Tag Archives: Climate change

Climate Sense: Sharing a little optimism about climate change

One of the most optimistic stories I’ve read — and listened to — about climate change comes from Dan Charles, National Public Radio’s food and agriculture reporter. In a three part-series, Dan takes us on a trip to the year 2050, imagining a time when the world has solved the climate change problem.

Also in my readings this week, I’ve stumbled on some stories about scare tactics in Congress and how to turn back the clock on climate emissions.

Item 1: Visiting the future with NPR

Forget the doom and gloom about climate change for awhile. I feel incredibly encouraged by a new three-part series by NPR’s Dan Charles.

Dan Charles
Photo: Maggie Starbard/NPR

Dan divides each of his three stories into two parts. The first part considers innovations taking place in the world today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move us closer to more stabilized climate. In the second part, he pretends to be in the year 2050, when the world has solved its climate problems and global warming is a thing of the past.

Themes of the three parts are 1) mass electrification and everyday living, 2) urbanization and transportation, and 3) agriculture and the food we eat.

Here’s the link to the written version: “It’s 2050 And This Is How We Stopped Climate Change.”

Here are the audio versions:

Item 2: Scary cost figures undermine Green New Deal

Zack Colman of Politico tracks down the origins of the $93-trillion estimate of what the Green New Deal might cost, a figure that has taken on a political life of its own. The cost has been tossed around to scare a lot of people. His story is headlined “The bogus number at the center of the GOP’s Green New Deal attacks.”

“There’s a race for think tankers, analysts and academia to be the first to come up with a number, and you can see why — look at how many people latched on to that $93 trillion number,” says Nick Loris, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who was quoted in the story.

Item 3: Turning back the clock on carbon

The headline from the news department at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology caught my attention: “Climate rewind: Scientists turn carbon dioxide back into coal.”

By using liquid metals as a catalyst, researchers at the university say they can convert carbon dioxide gas into a solid form at room temperature.

“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” said Torben Daeneke, a RMIT researcher and fellow at the Australian Research Council.

Only time will tell if this basic research holds up to scrutiny and leads to practical applications to address climate problems.

Item 4: Taking carbon removal to new levels

Craig Welch of National Geographic looks at a variety of ways to capture and store carbon in his piece “To curb climate change, we have to suck carbon from the sky. But how?”

“You are a pessimist if you work on the science of climate impacts, because you see little action,” said Stephen Pacala, a Princeton professor who Craig quoted in the story. “”The people who know the most are the most freaked out. They’ve seen emissions go up and up and see a train wreck coming.”

But scientists studying negative emissions “have seen the most spectacular technological achievements in energy technology in the last 10 years,” Pacala continued. “We’ve gone from having no tools to do this, to just seeing this unrelenting progress.”

Pecala oversaw a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report titled “Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration.”

Climate Sense: So much is still about politics

Climate change is finally being discussed in Congress and by the Trump administration, but not necessarily in a good way. This week I share some of the things I’ve been reading with regard to the politics of climate change. If there’s a silver lining, it could be that climate change is getting some attention among politicians. I’m holding some interesting scientific studies for another week.

Item 1: Concerns about politicizing climate change

In a letter to President Trump (PDF 192 kb), 58 former national security leaders have voiced their concerns about a committee being formed by the Trump administration to question whether climate change is a national security threat.

“It is dangerous,” the letter says, “to have national security analysis conform to politics. Our officials’ job is to ensure that we are prepared for current threats and future contingencies. We cannot do that if the scientific studies that inform our threat assessments are undermined. Our national security community will not remain the best in the world if it cannot make decisions based on the best available evidence.”

Among the leading signators are President Obama appointees John Kerry, former Secretary of State; Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of Defense; and Ray Mabus, former Secretary of the Navy. Their letter is posted on the website of the Center for Climate and Security, which includes other information about climate change.

CNN’s Christine Amanpour interviewed retired Rear Admiral David Titley about why the 58 security officials feel the need to speak out on the issue. Check out the video on CNN.

The letter was prompted by a discussion within the administration about forming a panel called the Presidential Committee on Climate Security. William Happer, a national security adviser in the Trump administration, could be chosen to lead the panel. Happer has been downplaying concerns about climate change and is often labeled a “climate denier.” Check out a story in “The Hill” by Miranda Green.

Item 2: Avoiding the trap of the Green New Deal

I thought that David Roberts, climate reporter for Vox, made some good points about the maneuvering being done by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer with regard to a vote on the Green New Deal:

“Schumer is now trapped in a familiar bind: He has to decide whether to vote on something bold and ambitious, which could divide his caucus, or to continue dodging clear votes and rallying behind nonthreatening statements of purpose that will receive the full backing of his caucus but won’t excite anyone,” Roberts writes.

