Category Archives: Extreme Weather

An Urgent Call to Climate Action in the IPCC Synthesis Report

Photo: IPCC

It was released two days late for Halloween, but an international report on the dangers of climate change still has plenty of information about our warming planet that will chill you to the core.

The report is the latest from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC releases a series of reports every six or seven years that assess the latest data and research on climate change. This latest is the Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report—a culmination of three earlier reports in this series.

The Synthesis Report summarizes the physical science of climate change; current and future impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation of the human and natural worlds; and mitigation opportunities and necessities.

More than anything else, the report underscores the urgent need for action.

Here are 13 details from the report that illustrate why:

1.  “Warming of the climate is unequivocal… The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.”

2.  Changes in climate have impacted all continents and the oceans.

3. The period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere.
Glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide. Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover has continued to decrease.

4. Permafrost temperatures have increased in most regions since the early 1980s. Arctic sea-ice has decreased in every season and in every successive decade since 1979.

5. From 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by more than half a foot. The rate of sea-level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia.

6. In the future, it is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes in most areas, on both daily and seasonal timescales. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer. The oceans will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.

7. A large fraction of species face increased extinction risk due to climate change during and beyond the 21st century. Most plant species cannot naturally shift their geographical ranges sufficiently fast to keep up with climate change.

8. Climate change puts humanity at risk from heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, and storm surges. Climate change is projected to undermine food security.

9. “Human influence on the climate system is clear.” Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.

10. Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

11. It is virtually certain that global mean sea-level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100, with the amount of rise dependent on future emissions.

12. Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Adaptation can reduce the risks of climate change impacts, but there are limits to its effectiveness.

13. Substantial emissions reductions of greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide and methane — over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.

According to the IPCC Synthesis Report, planet Earth is in pretty dire shape – but the report isn’t hopeless.

Imagine our planet as a patient at a doctor’s office. It’s too late to just stay healthy – we’ve already caught a cold. But we can prevent the cold from deteriorating into pneumonia.

In order to do that, though, we need to act now. We need people, and governments, across the world to join together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support adaptation efforts, and help reduce the damages from climate change.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, News, Policy, Science| Comments closed

"Risky Business" stands out in growing sea of climate reports

Receding beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Source: FEMA/Tim Burkitt

(This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices)

This blog post was co-authored by Jonathan Camuzeaux.

Put Republican Hank Paulson, Independent Mike Bloomberg, and Democrat Tom Steyer together, and out comes one of the more unusual – and unusually impactful – climate reports.

This year alone has seen a couple of IPCC tomes, an entry by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment.

The latest, Risky Business, stands apart for a number of reasons, and it’s timely with the nation debating proposed, first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from nearly 500 power plants.

Tri-partisan coalition tackles climate change

The report is significant, first, because we have a tri-partisan group spanning George W. Bush’s treasury secretary Paulson, former mayor of New York Bloomberg, and environmentalist investor Steyer – all joining forces to get a message through.

That list of names alone should make one sit up and listen.

Last time a similar coalition came together was in the dog days of 2009, when Senators Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry were drafting the to-date last viable (and ultimately unsuccessful) Senate climate bill.

Global warming is hitting home

Next, Risky Business is important because it shows how climate change is hitting home. No real surprise there for anyone paying attention to globally rising temperatures, but the full report goes into much more granular details than most, focusing on impacts at county, state and regional levels.

Risky Business employs the latest econometric techniques to come up with numbers that should surprise even the most hardened climate hawks and wake up those still untouched by reality. Crop yield losses, for example, could go as high as 50 to 70 percent (!) in some Midwestern and Southern states, absent agricultural adaptation.

The report is also replete with references to heat strokes, sky-rocketing electricity demand for air conditioning, and major losses from damages to properties up and down our ever-receding coast lines.

Not precisely uplifting material, yet this report does a better job than most in laying it all out.

Financial markets can teach us a climate lesson

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Risky Business gets the framing exactly right: Climate change is replete with deep-seated risks and uncertainties.

In spite of all that we know about the science, there’s lots more that we don’t. And none of that means that climate change isn’t bad. As the report makes clear, what we don’t know could potentially be much worse.

Climate change, in the end, is all about risk management.

Few are better equipped to face up to that reality than the trio spearheading the effort; Paulson, Bloomberg and Steyer have made their careers (and fortunes) in the financial sector. In fact, as United States Treasury secretary between 2006 and 2009, Paulson was perhaps closest of anyone to the latest, global example of what happens when risks get ignored.

We cannot – must not – ignore risk when it comes to something as global as global warming. After all, for climate, much like for financial markets, it’s not over ‘til the fat tail zings.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Policy| Comments closed

Study: Climate change may push hurricanes farther north, south

A satellite image of Irene, a Category 1 hurricane, as it made landfall in North Carolina in August of 2011. Source: NASA/NOAA GOES project

The hurricane season of 2014 just kicked off, and with two devastating storms wreaking havoc along the northeastern United States coast over the last few years, it’s no wonder everyone’s on edge.

We’re concerned about hurricanes becoming more frequent and intense, and about the worsening storm surge caused by a rise in sea levels. But flying under the radar is a fourth link between hurricanes and climate change: how climate change affects the location of hurricanes.

new study led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University found that hurricanes have been shifting pole-ward at a rate of 30 to 40 miles per decade over the last 30 years.

It means they are moving closer to major population centers such as Washington, New York and Boston.

The likely cause? Human-caused climate change.

The migration of hurricanes has “potentially profound consequences for life and property,” the authors of the study warn in an article published recently in the journal Nature.

Increasing hazard exposure and mortality risk from tropical cyclones may be compounded in coastal cities outside the tropics, while being offset at lower latitudes.”  

Linking climate change to hurricane location

This finding is an important advancement in scientists’ understanding of how climate change has already contributed to extreme weather events. Research shows that the rise in global temperatures already causes more warm days, heat waves, and heavy rainfall.

Detecting trends in hurricane activity has been difficult, however, due to inconsistent and often unreliable historical data.

To get around this data challenge, the scientists at NOAA, MIT and Princeton developed a new technique that relies on a dependable subset of the data, and which teases out natural events such as El Niño to detect a distinct relationship between hurricane activity and climate change.

Their conclusion: Hurricanes are drifting toward the poles most likely due to an expansion of the Hadley Cell, a permanent atmospheric circulation feature that carries heat from the tropics to the Earth’s temperate zones.

Scientific understanding is that the Hadley Cell expansion is a result of the increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere from human activities. So as we continue to drive cars, generate electricity at fossil-fueled power plants, cut down trees, and farm – we are indirectly pushing hurricanes farther north and south.

The new study is groundbreaking not only because it uses a novel technique, but also because it links a hurricane trend to climate change.

What we know so far

So where are we today with hurricanes and climate change?

Scientists studying hurricanes:

  • Have found no observed trend in frequency
  • Have not been able to detect trends in intensity  and duration
  • Are confident that human-caused sea level rise is contributing to storm surge
  • Expect the frequency of intense storms to increase in the future
  • Have now detected a robust trend in location shifts that is likely due to human activity

This new research presented in Nature suggests that hurricanes are migrating toward the poles and may devastate densely populated coastal regions that had previously, for the most part, been spared such storms.

It’s yet another reason why we must act now to curb carbon pollution and limit climate change.

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments closed

New report: How climate change is impacting where you live

The National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is essentially the U.S. equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Using the best available science, over 300 experts synthesized current understanding of observed and future climate changes and impacts, particularly in the U.S. The third ever NCA was released today, and concludes beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that Americans are being affected by climate change.

Among the findings:

  • U.S. average temperatures have increased by 1.3 to 1.9ºF since record-keeping began in 1895, and most of this warming has occurred since 1970
  • Heavy precipitation has increased in many parts of the country
  • Extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and North Atlantic hurricanes are more frequent and/or intense
  • Summer sea ice in the Arctic has halved since record-keeping began in 1979
  • Sea level rise has increased coastal erosion and storm surge damage

These changing conditions produce a variety of tangible stresses on society by affecting human health, water resources, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and natural ecosystems. The particular impacts vary by region, but no corner of the country is immune to the change.

So what’s happening where you live?

Source: National Climate Assessment

Unless we take immediate action to curb our emissions of heat-trapping gases, the foreseeable future will be plagued by further warming and worsening impacts. The good news is that because we know what the cause is, we also know what is needed in order to stabilize our planet. We must come together now—locally, nationally, and internationally—and work towards a better future.

This post first appeared on our EDF Voices blog

Also posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Basic Science of Global Warming, Oceans, Science| Comments closed

New Reports about Weather Disasters, Cost, and Climate Change

Congress just passed a bill to provide more than $50 billion to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

If you think that seems like a lot of money, consider this Hurricane Sandy was just one of the eleven weather disasters in the U.S. last year that caused more than $1 billion each in losses.

For a long time now, the world’s top climate researchers have told us about the strong evidence of links between our weird weather and climate change.

(Of course, here at EDF, we’ve been talking about the links between weird weather and climate change too — as regular readers of Climate 411 know.)

Greenhouse gas pollution traps heat in our atmosphere, which interferes with historic weather patterns – and is resulting in more severe and damaging weather events.

