Climate Letter #1052

New information about why carbon does or does not remain stored in soil.  This may at first come as a surprise, but the amount of CO2 that is released from the soil each year as plant matter decays is constrained by how much oxygen finds its way into the soil.  There are tiny little dead zones naturally scattered around that prevent bacteria from working on the carbon inside, and that is a good thing.  The study tells how those zones can be broken down, releasing CO2—quite fascinating.
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In the case of lakes it is a completely different story, as a shortage of oxygen is destructive to their ecosystems.  This story is about a study that shows how lakes are suffocating, in part because as their water gets warmer it does not mix as well from the top down, plus the damage done by a number of fertilizing effects.  There is special attention given to the overloading of sediments on lake bottoms with organic matter.
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Climate change can have a significant effect on volcanic activity in Iceland.  In times past it can be shown that activity was reduced when the island’s glacial ice was building up.  With ice now rapidly melting the opposite effect is expected, probably with a time lag.  “Changes in surface pressure can alter the stress on shallow chambers where magma builds up.”  Icelandic eruptions can have devastating effects, especially over Europe.
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An analysis of the way different countries are reaching their peak of CO2 emissions.  By the year 2020, 53 countries will have peaked, representing 40% of total global emissions.  That figure will rise to 60% when China peaks in following decade, and as things now stand that is when year-by-year declines should get started in earnest.
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An update on the advantages of electric cars.  It’s all pretty amazing, and sales globally are on the same fast track.  Cars with a 500-mile range and superfast charging will soon be available.
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Germany will have fourteen hydrogen-powered trains in operation by late 2021, replacing diesel engines.  A French company is the manufacturer.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1051

How temperature change affects natural methane emissions from watery environments.  This important study goes far to help explain why atmospheric methane levels went up and down as they did during every major ice age cycle.  “Never before have such unequivocal, strong relationships between temperature and emissions of methane bubbles been shown on such a wide, continent-spanning scale.”  This particular source of methane is important, but today is considerably outweighed by other sources that originate with human activities.  Changes in the “human group” are not controlled by temperature change feedback but do have a similar effect on temperature whenever they rise or fall.
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How rapidly will sea level rise in this century?  This review of current thinking was written by a meteorologist who is also a frequent climate journalist.  Many scientists apparently believe the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse quickly enough to add as much as eleven feet to sea level in this century.  The reasons are all included in this story, which thankfully also includes some reasons for doubt.
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A situation update on ocean acidification.  This report was prepared for the UN conference in Bonn by a German research group.  It highlights the negative effects being felt by a wide variety of marine species, in particular those that inhabit the polar regions where the corrosive nature of the waters is greatest.  The report also foresees a reduction in the oceans’ normal ability to sequester up to 25% of human CO2 emissions.  The scientists warn that “the only way to halt further ocean acidification is a drastic cut in CO2 emissions.”
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A commentary on the methods and benefits of carbon farming.  The is the best of all ideas for how to put carbon back from doing harm to where it can do some good, but it does not get enough attention or promotion.  “Farmers often make decisions in response to short-term economic pressures and government policies. Improved soil management is a public good. We need economic tools and short-term incentives that encourage producers to adopt these practices for the good of all.”
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What the new Tesla truck means for the future of transportation.  This story has a rundown of all the major advantages over existing trucks, including a surprising advantage in costs.  Even if the company should fail for some reason a pattern for the industry’s future has clearly been established.  Imagine running these things on fully renewable energy some day!
Carl
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Climate Letter #1050

Spain and Portugal are struggling with extreme drought.  “Spain has since 1980 shown signs of climate change, which have increased since 2000….The country’s climate tends to have more subtropical characteristics. Higher temperatures and rarer and more intense rains. So climate-related risks—heatwaves and rain and droughts and floods, will increase in the coming decades.”  For many individuals this is a catastrophic level of climate change, and it only took one degree of global warming.

