Bearing Witness to Climate Change December 2021

A new study in the journal Nature predicts that more rain than snow could start falling in portions of the Arctic by the middle of the century. Warmer air temperatures, melting sea ice and increased moisture in the atmosphere are said to be contributing factors.  Scientists have previously reported that the Arctic is warming three times as fast as the rest of the world.

Demographers report that more young adults are delaying having children, or having fewer children, due in part to climate change. Of course, there are other factors such as the cost of having a family and fears about pandemics. But the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and fears about a warming planet with more disasters and crises was cited as a top reason.

Portugal has shuttered its last coal-fired power plant to become the 4th country in Europe to stop using coal for electricity generation.

Marine scientists in Australia report that the Great Barrier Coral Reef is starting to show signs of recovering from recent short-term disruptions due to cyclones, heat waves, and starfish outbreaks.  However, they warn that climate change and more acidic warming ocean waters still poses a grave long-term risk to reefs not only there but across the world.

Off the shores of the Hawaiian Islands and Australia, marine scientists are conducting “assisted evolution” experiments to help coral reefs become more resilient to warmer acidic waters from climate change that can cause massive die offs due to bleaching events.

The journal Nature Climate Change reports that the world’s strongest ocean current around Antarctica is speeding up due to climate change.  Scientists say that stronger temperature gradients between warming waters in the Southern Ocean and the colder south pole waters are to blame.

New satellite images from a fragile Antarctica ice sheet are causing alarm that the shelf could fail within five years. The sheet is holding back a huge glacier that if it melts into the sea could cause several feet of sea level rise. Warming ocean waters in the Antarctica are said to be the cause of destabilizing and cracking the ice around the glacier.

Oceans of the world absorb about 25% of all CO2 emitted by human activities. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is investigating how to make oceans suck up even more atmospheric carbon.  Options being studied include making oceans less acidic by shocking them, adding minerals and nutrients to encourage plankton growth, and massive seaweed farming. What could possibly go wrong with any of these planetary scale experiments?

A few weeks after returning from COP26, President Biden issued executive orders committing the US federal government to the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Federal agencies are directed to buy zero emissions vehicles and achieve the higher energy standards for its buildings and facilities. Agencies must also operate using renewable energy electricity sources by 2030.

Did the European Union meet its 2020 climate goals by greenwashing accounting tricks? Some think that the burning of biomass for renewable electricity production across Europe is suspect. In 2016 the burning of biomass, such as wood pellets, accounted for more than half of the EU’s renewable energy claims. Yet, critics argue that the true emissions of biomass were not fully accounted.

Research presented this month at the world’s biggest earth sciences conference reported that the world’s polar regions are experiencing conditions unlike those ever seen before during human civilization. The World Meteorological Organization validated that a new all-time record temperature in the Arctic of 100 degrees was indeed experienced in Siberia during June 2020. It also reconfirmed that temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as the global average and that the three months between October and December 2020 were the warmest on record for the polar region.  At the conference, the head of NOAA warned that we have a very narrow window of time to avoid irreversible climate impacts that can trigger a massive collapse, like the melting of permafrost, in the Earth’s north polar regions. Likewise, threats to the south pole and Antarctica keep mounting from warmer, higher waters eroding ice sheets.

The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is just one example in the Arctic where ever-shrinking glaciers and reduced ice coverage are threatening both landscapes and wildlife.

Public power agencies and utilities in the US state of Nebraska have approved a resolution calling on its members to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. If it can happen here in this conservative red state in the Midwest Heartland, it can happen elsewhere and anywhere across the US!

Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution warning that climate change will precipitate risks to international security and threaten world peace. Of course, they would do this as they are already threatening peace in Europe with talk of invading the border country Ukraine that produces and transmits fossil-fuel energy into Europe.