Our particularly awful weather last year has put climate change back in the news:

  • In his Inaugural Address, President Obama talked about the threat of climate change — saying, “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
  • Two Members of Congress just formed a new bicameral task force on climate change.
  • The World Economic Forum just released its Global Risks Report 2013, which says: “Following a year scarred by extreme weather, from Hurricane Sandy to flooding in China, respondents rated rising greenhouse gas emissions as the third most likely global risk overall.”

How bad was it really? Four other reports — all released in the last few weeks – found that evidence showing the impacts of climate change is piling up.

Two new reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that both America and the world are warming – by leaps and bounds.

According to NOAA, “By a wide margin, 2012 was the United States’ warmest year on record.”

NOAA’s State of the Climate National Assessment found that the average temperature for the continental U.S. in 2012 was one full degree Fahrenheit higher than the previous warmest year on record – and 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average.

And NOAA’s State of the Climate Global Analysis found that 2012 was the 36th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average. That means the last time the global temperature wasn’t above average was in 1976 – when America was celebrating its bicentennial and Jimmy Carter was elected President. Anyone under the age of 35 has never seen a year when the Earth wasn’t hotter than the 20th century average.

NASA also measures global temperatures, and their report also found 2012 to be one of the top 10 hottest years ever for planet Earth.

Why? According to NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt,

The planet is warming. The reason it's warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Let’s go back to NOAA’s data for more frightening statistics from 2012:

  • Every state in the contiguous United States had an above-20th century-average annual temperature. (You can check NOAA’s web page to see which cities broke any records or had their hottest year).
  • July 2012 was the hottest month ever observed in the continental U.S. since we began keeping records in 1880.
  • Nineteen states had their warmest year on record, and another 26 states had one of their ten warmest years since 1880.
  • Temperatures were above the 20th-century average in every month from June 2011 to September 2012 – an unbroken 16-month stretch that we’ve never seen before since we started keeping records.
  • The winter snow cover for the contiguous United States was the third smallest on record, and snowpack totals across the Central and Southern Rockies as of April 2012 were less than half of the 1971-2000 average.

In 2012, America also had the second largest extent of extreme weather events ever recorded in a single year. (A weather event has a variable at the high or low end of the observed historical range.)

And we saw vastly different types of weather extremes at the same time – which is consistent with weird weather linked to climate change. While most of the continental U.S. withered in drought, some areas got drenched — Florida had its wettest summer on record.

Along with Hurricane Sandy, 2012 weather lowlights include:

  • Hurricane Isaac, which caused flooding along the Gulf Coast and killed 9 people.
  • The Derecho storm that caused severe damage in eleven states from Indiana to Maryland.
  • Flooding in and around Duluth, Minnesota, where rivers reached all-time high flood levels.
  • A massive drought that covered more than 60 percent of the country and led to widespread crop failures. Crop prices are now rising because of last year’s drought. Corn, wheat and soybean prices are all up – which means your grocery bills will soon be up too.
  • Wildfires burned more than nine million acres around the West, about 1.5 times the ten year average from 2001 to 2010. A fire near Colorado Springs destroyed almost 350 homes, and New Mexico recorded its largest wildfire ever. Wildfire risk increases when drought is combined with high heat and low levels of humidity.

Now for the really bad news – it’s likely to get worse.

This month, the U.S. government released a first draft of another new report, the National Climate Assessment. More than 300 scientists contributed to writing the report, which warns that the U.S. could warm up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, unless we take steps now to reduce climate change.

According to the assessment:

Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans … The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: The planet is warming.

Unfortunately, the new reports are just the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg. There’s a lot more evidence of climate change and its effects on our weather — evidence that shows that we need to take serious action to reduce carbon pollution and stop climate change.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, News, Science| Comments closed

EDF's Business-Friendly Suggestions for Fighting Climate Change

We’ve been hearing the same question a lot lately – what should President Obama do in his second term to fight climate change?  

In today’s online Harvard Business Review, EDF’s Eric Pooley has some thoughts on that subject. He's laid out a five-point plan to help us address climate change.

Those points range:

[F]rom no-brainer ideas almost everyone can agree on to ambitious items that would require Congressional action

And they all have one thing in common – they are business friendly.

As Eric puts it: 

It is worth remembering that strong business support helped secure passage of the House climate bill in 2009, and though that effort failed in the Senate, no serious legislation can move without the backing of men and women in the engine room of the American economy. To be politically viable, climate solutions must be economically sustainable.

Here’s the (very) short version of Eric’s plan:

  • Feed the conversation
  • Reduce climate accelerants
  • Start a clean energy race
  • Use the Clean Air Act
  • Put a price on carbon

If you’d like to read the whole plan, you can find it here: A Business-Friendly Climate Agenda for Obama's Second Term

Also posted in Climate Change Legislation, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments closed
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