Climate Change Blog 52

By Carl Howard posted 06-11-2023 04:51 PM


Climate Change Blog 52

Facts on the Groun

On June 7, the smoke from the wildfires in Eastern Canada rendered the air over NYC “hazardous” to breathe. It was the worst air quality in the world among major cities, worse than in Delhi, the infamous pollution capital where average life spans are reduced more than nine years by particulates in the air. The NY Yankees canceled their home game.

In late April, people in Bangkok and other areas of Thailand were warned not to go outside due to extreme heat. Temperatures hit a record 45C (113F) and the heat index, (what the temperature feels like when combined with humidity), hit a record 54C (129F). Thailand’s normal average high temperature for April is 37C (98.6F). As a result, power consumption records were broken in April as parts of Asia experienced a heatwave with more than 39,000 megawatts of electricity used in Thailand, beating the previous mark of 32,000 megawatts from last year.

Parts of eastern India and Bangladesh have also been suffering power cuts and shortages due to extreme heat. Bangladeshi energy minister Nasrul Hamid said "The current unprecedented heatwave, which has resulted in maximum temperatures hitting the highest level in over 50 years, has increased the demand for electricity much more than expected". Temperatures reached 43C (109.4F) in the west of Bangladesh and in the capital, Dhaka. In India schools in at least two Indian states (Tripura and West Bengal) were shut due to temperature rises of more than 5C above normal. The early onset of summer heat has been linked to climate change by scientists, who say more than a billion people in India and Pakistan are vulnerable.

In China, temperatures of 35C occurred in 11 provinces, 38.2C in Yunhe and 37.6C in Lu'an, and April records were broken in Zhejiang and Anhui provinces, and Hangzhou saw the first 35C in any April with 109 weather stations breaking their monthly high temperature records.

The deadly heat killed at least 13 people in India at an out-door event.  In Thailand, “Thai authorities have issued health warnings” said, and smog “has caused thousands of people to develop respiratory problems and sore throats” it added.

In Kalewa, Myanmar, an April record high of 111F (44.0C) was set. Several cities in Laos also had record temperatures of 107F (41.6C). Turkmenistan attained its highest April temperature on record with a high of 108F (42.2C). The nighttime temperature was down to only 82F (28C) in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Also in April, thunderstorms dropped more than 25 inches of rain at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport over a 24-hour period and other parts of southeastern Florida trapping motorists in floodwaters and stranding travelers inside the shuttered airport. The rainfall smashed Fort Lauderdale’s one-day record of 14.59” set on April 25, 1979. “What we are seeing here is a thousand-year incident,” Mayor Dean Trantalis of Fort Lauderdale said. “No city could have planned for this.” The closures, flooding and bad weather combined to cause hours-long traffic jams. Local news outlets showed images of residents, holding their belongings, wading through dark, waist-high flooding in the streets.

An early-morning tornado in April killed 5 people and caused extensive damage in Bollinger County, Mo., uprooting trees and destroying homes. Tornados affected more than 10 million people in portions of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio and more than 110 flights were canceled and more than 200 others were delayed out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Dozens more cancellations and delays were also reported at Chicago Midway International Airport and St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Another five people were killed in tornadoes in Arkansas.

In early April, more than two dozen people were hospitalized after an extremely powerful storm caused the roof of the Apollo Theater in Belvidere, Ill., to collapse killing 1 and injuring 40. This storm system was part of a wide trail of suffering, leaving at least 32 people dead, across a broad patch of the country, first the Midwest and South, and then the East.

In the Upper Plains and Rockies, heavy snow fell and several major roads were closed, and more than a million people were under blizzard warnings. The central US had destructive tornadoes and blizzards that pummeled the region early in April. In Colona, Ill., a tornado ripped the roof from a gas station and uprooted trees. In Iowa, the storms rolled near areas where tornadoes had torn roofs off homes and other buildings earlier, displacing residents. Destructive, baseball-size hail fell on towns in northeast Illinois.

In McNairy County, Tenn., storms killed 9 people, downed power lines, clogged roadways and destroyed houses. In rural Crawford County, Ill., 3 people died from extreme storms. In Indiana, 5 people were killed, and in Sullivan, Ind., the mayor described a landscape that looked like a war zone, with newly homeless residents dazed. Chief Greg Clark of the Madison Township Fire Department said that he had been working on one street where “nothing left was livable.”

Hours before the storms hit, Biden was in Mississippi visiting survivors of severe weather that killed at least 26 people. Another round of storms hit the Mid-Atlantic region, knocking out power to thousands and killing one person in Sussex County, Del. At least four people were killed by a tornado in Wynne, Ark. In Little Rock officials said more than 50 people were injured. In Adamsville, Tenn., 9 people were killed by violent weather.

In late March at least 32 people were killed in at least seven states hit by a powerful storm system that generated ferocious tornadoes causing a roof at a packed venue in Illinois to collapse, the second such deadly outbreak of severe weather in the region in a week. Fatalities were reported in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas declared a state of emergency. In Wynne, Mayor Jennifer Hobbs said the town had been “cut in half by damage from east to west.”

In Illinois, three people were killed in Crawford County, after a “residential structure” collapsed and in the village of Sherman, more than a dozen homes were significantly damaged, said Mayor Trevor J. Clatfelter. The storm also caused major gas leaks, electricity outages and downed power poles. In Sullivan County, Ind., three people were killed by a tornado, Sgt. Matt Ames of the Indiana State Police said. Two people were found dead at a severely damaged campground at McCormick’s Creek State Park in Owen County, Ind. In Tipton County, Tenn., a 31-year-old man died after a tornado destroyed his home, picked him up and threw him onto a field about 100 yards away, Sheriff Shannon Beasley said.

Weather Service meteorologists had issued more than 450 tornado warnings and more than 400,000 customers across five states were without power.

In Rolling Fork, Miss., at least 26 people were killed, dozens more were injured, and homes and businesses were destroyed when a tornado touched down in late March. The tornado had wrecked almost everything, plucking trees that had stood for decades, roots and all, and dropping them onto homes and vehicles. A fire station was just open air. In other parts of town, the force of the storm was so powerful that it turned homes and businesses into piles of debris, unrecognizable to residents who had lived there for decades. Roads were a maze of downed utility lines, tree limbs, strips of metal and lines of trucks and vehicles. Mike Barlow, a resident, said, “It was the worst thing I have ever been through.” Annie Haynes, a local resident said her neighbor, a home health worker who lived alone in a mobile home, was found dead after the storm lifted the home off the ground and slammed it onto a neighbor’s house.  Jonny B. Gabel, 35, a storm chaser, said he went to a nearby Dollar General store and began digging through rubble with his bare hands and found two bodies in the darkness.

In early March, at least four people were found dead in their homes in the Big Bear area of San Bernardino County, CA due to extreme weather. Shannon Dicus, the county sheriff and coroner said at least 11 people had been killed in the region by extreme weather since Feb. 23.

Extreme snowfall on Feb. 21 in San Bernardino County surrounded homes in drifts as tall as 10 feet. Residents endured power outages and fires caused by broken gas lines. Dan Munsey, the fire chief of San Bernardino County, said that “the weather came in much worse than has ever been anticipated in Southern California.”

In early March, millions of California residents awoke to the continuing threat of flooding and other effects of extreme weather, after the latest bout of high wind and heavy precipitation disrupted electric service, strained levees and forced evacuations and road closures. The rainfall was so intense that some weather stations around the state broke daily records. High winds forced a halt to flights at San Francisco’s international airport and about 190,000 utility customers were without power in the Bay Area.

South of San Francisco, floodwater from the Pajaro River in Monterey County blocked a section of Highway 1 between the Monterey Peninsula and Santa Cruz. A levee on the river broke. Evacuation orders were issued in Oceano, a community in San Luis Obispo County.

In Northern California, where the storm’s leading edge came ashore, parts of the Sacramento River ran at near-record highs, according to Craig Shoemaker, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Sections of highways and roads in some parts of the state were closed due to rockslides, flooding and downed trees loosened by the wind and rain, the California Department of Transportation said. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in three counties because of rising water in the Sacramento River, bringing the total since late February to 43 of California’s 58 counties affected by weather-related emergency declarations.

It was the second snowiest season in the Central Sierras since researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, began keeping records in 1946. This season, 677 inches of snow have fallen there, the researchers said.

In January, an atmospheric river prompted evacuation orders for more than 40,000 Californians and left more than 220,000 utility customers without power. That storm was part of a three-week series of atmospheric rivers that drenched much of the state, damaging infrastructure and setting off flooding. The severe weather events in California continued into February, when storms brought heavy flooding to Los Angeles County and whiteouts at higher elevations, and into March, when Gov. Newsom declared a state of emergency in several counties affected by winter storms that dumped as much as 10 feet of snow in parts of Southern California, leaving some tourists and residents stranded for days. After that storm, yet another atmospheric river hit California. It washed out portions of roadways, prompted evacuations, caused power outages, particularly in the central region, and contributed to at least one death.

A late-winter storm dumped heavy, wet snow in parts of the Northeast US in mid-March, causing widespread power outages and dozens of flight disruptions. The brunt of the storm affected a broad area in upstate NY, southern VT and northwestern MA, where 28 inches of snow had been recorded in Windsor. Two feet of snow had been recorded in Franklin County, MA, and 11 inches of snow in southern NH. In Piseco, N.Y., in the southern Adirondacks, about 2.5 inches of snow fell in an hour, bringing snow depth to 31 inches. In Vermont, more than 32 inches of snow fell in Marlboro. More than 251,000 customers were without power in parts of MA, NH, NY, ME and VT.

