410 ppm: Carbon dioxide has not reached this height in millions of years

Scientific American reports: The world just passed another round-numbered climate milestone. Scientists predicted it would happen this year and lo and behold, it has.

On Tuesday, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million (it was 410.28 ppm in case you want the full deal). Carbon dioxide hasn’t reached that height in millions of years. It’s a new atmosphere that humanity will have to contend with, one that’s trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate.

In what’s become a spring tradition like Passover and Easter, carbon dioxide has set a record high each year since measurements began. It stood at 280 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa in 1958. In 2013, it passed 400 ppm. Just four years later, the 400 ppm mark is no longer a novelty. It’s the norm.

“Its pretty depressing that it’s only a couple of years since the 400 ppm milestone was toppled,” Gavin Foster, a paleoclimate researcher at the University of Southampton told Climate Central last month. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record.” [Continue reading…]

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How the March for Science finally found its voice

Ed Yong writes: They marched for science, and at first, they did so quietly. On Saturday, as thousands of people started streaming eastward from the Washington Monument, in a river of ponchos and umbrellas, the usual raucous chats that accompany such protests were rarely heard and even more rarely continued. “Knowledge is power; it’s our final hour,” said six enthusiastic people—to little response. “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” shouted another pocket of marchers—for about five rounds.

Scientists are not a group to whom activism comes easily or familiarly. Most have traditionally stayed out of the political sphere, preferring to stick to their research. But for many, this historical detachment ended with the election of Donald Trump.

His administration has denied the reality of climate change, courted anti-vaccine campaigners, repeatedly stated easily disproven falsehoods, attempted to gag government scientists, proposed enormous budget cuts that would “set off a lost generation of American science,” and pushed for legislation that would roll back environmental and public health protections, pave the way for genetic discrimination, and displace scientific evidence from the policy-making process. Sensing an assault on many fronts—to their jobs, funds, and to the value of empiricism itself—scientists are grappling with politics to an unprecedented extent. “You know something is wrong when people around the world must protest for science,” said Erich Jarvis, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, to the assembled crowds. [Continue reading…]

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The planet can’t stand this presidency

Bill McKibben writes: President Trump’s environmental onslaught will have immediate, dangerous effects. He has vowed to reopen coal mines and moved to keep the dirtiest power plants open for many years into the future. Dirty air, the kind you get around coal-fired power plants, kills people.

It’s much the same as his policies on health care or refugees: Real people (the poorest and most vulnerable people) will be hurt in real time. That’s why the resistance has been so fierce.

But there’s an extra dimension to the environmental damage. What Mr. Trump is trying to do to the planet’s climate will play out over geologic time as well. In fact, it’s time itself that he’s stealing from us.

What I mean is, we have only a short window to deal with the climate crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic heating.

In Paris in 2015, the world’s nations pledged to do all they could to hold the rise of the planet’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). It was a good idea since, though we’re still half a degree short of that number, we’re already seeing disastrous ice melt at the poles, the loss of coral reefs and the inexorable rise of the oceans. But at current rates of burning coal, gas and oil, we could put enough carbon in the atmosphere in the next four years to eventually push us past that temperature limit.

The planet’s hope, coming out of those Paris talks, was that we’d see such growth in renewable energy that we’d begin to close the gap between what physics demands and what our political systems have so far allowed in terms of action.

But everything Mr. Trump is doing should slow that momentum. He’s trying to give gas-guzzlers new life and slashing the money to help poor nations move toward clean energy; he and his advisers are even talking about pulling out of the Paris accords. He won’t be able to stop solar and wind power in their tracks, but his policies will slow the pace at which they would otherwise grow. Other presidents and other nations will have spewed more carbon into the atmosphere, but none will have insured, at such a critical moment, that carbon’s reign is extended.

The effects will be felt not immediately but over decades and centuries and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet’s reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat. The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won’t mostly die in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be submerged won’t sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will sink. No president will be able to claw back this time — crucial time, since we’re right now breaking the back of the climate system. [Continue reading…]

On this Earth Day, Trump issued a statement that made no reference to climate change, nor even an acknowledgement that we all live on the same planet!

On Earth Day, Trump’s focus was on America’s “abundant natural resources” and its need for “economic growth” and the reduction of “unnecessary burdens on American workers and American companies” — oh, and by the way, we need to protect the environment.

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Climate teach-in: Science and solutions

 

 

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A cooler future may hinge on removing CO2 from the air

Climate Central reports: Climate pollution equal to about 27 times humans’ 2015 carbon dioxide emissions may have to be removed from the atmosphere and locked underground forever in order to keep the globe from warming beyond 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels, according to a new study.

