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Yes, the U.S. can go carbon neutral by 2050, says new Princeton study

Princeton Net ZeroDavid McNew / Getty Images

Yes, the U.S. can go carbon neutral by 2050, says new Princeton study

The month of December opened with good news and bad news for people concerned about the climate crisis.

A climate analysis released by the independent watchdog group Climate Action Tracker said that based on promises made by Paris Climate Agreement participants, the world could limit warming to 2.1 degrees C (3.8 degrees F) by the year 2100. Countries including Japan, South Korea, and China have promised to reach zero emissions by 2060. And while the U.S. isn’t currently a part of the agreement, President-elect Joe Biden plans to rejoin next month and has set a rigorous net-zero promise for 2050.

But the next day, another report threw cold water on that hopeful note, pointing out that many of these countries were not on track to keep their emissions promises. In fact, the study, which explores the gaps between Paris agreement goals and reality, found that countries are planning to increase fossil fuel production by 2 percent annually on average, which would push global temperature rise well past 2.1 degrees C by 2100.

Into that conversation comes a Princeton University report, published Tuesday, that presents several plausible paths for the U.S. to arrive at net-zero emissions by 2050 (complete with economic growth) — as long as government officials make swift moves to invest in sustainable infrastructure.

One such path requires an investment in solar and wind manufacturing, which offers long-term domestic employment opportunities without incurring too many additional technology costs. The caveat? Manufacturing capacity for turbines and photovoltaics would have to increase drastically by 2050 — up to 45 times for wind and 120 times for solar. These strides aren’t achievable without short-term public and political support — progress that has been difficult due to the Trump administration’s habit of burying dozens of studies outlining the promise of renewable energy infrastructure.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining

Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining

Preface. Everyone talks about oil spills, but what about the dirty mining that will have a huge polluting footprint on the earth, and potentially destroy the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery among other side-effects? Renewables aren’t cleaner and greener than fossils, and require a hell of a lot of fossils to mine the ore, deliver it to a crusher, blast furnace, and fabrication, all accomplished with fossils. 

***

Sadasivam, N. 2019. Report: Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining. Grist.org

For more than a decade, indigenous communities in Alaska have been fighting to prevent the mining of copper and gold at Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and a crucial source of sustenance. The proposed mine, blocked under the Obama administration but inching forward under the Trump administration, has been billed by proponents as necessary to meet the growing demand for copper, which is used in wind turbines, batteries, and solar panels. Similar stories are playing out in Norway, where the Sámi community is fighting a copper mine, and in Papua New Guinea, where a company has been mining the seabed for gold and copper.

Weighing those trade-offs — between supporting mining in environmentally sensitive areas and sourcing metals needed to power renewables — is likely to become more common if countries continue generating more renewable energy. That’s according to a report out Wednesday from researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. The report, commissioned by the environmental organization Earthworks, finds that demand for metals such as copper, lithium and cobalt would skyrocket if countries around the world try to get their electric grids and transportation systems fully powered by renewable energy by 2050. Consequently, a rush to meet that demand could lead to more mining in countries with lax environmental and safety regulations and weak protections for workers.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ puts words to a future you don’t want to live in

‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ puts words to a future you don’t want to live in

Prepare yourself for grisly descriptions of how the body breaks down in overwhelming heat, predictions of prehistoric plagues springing back to life beneath melting permafrost, and the possibility of an economic collapse several times worse than the Great Depression.

David Wallace-Wells’ dystopian vision of where we’re headed is guaranteed to scare the bejesus out of readers of his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth. Some will surely have to look away. Wallace-Wells, perhaps surprisingly, seems OK with that. More than a hundred pages in, he writes, “If you have made it this far, you are a brave reader.”

Based on the viral New York Magazine article that portrayed out a hellish future for humanity, the 230-page book is an immersion in seemingly all of the worst-case climate scenarios. It’s terrifying. The point is to get readers to confront “the scarier implications of the science,” Wallace-Wells told me an in email. More terrifying still: There are scarier scenarios that he didn’t touch.

When his original magazine article came out in 2017, science communicators and climatologists like Michael Mann criticized it for being “overly bleak.” Wallace-Wells argues that our dire situation merits an array of storytelling approaches, including ones that embrace the worst possibilities.

“[T]here is no single way to best tell the story of climate change, no single rhetorical approach likely to work on a given audience, and none too dangerous to try,” he writes in the new book. “Any story that sticks is a good one.”

