Climate Letter #963

Severe drought is once again causing serious food shortages in North Korea, requiring outside humanitarian assistance.  One can hope for a resolution that is broadly favorable to all of us.
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Meanwhile Shanghai, suffering from its second major heatwave in four years, has experienced a new all-time record high temperature.
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Today’s biodiversity crisis viewed within a context of past mass extinctions (the Guardian).   Climate change, in several different modes, is seen as a common denominator.  (I would have added more comment about the currently unique role of other human activities beside climate change such as large-scale habitat destruction and widespread pollution of the environment.)
–A recent scientific study provides strong reasons for protecting forest integrity as a critically important means of protecting biodiversity:
A surprising way to protect forests and reduce carbon emissions (NY Times).  In some parts of the world you can accomplish this by paying native people not to cut down trees.  The cost of one such program turned out to be $0.46 per ton of CO2 not emitted, with the funds paid out then put to good use relieving poverty.  For comparison, future removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is likely to cost well over $100 per ton.  This program should be seriously refined and extended.
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A major breakthrough improvement is in the works for lithium/ion batteries.  Silicon anodes can deliver three to five times more capacity than current ones made of graphite.  This work was done in Korea, based on the recent findings of a Nobel Laureate who is quoted in this story, and reported in the journal Science.  “The authors also mention that they are currently working with a major battery maker to get their molecular pulleys integrated into real battery products.”
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A summary report on the monumental growth of plastics and the pollution problems that result.  The material threatens a “near permanent contamination of the natural environment” and what is now lying around is expected to increase four times by 2050.  No one seems to know what to do about it.
Carl
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Climate Letter #962

A closer look at Schroders’ Climate Progress Dashboard (see yesterday’s Climate Letter).  I can now show you a little more about what this asset management firm has in mind and what is in the dashboard itself.  There are twelve real-world indicators, each of which is evaluated in terms of a temperature projection.  The whole chart will be updated quarterly, based on a host of observations.  This is a wonderful project, a great way to measure fundamental progress and perhaps even inspire more of it.
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What extreme heat does to the human body, right now and as projected in the future.  This excellent article from the New Republic magazine describes the latest that science has to say on this subject, and much more.  Unlike many of the awful effects of climate change, overheating is not about economic losses or other challenges that societies must try to adapt to.  It is about life or death on a given day, with possibly nowhere for an individual to hide.
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How rising temperatures are causing the extinction of wild dogs in Africa.  The dogs had already lost 93% of their historic range because of human encroachment.  Now it is just too hot for hunting over longer periods of the day, and their pups are not surviving.
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Temperatures so far in 2017 are hotter than scientists expected, from Joe Romm.  Following a major El Nino event one would hope for a much bigger pullback.  The third chart down in this post is the one that should be closely studied and understood, as it shows a trend that causes great concern about what the remainder of the year will look like.
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Evidence of a new type of methane output has been found in the Arctic.  Seeps that originate from oil and gas deposits deep within the Earth are passing through thawing layers of permafrost that previously held them back.  The amount of greenhouse gas addition via this feedback is potentially meaningful.
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A government-employed scientist tells his story, and talks about others like himself, as jobs get shuffled around or eliminated in the new administration.
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Climate Letter #961

