Bearing Witness to Climate Change February 2021

University researchers report that the percentage of Americans who are very worried about Climate Change has doubled to around 26%. That’s good news – actually it should be much higher – if that concern creates the urgency to make change in our economies and lifestyles to reverse trends. But it also has a dark side that mental health is now being impacted by climate grief and eco-anxiety or eco-distress, which can leave some people feeling so hopeless that they don’t think changes will happen fast enough. As a result there are a growing number of networks and alliances of professionals, like the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, being formed to create communities of assistance and assurance that they are not alone in how they feel.

In a somber address to the UN Security Council, naturalist Sir David Attenborough warned that climate change is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced and could cause the collapse of everything that provides us with security as we know it. On a positive note, he says that facing the threat can bring the world together as a single species that lives in alignment with the carrying capacity of the planet.

The World Resources Institute is urging that we accelerate plans for adapting to climate change as a moral, economic, and environmental imperative. They argue that mitigation by itself will be inadequate, especially for the most vulnerable populations. The United Nations also calls for half of climate funding to go towards adaption efforts.

President Biden’s new administration continues to work on reversing the four years of environmental terrorism during the Trump term. Biden has in only two weeks overturned 14 of Trump’s rollbacks  and put into place 15 new protections.

The damage and cost of climate-related disasters in 2020 are still being accounted for. By NOAA’s tally there was close to $100B of damage from 22 disasters last year. Most of that was due to extreme heat, droughts and wildfires in the west. With the start of the year much of the west, over 1400 counties according to the USDA, are reported to be suffering from drought conditions.

Climate change is affecting even the unborn. The American Academy of Pediatrics is warning that warmer weather, extreme heat, and worse air pollution is already causing an increase in preterm births. As a result they have declared climate change a top health risk to children and their mothers. Pediatricians are now calling for more aggressive actions to head off global warming.

For those children and adults alike who suffer from respiratory ailments like allergies, a new study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that American pollen seasons have started 20 days earlier than just a few decades ago and on average have 20% more pollen. This is due to warmer weather and higher CO2 levels.

Oil companies are quickly moving from petroleum to renewables, because, well, that’s where the money is. British BP and French Total bid over $1B for the leasing rights to develop offshore wind farms in the North and Irish Seas. It is projected that they will end up investing over $10B to build out the wind farms.

Massive holes resulting from methane explosions in Siberia have been linked by scientists to thawing permafrost. This is due to climate change which is causing the arctic to warm twice as fast as much of the planet. Experts warn that the permafrost could hold twice as much GHG as the atmosphere.

A flash flood in India that killed dozens of people was precipitated by melting glaciers which created unstable lakes prone to collapse. A warming climate is thought to have degraded the glacier ice and rock pack triggering a landslide.

Solar global geoengineering seeks to block and reflect back into space some of the sun’s rays on the planet, in effect dimming the sun. While many scientists consider projects like this this a last resort, more than a few are expressing concern we may have no choice if our governments fail to act in time to avert a planetary disaster.

A massive Artic blast of snow, ice, and below freezing temperatures blanketed much of the US for a full week during the month. Temperatures in the State of Texas were at record lows for several continuous days; even colder than in Alaska. It was all due to the polar vortex which had moved out of the Arctic. Climate scientists say that a warming Artic creates a more unpredictable jet stream circulation, and a smaller gradient in temperatures with northern hemisphere, all which allows the polar vortex to produce extreme cold events across northern latitudes, even though the planet overall is warming.

Extreme cold weather caused deaths and billions of dollars of property damage across the deep south US when electrical grids failed due to a combination of record demand for heating, coupled with power utilities and gas distribution networks that failed because they could not operate in extreme cold temperatures. This was an obvious example of the failure of government bodies, regulatory agencies, and the free market private sector to plan for the increasing frequency of extreme weather events due to a changing climate. Predictably, some conservative climate deniers blamed green energy sources, such as frozen wind turbines, for being the source of the problem. While some turbines in Texas went offline in the ice and cold – even though they can be designed to operate in far colder climates – this was not the principal cause of the electrical grid failure.

President Biden’s new administration is directing federal agencies to put a price on carbon emissions by using a “social cost” of carbon in their cost benefit analysis of public policies and regulations. While some experts have said the price of a ton of carbon emissions should be $125 or more, the White House has suggested starting at $52 per ton which is seven times higher than that used by the previous administration. Whatever price they ultimately use, placing a cost on carbon and the damage it does to our environment, economy, health, and planet is long overdue.

A new UN report “Making Peace with Nature” warns that the climate emergency is much more severe and further along that we thought only a few years ago. It said that the Earth was well on the way to an additional 3.5 degrees of warming, nearly 75% higher than the advocated limits of the Paris Climate Accord.

There are some who are so worried about Climate Change that they think a collapse of ecological and economic systems is inevitable, if not imminent. A new term has emerged called “deep adaptation” for those who think it is too late for reduction or even mitigation strategies. I’m glad to say I have more hope for humanity and faith in science than this darkest of climate chaos scenarios.

One of the first actions of President Biden on his inauguration day was signing an order for the US to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. In his inaugural address Biden said “A cry for survival comes from the planet itself.” Now, one month later, it became official with the US no longer abdicating its moral responsibility to help reduce global GHG emissions, especially since our 5% of the world’s population is responsible for 15% of CO2 emissions.

Hallelujah, major oil companies are starting to report that oil production has peaked. This month Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil and gas producer, announced that its oil production peaked in 2019 and is expected to steadily decrease 1-2% each year.  The company also said that its carbon emissions also likely peaked in 2018 as it continues to move to net-zero by 2050.

Ocean scientists report that the Atlantic Ocean Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is slowing and is the weakest it has been in over a thousand years. The circulation acts like a gigantic conveyor belt redistributing heat across the globe by moving salty warmer and thus less dense water from the tropics into northern latitudes. As a result, weather patterns are impacted such as those due to the formation of huge cold blobs in northern waters that are not dissipated as quickly by slower-moving ocean currents.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates releases his new book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.” In a PBS interview he addresses the challenge of the “green premium”; that is reducing the cost burden for companies to produce and people to consume lower carbon products and services.

At the close of the month, the United Nations warned that the pledges made so far to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are far short of what is needed to avert a climate calamity. Commitments from 75 countries who have responded so far are expected to reduce emissions by only 1% by 2030. Emissions in 2019 totaled some 59 billion tons. Unless more aggressive actions are taken, the rise in temperatures are projected to be double that targeted by the Paris Climate Accord, which was 1.5 degrees C. Scientists tell us that GHG emissions need to be cut in half by the end of this decade, which is only 9 short years away. This is indeed is the last decade and last chance for us to take action to head off a runaway climate change.


Featured image is the Keeling Curve which shows the rise in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere from https://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/.

%d bloggers like this: