Monday, August 21, 2017

CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS FOR AUG. 2017

CC NEWS FOR AUG. 2017

On July 14 the New York Magazine published an article by David Wallace-Wells titled, The Uninhabitable Earth, Annotated Edition.  He called it, ”The facts, research, and science behind the climate-change article that explored our planet’s worst case scenarios”.  He based the July 14 article on an unannotated version called, The Uninhabitable Earth that had appeared in the magazine a few days earlier, on July 10.  In the annotated version he wrote,
“We published “The Uninhabitable Earth on Sunday night, and the response since has been extraordinary — both in volume (it is already the most-read article in New York Magazine’s history) and in kind. Within hours, the article spawned a fleet of commentary across newspapers, magazines, blogs, and Twitter, much of which came from climate scientists and the journalists who cover them.
Some of this conversation has been about the factual basis for various claims that appear in the article. To address those questions, and to give all readers more context for how the article was reported and what further reading is available, we are publishing here a version of the article filled with research annotations. They include quotations from scientists I spoke with throughout the reporting process; citations to scientific papers, articles, and books I drew from; additional research provided by my colleague Julia Mead; and context surrounding some of the more contested claims. Since the article was published, we have made four corrections and adjustments, which are noted in the annotations (as well as at the end of the original version). They are all minor, and none affects the central project of the story: to apply the best science we have today to the median and high-end “business-as-usual” warming projections produced by the U.N.’s “gold standard” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But the debate this article has kicked up is less about specific facts than the article’s overarching conceit. Is it helpful, or journalistically ethical, to explore the worst-case scenarios of climate change, however unlikely they are? How much should a writer contextualize scary possibilities with information about how probable those outcomes are, however speculative those probabilities may be? What are the risks of terrifying or depressing readers so much they disengage from the issue, and what should a journalist make of those risks?
I hope, in the annotations and commentary below, I have added some context. But I also believe very firmly in the set of propositions that animated the project from the start: that the public does not appreciate the scale of climate risk; that this is in part because we have not spent enough time contemplating the scarier half of the distribution curve of possibilities, especially its brutal long tail, or the risks beyond sea-level rise; that there is journalistic and public-interest value in spreading the news from the scientific community, no matter how unnerving it may be; and that, when it comes to the challenge of climate change, public complacency is a far, far bigger problem than widespread fatalism — that many, many more people are not scared enough than are already “too scared.” In fact, I don’t even understand what “too scared” would mean. The science says climate change threatens nearly every aspect of human life on this planet, and that inaction will hasten the problems. In that context, I don’t think it’s a slur to call an article, or its writer, alarmist. I’ll accept that characterization. We should be alarmed.”

NOTE: Many years ago I was very concerned about the possibility of a large scale nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which I concluded could cause changes on the earth’s surface and atmosphere similar to those that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  When I heard Jim Hansen’s congressional testimony in 1968, I realized that climate change was another way that humans could drive themselves and many other life forms to extinction.
The article by David Wallace-Wells is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of life on the planet -  if we don’t take the scientists seriously and continue on the self-destructive business-as-usual path we are on.

On July 25 Dolye Rice posted an article in USA Today titled, Algae are turning Greenland green - and that’s a problem for sea-level rise.  He writes,
Thanks to global warming, algae are expanding on Greenland, helping to slowly melt the massive island's ice sheet and turning it "green." 
The microscopic algae that grow on the Greenland ice sheet are dark, which means they absorb more sunlight and warm up the surface more quickly than white ice, which reflects light.
"More algae means a darker surface, and darker surfaces melt faster," said Martyn Tranter, head of the British research project Black and Bloom, the first group to study the phenomenon.
As this feedback loop continues, the extra warming from increased algae coverage causes a more rapid melting of the ice sheet. That's a problem because if all the ice on Greenland melted, sea levels would rise by as much as 20 feet in spots worldwide, inundating coastal cities.” 

