Climate change: The Arctic as it is known today is almost certainly gone – Apr 29th 2017


On current trends, the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2040

Climate-change sceptics will shrug. Some may even celebrate: an ice-free Arctic ocean promises a shortcut for shipping between the Pacific coast of Asia and the Atlantic coasts of Europe and the Americas, and the possibility of prospecting for perhaps a fifth of the planet’s undiscovered supplies of oil and natural gas. Such reactions are profoundly misguided. Never mind that the low price of oil and gas means searching for them in the Arctic is no longer worthwhile. Or that the much-vaunted sea passages are likely to carry only a trickle of trade. The right response is fear. The Arctic is not merely a bellwether of matters climatic, but an actor in them (see Briefing).

The current period of global warming that Earth is undergoing is caused by certain gases in the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide. These admit heat, in the form of sunlight, but block its radiation back into space, in the form of longer-wavelength infra-red. That traps heat in the air, the water and the land. More carbon dioxide equals more warming—a simple equation. Except it is not simple. A number of feedback loops complicate matters. Some dampen warming down; some speed it up. Two in the Arctic may speed it up quite a lot.

One is that seawater is much darker than ice. It absorbs heat rather than reflecting it back into space. That melts more ice, which leaves more seawater exposed, which melts more ice. And so on. This helps explain why the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet. The deal on climate change made in Paris in 2015 is meant to stop Earth’s surface temperature rising by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the unlikely event that it is fully implemented, winter temperatures over the Arctic ocean will still warm by between 5° and 9°C compared with their 1986-2005 average.

The second feedback loop concerns not the water but the land. In the Arctic much of this is permafrost. That frozen soil locks up a lot of organic material. If the permafrost melts its organic contents can escape as a result of fire or decay, in the form of carbon dioxide or methane (which is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2). This will speed up global warming directly—and the soot from the fires, when it settles on the ice, will darken it and thus speed its melting still more.

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This Peruvian Man is Suing an Energy Company Over Climate Change: VICE News Tonight on HBO – Published on Mar 21, 2017


VICE News’ Arielle Duhaime-Ross travels to the Peruvian Andes where, for the first time, a single individual is suing a company over the effects of climate change.

In this case, Saúl Luciano Lliuya, a local mountain guide in the Andean town of Huaraz, claims that one of the most prolific greenhouse gas emitters in the world, the German company RWE, is partially responsible for the glacial melt which might cause a nearby lake to overflow and destroy his house.

 

Doctors Warn Climate Change Threatens Public Health – By Kavya Balaraman, E&E News on March 17, 2017


Physicians are noticing an influx of patients whose illnesses are directly or indirectly related to global warming

Credit: Santiago Urquijo Getty Images

Credit: Santiago Urquijo Getty Images

Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, Patrice Tomcik had never heard of Lyme disease — an infectious, flu-like illness transmitted by ticks.

But in the last few years, five of her friends have caught it, she’s had to have her dog vaccinated and she regularly finds herself pulling ticks off her children. It can be disconcerting, she said, having to worry about an illness that she had never been exposed to in the past.

“It’s getting warmer, so the season for ticks is lasting longer,” said Tomcik, a field consultant with Moms Clean Air Force. “There are so many more of them, and they just don’t die off. It’s a big issue here in Pennsylvania, because we have so much wood. Our family has 29 acres of land out in the woods, and I’m picking ticks off my dog and my kids like I’ve never seen before.”

Lyme disease isn’t the only contagious illness that is venturing into new territories under a shifting climate. Across the country, physicians are noticing an influx of patients whose illnesses, they say, are directly or indirectly related to climate change. Now, 11 medical associations — representing around half the doctors and physicians in the country — are creating a group that intends to address the links between climate change and health risks.

“I view this as one of the largest environmental health crises of our time because of the many pathways in which climate affects us — be it from direct heat effects and heat waves in urban centers, ground-level smog, ozone red alert days, stagnant air masses and warmer temperatures, to some infectious diseases,” said Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The group, called the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, intends to advocate for climate change and health awareness among the public and policymakers. Mona Sarfaty, director of the consortium, said its message is one of urgency: “that climate change is harming the health of Americans and that we have to act now.”

“We wish to start that conversation and are eager to talk to everybody about it. We will be speaking to people in environmental organizations, we’ll be speaking to members of Congress, we’ll be sending reports and having conversations with other policymakers throughout the country,” she added.

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Maps Show Where Americans Care about Climate Change – By Erika Bolstad, ClimateWire on March 1, 2017


The updated Yale Climate Opinion maps suggest Americans’ opinions on climate change differ sharply from that of the president

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey Flickr

If you were wondering how many Americans think coal-fired power plants should cap emissions, how much they worry about climate change or even how often they talk about it, well, there’s a map for that.

