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Home » Climate Change Blog » CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS FOR MAY 2018


On Dec. 6, 2011 David Roberts posted a blog in Grist titled, The brutal logic of climate change. It has been generally accepted that the global average temperature should rise no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels if we are to avoid serious damage to the climate system.  He writes that the additional amount of CO2 needed to reach that temperature change is about 1300 to 2200 gigatons  (billion tons); the range is because of uncertainty in the temperature response to a given amount of added added CO2.  The additional CO2 required to reach 2 degrees C is called the “climate budget” the total amount of cumulative CO2 that can be tolerated before crossing the red line.  Total annual emissions, which are now about 40 Gt per year and are growing every year, need to reduced soon to have any chance of staying within budget.  The longer we take to start reducing emissions, the less time we’ll have to reduce them to near zero. 
You may ask, What’s wrong with relaxing the carbon budget and setting the allowable temperature rise to 4 degrees C?  Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change was, until recently, the director of Britain’s leading climate research institution, the Tyndall Energy Program.   Along with his colleague Alice Bows, he published a paper called “Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world” [PDF].  Roberts wrote, “ … if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.””
Roberts goes on to write,
“One of the most uncertain areas of climate science today has to do with feedbacks — processes caused by climate change that in turn accelerate (or decelerate) climate change. For instance, heat can melt the Arctic permafrost, which releases methane, which accelerates climate change, which melts more permafrost, etc.
Based on current scientific understanding, positive climate feedbacks — the ones that accelerate the process — considerably outweigh negative feedbacks. At some level of temperature rise, some of those positive feedbacks are likely to become self-reinforcing and effectively unstoppable, no matter how much emissions are cut.  (emphasis added).”
NOTE: Something like the climate runaway that humans might inadvertently trigger by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, was an event that happened about 55 million years ago, long before there were humans, that was possibly triggered by increasing concentrations of CO2 from volcanos, but was driven by methane emissions.  It was called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) and caused the global average temperature to increase 5-8 degrees C, along with a global oceanic extinction event.
In 2009 I wrote a paper for the League of Women Voters titled, Positive Feedbacks and Climate Runaway – The Need to Act without Delay, giving more background for the interested reader.
He wrote,”In 2017, extraordinary wildfires, floods, and storms pummeled large sections of the United States and led to never-before-seen destruction. The complex of fires that torched California’s Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties in October caused more than $10 billion in damages, making them the most expensive wildfires in U.S. history. At least 44 people lost their lives during the firestorm. The surreal Christmas-season fires near Santa Barbara led to another $2.5 billion in destroyed property. In August and September, widespread flooding during Hurricane Harvey caused at least $125 billion in damages in the greater Houston area and contributed to 93 deaths. Hurricane Irma damaged $50 billion worth of property in Florida, while Hurricane Maria’s September scouring of Puerto Rico caused another $90 billion in damages. At least 60 people in Puerto Rico died as a direct result of the storm; as many as 1,000 lives may have been lost due to the long-running electricity blackout on the island. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017 was the most expensive year for natural disasters in U.S. history, costing a total of $306 billion.
The mounting price tag of extreme weather events and the prospect of greater destruction to come have brought into focus a question that has been lurking at the edges of climate change conversations: Who should pay the costs of the death and destruction caused by human-driven global warming?”  (emphasis added)
In the late 1980s, when climatologists were still trying to determine the magnitude of the risks from industrial greenhouse gas emissions, academics and policy specialists began calling attention to the fact that the alteration of the planet’s atmosphere would lead to unequal harms, and that basic principles of fairness would require that those harms be compensated.”  
“”Climate change reparations” is the shorthand for this claim—reparations meaning, basically, “a rectification of past and ongoing harms.” A plainer word would be justice. But justice is elusive, difficult to calculate, and often impossible to enforce. The notion of climate reparations, also referred to as “climate restitution,” has proved radioactive within international climate change talks, as richer nations resist acknowledging the responsibilities they may hold.” 
“THESE ETHICAL DILEMMAS are beginning to disentangle as the impacts of climate change become immediate. Climate change is no longer a far-off threat to be suffered by future generations. It is happening here and now, the destruction in real time. 
Meanwhile, new research is tightening the chain of causality between fossil fuel consumption and extreme weather disasters. After Superstorm Sandy walloped New York City in 2012, many people were careful not to attribute the storm’s strength to human actions. That uncertainty is evaporating under the glare of a hot new sky. Climatologists report that record-breaking heat and strong winds intensified the disastrous 2017 Northern California wildfires. A few weeks before, San Francisco had posted an unprecedented September high of 106°F. On the first night of the fires, the Diablo winds were clocked at a hurricane-force 79 miles per hour. The record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey (one Texas community measured 51 inches) was three times more likely to occur than it would have been during a storm a century earlier. In December, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society issued a first-ever report linking extreme weather events to climate change.