NOTE: It’s been known for some time that the Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the global average temperature.  The reason has been described as the positive feedback produced when highly reflective snow and ice are replaced by deep blue sea, which absorbs more of the sun’s energy: the farther it goes the faster it goes. The algae have a similar effect, replacing snow and ice by a darker, less reflective surface.  The result is to accelerate sea level rise.

On July 26 Timothy Cama posted an article in TheHill titled, Dem senators pitch carbon tax to conservatives.  He wrote,
Two Democratic senators spoke at a conservative think tank Wednesday to introduce legislation to establish a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) pitched their American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act as a proposal Republicans should be able to get behind due to its simplicity and the fact that the revenues would go back to taxpayers.
It would set a $49 per ton fee, increasing annually, on carbon dioxide emissions, charged at the point of a fossil fuel’s extraction or importation.”

NOTE: This proposal is very similar to one supported by the national Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  The Fee and Dividend system they propose is also advocated by Jim Hansen.

On July  26 Alister Doyle posted an article in Reuters titled, Scientists dim sunlight, suck up carbon dioxide to cool planet.  He wrote,
Scientists are sucking carbon dioxide from the air with giant fans and preparing to release chemicals from a balloon to dim the sun's rays as part of a climate engineering push to cool the planet. 
Backers say the risky, often expensive projects are urgently needed to find ways of meeting the goals of the Paris climate deal to curb global warming that researchers blame for causing more heatwaves, downpours and rising sea levels.
The United Nations says the targets are way off track and will not be met simply by reducing emissions for example from factories or cars - particularly after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the 2015 pact.
They are pushing for other ways to keep temperatures down.
In the countryside near Zurich, Swiss company Climeworks began to suck greenhouse gases from thin air in May with giant fans and filters in a $23 million project that it calls the world's first "commercial carbon dioxide capture plant".
Worldwide, "direct air capture" research by a handful of companies such as Climeworks has gained tens of millions of dollars in recent years from sources including governments, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the European Space Agency.
If buried underground, vast amounts of greenhouse gases extracted from the air would help reduce global temperatures, a radical step beyond cuts in emissions that are the main focus of the Paris Agreement.
Climeworks reckons it now costs about $600 to extract a tonne of carbon dioxide from the air and the plant's full capacity due by the end of 2017 is only 900 tonnes a year (emphasis added). That's equivalent to the annual emissions of only 45 Americans.”  (who now produce on average about 20 metric tons per person each year.)

“The Paris Agreement seeks to limit a rise in world temperatures this century to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial times.
But U.N. data show that current plans for cuts in emissions will be insufficient, especially without the United States, and that the world will have to switch to net "negative emissions" this century by extracting carbon from nature.
Riskier "geo-engineering" solutions could be a backstop, such as dimming the world's sunshine, dumping iron into the oceans to soak up carbon, or trying to create clouds.
Among new university research, a Harvard geo-engineering project into dimming sunlight to cool the planet set up in 2016 has raised $7.5 million from private donors. It plans a first outdoor experiment in 2018 above Arizona.
"If you want to be confident to get to 1.5 degrees you need to have solar geo-engineering," said David Keith, of Harvard.”
Keith’s idea is to release finely divided calcium carbonate into the upper atmosphere with the idea that the white powder will reflect much of the sun’s light back into space.  The problem is that such geo-engineering might have serious unintended consequences.

NOTE: This work shows that we are still a very long way from a geo-engineering solution to climate change.  Global emissions of CO2 are now about 36 billion metric tonnes, for an average of about 5 tonnes per person per year.

