Bearing Witness to Climate Change July 2020

A Washington Post article on the future of the planet undergoing climate change reminded me of United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres quote from last year: “I will not be a silent witness to the crime of dooming our present and destroying their right to a sustainable future. It is my obligation – our obligation – to do everything to stop the climate crisis before it stops us.”

It was also reported in the same article by researchers from the Center for International Climate Research that even if we found the will to halt all new carbon dioxide emissions there would be no measurable affect until the mid 2030’s. If we reduce emissions by only 5% a year, comparable to what is projected this year from the pandemic recession, it will take at least three or four decades to arrest the trajectory of climate change. That is why now is the time for action and yes, panic if needed to motivate us to change before it is too late for future generations.

European scientists have reported that wildfires burning across the Arctic have released record amounts of pollution into the atmosphere including an estimated nearly 60 million tons of CO2. The arctic is experiencing exceptional high temperatures this year, and combined with drier weather and reduced snow fall, has ignited huge burn areas. Last month the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk set a record of 100 degrees F. Russia has declared a state of emergency that scientists say is directly attributable to climate change.

Parts of the Arctic experienced an average monthly temperature that was 18 degrees above what it should have been for the month. Overall the far north is warming at nearly 3 times the rate as the rest of the planet. Researches are warning that changes are occurring much faster than they were originally expected to do so. As a result, permafrost is melting which then releases more carbon into the atmosphere and threatens to set in motion an uncontrollable feedback loop. Scientists estimate that there are around 1,500 billion tons of organic carbon stored in frozen soils of the Arctic. That is thought to be twice the amount of GHG already trapped in the atmosphere.

A new study in the journal Science projects that 40% of the world’s fish species will suffer from warming oceans due to climate change. Warmer waters will have a negative impact in their spawning of mature fish as well as the embryonic life stages of their offspring.  A previous study in 2019 reported in Climate Central found that warming lake and river waters were also stressing many fish populations.

In some needed good news, Germany finalized the phase out of coal-based energy sources as part of the country’s transition to cleaner energy. Germany closed its last coal mine in 2018 and said it will shutter its last coal-fired plant by 2038.

Back in the U.S., House Democrats have revealed a plan that would set a goal of net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. This is less ambitious of the Green New Deal plan presented last year that set a date of 2030 for 100% renewable energy production. Both may be too little too late.

A new international study from climate scientists has narrowed the uncertainty for how much the planet will warm with increasing carbon dioxide levels. It is believed that the most likely range of temperature increases will be between 2.6 and 4.1 degrees C. These results have effectively shifted the range upward from previous estimates.

Another major international firm, Bayer AG, has announced a new climate initiative where it will pay farmers for capturing and sequestering carbon in cropland soils. Bayer follows other ag companies such as Cargill and Land O’Lakes who are tackling sustainability issues.

Finally, some good news from Trump administration’s EPA this month when it proposed for the first-ever emissions standards for U.S. commercial aircraft. Even more amazing is that the EPA is adopting standards from an existing U.N. international civil aviation agreement. It is said that aircraft account for 12% of all U.S. transportation-related GHG emissions. Skeptics are concerned that the EPA is simply trying to lock-in relatively low requirements that will be insufficient to arrest current trends.

A new study from the Global Carbon Project reports that global emissions of methane set a record in 2017, the last year where data was available, and they are up almost 10% since the early 2000s. Scientists say that methane can warm the Earth some 86 times as much as the same mass of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.  Agriculture and natural resource extraction account for most of the methane gas release into the atmosphere.  Future reporting of methane gas emissions will be more difficult in the U.S. as the Trump administration has rolled back reporting requirements for industry.

Researchers are warning that climate change and a rapidly warming Arctic region are pushing polar bears toward extinction. It is estimated that there are 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic who are dependent on sea ice for their survival. Some subpopulations have already declined by 40%. Sea ice in the summer is said to be declining at the rate of 13% per decade and the Arctic may experience ice-free periods by 2100.

A study published in he National Academy of Scientists says that wealth Americans produce 25% more green house gas emissions than poorer people. Many are surprised it is not higher due to the consumption, lifestyle, travel, and homes of the rich. Most of the increase is due to residential housing, which accounts for nearly 20% of total GHG emissions.

Presidential candidate Joe Biden announced an impressive $2T climate plan that will increase investments in clean energy including transportation, housing, infrastructure, power generation, and energy efficiency. It also proposes to shutter legacy fossil fuel burning power plants by 2035. The plan also acknowledged that global warming will hurt the poor and vulnerable segments of our population more so than the wealthy. Air pollution, clean water scarcity, transmission of infectious diseases, and poor agricultural practices already contribute to the poor health of poor Americans and especially people of color. Now add climate change.

In more good news a number of large institutional investors and pension funds sent a letter to the Federal Reserve and SEC urging them to include the threat, risk, and cost of climate change into their economic analyses, financial policies and governance mission. The recommendations include requiring companies, insurance markets, and banks to disclose the perils they may face due to a warming planet with more extreme weather events and disasters.

A report from the Global Forest Watch last month said that nearly 1 billion acres of tree cover were lost worldwide in the past 20 years. Nearly 10 million last year alone. Forests are ever so important as they are believed to capture up to 30% of the annual global CO2 emissions. The Amazon alone stores from 80-100 billion tons of carbon in trees and another 15-20 billion in it soils. In the US, forests sequester over 750 million metric tons of carbon. Sadly, forests are burning and being cut down across the globe to support agriculture and timber industries.