On January10, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference to announce that the largest city in the United States was moving to divest its holdings in fossil fuel corporations and was filing a lawsuit against five Carbon Barons—ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell—seeking to recover damages from Hurricane Sandy as well as the costs for sea level rise adaptation. 
For decades, Big Oil ravaged the environment, and Big Oil copied Big Tobacco,” (emphasis added) the mayor said. “They used a classic cynical playbook. They denied and denied and denied that their product was lethal. Meanwhile, they spent a lot of time hooking society on that lethal product. . . . It’s time for them to start paying for the damage they’ve done.”” 
“Most damning are the recent revelations that, for nearly 40 years, the leaders of these companies have been aware that their products were emitting dangerous greenhouse gases. A series of exposes published in 2015 by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News showed that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the oil companies’ own in-house scientists had confirmed that CO2 from oil products was contributing to the greenhouse effect. As early as 1977, scientists at Exxon warned the company that the “use of fossil fuels . . . should not be encouraged” because of the risk they posed. In a 1980 presentation to members of the American Petroleum Institute (API), a scientist warned that a global temperature rise of 2.5°C would likely have “major economic consequences” and that further rises would likely produce “globally catastrophic effects.” A year later, a director in Exxon’s research unit warned that the CO2 emissions modeled in the company’s 50-year planning documents “will later produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).” There’s the smoking gun, in the form of an engineer’s memo.” 
NOTE: While winning lawsuits against big oil, natural gas and coal companies will be very difficult because of their wealth and political power – and  the fact that they provide jobs – the idea of the justice of reparations may dawn on even the most ardent deniers of climate science, once the damage is clear enough for anyone to see.
On April 25 Bloomburg published an articlel by Christopher Lavelle titled, FEMA Proposes Letting People Rebuild Homes After Taxpayer Buyouts.  He wrote,
“The Federal Emergency Management Agency is proposing to allow owners of homes destroyed by storms and bought out by the government to rebuild on the same flood-prone land.  (emphasis added)
Currently, FEMA offers to buy homes that have been repeatedly damaged by flooding but then tears down the structure and turns the land into open space. The policy is intended to limit future disaster costs, by removing buildings in locations that make them particularly vulnerable to floods.
Under a change proposed in February, the agency would let homeowners sell their homes to the government but retain ownership of the property underneath it. Once FEMA tears down the home, the owners would be allowed to rebuild the house, so long as the new structure “meets community flood management building codes.”
“Why would you want to change the rules?” Larry Larson, senior policy adviser for the Association of State Floodplain Managers, said in an interview. “That doesn’t make sense.”
NOTE: Allowing the owner whose home has been repeatedly destroyed by flooding to build there again costs FEMA (you the tax payer) more at a time when FEMA is paying out more for flood damage than it has income to cover the loses.  Stupido.
On April 26 The NY Times posted a newsletter by Nadja Popovich in its weekly Climate Fwd., titled, What countries are most responsible for carbon emissions?
She wrote,
Using data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center going back more than 160 years, we compared how much planet-warming CO2 has been released by every country since the industrial revolution. You can see the results in the chart.
Today’s highly industrialized economies — the United States and Europe — got a big head start on burning fossil fuels. But China and other developing nations have ramped up output in recent years.
In total, the United States pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other nation between 1850 and 2014, the latest year for which the center’s data is available. The European Union, including Britain, was the second-largest source of fossil-fuel emissions over that period; China came in third.”
“China may emit twice as much carbon dioxide as the United States today, but the country is home to four times as many people (about 1.4 billion compared to 328 million). Divvying up national emissions by population gives us a different view of “responsibility.”
Small countries with fossil-fuel-intensive economies, like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, tend to top the per capita emissions list. But among more populous nations, the United States, Canada and Australia rank highest.
In 2014, the average American was responsible for more than twice as much carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere (16.2 metric tons per person) as the average Chinese citizen (7.5 metric tons); two and a half times as much as the average Briton (6.5 metric tons); and 10 times as much as the average Indian (1.7 metric tons).”
NOTE: You can subscribe for weekly electronic delivery of NY Times newsletters on climate change here.  You can also submit questions.
On May 9 The Seattle Times published an article by Hal Bernton titled, Washington state regulators tell utilities to tally social costs of carbon emissions.