Dozens of flights were delayed or canceled at airports across the Northeast, including La Guardia Airport in New York and Logan International Airport in Boston. In upstate New York, a plane carrying dozens of passengers slid off the runway at Syracuse Hancock International Airport.

Sara Porter, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said “This is really a long-duration, multihazard event.” The storm caused other disruptions, such as canceled classes in several cities and closed state offices in Maine. In New Hampshire, more than 50 towns postponed municipal elections that had been scheduled according to the secretary of state’s office. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York declared a state of emergency. Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey also declared a state of emergency for Warren, Sussex, Morris, Passaic and Bergen Counties.

In mid-March, Cyclone Freddy, a record-breaking storm swept into the southeast African nation of Malawi brought a deluge of mud and floodwaters that left nearly 200 people dead. A surge of water rushed down a hill into the commercial capital, Blantyre. “It was terrifying,” said Alinafe Petrol, 15 “We started running for our lives.” In Blantyre, the authorities said that 158 people were killed as houses slid from their foundations and winds ripped trees out of the ground. Several electric poles were strewn across the city’s main freeway. The cyclone, had been going for 36 days straight, set the record for the longest-lasting storm in the Southern Hemisphere. The cyclone swirled in the Indian Ocean, between the island nation of Madagascar and Mozambique off the African coast. The cyclone made landfall twice in each of those countries, killing nearly 50 people. As the storm traveled inland, it pounded Malawi, over 20,000 people were displaced by the destruction caused by the storm. Blantyre resident, Patrick Melemba, 40, said, “I saw people being covered by mud, so many dead bodies.” His home was destroyed.

Malawi’s government declared a state of disaster across 10 districts in the country’s south. Cyclone Freddy is the worst natural disaster the country has seen since 1991, when floods killed about 1,000 people, according to Douglas Moffat, the commissioner for the Phalombe District. At least 500 more cases and 13 deaths from cholera have been recorded since the storm, the World Health Organization said.

Nine people were killed in early March as a powerful storm system swept across the Southern US, unleashing severe winds and heavy rain that downed trees and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers. “This thing right now is a multi-hazard event,” said Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. In Alabama, powerful winds downed power lines and trees. In Arkansas, a wide section of the state was soaked by 4 inches of rain.

Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said that thunderstorms in his state produced wind speeds of 80 mph. He added that two tornadoes had swept through the western part of the state — the first in McCracken County and the second in Christian County. He declared a state of emergency and said there were three storm-related deaths in his state. Three people died in Alabama from fallen trees as powerful winds swept through the state. About 520,000 customers were without power in Kentucky. Power was out for about 268,000 customers in Tennessee, 106,000 in Ohio and 72,000 in Alabama. Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi said one person died after severe weather pummeled the state.

The National Weather Service in Louisville reported a record-low pressure for the city of 977.1 millibars at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, an indication of the strength of the storm and its extreme winds. “In my 21 years as a forecaster here in Nashville, I do not recall a gradient wind event like this one,” a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said. Dozens of school districts in Kentucky and Indiana canceled classes.

Yosemite National Park, regularly gets plenty of snow but the snow-fall was so extreme in early March as to close the park. The floor of the Yosemite Valley recorded 40 inches of snow depth, beating the 36 inches recorded there in 1969. Snowdrifts were up to 15 feet deep in some areas. Roads were also closed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The record snow amount in Yosemite is the latest extreme precipitation to pummel California this winter, deluges that have led to repeated episodes of flooding, power outages and evacuations.

Heavy snow fell in late February in the mountains of Southern California, including in some spots that almost never see snow. People living at lower elevations there also faced floods triggered by unusually heavy rainstorms. The resulting records set include Los Angeles International Airport received a record amount of rain and Los Angeles County issued its first blizzard warning since Feb. 4, 1989. More than 18 million people across a large, north-to-south band of California were under a freeze warning. Some roads and popular hiking routes were closed due to snow or ice, including portions of the famed John Muir Trail.

A late February storm brought snow, freezing rain and wind gusts between 30 and 40 mph across the Upper Midwest, knocked out power, snarled transit and caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights. Nearly 720,000 customers lost electricity in Michigan. An additional 26,000 customers were without power in Illinois. The storm led to the death of a volunteer firefighter from the Paw Paw Fire Department in Michigan.

More than 1,100 flights were canceled in the US including more than 240 flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where more than 13 inches of snow had fallen. Flight cancellations were also reported in Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee, Portland, Ore., and Toronto. Chicago and other cities on Lake Michigan experienced gale-force winds and waves as tall as eight feet high. A winter storm warning was in effect for parts of Maine, NH, NY and VT.

In Buffalo, NY which was crushed by a late December blizzard that killed dozens, officials warned of power outages resulting in darkened homes and inoperable streetlights. There were more than 17,000 power outages reported statewide. Ice and freezing rain were also causing problems such as downed tree limbs, power lines and telephone poles. In New York’s rural Genesee County, about 900 customers were without power and a winter weather advisory was in force.

