Bearing Witness to Climate Change 2018

December 2018

  • The year ends with the cost of natural disasters around the world this past year exceeding $150 billion due to hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, typhoons, floods, heat waves, tsunamis and earthquakes. Obviously, climate change cannot be assigned blame for these disasters, or even many of them. But several were made worse by climate change such as drought-fueled wildfires in California and hurricanes over warmer-than-normal-waters that explode into Category 5 beasts.
  • Climate researchers are warning the Northern Hemisphere may experience extreme winter weather as the new year starts. The polar vortex is predicted by many weather models to become unstable due in part to warming Arctic below it and in the stratosphere in which the polar vortex resides. A cascade of chain reactions is possible that moves the jet stream further south, weakening it as a wall, and sending colder air into northern latitudes.
  • In Poland at the U.N. Climate Summit, the US is one of only 4 countries out of nearly 200 that refuse to endorse a climate report that the other countries have approved. We join Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia. How far have we fallen.
  • In a NOAA report, scientists are reporting melting in the Arctic in spots where it has never been seen before and is contributing to a rapid unraveling of the regions. This year will be the second warmest year on record for the Arctic and the region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. For the last two years the Bering sea has seen record low winter ice. A warming Arctic is also said to be disturbing and weakening the jet stream allowing unusual weather events in the US and rest of the Norther Hemisphere. A warming arctic can trigger colder air to actually travel further south, due to a weakened jet stream and thus create colder winters spells even in a time of a warming planet.
  • Melting of Greenland’s ice sheet is reported to be accelerating and alone may raise ocean levels by a foot by 2050. The melting has been triggered by warmer weather patters above Greenland. Given current trends arctic temperatures are expected to rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2050.
  • In a global meeting on climate change in Europe the U.S. was singled out as a sad case of a nation that is experiencing the impact and cost of climate change but refuses to listen to the warning of so many scientists and increasing numbers of economists, political, and religious leaders.  Leaders from over 200 countries are gathering as part of the 2015 Paris Climate accords to find ways to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels to avoid a disastrous tipping point in the globe’s climate. The United Nations Secretary General warns the attendees that we must act boldly to avoid a catastrophic climate created disruptions, famine, refugees, and disorder.
  • The same week as the Poland Climate meetings, the streets of  France erupting in violent political protests as gas taxes are enacted to help lower carbon emissions. Unfortunately instead of making industry pay for carbon pollution with a tax neutral carbon cap and trade scheme, French leaders make the working class pay for it who then take to the streets as income inequality grows.
  • In the US the EPA announces its intent to roll back regulations to make it easier to build new coal plants by easing restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. Nearly the same day researchers announce that global carbon emissions are accelerating, not lowering, and are expected to increase by nearly 3% this year alone.
  • In another NOAA report climate change is predicted to create more extreme weather events including record-breaking wet and dry periods in the future.  Already, the number of months in the US that experience record high rainfall events has increased by over 25%  since 1980.
  • While much of North America, including Missouri, experiences severe winter weather so early in the fall, down under Australia is experiencing record drought, heat, and wildfires in one part of the country and record torrential rainfall and flooding elsewhere.
  • The United Nations reports that most industrial countries, including the US, are not doing enough to reduce the carbon emissions which are contributing to climate change, and that more drastic action will be needed in the future because of our failure to act now when we may still have time.

November

  • The St. Louis region experiences more strange weather with a tornado warning and blizzard warning all on the same day.
  • The fourth congressional-mandated National Climate Assessment Report was released this week by the Trump administration on the Friday of our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday break. It warns that our country is already and will continue to face increasing climate-related catastrophes that will have grave impact on our public health, safety, environment, infrastructure, economy, agriculture, national security, and marginalized low-income communities. The report, prepared by over 13 federal departments and agencies, states that “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country and that climate-related threats to American’s physical, social, and economic wellbeing are rising.”
  • Devastating record fires in California kill many dozens, destroy thousands of homes, and displace tens of thousands. At one time over 1,000 people are reported missing. The wildfires were fed by much drier than usual vegetation this year due to a combination of warmer temperatures and reduced rainfall along the west coast.
  • Some parts of Missouri receives over 9 inches of wet snow, the most in over 25 years to occur this early in November. Does all this winter weather so early mean man-made climate change is a hoax? Check out this Inside Climate News article on how a warming arctic can change the jet stream to actually cause colder winters in North America.
  • Another species suffers due to overfishing in ocean habitats that are more fragile due to warmer temperatures and pollution. The population of New England shrimp is so low that fishing for it has now been banned.
  • Missouri experiences freaky fall weather this year with record low temperatures and early snowfalls for mid November. The fall was very short as it has gone from summer heat to winter snows in just a few weeks time. This follows a short spring earlier in the year where we went from winter to summer also in a few weeks time.
  • Climate scientists at Princeton University reported that the planet’s oceans are retaining 60% more heat that expected as the Earth warms. Faster warming means the oceans will expand and sea levels rise faster, coral reefs will die off, ice sheets will melt, weather patterns will change, and hurricanes/typhoons become more massive. The health of our oceans are ever so important as a carbon sink as they are thought to absorb more than 25% of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by humans.
  • The World Wildlife Fund issued a report saying that there has been a decline of over 50% in global wildlife populations in the past 40 years, due mostly to human activity such as habitat loss and climate change. As an example, our environmental impact on the planet’s ecosystems has been so extensive that the majority of seabirds are estimated to have absorbed plastics in their stomachs.

