Interior Dept. ordered Glacier park chief, other climate expert pulled from Zuckerberg tour

The Washington Post reports: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg flew to Glacier National Park on Saturday to tour the melting ice fields that have become the poster child for climate change’s effects on Montana’s northern Rockies.

But days before the tech tycoon’s visit, the Trump administration abruptly removed two of the park’s top climate experts from a delegation scheduled to show him around, telling a research ecologist and the park superintendent that they were no longer going to participate in the tour.

The decision to micromanage Zuckerberg’s stop in Montana from 2,232 miles east in Washington, made by top officials at the Interior Department, the National Park Service’s parent agency, was highly unusual — even for a celebrity visit.

It capped days of internal discussions — including conference calls and multiple emails — among top Interior Department and Park Service officials about how much the park should roll out the welcome mat for Zuckerberg, who with the broader tech community in Silicon Valley has positioned himself as a vocal critic of President Trump, particularly of his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump nominates right-wing talk radio host for leading scientific position at USDA

Gizmodo reports: President Donald Trump managed to sneak a few minutes from his busy schedule of threatening federal investigators to make official his nominee for the United States Department of Agriculture’s top scientific position on Wednesday. Given the tough choice between filling the role with scientist or someone who is not a scientist, the president boldly decided to go the latter route.

Enter Sam Clovis, who Trump first installed at the USDA as a senior White House adviser earlier this year, and if confirmed will serve as the agency’s undersecretary for research, education and economics. That’s an important scientific job previously held by top scientists in biochemistry, medicine, food nutrition and ecosystem ecology. The person in that job is charged with directing the USDA’s extensive scientific mission, which includes everything from preparing U.S. agriculture to deal with climate change to advising on nutrition and food-borne pathogen outbreaks.

Clovis, as ProPublica noted back in May, has a resume which includes working as co-chair and policy adviser on Trump’s campaign, but very little that could be called science. His doctorate is in public administration, and his record of published academic work includes a handful of journal articles mostly on national security and terrorism.

ProPublica could not find any evidence he had scientific credentials or even took graduate-level courses in “food safety, agriculture or nutrition,” while he told E&E News in 2016 Trump’s USDA would primarily focus on slashing regulation

In his native Iowa, Clovis is mostly known for hosting a right-wing talk show. While running for the U.S. Senate in 2014, he told Iowa Public Radio he was “extremely skeptical” of the 97% consensus among climate scientists that mankind is responsible for global warming, adding, “I have looked at the science and I have enough of a science background to know when I’m being boofed. And a lot of the science is junk science.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration

Joel Clement writes: I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.

I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.

I am not an accountant — but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.

I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mountains are warming twice as fast as the rest of the world

Bob Berwyn writes: Mountain temperatures are increasing more quickly than the global average, at a rate closer to that of the Arctic, and climate researchers are trying to figure out why. They suspect that the accelerated mountain warming is due to an effect documented in the Arctic—loss of albedo. The peaks are losing their shiny white blanket of snow and ice that reflects the sun’s radiation back to space. Instead, darker-colored ground absorbs heat, amplifying the heat-trapping effect of greenhouse gas pollution.

But there’s not quite enough data yet to prove the conventional wisdom of rapid mountain warming, says University of Portsmouth geographer Nick Pepin, who led a 2015 study that tried to assess climate change impacts to mountains on a global scale. Are they really warming as fast as we think?

“I think the overall feeling on this is, probably they are, but we don’t know for sure,” he says. Temperature readings taken between 1,000 and 3,000 meters confirm the trend, but data is sparse from higher elevations. There are very few ground-based weather stations above 3,000 meters and none above 5,000 meters, Pepin says, advocating for an expansion of mountain climate
Satellite data can be used to measure land-surface temperature, and it shows that higher elevations are warming more than areas lower down, but the satellites aren’t as accurate as ground-based readings. Direct observations are needed to validate the satellite data, Pepin says.

Without better information, people risk substantially underestimating the severity of many already-looming problems, including a proliferation of damaging landslides, water shortages in densely populated lowlands—especially in Asia—and the extinction of some mountain plants and animals.

Pepin’s recent study zoomed in on the Tibetan Plateau, which holds so much snow and ice that it’s sometimes called the Third Pole. Temperatures in the region have climbed steadily. Above 4,000 meters in elevation, the rate of warming has increased by an astounding 75 percent in just the past 20 years, compared to areas below 2,000 meters.

