Thursday, September 21, 2017

San Francisco, Oakland Sue Oil Giants over Climate Change

The lawsuits argue that Exxon, Chevron and the other companies knew the global warming risks their products were creating.

The lawsuits call for the oil companies to pay into a fund for the coastal infrastructure necessary to protect property and neighborhoods against sea level rise in San Francisco and Oakland. (Credit: MR Topper/cc-by-2.0) Click to Enlarge.
San Francisco and Oakland sued five major oil companies in the state courts on Wednesday in the latest attempts to hold fossil fuel producers accountable for the effects of climate change.

The parallel lawsuits call for the companies to pay what could become billions of dollars into a fund for the coastal infrastructure necessary to protect property and neighborhoods against sea level rise in the sister cities, which face each other across San Francisco Bay.

California's Marin and San Mateo counties and by the city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County filed similar lawsuits against 37 fossil fuel companies earlier this summer.

The flurry of litigation relies on the theory that the biggest and richest oil companies in the world should somehow be forced to pay the price for the damages that are becoming steadily more apparent from climate change, which the industry's critics say can be directly linked to the emissions that come from burning their products.

In the latest lawsuits, the cities argue that ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell have known for decades about the climate risks created by their products while carrying out campaigns to "deceive consumers about the dangers."

"Global warming is here, and it is harming San Francisco now," San Francisco's lawsuit begins.  "This egregious state of affairs is no accident."

The lawsuits claim that the companies created the public nuisance of climate change impacts by producing fossil fuels, whose use is the principal cause of global warming.

"These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades while knowing they were putting the fate of our cities at risk," San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in announcing the lawsuits.  "Instead of owning up to it, they copied a page from the Big Tobacco playbook. They launched a multi-million dollar disinformation campaign to deny and discredit what was clear even to their own scientists:  global warming is real, and their product is a huge part of the problem."

Among other evidence, the city's lawsuit cites records uncovered by InsideClimate News in its 2015 investigation into Exxon's history of cutting-edge climate science research in the 1970s and '80s and how the oil giant's leadership then pivoted to pour resources into fighting climate policies.  It also points to decades of scientific evidence connecting greenhouse gas emissions to impacts including rising global temperatures and sea level rise.

Read more at San Francisco, Oakland Sue Oil Giants over Climate Change

Denmark Launches Global Alliance for Action on Climate Change

Prime Minister Of Denmark Lars Lokke Rasmussen (Credit: Getty Images) Click to enlarge.
A U.S.-based global alliance to speed up efforts to tackle climate change, whose participants inaugural host country Denmark said represented more than a quarter of the world economy, was launched on Wednesday.

Formalized two days after the United States confirmed its plans to quit the landmark Paris climate agreement of 2015, the initiative aims to create a forum for sharing knowledge and technology between governments, businesses, and community leaders.

Those joining the New York launch and supporting Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) include China, Indonesia, and the C40 network, the office of Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said in a statement.

C40 connects more than 90 cities representing a quarter of the global economy, of which 12 are American.

“We have all realized that the (U.S.) president is not, after all, almighty.  And we see a long list of states - like California and Texas - wanting to do something different on the climate issue,” Rasmussen told newspaper Berlingske.

Donald Trump’s top economic adviser told a U.N. meeting on Monday that he stood by his intention to abandon the Paris pact unless there was a renegotiation more favorable to the United States, a step for which other countries have little appetite.

P4G will have its international base in Washington D.C. from January, and hold its first summit in Copenhagen next November.

Read more at Denmark Launches Global Alliance for Action on Climate Change

Mathematics Leads to Prediction of Sixth Mass Extinction

By 2100 oceans may hold enough carbon to launch mass extermination of species in future millennia.

“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day,” says Professor Daniel Rothman about his new study. “It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable, and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.” (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
In the past 540 million years, the Earth has endured five mass extinction events, each involving processes that upended the normal cycling of carbon through the atmosphere and oceans.  These globally fatal perturbations in carbon each unfolded over thousands to millions of years, and are coincident with the widespread extermination of marine species around the world. 

The question for many scientists is whether the carbon cycle is now experiencing a significant jolt that could tip the planet toward a sixth mass extinction.  In the modern era, carbon dioxide emissions have risen steadily since the 19th century, but deciphering whether this recent spike in carbon could lead to mass extinction has been challenging.  That’s mainly because it’s difficult to relate ancient carbon anomalies, occurring over thousands to millions of years, to today’s disruptions, which have taken place over just a little more than a century.

Now Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Center, has analyzed significant changes in the carbon cycle over the last 540 million years, including the five mass extinction events.  He has identified “thresholds of catastrophe” in the carbon cycle that, if exceeded, would lead to an unstable environment, and ultimately, mass extinction.