October

  • The strongest pacific storm, a “super” typhoon, in 80 years strikes and devastates the US territory of Mariana Islands.
  • The Nature Conservancy reports that in the past 30 years nearly half of the world’s coral reefs have died and the rest are in danger of being lost by 2100. Warming oceans and more powerful storms due to climate change are a key reason cited for their decline.
  • A lawsuit from the New York Attorney General claims that Exxon Mobil had engaged in a long-term fraudulent scheme to deceive investors, analysts, and the public by claiming climate change was not real, all while internally keeping a second set of books and plans which acknowledged that it was likely happening.
  • The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report urging that the federal government begin researching and planning for how to take carbon out of the atmosphere, saying that we were running out of time to stop new carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.
  • The NWS predicts that another winter is expected to be warmer than normal, a lot like the last few which have been warm with little snowfall in Missouri. The biggest factor in the forecast is an El Nino created by warmer Pacific Ocean water temperatures.
  • The strongest hurricane in decades strikes the Florida Gulf Coast. It surprised even the experts by how quickly it intensified over warm gulf waters into a near Category 5 storm. Climate change models predict that as oceans warm, hurricanes will become more powerful in both wind velocity and rainfall moisture. And indeed, Florida gulf waters are running nearly 5 degrees warmer than the historic average. How tragic that people lost their lives and homes in southeastern states whose governments restrict the use of the words climate change or planning for the consequences.
  • A new report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that much sooner than originally expected, now by 2040, the globe will be suffering severe consequences of a warming atmosphere and oceans. With the temperatures projected to rise by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit from preindustrial values a die off of the world’s coral reefs will occur along with more wildfires, flooding, food shortages, harm to wildlife, deaths from heat waves and disease, and migrating human populations all are expected. The report calls on the nations of the world to quickly decarbonize their economies, primarily by getting rid of coal. The good news is that is possible, if only we had the political courage for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. The economic cost for not taking action are projected to exceed $50 trillion, in addition to the impact on human health.
  • Environmental educator, author, and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben pens a national Op-Ed where he details how common it has become that he and others in the environmental movement receive death threats.

September

  • A new study reviews last year’s record number of major Atlantic hurricanes, six in all, and claims that warmer ocean waters were partially to blame. Waters averaged .7 degrees warmer than normal for 2017. Not only are waters getting warmer, but warmer water is going down deeper into the world’s oceans. NOAA climate models and researchers predict this trend will continue with perhaps as many of 5-8 major hurricanes annually by the turn of the century.
  • In Missouri this month we experienced several weeks with near record high temperatures following last year that also saw record highs this same month. The number of days with highs over 90 degrees hit a record this year in St. Louis, over 50 compared to a historical average closer to 30 days. The count of hot days has grown by some 40% since 1968!
  • The drought over much of Missouri, especially the northern half, this past summer has severely hurt crop production levels and hurt farmers. As the plains and land of the Midwest have become dryer, climate scientists have found that tornadic activity is moving further east across the Mississippi River.
  • Massively wide and wet Hurricane Florence stalls out over the Carolinas and dumps feet of rain in many locations with loss of life, property, and wildlife. Climate change scientists have warned us that a warming atmosphere with warmer oceans will create a new generation of hurricanes that hold more moisture and move slower, exactly what Florence did.
  • The Trump administration rolls back existing regulations on the emissions of green house gases, this time methane released from the production of oil and gas.

August

  • The New York Times dedicates a complete magazine issue to the history of climate change titled “Thirty years ago we could have saved the planet”.
  • Over 2 million acres of forests are burning at one time in the western USA this summer, due largely to drought conditions, to make this year one of the worst on record. The total burn in 2018’s extra-long fire season is expected to exceed 8 million acres at the cost of $2B.
  • Temperatures in some parts of Europe reach 105-110 record highs in heat waves that are becoming more frequent. Severe droughts are being experienced in central Europe.

The White House announces plans to scrap planned fuel-efficiency improvement standards and replace the nation’s clean power plan enacted under Obama.

July

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt resigns after numerous scandals including the use of a special phone booth installed in his office where it was reported he could have private conversations with the polluting industries the EPA was supposed to be regulating.

Temperatures in northern and southern European cities reach all time record highs. Towns as far north as the Arctic Circle report temps in the 90s. Droughts plaque pastoral areas as livestock herds and agricultural areas suffer across the European continent and Ireland.

May

  • It felt like we enjoyed one month of mild Spring after the Winter and before Summer heat came early to Innsbrook.
  • A draft report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program references 13 federal agencies that conclude the U.S, is already feeling the negative impact of climate change, in contrast to President Trump which has called climate change a hoax.

March

  • The western part of Greenland’s ice sheet is found to be melting at its fastest rage in at least 450 years. If the ice sheet melted completely, oceans would rise some 20 feet flooding coastal areas and cities around the world.
  • The EPA is reported to have wanted a debate about climate change, but President Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly killed the effort.
  • Despite nearly universal agreement that carbon dioxide emissions must be slowed, it was reported by the International Energy Agency that they increased by about 1.5% in 2017. A sliver of good news is that the US reduced its emissions in 2017 due to increase use of natural gas that replaces coal and more renewables such as wind and solar. The bad news is that China, which now manufactures so much of what we consume in the US, saw its emissions rise by nearly 2%. It seems we may have just outsourced our pollution to the developing world.

February

  • The NYT reports on satellite data showing that melting ice sheets are speeding up the rise in sea levels. Sea levels could be 2 feet higher by the end of this century.

 

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