The research, led by scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, or IIASA, in Austria, adds to the mounting evidence that countries will have to physically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to prevent global warming from exceeding dangerous levels.

Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is called “negative emissions,” and it’s central to the Paris climate agreement, which aims to prevent the globe from heating beyond 2°C (3.6°F). One of the main goals of the agreement is to keep warming to 1.5°C, a goal growing more difficult as the U.S. and other countries waver on their commitments to cut emissions.

Human greenhouse gas emissions will have to peak globally within 10 years for the 1.5°C target to be met, according to the study. [Continue reading…]

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Global ‘March for Science’ protests call for action on climate change

The Guardian reports: Hundreds of global protest marches in the name of science kicked off in Australia and New Zealand on Saturday, ahead of large crowds expected across the US.

Tens of thousands of scientists are this weekend rallying around the world in a rebuke of Donald Trump’s dismissal of climate science and attempts to cut large areas of scientific research.

More than 600 marches, largely concentrated in the US, Europe, South America and Australia, began amid warnings from organisers that science is “under attack” from the Trump administration.

Placards demanded “science not silence”, declared “there is no plan b”, and offered support from “florists for research-based legislation”, showing the crowd was not restricted to those in scientific community.

Chants asked what people wanted? “Science”, the marches bellowed. When? “Following peer review.” [Continue reading…]

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Michael Klare: Do African famines presage global climate-change catastrophe?

There are the terrorists, who get attention out of all proportion to their actual clout, and then there are those with big-time clout — I think of them as the terrarists — who get almost no attention at all. Back in May 2013, I came up with that term and here’s how I described those I thought it should apply to:

“We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be ‘terracide’ from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.

“The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.

“In the case of the terrarists — and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell — you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.”

Almost four years later, there’s a new set of names to be added to the ranks of those terrarists, including Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, and every climate-change denialist and energy-company aider and abettor now in the ranks of the U.S. government.  And almost four years later, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out, the early evidence of what their dystopian crimes will mean on a planetary scale is on display in Africa and Yemen — and it couldn’t be grimmer.

In 2013, I concluded: “To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?”  Read Klare’s piece, think about the greenhouse gases that will be pumped into the atmosphere in prodigious amounts in the Trump years, and tell me that we’re not talking about the greatest crime of this or any other century and, even among the worst butchers of history, potentially the greatest criminals of all time. Tom Engelhardt

Climate change as genocide
Inaction equals annihilation
By Michael T. Klare

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.”  Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

[Read more…]

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Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet

Bill McKibben writes: Donald Trump is so spectacularly horrible that it’s hard to look away – especially now that he’s discovered bombs. But precisely because everyone’s staring gape-mouthed in his direction, other world leaders are able to get away with almost anything. Don’t believe me? Look one country north, at Justin Trudeau.

Look all you want, in fact – he sure is cute, the planet’s only sovereign leader who appears to have recently quit a boy band. And he’s mastered so beautifully the politics of inclusion: compassionate to immigrants, insistent on including women at every level of government. Give him great credit where it’s deserved: in lots of ways he’s the anti-Trump, and it’s no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over.

But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the old orange guy in Washington.

Not rhetorically: Trudeau says all the right things, over and over. He’s got no Scott Pruitts in his cabinet: everyone who works for him says the right things. Indeed, they specialize in getting others to say them too – it was Canadian diplomats, and the country’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, who pushed at the Paris climate talks for a tougher-than-expected goal: holding the planet’s rise in temperature to 1.5C (2.7F).

But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing. He’s hard at work pushing for new pipelines through Canada and the US to carry yet more oil out of Alberta’s tar sands, which is one of the greatest climate disasters on the planet.

Last month, speaking at a Houston petroleum industry gathering, he got a standing ovation from the oilmen for saying: “No country would find 173bn barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”

Yes, 173bn barrels is indeed the estimate for recoverable oil in the tar sands. So let’s do some math. If Canada digs up that oil and sells it to people to burn, it will produce, according to the math whizzes at Oil Change International, 30% of the carbon necessary to take us past the 1.5C target that Canada helped set in Paris.

That is to say, Canada, which represents one half of 1% of the planet’s population, is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget. Trump is a creep and a danger and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite. [Continue reading…]

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For the first time on record, human-caused climate change has rerouted an entire river

The Washington Post reports: A team of scientists on Monday documented what they’re describing as the first case of large-scale river reorganization as a result of human-caused climate change.

They found that in mid-2016, the retreat of a very large glacier in Canada’s Yukon territory led to the rerouting of its vast stream of meltwater from one river system to another — cutting down flow to the Yukon’s largest lake, and channeling freshwater to the Pacific Ocean south of Alaska, rather than to the Bering Sea.

