Bearing Witness to Climate Change March 2020

Climate Change Question of the Month: How much warmer on average were temperatures this winter across Europe? Read on to find the answer.

The world is experiencing a pandemic from the coronavirus which has halted modern life as we have known it. National and local emergencies have been declared across the US. Hundreds of thousands are sick and thousands have already died. Entire communities as well as countries across the globe are under lockdown to halt the spread. Are there analogies or lessons for humanity if we do not get climate change under control? Is the planet not telling us it is sick with a fever due to a virus we call greenhouse gas emissions? Will humanity as we bear witness to the impact of the fast-moving pandemic crisis be able to understand or transfer lessons learned to the slower-moving climate crisis? As example, is it not obvious that the failure of governments and their citizens around the world to take the possibility of a pandemic seriously and prepare for it has lessons for taking climate change more seriously given it is not a possibility but a high probability?

Fearing a global economic recession if not meltdown, gas prices are in freefall along with stock markets. But this may only make the economics of moving to renewable energy more difficult. The only bit of good news is that air pollution and carbon emissions have been suddenly reduced across the northern hemisphere as economies and transportation systems are idled. One report has emissions from China dropping by 25% in February. But this is no way to get there as the human cost is far too high.

If you thought this past winter was much warmer all over the planet, you were not wrong. A new study by the Copernicus Climate Change Service reports that temps in Europe for Dec – Feb were over 6 degrees F above their 40 year average. Some parts of far northern Europe were snowless for much of the winter.

California just reported experiencing the driest month of February on record. Some locales such as San Francisco saw no precipitation at all. The month also saw record warm temperatures for a winter month.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study has found that “atmospheric rivers” of completely saturated air flows are contributing to the majority of flooding across much of the western US. Scientists are warning that with warmer oceans and atmospheres, these rivers above ground will fuel more massive, deadly, and costly storms.

Researchers of “world weather attribution” have concluded that climate change most definitely influenced the record warmth and dryness over much of Australia last year and the catastrophe that followed. This then directly resulted in over 50 million acres burnt with dozens of deaths and thousands of homes and buildings destroyed, in addition to the devastation of ecosystems and wildlife which depend on them. With the perils of climate change many Australians are having to question aspects of their country and lives that they have taken for granted, including the love of nature and spending time in the great outback outdoors.

An investigation by the New York Times found that senior officials within President Trump’s Interior Department inserted into the agencies’ research misleading language that nearly all climate scientists dispute. They highlighted uncertainties to minimize the certainty, risks, and costs of climate change due to human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations reports that the 2019 was the warmest year on record in the second warmest decade. They added that greenhouse gases are at the highest levels in 3 millions years and sea water has not been this acid in over 25 million years.

As winter ends, over much of the U.S. there was little snowfall this winter.  In some parts of the Northeast they would have feet of snow on the ground for months. But this year it has been only a few inches and more precipitation is falling as rain.

Researchers from the EU’s Joint Research Center are warning that half of the world’s sandy beaches could disappear by the end of the century do to climate change. Rising sea levels and increase erosion from more violent storms and resulting surges will be to blame.

Marine scientists are reporting that whales and ships are colliding more often. The reason cited is that warming oceans due to climate change are moving the feeding grounds of these giant mammals into more congested shipping lanes just offshore around the world.

NASA scientists have discovered that a glacier in the East Antarctica is becoming more vulnerable due to climate change. The melting of the ice sheet it has the potential to raise seal levels by five feet.

As the month ends the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt all around the world in renewable energy projects. Hardest hit will be developing economies like India that are betting big on renewables but now where the human costs of the pandemic is already so devastating. While carbon emissions have fallen dramatically, cheaper dirty energy sources will make the economics of green energy more difficult. Production of solar panels and lithium batteries have fallen since most are produced in China. New wind energy projects are now projected to decrease in 2020. As capital markets freeze the financing of renewables is being stalled. Climate research and conferences are being halted. European countries are already discussing setting aside previous commitments to zero carbon commissions by 2050.