Thursday, February 28, 2019

Thursday 28

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

The New, Safer Nuclear Reactors that Might Help Stop Climate Change

From sodium-cooled fission to advanced fusion, a fresh generation of projects hopes to rekindle trust in nuclear energy.

 (Credit: A photograph taken in 2016 shows the central confinement vessel of a prototype fusion reactor built by Tri Alpha Energy (now TAE Technologies). Julian Berman) Click to Enlarge.
It might not be the first source you go to for environmental news, but its annual energy review is highly regarded by climate watchers.  And its 2018 message was stark: despite the angst over global warming, coal was responsible for 38% of the world’s power in 2017—precisely the same level as when the first global climate treaty was signed 20 years ago.  Worse still, greenhouse-gas emissions rose by 2.7% last year, the largest increase in seven years.

Such stagnation has led many policymakers and environmental groups to conclude that we need more nuclear energy.  Even United Nations researchers, not enthusiastic in the past, now say every plan to keep the planet’s temperature rise under 1.5 °C will rely on a substantial jump in nuclear energy.

But we’re headed in the other direction.  Germany is scheduled to shut down all its nuclear plants by 2022; Italy voted by referendum to block any future projects back in 2011.  And even if nuclear had broad public support (which it doesn’t), it’s expensive:  several nuclear plants in the US closed recently because they can’t compete with cheap shale gas.

“If the current situation continues, more nuclear power plants will likely close and be replaced primarily by natural gas, causing emissions to rise,” argued the Union of Concerned Scientists—historically nuclear skeptics—in 2018.  If all those plants shut down, estimates suggest, carbon emissions would increase by 6%.

At this point, the critical debate is not whether to support existing systems, says Edwin Lyman, acting director of the UCS’s nuclear safety project.  “A more practical question is whether it is realistic that new nuclear plants can be deployed over the next several decades at the pace needed.”
For many, though, the great energy hope remains nuclear fusion.  Fusion reactors mimic the nuclear process inside the sun, smashing lighter atoms together to turn them into heavier ones and releasing vast amounts of energy along the way.  In the sun that process is powered by gravity.  On Earth, engineers aim to replicate fusion conditions with unfathomably high temperatures—on the order of 150 million °C—but they have found it hard to confine the plasma required to fuse atoms.

One solution is being built by ITER, previously known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, under construction since 2010 in Cadarache, France.  Its magnetic confinement system has global support, but costs have exploded to $22 billion amid delays and political wrangling.  The first experiments, originally scheduled for 2018, have been pushed back to 2025.

Vancouver’s General Fusion uses a combination of physical pressure and magnetic fields to create plasma pulses that last millionths of a second.  This is a less complicated approach than ITER’s, making it far cheaper—but technical challenges remain, including making titanium components that can handle the workload.  Still, General Fusion expects its reactors to be deployable in 10 to 15 years.

California-based TAE Technologies, meanwhile, has spent 20 years developing a fusion reactor that converts energy directly into electricity.  The company, which has received $500 million from investors, predicted in January that it would be commercial within five years.

Read more at The New, Safer Nuclear Reactors that Might Help Stop Climate Change

Carbon Rise Could Cause Cloud Tipping Point-

The planet’s temperature could zoom in an ever more greenhouse world, as researchers identify a dangerous possible cloud tipping point.

Stratocumulus clouds over the Atlantic: A tipping point ahead? (Image Credit: MAClarke21, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
Climate scientists have confirmed a high-level hazard, a cloud tipping point, that could send global warming into a dramatic upwards spiral.

If carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere become high enough, the clouds that shade and cool some of the tropical and subtropical oceans could become unstable and disperse.  More radiation would slam into the ocean and the coasts, and surface temperatures could soar as high as 8°C above the levels for most of human history.

And this dramatic spike would be independent of any warming directly linked to the steady rise in carbon dioxide concentrations themselves, the scientists warn.
Avoidance possible
“I think and hope that technological changes will slow carbon emissions so that we do not actually reach such high CO2 concentrations,” said Tapio Schneider, an environmental scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the research center managed for the US space agency NASA by the California Institute of Technology.

“But our results show that there are dangerous climate change thresholds that we have been unaware of.”

The role of clouds in the intricate interplay of sunlight, forests, oceans, rocks, and atmosphere that controls the planet’s climate has been the subject of argument.  Do clouds really slow warming?  And if so, by how much, and under what conditions?