Blizzard warnings were issued for more than two million people across the US in late February including for the mountains around Los Angeles – a rarity. “This is shaping up to be a very unusual event in certain places, especially, and the impacts are probably going to be really substantial,” Dr. Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at U.C.L.A. said.

Almost all of the country experienced some form of extreme weather in late February. While much of the eastern half of North America was basking in springlike weather, a major winter storm was taking hold of the western half, from Southern California to Toronto and the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. More than 1,300 flights were canceled and more than 1,900 were delayed. About 400 flights were canceled at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. At Denver International Airport, more than 200 flights were canceled, and several hundred were delayed. About 300 flights at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport were affected, most of them canceled.

According to the new European State of the Climate Report for 2022 issued by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, Europe has already warmed more than 2.2C (3.9F) from the pre-fossil fuel era, compared to the global average of 1.2C (2.2F). Last summer was Europe’s warmest on record as heat waves killed more than 15,000 people, the deadliest meteorological event of the year. The worst heatwave was in July 2022 when the temperature in the U.K. exceeded 40C for the first time on record. The fire service in London said it was their busiest day since World War II.

River discharge was the second lowest on record across Europe. It was the sixth straight year of below average flows. Surface soil moisture, critical for plants, was the second-lowest measured in the last 50 years. The warm and dry conditions also contributed to one of the most intense wildfire seasons on record according to the report. The report also shows how the impacts can intensify each other in a spiral of worsening extremes. The lack of winter snow last year followed by record summer warmth melted Europe’s glaciers faster than ever before, thinning them by 11.5 feet on average. Said Samantha Burgess, Copernicus’ deputy director. “We can’t stop these changes, but we can limit the impacts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions rapidly.”

“it’s not enough to just do a transition to net zero,” said Chloe Brimicombe a PhD student at the University of Reading in Environmental Science focusing on Heatwave Health Hazard Forecasting.” “You still need adaptation, because it’s too late to stop future heatwaves. People will still die as a result of heat unless we adapt, as well. We can’t just keep being old school and saying that, if we transition to net zero, everything is going to be solved. That’s not true for heat waves.”

Robert Vautard, a senior climate scientist who studies regional extremes at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and a lead author of a IPCC report said that the combination of warmth with many successive months of below normal rainfall, including during the winter, “the situation becomes critical.”

The new Copernicus report details the near record low flows in nearly all European rivers at the end of last summer. Winter brought little relief, so reservoirs are drying up, with critical water shortages and potentially catastrophic impacts to agriculture expected in large parts of western and southern Europe, including important breadbasket areas in France and Spain. “In Western and Central Europe, you get more rain in winter, and less rain in summer, but temperature has the biggest overall effect for the future,” Vautard said, “What we are really concerned with is the increase in temperature.” Spain has recorded its hottest ever temperature for April, 38.7C.

Based on the January 2023 NOAA U.S. climate report for January 2023, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont each had their warmest Januaries on record. The average January temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 35.2F (5.1F above average), ranking as the sixth-warmest January on record. Record high temperatures were set on Feb 25: Rochester: 67F; Watertown: 62; Syracuse: 69; Binghamton: 61; Albany: 64; and Saranac Lake: 52.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, issued on March 20, its 6th Assessment Report. These are the most comprehensive of climate change reports synthesizing literally 1,000s of reports by 1,000s of scientists, all peer reviewed, and the final report agreed to by consensus. It’s the gold standard. These reports do not equivocate. Climate change, as per this and numerous other reports, is a clear and present danger and is getting worse.

The latest report warned that the Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, within our lifetimes, and every nation must immediately shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from dangerously overheating. Every country, we are warned, must take immediate action and so must we all, as individuals.

The report says that global average temperatures may increase 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels in “the first half of the 2030s,” as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas. Beyond that point, scientists say, the impacts of catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures, environmental refugees and species extinction may be unavoidable. Earth has already warmed an average of 1.1C since the industrial age, and, with global fossil-fuel emissions setting records last year, limiting warming to 1.5C is quickly becoming unattainable.

The report warns that humanity’s last chance to shift course requires industrialized nations to all immediately slash GHGs roughly in half by 2030 and then stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere altogether by the early 2050s. If those two steps were taken, there would be a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5C. Delays of even a few years would likely make that goal unattainable, guaranteeing a hotter, more perilous future. “The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change,” said Hoesung Lee, the chair of the climate panel. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”

In fact, we are back-sliding. Last year, China issued permits for 168 coal-fired power plants and the Biden administration approved an enormous oil drilling project known as Willow on pristine federal land in Alaska.

The report was approved by 195 governments and says that existing and currently planned fossil fuel infrastructure, coal-fired power plants, oil wells, factories, cars and trucks across the globe, will emit enough CO2 to warm the planet 2C this century. The only way to avoid that is to cancel many of those projects and retire existing plants and/or capture their emissions.

