Climate 411

Year in Review: 18 numbers that tell 2018’s story of the environment, health, and climate

2018 brought with it a torrent of stories that now shape the world we live in and will shape 2019 and years to come.

From a disgraced EPA Administrator, to urgent reports on climate change, the year showed how far we’ve come and how much work remains—especially as President Trump and his administration continue to assault safeguards and deny the reality of a warming world.

Here, we recap the 18 numbers that encapsulate the year that was, and what we’ll be keeping a close eye on in the year to come.

  1. Public Health Threat #1: Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Former coal lobbyist Wheeler took the reins after the end of Scott Pruitt’s destructive tenure, and picked up right where Pruitt left off. Since then, Wheeler has targeted several foundational health and environmental safeguards. It’s now expected that Wheeler will be nominated for the post permanently. Keep reading to see how dangerous that could be to the American people and our planet.
  2. Two mothers who lost their sons because of exposure to methylene chloride, a dangerous chemical in common paint strippers, met with Pruitt and members of Congress from both parties. These moms asked EPA to support a ban on consumer and most commercial uses of methylene chloride. Over 6 months ago, Pruitt said he’d do so, but no action has been taken since.
  3. As for other chemicals the Trump EPA is flouting 2016’s Toxic Substance Control Act amendments, allowing potentially dangerous chemicals into the marketplace and consumers’ homes. Here are three examples.
  4. Wheeler is proposing to gut the EPA methane rules, a move that could result in more than 400,000 tons of additional potent methane, even though some leading companies have asked EPA to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas.
  5. Check out this list of five states that took bold action on climate change this year, showing the kinds of common-sense, economic solutions that can be implemented at scale while protecting people, our economy and our environment.
  6. According to the World Health Organization air pollution kills an estimated 600,000 children every year under the age of 15 and accounts for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five. The report found links between air pollution and childhood cancers, asthma, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, making it one of the leading threats to child health.
  7. It’s not all doom and gloom. Prompted by the urgency to act on climate and the advancement of affordable, renewable energy technologies, we’ve seen seven signs that the global energy economy is in transition.
  8. Eight hurricanes formed in Atlantic waters this year, two of which—Hurricanes Florence and Michael—devastated states across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. These kinds of super storms are becoming more powerful—and more destructive—due to warmer water, higher seas, shifting weather patterns and increased moisture in the air.
  9. On the other side of the country, California saw wildfires ravage the state, destroying entire towns and killing scores. In total, the fires are expected to cost insurers more than $9 billion and signal the kind of climate dangers the world could face more regularly if greenhouse gases are allowed to pollute our air unchecked.
  10. Might that have something to do with the fact that fossil fuel industries outspent clean energy advocates on climate lobbying by a startling 10 to 1?
  11. By EPA’s own calculations, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards prevent as many as 11,000 deaths per year, yet the Administration reportedly wants to undercut the rule anyway, with a proposal expected imminently.
  12. A concentrated effort by the oil industry to fight back against clean car standards resulted in more than a quarter of the 12,000 “public” comments submitted to the federal register reflecting the language written by a pro-industry group. Marathon Petroleum, the country’s largest refiner, lobbyists for Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Phillips 66, joined a network funded by the Koch Brothers network in a massive effort to fight standards that would reduce pollution from vehicles and save Americans money at the gas pump.
  13. The National Climate Assessment, issued by 13 federal agencies, sounded the alarm on the impacts America stands to suffer from climate change, yet went largely ignored by the Trump Administration, which has chosen to side with special interests and industry allies.
  14. 414 investors across the globe—with $31 trillion under management—called for governments to take serious steps to curb climate pollution, citing the “ambition gap” between government commitments and what is needed to sufficiently prevent the world from reaching warming of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  15. 2015 saw the adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement, setting nations on a hopeful path toward emissions reduction. Since then, the leadership once shown by America in critical climate talks has been abdicated, left vacant by an administration that chooses to cover its ears and place the world’s children and grandchildren at risk. This year’s climate summit, COP24, saw the creation of a “rule book” to implement the Paris agreement, but also showed that much more needs to be done.
  16. A letter sent by coal baron Robert E. Murray to Vice President Mike Pence listed 16 wishes that the administration has largely taken up as policy. Several among them have led the administration to foolishly attempt to prop up the coal industry despite economic signals diminishing coal’s viability, not to mention its severe health and environmental effects.
  17. After 17 months of countless scandals and reckless attempts to assault bedrock environmental protections, Scott Pruitt resigned his post as EPA Administrator. This list could extend dozens of items longer if we were to count Pruitt’s many offenses. American families and children will not miss him.
  18. A cheery and hopeful note as we head toward the new year: 2018’s midterms saw a wave of pro-environment and climate candidates elected to office across the country. Those candidates-elect—ranging from governors and representatives, to mayors and councilwomen—are leading a charge toward ambitious climate action.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Policy, Science / Comments are closed

