Bearing Witness to Climate Change February 2020

Climate Change Question of the Month: Name two of the rapidly-increasing number of global businesses that have recently announced they were moving toward zero carbon emissions. Read on to find the answer….


Antarctica experienced its hottest recorded day ever at a research station early this month with a temperature of 65 degrees F. The previous record was set only in 2015. Antarctica is one of the fastest warming areas of the planet.

Forest fires during 2019 burned significantly more land not only in Australia but also in Europe. Almost 40% of Europe is covered by trees which with warmer temperatures and heat waves are becoming more vulnerable. Forests are estimated to store about 30% of the planet’s carbon dioxide.

The Great Lakes are near record high water levels for the winter months due to warmer temperatures, heavy rains instead of snows, and quicker melting after snows. Last year was the second wettest and second warmest on record, which is to be expected with climate change.

The Journal Science reports that bumblebee populations are found to be decreasing across much of the Northern Hemisphere due to changing climates. The culprit are extreme temperatures and prolonged heat waves. Not only are there fewer bees but the regions where they are found have fallen by half.

A NOAA research project has found that the world’s ocean currents and circulations are speeding up as a another consequence of climate change. Increased energy and higher winds in the atmosphere is one reason, but so also is the melting of ice and glaciers which creates colder denser seawater that sinks faster.

In promising news the International Energy Agency has reported that energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide in 2019 did not rise from those in 2018 with some estimated 33 billion tons emitted from energy production and usage. What good news it would be If this is true, and 2018/2019 ends up being the peak years of global emissions! The IEA attributed the decline to the expanding role of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and the move away from coal to lower cost natural gas which has lower emissions.

Despite the increasing awareness and alarm of most Americans about climate change, it was a topic that President Trump did not mention in his annual State of the Union address. He did talk about planting a trillion trees around the world but unwilling, like most Republicans, to utter the words climate change or global warming, so he said it was for environmental reasons. This came after his comments celebrated America’s rise in production of oil and gas.

This week Trump’s Interior Department finalized plans to allow even more drilling on federal lands, this time in Utah, which only will release more carbon into the atmosphere. Should we forgive them because they do not know what they do? Or more likely they know exactly what they are doing and we should find them guilty of crimes against humanity?

The oil giant BP has set a tough goal of zero emissions by 2050. Yes, an oil and gas company says it knows how important it is to the planet by pledging to reduce 400 million tons of greenhouse gases it emits from not just the extraction and production of fuels, but also in the burning of these fuels by commercial and industrial customers. Wow if this is true!

Following the above announcement, the CEO of one of the world’s largest airlines, Delta, announced plans to become the first U.S. airline to become carbon neutral. They are said to be willing to spend $1B or more over ten years to invest in more efficient planes, new fuel sources,  carbon capture technologies, and emissions offsets.

In more good news, major international financial institutions are starting to divest themselves of investments and loans to the fossil-fuel industry including the sand-oil production fields of Alberta, Canada. Credit-rating agencies such as Moody’s have begun downgrading the credit worthiness of private and government bodies that are overly dependent on fossil-fuel extraction and production,

 

Meanwhile, Republicans and the administration of President Trump think the answer is as simple as planting trees. Yes, their response to the climate crisis is to plant a trillion trees by 2050 without addressing the cause of climate change, the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists say that is all a good start, but it is nowhere near enough to what will be to head off the worst consequences of climate change.

The EPA, which is more like the EDA these days, announced that the next Chief of Staff will be Mandy Gunasekara, who had previously worked to roll back federal restrictions which were aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution. She also was said to have pushed the President for the U.S. to leave the Paris Climate Agreement. The present EPA Chief of Staff is leaving to go to work as a lobbyist for the National Mining Association. That’s sure the way to fill, excuse me, drain the swamp, Mr. President!

Japan wants to build to build up to 22 new coal-fired power plants within the next five years. What are they thinking? If they are built they would produce as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as all the cars sold each year in the U.S.

