Bearing Witness to Climate Change February 2023

Global warming is melting glaciers across the globe more rapidly with two-thirds of all glaciers expected to be lost by the end of the century. A new study predicts that 15 million people live in danger of glacial flooding, with a majority of those in just four countries of India, Pakistan, Peru and China.

A new study published in the American Geophysical Union journal finds that sea level rise is speeding up and rising ocean waters will flood more areas sooner than originally thought. Some climate scientists now think that more than twice as much land will be impacted, forcing the migration of millions of people, mostly in developing nations.

Progress in small, economical light-water nuclear reactors continues to move forward at a rapid pace. This time the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissions has certified the design of the country’s first small modular reactor rated at 50 MW. This approval will allow companies to build and operate these small reactors.

The nation’s largest two oil companies, ExxonMobil and Chevron, posted record profits of nearly $100B for 2022. On the same week as these financial announcements, climate researchers released another study that predicts temperatures will soon surpass the 1.5 deg C Paris Accord limits and reach above 2 degrees by midcentury.

Back in the US, Jake Buttle, author of the book “The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration” documents that families are already being uprooted in search of safer and more financially viable regions in which to live. As a result, disaster-prone areas will suffer their own man-made blight and decline as those families with insurance and financial means move away, leaving the most vulnerable behind.

Agriculture is said to make up about half of all greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand. The country, which last year pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, has proposed the first tax on emissions from livestock such as cattle and sheep. Farm animals overall account for about 15% of all emissions with food sources totaling nearly a third.

The US state of Minnesota has joined ten other states in passing legislation requiring a transition to 100% renewable energy. The target years for states in the 100% club vary from 2033 to 2050.

India is pledging $4.2B in its next budget to aid the country’s transition to clean energy. India, which is now the world’s third largest emitter, previously committed to becoming net-zero by 2070.

There is growing debate as to whether there are enough rare earth minerals to support green energy generation, transmission, transportation, and storage. However, a new study says that there are adequate supplies of rare earth metals. Yet, some caution that mining and production will add as much as 10B metric tons of new emissions which is about 20% of current emissions.

While the cost of renewables is going down rapidly, the cost of coal power plants is increasing. A new study finds that in the US there is only one coal-fired power plant that is less expensive to operate than building new wind or solar in the same region.

With growing pressure to decarbonize energy and industry, dark money groups continue to be funded to influence legislators and misinform citizens. Educational-appearing nonprofits, public policy institutions, and lobbyists are being funded by industry to promote natural gas, coal, and other dirty fuels while fighting against new legislation that attempts to restrict their use.

The reporting of carbon emissions is being positioned as the new calorie in some consumer product labelling where it is compared to nutritional labels. However, the science and accounting of carbon emissions is not so simple and some fear that labelling risks becoming an exercise in greenwashing.

This month the northeast US experienced some of its coldest temperatures in decades with temps well below zero across much of the region. A record windchill of minus 108 degrees F was set at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The frigid air was brought into New England by disruptions in the polar vortex of the same type that brought record lows into the Midwest in December before the start of Winter.

In his State of the Union Address, President Biden celebrated passage of the IRA climate bill from last year which he said would lower utility bills, create jobs, and lead the world to a clean energy future.  However, the US is facing push back from other countries due to the recent IRA climate legislation which favors US manufacturers over others. Policy experts fear that it will create global trade tension between nations that should be working together to attack climate change.

To demonstrate President Biden’s “all government” approach to tackling climate change, the administration has promoted two climate champions to top posts in federal agencies such as the Federal Reserve and White House Regulatory Office.

A new report from the International Energy Agency predicts that almost all the growth in the global electricity over the next three years will be met by renewables and nuclear energy. The demand for electricity is accelerating with electrification and is predicted to increase an average of 3% per year.

Snowfalls so far this winter are falling short across much of the northern hemisphere. Many US regions have yet to see a measurable snowfall, including my own central Midwest city of St. Louis which has been snowless. Ski resorts in Europe are using large amounts of energy and water in snow machines to cover the barren ground.

A growing crisis due to the drought of the Colorado River basin and reservoirs continues to create political tension and economic conflict between seven western states and the federal government. While climate change is only one contributing factor, old agreements for who has water rights may simply no longer work in a changing climate with so much at stake.

Sweden’s youngest-ever cabinet member for the climate and environment, Romina Pourmokhtari, has vowed to resign her post if the country does not meet its goals to become net zero by 2045. If only others would follow her leadership example.

Scientists atop Hawaii’s Maune Kea volcano are scrambling to keep the longest-running measurements of atmospheric CO2 alive. Their work had to be moved when the NOAA observatory on nearby Mauna Loa was shut down by an eruption of that volcano last November.  The data of over six decades from Hawaii has fed the well-known Keeling Curve showing the dramatic rise in CO2.

European Union lawmakers approved legislation banning the sale of new cars with combustion engines starting in 2035.  To support becoming carbon neutral by 2050, EU car makers will require 100% of all new vehicles to be free of carbon emissions.

The Australian government declined to grant permission for a new coal mine which was to be located some 10 km from the coast and the Great Barrier Reef. The country which is heavily invested in coal has pledged to reduce emissions by over 40% by 2030.

The embattled leader of the world bank, David Malpass, has announced he will leave his term a year early. The bank has been criticized for its slow response to the risks of climate change, including the seeming denial of it by Malpass last year when he was asked if the burning of fossil fuels was causing global warming.

The Biden administration quickly nominated Ajay Banga to lead the World Bank. In contrast to his predecessor, Banga acknowledges the importance of climate change, especially upon the most vulnerable populations.

British Prime Minister Sunak has announced the formation of the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. One of the many goals will be to put the net-zero strategy into law and promote the benefits of green energy.

Scientists studying Antarctic glaciers have discovered that warming oceans are destabilizing the already rapidly receding Thwaites Glacier by carving out crevasses under the ice. If all the Antarctic glaciers were to melt, they would cause about 10 feet of sea level rise.

NOAA has announced that the amount of floating ice around Antarctica has hit a record low since satellite monitoring began in 1978. This mirrors the loss of sea ice in the Arctic that has lost an average of 20,000 square miles of ice per year.

A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change reports that more than a third of deaths from heat exposure were linked to global warming. However, there was some good news in that deaths due to extreme cold temperatures are falling.

The controversial pick of the next chair of UN COP28 conference, Sultan al-Jaber, is from the host country of UAE where he is also CEO of the country’s national oil company. When criticized by activists, he responded that we should be fighting climate change, not each other.

Backlash from corporate America, business groups, lobbyists and Republican lawmakers is threatening to scuttle proposed SEC rules that some large publicly traded companies begin to report Scope 3 emissions from their suppliers and customers. In the US some 10,000 publicly listed companies are responsible for about 40% of all emissions.

As the winter winds down, much of New England in the US is without snow on the ground or ice on lakes. Despite a cold blast early in the month, several states reported their warmest January ever recorded. As a consequence, community festivals, winter sports, tourism, and family traditions are changing due to climate change.

Further south along the Florida coast, a new study finds that housing may be overvalued by billions of dollars due to the threat of more extreme storms, flooding, and rising sea levels. Researchers say that federal flood zone maps used by property owners, insurers, and municipal governments to assess risk are woefully inadequate at projecting the financial risks of a changing climate.

Research into sustainable aviation fuels is growing with a $100M venture capital fund started this month by United Airlines and other companies leading the way. Currently, SAF is about 3 times as expensive as conventional aircraft fuels but that will have to change for the industry to become net zero by mid-century as it has pledged to do. Aviation contributes some 2-3% of total GHG each year.

A public policy think tank has warned that governments may soon be so overwhelmed with responding to the consequences of climate change disasters that they have few resources left to tackle the root cases by reducing emissions. Researchers have called this the climate doom loop.

More research has associated climate change with disruptions in the polar vortex that produces more extreme weather in northern latitudes. A new study finds that polar vortex events have become more common in the past 4 decades.

Supporters of ESG are fighting back against Republican controlled statehouses across the country who are steering investments away from financial institutions who believe that climate change is a financial risk that should be considered. Some bankers are suing states arguing that to ignore the perils of a changing climate puts their investments at risk. 

In the US, thousands of renewable energy projects are being delayed by a slow process at granting permissions to connect to aging regional electrical grids. Some approvals are taking years, threatening the economic viability of the projects. This has exposed what many have been warning about that the national energy grid built around a relatively few large fossil fuel plants is ill prepared for how distributed green energy will be created, transmitted, and consumed in the future.

Public health experts are reporting that extreme swings in weather, like those experienced this Winter in much of the USA, are taking a toll on our health. They say that sudden changes make some people more vulnerable to infection, raises mortality risks, triggers joint pain and migraine headaches, increases allergies, and increases tick-borne diseases.

Featured image of Antarctica sea ice extent is from the National Snow and Ice Center at .

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