Bearing Witness to Climate Change October 2020

European scientists announced that worldwide last month was the warmest September on record. Arctic sea ice also fell to its second-lowest on record for the month. NOAA is standing by its earlier prediction that 2020 will go on record as being one of the top hottest years on record.

In a speech to the United Nations virtual annual meeting this year, China’s President Jinping pledged to make China net carbon neutral by 2060. He also moved up the estimated date that China’s carbon emissions will peak to before 2030. China is one of 60 countries that are signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement from which the Trump administration has tragically withdrawn the US.  To meet these goals China will have to completely transform its economy. In doing so it will likely surpass the US in political and technology leadership to save the planet from climate change.

This was followed later in the month by the Prime Minister of Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fifth producer of CO2, committing his country to become carbon neutral by 2050.  Yoshihide Suga did this in his very first policy speech to Japan’s parliament after taking office. Japan joins China and the European Union with such a pledge.

Unlike previous elections, climate change emerged as an issue during the first American presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. When the president was asked to state his views on whether humans contribute to climate change,  stop the presses, he said  “A lot of things do. To an extent, yes.”  Yes, he said yes! Unfortunately, his policies, actions, and inactions run completely contrary to this admission.  Biden said climate change was an existential threat to humanity that we had a moral obligation to deal with, but that we had only 10 years left to avoid the point of no return. Trump meanwhile celebrated from withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement and said he would not sacrifice millions of jobs to avert climate change. So that means he will sacrifice many more millions of lives in future generations and the planet as a whole.

An analysis of President Trump’s rollback of environmental regulations predicts that it will add an additional 1.8 billion metric tons of GHG into the atmosphere by 2035. This is slightly greater than the total CO2 emissions in 2018 from just three entire countries of Canada, Germany, and Britain. The rollbacks include attacks on fuel-economy standards, state’s rights to set their own emissions standards, methane release regulations, and regulations on hydrofluorocarbons. The analysis did not include the affects of other Trump actions including the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, withdrawal from the Paris agreement, or opening up new lands for oil and gas exploration.

A record 4 million acres have burned across the state of California in the past month from thousands of wildfires which have killed dozens, displaced thousands, and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Unfortunately, as the risk of wildfires increases more Americans are leaving cities to live in rural forested areas that are prone to fire disasters.

A new study published in Science Advances says that the combination of extreme heat waves and droughts is intensifying at an alarming rate across the western US. The study warns that no region of the country will be safe from drought in the coming years and that megadroughts are more likely.

Climate activists are promoting the use of new language to describe what the planet is experiencing. Instead of wildfires they should be called climate fires, as Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently did. And that the term of climate change is too neutral and should be called a climate emergency or climate chaos.

A study published in the journal Science has concluded that climate change is making severe ocean heat waves much more likely. In particular, a heat blob in the Pacific that has raised water temperatures by 5 degrees may become permanent as the world’s oceans soak up most of the excess heat trapped by GHG.

Yet another hurricane strikes the US mainland, this time it was Delta along the Louisiana coast. The storm went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 in just 36 hours. Scientists have previously warned that storms are are intensifying at much faster rates than just a few decades ago. The reasons cited are much warmer ocean waters due to climate change and upper level wind patterns. Delta followed a nearly identical path that Hurricane Laura did a month ago and was the 25th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, and the 10th to hit the US this year, breaking a record.

While forests burn across the western U.S. the forests in the east are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to the stresses of climate change, according to New England arborists. Rising temperatures, warmer winters, droughts, floods, and pests are taking their toll on trees as well as the need for more “tree doctors.” The climate has changed so much that urban arborists are changing the types of trees they are planting across the NE.

The organization Carbon Brief analyzed data from six different research agencies to predict that 2020 will end as the first or second warmest year on record, surpassing the current record year of 2016. The first half of the year experienced a number of extreme heat events and record warmth in Australia, Siberia, Arctic, Antarctic, South America, and Northern Europe with the months of January, May, and June setting individual records.

An article in the journal Nature recommends that restoring large swaths of the planet back to nature has the potential to soak up half of the CO2 that has accumulated since the industrial revolution. It also has the biodiversity bonus of averting more than 70% of anticipated wildlife and plant extinctions due to increasing human footprint and activity. Many global organizations are how calling for reducing farmland along with changing how and what we eat. The use of just 15% of current farmland could help to sequester 30% of the carbon buildup.

Other scientists are saying that restoring wetlands known as peat bogs can also provide a solution to climate change.  Peat bogs account for only 3% of global lands but sequester a huge amount of carbon. If they are maintained as wetlands they can continue to uptake more than they release. However, if they dry out and burn, they will only accelerate a tipping point in climate change. 

Fires have raged out of control in the world’s largest tropical wetland, the Pentanal in Brazil which is the size of Greece. It has been reported that nearly 25% has burned since the start of 2020, wiping out a quarter of the rare biome.

Historic wildfires are now burning part of drought-stricken Colorado as they did California last month. The fires are fueled by high winds, record temperatures, low humidity, and decaying trees hurt by pests due in part to a changing climate. No fire this large has started so late in the season. Three of the five largest fires in Colorado’s history have all occurred this year.

A new study finds that global warming has killed half of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Warmer ocean water triggered massive bleaching events in the past few years. More acidic waters due to uptake of CO2 also contribute to the die off of living coral reefs.  Scientists say that if temperatures rise by 3-4 degrees, as many now say is likely, the reef will be lost forever.

While much of the U.S. is enjoying the colors of fall foliage, botanists are reporting that climate change is changing the colors and timing of leaves. Hotter days and warmer evenings, with oscillating periods of too much moisture and too little rain, are having an effect. Stressed forests from extreme weather events are also being changed by increasing populations of pests and pathogens.

The warning that we have only 10 years left to reverse current trends is being made by more and more scientists and activists. Their biggest concern is that during the next 10 years we will trip over tipping points where there is no longer a return to normal. The melting of Greenland glaciers and melting of the Arctic permafrost are just two of the most frequently cited tipping points.

The number of methane hot spot emissions and leaks is said to have increased by almost a third this year. Most of these come from industrial facilities in the oil and gas industry.  Methane is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the heat trapping capacity of CO2, that accounts for 25% of total GHG emissions due to human activity. A jump in US emissions was reported after Trump eased regulatory restrictions on US industry.

The largest non-industrial sources of methane emissions in the US comes from nearly 100 million head of cattle. Climate scientists and activists around the world are calling for a reduction of meat consumptions in human diets to help save the planet. The amount of land, often from deforestation, required to raise crops to feed the cattle is another larger contributor to the overall problem.

Near the end of the month, Hurricane Zeta, a category 2 storm, strikes the same stretch of gulf coast of four previous storms earlier this season. It became the 27th named storm of the Atlantic this year and 11th to strike the US, breaking the record of 9 storms.

With record drought, wildfires, flooding, heat, and tropical storms this year scientists are drawing more data to correlate climate change with disasters. So far in 2020 there have been 16 weather-related disasters that cost $1B or more and killed nearly 200 lives.

As the planet experiences one disaster after another, some scientists are arguing that it is too late to depend on gradual reduction in CO2 emissions or decarbonization of the global  economy. Instead, they believe that we must pursue planet-scale geoengineering strategies that can cool the entire planet. Such schemes include solar climate intervention by attempting to deflect the sun’s energy back into space using sun-reflecting aerosols sprayed into the stratosphere. Other proposals include salting clouds to make them more white. What could possibly go wrong with any of these ideas? Many scientists are alarmed by geoengineering and worry that this will just delay the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. is set to officially pull out of one of its few climate-related commitments, the Paris Climate Agreement, early next month on November 4. The U.S., the second largest emitter of GHG, will be the only country to have done so. If Trump is reelected the day before, the exit will likely be permanent and we will have lost 8 years of time when scientists say we have only 10 years left. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has called climate change an existential threat, has said if he wins the presidential election he will immediately rejoin the accord.

The Trump administration recently removed the chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Craig McLean, from his job replacing him with a political loyalist that had criticized climate scientists. NOAA is ever so important as the agency is responsible for climate research as well as the National Climate Assessment report which is produced every four years. Trump had previously said he did not believe important sections of the last report. The White House is already censoring NOAA by having the Commerce Department review and approve all external communications from what is supposed to be a politically independent science-driven agency.

Leaving the Paris agreement is only one of more than 125 environmental policies, regulations, and rules that the Trump administration has attempted to rollback. This week the attacks continued when nearly 10 million acres in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest was opened up to logging. This forest is said to absorb more carbon than any other forest in the US. Also this week it was announced that the Gray Wolf will be removed from the Endangered Species List after being protected by it for 45 years.

Let us act, campaign, hope, and pray that on Tuesday, November 3, the American people will wise up and remove this president and his appointees who threaten the planet and all life on it from office.

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