Bearing Witness to Climate Change April 2023

Global ocean surface temperatures have hit a new record high temperature. In March temps off the coast of North America were reported to be a staggering 13.8 deg C higher than their average for the years 1981-2011. Scientists report that over the past 15 years most of the heat accumulated due to global warming has been absorbed by the oceans which take up about 25% of all GHG emissions. Overall ocean temperatures are an average of 1 degree C higher compared to preindustrial levels.

The UN World Meteorological Organization reported in their annual State of Global Climate findings that 2022’s weather was indeed as bad as many thought and others experienced directly from droughts, floods, heatwaves, glacier and ice sheet melting, sea level rise, wildfires, and more weather-related disasters.

A new analysis from Carbon Brief claims that about half of the world’s population has experienced record-breaking heat in the past decade. Last year alone, some 380 million people lived through the hottest single hourly temperature ever recorded in their location.

Spring has come early to much of North America this year due in part to a changing climate. What’s also clear in the US Midwest, is that record warm days are often followed by below normal temperatures, putting stress on ecosystems with more extreme swings, even though the average of the highs and lows may be, well, near average.

With an earlier Spring, violent storms that spawn tornadoes are killing more Americans. Already this Spring, some 60 have died in the US from 17 killer tornadoes. On one day alone last month over 100 tornadoes were reported. As the climate warms, there is more energy and moisture in the atmosphere to fuel these storms.

Heat waves are occurring earlier in the year around the world in Asia and Europe. In Spain, record- breaking temperatures of nearly 40 deg C are already being experienced in April where temperatures are running 7-11 degrees C above normal.  Locations in southeast Asia have also experienced their highest ever April temperatures, reaching over 43 degrees C which is nearly 110 degrees F.

The Biden Administration announced the creation of the White House Office of Environmental Justice. The President also signed an executive order requiring every federal agency to address the disproportionate impact of climate change on minority and disadvantaged communities.

Public European airports are beginning to restrict the use of private aircraft in support of the Paris Accords. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has announced plans that will limit growth in use, especially from private jets which produce large carbon emissions per passenger mile traveled.

In two new reports, researchers warn that the climate could warm past 3 degrees C because coal-fired power plants are not being retired fast enough. The number of coal plants across the world increased last year due largely to new power plants in China and India. China alone has announced plans to add nearly 100 GW of electricity from coal. As a result according to the reports, the rest of the world will need to close their plants at a rate five times faster than is currently happening.

The US EPA has announced new rules that will require fossil-fuel power plants to reduce emissions of several pollutants including mercury, which is a neurotoxin especially hazardous to young children. The new rules are expected to have the effect of reducing carbon emissions because the cost to implement them will encourage the industry to transition away from fossil fuels all together. As expected, Republican legislators at the state and federal level are opposing the new rules.

Many believe that carbon capture and sequestering at the point of emissions at power plants is an increasingly attractive solution to meet the new emissions regulations. The recent IRA legislation will provide tax credits of $85 for every ton of carbon captured and buried underground. Others argue that this money should be better spent on funding renewable energy sources.

Separately, the administration announced making $450 million in funds available to develop clean energy at sites of former coal mines to help struggling communities make the transition.

In what has been called the federal government’s boldest climate action to date, the Biden Administration announced a new round of auto emission limits which will become the most stringent in the world. The new requirements will require some 54-60 percent of all new car sales in the US by 2030 be electric, rising to two thirds by 2032. Last year just fewer than 6% of cars sold were all-electric. As expected, Republican legislators are resisting.

A new poll says that 4 in 10 Americans are at least somewhat likely or very likely to buy an electric vehicle. Fewer than 10% of American families say that someone in their household already owns one. Tax credits of up to $7,500 for some American-made electric vehicles will help with their purchase price given that the average electric car costs $58,000 compared to $46,000 for gas-powered cars.

As more vehicles on the road become electric, a grid robust enough to support them all is becoming a greater concern. To support the electrification of the economy, electric utilities are going to have to add a staggering amount of low carbon generation along with the infrastructure to move it around the country. Currently, electricity provides less than one-fourth of the country’s total energy needs.

Despite the new progress, Republicans in the US Congress are voting to overturn EPA rules written last year such as those to reduce pollution from heavy-duty trucks. The President will once again be forced to veto the legislation.

The new EU Sustainability Rules will affect thousands of companies across the globe that do business in Europe. It is expected that some 50,000 European companies will have to report under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) in addition to an estimated 10,000 global firms. While there is still much work to be done on reporting standards for all scopes across the supply chain, most of the rules address disclosures on GHG emissions.