On July 29 the NY Times published ab article by Diane Cardwell titled, Utility Helps Wean Vermonters from the Utility Grid. She wrote, 
In a new low-income development that replaced a trailer park here, rooftop solar panels sparkle in the sun while backup batteries quietly hum away in utility closets.
About an hour away, in Rutland, homes and businesses along a once-distressed corridor are installing the latest in energy-saving equipment, including special insulation and heat pumps.
And throughout Vermont, customers are signing up for a new program that will allow them to power their homes while entirely disconnected from the grid.
The projects are part of a bold experiment aimed at turning homes, neighborhoods and towns into virtual power plants, able to reduce the amount of energy they draw from the central electric system. But behind them are not green energy advocates or proponents of living off the land. Instead, it’s the local electric company, Green Mountain Power.”
The system involves solar panels, wind turbines, and high-capacity batteries that can supply power when the sun and wind can’t meet the demand.
“Even as the Trump administration has broken with almost all the world’s nations by renouncing the Paris climate accord, the Vermont program offers just one example of the continuing efforts at the local level to rethink a largely carbon-based power system. The initiatives are driven by financial advantages as well as environmental ones.”

NOTE: It’s an inspiring story - one that should be replicated around the world.

The Aug. 1 NY Times posted an article by Lisa Friedman titled, Islamic State and Climate Change Seen as World’s Greatest Threats, Poll Says.  The author wrote, Climate change is essentially tied with the Islamic State as the most-feared security threat across much of the world — except in the United States, where cyberattacks are considered a greater danger than global warming, according to a Pew Research Center report released on Tuesday.
Residents of 13 countries ranked climate change as the greatest threat to national security, while in 17 countries the Islamic State was considered a more immediate problem.
In the United States, however, a gaping partisan divide pushed climate change to third-most severe perceived threat, after ISIS and cyberwarfare. Just 56 percent of Americans surveyed identified global warming as the most serious threat to the country, compared to 71 percent for cyberwarfare and 74 percent for Islamic State attacks.
The American intelligence community concluded that Russia used cyberweapons to interfere with the presidential election last year, perhaps accounting for the heightened sense of threat. The Trump administration has consistently played down the dangers of a warming climate and has withdrawn the United States from the Paris accord on climate change signed by nearly 200 nations.”
Although 56% of Americans think that global warming is the most serious danger we face, the issue is highly partisan, with 86% of left-leaning Americans thinking that it is a serious threat, only 31% on the right do.  The small percentage of those on the right reduces the ranking of climate change for Americans to third place, after ISIS and cyberattacks, making it unique among the nations surveyed.

On Aug. 2 the National League of Cities (NLC) posted an article by Paul Konz, Cooper Marton and Daniel Barry titled, NLC Launches Local Climate Solutions Engagement Program.  The NLC partnered with ecoAmerica, a national communications and engagement group.  The authors wrote,
One of the most important skills for local elected officials is the ability to lead their communities in productive and civil debate, particularly in today’s political environment. City leaders need to communicate with residents using messages that are clear, positive, inclusive and relevant to their concerns. Nowhere is this more challenging than on issues related to climate and environmental policy. One of the most important skills for local elected officials is the ability to lead their communities in productive and civil debate, particularly in today’s political environment. City leaders need to communicate with residents using messages that are clear, positive, inclusive and relevant to their concerns. Nowhere is this more challenging than on issues related to climate and environmental policy.”  Assistance to polcy makers was in the form of several guides to effective communication, which included:


On August 3 an article by Trevor Nace was published in Forbes titled, Global Ocean Circulation Appears To Be Collapsing Due To A Warming Planet.  They wrote, “Scientists have long known about the anomalous "warming hole" in the North Atlantic Ocean, an area immune to warming of Earth's oceans. This cool zone in the North Atlantic Ocean appears to be associated with a slowdown in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), one of the key drivers in global ocean circulation.
A recent study published in Nature outlines research by a team of Yale University and University of Southhampton scientists. The team found evidence that Arctic ice loss is potentially negatively impacting the planet's largest ocean circulation system. While scientists do have some analogs as to how this may impact the world, we will be largely in uncharted territory.
AMOC is one of the largest current systems in the Atlantic Ocean and the world. Generally speaking, it transports warm and salty water northward from the tropics to South and East of Greenland. This warm water cools to ambient water temperature then sinks as it is saltier and thus denser than the relatively more fresh surrounding water. The dense mass of water sinks to the base of the North Atlantic Ocean and is pushed south along the abyss of Atlantic Ocean.”
The main idea is that loss of the AMOC will greatly slow  the heat transfer north by the Gulf Stream - cooling Europe and leading to greater heating elsewhere.  Scientists are uncertain about what the other effects might be.