“This is just another version of the trap Democrats have been in since 2010. Since there is zero prospect of Republican cooperation, being ‘realistic’ about legislative goals means crafting them so they are acceptable to the rightmost member of the Democratic caucus. (Recall when Joe Lieberman single-handedly killed the public option in Obamacare.)”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t seem to care about climate change, but he wants a vote on the Green New Deal, which calls for major changes in the country’s energy system.

Politico Reporter Anthony Adragna lays out the political drama this week in an article titled, “Democrats seek to evade GOP trap on Green New Deal vote.”

Despite McConnell’s political games, some Republicans are beginning to look for more conservative ways of addressing climate change, as reporter Mark Matthews describes in E&E News. If the discussion can begin in earnest among members of both parties, there might be hope of taking steps toward reducing the impacts of climate change.

The political dynamics is interesting, but David Roberts of Vox remains skeptical that the Republicans in Congress intend to do anything at all. He called the U.S. political system a “dumpster fire.”

“There’s no prospect of any cooperation from the right on any climate response of any remotely appropriate scale,” he wrote in his column. “The only way to change the status quo is through power, and the only power available to progressives on this issue is people power — bodies in the streets, in congressional offices, and in voting booths. Any plan to address climate change must involve not just policy but the question of how to build people power around it and thus change the status quo.”

Item 3: How will Jay Inslee handle the Green New Deal?

Gov. Jay Inslee, who is now officially running for president, has been saying that climate change is part of every major issue, from health care to education to jobs and the economy. His vision is clearly separate from the Green New Deal, but he won’t escape questions about its specific goals.

When Inslee appeared on “The View,” Meghan McCain began by telling him, “Maybe I am just a unicorn from another planet, but climate change doesn’t even hit my top 30 of how I vote for somebody. I do think I am on this panel to say that (climate change) isn’t what is selling me on you beating Trump. I say that with respect. What also isn’t selling me on you beating Trump is the Green New Deal…”

How well Inslee handles these kind of exchanges could make a difference among people who still need to be “sold” on climate change.

Item 4: ‘Inoculation’ against climate change misinformation

I’ve listed some articles and videos that could help people talk to their friends and family members about climate change (Water Ways, Feb. 16). Now a group of researchers led by Justin Farrell, a professor of sociology at Yale University, describes some strategies that might be used on a wider scale.

Writer Kevin Dennehy of Yale News describes four of the strategies, including the notion that “society can ‘inoculate’ against misinformation by exposing people to refuted scientific arguments before they hear them, much like one can prevent infection through the use of vaccines.”

The paper was published in the journal “Nature Climate Change.”

“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.”

Climate Sense: The road to clean energy – politics, technology and culture

Experts say it is possible, in the not-too-distant future, for the United States to generate nearly all its electrical energy from sources that do not produce climate-changing greenhouse gases. But first some political and technical hurdles must be crossed.

In this week’s “Climate Sense,” I share some news articles that I found noteworthy, as well as an interesting description of five movies about climate change — including the one in the video player here. Films can help bring about cultural change, as mentioned in a review of five films about climate change (Item 6 at the bottom).

Item 1: Battle over clean power in the Washington Legislature

Legislation to move Washington state residents toward forms of electrical power that do not result in greenhouse-gas emissions has been advancing through the state House and Senate, as described in a comprehensive story by Brad Shannon and Robert McClure of Investigate West.

“Both Senate Bill 5116 and House Bill 1211 seek to end the use of coal-fired electricity by 2025 and set a firm January 2030 deadline to hit clean energy targets,” they write.

“Utilities that fail to hit those targets could stand to pay a considerable price,” according to their story. “The Senate legislation would impose a $60 per megawatt-hour penalty for any natural gas or other carbon-emitting sources of power after 2030. The House version would levy $100 per megawatt hour. It’s not clear if or how those costs could be passed on to Washington households, which, on average, use about 12 megawatt hours per year.”

The concern raised by Republican lawmakers and utilities involves the stability of the integrated power grid in the Northwest and how to keep electricity flowing steadily without a backup source of coal or natural gas, which clean-power advocates wish to eliminate.

“No one wants to be reckless,” Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, was quoted as saying. “No one wants to drive too fast outside of the lanes. But we also know we have the ability inside the state to embrace 100 percent clean and move forward.”

Carlyle, sponsor of the Senate bill, added that “there are technical and legitimate operational issues where we need flexibility for these utilities.”

Read the full story to understand the political lay of the land. By the way, in case you missed it, Gov. Jay Inslee announced yesterday that he is running for president and will focus on efforts to reduce climate change as the centerpiece of his campaign.

Item 2: A total clean energy grid would need lots of storage

January’s bone-chilling weather in the Eastern and Central United States, triggered by an anomaly in the polar vortex, has provided a test of what it could take to keep the electricity flowing in those regions if solar and wind were the only sources of power, according to Dan Gearino of Inside Climate News, who reviewed a new report by the analytical firm Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

Batteries could be the answer to maintaining the grid when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, according to the analysis, but Gearino raises questions of feasibility, technology and politics in his interview with Wade Schauer, co-author of the report.

Storage would need to increase from the current 11 gigawatts to 277.9 gigawatts for portions of the grid that supply New England, New York, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and parts of the South. That’s roughly double Wood Mackenzie’s current forecast for energy storage nationwide in 2040, Gearino says.

Item 3: New national grid design could be part of the answer

The challenge of going green is putting the electricity sector through the “most profound operating changes in the U.S. electric power sector since the era of Thomas Edison,” writes reporter Peter Behr in E&E News.

The issue is not just power generation from wind and solar farms but the complication of rooftop “distributed” solar energy and “smart appliances” designed to operate only during periods of low demand.

An upgrade of the country’s entire transmission system would be a major step forward, according to experts interviewed for Behr’s wide-ranging article. One scenario involves three ultra-high-voltage direct-current lines spanning the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River, with other new lines moving power from west to east.

Surplus afternoon solar power from the Southwest could stream into Southeastern states at dusk, Behr writes. Other lines could ship unused wind energy from the Great Plains into major cities in the Great Lakes and East Coast regions, or the other way into California.

Computers would need to be designed to respond rapidly to load changes on the grid, far faster than humanly possible. The days of people watching dials and flipping switches to balance the loads could soon be over.

Item 4: More certainty about human causes of climate change

“Evidence for man-made global warming has reached a ‘gold standard’ level of certainty,” writes reporter Alister Doyle of Reuters, who quotes scientists regarding this statistical threshold.

Researchers in the United States, Canada and Scotland say evidence for the cause of global warming reached the “five sigma” level by 2005 in two of three sets of satellite data and in 2016 in the third, according to the report.

The “five-sigma” level is a statistical benchmark used in particle physics that means the chance of reaching current conditions through natural factors alone are one in a million. Others commenting in Doyle’s article but not involved in the study said they preferred to raise the certainty to somewhat above 99 percent.

Here’s the statement by Benjamin Santer and colleagues in the journal Nature Climate Change (Feb. 25):

“An anthropogenic fingerprint of tropospheric warming is identifiable with high statistical confidence in all currently available satellite datasets. In two out of three datasets, fingerprint detection at a 5σ threshold — the gold standard for discoveries in particle physics — occurs no later than 2005, only 27 years after the 1979 start of the satellite measurements. Humanity cannot afford to ignore such clear signals.”

Item 5: Trump becoming isolated on climate change

“New efforts by President Trump and his staff to question or undermine the established science of climate change have created a widening rift between the White House on one side, and scientific facts, government agencies, and some leading figures in the president’s own party on the other,” writes New York Times reporter Coral Devenport.

It is one thing to argue about an issue on the basis of policy, such as cost or priority, but no president has ever tried to systematically undermine the findings of the National Academies of Science or other respected scientific groups, experts said.

“It creates a huge divide with our European and Asian allies, and it allows China to claim the mantle of climate leadership,” Sherri Goodman, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, was quoted as saying. “China shows up at climate conferences when the U.S. doesn’t, and they offer to engage on the science.”

White House officials seem to be in the process of setting up a panel to question basic scientific findings related to climate change.

Comedian Stephen Colbert of The Late Show joked last week about the man chosen by President Trump to head the new climate panel. I featured Colbert’s monologue and related information in my “Amusing Monday” blog post this week along with other humorous jabs by Colbert.

Item 6: Climate-change films can be empowering

Daisy Simmons of Yale Climate Connections reports on the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, Calif., where climate change emerged as a major topic in some notable films.

“Climate change is happening before our very eyes – including on the big screen. Watching a well-informed high-quality documentary can help bring the issues to life in a way that feels personal, enlightening and, yes, empowering,” she writes in a review that includes trailers and potential access to five notable films.

“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.”

Climate Sense: Concerns rise over methane and auto-emission rules

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, capable of trapping far more heat than the same amount carbon dioxide, at least in the short term. This week, I point you to some new studies regarding the release of methane and news about a potential showdown between state and federal governments over fuel-economy standards.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is not well understood by many people. Methane can absorb more than 100 times as much energy as an equal weight of carbon dioxide, experts say, but methane breaks down in the atmosphere over time, so the effect of releasing a ton of methane actually decreases as time goes on.

Graphic: Environmental Protection Agency

Methane’s “global warming potential,” or GWP, is said to be 28-36 times higher than CO2 when considering the effects over 100 years — so methane is regarded as a major contributor to climate change. Check out the explanation of GWP by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sources of methane are widespread — from vegetation naturally decomposing in wetlands to incidental releases during natural gas production and transport. Figuring out the amount of methane coming from various sources has been a puzzle for climate scientists.