In a paper published Wednesday in Science Advances, he proposes that mass extinction occurs if one of two thresholds are crossed:  For changes in the carbon cycle that occur over long timescales, extinctions will follow if those changes occur at rates faster than global ecosystems can adapt.  For carbon perturbations that take place over shorter timescales, the pace of carbon-cycle changes will not matter; instead, the size or magnitude of the change will determine the likelihood of an extinction event. 

Taking this reasoning forward in time, Rothman predicts that, given the recent rise in carbon dioxide emissions over a relatively short timescale, a sixth extinction will depend on whether a critical amount of carbon is added to the oceans.  That amount, he calculates, is about 310 gigatons, which he estimates to be roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon that human activities will have added to the world’s oceans by the year 2100.

Does this mean that mass extinction will soon follow at the turn of the century?  Rothman says it would take some time — about 10,000 years — for such ecological disasters to play out.  However, he says that by 2100 the world may have tipped into “unknown territory.”

“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day,” Rothman says.  “It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable, and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict.  In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”

Read more at Mathematics Predicts a Sixth Mass Extinction

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

  Wednesday, Sept 20

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

10 Top Companies Commit to Electric Vehicles, Sending Auto Industry a Message

The EV100 coalition is expanding EV charging infrastructure and shifting away from gas for transportation, the fastest growing emissions source.

San Francisco-based power company PG&E, a member of the EV100 coalition, illustrates some of the challenges of moving quickly away from gas- and diesel-powered transportation — and ways to make progress. (Credit: PG&E) Click to Enlarge.
A group of large corporations, including utilities and an international delivery company, launched a global campaign Tuesday to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles and away from gas- and diesel-powered transportation—which generates almost a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and has been the fastest growing emissions source.

Since more than half of the cars on the road belong to companies, the new EV100 coalition could have a major impact.  It aims to do for EVs and electric car charging infrastructure what coalitions such as the RE100 are already doing to encourage corporate purchasing of clean energy (and thus motivating development of new solar and wind power).

EV100's goal is to send a signal to automakers that there is mass demand for electric vehicles before 2030, when current forecasts suggest global uptake will start to really ramp up.

"We want to make electric transport the normal," said Helen Clarkson, CEO for The Climate Group, the international nonprofit spearheading the effort.
Sam Abuelsamid, a Detroit-based senior analyst for Navigant Research, said many corporate fleets are in a position to go plug-in by 2030.  He predicted the concept will catch fire over the next couple of years:  "By 2020 I would expect that most fleets that can will probably commit to it," he said.
The Playing Field Has Changed, Despite Trump
Roland Hwang, who runs the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy and transportation program, said the new EV100 campaign is timely given the Trump administration's effort to delay or undo tighter U.S. fuel economy standards.  "An EV100—a big corporate commitment towards EVs—is exactly what is needed at this point.  We are on that tipping point, and we could easily stall," Hwang said.
By 2050, Hwang said, the U.S. could be sourcing 70 percent of its power from wind and solar, with hydropower and nuclear energy making up most of the balance, and battery-powered EVs could be 85 percent of new vehicles sold that year.  As power grid emissions fall, EV emissions will drop with them.  "We're not looking at today's power plants," Hwang said, "we're looking at tomorrow's."

Read more at 10 Top Companies Commit to Electric Vehicles, Sending Auto Industry a Message

UN Secretary General Links Hurricane Devastation to Climate Change

António Guterres and other leaders called for renewed efforts to cut carbon pollution as the Caribbean faces yet another devastating storm.

Hurricanes Katia, Irma and José (from left to right) were all active in the Caribbean on 8 September (Credit:  US Navy) Click to Enlarge.
The catastrophic Atlantic hurricane season has been made worse by climate change, UN secretary general António Guterres said on Monday.

Guterres was joined at the UN general assembly in New York by a chorus of international ministers at a high-level meeting on Hurricane Irma, hastily called last week in response to the devastating storm that levelled several Caribbean islands in the last fortnight.

Guterres said cutting carbon emissions “must clearly be part of our response” to the disaster. “The rise in the surface temperature of the ocean has had an impact on weather patterns and we must do everything possible to bring it down.”

“This year’s hurricane season is already the most violent on record and it will continue until November,” Guterres said.  “The season fits a pattern.  Changes to our climate are making extreme weather events more severe and frequent, pushing communities in to a vicious cycle of shock and recovery.  Extreme weather linked to climate change has an impact all over the world, including floods in southern Asia and landslides and drought in Africa.”