On Aug. 8 the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab reported in a press release I received titled, Annual DOE Report Finds that Wind Energy is Being Sold at Record-Low Prices, based on the publication of an annual report on wind power for electricity generation in the U.S.: 2016 Wind Technologies Market Report.  The report contained the following conclusions:

Wind power additions continued at a rapid clip in 2016, with $13 Billion invested in new plants.
Bigger turbines are enhancing wind project performance, especially because of the use of longer turbine blades.
Low wind turbine pricing continues to push down installed project costs.
Wind energy prices remain low, with a national average price of 2 cents/kWH.
The supply chain continued to adjust to swings in domestic demand for wind equipment.
Continued strong growth in wind capacity is anticipated in the near term.

On August 8 The Conversation published an article by Jon Christensen titled, Climate gloom and doom? Bring it on. But we need stories about taking action, too.The jist of it is that just talking about the science of climate change tends to be full of gloom and doom, and leaves a lot of people unconvinced, or even if they believe the science, doesn’t leave them with the feeling that there is much that they can do in their own lives.  He wrote,
There’s been no shortage of pessimistic news on climate change lately. A group of climate scientists and policy experts recently declared that we have just three years left to dramatically turn around carbon emissions, or else. Meanwhile a widely circulated New York magazine article detailed some of the most catastrophic possible consequences of climate change this century if we continue with business as usual.
Critics pounced on the article, claiming gloom-and-doom messages are disempowering and thus counterproductive.
But are they? And is there a better way to communicate to people about the urgency of climate change? In a somewhat unorthodox way – creating a mini-series of videos on climate change – my colleagues and I think we’ve gained some insight into these questions.”
What he did was to work with Vox and a number of professors from the University of California, using the results of research on climate change communication, to produce a series of short (8-9 minutes) videos on various topics related to climate change, including one on how we can significantly reduce GHG emissions and food costs by reducing food waste.  (Currently, 40% of the food grown in the U.S. is wasted!) 
 The 6 videos produced so far can be found at a website called the Climate Lab.

NOTE: There is a useful book by the Union of Concerned Scientists titled, Cooler Smarter - Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, which has lots of ideas fir what ordinary people can do to reduce their own carbon emissions.  It claims that almost anyone can reduce their emissions by 20% within a year.  It costs less than $12 for a new paperback and much less for a used one.

The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications" at http://www.eesi.org/publications/Newsletters/CCNews/ccnews.htm
 
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 


Climate Change Viewed as a "Threat Multiplier" to Department of Defense's Mission

Former Department of Defense (DOD) officials are working with members of Congress to communicate the risks climate change poses to the military. Roundtables and hearings have been taking place on the Hill recently in an effort to illustrate the specific climate-driven "threat multipliers" that contribute to global instability. While DOD has been aware of climate change as a threat for over a decade and has taken action, Republicans in Congress have attempted to put an end to climate-related defense programs. Ann Phillips, a retired admiral and an advisor with the Center for Climate and Security, said, "This isn't a political issue for the defense community. We in this community are pragmatic and mission-focused." Locales such as Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, and Guatemala have experienced a range of climate impacts, including severe drought, food insecurity, and displacement, which in turn feed social and political tensions in those regions. A lack of budgeting and preparation could limit the U.S. military's ability to aid in resolving future conflicts and humanitarian crises around the globe.