Item 1: Oil and natural gas production increases GHG emissions

A new study led by NASA researchers and published in Nature Communications has come to the unwelcome conclusion that a dramatic increase in atmospheric methane can be linked to the increased production of petroleum in the U.S. Writer Sharon Kelly explains in EcoWatch how the study helps to solve the mystery of the “missing methane.”

“The sharp increase in methane emissions correlates closely with the U.S. fracking boom,” Jim Warren, executive director of the climate watchdog group NC WARN, was quoted as saying. “Leaking and venting of unburned gas — which is mostly methane — makes natural gas even worse for the climate than coal.”

The video, shown here, is produced by the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, but it provides a good representation of where methane leaks may occur.

Item 2: Methane leaks not easily identified in some regions

Methane leaks from oil and natural gas production are not only bad for climate change but they are a loss of potential revenue for petroleum producers, so nobody wants leaks. Since 2008, the industry in the United States has been required to use optical gas imaging technology to detect methane leaks, as described by Sabrina Shankman of Inside Climate News.

But the current technology for detecting such leaks does not function reliably when the temperature gets well below zero, as it often does in the oil fields around Prudhoe Bay, she says, adding another example where methane leaks may go undetected and unreported.

Meanwhile, the EPA under the Trump administration has been moving to reduce leak-detection requirements for oil and gas fields, although they are facing challenges in court, Sabrina reports.

Item 3: Arctic bogs could produce spiraling methane releases

Increasing rains in the Arctic could hasten the pace of spring thawing, releasing more and more methane from the permafrost, according to a new study in Geophysical Research Letters.

“At a thawing wetland complex in Interior Alaska, we found that interactions between rain and deep soil temperatures controlled methane emissions,” the authors reported. “In rainy years, recharge from the watershed rapidly altered wetland soil temperatures, warming the top ~80 centimeters (31 inches) of soil in spring and summer and cooling it in autumn. When soils were warmed by spring rainfall, methane emissions increased by ~30 percent.”

“The findings are cause for concern,” writes Phil McKenna of Inside Climate News, “because spring rains are anticipated to occur more frequently as the region warms. The release of methane, a short-lived climate pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term, could induce further warming in a vicious cycle that would be difficult if not impossible to stop.”

Item 4: Sightline series examines methane issues

Sightline Institute, a Northwest organization that promotes sustainability by offering “practical vision and innovative thinking,” has produced a three-part series on the methane issue written by Tarika Powell:

  1. Calling natural gas a ‘bridge fuel’ is alarmingly deceptive
  2. Methane’s 20- and 100-year climate effect is like ‘CO2 on steroids’
  3. Studying full methane life cycle critical to Pacific Northwest policy

The discussion about methane is part of an ongoing series (now 46 articles) called “Fracked fuel and petrochemical projects in the Pacific Northwest,” in which Sightline profiles the risks of projects that would produce or transport methanol, zylene, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and other products in the region.

Item 5: Showdown coming on California emissions standards

This week, Reuters and other news organizations reported that the Trump administration has formally stopped negotiating with California officials about federal plans to roll back national fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles.

For years, California maintained standards stricter than those of the federal government to reduce pollution and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. At least 12 other states have adopted California’s standards, allowed under a special exemption from the EPA. Now that an exemption could be revoked, setting up a court fight.

Standards proposed under the Obama administration would require automakers to roughly double average fuel efficiency by 2025, but the Trump administration wants to freeze those standards at 2020 levels, saying further changes would raise the cost of vehicles to an unacceptable level.

“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.”

Climate Sense: Talking about climate change

The urgency of addressing climate change in meaningful ways — such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions — seems to be lost on many Americans. Many others, however, feel the urgency to do something, but they don’t know what to do.

Beyond reducing energy consumption in our personal lives, one of the most important things we can do is to talk about climate change, according to a variety of experts who have been sharing their strategies for action.

When I started this “Climate Sense” series, my goal was to share information I come across during my readings about climate change. At the same time, I’ve been trying to include this topic in my everyday conversations, sharing new findings and learning how others feel about the changing weather and more serious problems. This week, I’d like to share some ideas for getting more people into the conversation.

Item 1: Can we dig out of this garbage compactor?

Umbra, Grist magazine’s advice columnist, responded to a question from a reader who wanted to know whether it would make ANY difference to talk to young people about how to fight climate change.

Umbra (Eve Andrews) compares the situation with climate change to a scene in the first “Star Wars” movie in which Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca are trapped in a putrid garbage compactor with the walls closing in. The anxiety is running high, but there are no clear escape routes.

With climate change, a sizable number of people believe climate change is real and dangerous, but they don’t feel strongly enough to become politically active. This group is called “informed but idle” by John Cook of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Activating these people could tip the balance toward real change, experts say.

Item 2: Understanding another person’s viewpoint

Karin Kirk, a climate scientist who focuses on social behavior, discusses why various groups of people believe what they do about climate change.