Read more at UN Secretary General Links Hurricane Devastation to Climate Change

End-of-Summer Arctic Sea Ice Extent Is Eighth Lowest on Record

Arctic Sea Ice June 10, 2017 (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
Arctic sea ice appeared to have reached its yearly lowest extent on Sept. 13, NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder have reported. Analysis of satellite data by NSIDC and NASA showed that at 1.79 million square miles (4.64 million square kilometers), this year's Arctic sea ice minimum extent is the eighth lowest in the consistent long-term satellite record, which began in 1978.

Arctic sea ice, the layer of frozen seawater covering much of the Arctic Ocean and neighboring seas, is often referred to as the planet's air conditioner: its white surface bounces solar energy back to space, cooling the globe.  The sea ice cap changes with the season, growing in the autumn and winter and shrinking in the spring and summer.  Its minimum summertime extent, which typically occurs in September, has been decreasing, overall, at a rapid pace since the late 1970s due to warming temperatures.

This year, temperatures in the Arctic have been relatively mild for such high latitudes, even cooler than average in some regions.  Still, the 2017 minimum sea ice extent is 610,000 square miles (1.58 million square kilometers) below the 1981-2010 average minimum extent.

"How much ice is left at the end of summer in any given year depends on both the state of the ice cover earlier in the year and the weather conditions affecting the ice," said Claire Parkinson, senior climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.  The weather conditions have not been particularly noteworthy this summer.  The fact that we still ended up with low sea ice extents is because the baseline ice conditions today are worse than the baseline 38 years ago."

The three years with the lowest Arctic ice extents on record -- 2012, 2016 and 2007 -- experienced strong summer storms that hammered the ice cover and sped up its melt.  "In all of those cases, the weather conditions contributed to the reduced ice coverage.  But if the exact same weather system had occurred three decades ago, it is very unlikely that it would have caused as much damage to the sea ice cover, because back then the ice was thicker and it more completely covered the region, hence making it more able to withstand storms," Parkinson said.

Read more at End-of-Summer Arctic Sea Ice Extent Is Eighth Lowest on Record

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

  Tuesday, Sept 19

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Neil deGrasse Tyson:  Climate Change Is Happening Faster than Our Ability to Respond

Is it now already too late to adequately respond to or prevent extreme anthropogenic climate change?  That possibility was noted by the noted public figure Neil deGrasse Tyson in a recent interview with Fareed Zakaria.

Interestingly, deGrasse Tyson made reference to the “surprising” reality that the destruction and/or abandonment of many of the world’s largest cities would be extremely debilitating economically.  And their destruction seems inevitable.

The reality is that if major deep sea seaports are sunk or become impractical to use, trade and shipping will become far more expensive — which will be an enormous problem in today’s intricate just-on-time food and trade systems.

DeGrasse Tyson comments:  “I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water’s edges, historically for commerce and transportation.”

“And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go,” he stated.  “And we don’t have a system — we don’t have a civilization with the capacity to pick up a city and move it inland 20 miles.  That’s — this is happening faster than our ability to respond.  That could have huge economic consequences.”

CNN provides more:  “Tyson told Zakaria that he believed that the longer the delay when it comes to responding to the ongoing threat of climate change, the bleaker the outcome.  And perhaps, he hazarded, it was already even too late.”

There was an interesting exchange relating to the recent hurricanes that seems worth highlighting here as well:
In an interview on CNN’s ‘GPS,’ Tyson got emotional when Fareed Zakaria asked what he made of Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert’s refusal to say whether climate change had been a factor in Hurricanes Harvey or Irma’s strength — despite scientific evidence pointing to the fact that it had made the storms more destructive.

‘Fifty inches of rain in Houston!’ Tyson exclaimed, adding,  ‘This is a shot across our bow, a hurricane the width of Florida going up the center of Florida!’

… Tyson said he was gravely concerned that by engaging in debates over the existence of climate change, as opposed to discussions on how best to tackle it, the country was wasting valuable time and resources.

‘The day two politicians are arguing about whether science is true, it means nothing gets done.  Nothing,’ he said.  ‘It’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy, as I’ve said many times.  What I’d rather happen is you recognize what is scientifically truth, then you have your political debate.'

Read more at Neil deGrasse Tyson:  Climate Change Is Happening Faster than Our Ability to Respond

Dubai Will Soon Be Home to World’s Largest Concentrated Solar Facility

World’s largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park to generate 700MW of clean energy (Image Credit: state news agency WAM) Click to Enlarge.
Dubai is firmly committed to renewable energy.  It plans for 7% of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, 25% by 2030, and 75% by 2050.  The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) announced this week that it has awarded a contract to build the world’s largest concentrated solar power facility in the country.

The winning bid comes from a consortium of Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and China’s Shanghai Electric, Arab News reports.  It came in at 7.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, the lowest price ever for a CSP power plant.  The facility will generate 700 megawatts of power and cost about $4 billion to construct.  Its central tower — the heart of any CSP facility — will be the tallest in the world at 260 meters.