The Yale Climate Opinion maps, which offer some of the most detailed information available on how people across the U.S. view climate change, just got their first update in two years.

The interactive maps, which hadn’t changed since 2014, use survey data to determine climate change beliefs, risk perception and policy support for climate-related policy at the state and local level.

The update unveiled this week incorporates data gathered after the 2016 election by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

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U.S. Conservatives Unveil Plan to Fight Climate Change February 11, 2017


The plan, authored by former Republican cabinet members and economic advisers, could slash emissions. But is it politically feasible?

View Images  Emissions from a coal-fired power plant in Kentucky hint at the debate over climate change policy in Washington. Photograph by Luke Sharrett, The New York Times, Redux

View Images 
Emissions from a coal-fired power plant in Kentucky hint at the debate over climate change policy in Washington.
Photograph by Luke Sharrett, The New York Times, Redux`

In an effort to address the threat of climate change, a group of conservative U.S. statesmen has outlined a plan that, by 2030, could cut the United States’s carbon emissions by up to two-fifths below 2005 levels.

At a Wednesday press conference, the newly established “Climate Leadership Council”— a consortium of Republican Party stalwarts including officials from the Reagan and both Bush administrations—unveiled their plan for a gradually increasing, revenue-neutral tax that puts a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

The Climate Leadership Council’s proposal calls for a $40 tax on each metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions, with the tax steadily increasing on an annual basis. All proceeds—an estimated $200 to $300 billion per year—would be distributed back to American citizens in the form of dividend checks. Carbon taxes on foreign imports and rebates for U.S. exports would then keep U.S.-made goods competitive, the authors claim.

In return for implementing the tax, the plan calls for cutting many current U.S. regulations on carbon emissions. In particular, the plan calls for axing the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era EPA rule that aimed to slash CO2 from power plants, which generate 37 percent of the country’s total carbon emissions. (Legal challenges have stayed the rule’s implementation.)

“If you look at the priorities of President Trump, our plan ticks every one of his boxes,” says Ted Halstead, the group’s founder and CEO. “It is pro-growth. It is pro-jobs. It is pro-competitiveness linked with balanced trade. And last, but hardly least, it would be good for working-class Americans.”

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Climate Policy in the Age of a New President – By Ted Nordhaus, Alex Trembath, and Jessica Lovering January 24, 2017


A Plausible Path Forward

KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order that places a hiring freeze on non-military federal workers in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, January 2017.

KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS U.S. President signs an executive order that places a hiring freeze on non-military federal workers in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, January 2017.

Of the many reasons that a slim minority of voters chose to elect a bombastic reality television star to be president of the United States, climate change was surely not high on the list. Nonetheless, the new President assumed the office last week openly hostile to the environmental movement. He has threatened to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, gut the Barack Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, and cut funding for climate science research. Should he follow through, two decades of work trying to translate a growing understanding of human-caused global warming into explicit treaties at the international level and emissions policies at the federal level will have reached their denouement. And that, in the long run, might be a good thing for the climate.

THE STATUS QUO’S SMALL FOOTPRINT

Since international efforts to limit carbon emissions began in earnest almost 30 years ago, there has been little evidence that either international agreements or national commitments to cap and reduce emissions have done much good. Analysis published late last year by our research outlet, the Breakthrough Institute, found that the carbon intensity of energy systems fell faster before climate policies were enacted in California, Germany, and around the world through the Kyoto Protocol. Modeling by the Yale economist William Nordhaus (the uncle of one of the authors) released last year reached a similar conclusion.

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Ignoring President -Elect Skepticism, Davos Elite Bets on Climate Change – by Javier Blas and Jess Shankleman January 14, 2017, 4:01 PM PST


1800x-1

A woman walks past the entrance to the Congress Center, venue for the World Economic Forum (WEF), in Davos on Jan. 13, 2017. Photographer: Michele Limina/Bloomberg

  • World Econonic Forum to heavily feature clean energy in 2017
  • Special session at Davos on climate change to include 60 CEOs

Donald Trump has often ridiculed global warming and promised to withdraw the U.S. from the global accord signed in Paris in 2015. Yet despite the change of political weather in Washington, the captains of business and finance gathered in Davos this week will spend a lot of time talking about climate change — and how to make money from it.

The World Economic Forum is devoting 15 sessions of its 2017 annual meeting to climate change, and nine more to clean energy — the most ever on the issues.

It reflects how much is at stake. For global business leaders, it’s not just a question of burnishing their green credentials, but about billions of dollars — maybe even trillions — in potential profits and losses. Insurers are starting to price-in more frequent flooding and droughts; energy giants are shaping their business for a world that’s moving away from oil and coal; car makers are putting real money into electric vehicles; banks want to lend money for renewable electricity projects.

“The good thing is that the Paris agreement raised the bar for everyone,” said Ben van Beurden, the head of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s largest oil group. “Everybody feels the obligation to act.”