The mayor of New York City signed a measure that requires all new construction projects after 2027 use electricity, instead of gas or oil, for sources of heating and cooking. Heating, cooling and powering of residential and commercial buildings is said to account for 13% of GHG emissions in the US. Sadly, but all so predictably, 20 mostly Republican-led anti-science states have passed laws that prohibit cities from restricting the use of fossil fuels like natural gas.

Over 50 deadly tornadoes swept across the central US during a record-breaking week of warm weather.  These storms were highly unusual for so late in the season in December. Nearly 100 people died, most from a mile-wide tornado that was on the ground for a record breaking 250 miles across three states. The town of Mayfield, Kentucky was leveled from the EF5 tornado. Families with children perished in their homes and workers died on their jobs crushed by falling walls and ceilings. Farm animals and wildlife also suffered. And this was during the winter, not the spring.

A few days later, hurricane-force 100 mph winds with more record warm temperatures for the month of December blew down from Colorado across the northern plains. Over 70 million people were under severe weather alerts and hundreds of thousands lost power due to the derecho, an increasingly more common weather phenomenon.

Scientists say that no one outbreak of severe storms can be attributed to global warming, but it is clear that record warm weather with higher moisture and energy content in the atmosphere creates the conditions for such extreme weather events.

The year 2021 experienced a wave of weather-related disasters across the US and globe that included record heat waves, wildfires, droughts, atmospheric rivers of rain, floods, mudslides, crop failures, and deadly storms like those of this month. The good news is that the Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season was mild. Meteorologists continue to warn that the weather of the past will not be the weather of the future under climate change and things will get worse.

Can climate change cause an increase in divorces? Well, yes, in Albatrosses that is. These sea birds are known to mate for life. But researchers have discovered that warming ocean temperatures cause pairs of these birds to split up. Scientists think it is due to the disruptions in weather and food supply due to global warming.

The US EPA has announced tighter regulations on auto emissions, restoring a previous regulation from the Obama administration that was then reduced by Trump.  The average fuel economy of passenger vehicles will have to increase from 38 mpg today to 55 mpg by 2026. This would reduce over 3 gigatons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere through 2050. President Biden previously announced a goal of all new car sales by 2030 would be electric.

Huge portions of the US experienced record warm weather over the Christmas holidays, breaking previous records for the month of December. Temperatures of 70-90 degrees F, some 20-40 degrees warmer than normal, were felt from Texas through the upper Midwest.  No surprise that the odds for a White Christmas have decreased by 10-20% across portions of the US in the past 50 years.

More evidence that the melting of permafrost is changing landscapes across the far north. As example in Alaska, the number of thermokarst lakes is increasing. These are lakes that form from thawing permafrost creating land collapses which then fill with water. As a result, methane emissions are emitted that are 80 times more potent GHG than CO2. Sinking roads and homes with landslides are far more common across Alaska that in past years. NOAA reports the average temperature in the state has increased by more than 5 degrees F.

The largest planned wind farm has begun producing power in the North Sea offshore of the United Kingdom. The Danish company Ørsted leads developing the huge project Hornsea which will eventually be able to power well over 1 million homes.

The South American country of Chile is rewriting its constitution to battle an ecological emergency due to climate change. This is due largely to the global race to find and mine rare earth minerals, like lithium used in batteries, which are very abundant in the country.

The historic climate divide of the 100th meridian runs through the US Great Plains separating the warmer and drier West with the wetter and more friendly to agriculture Midwest. Scientists say the divide is now moving further East, shifting about 140 miles in the last three decades, due to a changing climate. As a result, local farm communities and their economies are also being impacted.

The US experiences even more wild weather extremes at the end of the year. There is record cold in the Pacific Northwest, record snowfalls in the West, and record heat in the Southeast all at the same time. Then wildfires driven by hurricane-force winds raced through the drought-stricken suburbs of Denver and Boulder, Colorado, burning down to the ground over 1,000 homes. This part of the US experienced a warmer and drier than average fall with very little snowfall, all of which scientists say is due in part to a changing climate.

Featured image is a photo of the December tornado devastation to Mayfield, Kentucky from Louisville television station WDRB.

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