“Our focus on renewable energy generation has led to a drop in prices worldwide and has lowered the price of solar power bids in Europe and the Middle East.  This was evident today when we received the lowest CSP project cost in the world,” said Saeed Mohammed Al-Tayer, the chief executive of DEWA.

Read more at Dubai Will Soon Be Home to World’s Largest Concentrated Solar Facility [Hot!]

Renewable Energy Sources to Account for 85% of Global Electricity Production by 2050

Energy Transition Outlook 2017 - Click to View Report.
Renewable energy sources will provide 85% of global electricity production in 2050, led by solar PV and onshore wind, according to a new report published this month.

Electricity consumption will be the largest energy carrier in 2050, increasing by 140% over the next 30 years, followed by natural gas, while other energy carriers such as coal and oil will experience significant reductions, or only slight increases in consumption over the same period.  Meanwhile, over the same period, renewable energy sources will rise to become the leading source of global electricity production, accounting for 85%.  Solar PV will account for around a third of the world’s electricity, followed by onshore wind, hydropower, and offshore wind (in that order).

These are the key findings from the Energy Transition Outlook (ETO): Renewables, Power and Energy Use report, the first report in a new suite of Energy Transition Outlook publications by global quality assurance and risk management company, DNV GL.  Unfortunately, the report also concludes that humanity will exhaust the 2°C carbon budget — the amount of CO2 that can be emitted without triggering dangerous levels of climate change — by 2041, which leads DNV GL to predict that global warming will reach 2.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“Our report shows that the energy industry, more than any other, has the power and knowledge to manage the world’s carbon budget in a smarter way,” said Ditlev Engel, CEO at DNV GL – Energy.

“Until 2050 the electricity share of energy demand will grow from 18% to 40% yet this transformation is not happening fast enough.  Speeding up the acceleration of electrifying sectors like heat and transport will be one vital measure to put the brakes on global warming. The climate challenge is not an engineering challenge, but one of governance.  We call upon all stakeholders to maximize the electrification of their operations.”

Based on the modeling done for the report, DNV GL determined three key global themes across the forecast period. First among these is the prediction that final energy demand will plateau around 2030 at 430 exajoules (EJ), 7% higher than in 2015, thanks primarily to greater energy efficiency of end-users, less use of fossil fuels at relatively low thermal efficiency, and slower population and productivity growth.  Specifically, the authors of the report state that, “Realizing that future growth is not guaranteed, market participants will switch from expansion-led to defensive behaviour.”  In sectors that are set to slow or shrink the big players will seek to diversify their holdings, as can be seen by big-name oil and gas majors diversifying into the renewable energy field.

The second key global theme to emerge from DNV GL’s modeling was the aforementioned 140% increase in electricity consumption.  Similarly, the third theme was the growth of renewables, which while monstrous in scale nevertheless fails to “introduce any insuperable new issues in order to maintain secure electricity systems.”  Already the growth of renewables is being seen in European electricity grids, and the massive influx of variable renewable energy has been shown to be of no problem for system operators.

The report further concludes that there is no one single solution that can help humanity avoid dangerous levels of climate change, rather, DNV GL authors explain that “multiple achievable actions must be taken both locally and globally, involving collaboration within the energy sector and across industries.

Read Report at Renewable Energy Sources to Account for 85% of Global Electricity Production by 2050

Defying Trump, Pentagon Moves to Protect Bases from Climate Change

Image via Wikimedia Commons: Service members salute the American flag during a retreat ceremony Oct. 2, 2014, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The four military members represented each branch of the U.S. military and assembled to show solidarity. (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel/Released) Click to Enlarge.
The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to protect its bases and operations from rising seas and other impacts of climate change, despite an order by President Trump to halt climate planning.

On March 28th, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that rescinded all climate change actions within federal agencies.  These actions had been mandated by a rule from the former Obama administration that required federal agencies to take the necessary steps to protect their respective agencies from climate threats.  The original Obama order required military bases to factor climate change into their planning operations for expansions, existing structures, and future developments.

President Trump signed the March 28th executive order while flanked on either side by coal miners and fossil fuel executives, where he proudly proclaimed to the miners that this order meant that they would be “going back to work,” as reported by The New York Times.  However, in spite of his promise, the coal industry has continued on a steady decline even after the rescinded climate protections.

Even though the executive order issued by Trump in March put an end to the requirement that government agencies plan for climate impacts, the Pentagon is still moving forward with plans to protect its military installations in the United States from the growing threat.