Seis aportes del nuevo informe sobre el clima

Co-escrito por Ilissa Ocko.

Los efectos tangibles del cambio climático provocado por el hombre son cada vez más visibles. Un estudio reciente, encontró por ejemplo, que la temporada de huracanes 2017 fue más intensa como resultado de nuestro clima cambiante. Limitar los niveles de calentamiento global es esencial para frenar los impactos futuros del cambio climático, pero ¿en qué medida un calentamiento adicional de 0,5 ° C cambia nuestro mundo

El informe especial emitido anoche por el Panel Intergubernamental sobre el Cambio Climático (IPCC), considera los impactos del calentamiento global de 1.5 ° C por encima de los niveles preindustriales, en contraste con los 2 ° C, y cómo puede alcanzarse este objetivo de calentamiento inferior. El informe fue escrito por cientos de científicos provenientes de 40 países diferentes y basado en investigaciones de miles de estudios científicos

Aquí hay 6 puntos clave del nuevo informe del IPCC:

  1. Cuando se trata de calentamiento, 1.5 ° C es mucho más seguro que 2 ° C … pero aún más riesgoso que el presente.

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Also posted in Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

Six takeaways from the new climate report

Co-authored by Ilissa Ocko. Haz click aquí para leer en español.

The tangible effects of human-induced climate change are increasingly visible. A recent study, for example, found that the 2017 hurricane season was more intense as a result of our changing climate. Limiting global warming levels is essential to curbing the future impacts of climate change, but how much does an additional half a degree Celsius warming change our world?

The special report issued last night by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers the impacts of 1.5 °C global warming above preindustrial levels, in contrast to 2 °C, and how this lower warming target can be achieved.The report was written by hundreds of scientists hailing from 40 different countries and based on research from thousands of scientific studies.

Here are 6 key takeaways from the new IPCC report:

1. When it comes to warming, 1.5 °C is much safer than 2 °C…but still riskier than the present.

Limiting warming to 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C has clear and considerable benefits, such as significantly reducing the risks of water scarcity, ill-health, food insecurity, flood and drought, extreme heat, tropical cyclones, biodiversity loss, and sea level rise. Read More »

Also posted in Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 2 Responses

Hansen was right: Marking an anniversary by misleading the public

Dr. James Hansen testifying before Congress in 1988

With the thirtieth anniversary of former NASA scientist Jim Hansen’s landmark testimony to Congress on the urgent need to address climate change, numerous articles marked the occasion by demonstrating that his 1988 predictions have proven to be accurate.

Inevitably, some writers seized the opportunity to revive long-debunked arguments in an attempt to cast doubt and confusion on the threat.

Perhaps the most misleading – and certainly the highest profile – was a June 21st op-ed in the Wall Street Journal written by Pat Michaels and Ryan Maue. Michaels is director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, a think tank financially linked to the fossil fuel industry. And Michaels has been found to have previously misled Congress by presenting a doctored graph of Hansen’s projections during public testimony before the House Small Business Committee.