There may not be a simple answer, although researchers are fairly confident that the thinning of clouds over the California coasts may have made calamitous wildfires in the state more probable.

So to resolve what Professor Schneider calls “a blind spot” in climate modeling, he and his colleagues worked on a small-scale computer simulation of one representative section of the atmosphere above the subtropical ocean, and then used supercomputers to model the clouds and their turbulent movement over a mathematical representation of the sea.  And then they started to tune up the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Carbon threshold
They found that, once CO2 levels reached 1,200 ppm, the decks of stratocumulus cloud vanished, and did not reappear until CO2 levels dropped to well below this dangerous threshold.

If – and this has yet to happen – other researchers use different approaches to confirm the result, then the US scientists will have established a better understanding of one component of natural climate control.

The research may also illuminate a puzzle of climate history:  50 million or more years ago, during a geological epoch called the Eocene, the Arctic ice cap melted.  Climate models have shown that, for this to happen, atmospheric carbon ratios would need to rise to 4,000 ppm.

These, the Caltech team, suggests, would be “implausibly high” CO2 levels.  The latest study suggests this might be an overestimate:  a mere 1,200 ppm would be enough to set the planetary thermometer soaring. − Climate News Network

Read more at Carbon Rise Could Cause Cloud Tipping Point

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tuesday 26

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

Indian Government Approves $1.2 Billion Support for 12 Gigawatt Solar Power Plan

Solar Panel Close up (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The Indian government recently approved a funding scheme to support implementation of 12 gigawatts of solar power capacity through government-owned companies.

Earlier this month, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved a plan to provide financial support for development of 12 gigawatt solar power capacity across the country.  The proposal was submitted by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and shall be implemented through companies owned by the central and state governments. The government allocated Rs 8,580 crore ($1.2 billion) for this scheme which shall be disbursed as viability gap funding to project developers. 

The government has also mandated that all projects under this scheme shall use solar cells and modules manufactured in India.  As the power generated from these projects shall be used by the government itself or government entities, the obligation to use domestically manufactured equipment would stand the test of WTO norms.

The Indian government, in order to boost domestic manufacturing of solar cells and modules, had earlier introduced the Domestic Content Requirement (DCR) that mandated project developers to use Indian solar PV equipment to set up projects.  This was successfully challenged by the United States at WTO, and the Indian government had to put an end to that scheme.  Due to security concerns the WTO, however, allows mandatory use of domestic equipment if the output is being consumed by the government or its entities.  India is planning to use this clause to implement this scheme.

The viability gap funding scheme will be implemented in a manner similar to any other scheme — through reverse auctions.  Instead of bidding for the lowest tariff project developers shall bid for the lowest capital cost support required to set up projects.

The 12-gigawatt scheme was approved just weeks after the government decided to scrap a part of another scheme that had lost its relevance due to change in market conditions.  We reported in late December 2018 that the Indian government would not go ahead with the auction of 12-gigawatt capacity under the bundling scheme.  A replacement to the canceled bundling scheme was essential for the government to fill gap created to achieve the 100-gigawatt installed capacity target by March 2022.  The new viability gap funding projects shall, however, be fully completed by March 2023 only.

Read more at Indian Government Approves $1.2 Billion Support for 12 Gigawatt Solar Power Plan

Chinese Company Says It Will Soon Cross $100 Battery Threshold, Slaying the Gasoline Car

Envision Group analysts discovered the price curve after purchasing Nissan's battery division, Envision CEO Lei Zhang said. (Photo Credit: Tesla) Click to Enlarge.
Envision Energy will produce batteries for $100 per kilowatt hour by 2020, the Shanghai company's founder and CEO said at Stanford University, predicting the price will drop to $50 only five years later and end the reign of the internal-combustion engine.

Envision's analysts realized they could achieve these goals after the company purchased Nissan's battery division earlier this year,  CEO Lei Zhang said at Stanford University's Global Energy Forum.  Stanford just released video of Lei's remarks, which came in response to a slightly more conservative prediction by Stanford's Arun Majumdar.

"I have something to add on to Arun's comment," Lei said.  "He mentioned by 2022 we are able to reach $100 per kilowatt hour, but I say we are able to arrive much earlier.  By 2020 we are able to deliver the cost of $100 U.S.  Just recently we bought a Japanese battery company, so we have very detailed analyzed this trend of cost, so we are able, probably by 2025, to achieve $50 U.S. dollar per kilowatt hour."

