Climate Sense: Arctic burns as climate issues gain political attention

It’s next to impossible to keep up with all the new information coming out about climate change, but I thought I would share some new reports that I found interesting.

For the first three months of this year, I provided a weekly report called “Climate Sense.” I am still trying to gauge how often to write these posts or drop them altogether. I am not conducting original reporting; I’m just offering some reading material. Perhaps regular readers of this blog prefer their own news sources. As always, I am open to suggestions.

Item 1: The Arctic is burning

The Arctic is hot and dry this summer. Fires are burning through longtime stores of carbon in the peat soil and emitting unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide that could contribute to climate change. That increases the risk of future fires — a dangerous feedback loop, according to Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics.

“These are some of the biggest fires on the planet, with a few appearing to be larger than 100,000 hectares (380 square miles),” Smith told reporter Morgan Hines of USA Today. “The amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emitted from Arctic Circle fires in June 2019 is larger than all of the CO2 released from Arctic Circle fires in the same month from 2010 through to 2018 put together.”

The Guardian, which produced the video on this page, provides links to a number of sources in a story titled “’Unprecedented’: More than 100 Arctic wildfires burn in worst-ever season.”

Item 2: Memorial for a glacier

Glaciers — essentially the beginnings of many rivers around the world — are melting away one-by-one because of climate change, triggering various effects on the local ecosystem.

Two anthropologists from Rice University, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, decided to erect a plaque to an Icelandic glacier that has met its demise.

“This little glacier on a little mountain, in a country far away on the edge of the world, is something that indexes a much larger story that affects the entire planet,” Boyer was quoted as saying in a story by Morgan Krakow in the Washington Post.

The monument reads: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

On a related topic, scientists are learning that glaciers that come into contact with the ocean are melting faster than previously predicted — because they are melting from both the top and the bottom. Nina Pullano of Inside Climate News reports on new findings from a scientific study.

Item 3: Is climate crisis a political issue?

Andy Stone, host of the “Energy Policy Now” podcast from the University of Pennsylvania, speculates in writing about whether climate concerns among the American public has reached a point that could help determine the presidential election.

“A critical question, given the growing number of warnings from the likes of the U.S. government and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change …, is whether the country has finally reached the point where climate will in fact be a decisive issue for voters at the polls,” he writes in Forbes. “Environmental sociology (yes, there is such a field) refers to this as a question of salience. When it comes to decision time, does the voter prioritize environment?”

Andy’s final answer is not definitive, but it is hopeful.

Meanwhile, CNN has announced that it will host a “town hall” on climate change issues for Democratic candidates in the presidential race in September. Candidates who meet the criteria for the September debate organized by the Democratic National Committee will appear one at a time before an audience in New York City.

Congress is also paying more attention to the climate crisis, as both Democrats and Republicans are remarkably trying to coming to terms with a tax on greenhouse gases.

“The push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions come as both Democrats and Republicans face pressure from their constituents, and in some cases the fossil fuel industry itself, to regulate carbon emissions that lead to climate change,” writes Miranda Green for “The Hill.”

“The influx of legislation is surprising some observers who have long called for action on climate change,” Miranda noted. “They say they wouldn’t have believed a year ago that there would have been such a push.”

She quoted Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who lost his reelection bid last year after proposing a carbon-pricing bill.

“I can tell you from what I know is that we are worlds apart from the Congress that I left at the beginning of this year,” he said. “Today, not just rank and file from moderate districts, but leading Republicans, senior Republicans are stepping out on the issue, making it clear that the debate should be over solutions, not over science or anything else of that nature, and for me it’s a sign of real progress.”

Item 4: Auto emissions deal and federal intervention

California officials announced this week that they have reached agreement with four automobile manufacturers to produce cars with better fuel mileage, leading the way to a new national standard. McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, July 25.

But the Trump administration wants to role back the California standard and impose a rule that prohibits California or any state from requiring stricter emissions standards. McClatchy/Sacramento Bee update, July 25.

“The Trump administration is pursuing one national standard and certainty for the entire auto market,” Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Michael Abboud was quoted as saying. “This voluntary framework is a PR stunt that does nothing to further the one national standard that will provide certainty and relief for American consumers.”

California officials maintain that any added costs for producing more fuel-efficient cars would be offset by fuel savings.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

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