Bearing Witness to Climate Change January 2020

Climate Change Question of the Month

For the decade just ending, how many years out of the ten broke new records in the planet’s overall warming temperature? Read on to find the answer.

Climate News of the Month

With the new year and new decade beginning, Inside Climate News looks back over the previous decade with some of the more important findings. The past decade was the warmest on human record as temperature records were set across the planet. Polar ice caps were found to be melting at much faster rates than the previous decade and sea levels are rising faster than predicted. The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting seven times faster than two decades ago and the loss has been dramatic. The reduced sea ice triggers ocean water to absorb more heat, further speeding up the planet’s overall warming. Some oceanic regions are experiencing prolonged heat waves similar to those experienced by land masses. This is changing the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation of the  Atlantic ocean which historically has had a huge influence on American weather patterns.  The strength and patterns of the jet stream are changing and affecting weather in the mid-latitudes with more extremes in temperatures and precipitation. In the southern hemisphere the potential for the West Antarctic ice sheet to collapse is nor more real than ten years ago. And finally, scientists have found that monster tropical storms are indeed becoming more common and stronger.

Preliminary reports by European scientists indicate that 2019 will be the second highest global average temperatures on human record. This makes the last five years the warmest five years on record.

A week later NASA and NOAA reported that the past decade was the hottest on human record and last year was also the second warmest. Numerous countries in the northern and southern hemisphere as well as states in the U.S. broke all time record temperatures in 2019. It was the first time that Alaska had an average temperature above 32 degrees F. And the 2010 decade experienced the hottest 8 of top 10 years. It is estimated that the Earth is now the warmest it has been for the last 11,500 years and is some 2.2 degrees hotter since the start of the industrial age. .

As the new year begins wildfires continue burning across much of Australia that devastate communities, force evacuations, close off roads used for escape routes, darken urban skies, overwhelm emergency services, bring out the military, and sadly kill both dozens of people and millions of wildlife. And it is only the beginning of their summer heat. Over 15 million acres have burnt from over 100 fires creating some of the worse air quality ever measured in the country’s capital city, Canberra. Over 100,000 have been evacuated and thousands of homes left destroyed. Prime Minister Morrison, who has downplayed the threat of global warming, has faced harsh criticism when touring villages ravaged by the fires. Last year was the hottest and driest on record for the country and the financial toll from weather-related disasters is expected to be in the billions of dollars. Yet, the political leaders of the county, like those of the U.S., still refuse to acknowledge the role of climate change despite, or more likely because, Australia being the world’s largest coal exporter.

Entering a second month, the Australian wildfires have become an apocalyptic disaster for the country and a warning to the rest of the world. Skies have become orange colored with ash-filled rains and fire tornadoes. Over 1,000 miles away the country of New Zealand is experiencing smoky air and discolored air skies from its neighbor to the far west. It is estimated that over 1 billion animals have now perished in addition to dozens of human lives lost. It is feared that over 25% of the beloved koala population has been lost in New South Wales which was suffered the most from the drought and fires. The month of December saw an average temperature of 107 degrees F. Southern Australia has already seen their average temperature rise some 2.7 degrees since 1950..

European climate scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they have used new machine learning techniques to identify the influence or “fingerprint” of human-generated climate change on some daily weather patterns.

President Trump’s EPA continues to press ahead with rollbacks to environmental regulations that have protected America’s air and water for years. Even their own scientists say the changes conflict with established science.

NOAA has reported its analysis of the 2019 Arctic summer ice and found that the extent of sea ice was the second lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979. Losing sea ice could help create an acceleration of global warming, or another tipping point, as white ice reflects solar heat back into space where it would otherwise be absorbed into the oceans. The Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and the average temperatures for last year were the second highest since 1900. Once Arctic permafrost starts melting it is expected to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, like methane, that are far more worrisome than carbon dioxide.

The National Center for Atmospheric Sciences published a report that 2019 was also the warmest recorded year for the planet’s oceans. Scientists believe that the world’s oceans absorb over 90% of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Like the air above it, the past 10 years were the warmest ten years on record for ocean temperatures.

The Trump administration is proposing rollbacks to the 50-year old National Environmental Policy what would no longer require federal agencies to consider the effects of climate change on major projects.  All while the state of California is considering issuing over $4B worth of climate bonds to help prevent and pay for weather-related disasters such as droughts, wildfires, and flooding.