Read more at Chinese Company Says It Will Soon Cross $100 Battery Threshold, Slaying the Gasoline Car

Listen to the Children:  Political Miscalculations Pile Up Over the Green New Deal

Mitch look us in the eyes. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
This week across the US, hundreds of young people are visiting their Senators in order to plead for the Green New Deal (GND).  They’re telling personal stories about why the GND holds hope for their future — for green trees and parks, for clean air to breathe and safe water to drink, for a system of energy that’s renewable, not rigged by fossil fuel billionaires.  In what is likely their first acts of civil disobedience, these young people are getting a taste of democracy in action, and some of the images coming out of those tete-a-tetes with the powerful and wealthy are enough to make us adults in the room cringe.  Importantly, these (adult) people whom we expect to lead are making tremendous political miscalculations.

Masses of young people are delivering a clear message about climate change to reps on both sides of the political aisle:  Americans want a GND, and young voters will remember where Senators stand on the resolution the next time they want their votes.  These young activists believe they are making progress, too:  the Green New Deal resolution has more than 90 cosponsors, including every Senator running for President.

Sunrise Hubs form the backbone of the movement by growing people power locally, elevating climate change as an urgent priority, contesting political power in our country, and working with other local organizations to build the people’s alignment.  Now, lest you think these young people are college-aged, reminiscent of the Vietnam War protests, let me assure you that you’re both right and wrong.  Yes, a good number of supporters are in college, but there are also huge numbers of high school and even middle school aged Sunrisers.

In an interesting turn of events this week, two generally savvy politicians lost their tempers and ways with these Sunrise youth.  And in their inability to show calm, patience, understanding, and even a bit of a knowing smile, Senators holding onto tenuous political power may have overplayed their hands and, in doing so, strengthened support for the very GND resolution which makes them grit their teeth.

Read more at Listen to the Children:  Political Miscalculations Pile Up Over the Green New Deal

Evidence for Man-Made Global Warming Hits 'Gold Standard':  Scientists

Ocean water is pushed up by the bottom of a pinnacle iceberg as it falls back during a large calving event at the Helheim glacier near Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 22, 2018. (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/File Photo) Click to Enlarge.
Evidence for man-made global warming has reached a “gold standard” level of certainty, adding pressure for cuts in greenhouse gases to limit rising temperatures, scientists said on Monday.

“Humanity cannot afford to ignore such clear signals,” the U.S.-led team wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change of satellite measurements of rising temperatures over the past 40 years.

They said confidence that human activities were raising the heat at the Earth’s surface had reached a “five-sigma” level, a statistical gauge meaning there is only a one-in-a-million chance that the signal would appear if there was no warming.

Such a “gold standard” was applied in 2012, for instance, to confirm the discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, a basic building block of the universe.

Benjamin Santer, lead author of Monday’s study at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said he hoped the findings would win over skeptics and spur action.
Sixty-two percent of Americans polled in 2018 believed that climate change has a human cause, up from 47 percent in 2013, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Read more at Evidence for Man-Made Global Warming Hits 'Gold Standard':   Scientists

Monday, February 25, 2019

Monday 25

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

Can YouTube Solve Its Serious Climate Science Denial Problem?

Given that climate denial videos take positions contradicted by every major scientific academy in the world, many scientists would surely hope that YouTube takes “blatantly false claims” about climate change as seriously as it does flat earthers or 9/11 truthers.

Using machine learning and a team of humans, YouTube has said it is rolling out changes just in the U.S., and this would affect only a “small set of videos in the United States.”

In 2018 YouTube started adding pop-up links to Wikipedia, with brief factual descriptions, to some climate change videos.  As reported by BuzzFeed, this angered some producers, including PragerU.

Craig Strazzeri, PragerU’s chief marketing officer, told BuzzFeed:  “Despite claiming to be a public forum and a platform open to all, YouTube is clearly a left-wing organization.”

“This is just another mistake in a long line of giant missteps that erodes America’s trust in Big Tech, much like what has already happened with the mainstream news media.”

Clearly, for PragerU, it is more important to politicize YouTube’s mild attempts to correct misinformation with a tiny pop-up message than to get its facts straight.