“If we’re right, the social and economic consequences could be serious, and we could see much more dramatic changes much sooner than previously thought,” Pepin says.

The Tibetan Plateau is the source of 10 of Asia’s biggest rivers, including the Ganges, Indus, and Mekong basins. These rivers provide water to more than 1.35 billion people, 20 percent of the world’s population. The melting glaciers foreshadow a major water supply crisis, and there’s also a more immediate danger; destabilized ice masses threaten mountain communities with avalanches, landslides, and floods. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

U.S. cities, states and businesses pledge to measure emissions

The New York Times reports: A coalition of American states, cities and businesses that have pledged to stick with the Paris climate pact will team up with experts to quantify their climate commitments and share their plans with the United Nations, vowing to act in spite of the Trump administration’s exit from the accord.

President Trump said last month that the United States would withdraw from the Paris deal, isolating the United States on the world stage. At a Group of 20 summit meeting last week, world leaders agreed to move forward collectively on climate change without the United States, declaring the landmark 2015 pact “irreversible.”

But the coalition, called America’s Pledge — which now includes 227 cities and counties, nine states and about 1,650 businesses and investors — is moving to uphold the United States’ commitments under the Paris deal. The country had committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

The group, led by Gov. Jerry Brown of California and Michael R. Bloomberg, a former New York mayor, plans to work with outside experts to measure the effects of their pledges, and to announce an early tally at a United Nations climate conference this year. The coalition is set to outline the new steps on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

One of the biggest icebergs in recorded history just broke loose from Antarctica

The Washington Post reports: Scientists announced Wednesday that a much anticipated break at the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica has occurred, unleashing a massive iceberg that is more than 2,200 square miles in area and weighs a trillion tons.

In other words, the iceberg — among the largest in recorded history to splinter off the Antarctic continent — is close to the size of Delaware and consists of almost four times as much ice as the fast melting ice sheet of Greenland loses in a year. It is expected to be given the name “A68” soon, scientists said.

“Its volume is twice that of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes,” wrote researchers with Project MIDAS, a research group at Swansea and Aberystwyth Universities in Wales that has been monitoring the situation closely by satellite. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Climate change may make the planet too hot for humans sooner than you expect

David Wallace-Wells writes: It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope. This past winter, a string of days 60 and 70 degrees warmer than normal baked the North Pole, melting the permafrost that encased Norway’s Svalbard seed vault — a global food bank nicknamed “Doomsday,” designed to ensure that our agriculture survives any catastrophe, and which appeared to have been flooded by climate change less than ten years after being built.

The Doomsday vault is fine, for now: The structure has been secured and the seeds are safe. But treating the episode as a parable of impending flooding missed the more important news. Until recently, permafrost was not a major concern of climate scientists, because, as the name suggests, it was soil that stayed permanently frozen. But Arctic permafrost contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful. In other words, we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.

Maybe you know that already — there are alarming stories every day, like last month’s satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought. Or the news from Antarctica this past May, when a crack in an ice shelf grew 11 miles in six days, then kept going; the break now has just three miles to go — by the time you read this, it may already have met the open water, where it will drop into the sea one of the biggest icebergs ever, a process known poetically as “calving.”

But no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough. Over the past decades, our culture has gone apocalyptic with zombie movies and Mad Max dystopias, perhaps the collective result of displaced climate anxiety, and yet when it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination. The reasons for that are many: the timid language of scientific probabilities, which the climatologist James Hansen once called “scientific reticence” in a paper chastising scientists for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat really was; the fact that the country is dominated by a group of technocrats who believe any problem can be solved and an opposing culture that doesn’t even see warming as a problem worth addressing; the way that climate denialism has made scientists even more cautious in offering speculative warnings; the simple speed of change and, also, its slowness, such that we are only seeing effects now of warming from decades past; our uncertainty about uncertainty, which the climate writer Naomi Oreskes in particular has suggested stops us from preparing as though anything worse than a median outcome were even possible; the way we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere; the smallness (two degrees) and largeness (1.8 trillion tons) and abstractness (400 parts per million) of the numbers; the discomfort of considering a problem that is very difficult, if not impossible, to solve; the altogether incomprehensible scale of that problem, which amounts to the prospect of our own annihilation; simple fear. But aversion arising from fear is a form of denial, too.