He wrote, 
State regulators this week stepped up their activism on the climate front by telling three utilities to reconsider the carbon-emission costs of producing electricity from coal and other fossil fuels.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission directives were sent to Puget Sound Energy, Avista Corp and Pacific Power, which collectively serve more than 1.47 million state customers from a mix of coal, natural gas and renewable power.
The commission asks the utilities to assign a hefty cost to carbon emissions, a pollution source that scientists say is driving climate change.
This would be for planning purposes, and not used to try to justify higher rates. But such an accounting would bolster the financial case for the three utilities to hasten their planned exit from the Colstrip Generating Plant, a major Montana coal plant in which each as an ownership stake.
“The higher the (carbon) price, the less economic that facility will look, “ said Ken Johnson, a vice president of Puget Sound Energy, which currently forecasts to be off of coal-fired power by the early 2030s.”
NOTE: The “social cost of carbon” (SC-CO2) is an estimate of the total cost to society in dollars per metric ton of CO2 emitted.  Prior to the Trump administration, the best estimate used by the EPA and other federal agencies was $42 per ton in 2020 and $60/ton by 2040 as the impacts of climate change increase.  Since Trump’s election the cost estimate has been greatly reduced to $1 to $6 per ton, making fossil fuels much more economically attractive.
pastedGraphic.pdfThe following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under “publications”
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 
Declining Snowpack Levels Continue to Plague Western United States
Officials in the western United States are dealing with a range of issues stemming from low flow in parts of the Rio Grande and Colorado River. States in the Colorado River Basin are being urged to install drought contingency plans by the end of 2018 to prepare for an increasingly strained water supply. Meanwhile, officials are trying to save endangered fish in New Mexico, where the Rio Grande is beginning to run dry at an unusually early time of year. The Southwest’s wildfire season has also started early, with at least 10 major wildfires having already burned tens of thousands of acres. Researchers are eyeing diminished mountain snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains as one culprit behind the parched conditions. The California Department of Water Resources found that the Sierra’s snowpack levels were only 52 percent of its historical average. The Colorado River Basin has also experienced some of its lowest snowpack levels in decades. Collectively, the mountain snowpack provides drinking water to millions of people, while the spring runoff helps moisten the soil and reduce stress on vegetation.
For more information see:

pastedGraphic_1.pdfAlaska’s Policies Strive to Catch Up to Climate Realities
The state of Alaska is actively discussing policies to address climate change, including greenhouse gas emission reduction goals targeting 2025 and a potential carbon tax on industry emissions. Alaska is already experiencing the effects of global warming. The permafrost located underneath much of the state’s buildings and infrastructure is beginning to thaw and destabilize the construction above. At least 31 towns and cities may have to relocate farther inland due to the loss of sea ice buffers and severe wave erosion of the shoreline. Alaska’s Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said, “The change has been so real and so widespread that it’s become impossible to ignore. Folks are realizing that it’s something we have to deal with.” A task force established by Gov. Bill Walker is scheduled to provide recommendations by September 2018 on policies to help Alaska reduce its emissions and better adapt to climate change. This desire to deal with climate change is contradicted by the fact that 85 percent of Alaska’s budget is funded by revenue from oil production. Gov. Walker and Lt. Gov. Mallott recently declared in an op-ed that “[Alaska] will continue to be an energy producer for as long as there is a market for fossil fuels.”
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_2.pdfStudy: As Manufacturing Moves Beyond China and India, Emissions Rise
A study from researchers at the University of East Anglia has documented an increasing number of industries relocating from China and India to less-developed Asian countries. This trend may undermine global emission reduction targets outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, since the less-developed nations typically have less capacity or resources to deal with large-scale emission reductions. The study found that energy-intensive industries, including electronics manufacturing and steel production, are moving to countries with cheaper labor like Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Meanwhile, China’s economy is beginning to shift to “higher value-added” products and services as its labor costs rise. China itself has sought to cut its emissions from these industries in order to improve its air quality and preserve worker health, but less-developed countries have begun exporting more and experienced a simultaneous surge in emissions. International trade increased by 50 percent between 2005 and 2015, with 60 percent of that representing growth in exports from developing countries. Lead author Dabo Guan said that China and India should help ensure their former industries adopt energy efficient technologies and methods in less-industrialized nations.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_3.pdfIEA: Unchecked Air-Conditioning Demand Could Lead to Climate Change Feedback Loop
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published a report predicting the number of air-conditioning units worldwide will explode from 1.6 billion today to 5.6 billion by 2050. If this looming trend is not addressed, air-conditioners could end up consuming as much electricity in the future as the entire country of China uses today. The report calculates that generating enough electricity to power all those air-conditioning units could lead to twice as many greenhouse gas emissions, thus exacerbating global warming and the need for air-conditioning. Today, most air-conditioners are located in a few countries, primarily the United States and Japan. Ninety percent of American homes have air-conditioning. IEA predicts that as incomes increase in the developing world, much of the growth in air-conditioning units will occur in India, China, and Indonesia. IEA executive director Fatih Birol said, “When we look in fact at the hot countries in the world, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where about 2.8 billion people live, only about 8 percent of the population owns an air-conditioner.”
