to predict, and that’s not even accounting for the effects of climate change. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and warming ocean temperatures will not only affect the normal functioning of the planet, but also strain the resources available for every species that lives on it.
Thankfully, efforts are being make all around the globe to combat this threat. Agencies like NASA have increased the number of Earth studies that try to track the planet’s changing climate patterns. Political efforts like the Paris agreement show that governments are willing to take action, and technological developments in areas like materials science and clean energy are assuring that the advancements of the future will be based on eco-friendly materials and methods.
Sometimes, looking at the past is the best way to predict the future, and new research from a team of American geophysicists is doing just that. Their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that Antarctica warmed two to three times faster than the rest of the planet following the last ice age, which supports current models for climate change activity.
Confirming data based on calculations from most climate models, the study shows that Antarctica warmed about 11 degrees Celsius (almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit) around 20,000 and 10,000 years ago. The rest of the planet’s temperature rose only four degrees Celsius (seven degrees Fahrenheit) during the same period, which immediately followed the peak of the last ice age.
Data for the study was gathered from a 3.4 kilometer (2 mile) deep borehole. Researchers analyzed ice deposits from various depths of the hole to estimate temperatures from various time periods: the bottom for temperatures 70,000 years ago, one-sixth of the way up for temperatures 50,000 years ago, and about one-third of the way down for temperatures 20,000 years ago.
Combining the results from these measurements provided the researchers with an estimate of about 11.3 degrees Celsius (20.3 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming since the last ice age. According to the study’s first author Kurt Cuffey, this is the first good calculation of Antarctica’s ice age temperature and the amount of warming it has experienced following the coldest part of the period.
Warning for the Future
The results of this study underscore how a changing climate, regardless of whether the planet is getting warmer or cooler, affects the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south most significantly. It also supports the belief that current climate models are accurate when estimating past climate conditions and predicting future conditions given current climate change and global warming evidence.
“While the most likely climate change scenario, given business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, is a global average increase of 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, the Antarctic is predicted to warm eventually by around 6 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit),” the researchers explain.
Antarctica has also been shown to be more sensitive to global carbon dioxide levels, prompting its temperature to increase even faster than that of the Arctic. This is largely due to the changing ocean currents that caused carbon-dioxide-rich waters to surface and driven mostly by emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.
Quite simply, unless humans significantly lower their carbon dioxide emissions, oceans will be unable to keep up with the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and our poles will bear the brunt of the effects.