“Not every person offering pushback is doing so for the same reason,” she writes in Yale Climate Connections. “Sure, some people are itching for a fight, but myriad others have genuine questions, hold only tentative beliefs, or are in-sync with the mainstream science but not inclined to do anything about it. Gauging someone else’s underlying position can help focus one’s attention on whether — and how — to engage.”

Karin’s advice, like that of many others, is to avoid battling with so-called “trolls,” who will never change their minds, while being willing to share information, beliefs and feelings with everyone else. The video is a TEDx talk by Karin in Bozeman, Mont.

Item 3: Who is able to change his or her mind?

In another article in Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk takes a look at people who have admitted to changing their minds about climate change. Many of them started out denying the reality or cause of climate change because of beliefs by family members or friends. They just never changed their attitudes — until they did.

As Karin reported, four factors turned out to be the main reasons that people changed their minds: 1) a close look at scientific evidence, 2) concern for the Earth’s future, 3) weird weather, and 4) a realization that contrarian evidence is not reliable.

Item 4: Building momentum for change

Katharine Hayhoe, a political science professor at Texas Tech University, is another climate scientist trying to find ways to talk to people about climate change. She is a lead author on the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

“The world is changing,” she says in the Ted Talk video shown here. “But it just isn’t changing fast enough. Too often, we picture this problem as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a hill, with only a few hands on it, trying to roll it up the hill. But in reality, that boulder is already at the top of the hill. And it’s got hundreds of millions of hands, maybe even billions on it, pushing it down. It just isn’t going fast enough. So how do we speed up that giant boulder so we can fix climate change in time? You guessed it. The number one way is by talking about it.

“The bottom line is this: climate change is affecting you and me right here, right now, in the places where we live. But by working together, we can fix it. Sure, it’s a daunting problem. Nobody knows that more than us climate scientists. But we can’t give in to despair. We have to go out and actively look for the hope that we need, that will inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation today.”

“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.”

Climate Sense: Congressional hearings and the Green New Deal

Congress is becoming active on climate change — at least with respect to hearings and proposed legislation. Progressive Democrats, including newly elected members of the House, are expressing hope that climate change will be taken off the back burner and brought to a simmering boil. I would also like to point you to some new findings about the impacts of climate change on the Himalayan region of Asia.

Item 1: Climate change hearings

In taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, House leaders wasted no time this week in turning their attention to climate change. Three separate hearings were held on the issue, two at the same time on Wednesday and the third on Thursday.

The Democrats’ strategy seems to be for members to spell out the science of climate change, describe the environmental dangers and balance the economic risks and benefits of possible solutions. But, as described by National Public Radio reporter Rebecca Hersher, Democrats must unify their own approaches to the problem while trying to bring Republicans into the discussion.

“You know, I don’t think there’s going to be universal agreement on a high bipartisan level to do anything about climate change,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, in the interview with Hersher (above).

The hearing in Grijalva’s committee (first video) opens with two governors, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, and Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican.

“In Massachusetts, climate change is not a partisan issue,” says Republican Baker in his testimony (PDF 249 kb). “While there may sometimes be disagreement on specific policies, we understand the science and we know the impacts are real.

“We know through experience that mitigation to clean up our energy supply and transportation system, paired with adaptation strategies to reduce risk and build resilience can foster strong communities, protect residents and natural resources, and contribute to strong economic growth and innovation throughout the state.”

Check out the committee’s website for a list of speakers and links to their prepared testimony.

The title of the concurrent hearing on Wednesday was “Time for Action: Addressing the Environmental and Economic Effects of Climate Change.” It was before the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change under the Energy and Commerce Committee. Despite the word “climate” in the formal name of the committee, there have been no climate-change hearings before the committee for six years while Democrats were in the wilderness.

Watch the hearing in the second video on this page. For a list of witnesses and their prepared testimony, go to the subcommittee’s webpage on the hearing.

The following day, Thursday, the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee held a hearing focused largely on the effects of climate change on the ocean. Watch the third video for details.

Chairman Jared Huffman, a Democratic representative from California, said at the outset that he wanted to change the tone and approach of the discussions about climate change. He said he intends to allow Republican members to call witnesses of their choosing and he hoped that both parties could even agree to some “joint” witnesses.

It didn’t take long, however, for Huffman to express disappointment, after Republicans called witnesses who downplayed the urgency of climate change. Huffman even pushed back against Kevin Dayaratna, a statistician with the Heritage Foundation, who claimed that reducing greenhouse gases could have devastating impacts on the economy.

“I’m a little disappointed that instead of focusing on the health of our oceans and some of the seemingly obvious things we need to acknowledge and work on together, that we got this thick denialism,” Huffman told Eos reporter Randy Showstack after the hearing. “It’s sort of the last gasp of a certain type of politics that is starting to give way to reality and to science. But we’ll continue to see it from time to time…

“It is cold comfort to the lobstermen that a statistician from the Heritage Foundation hypothesizes that there may be beneficial aspects to CO2 concentrations,” he continued. “They’re losing their industry because of ocean acidification, and I don’t think they’re interested in these intellectual games that right-wing institutes want to play on this issue.”