For more information see:
NOTE: A  positive feedback in a warming climate means that rising global temperatures cause the rate of warming to increase.  Burning more fossil fuels to generate electricity to run more air conditioners as the temperature rises is one example.  Another  is the replacement of highly reflective ice and snow as the North Polar ice cap melts and is replaced by deep blue sea, which absorbs much more of the solar radiation that hits it.
pastedGraphic_4.pdfStudy: American Insurance Companies Still Largely Unprepared for Climate Change
According to a new study appearing in the British Journal of Management, most American insurance companies have failed to adequately modify their strategies to cope with the risks of climate change. The alleged complacency is expected to force the industry to increase insurance rates or even deny coverage in the most vulnerable areas. Thousands of people who live in areas that are regularly struck by extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, could end up unable to afford insurance in the future or lose their coverage altogether. In 2017, three record-setting hurricanes hit the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, causing billions of dollars in damage, but the study found that the majority of insurance companies continue to treat such storms as “anomalous rather than correlated to climate change.” A 2015 analysis by reinsurer Swiss Re noted that insured losses reached an all-time high between 2004 and 2014. However, as of 2015, only three percent of a sample of 178 property insurers and reinsurers were taking climate change into consideration in their operations and investments.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_5.pdfReport: Algae Blooms on the Rise in the United States
A report from the non-profit Environmental Working Group documented nearly 300 large algae blooms across the United States since 2010. In 2017 alone, 169 such events occurred. Scientists have projected an increase in algae blooms as a consequence of climate change. The blooms themselves can also emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases, as a recent report from the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Sea Grant, and U.S. EPA found. Lead researcher John Downing and his team examined lakes and impoundments, finding that “as the lakes go greener, more eutrophic, the atmospheric effect of the lakes skyrockets. That’s because plants are decomposing and shooting methane and CO2 into the atmosphere.” Downing added that a modest increase in algae blooms could increase the greenhouse effect of lakes by 5-40 percent. Algae blooms, particularly in the Great Lakes, are largely fueled by phosphorus contained in agricultural runoff. In 2014, a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie caused health officials to declare the city of Toledo’s water supply unsafe for drinking and bathing.
For more information see:
NOTE: Increasing emissions of CO2 and methane as a result of algal blooms that are enhanced by rising temperatures is another example of a positive feedback.
pastedGraphic_6.pdfStudy: Warming Oceans Projected to Force Fisheries Farther North
A study appearing in the journal PLOS One has found that hundreds of fish and invertebrate species will move as much as 900 miles farther north to escape warming ocean waters. The mass migration would significantly disrupt the fishing industry on the east and west coasts of the United States and Canada. Some of the species expected to be most affected include Atlantic cod, black sea bass, and Pacific rockfish. Lead author James Morley of Rutgers University said, “We’ve already seen that shifts of a couple of hundred miles in a species’ range can disrupt fisheries.” Co-author Malin Pinsky of Rutgers added that the shift in habitat for commercially valuable species will lead to longer trips and higher fuel costs for fishermen. The study drew from 16 different climate models to project future ocean temperatures, then combined this data with statistical models on the known temperature preferences of various fish species. In New England, warming waters could decrease the region’s cod population by 90 percent, while lobster populations are expected to continue their northward march.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_7.pdfTrump and Merkel Expected to Huddle on Climate before Next Round of UN Talks
President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a meeting on April 27 ahead of a United Nations climate meeting in Bonn scheduled for April 30 through May 10. Merkel is expected to lobby the U.S. president on the benefits of staying in the Paris Climate Agreement, much as French President Emmanuel Macron did during a recent state visit to Washington. During the visit, Macron said, “I am sure, one day, the United States will come back and join the Paris Agreement. Let us face it: There is no Planet B.” Even if the U.S. government refuses to engage in climate talks, the rest of the world has shown a willingness to work with American state and local leaders and the private sector to advance the agreement’s emission reduction targets. There are concerns that a U.S. withdrawal would only make reaching those goals more difficult though, since many participating countries have not exhibited enough ambition in their mitigation actions to date.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_8.pdfStudy: Sea Level Rise May Render Pacific Island Uninhabitable Within Decades
A new study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense found that by midcentury, waves will begin washing over a key Pacific Island with enough frequency to contaminate groundwater supplies, damage crops, and impair infrastructure. The study combines climate projections with weather and wave modeling to analyze the impacts of rising seas on Kwajalein, an island that houses the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site, which has been used to test U.S. defenses against a nuclear attack. The study explains that without global efforts to reduce emissions and costly adaptation projects, facilities on islands like Kwajalein may come under threat as soon as 2030. In the meantime, building seawalls and shipping in water would allow operations to continue, but this is not a sustainable, long-term solution. John Conger, director of the Center for Climate and Security, explained, “A lot of people have asked me in the past about how much the [Defense Department] is going to invest in dealing with climate change, and I think it’s the wrong question to ask. I think climate change is an important factor to study to save money.”
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_9.pdfClimate Change Poses Risks to Farmworkers in Texas
Thousands of farmworkers in Texas are among the most vulnerable to climate change as its impacts intensify. Dangerous heat conditions have curtailed work hours for farmworkers in Hidalgo County and damaged crops before they can be harvested. Many farmworkers also live in substandard houses and face a range of problems, such as a lack of running water, disease-carrying mosquitoes, and flooding. More than 500,000 people live in unplanned neighborhoods, called colonias, along the Texas-Mexico border with more than 40 percent of those residents living below the poverty line. Besides working in the fields, working in crop packing sheds without air conditioning can also endanger the health of laborers. Nevertheless, some are wary about taking a rest from the heat because this would cut into their wages. During peak harvest season in July, low temperatures tend to be in the 80s with highs above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Homes offer little opportunity to bring body temperatures down during sleep, since the multiple families that occupy them take turns cooking on the stove, which heats the home for extended periods.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_10.pdfChef Advocates for Less Food Waste to Combat Climate Change and Boost Business
Tim Ma, chef at the popular DC-based restaurant Kyrisian, recycles food parts that are usually discarded as trash to create new dishes, fighting food waste while saving money and increasing revenues. For instance carrot tops are used as an ingredient in pesto, and sea bass heads are deep fried and served as an off-menu delicacy. Ma’s vision follows the recent trend of fighting food waste as a chic choice in high-end eateries. But it is not only about creativity and environmental ethics, it is an economic choice. Ma argues that cutting down food waste “is a business decision,” adding that “you do this as a function of saving every penny that you can, because the restaurant margins are so slim right now.” The business case is confirmed by a new report by the World Resources Institute. By using data from 42 hotel sites in 15 countries that have implemented food waste-reduction strategies, the study found that for every dollar used to reduce food waste, the restaurants made an average return of seven dollars.
For more information see:
Hurricanes Create Conditions for Economic Disparity in Coastal Housing Markets
After extreme weather events, houses in coastal cities are often replaced with more resilient, more costly houses, which attract wealthier residents and displace others. Such a phenomenon is described as “climate gentrification.” Many factors lead to higher housing prices after extreme weather events, including higher construction costs as a result of stricter building codes, rising premiums for federal flood insurance, and increased taxes as local governments spend more money on coastal defenses. In addition, without federal requirements, coastal local governments seldom replace or repair damaged public housing. Without a low-income workforce that can afford housing, the tourism economy in coastal cities tends to suffer. However, “climate gentrification” is not a universal phenomenon. USC Economics Professor Matthew Kahn describes this difference as an “amenity gradient,” meaning climate gentrification tends to occur in coastal areas already attractive to the rich, since the wealthier residents have the means of staying in the area despite the elevated risk of climate change. Research also suggests that climate gentrification is occurring inland. Houses along the coastlines are not able to meet the growing demand for higher-elevation properties, making houses further inland more attractive to real estate developers.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_11.pdfFrom Severe Droughts to Severe Floods, Climate Change Hits California’s Weather 
According to a new study by UC-Los Angeles researchers, California may be destined to suffer more from weather volatility and extreme shifts between wet and dry periods. The study found that even though the state’s long-term average annual precipitation will not change much, there is going to be an increase in extremes. “We expect to see more really wet years and also more really dry years,” said lead author Daniel Swain. The study projected a 25 to 100 percent increase in extreme dry-to-wet precipitation events. These predictions seem to hint at the possibility that major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco could be hit by a series of storms in the coming decades similar to those that led to the 19th century’s “Great Flood.” The study shows that the frequency of storms similar to that 1862 event could increase by 300 to 400 percent, but it also argues that the rainy season is set to shorten due to a decrease in precipitation in autumn and spring. In addition, climate change is affecting California’s water reserves by shrinking the state’s snowpack. 
For more information see: 
pastedGraphic_12.pdfScientists Examine Natural Processes for Potential Carbon Removal Technologies
Distinctive geologic formations in Oman and elsewhere have attracted the attention of scientists hoping to advance carbon sequestration methods. The rocks of interest convert carbon dioxide into stone through a natural process called carbon mineralization. Although there is a great deal of uncertainty at this early stage, scientists are hopeful that the process may one day be harnessed on a massive scale to help remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be essential to blunting the worst impacts of global warming, but the technology itself has lagged behind in practice. Today, there are fewer than 20 large-scale CCS projects operating worldwide. These projects typically capture CO2 from fossil fuel combustion or other industrial practices and store it underground as a gas. The carbon mineralization process being researched falls under the category of direct-air capture, meaning the removal of CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere. Some scientists caution that direct-air capture may prove impractical, while others view it as part of a diverse research approach to developing climate solutions.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_13.pdfStudy: Warm Ocean Currents Accelerate Melting of Glaciers
According to a new study, the primary driver of glacier loss in Antarctica is now warm ocean water coming in under the ice. The study, appearing in Science Advances,shows that meltwater from the glaciers affects the oceans and makes it easier for warm water to reach the ice. This results in more melting and a continuous feedback loop, which may prove difficult to stop. This mixing process has been significantly lessened in East and West Antarctica, due to the influx of fresh water from glaciers, allowing warm water to seep under nearby glaciers. Essentially, the processes that typically mix and circulate warm and cold water layers near the Antarctic coast are being disrupted. Instead of cooling down due this mixing, the warm water remains a greater threat to melt any glaciers it comes into contact with. Researchers are still trying to find out what causes the feedback loop and the initial high melt rates. Some of the possible causes include natural climate variations, anthropogenic climate change, and influences from Antarctica’s ozone hole.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_14.pdfSeventeen States Sue Trump Administration to Preserve Fuel Efficiency Standards
On May 1, California joined 16 other states in suing the Trump administration for its plans to roll-back federal vehicle fuel efficiency standards. The targeted rules would require the entire vehicle fleet for model years 2022-2025 to achieve 36 miles per gallon on average by 2025, an improvement of 10 mpg over the existing standard. California and the Obama administration had agreed to the rules in 2012, establishing a unified efficiency standard. California is the only state allowed to set more stringent vehicle standards than EPA as a means of combatting pollution, but 13 states and the District of Columbia have also adopted California’s standards. Trump administration officials and auto industry representatives have argued that the standards are too stringent and would lead to higher vehicle prices. California counters that EPA’s plan to repeal the rules is not backed by any new research and would violate the Clean Air Act. Auto industry leaders and President Trump were planning on meeting soon to discuss the issue.
For more information see:
pastedGraphic_15.pdfStudy: Pruitt’s Industry Focus Bringing EPA Closer to “Regulatory Capture”
A new study in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency is at risk of “regulatory capture,” meaning that the agency prioritizes industry concerns over the public interest. The study conducted lengthy interviews with 45 former and current members of the agency and examined data gathered by a watchdog group to assess where EPA may be headed. The study observes that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who faces at least 10 on-going investigations related to his actions at the agency, has gone to “extraordinary lengths … to preserve secrecy and autonomy from the EPA career staff.” The study documents how Pruitt’s policy decisions have undermined the agency’s public health mission, such as accepting little-to-no input from staff and scientists and dismissing long-standing scientific practices. The industry-oriented approach is also reflected in Pruitt’s political appointments, drawn almost exclusively from industry. Pruitt has tried to revoke or delay at least 30 existing rules and presided over a 60 percent reduction in civil penalties, as well as an overall decline in regulatory enforcement during his first six months on the job.
For more information see:
America’s Eastern Seaboard Experiencing Escalation of “Sunny Day Flooding”
Locations across the East Coast of the United States are experiencing frequent nuisance flooding decades sooner than scientists anticipated. One study estimates sea levels are rising at an inch per year in areas ranging from North Carolina to Florida. This increase is most frequently experienced during tidal flooding (also known as “sunny day flooding”), which can temporarily inundate low-lying areas, damage buildings, and block roads. The cost of dealing with such hazards can add up over time, especially for smaller communities with fewer fiscal resources. According to NOAA, this type of flooding will continue to grow in frequency and reach. For instance, Charleston, SC experienced tidal flooding during 50 days in 2016, versus four days 50 years ago. Wilimington, NC saw 84 days of tidal flooding in 2016. A recent report from NOAA stated, “It is important for planning purposes that U.S. coastal cities become better informed about the extent that high-tide flooding is increasing and will likely increase in the coming decades.”
For more information see:
U.S. Government to Spend Millions to Move Alaskan Village Threatened by Coastal Erosion
The Denali Commission, an independent federal agency, has decided to spend $22 million to help a village in Alaska move to higher ground as coastal erosion and flooding threaten its existence. The small village of Newtok has a population of 375 and is located about 500 miles west of Anchorage. The village is at risk of disappearing as the nearby Ninglick River gains roughly 70 feet each year, threatening to destroy homes and major facilities within a few years. Fifteen million dollars in funding will come from a March 2018 federal spending bill, while the rest will come from pre-existing agency funds and a required match by the Alaskan state government. With this amount, roughly 13 houses can be relocated to a new site located nine miles inland, in addition to the construction of new water, electric, and transit infrastructure. The commission’s plan entails the renovation and delivery of abandoned barracks buildings from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to keep costs down. The relocation effort started 20 years ago and agencies have spent about $47 million so far, but the estimated total cost for the whole operation is estimated at $150 million.
For more information see:
Study: Southern Hemisphere Expected to Suffer Disproportionately from Climate Impacts
A new study appearing in the journal Science Advances is asserting that “the countries that have contributed least to climate change, and are most vulnerable to extreme events, are projected to experience the strongest increase in [climate] variability. These changes would therefore amplify the inequality associated with the impacts of a changing climate.” The researchers found that tropical countries, which tend to be less wealthy and emit far fewer greenhouse gases than more developed nations, could face severe extremes in temperature in the future. These significant swings can harm agriculture and public health. The simulations conducted for the study also illustrated that if the Amazon region were to dry out, this could result in 15 percent more regional climate variability for every one degree Celsius of global warming. Mass tree die-offs in the Amazon would only serve to increase atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and feed even more warming.
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pastedGraphic_16.pdfWomen, Disproportionately Affected by Climate Change, Take the Lead to Address It
As climate change impacts intensify, women in rural communities in developing countries are facing higher risks since they are often responsible for work heavily tied to the land. However, in Guatemala, women are taking a lead role in addressing climate change. In 2017, the Ut’z Che’ network of community forestry groups gathered women from across the country to share their experience in water conservation, sustainable forestry, and farming. They also learned how to empower themselves and leverage their legal rights. Women are increasingly using their knowledge and urging those in power to address communal issues, such as drought and deforestation. Eleanor Blomstrom, co-director of the women’s advocacy group WEDO, noted, “[Women] get in touch with others and so it builds their capacity to engage with local governments and even then, to figure out how to make their stories visible on the international stage.” But women still face challenges in this process, especially those from unequal societies. For example, without land titles, women from Guatemala find it difficult to make an impact. Another challenge is to ensure female representation and involvement in action plans from the start.  
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pastedGraphic_17.pdfClimate Change Increases Risk from Mosquito-Borne Diseases in South Florida
Higher temperatures brought on by climate change are increasing the range and biting season of many types of mosquitoes, including those that are carriers of viruses like Zika and dengue. Climate change may also increase the chance that mosquito-borne diseases largely eliminated from the mainland United States (such as yellow fever) may return. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, the incidence of insect-borne diseases have tripled between 2004 and 2016. These effects have been deeply felt in South Florida, where the warm and wet climate is ideal for mosquitoes. The risk is elevated further when combined with Florida’s influx of international visitors from countries that are currently grappling with these diseases. During Florida’s Zika outbreak, tourism declined amid public health fears. Since 2016, Florida has had over 1,500 cases of Zika, but its 30 cases in 2018 have all been travel-related. The outbreaks caused Miami-Dade County to increase its Mosquito Control Division budget from $2 million to $16 million to better prepare for the extended mosquito season.
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NOTE: Mosquitos are not the only disease carrying vector that is spreading northward in the U.S..  Black-legged ticks are spreading northward as temperatures rise, spreading Lyme disease.  Reported cases of the disease have more than doubled in the last 20 years
U.S. and U.K. Scientists Lead Expedition to Examine Melting Antarctic Glacier
Scientists from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) are leading a five-year project to examine the Thwaites Glacier in west Antarctica. Satellites show that the Thwaites Glacier is melting faster due to climate change and has already been responsible for four percent of global sea-level rise. The project aims to figure out the mechanism leading to the Thwaites’ melting and whether it could collapse in the future, which could result in more than 2.5 feet of additional sea-level rise. The expedition will use numerous instruments and techniques while enlisting the help of remote-controlled submersible vessels to gather data. Researchers will study the way ocean water moves beneath the glacier, drill for sediment samples to better understand the Earth’s past warming events, and map out the ice stream’s behavior. Duncan Wingham, chair of NERC, said the expedition is essential to understanding the changes taking place in the region, since the Thwaites Glacier is “one of the least explored parts of the Antarctic continent.”
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pastedGraphic_18.pdfTrump Administration Ends NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System
The Trump administration has quietly eliminated funding for a crucial tool used by climate change researchers. NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) is a $10-million-a-year research line that helps tie together data collected from satellite and aircraft instruments into high-resolution models for tracking the flow of carbon sinks and sources worldwide. The loss of the program would also make it more difficult to verify whether countries are complying with the Paris Climate Agreement. Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, called the cancellation of CMS “a grave mistake,” adding, “If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement.” The White House has previously targeted NASA’s earth science budget for cuts, but the last congressional spending deal in March 2018 preserved those programs. However, the deal did not mention CMS, thus providing the administration with an opening. Current grants under CMS will be completed, but no new research will be supported going forward. Experts expect European agencies to take on some of the duties NASA previously executed under CMS.
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Report on Environmental Threats to DOD Facilities Had Climate References Scrubbed Out
A review of a draft version of a Pentagon report on climate-related risks to defense infrastructure revealed that explicit references to climate change were removed or altered for the final version. The 32-page report delivered to Congress in January 2018 stated that out of the 3,500 Defense Department facilities located around the world, 782 were affected by drought, 763 by severe wind events, and 706 by flooding, in addition to other challenges. However, the report was far less direct in making references to “climate change,” “extreme weather,” or even “climate” when discussing these threats. The phrase “climate change” appeared 23 times in the December 2016 draft, but only once in the final document. A map detailing facilities that may be vulnerable to the effects of mean sea level rise between 0-3 feet, as well as references to the decline in Arctic sea ice and the National Climate Assessment were also removed. The report was built around a survey of military installation managers asking how present and future climate impacts may affect those sites.
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EPA Administrator Prefers Outside Advisors Over Agency’s Own Climate Scientists
A Freedom of Information Act request has shed additional light on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s plans for a “red team, blue team” debate on climate science. The documents show a deep advisory relationship between Pruitt’s EPA and the Heartland Institute, which is known for its extreme positions disavowing climate change and its causes. The CO2 Coalition, an organization that claims excess carbon dioxide is “beneficial” to humans, has also been assisting Pruitt after calling the idea to hold climate science debates “superb.” Meanwhile, the EPA’s own scientists are reportedly being shut out of internal discussions and are removed from any planning going into the exercise. Climate researcher Benjamin Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory observed, “[These organizations] do not have scientific expertise.” The idea for a series of potentially televised debates was originally proposed by Pruitt to a group of coal executives in June 2017, with EPA staff working to further develop the concept alongside groups that actively oppose mainstream climate science.
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pastedGraphic_19.pdfKing County, WA Sues Petroleum Companies Over Climate Change
On May 9, the government of King County, Washington filed a lawsuit in the state’s Superior Court against five major oil companies over their alleged role in suppressing awareness of and action on global warming. The suit is seeking financial compensation to assist the county in dealing with sea level rise, extreme weather events, and other effects of climate change. Exxon Mobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and BP are named as defendants in the suit. The suit names the companies liable for the production and marketing of fossil fuels known to drive global warming, alleging the consequences of their actions equate to “a continuing trespass onto county property.” Nine other cities and counties have also filed separate suits against fossil-fuel companies over climate change issues. King County hired the law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro to pursue the case. The firm was previously involved in the 1990s case brought against American tobacco companies that resulted in a $206 billion settlement.
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Report: Climate Change Increasingly Disruptive to California’s Environment
According to a new report by the California Environmental Protection Agency, climate change is expected to cause significant environmental issues across the state. The report covers 36 indicators of climate change divided into four categories: those driving climate change (emissions, acidification, etc.); actual changes in the climate (temperature, precipitation); climate impacts on physical systems (snowmelt runoff, sea level rise); and climate impacts on biological systems (vector-borne diseases, migratory bird arrivals). Although California has made gains in reducing its own emissions, including a 90 percent reduction in black carbon from tailpipe emissions over the past 50 years, global CO2 levels have continued to rise. California’s warmest years on record all took place during a span from 2014 to 2017. In addition, the state’s five largest fire seasons since 1950 have all taken place after 2006. Christopher Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute, said, “The risks are coming into sharper focus, the range of impacts are coming into sharper focus. [The report] reinforces and amplifies the messages we’ve already seen.”
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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light