The outgoing Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jarden Ardern, used her farewell address to remind the country that climate change is no longer some future hypothetical but is a crisis happening now. She went on to urge lawmakers to take the politics out of climate change, something we badly need in the US.

The EU parliament has approved the world’s first carbon import tax. The tariff will be based on the amount of emissions generated outside of the EU on the goods imported into the EU, such as steel and cement.  Supporters argue that it will level the playing field for EU manufacturers that have to compete against companies in other countries without carbon reduction regulations.

The World Bank is hosting its annual meeting this month and will be confirming a new president, Ajay Banga. Mr. Banga was nominated by the Biden administration to replace a Trump-nominated climate denier who is thankfully retiring early. Critics of the bank have complained for years that it has been insufficiently focused on the challenges of climate change, especially its impact on the poor living in developing economies.

One such example is in East Africa where a new weather attribution study says that climate change has made severe droughts 100 times more likely than in preindustrial times. Higher temperatures and lower rainfalls are leading to famines causing an estimated one million people have migrated in search of food, water, and work. Some estimates claim that recent years of drought have caused over 40,000 excess deaths with half of those being young children.

Not surprising, even in the developed world more young adults are increasingly hesitant to have children due in part to fears about climate change.  A recent survey found that close to 60% of young adults feel very or extremely worried about climate change.

One timely topic for the global meeting of financial leaders is why taxpayers around the world are still subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, paying higher prices for energy that result in record profits for oil and gas companies. It is estimated that countries spent $1 trillion in direct subsidies for the higher cost of energy that their residents experienced in the past year, which was nearly double that from the previous year. IMF researchers previously estimated that indirect costs of fossil fuel subsidies were nearly $6 trillion.

A new study published in the Journal of Climate finds that there has been a rapid surge in sea levels along the southeastern coastline of the US.  Scientists say the unexpected acceleration in sea levels is more than double the global average since 2010. Waters in the Gulf of Mexico have also been warming far faster than other global bodies of water.

US climate envoy John Kerry warned that relying on new unproven technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was dangerous and a cause for alarm. He went on to say that the risk of passing irreversible tipping points is so real that governments must deploy existing proven renewable technologies now.

President Biden has pledged $500B to the Amazon Fund to help fight deforestation in Brazil while calling on other nations to set more ambitious goals to combat climate change.

In the US, the Biden administration also identified 175,000 square miles of mature and old growth forests for additional levels of protection, an area larger than the state of California. Large trees in older forests store an enormous amount of carbon, but when they burn due to drought and wildfires they can release back into the atmosphere alarming amounts of carbon. Global wildfires in 2021 were said to release over 7 billion tons of carbon, equal to 18% of all global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.

New York will soon become the first state to use a statewide law to ban the use of gas in new construction of most buildings. The law will require new buildings to go all electric for use in heating, cooling, hot water and kitchen appliances. Other states are taking similar action, but using building codes which are subject to change due to lobbying by industry.

Elsewhere in New York, in New York City, the federal government has turned over control of Governor’s Island where the city plans to create a $700 million educational campus and laboratory hub to research solutions to climate change while providing training for green jobs.

Computing facilities in the US which are being used to mine cryptocurrency Bitcoin are reported to consume nearly 4,000 MW of electricity, enough to power over 3 million homes, and in the process emit tens of millions of tons of CO2.  Many of the sites are located in fossil fuel friendly states like North Dakota, Montana, and Texas where the utilities provide incentives for the digital mines to use more electricity, not less.

Some microbiologists fear that global warming may accelerate an evolution of toxic fungus, leading to deadly fungal infections and global epidemics which humans are not prepared for since no vaccines against fungal infections exist. Up to now, humans have been protected by our own warm-body temperatures. But as global temperatures rise, some fungi are learning to survive at higher temperatures approaching or exceeding that our own body temperatures.

Offshore fishing of salmon is being shut down along the US pacific coast due to an alarming decline of the fish. While the decline is thought to be due to multiple factors, warming coastal waters are thought to be creating imbalances in marine wildlife ecosystems that are affecting young salmon and food sources for which they compete.

In arctic Alaska, which is experiencing warming at rates 3-4 times the global average, oil and gas companies are having to adapt to the loss of frozen ground and permafrost which they depend on for transportation of trucks on roads and gas in pipelines. Ironically, north shore drilling sites which contribute to global warming are resorting to using refrigerants in pipes buried in the ground to help keep it frozen.

In Australia, efforts are underway to protect flying fox bats being threatened by hotter temperatures which can kill thousands at a time.  In Melbourne, volunteers are installing sprinkler systems in bat colonies to lower temperatures. In Australia, the 8 years between 2013 and 2020 were among the hottest ten years on record.

Featured image of rising ocean temperatures is from the BBC and its sources at


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