Achieving the ambitions set out in Paris may require $13.5 trillion of spending through to 2030, according International Energy Agency data that shows the scale of the opportunity for business. Only last year, clean energy investment stood at $287.5 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicate.

“The scale and scope of the investment flows on renewables shows it’s mainstream,” said David Turk, head of climate change at the IEA in Paris and a former senior U.S. climate diplomat.

Opportunities Rising

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Yes, the climate has always changed. This comic shows why that’s no comfort. – Updated by Brad Plumer Jan 13, 2017, 1:09am EST


Randall Munroe, the author of the webcomic XKCD, has a habit of making wonderfully lucid infographics on otherwise difficult scientific topics. Everyone should check his take on global warming. It’s a stunning graphic showing Earth’s recent climate history. Take some time with it. Stroll through the events like the domestication of dogs and the construction of Stonehenge. And then ponder the upshot here.

There’s a common line among climate skeptics that “[t]he climate has always changed, so why worry if it’s changing now?” The first half of that sentence is undeniably true. Due to orbital wobbles, volcanic activity, rock weathering, and changes in solar activity, the Earth’s temperature has waxed and waned over th`e past 4.5 billion years. During the Paleocene it was so warm that crocodiles swam above the Arctic Circle. And 20,000 years ago it was cold enough that multi-meter-thick glaciers covered Montreal.

But Munroe’s comic below hits at the “why worry.” What’s most relevant to us humans, living in the present day, is that the climate has been remarkably stable for the past 12,000 years. That period encompasses all of human civilization — from the pyramids to the Industrial Revolution to Facebook and beyond. We’ve benefited greatly from that stability. It’s allowed us to build farms and coastal cities and thrive without worrying about overly wild fluctuations in the climate.

And now we’re losing that stable climate. Thanks to the burning of fossil fuels and land use changes, the Earth is heating up at the fastest rate in millions of years, a pace that could prove difficult to adapt to. Sea level rise, heat waves, droughts, and floods threaten to make many of our habitats and infrastructure obsolete. Given that, it’s hardly a comfort to know that things were much, much hotter when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

 (XKCD)

(By the way, one of the more surprising things I learned from this was that mammoths were still around when the Pyramids were being built. Who knew?)

Further reading:

  • My colleagues Joss Fong and Estelle Castwell made a very similar pointwith this video. As they put it, climate change isn’t about “saving the planet.” The planet will be fine. It’s us who need to worry a bit.
  • The world set a goal of keeping global temperatures within 2°C of the optimum level seen above. So what happens now that we’re likely to go past that?

A visual tour of the world’s CO2 emissions

Obama Just Took a Big Step on Climate—and Trump Probably Can’t Undo It – DAVID SMITH DEC. 20, 2016 8:29 PM


Sorry, Donald.

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Barack Obama has permanently banned new oil and gas drilling in most US-owned waters in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, a last-ditch effort to lock in environmental protections before he hands over to Donald Trump.

Obama used a 1953 law that allows presidents to block the sale of new offshore drilling and mining rights and makes it difficult for their successors to reverse the decision.

However, Obama’s ban—affecting federal waters off Alaska in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea and in the Atlantic from New England to the Chesapeake Bay—is unprecedented in scale and could be challenged by Trump in court.

The president-elect has vowed to unleash the country’s untapped energy reserves and exploit fossil fuels. He has previously questioned the science of climate change, threatened to tear up the Paris climate agreement and appointed climate-change deniers in his cabinet.

“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said.

This has led to a scramble from environmentalists calling on Obama to impose whatever regulations and executive orders he can to protect his climate legacy.

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Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney: How to make a profit from defeating climate change – Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg Wednesday 14 December 2016


 Rising sea levels in the Bay of Bengal: ‘A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them.’ Photograph: Sushavan Nandy/Barcroft Images

Rising sea levels in the Bay of Bengal: ‘A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them.’ Photograph: Sushavan Nandy/Barcroft Images

Michael Bloomberg

From rising sea levels to more severe storms and more intense droughts, climate change will present serious risks to, and create major opportunities for, nearly every industry. Citizens, consumers, businesses, governments, and international organisations are all taking action. And entrepreneurs are developing disruptive technologies that will create and destroy value.

The challenge is that investors currently don’t have the information they need to respond to these developments. This must change if financial markets are going to do what they do best: allocate capital to manage risks and seize new opportunities. Without the necessary information, market adjustments to climate change will be incomplete, late and potentially destabilising.

Public policy, consumer demand and technological innovation are driving a shift towards a low-carbon economy. Which companies and industries are most, and least, dependent on fossil fuels? And who stands ready to provide resilient and sustainable infrastructure? Which financial institutions are best positioned to gain and which to lose? In every case, which firms have the governance, resources and the strategy to manage, and profit from, these major shifts?

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