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The so-called temperature hiatus from 1998-2012 now has a complete explanation, showing how it never even existed.  More accurate data from the Arctic corrects mistaken estimates that were previously employed. The Arctic was actually warming at five times the global rate during that period, which was completely unknown until now.
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The economic effect of higher CO2 levels on agriculture has been recalculated.  It is no longer viewed as a net positive because of how it stimulates increased plant growth.  Science has now found that higher temperature by itself, also caused by the rise in CO2, has negative effects on crop yields.  The conclusion was based on a meta-analysis of 1010 previous studies of yield response to changing climate conditions.
–The full study can be viewed at  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01792-x
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Insurance companies have had unacceptable losses in the last six months.  Their risk assumptions are likely to change, resulting in sharply higher rates.  Banks also need to consider more conservative lending practices and government aid policies will come under review.  The cost of climate change is beginning to hit home for everyone, requiring many kinds of adjustments (Thomson Reuters Foundation).
–This study about the frequency and intensity of future thunderstorms is of no help:
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Ocean kelp forests are disappearing because of higher water temperatures.  The devastation is completed when sea urchins move in and chew up the remnants, preventing recovery.  The loss of these large ecosystems, happening across the world, is comparable in many ways to that of coral reefs.
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Utilities can now save money by shutting down existing coal and nuclear facilities.  Their operating costs alone exceed the total cost of building and operating new wind or solar plants in many locations.  That is where the trend of falling costs has taken the latter, and it continues.
Carl
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Climate Letter#1049

A summary of what was accomplished at the climate conference in Bonn.  ” The main achievement may have been cementing a firebreak to prevent the Trump administration from torching the whole process.”  Other than that the talks “made only incremental progress toward resolving disputes that have been lingering since the Paris Agreement of 2015.”
–Carbon Brief has a far more detailed accounting of a dozen key outcomes:
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On the possibility of a political consensus toward climate change forming in the US.  This is a fine article by David Roberts, writing for Vox, containing a link to another article on the same subject by Robinson Meyer for the Atlantic.  They both think the Democrats could put together a sensible program that would attract broad public support and support from a number of moderate Republican politicians as well, and are missing a huge opportunity by not doing so.
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New poll results show how Americans think and feel about climate change.  This survey from Yale and George Mason universities has been updated regularly since 2008 and is very comprehensive.  Americans have clearly been affected by all the extreme weather events in 2017, with a record 22% now saying they are “very worried.”  The number who will talk about it socially has risen but is still quite low.
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New record low bid for solar energy production contract.  A contractor from Italy bid 1.77 cents per kWh on two separate projects in an auction in Mexico.  “Green says the major factors contributing to these reduced costs are decreased financing costs, combined with reductions in PV module, inverter and other balance of system costs, due to increased volumes, streamlining of processes and improved module conversion efficiency.”  Some people are looking for bid prices below one cent in just a few years.  (There is still a separate need for partial storage not included.)
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How a period of rapid warming in the distant past caused massive increases in flooding events.  Researchers have found a way to show exactly what happened 56 million years ago when temperatures rose by 4C or more over a period of five to ten thousand years.  “From records of the PETM, like this one, it has become very clear that global warming causes major changes in the patterns and intensity of rainfall events. These changes are so large that we see evidence of them in the geological record, as a many-fold increase in the mass of sediments transported from land to the oceans.”
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Climate Letter #1048

The drought situation in the Horn of Africa, updated as of October 31.  The humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating as a result of three consecutive years of failed rains, affecting millions of people.
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Because of the way climate has changed, areas of deforestation in the Amazon do not have potential for full recovery.  A study finds that because of a drier climate new growth will only collect two-thirds of the carbon that was lost.  This finding supports other recent studies which show that tropical forests have lost their ability to act as a carbon sink for much the same reason, thus reducing the carbon budget still available for human activities.
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Research in carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) seen as a lifeline for big oil.  This article explains how industry is promoting optimism toward future research success as a way to ease the fear of rising emissions.  There was a big sideshow to that effect at the UN conference in Bonn, aimed at delegates.  Also, industry is pushing for more government subsidies to support and speed up the research, “for the benefit of society.”
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An argument for why the US should be drilling for oil in the Arctic.  The Alaska Pipeline has technical problems when the normal flow of oil inside of it is reduced, which is now the case, accompanied by financial problems for its owners and the state of Alaska.  More oil is required just so fields currently in production can keep operating.  “Closure of the pipeline would shut down all northern Alaska oil production, devastating Alaska’s economy and deepening U.S. dependence on unstable countries throughout the world.”  A trenchant report from Yale e360.
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The story of one Alaskan village with very little time left.  Like two dozen others it sits on a coastline that is rapidly eroding due to effects of climate change.  Getting relocated is an immediate problem for the residents of Newtok.  The 8-minute video produced by HBO is absorbing and raises questions about future government policies as more citizens become affected, not just in Alaska.
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Why are East Antarctica and West Antarctica so different?  Researchers have found that the land below West Antarctica is much the warmer of the two, making it easier for glacial ice to slide toward the sea.  “The East is a giant chunk of old, cold continental crust. The West, however, underwent recent rifting in the Cretaceous (100 million years ago) that has pulled it apart.  This rifting has thinned the crust and brought hot material from deep down in the Earth to within 100km or so, or even maybe less, of the rock surface.”  Beautiful map included.
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Climate Letter #1047

A major story about the deficiencies of fracking regulation in the US (Inside Climate News).  This organization, noted for doing thorough research, won a prize for its reporting about the Exxon scandal several years ago.  This story could be just as important or more so, and will no doubt again be vigorously contested by the oil industry.  As noted in the recent IEA report (CL #1045) the US is depending on the expansion of fracking activity to secure its standing as the world’s leader of oil and gas production in coming decades.  There is likely to be increased opposition at the state and local level.
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Methane emissions caused by leakage from oil and gas production can easily be reduced by 75%, often at no cost to producers.  Methane from all human activities accounts for about 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and over one-third of this comes from amounts wasted by the oil and gas sector.  This is a good story about how and why this must be fixed.
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The latest opinions of Kevin Anderson, via an interview.  Kevin is the ultimate realist.  While trained as an engineer he has spent decades studying both climate science and human behavior.  His views on climate science are quite similar to those expressed in the Ramanathan report, which were described in CL #1042.  As for human behavior, well, there might be a 5% chance of making the radical changes that are required, without one bit of further delay.  He does not disparage all those who are really trying, but there are not enough of them.. The fault lies with those who actively stand in the way, and have the power to effectively do so, plus the much larger number of those who simply have other priorities that are more important and would thus rather not be bothered.  That last group could help greatly, but how is it going to be converted?
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President Macron of France has made a small but meaningful gesture, covering some of the climate funding that Trump wants to ditch.  There is much more just like it that needs to be done, like moving more aid to underdeveloped countries that are victimized by climate change.
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Jerry Brown is another person who shows willingness to pick up the pace, bolstered by the friendly reception he has gotten in Europe.  He has salvaged some of the good will the US lost by withdrawing from the Paris pact and now wants to do more.
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Is an actual changing of climate happening right now?  Apparently so, in the state of Wisconsin.  This post from the Milwaukee Capital Times provides a litany of reasons for understanding that true climate conditions in the state are much different today from what they were a few decades ago, and likely beyond the chance for reversal.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1046

A new report about the importance of soil carbon restoration.  “Better soil management could boost carbon stored in the top layer of the soil by up to 1.85 gigatonnes each year.”  That amount is the same as 7 billion tons of CO2 gas emissions, or nearly 20% of all such emissions from human activity.  Food production would get a boost at the same time.  The cost of making the transition to better practices is not mentioned, but I can see no reason to believe it would be burdensome, and may just as well be profitable to farmers once it gets started.
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How changes in tropical forest management could produce results similar to the above, or even better.  This fine report from World Resources Institute has all the key numbers.  Right now gross annual emissions from tropical deforestation and degradation are equal to 16-19% of all emissions from human activity.  The practices that cause it, many of which are illegal, can potentially all be eliminated, enhancing the existing amount of regrowth along with many other benefits to climate and the environment.
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There are other ways to pull CO2 out of the air.  This story from BBC mostly tells about one that has recently gotten a great deal of attention.  It goes on to talk about what to do with the CO2 once it is produced and also makes reference to some of the alternatives, both mechanical and natural.  Finally, it is noted that the fossil fuel industry is beginning to promote research into “magical techno-fixes” that may help to prolong the lifespan of their traditional business.
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Confirmation of an increased CO2 level during a warming period that ran from 27 to 22 million years ago.  The warming of about 3C had been previously calculated by other means.  The climb in CO2, from about 390 ppm to about 870, was discovered from readings of unusually well-preserved biological evidence.  The relationship between these increases is very close to what modern science postulates.  The warming began at a time when Earth’s temperature was 2-3 degrees higher than right now, with CO2 a bit lower than the current 404, similar to the situation 3 million years ago as depicted in the chart link near the top of yesterday’s letter.  Besides whatever lies ahead, we still have not caught up with the normal result of the latest CO2 burst.
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Here is a neat one-minute animation showing how sea level across the globe changes from place to place during the course of each year due to shifting gravitational effects.  Keep an eye on the waters around Greenland.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1045

Ten things one “must know” about climate change—from a statement prepared by a high level group of scientists for the conferees in Bonn.  This is generally comparable to the one issued by Ramanathan’s group as reported in the Climate Letter last Thursday, though not as comprehensive.  The supporting material provided for each of the points is loaded with information taken from a wide range of recent scientific studies.
–I especially recommend that you study the sea level estimates chart that belongs to point #4, which describes the situation that existed 3 million years ago when the CO2 level in the atmosphere was about the same as what we have today.  Here is a separate link:
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An update and reminder about Canada’s tar sands in Alberta.  This is the world’s number one example of the extreme environmental destruction that humans have been willing to accept in order to satisfy our lust for cheap energy.  The same kind of thing occurs everywhere, but just on a somewhat smaller scale.
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Climate science:  A new study discusses the movement of carbon from deep within the Earth to the atmosphere.  This occurs when volcanoes erupt but in an even more substantial way, by other forms of degassing, when continents are breaking up on a very large scale.  That helps to explain the very high CO2 levels that existed at times in the deep past.  Rifting on land has a greater impact than rifting on the ocean floor.
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Elizabeth Kolbert writes for the New Yorker about prospects for direct removal of carbon dioxide from the air, aka negative emissions.  She does not seem to find any viable answers by communicating with geoengineering enthusiasts, all of whom are motivated by recognizing the great need.  Perhaps she should now spend some time researching the work of soil carbon specialists who have similar goals in mind but get much less attention.
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A new IEA report does not foresee much decline in global oil demand through 2040 as a result of the expected boom in electric cars.  It also sees continuing strong demand for natural gas, but not coal.  US oil and gas producers are expected to be major beneficiaries, further favored by firm pricing.  (If correct this obviously does not bode well for meeting emission reduction targets unless policy actions occur which are beyond the ability of this agency to predict.)
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A new report from Credit Suisse provides data about the world’s wealthiest people.  There are some added comments from Oxfam.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1044

After holding steady for two years CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are rising again.  This year’s data are on track for a 2% increase, with China out in front while the US and Europe have again declined.  India and “all others” are up 2% or more.  This post explains why the rate of CO2 gains in the atmosphere is quite different from these emission figures.
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Many of the world’s greatest natural wonders are being destroyed by global warming.  Those listed as world heritage sites that are at high risk from this cause has almost doubled, to 62, in just the last three years.  “A further 55 sites around the world are expected to be harmed by climate change in the future unless warming is curbed.”
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Electricity grids all over the world could be powered by cost effectively powered with renewable energy within a few decades, using technologies that already exist.  That forecast takes into account the need for overnight storage and even seasonal storage in some cases.  A study led by a university in Finland finds that solar energy is likely to end up in a dominating position because of its rapidly declining costs.  “There is no reason to invest one more Dollar in fossil or nuclear power production.”
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Estimates of the amount of carbon stored in Congo peatlands have risen.  New research is finding samples that go much deeper than thought.  This is significant because of the size of its extent and the fact that threats are looming similar to those already experienced in Indonesia.  “These findings could have major implications for the planet.”
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Why the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was unusually destructive.  The density of hydrocarbons in the ground at that particular location is thought to be the primary reason.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1043

More recognition for the vital role of agriculture in climate mitigation.  This has gotten well-deserved attention in the early stages of the UN climate conference in Bonn.  Where else can you go from high carbon emissions to high absorption out of the atmosphere, quickly and easily, and at the same time grow more food?  One example—“Recent projects in Brazil and Argentina have managed to increase livestock productivity from one cow per hectare to four cows per hectare, and at the same time absorb carbon dioxide and methane emissions by better managing grasslands and soils and planting trees.”
–Also, while you are at the above site click on the “Climate” link at the top (which is a good daily habit) and take note of the moving “Spotlight” panels on the right.  Behind each of the three panels is a collection of dozens of stories that focus attention on one extra-serious subject over a period of several years.  No one covers these stories better than Thomson Reuters Foundation.  Also while you are at the Climate link take note of the new story over on the left for an update on what is happening to people living in and around Chad, where catastrophic climate change has already arrived.
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In an effort associated with the goals of the above story, progress is being made toward providing life support for the planet’s biodiversity by securing plenty of comfortable habitat.  It is understood that 50% of all land surface can be devoted to that purpose without impoverishing humans.  Some good people, well-financed, are making a realistic effort.
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How overheating is destructive to the human body.  A close analysis shows that any of 27 different mechanisms can be a cause for death in the presence of a severe heatwave.  High tolls that have been reported in recent years with less than one degree of global warming are likely to be greatly exceeded as two degrees approaches.  The post at its very end has a link to the full report, open access, containing maps of where exposure is the greatest.  Surprisingly, the great European heatwave of 2003 occurred in a region that is normally quite temperate.
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Offshore wind generation from floating platforms is moving forward.  A Scottish program has just gone into operation, and France has built apparatus that is ready for positioning.  Three other countries have programs underway.  Nothing is certain at this point except that the source of energy in the chosen locations is extremely tempting, well worth the try.
Carl
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