The hearing is shown in the third video on this page. A witness list and links to prepared testimony can be found on the committee’s webpage.

Item 2: Green New Deal

Liberal Democrats, led by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, rolled out a plan this week to battle climate change under the title Green New Deal.

“The resolution has more breadth than detail and is so ambitious that Republicans greeted it with derision,” noted reporters Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush of the New York Times. “Its legislative prospects are bleak in the foreseeable future; Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has no plan to bring the resolution in its current form to the floor for a vote, according to a Democratic leadership aide with direct knowledge of her plans.”

I was going to share a fact sheet to help explain what the program would entail, but there’s been some controversy about various drafts of the fact sheets floating around, and some versions have even been called “a hoax” by advisers to the Green New Deal campaign. See today’s story by Tal Axelrod in “The Hill.”

Anyway, Ocasio-Cortez is pointing people to the actual resolution submitted to Congress. Perhaps some reliable fact sheets will be written from the resolution, with opposing viewpoints considered.

Item 3: Melting Himalayan glaciers

High-altitude glaciers, such as those in the Himalayan Mountains, are melting faster than ice packs at lower elevations, placing huge populations at risk of social upheaval before many other places around the world, according to a comprehensive new report.

River flows in the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra are expected to increase until about 2050 as the glaciers melt away, and then decrease to catastrophic flows as the ice disappears.

Half the children in Himalayan villages are already undernourished, placing them at greater risk from climate change, as reported in the Nepali Times, which addresses the report.

“Nepal’s national poverty rate is 23 percent, but 42 percent of the country’s mountain dwellers are poor,” says the story by Kunda Dixit, who quotes from the report. “Because they have fewer choices, the poorest are already beginning to suffer from erratic weather and other impacts of climate change, adding to the push-factors in outmigration.

“The report also lays out policy options for countries in the Himalaya, which include increased cross-border cooperation among them to battle common threats. One concrete step would be China, Nepal and India cooperating on disaster early warning on future Glacial Lake Outburst Floods. The report also calls for added investment in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal targets which would build resilience among mountain peoples by giving them more options to adapt.”

The 627-page report, called “The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment,” can be reviewed through the Springer link. The last video on this page is a discussion by David Molden, head of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, which produced the report.

“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.”

Climate Sense: U.S. stuck in icebox while Australia comes out of the oven

Last week, I shared stories about a record heat wave that has been causing severe fires, drought and medical emergencies in Australia. This week, I was pleased to see climatologists and meteorologists in the U.S. take time to explain to average people how we can have bitter cold amid a phenomenon called climate change, which is raising the average temperature across the Earth.

By the way, January was the hottest month ever for Australia, according to an article by BBC News, telling just how bad it got. Temperatures have moderated the past few days.

Item 1: Explaining the polar vortex

“The country is freezing in an unprecedented fashion, and global warming is to blame. Sound crazy?” Thus begins a clear-eyed explanation of the Earth’s atmosphere and the role of the polar vortex in a story written by Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist and science writer.

The story, published by Forbes magazine, is accompanied by graphics that help with the explanation. This is a complex subject, so my advice is to read the story carefully and appreciate the complexity. I’ve read this piece three times now, and I’m growing more confident that I can explain these important concepts to friends and family.

Item 2: Meteorologists play an important role

Seattle’s KING 5 TV meteorologist Darren Peck tackled the polar vortex issue for local viewers, demonstrating the importance of TV weather forecasters in helping the public understand climate change.

Darren, who joined a rather sizeable weather staff at King 5, came to Seattle last year from Sacramento. His presentation on the polar vortex can be seen in the first video on this page.

Item 3: Calling on all TV meteorologists

“Climate Matters,” developed by the independent organization “Climate Central,” serves as a resource for broadcast meteorologists and journalists covering climate change.

As stated on the Climate Matters website:

“Knowing that TV meteorologists are among the best and most trusted local science communicators, Climate Matters began in 2010 as a pilot project with a single TV meteorologist in Columbia, S.C., with funding from the National Science Foundation. Jim Gandy of WXLT gave his viewers regular updates on how climate change was affecting them through the inaugural Climate Matters.”

In the second video Gandy explains how he uses Climate Matters in his local broadcasts.

Sean Sublette, a Climate Matters meteorologist, says that Climate Matters is making a difference by providing information and graphics.

“The Climate Matters program continues to grow, as more the 600 media meteorologists now receive our Climate Matters releases,” Sean told me in an email. “Nine of those receiving our weekly emails are currently employed on the air in Washington state.”