The researchers dubbed the reorganization an act of “rapid river piracy,” saying that such events had often occurred in the Earth’s geologic past, but never before, to their knowledge, as a sudden present-day event. They also called it “geologically instantaneous.”

“The river wasn’t what we had seen a few years ago. It was a faded version of its former self,” lead study author Daniel Shugar of the University of Washington at Tacoma said of the Slims River, which lost much of its flow because of the glacial change. “It was barely flowing at all. Literally, every day, we could see the water level dropping, we could see sandbars popping out in the river.” [Continue reading…]

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Scott Pruitt calls for an ‘exit’ from the Paris accord, sharpening the Trump White House’s climate rift

The Washington Post reports: President Trump’s top environment official called for an “exit” from the historic Paris agreement Thursday, the first time such a high-ranking administration official has so explicitly disavowed the agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries to fight climate change.

Speaking with “Fox & Friends,” Pruitt commented, “Paris is something that we need to really look at closely. It’s something we need to exit in my opinion.”

“It’s a bad deal for America,” Pruitt continued. “It was an America second, third, or fourth kind of approach. China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030. We front-loaded all of our costs.”

Pruitt’s claim about China and India having “no obligations” until 2030 is incorrect — while these countries do indeed have 2030 targets, they are already acting now to reduce their emissions by investing in renewable energy and other initiatives. [Continue reading…]

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While Trump promotes coal, other countries are turning to cheap sun power

The Washington Post reports: On the solar farms of the Atacama Desert, the workers dress like astronauts. They wear bodysuits and wraparound sunglasses, with thick canvas headscarves to shield them from the radiation.

The sun is so intense and the air so dry that seemingly nothing survives. Across vast, rocky wastes blanched of color, there are no cactuses or other visible signs of life. It’s Mars, with better cellphone reception.

It is also the world’s best place to produce solar energy, with the most potent sun power on the planet.

So powerful, in fact, that something extraordinary happened last year when the Chilean government invited utility companies to bid on public contracts. Solar producers dominated the auction, offering to supply electricity at about half the cost of coal-fired plants.

It wasn’t because of a government subsidy for alternative energy. In Chile and a growing list of nations, the price of solar energy has fallen so much that it is increasingly beating out conventional sources of power. Industry experts and government regulators hail this moment as a turning point in the history of human electricity-making.

“This is the beginning of a trend that will only accelerate,” said Chilean Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo. “We’re talking about an infinite fuel source.” [Continue reading…]

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Climate progress, with or without Trump

Michael Bloomberg writes: President Trump’s unfortunate and misguided rollback of environmental protections has led to a depressing and widespread belief that the United States can no longer meet its commitment under the Paris climate change agreement. But here’s the good news: It’s wrong.

No matter what roadblocks the White House and Congress throw up, the United States can — and I’m confident, will — meet the commitment it made in Paris in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. Let me explain why, and why correcting the false perception is so important.

Those who believe that the Trump administration will end American leadership on climate change are making the same mistake as those who believe that it will put coal miners back to work: overestimating Washington’s ability to influence energy markets, and underestimating the role that cities, states, businesses and consumers are playing in driving down emissions on their own.

Though few people realize it, more than 250 coal plants — almost half of the total number in this country — have announced in recent years that they will close or switch to cleaner fuels. Washington isn’t putting these plants out of business; the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan hasn’t even gone into effect yet.

They are closing because consumers are demanding energy from sources that don’t poison their air and water, and because energy companies are providing cleaner and cheaper alternatives. When two coal plant closings were announced last week, in southern Ohio, the company explained that they were no longer “economically viable.” That’s increasingly true for the whole industry. [Continue reading…]

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China poised to take lead on climate after Trump’s move to undo policies

The New York Times reports: For years, the Obama administration prodded, cajoled and beseeched China to make commitments to limit the use of fossil fuels to try to slow the global effects of climate change.

President Obama and other American officials saw the pledges from both Beijing and Washington as crucial: China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States.

In the coming years, the opposite dynamic is poised to play out. President Trump’s signing of an executive order on Tuesday aimed at undoing many of the Obama administration’s climate change policies flips the roles of the two powers.

Now, it is far likelier that the world will see China pushing the United States to meet its commitments and try to live up to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement, even if Mr. Trump has signaled he has no intention of doing so.

“They’ve set the direction they intend to go in the next five years,” Barbara Finamore, a senior lawyer and Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York, said of China. “It’s clear they intend to double down on bringing down their reliance on coal and increasing their use of renewable energy.”