This is one of the world’s five most vulnerable countries to climate change.  South Sudan, with a population of around 11 million, experiences climate change 2.5 times quicker than the global average.  It has practically no capacity to adapt, or even to receive outside aid because of constant conflicts among tribes.  Illegal logging is one of the few sources of income, clearly unsustainable.
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Italy was fighting more than 1000 wildfires on Monday.  Low rainfall and high temperatures have provided the fueling.  The cities of Rome and Naples are within the danger zone, all of which is something we are not accustomed to hearing about.
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James Hansen and other scientists present their arguments about the need to avoid climate disaster.  This work is expressed in a peer-reviewed study based on future projections or forecasts that have reasonable scientific backing.  They place emphasis on the danger of a sea level rise of six to nine meters.  They also make estimates of the costs entailed in removing CO2 from the atmosphere, potentially an inescapable future remedy to temperature increases.  It is all connected to a pending lawsuit that has generated considerable publicity.
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An astute commentary on the Schroders report (see CL #959).  This editorial from BusinessGreen, based in London, provides added insights into the research work at Schroders and also wonders why the new report, which is really quite sensational, has been given so little publicity in the media.  “The new investor toolkit looks at a host of policy, investment and technology trends across 12 key themes and finds that not one area is delivering action in line with a 2C temperature pathway,” leaving us on track for 4.1C warming this century.
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Technologies are already on hand for sharply increasing electric grid efficiency and shaving peak demand, cost effectively.  A number of them are described in this post.
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New calculations show that limited nuclear warfare would cause dramatic changes in the global climate.  Not quite like the older concept of nuclear winter, an extended period of deep cooling and drought could occur with the power to cause an extra billion people to die.
Carl
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Climate Letter #960

Weather map findings.  On the global temperature map (scroll down) the areas of dark smudges from West Africa to northern India have not changed much for several weeks.  There is one special spot to keep an eye on, marked by a light grayish shade, in southern Iraq.  That has been the world’s hottest spot recently, with truly serious heat, and it is well populated.  Also note the splashes of red in northern Siberia and Alaska.
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A new explanation of West Antarctic melting processes.  The wind and wave action described here is a bit difficult to imagine, but the science seems to have been credibly done.  The result helps to justify those strong claims that we may be looking at a total sea level rise of six feet or more by the end of this century, followed by an acceleration.
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How the demand for air conditioning is a major problem for climate changing emissions.  It is partly because of the huge amount of energy that must be created and partly because of the greenhouse effect of the fluorinated gases used for refrigeration.  Considering that the relentless growth in demand must continue, finding solutions to emissions could make a difference of about 1C for global temperatures by the end of the century.
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Another big fire season is underway in British Columbia.  Over 40,000 people have recently been evacuated from their homes, and another 20,000 are on alert.  By contrast, last year’s highly publicized Fort McMurray fire displaced 88,000.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-wildfires-stats-1.4208752

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Rising seas are a threat to ancient coastal ruins.  This post features Scotland’s Orkney Islands, with some lovely photographs.
Carl
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Climate Letter #959

Rains have failed in East Africa for the third year in a row.  It was not supposed to happen this year in the absence of an El Nino influence.  Sixteen million people in five countries need humanitarian aid, with more to come.
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A new study about the risk of simultaneous crop failures in different parts of the world.  The chances of this happening keep growing because of climate change, with special fears when the major “breadbaskets” relied upon for humanitarian aid are involved.  (See CL#956 for two stories about the approaching water shortages faced by agriculture in western parts of the US.)
–As if things were not already bad enough, this study predicts a resurgence of dust storms in the High Plains later in this century:
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A warning from a major UK asset management firm, Schroders.  Climate related research has a regular role in this firm’s decision making process, which is becoming common for their industry.  A new report “argues that global temperatures are set to rise by more than 4 degrees above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, overshooting the 1.5 to 2-degree target agreed by almost 150 world leaders in Paris back in 2015.”  They see this having a negative impact on global GDP and corporate profits—maybe an understatement?
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Interview with a venerable godfather of climate science.  Michael Oppenheimer, who was lead author of the 2007 IPCC report, has thorough knowledge of the IPCC and how it falls short with respect to recognizing cutting edge research.  He has much to say here that is of real interest in showing how deep the problem actually is, and I think you can trust his credibility in evaluating these things.  He is most uncertain about the ability of humans to offer an adequate response.
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The most indestructible creature living on Earth.  “Those who fear that runaway climate change could threaten all life on Earth can breathe again. One life form is destined to prove an indestructible survivor, so however bad things get, life itself will endure.”
Carl
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Climate Letter #958

The first half of this year was the second warmest on record, behind 2016. Third was 2015, which then went on to have the warmest second half so far.  The total temperature climb just since 1970 has been 0.8C, following a steady upward course that is now nearly fifty years old.
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The consequences of unabated climate change for the Asia/Pacific region.  This study was issued by the Asian Development Bank and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, applicable to about two-thirds of the world’s poorest people.  It provides vivid reasons for aggressively pursuing goals that limit temperature growth to less than 2C.  All of the plans for achieving growth and prosperity must take the urgent need for zero emissions into account, or they will ultimately go for nought, including China.
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Louisiana’s journey to environmental apocalypse.  The reckless development of natural resources, oil and gas in particular, have brought jobs and prosperity to the state, just the kind of things the Trump administration is looking for, but look what has come of it.
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Environmental activists are being murdered at a record rate.  This is all detailed in a new report from the watchdog organization Global Witness,reviewed here by Think Progress.  Governments are playing a key role in protecting the mining, logging and agriculture companies in these places.  It is very depressing.
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An interview with James Hansen.  It covers a wide range of subjects about his work and relationships.  Of all the climate scientists out there James Hansen is my top choice for one that is worth making an effort to get seriously familiar with.  He has been a pioneer in the basic research, provides unvarnished projections of future consequences and gives a lot of thought to finding solutions, including potential legal ones.  Oh, and he wants to see the CO2 level brought back down below 350 by the end of this century.
Carl
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Climate Letter #957

The flooding of Indonesia’s coastline villages.  Indonesia is a land of 17,000 islands, of which at least 6000 are inhabited.  It now has a population of over 250 million, a good majority of whom live in about 42 million homes that are at risk of being flooded within the next three decades.  For many that has already happened, as shown here in a fine gallery of photos.
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For coastal Americans, it is time to decide how much flooding can be tolerated, possibly when to move, or when to start preparing defensive structures.  Maps are now available for practically every community showing how regular flooding events will be growing decade by decade through 2100.
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A new study of “natural thermometers” has no surprises. We will never know exactly what temperatures in the distant past were like, but there are plenty of guidelines and they can constantly be refined, going back to older and older starting points.  This latest assures that we are the hottest in at least 2000 years.
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New data shows the strong impact of higher temperatures on aircraft capabilities.  The biggest problem is encountered before the plane can even take off.  The amount of weight restriction that is required in response imposes economic costs that are “non-trivial,” and the effects are more than just local.
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A big step forward for solid-state lithium batteries has been reported.  In this case the researchers say they have high hopes of doubling the energy capacity of today’s lithium-ion batteries along with other improvements.
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From the IEA there is a comprehensive new report showing global trends of investments dedicated to creating new sources of electric power.  Carbon Brief has prepared seven charts that are very helpful.  Note that the amount of totally new demand for power each year is still greater than that which can be provided by all of the different non-carbon sources together.
Carl
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Climate Letter #956

That big Larsen C iceberg has finally broken off.  Climate Central has a good assortment of pictures and insights into what it all means.
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Without mitigation, climate change will cause water shortages in the Southwest to be “severely accentuated” by 2050.  This comprehensive study compared 99 river basins across the US that are employed for agricultural irrigation.
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A different study looks at the impact of excessive groundwater pumping in the High Plains region.  This region produces one-third of the world’s grain supply.  It may come as a surprise that even river and stream flows are reduced by the pumping—everything dries out together.  Once the aquifer is drained the water available from that source will be gone for generations, regardless of surface rainfall.
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A brief report from Paul Ehrlich about the insidious nature of habitat destruction.  Paul was one of the authors of the major extinction study reviewed here yesterday.  His point about the pressures of overpopulation is well made but he could have added more about the harm done by constantly growing extravagance of human lifestyles in these times.
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New research into the carbon footprint of various human activities provides tips that are useful on an individual scale.  This very thorough study includes some surprises:  “They also looked at school textbook and government advice from across Europe, Canada the US and Australia and found that most policies focused on the strategies which had the least impact.”
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Joe Romm reacts to the doomsday report from New York magazine (CL#954.)   He observes that we are not doomed by climate change but at the moment we have chosen to be doomed because that is how we are voting.  Well said, along with much more good stuff that complements the magazine piece.  Joe is himself a climate scientist who for years has been one of the few to go out of his way to raise alarms.  (I think the denial propaganda machine has had a large role in preventing the public from accepting the claims of alarmists.  The machine was certainly strong enough to fill our Congress with its lackeys, which took a lot of time, money and tactical skill.)
Carl
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Climate Letter #955