It is well known that as the planet’s atmosphere warms it holds more moisture resulting in heavier annual rainfall as well as extreme precipitation events. For the heartland Midwest of the U.S. the year 2019 ended up being the wettest on record ending the wettest decade also on record.

Extreme precipitation events continue into January with some Midwest areas, like in rural Missouri, experiencing over two winter days spring-like temperatures in the 60’s followed by 5 inches of rain, severe thunderstorms, tornado warnings and then sleet, ice, snow and temps in the 20’s.

To protect New York City from future flooding due to rising sea levels and more severe storm surges a 6-mile long barrier with gates is being studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The massive project is estimated to cost over $100B and would take several decades to construct. Some estimates predict the rise in sea level at NYC to be as much as 9 feet by end of this century, while others indicate it will be at least several feet, both of which would flood lower Manhattan.

A federal appeals judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought against the U.S. by 21 young people for not doing more to protect their rights to a future without environmental degradation which would deprive them of their full constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

Some good news, however, as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to have dropped by 2.1% during 2019. This is due largely to a drop of 18% in coal-fired electrical production, the worst polluter. Emissions from transportation which make up 30% of total US emissions were basically unchanged while emissions from agriculture, buildings, and oil-gas methane increased.

In the U.S. the huge BlackRock investment firm said they were making sustainability and climate change at the center of their investment decisions. American companies such as Microsoft has announced their intention to be carbon neutral if not carbon negative with 60% of the power for their data centers said to be already from renewable sources. They are following Google, Apple, and Amazon with their own green pledges to run 100% on renewable energy. Microsoft’s CEO Nadella warned that capitalism will fundamentally be in jeopardy if businesses do not act on climate change.

A report presented to the European Central Bank said that climate change posed unprecedented challenges to human society and could be one of the biggest economic dislocations of all times that central banks were not prepared to cope with it.  Some estimates say that in a worst case scenario the global GDP could plunge by 25% by the end of the century.

More progressive news that global business leaders from around the world meeting in Davos, Switzerland cite environmental issues as the source of the top five long-term risks to the global economy. An increase in extreme weather events and costs was #1 followed by the failure to plan for climate change. The theme of this year’s Davos global economic conference is the environment, but President Trump said very little about the environment or climate change. Instead he whined about being impeached back home, disparaged fellow Americans, discredited climate change activists like Greta Thunberg as pessimistic doomsayers, and took credit for an economic expansion in the U.S. that began long before he was in office and which he has kept going through huge deficit spending and artificially low interest rates that have increased wealth inequality.

That did not stop climate activist Greta Thunberg from taking the stage an hour later, ignoring the President of the largest greenhouse gas polluter, and speak truth to power, shaming the audience of world leaders by saying “our house was still on fire” and “your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour.” She went on to shame them with “I wonder what will you tell your children when the reason to fail and leave them facing the climate chaos you knowingly brought upon them?”

After returning home to Sweden, Greta joined climate activists from Africa to bring the world’s attention to the expectation that the poor countries of Africa will be the most vulnerable to climate change. They may shoulder almost half of the cost of climate change although the continent is responsible for only 2% of cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions.

As world leaders met in Davos others met in Israel at the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the Allied liberation of the Auschwitz death camps at the end of WWII. It was reported that the leaders present vowed to never forget and learn from the Holocaust. Yet, don’t they understand that this generation may be creating, ignoring, or participating in a crime against humanity and the planet, which is climate change. Is it possible that that history may record this as grave and heinous as the holocaust?

In a landmark decision that will surely have future consequences, a United Nations Human Rights panel has ruled that climate refugees escaping from climate calamities cannot be forced to return to their home country. A study by the World Bank has estimated that nearly 150 million people around the world may be at risk of becoming climate refugees.

In good news, the state of California has mandated through building codes that all new homes have rooftop solar panels. This will effect approximately 80,000 new homes every year and add up to 1 GW of new renewable electricity on top of 26 GW of solar energy already installed in the state with over 6 GW already from homes. Wow, it can be done if there is a will!

New Jersey becomes the first state to require builders take into account the impact of climate change . The state is already experiencing more frequent tidal flooding due to rising sea levels. Previously the state had set a goal of producing 100% clean energy by 2050.

Scientists have reported that waters beneath Antarctica glaciers are unusually warm, nearly 4 degrees F above freezing and are accelerating the glacier’s melting.  If the largest Antarctica glaciers melted it would raise sea levels by over a meter.

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