Bearing Witness to Climate Change March 2022

In the latest grim report from the UN, the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) warns that humanity has a brief and rapidly closing window to avoid an unbearably hotter and deadlier climate. They warn the planet will face increasing floods, heat waves, droughts, rising sea levels, storms, melting glaciers and permafrost, wildfires, loss of biodiversity, population migrations, tropical illnesses, water conflicts, hunger, and human suffering. Huge portions of the globe may eventually become inhabitable. The good news is that we still have time to arrest the most catastrophic consequences if we move faster in transforming to a low-carbon economy.

President Biden’s EPA has restored the state of California’s authority to set auto mileage and pollution standards that are stricter than those of the federal government. California has already stated its intent to phase out gas-burning automobiles.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court is hearing arguments from Republican-led states and coal companies that the EPA has overstepped its authority to regulate greenhouse gasses. The Trump administration had previously revoked the EPA’s more restrictive limits and the Obama’s administration Clean Power Plan. Now Republicans and fossil-fuel interests have gotten the court to accept a hypothetical case that could neutralize the EPA from limiting carbon pollution.

The barbaric invasion of Ukraine by Russia is roiling world oil markets and prices that consumers pay as Russia supplies nearly 40% of natural gas used in Europe for heat and electricity. The only good news is that this may accelerate weaning Europe off of fossil fuels all together and rid itself of being dependent on a war-mongering autocratic oligarchic oil-state like Russia.

Over a decade ago the industrialized nations of the world that put most GHG into the atmosphere pledged to raise over $100B in climate financial aid for the developing world.  But up to now, only a few billion dollars have been appropriated and dispensed by countries including the US.

More industry analysts are questioning whether the move to replace tens of millions of gas-powered vehicles with battery-powered electric vehicles will be environmentally feasible. They argue that the availability, cost, and pollution from mineral mining will be challenging, and instead we should be looking at urban planning and public transit that does not require so many private cars, regardless of their power source.

The allergy season is already starting weeks earlier and scientists report that it will continue to worsen for decades to come. Some 30% of the world’s children already suffer from pollen allergies. The 25 million Americans who have asthma will suffer the most.

The European Union has announced that its member states have (finally) agreed to impose a carbon tariff or tax. It will start with a carbon border adjustment mechanism that taxes the carbon of products coming across borders.

NOAA has forecasted that the US will experience hotter and drier weather this spring due to climate change and La Nina. This is bad news for the western US which continues in a mega-drought that is the worst over the past 1,200 years.  Lakes all across the west are at the lowest ever recorded levels, including Lake Powell. Higher temperatures, reduced rainfall, and smaller snow packs have all contributed to the worsening crisis. As a result, the state of California is planning to spend over $4 billion of it own and federal funds to build a new giant reservoir. Yet another cost of climate change.

In a never-before-seen extreme weather event, temperatures in both the Arctic and Antarctica have shattered records at the same time. Weather stations in Antarctica reported temperatures an astonishing 70 degrees warmer than average. Temps in the Arctic were some 50 degrees warmer than average with areas around the north pole nearing the ice melting point.  Antarctica also just experienced the lowest recorded sea ice for its summer season.

Satellites for the first time have recorded a nearly 500 square mile ice shelf in East Antarctica collapsing. Record warmth this summer in the Southern Hemisphere is partially to blame. As floating ice shelves break up, they allow land-based glaciers to move faster towards the sea where they too can disintegrate and melt, contributing to rising sea levels.

The Great Barrier Reef has experienced its 6th massive coral-bleaching event. Average reef waters are already 1.5 degrees C warmer than those in preindustrial times. The three most recent die offs were all recent, in 2016, 2017, and 2020. Marine scientists say this string of events could not have happened without climate change.

The US Security Exchange Commission has proposed mandatory financial accounting rules which would require companies to disclose both direct and indirect GHG emissions they produce and the risks that climate change will have to their business.  As a result, they would have to identify a transition plan to manage climate risks which should be of value to their investors, employees, and customers.

With a warming climate, the US deep south is experiencing more frequent and deadly tornadoes. Tornado alley has moved from the flat sparsely populated plains states to the more urbanized hilly southeast where there is more damage and loss of life. Storms have also become more frequent at night where they are often hidden in dark skies and hilly landscapes, and more deadly with sleeping victims.

In his next federal budget year, President Biden has requested more than $11B be appropriated for financing of developing countries to help them deal with climate change and transition to a green economy.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has so disrupted international markets and global cooperation that progress in researching the effects of climate change is being threatened.  Most notable are research programs in the Russian Arctic that are being conducted by scientists from around the world but are now suspended.

As the month ends, the U.N. Secretary General says that global climate targets are on life support as the window of time to meet Paris accord goals rapidly closes. Antonio Guterres repeated that we must reduce GHG emissions by half this decade.

The head of the International Renewable Energy Agency, Francesco La Camera, also warned that we are so off track that radical action in coming years is needed. Of course, over 15 years ago the UN said the same thing. To have a 50/50 chance of meeting targets, climate researchers say that rich nations must end all oil and gas production, not just half of it, within the next 12 years.


Featured image is a from the journal Nature at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00312-2.

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