Sean said the organization does not give out individual names of participants, nor is it clear how much anyone uses the information. Seattle affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are connected in some way, along with others in Spokane and Yakima, he said.

Anyone can sign up for information provided by Climate Central through the online subscription form.

Item 4: President Trump weighs in

With all the climate experts that President Trump can call on for an education about climate change, why does he insist on remaining ignorant — or at least appearing to be? Surely by now he knows the difference between weather and climate, since the topic has come up many times before. Maybe Trump thinks this joke is still funny.

In the third video provided by CNN, the network’s Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon attempt to explain the president’s behavior.

“Maybe he’s just playing to the crowd,” Lemon says. “Maybe he is just reading the room and he understands that his folks don’t want climate change to be real, so he’s trying to reconfirm their beliefs already. It could just be that simple, because it would be stunning that anyone who has any knowledge and any education … wouldn’t believe in actual science and scientists.”

Item 5: Evidence of the polar vortex

The last video is an image captured by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) aboard the Aqua satellite. The video shows the various temperatures of the Arctic air mass, known as the polar vortex, as it moves around the Earth from Jan. 21 to Jan. 29. The coldest temperatures, shown in purple, are as low as 40 degrees below zero (-40 degrees, both F and C), reaching as far south as South Dakota. (Credit for the graphic goes to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech AIRS Project.)

Item 6: Fewer extreme cold temps

Despite the anomalies in the polar vortex, there have been twice as many record highs as record lows since 2010, according to a story by Climate Central.

“In the last half-century, 96 percent of our 244 locations have recorded a rise of at least 1°F in their yearly coldest temperature, while only 2 percent have seen a decrease of at least 1°F,” the story says.

“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.”

Climate Sense: Ice at both poles keeps melting at a faster and faster rate

I would like to share five items about climate change:

Item 1

Antarctica is losing six times more ice per year than it did 40 years ago, according to a new study by glaciologists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and the Netherlands’ Utrecht University.

Antarctic ice // Photo: Joe MacGregor, NASA

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” said lead author Eric Rignot, quoted in a news release. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.”

The study, “Four decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance from 1979–2017,” was published yesterday ahead of print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Item 2

National Public Radio’s David Greene speaks with marine biologist James McClintock via telephone from Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula. McClintock, who is associated with the University of Alabama, Birmingham, conducts research on climate change. Here he describes some stunning personal observations during summer at the South Pole.

Item 3

In the Arctic, melting ice from glaciers and surface ice is adding about 14,000 tons of water into the ocean every second, according to a study by researchers in the U.S., Canada, Chile, The Netherlands and Norway.

Over the past 47 years, that melt water has caused the sea to rise by nearly an inch — an estimated 23 millimeters.

Read the article in Fortune magazine by Kevin Kelleher, or check out the scientific paper in Environmental Research Letters.

Item 4

Greenland’s ice sheet appears to be an overlooked source of methane releases to the atmosphere, according to researchers at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, who camped out for three months to measure the release.

Methane analysis by Guillaume Lamarche-Gagnon in Greenland. // Photo: Marie Bulinova

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast flowing rivers before it can be oxidized to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse warming potency,” Bristol Professor Jemma Wadham said in a news release.

The paper was published Jan. 2 in the journal Nature.

Item 5

In Washington state, climate change in the form of “clean energy” leads the list of four legislative priorities submitted by the Environmental Priorities Coalition, which includes more than 20 environmental organizations and related interest groups.

“Washington is uniquely positioned to achieve a fossil free, clean, and renewable electricity grid,” according to the coalition website. “Urgent action is needed to address climate change, and we have a critical opportunity to phase away from dirty fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and fracked gas, and toward clean and sustainable energy sources like solar and wind.” Check out the fact sheet (PDF 2 mb) on the topic.

Climate-change bills promoted by the coalition include:

HB 1110, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation fuels;
HB 1113, amending state greenhouse gas emission limits for consistency with the most recent assessment of climate change science;
SB 5115, concerning appliance efficiency standards;
SB 5116, supporting Washington’s clean energy economy and transitioning to a clean, affordable, and reliable energy future; and
SB 5118, concerning the right to consume self-generated electricity.

The other three priorities listed by the coalition are orca emergency response, oil spill prevention and reducing plastic pollution. A “partnership agenda,” supporting environmental progress outside the coalition, will be announced soon, according to the coalition website.

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“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.”

Climate Sense: The last four years are the warmest four on record

I would like to share five items about climate change.

Item 1

“The website you are trying to access is not available at this time due to a lapse in appropriation,” states several websites about climate and climate change managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I hit that dead-end trying to find out how the year 2018 stacked up for global warming. It would also be nice to report data on national, regional and state trends collected by NOAA and NASA, which usually announce their findings about this time of year. It appears that this year we’ll need to wait. As an alternative, I turned to the Climate Change Service of the European Union.

