Climate 411

Climate Changed: Millions of Americans Already Living Beyond Temperature Goal

(This post was co-authored by Nat Keohane and David Festa

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

The hotter future that climate pollution is creating has already arrived for 1 in 10 Americans. A new analysis from The Washington Post shows that 34 million Americans live in areas that have now seen average temperatures rise farther than the goal set by the Paris climate agreement — 2 degrees centigrade or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle policies to reduce climate pollution, average temperatures have shot up in parts of North Dakota, Montana, Utah, in the Northeast and Southwest, and elsewhere. These increases – which are not summer spikes, but year-round averages – are part of the trend that is worsening wildfires, making more damaging storms, and creating serious problems for farmers.

The Post‘s Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin, and John Muyskens surveyed more than 100 years of weather data about the continental United States from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and other scientific sources. Their work provides a bold-face headline to the peer-reviewed science that shows the dangerous speed at which our world is warming. It comes on the heels of last week’s United Nations report on land use and climate change, which warned of increasing water scarcity and food shortages from continued warming.

If there is good news in these disturbing reports, it is that the tangible reality of climate change may be spurring action to reduce emissions and begin the long overdue process of building resilience. Despite the Trump administration’s surrender on the issue, many states are newly aggressive. New Jersey, one of the states that the Washington Post reports is getting hottest fastest, just enacted a series of climate pollution reduction policies. Minnesota, California, and Maine – all states with areas of 2-degree increase – have recently put in place ambitious climate action policies. Colorado, another state with hotspots, just enacted landmark legislation that sets some of the strongest targets in the country for reducing climate pollution.

We can’t solve the climate crisis without leadership from the federal government, but there are paths forward to a better outcome. Failing to act because we hear bad news will only make the problem tougher. If we can generate the political will, we can make our future dramatically safer by moving to a 100% clean economy.

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Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cities and states, News, Policy, Science / Comments are closed

Heatwaves to become more deadly and increase global inequality

A new study shows that heatwaves will worsen in the future and that the most vulnerable populations will be hit the hardest

Source: Flickr/
Rupert Ganzer

Human-caused climate change has already increased the frequency and severity of heatwaves across the globe, and new research shows that heatwaves will get even worse as the planet warms further.

Scientists have found that climate change played a major role in recent heatwaves: the chance of extreme heat at the levels seen in northern Europe in 2018 has doubled; the “Lucifer” heatwave in Europe’s Mediterranean region during summer of 2017 is four times more likely to occur; and the scorching 2016-2017 summer in New South Wales, Australia, was made at least 50 times more likely.

The new study, published on January 11th, 2019 in Nature Communications, shows the growing threat of heatwaves in a warming world, especially for less developed nations. In fact, the researchers found that less developed countries will likely be more affected by heatwaves in a 1.5°C (2.7°F) warmer world than developed countries will be in a 2°C (3.6°F) warmer world.

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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 Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 2 Responses

Why accurate reporting of air pollution after Hurricane Harvey matters

By Matt Tresaugue. This post originally appeared in Texas Clean Air Matters.

Hartmann Park, Valero Refinery, Manchester County, Houston Texas.

In addition to dumping historic amounts of rain across southeast Texas, Hurricane Harvey triggered a wave of air pollution, with petrochemical plants and oil refineries releasing 8.3 million pounds of harmful chemicals that exceeded state limits. At least, that is what they told state officials.

Companies, however, reduced those estimates by 1.7 million pounds in later filings with the state, a new Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

The steep drop suggests that some companies may not have accounted accurately for all Harvey-related pollution increases in their reporting to the state. As a result, people’s exposure to hazardous air pollutants, such as cancer-causing benzene and 1,3-butadiene, may be substantially underestimated.

Industry frequently justified the changes in emissions estimates by arguing that flexible state-issued permits, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott’s suspension of several environmental rules in advance of Harvey, made the pollution legal. Read More »

Also posted in Health, News, Science / Read 1 Response

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. And 2018 was no exception with the peak bloom date predictions changing three times.