“China wants to take over the role of the U.S. as a climate leader, and they’ve baked it into their five-year plans,” she added, referring to the economic development blueprints drawn up by the Chinese government. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s climate change shift is really about killing the international order

Amanda Erickson writes: President Trump has done what he promised: kneecapping America’s efforts to fight climate change. In a sweeping executive order Tuesday, the president rolled back rules limiting carbon emissions and regulating fossil fuel producers.

Trump explained this dramatic shift in economic terms, saying that he wants to put coal miners back to work and make manufacturing cheaper. His critics suggest financial motives, too, albeit more nefarious ones: that he’s interested in little more than lining the pockets of his rich friends in the oil and gas industry.

Really, though, Trump’s policy reflects a deeper truth. Climate change denial is not incidental to a nationalist, populist agenda. It’s central to it. And that’s not a coincidence.

Combating global warming requires international cooperation, multinational agreements and rules. Done right, no country is exceptional, and some might have to sacrifice for others. In other words, it strengthens the international order that Trump and his team are so assiduously trying to dismantle in the name of “America First.”

As Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, explains:

“Climate change is a highly inconvenient truth for nationalism, as it is unsolvable at the national level and requires collective action between states and between different national and local communities. Populist nationalism therefore tends to reject the science of climate change however strong the evidence.”

That reality is reflected in populist platforms around the world. In France, for example, the far-right National Front traffics in climate change skepticism. They’ve rolled out a “patriotic” environmentalist platform that opposes international climate talks as a “communist project. “We don’t want a global agreement or global rule for the environment,” the party’s Mireille d’Ornano told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Energy Department climate office bans use of phrase ‘climate change’

Politico reports: A supervisor at the Energy Department’s international climate office told staff this week not to use the phrases “climate change,” “emissions reduction” or “Paris Agreement” in written memos, briefings or other written communication, sources have told POLITICO.

Employees of DOE’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy learned of the ban at a meeting Tuesday, the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order at EPA headquarters to reverse most of former President Barack Obama’s climate regulatory initiatives. Officials at the State Department and in other DOE offices said they had not been given a banned words list, but they had started avoiding climate-related terms in their memos and briefings given the new administration’s direction on climate change.

The Office of International Climate and Clean Energy is the only office at DOE with the words “climate” in its name, and it may be endangered as Trump looks to reorganize government agencies. It plays a key role in U.S. participation in the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation, two international efforts launched under Obama that were designed to advance clean energy technology. [Continue reading…]

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Trump signs executive order unwinding Obama climate policies

The New York Times reports: President Trump, flanked by company executives and miners, signed a long-promised executive order on Tuesday to nullify President Barack Obama’s climate change efforts and revive the coal industry, effectively ceding American leadership in the international campaign to curb the dangerous heating of the planet.

Mr. Trump made clear that the United States had no intention of meeting the commitments that his predecessor had made to curb planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution, turning denials of climate change into national policy.

At a ceremony, Mr. Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the complex and lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms.

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?” Mr. Trump said to the miners. “You’re going back to work.” [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: While the action may give a reprieve to some coal-fired plants facing extinction, large utilities say they will continue long-term investments to generate more power from gas, wind and solar, which are being driven by economic as well as regulatory forces. The White House official said Monday that the order is part of the president’s promise to restore the coal sector, but the official acknowledged that merely repealing the regulations wouldn’t bring back jobs.

Cheap U.S. natural gas unlocked by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has prompted many companies to scrap older coal plants in favor of gas-fired plants, which require fewer workers to operate. Companies are also taking advantage of tax credits for renewable power to build out solar and wind farms, which are becoming more cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation thanks to economies of scale and advances in technology.

Duke Energy Corp. says it plans to invest $11 billion in natural gas and renewable power generation over the next 10 years, as the company aims by 2026 to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 35% from 2005 levels.

That represents a long-term company strategy and isn’t likely to change, Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a February interview. The utility’s power generating mix is now 34% coal and 28% natural gas, compared with 61% coal and 5% gas in 2005. By 2026, it estimates gas will be the dominant fuel, followed by coal, nuclear and renewable power.

“Because of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us,” said Ms. Good. “Administrations will change during the life of our business and our assets, and we’ll continue to move forward in a way that makes sense for our investors and our customers.”

Southern Co. plans to invest at least $1 billion a year over the next five years in new wind farms. It now uses natural gas to generate 47% of its power, with coal providing 31%, nuclear 15%, and hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable sources 7%.

“Going forward, we anticipate an increase in renewable generation capacity and declining utilization of coal,” said Terrell McCollum, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based utility.

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