The .5C difference could mean that tens of millions more people worldwide experience life-threatening heat waves, water shortages and coastal flooding. At 1.5C coral reefs might survive and summer Arctic sea ice may persist, but at 2C those things may be gone.

“It’s not that if we go past 1.5 degrees everything is lost,” said Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London. “But there’s clear evidence that 1.5 is better than 1.6, which is better than 1.7, and so on. The point is we need to do everything we can to keep warming as low as possible.”

The planet is on track to heat up by 2.1 to 2.9C this century. That is a threat to the future of human civilization as we know it. Between 1.5C–2.5C, risks associated with large-scale singular events or tipping points, such as ice sheet instability or ecosystem loss from tropical forests, transition to high risk. At about 1.9C warming, half of the human population (about 4 billion people) could be exposed to periods of life-threatening climatic conditions arising from the coupled impacts of extreme heat and humidity by 2100. At sustained warming levels between 2C and 3C, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will be lost almost completely and irreversibly leading to SLR, the loss of most of the world’s coastal cities, wholescale disruption of the global economy and the displacement of billions of people.

Both the US and EU have set goals of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while China has set a 2060 goal and India is aiming for 2070. But the report makes clear that all countries should move faster and wealthy countries should aim to reach net zero by 2040. It is now clear, even relatively modest increases in global temperature will be more disruptive than previously thought (see above summary of extreme weather).

Food production is under strain as climate change (heat, drought, extreme rainfall, flooding) has slowed the rate of growth, the report says. Food security is at risk as the world’s population exceeds eight billion people. Heat has led mosquitoes carrying diseases like malaria and dengue to spread and may enter the US.

If 1.5C is exceeded, no amount of adaptation can save low-lying island nations. Vulnerable communities who have historically contributed least to the climate crisis are most affected. Nearly half of the world’s population are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Between 2010 and 2020, human mortality from floods, droughts and storms was 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability.

Many of the solutions have long been known, including vastly scaling up wind and solar power, shifting to EVs and electric heat pumps in buildings, curbing methane emissions from oil and gas operations, protecting forests and other ecosystems, climate-friendly food systems, and energy efficiency in its many forms. Governments and companies must scale up too and invest three to six times the roughly $600 billion they now spend annually on clean energy, the report says. There is no shortage of capital, at least for wealthy countries. The equitable treatment of less wealthy nations has seen a lot of lip service but not enough capital assistance.

The report states just how drastic the required changes must be. “About 80% of coal, 50% of gas, and 30% of oil reserves cannot be burned and emitted if warming is limited to 2C. Significantly more reserves are expected to remain unburned if warming is limited to 1.5C.”

To limit warming to 1.5C with greater than 50% likelihood and no or limited overshoot (which would necessitate Carbon Dioxide Removal from the atmosphere) the global use of coal must decline by up to 100%, oil by up to 90% and gas by up to 85% by 2050.

As the global temperature continues to rise, it may become necessary to remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. That will require vast technological leaps and billions of dollars of investment on top of the billions that are necessary for adaptation to the inevitable impacts that we are already experiencing across the globe.

“Without a radical shift away from fossil fuels over the next few years, the world is certain to blow past the 1.5 C goal.” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. “The I.P.C.C. makes plain that continuing to build new unabated fossil fuel power plants would seal that fate.”

Christina Noel, a spokesperson for lThe American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, responded by saying that oil and gas companies were working on technologies to curb emissions such as carbon capture, but that policymakers “must also consider the importance of adequate, affordable and reliable energy to meet growing global needs.”

While the next decade is almost certain to be hotter, scientists said the main takeaway from the report should be that nations still have enormous influence over the climate for the rest of the century. The report “is quite clear that whatever future we end up with is within our control,” said Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds and a writer of one of the reports. “It is up to humanity,” he added, “to determine what we end up with.”

In addition to the threats posed by warming, drought, wildfire and extreme weather events, is sea level rise driven by melting polar ice. New research in East Antarctica suggests that current models projecting SLR may be vastly underestimating the speed with which melting may occur in the future based on discoveries as to how it may have melted in the past. Currently, the global average is about 1.5 inches per decade, with 12” of SLR expected along US coastlines by 2050. But during past geological intervals of rapid warming, there’s evidence of SLR increasing at a rate of up to 20” per decade.

A new study of the seafloor near the coast of northern Norway shows that ice sheets retreated in pulses of nearly 2,000 feet per day as the oceans warmed at the end of the last ice age. The findings detailed conditions formed about 20,000 years ago, as the retreating ice sheet moved up and down with the tides. The daily tidal cycles showed scientists that the rate of retreat was up to 20 times faster than has previously been measured anywhere else,

Frazer Christie, a polar scientist with the Scott Polar Research Center at the University of Cambridge, said “this rapid buoyancy driven course of retreat could be all that’s needed to set in motion a chain of events that spirals into a more runaway style of retreat.” The conditions surrounding that retreat exist today around parts of Antarctica, including close to the vulnerable Thwaites Glacier, a rapidly warming ocean and a relatively smooth seafloor.

Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine and Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said “This is an important study revealing that we have not seen anything yet in terms of how fast an ice sheet can retreat dynamically, not just melting away, but falling apart,” he said. “This is not a model. This is real data. And it is frankly scary, even to me. These data should keep us awake at night.”

Lead author of the recent report, Christine Batchelor, a geophysicist and marine geology researcher at the University of Newcastle, worked on a comparable study near the Larsen Ice Shelf, along the Antarctic Peninsula. Her study suggested an ice sheet retreat rate of up to 150’ per day, for as long as 90 days, adding up to 6 miles of retreat in a year. Batchelor said depending on the level of warming, even faster rates are possible.

SLR is just one enormously consequential result of global warming. Retreating/melting glaciers scraping across flat sea floors could “send spurts of sediment-laden water and spur nutrient production,” which would affect ocean food webs, Rignot added. It could also produce a layer of cold, fresh water at the surface which could interfere with ocean currents that normally would transport CO2 from the surface down to the bottom of the ocean.

But the most concerning aspect of the Antarctic ice sheets’ retreat is that “it will reduce resistance to the flow of the glacier and make the glaciers go much, much faster,” he said. That could bring “much higher rates of sea level rise” if the retreat continues for extended periods. “During the time period when these events were recorded, sea level was rising 4 meters (13 feet) per century.” “That is 10 times what we have today. Are you scared yet? Well you should be. That’s the real risk we are facing later in this century, and even more beyond that.”

The main driver of SLR and climate change is anthropogenic GHG emissions. That has been clear for decades. And, for decades global leaders have agreed to reduce such emissions before it’s too late. The latest IPCC report says it is very close to too late. And yet, based on the latest report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, atmospheric levels of GHGs including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide continued their rapid increase in 2022. It was the 11th consecutive year that CO2 levels rose by more than two parts per million the highest sustained rate of CO2 increases since monitoring began 65 years ago. Atmospheric CO2 is now 50% higher than pre-industrial levels.

The 2022 methane rise was the fourth largest since records began in 1983, following record growth in 2021 and 2022, and now stands at an average of 1,912 ppb. Methane is a potent GHG which warms the Earth’s atmosphere much faster than CO2 and is responsible for about 25% of the heat trapped by all GHGs. Methane levels in the atmosphere are now more than two and a half times their pre-industrial level. Most methane emissions come from the oil and gas sector.

Levels of nitrous oxide, the third-most significant anthropogenic GHG, are now 24% higher than pre–industrial levels, following a 1.25ppb rise last year. Fossil fuel-powered vehicles (cars, buses, trucks, farm machinery) are a major source of nitrous oxide, which is harmful to human health and water sources. But the primary culprits behind rising nitrous oxide levels in recent decades have been synthetic fertilizers and livestock manure from industrialized agriculture.

“The observations collected by NOAA scientists in 2022 show that GHG emissions continue to rise at an alarming pace and will persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years,” said Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator.

The IPCC report said increasing temperatures will result in substantially more poverty, extreme heat, sea level rise, habitat and coral reef loss, and drought, and if left unchecked could upend human civilization.

The report states unequivocally that human-caused climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying. It is now affecting weather and climate extremes in every region globally. Impacts and related losses and damages to nature, ecosystems and people have been widespread and with more far-reaching consequences than anticipated. Half of all species are already on the move, due to climate change affecting their environments. Given what scientists have observed, the devastating impacts from climate change likely will be worse than previously thought and at lower levels of warming.

When we warm to 1.2C, we can expect mass tree mortality, coral reef bleaching, large declines in sea-ice dependent species, and mass mortality events from heatwaves. At 1.5C, up to 14% of species assessed in terrestrial ecosystems will likely face a very high risk of extinction. Beyond that we can expect more and worse heat extremes and dangerous heat-humidity conditions, extreme rainfall and associated flooding, tropical cyclones, wildfires and extreme sea-level events.

Scientists are hopeful that with additional significant emissions reductions, warming could be held at a peak of between 1.4C and 1.6C and by the end of the century dip below 1.5C.

The breakthrough of solar and wind in terms of reaching cost levels equal to or below those of fossil fuels, gives us a fighting chance. The electrification and decarbonization of different sectors could have profound impacts. These developments have occurred much faster than anticipated by experts and modelled in previous mitigation scenarios.

But finance for fossil fuels far exceeds that for climate adaptation and mitigation, so that must change. Equity and social justice demand such change but so does the reality that without assistance, developing countries will utilize fossil fuels to the detriment of all. The IEA reported that in 2022, the oil and gas industries earned $4 trillion with businesses fueling the climate crisis. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove up oil prices, contributing such record profits for fossil fuel companies as governments scrambled to secure their energy supplies, sending prices soaring

The IPCC stressed that time is of the essence, that a global response is essential, and that action that protects and restores our biodiversity is fundamental. Maintaining the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services at a global scale depends on effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30% to 50% of the land, freshwater and ocean areas, and ecosystems. Governments, businesses, investors and high-income individuals alike all have important roles to play.