In between scientific reticence and science fiction is science itself. This article is the result of dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields and reflects hundreds of scientific papers on the subject of climate change. What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

G-20 leaders’ statement on climate change highlights rift with U.S.

The Guardian reports: World leaders have made clear the US’s isolated stance on climate change, with 19 of the G20 countries affirming their commitment to the “irreversible” Paris climate agreement.

After lengthy negotiations that stretched well into Saturday, the final joint statement from the meeting in Hamburg notes Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris deal while stating that the world’s other major economies all still support the international effort to slow dangerous global warming.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said on Saturday she “deplored” the US exit from the agreement and added that she did not share the view of Theresa May, the British prime minister, that Washington could decide to rejoin the pact.

“I think it’s very clear that we could not reach consensus, but the differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated,” Merkel told reporters at the end of the two-day meeting. “It’s absolutely clear it is not a common position.”

The communique reads: “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” adding: “The leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris agreement is irreversible” and “we reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris agreement”. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Jerry Brown to announce a climate summit meeting in California

The New York Times reports: Even before President Trump took office, Gov. Jerry Brown of California let it be known he was ready to do battle over climate change, vowing in December that California would launch its own satellite if Mr. Trump cut funding for federal space missions.

On Thursday evening, Governor Brown will mount a new challenge to the administration on climate change. In a videoconference address to a global citizen festival in Hamburg, Germany, where President Trump and other officials will negotiate wording of a statement on the Paris climate change accord, Governor Brown will issue a sweeping invitation to a global “climate action” summit meeting in San Francisco.

“Look, it’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together to roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate change,” Brown will tell the thousands of people expected to attend the festival. In the message, a preview of which was provided by aides, he will invite “entrepreneurs, singers, musicians, mathematicians, professors” and others who represent “the whole world” to the September 2018 conference in San Francisco. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

India just planted over 60 million trees in 12 hours to meet its Paris climate accord commitments

Facebooktwittermail

I’m a climate scientist. And I’m not letting trickle-down ignorance win

Ben Santer writes: I’ve been a mountaineer for most of my life. Mountains are in my blood. In my early 20s, while climbing in France, I fell in a crevasse on the Milieu Glacier, at the start of the normal route on the Aiguille d’Argentière. Remarkably, I was unhurt. From the grip of the banded ice, I saw a thin slit of blue sky 120 feet above me. The math was simple: Climb 120 feet. If I reached that slit of blue sky, I would live. If I didn’t, I’d freeze to death in the cold and dark.

Now, over 40 years later, it feels like I’m back in a different kind of darkness — the darkness of the Trump administration’s scientific ignorance. This is just as real as the darkness of the Milieu Glacier’s interior, and just as life-threatening. This time, I’m not alone. The consequences of this ignorance affect every person on the planet.

Imagine, if you will, that you spend your entire professional life trying to do one thing to the best of your ability. In my case, that one thing is to study the nature and causes of climate change. You put in a long apprenticeship. You spend years learning about the climate system, computer models of climate and climate observations. You start filling a tool kit with the statistical and mathematical methods you’ll need for analyzing complex data sets. You are taught how electrical engineers detect signals embedded in noisy data. You apply those engineering insights to the detection of a human-caused warming signal buried in the natural “noise” of Earth’s climate. Eventually, you learn that human activities are warming Earth’s surface, and you publish this finding in peer-reviewed literature. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

If we stopped emitting greenhouse gases right now, would we stop climate change?

File 20170703 17450 gkktjh
Best-case scenario, how much are we locked into?
Kletr/Shutterstock.com

By Richard B. Rood, University of Michigan

Earth’s climate is changing rapidly. We know this from billions of observations, documented in thousands of journal papers and texts and summarized every few years by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The primary cause of that change is the release of carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and natural gas.

One of the goals of the international Paris Agreement on climate change is to limit the increase of the global surface average air temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. There is a further commitment to strive to limit the increase to 1.5℃.

Earth has already, essentially, reached the 1℃ threshold. Despite the avoidance of millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions through use of renewable energy, increased efficiency and conservation efforts, the rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remains high.

International plans on how to deal with climate change are painstakingly difficult to cobble together and take decades to work out. Most climate scientists and negotiators were dismayed by President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

But setting aside the politics, how much warming are we already locked into? If we stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, why would the temperature continue to rise?