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 Basic Science of Global Warming, News, Science / Comments are closed

The Winter Olympics on hostile terrain: How climate change is harming winter sports

The 2018 Winter Olympics have drawn to a close, and four years will pass before the world’s next opportunity to celebrate the Winter Games.

During that time, emerging athletes and innovations in training methods will inevitably change the face of the sports. But another more malevolent force of change is brewing – one that has begun to shift the landscape of the Games into hostile terrain.

As climate change continues to progress, adverse weather conditions threaten our beloved winter sports as we know them.

Familiar locations no longer suitable for outdoor sports

Researchers from the University of Waterloo recently determined that shifting weather conditions due to human-induced climate change will render 13 of the previous 19 hosts of the Winter Olympics too warm for outdoor sports by the end of the century.

Even recent host cities have faced new challenges in our changing climate. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, for example, experienced peak temperatures of 61 degrees Fahrenheit, inducing poor snow conditions that led to various delays and injuries throughout the weeks of competition.

Winter sport athletes have also begun to find their trusted off-season training locations unrecognizable. Glaciers that once provided ideal conditions for outdoor summer training have been slashed by trails of melt water and are rapidly disintegrating. U.S. athletes who previously looked to the Rocky Mountains to support their off-season practice must now travel across the globe to regions such as Switzerland, further exacerbating global warming as increased international travel pumps greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

Accessibility diminishes for potential athletes

In the years of practice before an athlete may secure sponsorships or funding from national Olympic Committees, training and associated travel costs must be self-supported. The necessity of cross-continental travel thus not only makes tangible the effects of our changing climate, but confines potential talent pools from which Olympic athletes may emerge to socioeconomic groups able to financially support international travel.

The U.S. National Hockey League (NHL) has voiced similar concerns about athletes’ future training access. While the development of indoor rinks has allowed hockey to be played globally, the sport has traditionally relied on backyard rinks and ponds to provide players with their first introduction to skating. These more accessible venues are becoming progressively more limited as global temperatures continue to rise.

Informal backyard matches are not the only events threatened by climate change, as historic outdoor hockey events including the NHL Winter Classic, Heritage Classic, and Stadium Series may also be lost to warming conditions.

Widespread economic implications

We can shift these winter sports indoors or to higher latitudes in order to extend their lifetimes, but what happens to the regions left behind?

In the U.S. alone, snow-based recreation generates $67 billion per year and supports over 900,000 jobs. In a single year with poor snow conditions, more than $1 billion in revenue and 17,350 jobs can be lost.

Such threats are not looming in the distant future – changes are already taking shape.

As precipitation begins to fall as rain rather than snow throughout winter months, U.S. ski resorts are forced to spend more than 50 percent of their annual energy budgets on artificial snowmaking.

Canada’s average 4.5 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise between 1951 and 2005 has been matched with a 20 percent decrease in the country’s outdoor hockey season.

Future impacts are only expected to worsen, with the U.S. ski season projected to be cut in half by 2050.

Athletics are recognizing the impacts of climate change

Many competitors and athletic associations have already acknowledged the undeniable role of climate change in threatening the livelihood of these winter sports:

  • The National Ski Areas Association adopted their Climate Challenge program, aiming to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and costs of energy use for participating ski areas.
  • Preceding the 2014 Winter Games, 75 Olympic medalists in skiing and snowboarding wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama calling for a firmer stance on climate change mitigation and clean energy development.
  • The NHL used their 2014 sustainability reportto voice their “vested interest” in climate change, historically participating in the Paris Agreement conference discussions a year later.
  • A group of athletes and companies has come together to create a group called Protect Our Winters to educate and advocate for policies that mitigate the effects of climate change.

The threat of human-induced climate change recognized by these leaders applies to more than just winter events. Summer sports, such as golf and baseball, are also feeling the strain of our warming world.

In the spirit of the Olympic Games, we must unite as global citizens to join in our most important race – the race to defend the future of our planet.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science / Comments are closed