It is therefore distressing to note that the fossil fuel industry has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels of growth. Even though the past few years have seen many countries institute policies that encourage renewable energy, demand for fossil fuels remains high. “It’s a full bounce-back,” said Espen Erlingsen, a partner at Rystad Energy.

Much of the growth is taking place in traditional oil- and gas-producing nations such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Norway. Gas, in particular, is booming. Qatar is planning to unveil the world’s biggest gas production facility in 2025. In the US, the fracking of shale for gas is resurgent accounting for many times the level of investment and extraction as a project like Willow.

Vast new oil fields have also been approved for exploitation by Western multinational companies in Guyana, Brazil and Uganda, among others. Some developing countries have argued that income from fossil fuel — essential to the prosperity of the industrialized world — is also their right, and that climate change mitigation is largely the responsibility of wealthy nations. Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, made that argument to VP Kamala Harris. Fossil fuels are a resource “which my government is seeking to use as the basis to transform its economy," he told her. Their extraction would help his country wean itself from reliance on foreign aid, he said.

Less subject to public scrutiny are the national oil companies of countries like Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which made profits even greater than those of private multinationals.

Oil and gas projects either approved in 2022 or slated to be approved between 2023 and 2025 could cause 70 gigatons of CO2 emissions over the course of their life spans, according to an analysis by Oil Change International, an advocacy group. That amount is equivalent to more than 30 times the US’ total CO2 emissions in 2021.

Trillions of dollars are now being invested in fossil fuel infrastructure, said Michael Lazarus, a scientist and research director at the Stockholm Environment Institute, a scientific research group monitoring fossil fuel projects. “A lot of this build-out is poised to come on board toward the end of this decade, when we really need to be on a declining path away from fossil fuels,” he said. “Oil and gas companies are essentially banking on demand remaining as high then as it is now.”

“It’s not like the U.S. is one of many actors; it has become the world’s largest oil and gas producer,” Mr. Lazarus said. “All signs are that Washington is intent on retaining that position. Is that showing climate leadership? There is a fundamental contradiction there that has to be pointed out.”

On the one hand, there are scientists repeatedly and consistently informing us that time is rapidly running out before the future of human civilization will be severely threatened by exactly the kinds of impacts we are already witnessing and which will worsen. On the other hand, for political and/or economic reasons, there are entities acting to worsen our predicament. One such group is The Texas Public Policy Foundation backed by oil and gas companies and Republican donors including fossil fuel companies such as the coal giant Peabody Energy, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, as well as Charles G. Koch (now deceased) and David H. Koch (Koch Industries owns oil refineries, petrochemical plants and thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines and has a long history of funding efforts to block climate action). The Texas Foundation has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of fishing companies, working free of charge, to stop the nation’s first major offshore wind farm off the Massachusetts coast, the Vineyard Wind project.

In Texas, the group organized an “energy boycott” law to punish financial institutions that scale back their investments in fossil fuel projects. When a Texas oil executive complained that he couldn’t get a bank loan to expand drilling operations, Jason Isaac, an executive with the Foundation and a former state lawmaker drafted a bill directing the state to stop doing business with banks and companies that were divesting from the fossil fuel industry. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed the law last year. Four other states, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma, have passed similar laws.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has spread misinformation about climate science and through an initiative called Life:Powered, it makes “the moral case for fossil fuels,” which holds that American prosperity is rooted in an economy based on oil, gas and coal and that poor communities and developing nations deserve the same opportunities to grow.

David Michaels, an epidemiologist at the George Washington School of Public Health who has studied corporate influence campaigns, said, “Just as the tobacco industry had front groups and the opioid industry had front groups, this is part of the fossil fuel disinformation playbook.” “The role of these so-called policy organizations is not to provide useful information to the public, but to promote the interests of their sponsors, which are often antithetical to public health.”

Robert Henneke, the Foundation’s executive director, denied that it was a front for fossil fuel interests. James Leininger, founded Texas Public Policy Foundation in 1989 and he bankrolled Rick Perry’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2000. Mr. Perry then reciprocated by donating the proceeds of his 2010 book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” to the group.

In 2017 Trump tapped Perry to serve as energy secretary, the Foundation followed him to Washington opening an office there and several senior officials from the Foundation joined the administration. Or tried to. Kathleen Hartnett White was a fellow at the Foundation and Trump nominated her to lead the Council on Environmental Quality. Ms. White, who had described believing in global warming as “a kind of paganism,” was not confirmed. But another fellow from the Foundation, Susan Combs, became acting assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks at the Department of the Interior. Brooke Rollins, chief executive of the Foundation worked in the White House. And Bernard McNamee, a former adviser to Senator Ted Cruz, joined the Department of Energy under Perry, then left for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, before returning to the Trump administration. McNamee currently advises fossil fuel companies. And Douglas W. Domenech, who led the Foundation’s efforts to block the Obama administration from regulating emissions from power plants, became assistant secretary at the interior department (until he violated federal ethics rules by meeting with Foundation officials).