For more information see:


Trump Administration Proposes FEMA Cuts as States Face More Severe Natural Disasters

Climate change will likely increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, and many places will have to deal with challenges they are not currently equipped to deal with. Ken Kunkel from the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies says, "We have adapted to a certain kind of world. We're not going to have exactly that kind of world in the future." According to experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global warming was likely the cause of wildfires in Alaska, drought in Washington state, and nuisance flooding in Miami in 2015. While the threat of natural disasters increases, the Trump administration has proposed an 11 percent cut to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's budget, targeting emergency preparedness funding for state governments. This is forcing cities and states to reconsider how they will prepare for and recover from these events. Though for most local officials, it's difficult to set aside funds for a potential disaster when schools and roads need immediate attention.

For more information see:


Bipartisan Support Extends California's Cap-and-Trade Program

On July 17, California's landmark cap-and-trade program was extended to 2030 thanks to bipartisan support from lawmakers and a "broad consensus" in the state toward addressing climate change. The five-year-old initiative, in which companies are offered economic incentives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was backed by both environmental advocacy organizations and business groups. Despite concerns from conservatives about higher gas taxes and activists who felt the regulations did not go far enough, the bill was passed with the supermajority Governor Jerry Brown (D) had desired to protect the program from legal challenges. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said the bill shows "free market policies to clean up our environment" can co-exist alongside the "fight for a booming economy." Although many national Republicans opposed the program, Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes remarked, "California Republicans are different than national Republicans. Many of us believe that climate change is real, and that it's a responsibility we have to work to address it."

For more information see:


Chile's Environment Minister Says There Is "No Space for Climate Denial"

After seven years of severe drought, Chile's Laguna de Aculeo, a lake four times larger than New York's Central Park, has nearly dried out. The lake was once a center for recreation, farming, and a thriving housing market, but many have been forced to leave after waters receded. Unusually warm temperatures have also intensified algae blooms, reducing local salmon production by 20 percent. While no studies have looked at whether climate change is responsible for these events, Chile's Environment Minister Marcelo Mena says most Chileans see climate change as their greatest external threat. According to Mena, there is "no space for climate denial because we see climate change threatening us in multiple shapes." Chile's government is working to mitigate climate change by increasing green spaces in urban areas and improving water conservation. Chile hopes to generate 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and the country will require climate change classes be taught in schools starting next year.

For more information see:


California Counties Sue Oil and Coal Companies Over Climate Change Damages

On July 17, Marin County, San Mateo County, and Imperial Beach, CA sued 37 of the world's largest oil and coal companies, seeking reimbursement for climate change-related damages that could be in the billions of dollars over the next several decades. According to Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears, these areas, which lack the funds needed to increase the resilience of public transportation infrastructure and properties, are "standing up for [their] residents and businesses" in a case that is about "accountability." In order for their case to have standing, lawyers must demonstrate that these companies' actions have created a public nuisance and caused widespread harm, which they argue occurred because executives "knew about the damage their actions were causing, denied it, and sought to discredit scientific findings." Although similar efforts in the past have had little success, they are confident that new, up-to-date research and greater knowledge about the activities of these companies will help them succeed in what is being referred to as "a long anticipated move in climate litigation" by Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

For more information see:


Expansion of Natural Gas Pipelines Could Be a "Climate Disaster"

In the past 30 years, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has only rejected two natural gas pipeline proposals out of the hundreds it has received. Under the Obama administration, however, the EPA repeatedly asked FERC to more closely consider the climate impacts of projects. Former FERC Chairman Norman Bay also raises concerns over the actual demand for the proposed pipelines, stating, "It is inefficient to build pipelines that may not be needed over the long term and that become stranded assets." Scientists warn that expanding natural gas pipelines would extend the country's dependence on fossil fuels by 50 years, and Robert Howarth, an environmental biology professor at Cornell University, calls pipeline expansion "a true climate disaster." Although the burning of natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal, the gas is predominantly made up of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas. FERC estimates that the combined greenhouse gas emissions for five pending pipelines is 170 million metric tons per year, the equivalent of 50 coal plants.

For more information see:


Study: Arctic Permafrost Is Melting, Releasing Significant Quantities of Methane

According to a new study, melting permafrost in northwestern Canada may be releasing vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Scientists used aerial sampling to examine a 10,000 square-kilometer stretch along the Mackenzie River Delta over a two-year period. The results show that the most deeply thawed sections of the permafrost are releasing 17 percent of all the methane found in the region, yet these hotspots represent only one percent of the total surface area under review. The study authors wrote that global warming will "increase emissions of geologic methane that is currently still trapped under thick, continuous permafrost, as new emission pathways open due to thawing permafrost." This is problematic, as permafrost methane sources have not typically been accounted for in current climate change models. The Arctic as a whole is at risk of releasing methane emissions in the future. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 16-24 percent of the permafrost in Alaska could melt by 2100.

For more information see:


NOTE: This release of more methane as the permafrost melts is another example of a positive feedback in the climate system.

Urban Heat Island Effect Can Overwhelm a City's Most Vulnerable Residents

Researchers examined the impact of the urban heat island effect in Philadelphia as part of an effort to allow city officials to better adapt to extreme heat in the future. The study used data from weather stations and satellites to measure air and land surface temperatures in the city and its surrounding rural areas. Historical data showed the annual number of "extreme heat event" days in the city increased threefold between 1980 and 2013, while the number of events in rural areas stayed the same. Stephanie Weber, a principal scientist on the study, said, "It's not the hottest temperature, but something that when it is sustained and without relief during the night [and] early morning [that] can pose serious health risks." A lack of cooling at night can put serious stress on the elderly and other populations who may be without air conditioning. Using socioeconomic data, the researchers found that roughly 10 percent of Philadelphia's population resided in neighborhoods that were most vulnerable to these heat event health impacts.

For more information see:


United Kingdom Plans to Ban Sale of Fossil-Fuel Vehicles by 2040

The United Kingdom (U.K.) currently has the largest number of diesel vehicles in Europe, but the government will now ban the sale of diesel and gasoline-fueled vehicles by 2040. The U.K. plans to invest more than $1 billion in driverless and zero-emission vehicle technologies, in addition to over $300 million in battery technology research. Mike Hawes, chief executive officer of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, is concerned that "outright bans risk undermining the current market for new cars and our sector, which supports over 800,000 jobs." However, many automotive companies like Volvo and BMW are already shifting production to electric vehicles. Bloomberg predicts that with lower battery prices, one in 12 cars sold in the U.K. will be fully electric by 2030, up from one in 200 today. Energy Secretary Michael Gove said, "It's important we all gear up for a significant change which deals not just with the problems to health caused by emissions but the broader problems caused in terms of accelerating climate change."

For more information see:


Trump Administration Officials Sow Public Doubt by Questioning Veracity of Climate Science

During their confirmation hearings in January 2017, several of President Trump's top officials told senators they generally agree with the scientific consensus that human activity is driving climate change. However, many have drastically changed their public views since taking over their respective agencies. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have all argued that climate science is not "settled," with Pruitt stating in a television interview that humans are not a "primary contributor" to climate change. Pruitt and Perry are now moving to set up a so-called "red team, blue team" exercise to give climate deniers a government-backed voice in debating the established science. Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, called Pruitt's efforts to question science a "communication tactic to reinforce what he wants Americans to believe [about climate change]." Maibach added, "Things like this can have a very powerful unsettling effect on people who are already uncertain to begin with."

For more information see:


Environmental Justice Likely an Uphill Battle Under Trump Administration

The Trump administration's proposed budget seeks to eliminate the Office of Environmental Justice under the Environmental Protection Agency. The office was created to protect minorities and the poor, who are most vulnerable to the effects of pollution, and seeks to secure grants and policy changes to address environmental inequities. The proposed budget would also reduce funding for the enforcement of environmental laws. An EPA statement said environmental justice is "a requirement in all rules EPA issues," suggesting there is no need for an office specifically devoted to this work. However, the Flint water crisis is just one example of why a robust federal oversight office remains vital. Democratic members of the House and Senate are introducing legislation to protect environmental justice, but advocates are not optimistic given the current political climate. Former EPA advisory council member Vernice Miller-Travis said, "Is this a moment when I think we can get something passed that expands civil rights and equal protection? I don't think this is that moment. That doesn't mean we won't try."

For more information see:


Report Finds U.S. Utilities Have Known About Climate Threat for Decades

According to a study issued by the Energy and Policy Institute, the U.S. utility industry has known about the threat of climate change since the 1960s. In 1968, then-President Lyndon Johnson's administration warned the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels could have "catastrophic effects" on the climate. The industry-affiliated Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) published its own research in the 1970s showing similar warnings of rising sea levels and warming temperatures. An additional 1988 EPRI report determined "there is a growing consensus in the scientific community that the greenhouse gas effect is real." Despite these findings, the industry began lobbying against climate regulations and making long-term investments in coal-fired power plants. In response to the recent findings, an EEI spokesperson stated, "The electric power industry has reduced carbon emissions by 25 percent below 2005 levels as of the end of 2016." Although many utilities plan to move toward natural gas, solar, and wind, some continue to cast doubt over whether CO2 is driving climate change.

For more information see:

Climate Impacts and Air Pollution Are Harming Working-Class Communities Across the Sun Belt

Rising temperatures are beginning to pose pronounced hazards to working-class individuals in the Sun Belt. Low-income households are highly vulnerable to extreme heat and poor air quality, as they often cannot afford air-conditioning or adequate health care. Members of these communities are also typically unable to afford to move or evacuate ahead of severe weather. Professor Robert Bullard with Texas Southern University said, "For too long, a lot of the climate change and global warming arguments have been looking at melting ice and polar bears and not at the human suffering side of it." In Galveston, Texas, landscaper Adolfo Guerra said, "I think about the climate every day, because every day we work, and every day it feels like it's getting hotter." In Houston, African-American neighborhoods have had to deal with toxic pollution emitted by the refineries and chemical plants disproportionately sited next to minority communities. Citing unfair industrial zoning practices, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) stated, "You can't have freedom and justice in this country if you can't breathe your air."

For more information see:

Climate Impacts and Air Pollution Are Harming Working-Class Communities Across the Sun Belt

Rising temperatures are beginning to pose pronounced hazards to working-class individuals in the Sun Belt. Low-income households are highly vulnerable to extreme heat and poor air quality, as they often cannot afford air-conditioning or adequate health care. Members of these communities are also typically unable to afford to move or evacuate ahead of severe weather. Professor Robert Bullard with Texas Southern University said, "For too long, a lot of the climate change and global warming arguments have been looking at melting ice and polar bears and not at the human suffering side of it." In Galveston, Texas, landscaper Adolfo Guerra said, "I think about the climate every day, because every day we work, and every day it feels like it's getting hotter." In Houston, African-American neighborhoods have had to deal with toxic pollution emitted by the refineries and chemical plants disproportionately sited next to minority communities. Citing unfair industrial zoning practices, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) stated, "You can't have freedom and justice in this country if you can't breathe your air."

For more information see:


Tampa Bay Region Deemed Unprepared for the Next Big Storm

Experts and urban planners are concerned that the greater Tampa Bay region on Florida's Gulf Coast may face severe damage if a hurricane were to make landfall there. Tampa Bay, home to four million residents, has been fortunate to avoid any major hurricanes since 1921. However, a recent risk analysis of the region estimated that a Hurricane Katrina-size storm could lead to $175 billion in losses. The World Bank has labeled Tampa Bay as one of the 10 cities on the planet at the greatest risk of flooding. A combination of sea level rise and the natural settling of the land has led to regular flooding in St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Clearwater following heavy rain. Despite such forecasts and warnings from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, efforts to assess the impacts of sea level rise and more severe storms brought about by climate change lag behind. Republican officials at the state and county level have been dismissive of climate-related threats and have resisted raising taxes to fund infrastructure improvements to better defend the city from natural disasters.

For more information see:


Climate Change Strains Africa's Rural Communities as Fertile Land Diminishes

Regions across Africa are facing a decline in arable farmland, as demand for quality land increases. The pressure on the land is derived from climate change, population growth, soil degradation, erosion, overuse, and fluctuations in global food prices. The land shortages are leading to mass migration and sparking conflict across Africa, including in Nigeria and Kenya. A recent study by NASA using satellite data revealed over 40 million Africans are trying to live off land whose agricultural potential is waning. According to the World Bank, 70 percent of Africa's population makes a living from agriculture. Meanwhile, the continent's population is expected to reach four billion people by 2100. Climate change is leading to more desertification, drought, and persistent hunger. In 2017 alone, more than 10 million people across Somalia, Nigeria, and Sudan are facing famine conditions. The urgent need to grow more food has led some farmers to exhaust the soil, rather than allowing it to replenish.

For more information see:


Congress Puts "Stamp of Approval" on Trump's Anti-Climate Orders

Following President Trump's lead, Congressional Republicans are swiftly advancing legislation to roll back environmental protections in favor of oil and gas industries. Republicans know that once these laws are in place, it will take time for the next administration to repeal or rewrite them. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) has labeled these actions "a very slippery slope to government by fiat." On July 19, the House passed the "Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act," which would prevent any future president from blocking pipelines or electric power projects within U.S. borders, while the "Transparency and Honesty in Energy Regulations Act" would allow policymakers to ignore the social costs of carbon when crafting regulations. The House has rushed to pass a repeal of clean water protections and to dilute environmental permit reviews. States and environmental groups are using the courts to challenge the Trump administration's efforts to rescind regulations. However, with the public's attention focused on health care and Russia, Scott Slesinger of the Natural Resources Defense Council says Congress's actions are unfortunately "pretty much under the radar."


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Studies Find That Two Degree Celsius Rise in Global Average Temperature Is Nearly Certain

According to two new studies published in Nature Climate Change, the global average temperature is nearly certain to rise beyond two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. The first study concluded that there is a 95 percent chance that the planet will surpass the two degree threshold. The second study emphasized that even if greenhouse gas emissions were to cease today, the pollutants already in the atmosphere will still lead to a global temperature increase and could reach as high as three degrees Celsius. Researcher Adrian Raftery at the University of Washington cautioned, "Even if the 2C target isn't met, action is very important. The more the temperature increases, the worse the impacts will be. We would warn against any tendency to use our results to say that we won't avoid 2C, and so it's too late to do anything. On the contrary, avoiding the higher temperature increases that our model envisages is even more important, and also requires urgent action."

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Climate Change May Cause Widespread Protein Deficiencies in Crops by 2050

Increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere could reduce the protein content of key crops, putting an additional 150 million people around the world at risk of protein deficiencies by 2050. Globally, more than 75 percent of people rely on plants for protein, and communities that already experience protein deficiencies, like those in Sub-Saharan Africa, will be the most vulnerable. In India alone, 53 million people could be at risk of not getting enough protein. According to researchers from Harvard University, protein levels in potatoes would be reduced by 6.4 percent, rice by 7.6, wheat by 7.8, and protein in barley would be reduced by 14.6 percent. Researchers discovered this after exposing plants in the field to high CO2 concentrations, though they're not yet sure why this happened. One hypothesis suggests the CO2 may increase starch levels in plants, in turn decreasing protein levels. To reduce the possibility of protein deficiencies, the researchers suggest diversifying diets, breeding crops that will be less sensitive to CO2, and reducing carbon emissions.

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Thanks,
Chad A. Tolman

ctolman141@gmail.com
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light

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