As The Military Times points out, the Obama administration order on climate change required the Department of Defense to draft what came to be known as a climate change roadmap in 2014.  In 2016 the DoD issued directive 4715.21 which required military bases to begin factoring climate change threats into their planning as a way to preserve bases if catastrophic events like floods or severe storms were to pose an imminent threat.

The Military Times has more:
“…the 2014 roadmap was invalidated by Trump’s March 28 executive order, the Pentagon said.  It is also now reviewing directive 4715.21, “to determine if it should be suspended, revised, or rescinded,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Evans said.”
While directive 4715.21 is being reviewed, the Pentagon has instructed all branches to treat the directive as if it is still in place, meaning that military bases are still doing what they can to prepare themselves for the threat of climate catastrophes.  The military is also trying to get around Trump’s executive order by excluding the mention of “climate change” as they work on flood mitigation, drought, and storm plans for their bases.

Regardless of which political party is in power, the United States military has long been at the forefront of climate awareness.  As far as back 1965, scientists and advisers began warning then-President Lyndon Johnson about the threat of rising carbon pollution.  Unearthed memos from both the Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. administrations show that military leaders were concerned about the threat that climate change posed to the United States, a sentiment that was echoed by the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration.

The fact that the military has long considered climate change a threat gives hope that we may someday move beyond the politically squabbling over science and move into an era where those in power take the threats seriously and work together to stop looming catastrophes from becoming realities.

Read more at Defying Trump, Pentagon Moves to Protect Bases from Climate Change

Get the Dirt:  What Does Climate Change Have to Do with Soil Health?

When it comes to the consequences of climate change, some have a way of seizing the headlines.

Soil organic matter (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Global temperatures increasing steadily at their fastest rates in millions of years?  Very scary.  Glaciers calving and collapsing into the sea?  Hard to miss.  The Atlantic Ocean lapping down the streets of Miami?  Front page news almost everywhere.

Others – like declining soil health – may be a little less immediately dramatic, but they can be equally impactful and even more far-reaching.  It’s not the sort of thing that inspires a telethon, but over time the toll of erosion, pollution, losses in organic matter, and other soil impacts of the climate crisis imperil a very basic human need – to eat.

The health and vitality of soil everywhere, from the smallest backyard garden to the largest Midwestern farm, plays an integral role in food production – and it’s threatened by climate change.

“I think a big problem that people have when they talk about climate change is they don’t emphasize enough the risks to food production, and I think that really shortchanges some of the arguments and the concerns down the road,” says journalist and author Chris Clayton. “The idea that you could have millions of migrants moving all over the world because they can’t eat, and the disruption and instability that creates doesn’t get enough appreciation in the world.”

Read more at Get the Dirt:  What Does Climate Change Have to Do with Soil Health?

A Cereal Crop Survives Heat and Drought

Pearl millet genome sequence provides a resource to improve agronomic traits in extreme environments.

Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) cultivation in india (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Plant diversity and adaptation to different climatic conditions -- especially important in the era of global climate change -- is synonymous for the concept of natural and genetic diversity.  Research tackling this natural genetic variation and the corresponding biodiversity provides one of the largest treasures of humankind.  Exactly this genetic variation of plant families, plant genera and even within one plant species is the key to cope with global climate change and dramatic consequences for agriculture.

Read more at A Cereal Crop Survives Heat and Drought

Monday, September 18, 2017

  Monday, Sept 18

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

New Hope for Limiting Warming to 1.5°C

Photographs from the 1940s to 2000s show the drastic effect of climate change on our planets glaciers. Here are photos of Alaska's Muir glacier in August 1941 left and august 2004 (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
Significant emission reductions are required if we are to achieve one of the key goals of the Paris Agreement, and limit the increase in global average temperatures to 1.5°C; a new Oxford University partnership warns.

In a collaboration involving the University of Exeter, University College London, and several other national and international partners, researchers from the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute (ECI) and Oxford Martin School have investigated the geophysical likelihood of limiting global warming to "well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C."

Published today in the journal Nature Geoscience, the paper concludes that limiting the increase in global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels to 1.5°C, the goal of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, is not yet geophysically impossible, but likely requires more ambitious emission reductions than those pledged so far.

Read more at New Hope for Limiting Warming to 1.5°C

Feds on Notice as Court Smacks Down Climate Review for Coal

Coal mining on public tracts in the Powder River Basin. (Credit: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A major court decision dressing down the federal government for "irrational" consideration of the climate impacts of coal leasing stands to reverberate throughout the Trump administration.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled that the Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately consider the greenhouse gas emissions of four large coal leases in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

A three-judge panel rejected BLM's "perfect substitution" theory, a recurring agency argument that suggests federal coal leasing has no significant impact on the climate because steady U.S. demand means that if coal isn't mined on federal land, the same amount will be mined elsewhere.

The court said the approach "contradicted basic economic principles" and violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Greenwire, Sept. 15).

Now the ruling is expected to feature prominently in other challenges working their way through agencies and the courts.  It provides new ammunition for critics who scrutinize federal environmental reviews for not looking closely enough at climate change.

"This opinion is significant because it means that future federal agencies cannot just rest on these questionable assumptions and will have to do meaningful analysis as to the actual greenhouse gas emission effects from their leasing decisions," said Jayni Hein, policy director at New York University School of Law's Institute for Policy Integrity.  "They can't just conclude that there's no net effect."

The decision also puts BLM on notice.  In the near term the agency must revise its 2010 environmental impact statement for the Wright Area leases at issue.  More broadly, the court's rebuke is expected to spur the agency to, at the very least, show its work more clearly in other analyses.

"The tools are there, and the courts have said, 'You're not going to get away with just sweeping all these impacts under the rug,'" said WildEarth Guardians attorney Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, who represented environmentalists in the case.  "So I would hope that they would take it seriously and do the analysis.

Read more at Feds on Notice as Court Smacks Down Climate Review for Coal

The Window Is Closing to Avoid Dangerous Global Warming

There's a 50 percent chance that temperatures will rise 4 degrees Celsius under a business-as-usual scenario.

 Warming (Credit: David McNew Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Deadly climate change could threaten most of the world's human population by the end of this century without efforts well beyond those captured in the Paris Agreement.

That's the finding of a pair of related reports released Thursday by an international group of climate science and policy luminaries who warned that the window is closing to avert dangerous warming.  They say carbon dioxide might have to be removed from the atmosphere.

Scientists Yangyang Xu and Veerabhadran Ramanathan found in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that there already exists a 1 in 20 chance that the 2.2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere could cause an existential warming threat.  This "fat tail" scenario would mean the world experiences "existential/unknown" warming by 2100 — defined in the report as more than 5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Temperatures haven't been that high since the Miocene warming period.  That low-probability but very extreme scenario could expose most of the world's people to deadly heat stress, with 2.5 billion facing viruses linked to warming and 20 percent of the world's species becoming extinct.

"To put in perspective, how many of us would choose to buckle our grandchildren to an airplane seat if we knew there was as much as a 1 in 20 chance of the plane crashing?" said Ramanathan in a statement.  "With climate change that can pose existential threats, we have already put them in that plane."

The report also found a 50 percent chance that temperatures would rise to 4 C under a business-as-usual scenario, a less extreme but still highly dangerous level.  The long-term goal of the Paris accord was to maintain warming well below 2 C.

To avoid this fate, Xu and Ramanathan recommend that nations pull three mitigation "levers" in the very near future.  The world must achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, they write, with greenhouse gas emissions peaking by 2020 — a rate that is not in line with the voluntary commitments made by countries in Paris.  For contrast, the United States under President Obama pledged to cut emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 — a promise that the Trump administration has said it will cancel.

The researchers say that countries must also tackle short-lived climate pollutants like hydrofluorocarbons that accelerate warming greatly in the near term, and take some of the carbon that is currently in the atmosphere out.  If the turnaround is sufficiently swift on CO2 and other greenhouse gas reductions, fewer carbon sinks will be needed, they write.  But the more carbon that is emitted, the more carbon extraction will be needed in the form of reforestation, sequestration and technologies.

Xu and Ramanathan handed their findings off to a cadre of 33 policy and science experts, who compiled a related report considering some of the steps countries could take to contain warming.  These ranged from greater reliance on subnational government action to a sharp pivot to wind and solar energy and electric cars.

"We are quickly running out of time to prevent hugely dangerous, expensive, and perhaps unmanageable climate change," wrote the report's authors, who include former U.N. Environment Program chief Achim Steiner and Mexican chemist Mario Molina, who won the Nobel Prize for his role in discovering the threat that chlorofluorocarbon gases pose to the Earth's ozone layer.

Read more at The Window Is Closing to Avoid Dangerous Global Warming

Tillerson Says U.S. Could Stay in Paris Climate Accord

Tillerson says Trump open to staying in Paris climate accord under "right conditions" (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
It takes four years for a country to withdraw from the Paris agreement, so the United States will be a party to the agreement until two days after Trump’s first term ends.

U.S. officials attended a meeting on Saturday of ministers from more than 30 of the nations that signed the climate change agreement.  The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that Trump administration officials said the United States would not pull out of the agreement and had offered to re-engage in the deal.

McMaster dismissed the report as inaccurate.  “He’s out of the Paris climate accord,” he told the “Fox News Sunday” program.

Tillerson said Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, was overseeing the issue.