Probably to distance myself from the book’s intentionally upsetting depictions of our predicament, I started writing down all the new words and phrases I encountered while reading it. (Yes, Grist writers have coping mechanisms, too.)

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Doomsday postponed? What to take from the big new Antarctica studies

ICE TO KNOW YA

Doomsday postponed? What to take from the big new Antarctica studies

There’s grim, mixed news out about Antarctica.

Two new papers on melting Antarctic ice come just days after NASA scientists announced the discovery of a massive subterranean hole in West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, the Florida-sized hunk of ice which alone could unleash more than two feet of sea-level rise should it collapse.

One study found that all this melting could have surprising and profound impacts on weather while the other (controversial) study scaled back previous Doomsday estimates. Still, the takeaway from both studies is clear: If we keep on our current path, things could go downhill for humanity very, very quickly.

The worst-case scenario that’s emerging is shockingly bad

In the first paper, an international team of researchers examined the impacts of melting ice on global ocean circulation and weather patterns.

As relatively cool, salt-free meltwater spreads from Antarctica and Greenland across the world’s oceans, it will have dire impacts: The circulation of the Atlantic Ocean will slow, changing how the planet distributes heat, and prompting “a complex pattern of atmospheric and oceanic changes” worldwide, according to the paper.

Weather would worsen almost everywhere, with year-to-year swings in temperature and precipitation increasing in severity by more than 50 percent, especially in eastern North America.

New Zealand and Iceland may warm at a much slower rate than the rest of the world, but ice melt at both poles may actually quicken as heat from the rapidly warming tropical oceans is shunted below the surface where it can stay for hundreds of years. Sub-surface ocean currents would then be able to eat away at the undersides of polar glaciers even more quickly.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Still Toxic After All These Years

Grist / EuToch / Getty Images / Alison Cassidy

Still Toxic After All These Years

Nearly a quarter-century after winning millions from PG&E, the ‘Erin Brockovich’ town continues its fight for clean water.

It was a sweltering, 117-degree July day in Hinkley, California. The surface of the 13-mile highway east to Barstow had become an asphalt skillet, and the town’s lone recreational feature, a children’s playscape, stood shining and unused like a monument to the lofty melting point of low-density polyethylene. Residents here appreciate the dry, desert landscape — that’s why many moved to Hinkley in the first place — but on days like this everyone takes refuge indoors, curtains drawn against the view of empty lots where neighbors’ houses once stood. Along the empty roads, thousands of pipe stubs — groundwater monitoring wells installed by Pacific Gas and Electric — began to look like air vents to some underground bunker where most everyone in town had retreated.

Despite the oppressive weather, a small group of residents had gathered at the community center for a workshop on bioremediation, basically how to remove chemical contamination from their land and water. These workshops are a regular occurrence here and broach topics like isotope analysis, well testing techniques, and the best ways to navigate the political machinations between oversight organizations. Hinkley-dwellers’ interest in these subjects is more based on survival than scientific curiosity; they want to make sure no one can pull the wool over their eyes again.

Hinkley is still best known as the “Erin Brockovich town.” In 1996 a group of residents famously won a massive direct-action arbitration against Pacific Gas and Electric with the help of Brockovich, a savvy single mom and Los Angeles legal clerk.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Let’s say I wanted to escape climate change. Where should I go?

Let’s say I wanted to escape climate change. Where should I go?

Q.I am not giving up … but if I were to move, where in the United States could I go to minimize climate disruption?

— Uneasy in a U-Haul

A.Dear Uneasy,

So you want to escape climate change. That’s a reasonable impulse — climate change rivals nuclear war for the greatest threat to human life in the history of our species’ existence. Every survival instinct we’ve cultivated to date should, understandably, make us want to get away from it.

Let’s start by evaluating regions of the U.S. based on the basics of what we expect climate change to bring. We know that the seas will swell and temperatures will go up. So that particularly endangers a host of coastal cities with relatively warm climates, especially in the summer — so MiamiNew OrleansNorfolkWashington D.C.New YorkLos Angeles. A 2017 paper in Nature Climate Change estimated that the 13.1 million people displaced from those cities by sea level rise could head for more inland locales like Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix.

So there you have it, Uneasy! Let’s all head to Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix.

But wait a second: Hurricane Harvey gave an alarming preview of how Houston will fare in a climate-changed future. Phoenix is in the middle of a desert with no reliable water source, where temperatures can surge to 120 degrees F in the summer. And Atlanta is the third fastest-warming metropolitan region in the country.