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Blue America reaches out to the world, ignoring Trump

Vox reports: Even before President Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, it was clear that he intended to lead the US on a fossil fuel bender. He has made it crystal clear that the federal government has no interest in addressing climate change.

But every action has an equal and opposite reaction; his announcement on Paris has sparked an extraordinary amount of counter-organizing. In recoiling from Trump, states, cities, and institutions are entering into closer cooperation. A coalition is forming, a Blue America, and at least on climate change, it is going beyond mere resistance to a more proactive role, negotiating with the international community on its own behalf, like a separate nation.

It is, in foreign policy terms, a remarkable development — and while it seems to offer some near-term hope on climate change, it carries troubling implications for the ongoing stability of the country. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

As climate changes, Southern states will suffer more than others

The New York Times reports: As the United States confronts global warming in the decades ahead, not all states will suffer equally. Maine may benefit from milder winters. Florida, by contrast, could face major losses, as deadly heat waves flare up in the summer and rising sea levels eat away at valuable coastal properties.

In a new study in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the economic harm that climate change could inflict on the United States in the coming century. They found that the impacts could prove highly unequal: states in the Northeast and West would fare relatively well, while parts of the Midwest and Southeast would be especially hard hit.

In all, the researchers estimate that the nation could face damages worth 0.7 percent of gross domestic product per year by the 2080s for every 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperature. But that overall number obscures wide variations: The worst-hit counties — mainly in states that already have warm climates, like Arizona or Texas — could see losses worth 10 to 20 percent of G.D.P. or more if emissions continue to rise unchecked. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

China breaks ground on first ‘Forest City’ that fights air pollution

inhabitat reports: A pollution-fighting green city unlike any before is springing to life in China. Designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti, the first “Forest City” is now under construction Liuzhou, Guangxi Province. The futuristic city will use renewable energy for self sufficiency and be blanketed in almost 1 million plants and 40,000 trees—a sea of greenery capable of absorbing nearly 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of pollutants annually.

Commissioned by Liuzhou Municipality Urban Planning for the north of Liuzhou along the Liujiang river, the 175-hectare Liuzhou Forest City will be the first of its kind that, if successful, may raise the bar for urban design worldwide. This first Chinese Forest City will host 30,000 people in a community where all buildings are entirely covered in nearly a million plants of over 100 species, as well as 40,000 trees, that produce approximately 900 tons of oxygen. The use of greenery-covered facades builds on Stefano Boeri’s previous works, including the Vertical Forest residential building in Milan. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Carbon in atmosphere is rising, even as emissions stabilize

The New York Times reports from Cape Grim, Tasmania: On the best days, the wind howling across this rugged promontory has not touched land for thousands of miles, and the arriving air seems as if it should be the cleanest in the world.

But on a cliff above the sea, inside a low-slung government building, a bank of sophisticated machines sniffs that air day and night, revealing telltale indicators of the way human activity is altering the planet on a major scale.

For more than two years, the monitoring station here, along with its counterparts across the world, has been flashing a warning: The excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016. A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017.

Scientists are concerned about the cause of the rapid rises because, in one of the most hopeful signs since the global climate crisis became widely understood in the 1980s, the amount of carbon dioxide that people are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years, at least judging from the data that countries compile on their own emissions.

That raises a conundrum: If the amount of the gas that people are putting out has stopped rising, how can the amount that stays in the air be going up faster than ever? Does it mean the natural sponges that have been absorbing carbon dioxide are now changing? [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Great Barrier Reef valued at A$56bn as report warns it’s ‘too big to fail’

The Guardian reports: A new report has valued the Great Barrier Reef at A$56bn and warns of vast economic consequences for Australia unless more is done to protect it.

The Deloitte Access Economics report says the world heritage-listed reef underpins 64,000 direct and indirect jobs, and contributes $6.4bn to the national economy each year.

But without ramped-up protection efforts, it warns much of that could be at risk as the reef suffers from repeated mass coral bleaching events, poor water quality and climate change.

“The reef is critical to supporting economic activity and jobs in Australia,” says the report, prepared for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. “The livelihoods and businesses it supports across Australia far exceeds the numbers supported by many industries we would consider too big to fail.”

Of the 64,000 jobs linked to the reef, 39,000 are direct jobs – making the reef a bigger “employer” than the likes of Telstra, the Qantas Group, National Australia Bank and the oil and gas extraction industry. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail