Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

As the international community does what it does best — negotiate a hard-fought framework for the next meetings, so they can simply kick the can down the road then — there was an interesting warning that serves as a reminder to just how fluid all of these projections and statistics about future trouble from climate change are.

Tuesday’s report states that there’s a high risk of increased extinctions of land and sea life and the disappearance of the Arctic icecap in summers within this century. There’s a moderate risk of increased heat waves, a decline in ocean oxygen levels and rapid changes to ecosystems that would threaten food and water supplies, the scientists note. Watching for those symptoms would give communities that depend on those ecosystems the ability to adapt.

For example, there’s been a lot of warning about how wildfires could double by 2050, but what if it’s accelerating as the problems of this year show? How much will the drastic melt of the Arctic sea ice affect the projected sea-level rise? Some say, instead of seas rising 1 meter by 2100, it could be 3 meters. That means a lot of coastal cities will be turning into Venice. If you had cameras or measurements that were widely circulated, you might be able to track these problems — even at a very local level, such as on Plum Island.

“A lot of these things require not only monitoring what’s going on out there in the natural world as well as monitoring what we do in the human-built environment as well; how much dollar-wise do we have at risk?” said Jim White, who led the committee that produced Tuesday’s report.
The committee didn’t calculate the cost of establishing an early climate warning network. But even in a time of tight budgets, White said, the cost would be “trivial compared to the cost of the assets at risk.”

Not only would monitoring allow humans and cities to adapt, but it would also allow those leading the charge to stop climate change to properly adjust the warnings, estimates that our consumption is causing. Any real-life evidence is all the more valuable in convincing the population to conserve more and get behind energy-efficient ideas.

The unmistakable consequences of global warming are already here. This is evidenced by two recent news stories. The first story details how all of the debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan is making its way across the Pacific Ocean and will soon reach the shores of the West Coast. The second piece of news is that greenhouse gases have reached a record high.

The story about the tsunami debris has a vague link to global warming, but it serves as the canary in the coal mine. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean is also the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A patch that is 7 million square miles of plastic (on the surface or below the surface) is floating somewhere near Hawaii. The garbage patch threatens sea life and could disrupt the entire marine ecosystem.

Any kind of trash can get into the ocean—from glass bottles to aluminum cans to medical waste. The vast majority of marine debris, however, is plastic. Scientists have collected up to 750,000 bits of plastic in a single square kilometer (or 1.9 million bits per square mile) of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

News that greenhouse gases have reached a record high is unsurprising. As the article points out, this comes even as emissions in the U.S. are reportedly in decline. That’s not the case for the rest of the developing world, and we will be paying for these high emissions for many years to come.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) was the largest culprit in the rise: it accounted for 80 percent of the increase in overall greenhouse gas concentration. From 2011 to 2012, it increased by 2.2 parts per million, a significant increase from the 2.02 parts per million yearly average over the last decade.

“CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years… Most aspects of climate change will persist for centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped immediately,” the report said.

It’s no doubt that we’re starting to see some effects from our high-polluting, high-emissions ways of the past century. It’s only going to get worse. But will you get better about your individual use/waste? That’s one way to solve this problem.

Upon the year anniversary Superstorm Sandy, there’s been a lot of retrospection on the actual storm as well as checking in to see how all those pledges of reform to stop storms like this from happening more often (also known as ways to halt climate change).

Time examines higher tides as a result of rising sea levels and what it all means for those who live near the coast.

123 million Americans, more than a third of the entire country, live in coastal counties, a number that increased by 39% from 1970 to 2010. About 3.7 million Americans live within just a few feet of the sea at high tide, putting them at even more extreme risk for coastal flooding. And the ocean they live next to is rising.

NJ.com calls out N.J. Gov. Chris Christie for failing to take climate change into account in the rebuilding of New Jersey.

Christie withdrew New Jersey from a regional treaty on climate change, and robbed our state’s clean-energy fund of $1 billion to balance his budgets. Now, he refuses to acknowledge any role climate change might play in a storm like Sandy, calling it “a scientific discussion and debate that I’m simply not engaged in.”

In addition to there being a less than desired response from the government, one article points out that the concern for climate change was waned since Sandy.

Interest in “adaptation” as well as “sea level rise” also rose in early December 2011 and late November 2012. Those peaks coincided with the annual United Nations climate negotiations. During the 2012 negotiations in Doha, Qatar, a major sea level rise report was released and the amount of searches during that period for that term actually topped searches during Sandy. However, even those big peaks failed to produce longer-lasting trends, as interest dropped back down to a baseline level.

And there’s dire news coming for more than just the mid-Atlantic region. Climate change is going to hit people where they feel it in the coming years, according to one report. It could affect one-third of the world’s economy by 2025

Thirty-one percent or $44 trillion of output will be based in countries classified as most at risk from climate change in Maplecroft’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index, which considered a nation’s exposure to extreme weather events over the next 30 years alongside its capacity to cope with the impact.

Add it all up, and it seems we still haven’t gotten the message from Sandy.

 

Sometimes climate change research comes with lots of stats, dates and a multitude of scenarios that will be caused by global warming. It’s been one of the obstacles to getting people to focus on solutions to global warming since a lot of the warnings and stats released are often hard to grasp by regular people. So, it’s with welcome ears and eyes that a study had boiled down one of the effects of global warming to a tangible effect: In a few decades, the coldest years we experience will be hotter than any year we’ve currently experienced.

“Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”

The study was done by a class, rather than a team of researchers, which might have something to do with the fact the result is jargon-free.

Dr. Mora is not a climate scientist; rather he is a specialist in using large sets of data to illuminate environmental issues. He assigned a class of graduate students to analyze forecasts produced by 39 of the world’s foremost climate models. The models, whose results are publicly available, are operated by 21 research centers in 12 countries, and financed largely by governments.

A secondary result of the study also backs up previous research:

Unprecedented climates will arrive even sooner in the tropics, Dr. Mora’s group predicts, putting increasing stress on human societies there, on the coral reefs that supply millions of people with fish, and on the world’s greatest forests.

It’s simple, and it’s alarming. While I hope it can be something to push people to focus more on global warming, it hasn’t quite been a big enough study to get people’s attention. A more important effect from this study could be using it as a blueprint in pushing more studies to be straightforward.

It’s no wonder our federal government has faced challenges in addressing climate change. It can’t even fund itself. And the trickle-down effect is that it could hurt the EPA and its renewable fuel standards for 2014.

It’s hard to imagine a turnaround from last month when the EPA had proposed tighter carbon emission standards for new power plants. It’s also a turnaround from just last week when the U.N.—actually functioning for one of the few times in its history—released a new IPCC report on how man is one of the main causes behind climate change.

This week shows the perils in putting all your eggs in the government basket. As the government is shutdown, progress such as those EPA fuel standards could be delayed, and global warming just won’t wait. It’s time to stop waiting for government or a mystical technological advancement to provide the climate change solution. We need progress now, and the best solution is personal responsibility in cutting down your carbon footprint.

The wildfires in Yosemite have raged for weeks, and while this particular fire seems to be abating, California residents shouldn’t take too deep a breath. Wildfires are going to be a lot more common and stronger, according to a recent study. The main culprit: Climate change.

The findings are fairly simple: The wildfire season will be three weeks longer, cover a larger area in the West, and will be twice as smoky. All by 2050. And with that smoke will come a regression in an environmental standard that the U.S. has actually improved.

Air quality has vastly improved over much of the United States in the past 40 years, as a result of government efforts to regulate emissions. Mickley warns that increasing wildfires may erase some of the progress.

“I think what people need to realize is that embedded in those curves showing the tiny temperature increases year after year are more extreme events that can be quite serious,” she says. “It doesn’t bode well.”

Inside this article is news that the federal government has already used up its wildfire budget with months left in the season. It’s another sign that rhetoric about environmental standards hurting the economy is extremely shortsighted. Wildfires are just the latest lesson in that regard.

With news that the U.S. is considering imminent missile strikes in Syria, and Iran is considering strikes in Israel, the targets, long-term goals and casualties of war are all being considered. A less important, but oft-overlooked aspect of war can be its effect on the environment.

Some articles last year looked at the environmental cost of war. The costs were broken down as: Disruption to water, soil and forests; use of greenhouse gases in moving tanks and bombers into the battlefield; ability of warlords to use the chaos as a time to gain power and delve deeper into deforestation, dust kicked up from vehicles in the desert (this happened specifically in Kuwait).

A lot of the environmentally bad things have been banned internationally, such as destroying forests with Agent Orange. But there’s one detail that sticks out in relation to a possible U.S. strike on Syria:

One need only observe peacetime accidents to see what terror a bomb could unleash if dropped on a modern chemical factory. At the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984, water infiltrated into a tank holding methyl isocyanate. The mixture caused an explosion that contaminated the surrounding area, killing thousands. Attacks on chemical plants are entirely possible. President Clinton ordered the bombing of a Sudanese factory in 1998 precisely because he thought it was stocked with dangerous chemicals.

The U.S. is considering striking Syria because of the use of chemical weapons, so it’s not a big stretch to think that one of the targets could be a chemical factory. Based upon this article, the environmental effect of that decision needs to be considered much in the same vein as you’d consider the other strategic fallout from the strike itself.

With the Senate unlocking its filibuster on EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in mid-July, she’s been on a bit of a barnstorming tour of colleges across the country. Her message at Colorado today was the same as at Harvard last month. And it’s simple: Fixing climate change can be good for the economy.

“EPA continues to work with states and other key stakeholders to help ensure that natural gas extraction does not come at the expense of public health and the environment,” she said.

More broadly, McCarthy used her speech to promoteObama’s second-term climate agenda that hands a big role to the EPA, which is crafting carbon emissions rules for power plants.

“I want you to talk to your friends and your relatives in other places and tell them that working on the issues of climate are not scary,” she said in a clip the Boulder Daily Camera posted online.

The news is welcome for environmentalists, who have believed that if the U.S. invested $130 billion a year into climate change, it could fix the problem with clean energy. It invested between $50 and $80 billion in 2009, but now it’s closer to $20 billion. Pitching the fix for climate change as an economic plus is not new, but it is the way to go. Not only can the solutions generate growth, but the downside is spending billions more to recover from more-frequent storms such as Hurricane Sandy. It’s an economic imperative that could pay off more than fixing health care, more than fixing social security and more than fixing immigration.

 

You didn’t need to be a scientist to figure out that 2012 was bad for the environment: Superstorm Sandy, killer heat waves, vanishing sea ice. But, just in case you were wondering, the scientist have weighed in with a verdict: It was bad.

The 2012 State of the Climate report details all the ways, the climate is changing. In declaring 2012 one of the hottest years on record, the scientists also warned it’s the new normal.

The Chicago Tribune detailed some more specific findings from the report:

- Sea levels reached a record high, after a sharp decrease in 2011 possibly linked to

the Pacific Ocean phenomenon La Nina, which can have a cooling effect;

- Arctic sea ice shrank to its smallest summer minimum since satellite records began 34 years ago, while Antarctic sea ice reached a record high;

- More than 97 percent of the ice sheet covering Greenland melted at least a bit in the summer of 2012, four times greater than the 1981-2010 average;

- Average sea surface temperatures rose, but not much, making 2012 among the 11th warmest years on record;

- Ocean heat was near record high levels in the upper half-mile of the water, and temperatures also increased in the deep ocean.

With 384 scientists contributing to the report, it backs up what climate change activists have been saying for years.

“It’s critically important to compile a big picture,” National Climatic Data Center director Tom Karl says. “The signs that we see are of a warming world.”

After the brutal heat waves of the past few weeks, it’s hard to imagine a time before that. A time when it was about 60 degrees every day and I was astonished to hear about Tropical Storm Andrea from a local taxi driver. I looked down at my watch and saw it was the first week of June. A tropical storm this early?

Andrea kicked off a frenzied hurricane season, one that now has Tropical Storm Chantal bearing down on Florida. It’s July 10 (40 days into hurricane season, which officially begins June 1) and we already have had three named storms. To put that in perspective: In 1992, Hurricane Andrew (the first named storm of the season) hit Florida on Aug. 24. That’s still more than six weeks from now. You don’t need to be a meteorologist to know we’re certainly looking at a very active hurricane season this year. Could we have to get used to this as the “new normal?”

While scientists have long predicted stronger storms because of climate change, the prevailing wisdom was that the storms would be less frequent. One scientist, however, is bucking that forecast. Kerry Emmanuel says storms will not only be stronger, they’ll occur more often:

Emanuel’s simulations found that the frequency of tropical cyclones will increase by 10 to 40% by 2100. And the intensity of those storms will increase by 45% by the end of the century, with storms that actually make landfall—the ones that tend to smash—will increase by 55%.

It’s a daunting prediction that the world will have to deal with amid all the other problems of climate change. Just like massive Hurricane Sandy and all the other crazy climate problems last year, it’s safe to say: The effects of global warming are starting to show. Hurricane activity is just another symptom.