Echo Chambers
“YouTube and other social media platforms have exacerbated the misinformation problem in a number of ways — whether it's creating echo chambers for science denial, making it easy for misinformers to micro-target audiences, or funneling its users to extremist content,” says Dr. John Cook of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

“In the case of YouTube, their algorithms result in extremist content like climate denial receiving millions of views.  However, YouTube's response has been entirely inadequate. Adding a generic link to Wikipedia under denialist videos is like slapping a tiny bandaid on a large, open wound.”

While at the University of Queensland in Australia, Cook led a study showing that 97 percent of climate scientists agreed that global warming was caused by human activity.  Cook also led the production of a free Massive Online Open Course, through the university, to explain the science of climate denial, producing many debunking videos that also appear on YouTube.

“It's a challenging problem,” says Cook.  “Interventions like adding a ‘fake news’ warning on online misinformation can actually backfire and promote the myth.”

“Nevertheless, there is a great deal of research into how to inoculate the public against misinformation without triggering adverse effects.”

He says platforms like YouTube should be working work with misinformation researchers to develop strategies that “reduce the negative impact on society” of climate denial videos.

For now though, YouTube has a serious climate science denial problem. 

Read much more at Can YouTube Solve Its Serious Climate Science Denial Problem?

Toon of the Week - The Jury's Still Out on Climate Change / The Jury: 97% of Climate Scientists

Toon of the Week - The Jury's Still Out on Climate Change / The Jury: 97% of Climate Scientists  Click to Enlarge.

Poster of the Week - We Need Everyone to Act Like a Superhero and Protect Our Planet.

Poster of the Week - We Need Everyone to Act Like a Superhero and Protect Our Planet.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sunday 24

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

Bill McKibben:  Climate Change Is Scary—Not the Green New Deal

It’s very clear that conservatives have one plan for dealing with the popularity of the Green New Deal:  scaring the hell out of people.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey announce Green New Deal legislation in Washington on February 7, 2019. (Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Myron Ebell of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, the man who led the drive to pull America out of the Paris climate accords, said the other day that the Green New Deal was a “back-to-the-dark-ages manifesto.”  That’s language worth thinking about, coming from perhaps the Right’s most influential spokesman on climate change.

Ebell’s complaint (and that of the rest of the Right) is that the set of proposals to address climate change and economic inequality put forth last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey would do too much, and cost too much.  Indeed, he describes the Green New Deal this way:  “It calls for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, ‘upgrading all existing buildings’, and replacing our vehicle fleet with electric cars and more mass transit.  And turning our energy economy upside down must be accomplished while ending historic income inequities and oppression of disadvantaged groups.”  All of which sounds good not just to me, but to most people:  Polling for the Green New Deal is through the roof, especially among young people so ably organized by the Sunrise Movement.

But even if ending historic oppression doesn’t catch your fancy, it’s not a return to the Dark Ages.

A return to the Dark Ages is what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit:  Survivors dying in the convention center of a modern American city, locals organizing a makeshift “navy” to try to pluck people from rooftops after levees collapsed.

A return to the Dark Ages is what happened in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, when most of the island was literally dark for months as workers struggled to rebuild power lines.

A return to the Dark Ages is what happened in California last fall, when old people burned to death in their cars while stuck in traffic jams trying to flee deadly wildfires.

Read more at Bill McKibben:  Climate Change Is Scary—Not the Green New Deal

The 3 Big Things that People Misunderstand About Climate Change

David Wallace-Wells, author of the new book The Uninhabitable Earth, describes why climate change might alter our sense of time.

 A child sleeps on a couch in a flooded street in Chongqing, China, on July 20, 2010 (Credit: Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
The year is 2100.  The United States has been devastated by climate change.  Super-powerful hurricanes regularly ravage coastal cities.  Wildfires have overrun Los Angeles several times over.  And it is dangerous to go outside on some summer days—children and the elderly risk being broiled alive.

In such a world as that one, will we give up on the idea of historical progress?  Should we even believe in it now?  In his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, the writer David Wallace-Wells considers how global warming will change not only the experience of human life but also our ideas and philosophies about it.  It’s possible, he told me recently, that climate change will make us believe that history is “something that takes us backward rather than forward.”

“The 21st century will be dominated by climate change in the same way that … the 19th century in the West was dominated by modernity or industry,” he said.  “There won’t be an area of human life that is untouched by it.”

I recently talked to Wallace-Wells about his new book, the difficulty of writing stories about climate change, and which science-fiction prophecy he believes came true.  Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Read more at The 3 Big Things that People Misunderstand About Climate Change

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Saturday 23

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

Global Shipping Inches Forward on Heavy Fuel Oil Ban

The International Maritime Organization started work defining which fuels would be banned and how.  It also listed ideas to cut black carbon but didn't prioritize.