Four decades of climate model projections have fared well

Their latest effort implies that U.S. climate policy is based on Hansen’s forecasts in 1988, and therefore we must “reconsider environmental policy” according to an evaluation of “how well his forecasts have done.”

In reality, climate policy is based on hundreds of years of collective research and an overwhelming amount of observational evidence gathered from all over the world.

Climate model development began as early as the 1950s, and projections from 1973 to 2013 (including Hansen’s 1988 paper) have been compared to observed temperatures by multiple institutions. All showed reasonably accurate surface temperature increases between 1970 and 2016, Hansen’s 1988 study included.

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Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

The path forward for net-zero emissions climate policy

By Nat Keohane and Susanne Brooks

This post originally appeared in The Hill

Climate change is a defining threat of our generation. But the way forward has never been clearer. Electric power generation is being transformed by the rapid deployment of wind, solar and utility-scale storage. Technological innovation is reshaping transportation and industry. New means of capturing and storing carbon are on the horizon.

Even so, the challenge is monumental. To have a reasonable chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change, the world must achieve “net-zero emissions” — taking as much carbon out of the atmosphere as we put into it — in this century. Here in the United States, we are currently emitting carbon pollution at seven times the rate that we are soaking it up. We must take advantage of every cost-effective opportunity to cut climate pollution now, while investing in the innovations that will put us on course for net-zero emissions as soon as possible.

Economic and technological trends alone won’t do the trick. Waiting to act only deepens the challenge and increases the cost and pace of reductions needed. To unleash the full potential of breakthrough clean energy technologies, we need well-designed policies that accelerate the low-carbon transition rather than hinder it.Encouragingly, action is already underway: cities, states, and businesses are forging ahead to enact policies and undertake initiatives to reduce pollution, building on momentum from the plummeting costs of clean energy technologies. Those efforts are crucial. But the world won’t solve climate change without American leadership at all levels. To cut climate pollution at the scale and pace that science tells us is necessary requires national action.

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Also posted in Climate Change Legislation, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

Cherry blossoms: Predicting peak bloom in a warming world with weirder weather

USDA photo by Scott Bauer

Every March, Washington D.C. anxiously anticipates the arrival of the city’s world-famous cherry blossoms.

Millions of people flood the National Mall each year to observe the “peak bloom” – defined by the National Park Service as the day when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin have opened.

Fluctuating weather patterns render predictions of peak bloom notoriously fickle. Experts consider it impossible to accurately estimate the cherry blossoms’ vibrant debut more than 10 days in advance.

This year has been no exception – with three changes to the 2018 peak bloom date prediction since March 1st.

While bloom forecasting is a historically temperamental exercise, climate change is now further complicating matters.

As global average surface temperatures continue to rise, D.C. has felt the heat. Weather station measurements from the city have recorded a 1.6 degree Celsius per century increase in regional temperature – double the global average warming rate. The warmer winters associated with these increasing temperatures may help explain why between 1921 and 2016 peak bloom dates have shifted earlier by about five days.

A warming regional climate may influence seasonal trends, but blooms are still heavily affected by short term changes in the weather. While 2018 peak bloom was originally projected to occur between March 17th  and 20th – early in the season due to the city’s exceptionally warm February – a major snowstorm and cold temperatures persisting through March delayed the arrival until April 5th.

It may initially seem that heavy snowstorms and colder temperatures are inconsistent with climate change. However, there is a growing body of evidence that shows how changes in atmospheric circulation patterns associated with rapid warming in the Arctic may actually be linked to these dramatic cold snaps in the mid-latitudes. Increased moisture in the atmosphere from a warming world also allows for heavier precipitation events, including snowfall.

These opposing consequences of climate change – hotter temperatures with intermittent cold snaps – make the bloom schedule of D.C.’s cherry blossoms even more complex. But one thing is clear: predictions will certainly not get any easier.

Also posted in Extreme Weather, News, Science / Comments are closed