Longer and fiercer fire seasons are now the new normal in the US West.  This year could end up as the worst ever.  Dry periods keep getting drier as temperatures rise.
–Temperature records are certainly falling:
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Turkey says it will not ratify the Paris accord, citing Trump’s withdrawal as a reason.  Russia has said it will not ratify the deal until 2019 or 2020 at the earliest.  Both of these countries agreed with the G20 majority report that gave full backing to the accord, and there may be others like them.  Go figure.
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How close are we to a full-blown mass extinction?  A new scientific report has been published with plenty of information showing that we may not be there yet but are certainly in the early stages.  Wildlife population declines are thought to have averaged about one half in recent times, a trend that we can do something about if we have the will.
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Here is a separate and more complete story covering this important report.  I find that the current extinction is so unlike any of those in the past because of the unique way that animal habitat is being degraded or destroyed, not by massive convulsions but in a more surgical style propelled by humans that just keeps relentlessly spreading.
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Yesterday’s story from New York magazine has started a flow of media responses without parallel for something of this type.  Many have not been happy with the way the message was presented, mostly for being too alarmist, or else not quite right.  It will be worth some follow-ups.  Here is a Q&A with the author, a writer who has truly done his homework and can offer a few more insights into what a number of scientists are thinking.
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This review of the article by New Republic has many interesting points to make about the appropriateness of the way this was handled.  Note the dilemma that is involved, starting here:  “My own experience in speaking to public audiences is that doomsday stories such as this article are so depressing that people shut down and stop listening,” Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers, wrote in an email to me. If there is no hope, there will be no action, and goodness knows we need a lot more action to reign in greenhouse gas emissions right now.”  Then we get a message from professor John Cook, who generally agreed but added that If we only communicate the solutions “people lack the urgency that the situation requires.”  Not acting is part of the basic equation that will determine the final level of threat.
Carl
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Climate Letter #954

Why climate change should be taken seriously, and action not further delayed (New York Magazine.)  This article kind of covers the landscape of all the things that are set to go wrong, sometimes with a bit of bias toward worst-case scenarios.  The scientific sources chosen by the author are of good quality, these all being standard subjects that have been covered quite often individually in these letters.  Getting them all at once, in such an affirmative way, may come as a bit of shock.
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France’s small CO2 tax will be boosted sharply, rising to 100 euros per ton by 2030.  Other sweeping reforms have also been enacted by the newly elected government, headed by a president who has clearly expressed himself and wants his country to set a good example.
–President Macron will convene and host a summit on December 12 in an attempt to move the Paris accord head more quickly, with an emphasis on gathering financial support.  Ideally the G20 could have done this, but was just not properly organized for that kind of effort.  This should help fill in a gap that has been poorly attended to before now.
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Heavy duty trucks create about one-fifth of global oil demand.  “For far too long there has been a lack of policy focus on truck fuel efficiency. Given they are now the dominant driver of global oil demand, the issue can no longer be ignored if we are to meet our energy and environmental objectives”  The possibility of electrification is not as easy as it has been for automobiles.
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The drought in Iberia, now five or six years old, has worsened.  The area known as Spain’s granary is seeing wheat and barley harvests cut by 50%.  Aquifers used for irrigation are less plentiful as they become drier and suffer salinization effects.
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