The UN's International Maritime Organization is responsible for measures to improve the safety of international shipping and to reduce pollution from ships. Members discussed a heavy fuel oil ban at a meeting this week. (Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
The International Maritime Organization inched forward this week on its promises to ban the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and reduce black carbon emissions from ships.

Meeting in London, the United Nations regulatory body's Pollution Prevention and Response subcommittee began work on defining which fuels would be banned and how.  It also came up with a list of possible measures for cutting emissions of black carbon but didn't set priorities.

An assessment of the economic, environmental, and social impacts of a ban, put in motion last year, is expected to be finished before the subcommittee's next meeting in 2020.

The Clean Arctic Alliance, a group of more than a dozen environmental organizations, issued a statement that said it "welcomes the progress" but noted that much work still must be done if the ban is to be phased in between 2021 and 2023.

Heavy fuel oil, a particularly dirty form of oil, poses a significant environmental hazard if spilled.  It also emits high levels of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant that also affects human health.

Read more at Global Shipping Inches Forward on Heavy Fuel Oil Ban

Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday 22

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

Thursday 21

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

Biodiversity Loss Is Endangering Food Security, UN Warns

Bees pollinating (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Global loss of biodiversity is threatening the security of the world’s food supplies and the livelihoods of millions of people, according to a new report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Land-use changes, pollution, overexploitation of resources, and climate change were listed as the biggest drivers of this biodiversity loss.

“Biodiversity is critical for safeguarding global food security, underpinning healthy and nutritious diets, improving rural livelihoods, and enhancing the resilience of people and communities,” FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in a statement.  “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases.  Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk.”

The report examined biodiversity loss in 91 countries, including the plants, animals, and microorganisms that provide critical ecosystem services, such as keeping soils fertile, pollinating crops, cleaning water, and fighting pests and diseases.  The study found that while more than 6,000 plant species have been cultivated for food, just 9 account for 66 percent of total crop production, indicating widespread monoculture on farmers’ fields.  The FAO tallied 7,745 local breeds of livestock, 26 percent of which are at risk of extinction and 67 percent whose risk status is unknown.  An estimated 24 percent of wild food species are decreasing in abundance, while the status of another 61 percent are not reported or known.

The report notes that while local, national, and international policy measures to protect biodiversity are increasing, this shift is not happening fast enough to counter the rapid rate of species loss.

Read more at Biodiversity Loss Is Endangering Food Security, UN Warns

Climate Change Stokes Mayhem in Several Ways

Three outcomes could follow if climate change stokes mayhem, conflict, and violence.  It might be helpful to think about the strains to come.

Syria: Glimpse of the future as rapid climate change continues? (Image Credit: Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash) Click to Enlarge.
Stand by for long hot summers marked by riot and racial tension.  As climate change stokes mayhem, global warming is likely to see a direct rise in human irritability.

Climate change accompanied by natural disaster such as flood or drought could lead to harvest failure and food and water shortages for which people must compete.

And the same natural disasters could lead to a generation of babies, children and adolescents more likely, because of disadvantage and deprivation, to become more prone to violence in adulthood.

Researchers in the US have been thinking carefully about the links between climate change and conflict.  This, they write in Current Climate Change Reports, has a long history, and a huge range of studies have addressed the hazard.

And they see more civic strife and conflict on the way.  Some of it is likely to involve climate refugees, or ecological migrants: persons driven from their homes by climate change.  The steady rise in global temperatures could also help incubate the conditions for global terrorism.

Read more at Climate Change Stokes Mayhem in Several  Ways

Swedish Student Leader Wins EU Pledge to Spend Billions on Climate

Thunberg (center) takes part in a march in Brussels for the environment and the climate organised by students. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The European Union should spend hundreds of billions of euros combating climate change during the next decade, its chief executive said on Thursday, responding to a Swedish teen who has inspired a global movement of children against global warming.

In a speech alongside 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for suggesting climate change was “invented” and “ideological”.

“In the next financial period from 2021 to 2027, every fourth euro spent within the EU budget will go towards action to mitigate climate change,” Juncker said of his proposal for the EU budget, which is typically 1 percent of the bloc’s economic output, or 1 trillion euros ($1.13 trillion) over seven years.

Read more at Swedish Student Leader Wins EU Pledge to Spend Billions on Climate

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Feeding 10 Billion People by 2050 in a Warming World

Researchers look for ways to meet rising global food demand.  The challenge:  produce 50 percent more food while reducing GHG emissions by one-third.

 Wheat silos (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population – currently at 7.6 billion and expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 – without exacerbating climate change will require the closing of three significant gaps, according to a new report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future.

The gaps highlighted in a recent World Resources Institute (WRI) report involve:
  • food supply, simply producing enough to meet rising demand;
  • land for food production: The report estimates that if current production rates continue with the same yields, an additional area almost twice the size of India would be required to produce enough food; and
  • mitigating increased greenhouse gas emissions likely to be produced by the additional food production needed by 2050.
Feeding a rapidly growing population in a sustainable way is a challenge researchers have grappled with for some time.  “If you just wanted to feed the world and you didn’t worry about the environment at all, you know that’s probably not that hard because we just basically go and chop down a lot more land, a lot more forest,” says lead author Tim Searchinger.  “But the challenge is inherently producing all that more food plus not converting additional land – that’s where the challenge is.”

Searchinger is a Princeton University research scholar who collaborated with an array of international researchers over the past six years to produce the WRI report. A synthesis version was released in December 2018, and the roughly 500-page full report is to be published this spring.

Challenges in feeding 10 billion people by 2050
The synthesis report outlines a variety of options and opportunities to meet the rapidly growing need for nutrition while at the same time working to mitigate climate change. Ultimately, the authors seek to answer the question: “How can the world adequately feed nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050 in ways that help combat poverty, allow the world to meet climate goals, and reduce pressures on the broader environment?”

“If you want to solve climate change, you have to solve this question,” Searchinger says. He points to estimates that agriculture and associated land use change could make up 70 percent of “allowable emissions from all human sources” by 2050 if current practices continue.

“That would basically leave almost no room for any other emissions, so it would basically make solving climate change impossible,” he says. “So we have to figure out a way to do both and figure out a way to produce 50 percent more food with [approximately] two-thirds fewer emissions – so that’s the challenge.”

Read more at Feeding 10 Billion People by 2050 in a Warming World

Paris Agreement Has Gone Up In Smoke, New Paper Says

Deforestation in Brazil (Credit: Hans Silvester / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Forget about us only having “12 years to reverse climate change” — the slogan picked up from a recent report — a new paper says that we are already too late to stop 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.  That is, if we’re hoping countries somehow live up to the commitments made under the Paris climate agreement.

And while that’s no big surprise to climate wonks, it nonetheless ranks high in the most-depressing-things-ever contest.

The paper in Nature Climate Change focuses on the Paris agreement’s targets for “land use change.”  Translation: farming in ways that sequester carbon, growing new trees and stopping deforestation.  This stuff really matters because lots of countries’ pledges depend on these efforts.  The European Union’s member states, for instance, rely on land use change for “up to 40 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” the authors pointed out.

(Just as an aside, this paper was published as a “perspective,” which means it’s more of an evidence-based viewpoint.  It’s not all-caps FACT, but it is a persuasive argument by scientists backed up with tons of citations.)

It’s no surprise that the voluntary commitments made in 2015 might not save the world.  And commitments on land use are especially tricky because they take a long time to work.

It takes decades to grow a forest.  And the authors of this paper point out that it also takes a long time to put policies in place and get the locals who manage the land to sign on.  For instance, Brazil’s low-carbon agriculture program has only gotten 0.5 percent of that country’s farms to sign up since 2010.

Even when land managers do sign on and make changes, there are unintended consequences.  Farmers around the world have begun growing corn, soy, sugar, and palm oil to turn into biofuels that replace petroleum.  But this “fix” has led to increased deforestation, in some cases doing more harm than good.

Finally, the authors argue, there’s the inescapable fact that since the Paris agreement, deforestation has increased in many places that promised steep reductions.  Deforestation “increased by 29 percent between 2015 and 2016 in Brazil and by 44 percent in Colombia.”  Even worse::  “The rates of primary forest loss in the Congo and Indonesia are now 1.5 and 3 times the rate in Brazil,” they note.

The authors argue that we need to replace the Paris Agreement with an international climate policy that can lead, or even supersede the policies of individual countries.  How would we get this global supergovernment?  Is this where the nightmares of right-wing extremists come true?  Would it be like a bigger European Union?  The authors don’t elaborate.

But it would presumably take a helluva lot of climate-related catastrophes to motivate its creation.  Like we said at the top, depressing!

Read original at Paris Agreement Has Gone Up In Smoke, New Paper Says

Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees Could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find

Fox Maple Woods in Wisconsin. (Credit: Joshua Mayer / Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university.

The research, presented at this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, D.C., argues that planting additional trees is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases.

Trees are “our most powerful weapon in the fight against climate change,” Crowther told The Independent. Combining forest inventory data from 1.2 million locations around the world and satellite images, the scientists estimate there are 3 trillion trees on Earth — seven times more than previous estimates. But they also found that there is abundant space to restore millions of acres of additional forests, not counting urban and agricultural land.

“There’s 400 gigatons [of CO2 stored] now in the 3 trillion trees,” Crowther said. “If you were to scale that up by another trillion trees, that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere – at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out.”

Tree planting is becoming an increasingly popular tool to combat climate change. The United Nations’ Trillion Tree Campaign has planted nearly 15 billion trees across the globe in recent years. And Australia has announced a plan to plant a billion more by 2050 as part of its effort to meet the country’s Paris Agreement climate targets.

Read more at Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees Could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Wednesday 20

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

Climate Change Makes Summer Weather Stormier Yet More Stagnant

Study finds rising temperatures feed more energy to thunderstorms, less to general circulation.

Summer Cyclone (Credit: MIT) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change is shifting the energy in the atmosphere that fuels summertime weather, which may lead to stronger thunderstorms and more stagnant conditions for midlatitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia, a new MIT study finds.

Scientists report that rising global temperatures, particularly in the Arctic, are redistributing the energy in the atmosphere:  More energy is available to fuel thunderstorms and other local, convective processes, while less energy is going toward summertime extratropical cyclones — larger, milder weather systems that circulate across thousands of kilometers.  These systems are normally associated with winds and fronts that generate rain.

“Extratropical cyclones ventilate air and air pollution, so with weaker extratropical cyclones in the summer, you’re looking at the potential for more poor air-quality days in urban areas,” says study author Charles Gertler, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).  “Moving beyond air quality in cities, you have the potential for more destructive thunderstorms and more stagnant days with perhaps longer-lasting heat waves.”

Gertler and his co-author, Associate Professor Paul O’Gorman of EAPS, are publishing their results this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more at Climate Change Makes Summer Weather Stormier Yet More Stagnant

For a Warming World, a New Strategy for Protecting Watersheds

In increasingly arid regions such as the western U.S., water managers are learning that careful management and restoration of watershed ecosystems, including thinning trees and conducting prescribed burns, are important tools in coping with a hotter, drier climate.

 A fire crew hikes past McClure Reservoir in New Mexico en route to conducting a prescribed burn. (Credit: Alan W. Eckert) Click to Enlarge.
Long before an aspen tree fell on a power line in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains in June 2011, triggering the biggest wildfire in the state’s history, fire managers knew that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable.  Climate change-induced drought and higher temperatures had dried out the trees and soil.  And after more than a century of fire suppression, areas that supported 40 trees per acre in the pre-European era now were blanketed with up to a hundred times as many.  This profusion of trees — as many as one per square yard — weakened all of them, and rendered them defenseless against megafires.

Even so, the fire managers weren’t prepared for the astonishing power of the 2011 conflagration, known as the Las Conchas Fire.  During its first 14 hours, it sent walls of flame hundreds of feet high as it consumed nearly an acre of forest per second and threatened the city of Los Alamos.  By the time it was extinguished five weeks later, it had burned an area nearly three times as big as the state’s largest fire before it, and left behind nearly 100 square miles so severely burned that even seeds to regenerate the forest were destroyed.

But the fire’s full impact didn’t register until nearly two months later, when a thunderstorm in the Jemez Mountains washed tons of ash and debris into the Rio Grande River, the water source for half of New Mexico’s population and for a major agricultural area.  Only an inch of rain fell, but the debris flows the storm generated turned the river black and dumped ash, sediment, and tree and shrub remnants into a major reservoir, requiring a costly cleanup.

To ward off damage to equipment, water treatment plants in Albuquerque and Santa Fe closed for 40 days and 20 days respectively while they drew down precious stores of groundwater.  Farmers found that the polluted water clogged the nozzles of their drip irrigation systems, rendering them useless.  Even worse, the most severely burned portions of the watershed continued discharging debris and sediment into water channels long afterward; a heavy rainstorm two years later generated enough sediment to entirely plug the Rio Grande.

What has unfolded in New Mexico is far from unique.  In the last two decades, megafires in similarly dry and overgrown watersheds have ended up contaminating downstream water supplies in numerous areas throughout the western United States, including Phoenix; Denver; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Fort Collins, Colorado.  Downstream water managers serving millions of urban residents have learned that the security of their water supplies is tied to the health of upland watersheds that may be hundreds of miles away.

Read more at For a Warming World, a  New Strategy for Protecting Watersheds

Arctic Bogs Hold Another Global Warming Risk that Could Spiral Out of Control

As warming brings earlier spring rains in the Arctic, more permafrost thaws, releasing more methane in a difficult-to-stop feedback loop, research shows.

Alaskan wetlands (Credit: S Hillebrand/USFWS) Click to Enlarge.
Increasing spring rains in the Arctic could double the increase in methane emissions from the region by hastening the rate of thawing in permafrost, new research suggests.

The findings are cause for concern because spring rains are anticipated to occur more frequently as the region warms.  The release of methane, a short-lived climate pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term, could induce further warming in a vicious cycle that would be difficult if not impossible to stop.

"Our results emphasize that these permafrost regions are sensitive to the thermal effects of rain, and because we're anticipating that these environments are going to get wetter in the future, we could be seeing increases in methane emissions that we weren't expecting," said the study's lead author, Rebecca Neumann, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Washington.  The study appears in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Scientists specializing in the thawing of the permafrost have been warning for years that this kind of feedback loop, which both results from and accelerates global warming, has not been taken into account in the comprehensive climate assessments that drive worldwide climate policies.

As a result, they say, the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015 was probably not ambitious enough in its goals for avoiding the worst effects of warming.

Read more at Arctic Bogs Hold Another Global Warming Risk that Could Spiral Out of Control

Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday 18

Atmospheric CO2 and Global Surface Temperature 800 to 2020

16-Year-Old Greta Thunberg Cheers 'Beginning of Great Changes' as Climate Strike Goes Global

Because "present and future on this planet are at stake," say teen climate activists, "we won't be silent any longer"

Students in Melbourne take part in a school strike for climate on November 30, 2018. (Photo Credit: julian meehan/flickr/cc) Click to Enlarge.
The world may be edging toward "environmental breakdown"—but 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sees signs for hope.

Pointing to global walkouts planned for March 15, Thunberg—whose "school strikes for climate" helped galvanized similar actions worldwide—said, "I think what we are seeing is the beginning of great changes and that is very hopeful."

"I think enough people have realized just how absurd the situation is," she told the Guardian.  "We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it."

In a sign of that realization, thousands of students from dozens of communities across the United Kingdom skipped class on Friday to join the ranks taking part in the weekly climate actions.

In fact, it's "incredible" that the movement "has spread so far, so fast," she told "Good Morning Britain."

Read more at 16-Year-Old Greta Thunberg Cheers 'Beginning of Great Changes' as Climate Strike Goes Global

Predicting Climate Change

Understanding carbon cycle feedbacks to predict climate change at large scale.

Data Enables Understanding of Carbon Cycle Feedbacks to Predict Climate Change at a Large Scale. (Credit:  Andrew Coelho, Unsplash Photography) Click to Enlarge.
Thomas Crowther identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.  He will describe how there is room for an additional 1.2 trillion new trees around the world that could absorb more carbon than human emissions each year.  Crowther also describes data from thousands of soil samples collected by local scientists that reveal the world's Arctic and sub-Arctic regions store most of the world's carbon.  But the warming of these ecosystems is causing the release of this soil carbon, a process that could accelerate climate change by 17%.  This research is revealing that the restoration of vegetation and soil carbon is by far our best weapon in the fight against climate change.

Read more at Predicting Climate Change

Toon of the Week - Global... Climate... Change... Is... A... Hoax

2019 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming Digest #7

Poster of the Week - Adults Keep Saying We Owe It To The Young People To Give Them Hope, But I Don't Want Your Hope.

“Yes, we are failing, but we can still turn this around,” Thunberg concludes. “We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands.”  “We have not come here to beg world leaders to care,” she says. “You have ignored us in the past, and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we have run out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.” / Greta Thunberg

2019 SkS Weekly Digest #7