 

Scientists in the American Journal of Meteorology reviewed a proposal to build a 400 mile dam across the North Sea to protect millions of Europeans and their cities from rising sea levels due to climate change. It would be the largest engineering project ever conceived with a projected cost of $250-$500B dollars. Others argue that given the cost of such a project, which would protect existing urban investments of hundreds of billions of dollars along coasts and low-lying regions of Europe, it would be less costly to just slow then reverse carbon emissions which threaten to produce up to a meter rise in sea levels by the end of the century.

The Climate Leadership Council, which is composed of several thousand economists including former Federal Reserve Bank chairs and Economics Nobel laureates, is pushing Congress for a carbon fee or tax as the most market-friendly method to reduce carbon emissions. In good news a bipartisan group of Senators is listening. The fees collected would be rebated to American families to help them cover the rising costs on fossil fuel based energy until those sources finally disappear.

Off the coast of California a crisis is unfolding in the interconnected marine ecosystem. NOAA ecologist are finding that warming waters in the Pacific Ocean, called the blob, have resulted in the food sources for humpback whales, like anchovies and krill, migrating closer to shore. This brings the whales into conflict with fishermen and their gear including nets which these giants of the seas become entangled in. It was previously reported that ocean waters were the warmest on record last year and that the frequency of marine heat waves has doubled since the early 1980s.

Increasingly, climate scientists are studying the impact that climate change will have on humans, not just the weather and planet. In particular, what should parents tell their children about their future when it is their generation that will likely experience the cost and calamity of living on a rapidly changing planet?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced he will donate $10B in grants to scientists and activists fighting climate change. Bezos who calls climate change the biggest threat to or planet has already pledged to move Amazon to 100 percent renewable energy by the end of the decade.

The previous month of January is thought to have been the warmest January on record with global average temperatures just over 2 degrees F above average. Given this start, NOAA scientists are saying the entire year has a 50% chance of being the warmest ever.

A study from Brown University has found that some 25% of all tweets about climate change are likely posted by bots, with most of those advancing a climate change denial agenda.

Much of the southern U.S. this winter is seeing historic flooding with near record river levels. The flooding is due to unusually long damp and rainy weather patterns across the Deep South.

Meanwhile, the northern Atlantic is experiencing a train of successive winter storms of unusually low pressure which are being called “bomb cyclones.” These storms are racing across the Atlantic propelled by a 200 mph jet stream producing monster seas with waves 40-100 feet high along the Irish coast.

A new study in the journal Nature warns that we have been underestimating the emissions of methane gas from man-made sources, largely oil and gas operations. Methane is the second most important common greenhouse gas, yet the most potent, is said to be capable of warming the planet 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide.

Oceans are thought to absorb 90% of the excess heat produced by climate change and were recently found to be warming about 40% faster than originally predicted. It is no surprise that this is impacting the marine ecosystems. In one example, scientists have discovered that the oceans are becoming louder because some species like shrimp are making more noise.

A U.S. Geological Survey has reported that climate change is responsible for reducing the annual flow of the Colorado River by nearly 20%. About half of the decrease is due to warmer temperatures and reduced snow packs. Reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell are running only half full.

The Pew Research Center reports that for the first time ever a majority of Americans think that climate change should be a top priority for the President and Congress. However, the average does not tell the full story as some 78% of Democrats believe this but less than 25% of Republicans.

NOAA reports that the ice cover across the Great Lakes this winter was less than 18% due to warmer-than-normal temperatures.

One of the world’s largest lender, JPMorgan Chase,  has announced it would decrease financing of the coal, oil, and gas industry including projects in the Arctic.  The bank had been one of the biggest source of funds to the fossil fuel industry having financed nearly $200B of projects just since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016. And in another good sign it said it was going to join the Climate Leadership Council.

The heat wave in early February across the Antarctic is thought to have melted some 20% of the continent’s snow cover in a matter of a two weeks. The Antarctic is one of the fastest warming places on the globe and temperatures reached nearly 70 degrees F earlier in the month.