Forget about those cities. What’s a nice, temperate place? Never gets too hot or too cold, has lots of water? Aha — the Pacific Northwest. Umbra’s home! It’s part-rainforest, after all.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why should I sacrifice when big companies are to blame for climate change?

ASK UMBRA

Why should I sacrifice when big companies are to blame for climate change?

Q.Why should I feel guilty for flying abroad for vacation or having a child when 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of CO2 emissions? And how do I hold those companies responsible for climate change when every facet of our political system benefits them?

A. Have you ever heard the credo “every day, once a day, give yourself a present?” It comes from Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, and personally, I live by it. In response to your question, I propose a slight modification: Every day, once a day, give your future self a present … by doing something to counteract climate change. Certainly less catchy, but a more noble motto nonetheless.

But you correctly point out that living that motto often seems like an exercise in futility (unless you happen to be the CEO of a major gas conglomerate)! The 100 companies that are responsible for 71 percent of emissions are the biggest fossil fuel producers in the world. The best thing that you can do to fight climate change and hold those companies responsible is to take revenge by jumping into, not out of, the climate action game. It’s truly a win-win. Bear with me.

The idea of working against a fossil-fueled lifestyle isn’t a small decision. The everyday things that are tied to fossil fuels in some way are … well … very numerous. Anything made with plastic, anything using a combustion engine, and, if you live in most parts of the world, anything that uses electricity. Hmm. This is looking like a very ascetic and, dare I say, rather untenable, life.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We broke down what climate change will do, region by region

Grist / Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images

We broke down what climate change will do, region by region

Yeah, we read each chapter of the report so you don’t have to.

Look, at this point, even the most stubborn among us know that climate change is coming for our asses. We really don’t have much time until the climate plagues we’re already getting previews of — mega-wildfires, rising sea-levels, superstorm after superstorm — start increasing in frequency. The 4th National Climate Assessment says all that and much more is on its way.

Here’s the thing: Not all regions in the U.S. are going to experience climate change in the same way. Your backyard might suffer different climate consequences than my backyard. And, let’s be honest, we need to know what’s happening in our respective spaces so we can be prepared. I’m not saying it’s time to start prepping your bunker, but I would like to know if my family should consider moving to higher ground or stock up on maple syrup.

Luckily, that new report — which Trump tried to bury on Black Friday — breaks down climate change’s likely impacts on 10 specific regions. Unluckily, the chapters are super dense.

Silver lining: We at Grist divvied up the chapters and translated them into news you can actually use.

Northeast

Ahh, the Northeast, home to beautiful autumn leaves, delicious maple syrup, and copious amounts of ticks bearing disease. What’s not to love? A lot, according to this report.

Our region is looking at “the largest temperature increase in the contiguous United States” — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the time 2035 rolls around. We’re going to be slammed with the highest rates of sea-level rise in the whole damn country, and we’re going to have the highest rate of ocean warming. Urban centers are particularly at risk (remember Superstorm Sandy?).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

With the world on the line, scientists outline the paths to survival

With the world on the line, scientists outline the paths to survival

This week, scientists and representatives from every country on Earth are gathering in South Korea to put the finishing touches on a report that, if followed, would change the course of history.

The report is a roadmap for possible ways to keep climate change to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Anything beyond that amount of warming, and the planet starts to really go haywire. So the International Panel on Climate Change — a U.N.-sponsored, Nobel Peace Prize-winning assemblage of scientists — wants to show how we can avoid that. To be clear, hitting that goal would require a radical rethink in almost every aspect of society. But the report finds that not meeting the goal would upend life as we know it, too.

“This will be one of the most important meetings in the IPCC’s history,” said Hoesung Lee, the group’s chair, in his opening address on Monday.

The report will be released on October 8. From leaked drafts, we know the basics of scientists’ findings: World greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 — just 15 months from now. The scientists also show the difference in impacts between 1.5 and 2 degrees would not be minor — it could be make-or-break for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, for example, which would flood every coastal city on Earth should it collapse.

“The decisions we make now about whether we let 1.5 or 2 degrees or more happen will change the world enormously,” said Heleen de Coninck, a Dutch climate scientist and one of the report’s lead authors, in an interview with the BBC. “The lives of people will never be the same again either way, but we can influence which future we end up with.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The 1.5 Generation

Grist / Amelia Bates

My generation is radically remaking climate activism. Will it be enough?

My generation, the millennials, will never know a time when climate change wasn’t a grave threat.

Back in 1988, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere crossed the 350 parts per million level when I was still watching Sesame Street and digging up worms in the backyard. Scientists consider that mark the maximum threshold compatible with a stable climate and suitable for human life on Earth. That same year, NASA researcher James Hansen told the U.S. Senate he was 99 percent confident global warming was already taking place. The public started taking notice, but little was done to address the accelerating crisis.

Earlier this year, scientists in Hawaii and California confirmed that our planet’s level of atmospheric CO2 had surpassed 411 ppm. It’s at the highest concentration in human history — not just over the past 100 years or so of modern recordkeeping, or since the Industrial Revolution, or since the invention of agriculture around 9000 B.C. There’s more of the planet’s main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere since before our species evolved from our distant primate cousins millions of years ago.

The average global temperature is on course to rise 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels in the coming decades, escalating the risks of irreversible and widespread sea-level rise and more frequent extreme weather — blistering heat waves, punishing hurricanes, and ravaging wildfires. So it’s no exaggeration to say that my generation is up against seemingly impossible odds.

For years, environmental activists have told us that we could make progress by tinkering with the status quo, that a big part of halting warming is buying the right car, clothes, and moisturizer; avoiding the dirty products; and reforming the way consumer goods are made. And still, the world’s emissions keep climbing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

In defense of using ‘the new normal’ to describe climate change

WHAT IS NORMAL ANYWAY?

In defense of using ‘the new normal’ to describe climate change

It’s been an unusual summer, to say the least. Heat maps keep taking on a red-orange glow, with some veering into rare magenta territory. The Carr Fire, one of the most severe in California history, has burned down 1,000 homes and spun a fire tornado through the air.

“Over a decade or so, we’re going to have more fire, more destructive fire, more billions that will have to be spent on it,” California Governor Jerry Brown said last week. “All that is the ‘new normal’ that we will have to face.”

Why on earth is the word normal being thrown around to describe such extraordinary times?

The new normal is a catchy phrase, and one you’ve probably heard before — if not from Brown, then perhaps from the New York Times. In recent years, the cliche has shown up after disastrous wildfires, hurricanes, heatwaves, and drought.

While government officials and the media like to throw the phrase around, scientists kind of hate it.

“It sounds like we left the old normal, the old conditions, and arrived at a new normal, a new stasis,” Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at the University of Idaho, tells me. “Unfortunately, that’s not what our climate projections are telling us. They’re telling us that this is one step on a very long staircase that’s heading toward extreme conditions.”

In climate science, “normal” is a well-defined word: an average over a 30-year period. Thus, the use of normal does not describe our current period, in which we’re going to continue seeing things we’ve never seen, Kolden says.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The U.K. is tropically hot right now. 6 maps show why.

The U.K. is tropically hot right now. 6 maps show why.

A dangerous heatwave is sweeping across Britain.

The temperature reached 95 degrees at London’s Heathrow Airport on Thursday, making it the hottest day so far this year. Friday is forecasted to be even hotter, and could be the hottest day in the island’s history.

This year’s heatwave began weeks ago, back in June, exacerbated by an absence of rainfall that has turned the countryside so brown it’s visible from space. It’s part of a worldwide rash of fires, floods, and other extreme weather in recent weeks that is putting climate change front and center.

On its current pace, this will be the hottest summer in British history. Across the U.K., where air conditioning is rare, hospital emergency rooms have seen record numbers of patients this week, and public health officials warned people to stay inside. Authorities in London banned the use of barbecue grills after an explosion in the number of large grass fires. Network Rail has slowed and canceled some trainsto keep tracks from buckling under the heat.

Earlier this summer, the roof of a science museum in Glasgow actually melted during one particularly hot day.

This isn’t normal weather, although it’s happening with increasing frequency. This week marks one of only a handful of times in more than 350 years of recordkeepingthat temperatures in England have climbed above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius).

This is a problem that’s only going to get worse. Within 20 or 30 years, if the world continues to ignore the problem of climate change, heatwaves like this week’s could happen nearly every year in the U.K., tripling heat-related deaths.

Summertime temperatures have sharply risen on every corner of the planet in recent decades, so what were once one-off excursions of dangerous temperatures a century ago are now nearly indistinguishable from the background influence of soaring levels of greenhouse gases.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air

Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air

The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high, millions of years ago, the planet was very different. For one, humans didn’t exist.