Here are some of the findings announced yesterday by CCS in a press release:

  • The last four years have been the warmest four on record, with 2018 being the fourth warmest, not far short of the temperature of the third warmest year 2015.
  • 2018 was more than 0.4°C (0.72°F) warmer than the 1981-2010 average.
  • The average temperature of the last 5 years was 1.1°C (1.98°F) higher than the pre-industrial average (as defined by the IPCC).
  • Europe saw annual temperatures less than 0.1°C (0.18°F) below those of the two warmest years on record, 2014 and 2015.
Item 2

Washington Post reporters Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report the findings by an independent research firm under the headline: “U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spiked in 2018 — and it couldn’t happen at a worse time.”

UPDATE, Jan. 9: I’m adding a second article on this topic by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic: “U.S. carbon pollution surged in 2018, after years of stasis.”

Item 3

Maryland Sea Grant produced an eight-minute video (this page) about Smithville, a community on Maryland’s eastern shoreline that supported a population of more than 100 people a century ago. The loss of industry and advancing marsh waters has reduced the community to just two homes. The story of the changing waters and community response provides a perspective on conditions that could be in store for many communities as a result of climate change.

Item 4

In Washington state, the quest for national political leadership merges with efforts to address climate change, as Gov. Jay Inslee weighs the prospects of running for president while pushing ahead with a state initiative for climate change.

Check out the article by Edward-Isaac Dovere in The Atlantic titled “Jay Inslee is betting he can win the presidency on climate change” and watch the interview with Inslee by Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

Item 5

Looking back: Royal Society Publishing compiled an extensive description of feedback processes that increase or decrease the rate of global warming. Feedback effects are critically important aspects of climate change. A brief introduction to feedbacks was offered on the website “Carbon Brief” by Eric Wolff, a research professor at The Royal Society, which is Great Britain’s national science academy. Wolff is also the lead author for an introduction to a special issue of a journal called “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A” dated Nov. 13, 2015. If you’re ambitious, you can read the details about various feedback responses in chapters of the journal itself.
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“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.”

Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year

In October, I was grabbed by a headline on a column by Margaret Sullivan, who writes about media issues for the Washington Post: “The planet is on a fast path to destruction. The media must cover this like it’s the only story that matters.” See Water Ways, Oct. 23.

Margaret Sullivan
Photo: Michael Benabib

As I wrote in my blog post, “Climate change is not a subject that generates happy news. It is not a subject that most politicians wish to address in any form, but it is one subject that separates those who care about the future of the planet from those who care only about short-term economic benefits or political gains.”

Nearly every time I write about climate change, someone reaches out to me to ask that I keep telling the climate story in my blog. I do a lot of reading about water-related issues, of course, and I am constantly learning about climate change — from detailed studies by scientists to government plans to address a future with greater floods, larger forest fires and extensive loss of marine life.

I have decided this year to share some of the more fascinating, ground-breaking or inspiring reports that I come across during my reading. I may provide just a link to an article or scientific report with a brief commentary, as opposed to a full-blown discussion. I’m going to label these brief references “Climate Sense” — as in the headline on this blog post. I hope we can all become better informed about this issue so vital to the future of humanity. (As always, one can subscribe to this blog in the column to the right.)

On Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press devoted its entire program to Climate Change — the science, the damage, the cost and the politics. Watch the entire show at Meet the Press online, or check out the individual segments on YouTube.

It is difficult for a Sunday-morning program to tackle a singular topic, especially in this era of Donald Trump, said anchor Chuck Todd at the beginning of the news show. Climate change, he noted, is an “Earth-changing subject that doesn’t get talked about this thoroughly, on television news at least.”

I was impressed when Chuck Todd threw down the gauntlet by emphasizing that his hour-long program would not devote any time to a debate over the existence of climate change.

“The Earth is getting hotter, and human activity is a major cause — period,” he said. “We’re not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.”

What Americans think about climate change from a political perspective was covered in a segment called “Digital Download,” the first video on this page. I also found it interesting to hear how some experts thought they could better engage the public in climate change, as shown in the second video.

Whether Congress will seriously address climate change in the next two years is yet to be seen, but we know that the debate is coming to the Washington Legislature, with Gov. Jay Inslee leading the charge. Check out the governor’s announcement or read my interview with state Sen. Christine Rolfes, which I wrote after Washington voters rejected a carbon-tax proposal on November’s ballot.

I would like us to always remember the words about climate change from Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan:

“There is a lot happening in the nation and the world, a constant rush of news. Much of it deserves our attention as journalists and news consumers. But we need to figure out how to make the main thing matter.

“In short, when it comes to climate change, we — the media, the public, the world — need radical transformation, and we need it now. Just as the smartest minds in earth science have issued their warning, the best minds in media should be giving sustained attention to how to tell this most important story in a way that will create change.

“We may be doomed even if that happens,” she concludes. “But we’re surely doomed if it doesn’t.”