“So I think the plan is for director Cohn to consider other ways in which we can work with partners in the Paris Climate Accord.  We want to be productive.  We want to be helpful,” said.

Cohn has been part of the “stay-in” accord camp, which included Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  Former chief strategist Steve Bannon was one of the main opponents of the accord before leaving the White House last month.

Trump has said the Paris accord is soft on leading polluters like China and India, putting U.S. industry at risk.

But the Republican president has shown flexibility on some campaign promises, and U.S. allies have been vocal on the importance of the climate accord.

Read more at Tillerson Says U.S. Could Stay in Paris Climate Accord

Cost of Fighting U.S. Wildfires Topped $2 Billion in 2017

Sonny Perdue (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The costs of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017, breaking records and underscoring the need to address a U.S. Forest Service budget that mostly goes to fires, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Thursday.

“Forest Service spending on fire suppression in recent years has gone from 15 percent of the budget to 55 percent – or maybe even more – which means we have to keep borrowing from funds that are intended for forest management,” Perdue said in a written statement.

The Forest Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could be spending that money on logging, prescribed burns or insect treatments, measures designed to reduce the fuel load of forests primed to burn, he said.

Perdue said the funding formula used to earmark money for fire suppression is no longer adequate amid fire seasons that have grown longer and scorched larger swaths of public lands, mostly in the U.S. West.

At the peak of the region’s fire season, there were three times as many large blazes burning out of control compared to the five-year average and almost three times as many personnel assigned to fight them, according to U.S. fire managers.

“We are breaking records in terms of dollars spent, acres of national forest land burned and the increased duration of fires,” Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke said in a statement.

Perdue said Congress should treat major wildfires like other large-scale disasters that are covered by emergency funds.

The call comes amid a 2017 season in which the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest have been hardest hit.

Read more at Cost of Fighting U.S. Wildfires Topped $2 Billion in 2017

Toon of the Week:  Run for Cover!

Toon of the Week: Run for Cover! ... And Don't Forget that Climate Change Is a Hoax!

Read original at 2017-SkS-Weekly-Digest_37

Poster of the Week - 97% of Engineers Say the Bridge Ahead Is Going to Collapse

Read original at 2017-SkS-Weekly-Digest_37.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

  Sunday, Sept 17

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

The Irish Potato Famine Offers a Glimpse of the Potential Impacts of Climate Change

The Great Hunger was a humanitarian disaster. Economic inequality and rampant xenophobia made it dramatically worse.

A starving family during the Irish Potato Famine. (Credit Source: Public Domain)  Click to Enlarge.
This may feel like a uniquely precarious moment in our nation’s history.  Xenophobia is dominating our politics at the same time climate change threatens to spur mass migration from the poorest and most fragile countries in the world.

In fact, we’ve been here before, and experts say we can learn from history.  The Irish Potato Famine shows that environmental disasters don’t happen in a vacuum.  The famine was the product of an unjust economic system, and its impact could be felt oceans away.

In the 19th century, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.  Wealthy Protestant families with ties to England owned most of the land on the Emerald Isle, renting small tracts to Catholic peasants.  While landlords dedicated acres upon acres to raising cattle and grains for export to Britain, renters were left with scarcely enough land to sustain their families.

These plots were so tiny that tenant farmers came to rely on a single, durable, calorie-rich crop — the potato.  In the early 1840s a fungus afflicting potatoes arrived from the continent, and it devastated small farms, leading to widespread famine.  One million Irish died. Another million immigrated to Britain, Australia and North America.  The population of Ireland has never recovered.  Fewer people live on the island now than did before the blight.

“Basically, what you had is a society controlled by what we would today call neoliberal capitalism, in which the rich viewed poor people as totally superfluous,” said Kerby Miller, professor emeritus of history at the University of Missouri.  Landlords exploited Ireland’s natural resources and people to generate wealth that was then exported to Britain.  When calamity struck, it was the poorest who suffered most.  “Once their strength to share and resist was exhausted, people were reduced to fighting murderously over scraps of food because they were so desperately blinded by hunger,” Miller said.

The British response was tepid, to say the least.  “They didn’t reach out to the Irish at all to help them survive the famine,” said Jay Dolan, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame.  “They thought it was punishment from God.”  Britain’s role in the potato famine has led some to characterize the event not as a natural disaster, but as a genocide perpetrated against an ethnic and religious minority.

“The main thing with environmental disasters is that the government has to step up and respond and try to reduce the human suffering, whether it be famine or flooding or whatever it is,” Dolan said.  Britain utterly failed in this regard.  Inaction is a form of action.  Willful negligence can have devastating consequences.  That goes for climate change, too.