On Wednesday, scientists at the University of California in San Diego confirmedthat April’s monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration breached 410 parts per million for the first time in our history.

We know a lot about how to track these changes. The Earth’s carbon dioxide levels peak around this time every year for a pretty straightforward reason. There’s more landmass in the northern hemisphere, and plants grow in a seasonal cycle. During the summer, they suck down CO2, during the winter, they let it back out. The measurements were made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii — a site chosen for its pristine location far away from the polluting influence of a major city.

Increasingly though, pollution from the world’s cities is making its way to Mauna Loa — and everywhere else on Earth.

In little more than a century of frenzied fossil-fuel burning, we humans have altered our planet’s atmosphere at a rate dozens of times faster than natural climate change. Carbon dioxide is now more than 100 ppm higher than any direct measurements from Antarctic ice cores over the past 800,000 years, and probably significantly higher than anything the planet has experienced for at least 15 million years. That includes eras when Earth was largely ice-free.

Not only are carbon dioxide levels rising each year, they are accelerating. Carbon dioxide is climbing at twice the pace it was 50 years ago. Even the increases are increasing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate science’s official text is outdated. Here’s what it’s missing.

The first-ever courtroom tutorial of climate science this week went about as you’d expect. The scientists representing Oakland and San Francisco had Powerpoint problems, and the oil industry’s lawyer cherry-picked his facts.

For all their differences, both sides drew from a common source: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the gold-standard for mainstream climate science. Problem is, the last IPCC report came out way back in 2013. As it turns out, we’ve learned a lot about our climate since then, and most of that new information paints an increasingly urgent picture of the need to slash fossil-fuel emissions as soon as possible.


Loud beep goes off. “Coastal flood alert” alsup deadpans

Chevron attorney now up – “from Chevron’s perspective there’s no debate about climate science” going to be quoting chapter and verse from IPCC reports. It’s an “amazing resource”


It’s convenient that Chevron’s attorney relied on that aging five-year-old report. The next IPCC report isn’t planned for public release until the fall of 2019. Gathering consensus takes time, and the result is that IPCC reports are out of date before they’re published and necessarily conservative.

The climate models used in these reports grow old in a hurry. Since the 1970s, they’ve routinely underestimated the rate of global warming. Some of the most recent comprehensive assessments of climate science, including last year’s congressionally-mandated, White House-approved, Climate Science Special Report, include scary new sections on “climate surprises” like simultaneous droughts and hurricanes, that have wide-reaching consequences. The scientists representing the two cities knew this, and didn’t limit their talking points to the IPCC.

“Positive feedbacks (self-reinforcing cycles) within the climate system have the potential to accelerate human-induced climate change,” says a section from that Climate Science Special report, “and even shift the Earth’s climate system, in part or in whole, into new states that are very different from those experienced in the recent past.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Up in Smoke

Trees are dying at unprecedented rates. Can we rethink conservation before it’s too late?

Each year, the Earth’s trees suck more than a hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s an impossibly huge number to consider, about 60 times the weight of all the humans currently on the planet.

Our forests perform a cornucopia of services: Serving as a stabilizing force for nearly all of terrestrial life, they foster biodiversity and even make us happier. But as climate change accelerates, drawing that carbon out of the air has become trees’ most critical role.

Absorbing CO2 is key to avoiding the worst effects of climate change when each year matters so much. Carbon “sinks,” like the wood of trees and organic matter buried in dirt, prevent the gas from returning to the atmosphere for dozens or even hundreds of years. Right now, about a third of all human carbon emissions are absorbed by trees and other land plants — the rest remains in the atmosphere or gets buried at sea. That share will need to rise toward and beyond 100 percent in order to counter all of humanity’s emissions past and present.

For trees to pull this off, though, they have to be alive, thriving, and spreading. And at the moment, the world’s forests are trending in the opposite direction.

New evidence shows that the climate is shifting so quickly, it’s putting many of the world’s trees in jeopardy. Rising temperatures and increasingly unusual rainfall patterns inflict more frequent drought, pest outbreaks, and fires. Trees are dying at the fastest rate ever seen, on the backs of extreme events like the 2015 El Niño, which sparked massive forest fires across the tropics. In 2016, the world lost a New Zealand-sized amount of trees, the most in recorded history.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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