Bearing Witness to Climate Change December 2019

Delegates from 200 countries  meet at the Madrid Climate Conference to improve the 2016 Paris accords which the U.S. has announced its intention to leave. The United Natioins Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the attendees that the planet was near a point of no return and that attempts to stop climate change have been utterly inadequate. The UN has previously said that we must cut carbon emissions by half by 2030 to avoid the worst consequences.

The U.N. dire warning followed that in the annual report of the World Meteorological Organization which echoed that drastic actions are now required because we have delayed reductions for too long.

The Swedish 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived at the conference by travelling across the Atlantic in a sailboat to demonstrate that drastic actions are needed now to protect the rights of today’s youth.  Her crusade for the planet has created a following of millions.

She has inspired the protests of many Americans, including that of actress activist Jane Fonda whose act of civil disobedience at the Nation’s Capital has caused her to get continually arrested on Fire Drill Fridays. She is one of many voices now saying we have moved into a climate emergency that demands bold political action.

Later in the month Greta would be named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”, and the youngest one ever to receive the accolade, and honored for “sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have.”  The day after receiving the award President Trump would mock her on Twitter saying the teenage activist had anger management problems and should instead go watch a movie.

Since the first global climate conference in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro carbon in the atmosphere has grown from 358 ppm to nearly 410, a 15% increase. Temperatures have risen a degree Fahrenheit. During this time each successive decade has been warmer than the last. There have been over 200 weather disasters in the U.S. costing more than 1.4T and thousands of lives. The number of extreme weather-related events such as droughts, floods, wildfires, record temperatures, rainfalls, etc. has nearly doubled. The annual extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased by 17%. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have loss trillions of tons of ice while ocean levels have risen by 3 inches. And carbon emissions continue to break record after record each new year reaching levels not seen for at least 3 million years when sea levels were dozens of feet higher than today.

The International Energy Agency report published its annual World Energy Outlook and warned that current energy policies could cause greenhouse gas emissions to rise for the next 2 decades. The good news is that renewable energy sources are set to surpass that from coal by 2030 growing to over 40% of total global generation.

A new study in the Nature Climate Change journal reports that birth rates are being influenced by warmer weather and especially extreme heat days. Hotter temperatures are causing women to have shorter pregnancies with more thousands of babies born prematurely. It is projected that the number of days with temps over 90 degrees will increase by 30 additional days across the U.S. by the end of the century due largely to global warming.

An analysis of climate simulation models, which climate deniers love to attack, has revealed that most of them over a 50 year period have been relatively accurate. For 10 of the 17 model forecasts there was very little difference between their predicted output and actual historical observations.

Former U.S. senator and secretary of state John Kerry has launched a global coalition, called World War Zero, to push for public action on climate change. The initiative includes former presidents, world leaders, military brass, industry executives, non profit leaders, and celebrities who pledge to help lead thousands of conversations to reach millions of people around the world to demand action to combat the dangers of climate change.

Historic coastal communities along the Atlantic ocean are now confronting the prospects of abandoning sections of their towns that are threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. The tragic irony is that some Republican-controlled state legislatures have made it illegal for states to form policies based on rising sea levels.

Insurance companies are abandoning policy owners in some sections of California’s wildfire prone regions by failing to renew policies or pulling out all together.  Insurers reportedly lost $20B from claims due to wildfires in California during 2017 and 2018. They claim that their business is not sustainable with such large natural disasters.

Scientists in the journal Nature have reported that the loss of Greenland’s ice sheets has been doubling each decade contributing to rising sea levels. Temperatures have already risen by nearly 4 degrees F in the past century. One scenario predicts that Greenland’s melt alone could cause a foot rise in sea levels by 2100.

The 2019 Arctic Report Card federal assessment prepared by NOAA predicts an ominous future for the arctic region as it moves into a new global climate. Most frightening is the release of greenhouse gases that will occur with the thawing of permafrost. It is estimated that approximately 1,500 billion tons of organic carbon is stored in Arctic soils. It sequesters nearly twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere. The report says that a vicious feedback loop may already have been triggered. This past summer Anchorage Alaska set heat records for June, July, and August.

A study issued at the Madrid global climate talks reported that the world’s oceans are rapidly losing oxygen due to human activities, predominantly climate change. Since the middle of the last century it is estimated that the planet’s oceans have absorbed over 90% of the heat associated with human generated greenhouse gas emissions. And as ocean temps rise the water cannot hold as much oxygen.

The European Union introduced a new plan called the Green Deal that would pay member countries to stop using coal. The hope is to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030 with a shot to becoming net-zero by 2050.

Catastrophic fires burn across Australia as the country observed its hottest day on record on Dec. 17. Numerous locations exceeded 115 degrees F. Temperatures for the month have been running 15-30 degrees above average. This year is on track to be one of the driest and warmest on records for the country. Smoke from the fires has blackened major cities such as Sydney. Nine of the countries warmest recorded years have occurred since 2005. As the month ends more than 12 million acres of land has burned with nearly 1000 homes and widespread killing of wildlife due to fire and drought. It is feared that thousands of koalas may have died with the destruction of 30% of their habitat.

Global insurers are expecting the cost of disasters for this year to be near $140B. They reported that while the impact of climate change is still uncertain, there is growing evidence in losses from extreme weather perils such as drought, hail, and floods.

Scientists are warning that the Amazon is approaching a tipping point on the edge of functional destruction and may lose its ability to be a carbon sink for the planet. Yet another sign that global ecosystems, like the Arctic permafrost and Greenland ice sheets,  are moving toward irreversible changes at rates faster than originally projected. The Amazon has been warming at a faster rate than the rest of the globe while man-made deforestation is taking its toll as well.  The rainforest stores vast amounts of carbon.

The UN climate talks in Madrid are extended by 2 days but still end with little progress, largely due to the lack of leadership from countries missing such as the U.S. who ended up blocking progress. The summit concludes in disappointment with the statement that time is running out and their is an urgent need to cut planet heating greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 and become net zero by 2050.  Attendees state that the failure to make progress was an absolute tragedy and travesty. and that the point of no return is no longer over the horizon but is in sight hurtling toward us.

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands has ordered Dutch government to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% of 1990 levels. The chief justice said that the well being of lives around the world including the Netherlands was being threatened by climate change that also threatened basic human rights.

Meanwhile in the US,  President Trump speaking to a conservative group lashed out in a diatribe against wind-powered turbines claiming hey produced tremendous fumes and were noisy, ugly,  and killed too many birds.

Endangered sea turtles are dying as the result of warming ocean waters which confuse young turtles in their historic migration. It seems warmer late fall water temperatures have led the turtles to linger too long where they face being cold-stunned during the onset of winter.

More flood-prone communities in the US are facing the grim decision of moving their whole towns due to recurring flooding. Some locations like Winslow Nebraska have experienced the nine out of the ten highest river levels in the past decade.

As the year and decade ends most of the predictions made about climate change some 20 years ago prove to be accurate, or if not they were too conservative. These warnings included rising temperatures, loss of sea ice, increasing sea levels, changing precipitation patterns,  more extreme weather events and disasters. During this time carbon in the atmosphere has risen from 358 ppm to 412 ppm.