Neoliberal economic policies  —  environmental deregulation, cuts to research, tax breaks for polluters  —  have led wealthy nations like the United States and the United Kingdom to dump vast sums of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, exporting all manner of mayhem to the poorest parts of the world.  While the carbon crisis will hurt people all over the globe, those countries that have contributed the least to the problem stand to suffer the most.

Over the coming decades, extreme heat, severe drought, and dangerous floods will drive mass human migration from vulnerable nations in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.  Climate change is already taking a toll on Mexican farmers.  Scientists say that rising temperatures could send millions of Mexican immigrants to the United States.  The Potato Famine gives a sense of what that might look like.

Read more at The Irish Potato Famine Offers a Glimpse of the Potential Impacts of Climate Change

Big Oil Will Have to Pay Up, like Big Tobacco - By Jeffrey Sachs

  • Jeffrey Sachs:  Fossil fuel companies will soon face financial reckoning as courts hold them liable for damages caused by climate change.
  • Big Tobacco is implicated in causation of health problems -- Big Oil will also be a target for civil damages and compensation.

Jeffrey Sachs (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Here is a message to investors in the oil industry, whether pension and insurance funds, university endowments, hedge funds, or other asset managers: Your investments are going to sour.  The growing devastation caused by climate change, as seen this month in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, are going to blow a hole in your fossil-fuel portfolio.

Not only will the companies you own suffer as society begins to abandon fossil fuels in earnest, they will also be dragged through the courts here and abroad for their long-standing malfeasance and denial of what they have done to the world.

Climate change deniers, mainly politicians in the pay of the oil industry, protest that there is no proof that destructive storms and floods are the result of human-induced global warming.  Who can say that a Hurricane Harvey or Irma wouldn't have occurred in the past?

Such a defense -- the cynical shrug -- will not play for much longer, either in the court of public opinion or in courts of law in the United States and abroad.  The risks of climate-related disasters are real and rising, and soon it won't matter politically or legally that any particular event might have occurred even without human-induced global warming.

The issue is of probability, not certainty.  Of course, there have been weather-related disasters in the past.  But global warming makes us more vulnerable to these events.  Scientists emphasize that hurricane damage, for example, may rise for three reasons:  higher sea levels (due to warming) cause larger storm surges; warmer oceans add energy to hurricanes; and warmer air holds more water vapor that can cause torrential downpours.

Insurance companies know that climate risks are rising, scientists know it, and an increasing number of investors know it.  And more of the general public knows it, too.

In climate science the link between specific events like Harvey and Irma and the general rise in risk due to global warming is called "attribution."  It's a problem we grapple with in many contexts.  When a miner gets lung disease, a homeowner with asbestos insulation develops a rare cancer, or a smoker succumbs to lung cancer, we can never be sure that the particular case was linked to coal dust, asbestos, or cigarettes.

But the courts have been ready to read the probabilities, and hold companies liable for damages when the likelihood of causation is high enough.

The courts have also linked liability with the standard of care exercised by the defendant. When a company understands the risks but ignores them, or even worse, lies about them, the court or jury is far more likely to agree to a large claim.

The tobacco companies relentlessly misled the public about their products.  Some oil companies have done the same about climate change.  ExxonMobil, for example, knew internally for decades that its products contribute to global warming, according to a peer-reviewed Harvard University study published last month, but publicly downplayed the linkages and the resulting risks (Exxon denies this).

The Koch brothers, owners of refineries and oil pipelines, have manufactured doubts about climate science and spent vast sums to oppose decarbonization policies and to elect politicians to do the same.

But the science of climate attribution is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, leaving the oil industry more exposed than ever.

Consider, for example, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project.  This is an effort by a consortium of scientific institutions, including the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, the University of Melbourne, and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center.

This project has recently shown, that human-induced climate change dramatically raised the likelihood of the record-breaking heat wave in western Europe this summer.  The team found that climate change "made the intensity and frequency of such extreme heat at least twice as likely in Belgium, at least four times as likely in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and central England and at least 10 times as likely in Portugal and Spain."

The project is now analyzing whether human-induced global warming raised the likelihood of the rainfall brought by Harvey.

American politics has long been manipulated by Big Oil, with massive campaign financing as well as backroom lobbying not seen by the public.  The federal government and oil states like Texas have been as derelict as the companies, and could well find themselves also as defendants in cases brought by Americans and others who are hit by climate disaster.

Many Caribbean islands were devastated by Irma, and their leaders are appealing for aid.  Soon, the cries around the world will change to a call for "compensation" or "civil damages" instead of just aid.

When climate justice comes -- and it will -- those who have been in denial will pay a heavy price. And those who have invested in companies that behaved recklessly and irresponsibly will share the heavy losses on that day of reckoning.
Jeffrey Sachs is a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Read more at Big Oil Will Have to Pay Up, like Big Tobacco