The Texas Public Policy Foundation tried to extend the life of a coal-burning plant owned by a donor, Peabody Energy. For over 40 years the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz., burned coal from a Peabody mine, releasing mercury, arsenic, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides from its smokestacks, along with CO2, while draining the underground water supply. As natural gas became a cheaper alternative to coal and as new emissions rules from the Obama administration made the Navajo Generating Station too expensive to operate, by 2017 it was slated for closure.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation produced a video claiming that the plant was a major employer for the Navajo nation and a part of its culture. A Navajo girl was depicted, with Native American flute music in the background and images of the plant’s smokestacks. The girl says, “Papa says it’s the heart of the land.” “Sometimes I think I can hear it beating.” This abhorrent effort failed and the plant closed in 2019.

The Foundation has worked to thwart Biden’s efforts to combat what it sees as the overblown response to global warming. The Foundation disputes broadly accepted models that project increasing global temperatures, questions the viability of wind and solar energy and dismisses the 2015 Paris climate agreement as a political stunt that will “will push more people into poverty.”

The Foundation sued the EPA over its designation of GHG as a danger to human health and welfare and lodged an objection to a proposal at the Securities and Exchange Commission that would require public companies to disclose the financial risks they face from climate change.

Referring to Republican control of the House, Mr Isaac said, “It gives us a leg up.”  “We’ve been educating staff on the Hill on our research, our positions and our messaging. We’re going to have more of an impact in Washington not only over the next two years, but over the next six years. It’s great.”


For the first time, EPA is expected to propose controls on GHGs from existing power plants which generate 25% of US GHG. The regulations could compel power plants to capture their pollution from their smokestacks using technology currently in use by fewer than 10 of the nation’s 3,400 coal and gas-fired plants. The rule would also apply to future plants. Almost all coal and gas-fired power plants would have to cut or capture nearly all their CO2 emissions by 2040.

The EPA proposed regulation is being reviewed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and is subject to change. It is also subject to public comment and is not likely to be finalized until next year. It will be opposed by the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress and is likely to be subject to legal challenge from Republican attorneys general that have already sued the Biden administration to stop other climate policies. Patrick Morrisey, the Republican attorney general of West Virginia, a major coal-producing state, said “We are eager to review the EPA’s new proposed rule on power plants, and we’ll be ready once again to lead the charge in the fight against federal overreach.”

The proposal does not mandate carbon capture equipment, it would set caps on pollution rates. Operators could comply by using a different technology or gas plants could switch to a fuel source like green hydrogen which does not emit carbon.

About 60% of the electricity generated in the US in 2021 came from burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum.

Some environmental groups expressed dismay over a carbon capture approach as they favor renewables that don’t pollute in the first place. The Biden administration is investing billions in research and demonstration projects to advance carbon capture. The technology is operational at only about 40 sites globally but that number is growing. Calpine Corporation, one of the largest generators of electricity from natural gas in the US, is building enormous carbon capture and sequestration facilities for its power generators in Deer Park, Texas.

The Inflation Reduction Act offers incentives to speed up adoption. The law raised existing federal tax credits for electric utilities that capture their CO2 pollution to $60 to $85 per ton of CO2, up from $35 to $50. That could provide savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for major power companies. “To date, the power sector has not found it economical to build,” said Carrie Jenks, the executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law program at Harvard. “But the I.R.A.’s incentives really reduce the cost and make it economically viable. We are seeing companies want to build.”

Environmentalists were stunned by the Biden Administration’s approval of an enormous $8 billion drilling project in the largest expanse of pristine wilderness in the US. The Willow project was unanimously supported by Alaska’s congressional delegation. Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said he handed the president a unanimous bipartisan resolution in support of the project passed by the Alaska Legislature. Supporters argued that the project would create 2,500 jobs and generate $17 billion in revenue for the federal government. The state’s first Alaska Native elected to Congress, Mary Peltola supported the project. If approved, ConocoPhillips intends to build the project inside the National Petroleum Reserve, a 23-million-acre area 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Willow would be the largest new oil development in the US. It is expected to produce 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years. Burning all that oil could release nearly 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. That is about 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually, equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year.

A transition to renewable energy is going to take a long time, said Connor Dunn, a ConocoPhillips manager in Alaska. “There is going to be a significant need for U.S. domestic oil production for a great many decades to come,” he said.

At the earliest, the crude would begin flowing in about six years. By then, the Biden administration hopes that demand for oil will have plummeted because of federal investments to encourage use of renewable energy and a transition to EVs.

In mid-Feb, Biden chose Lael Brainard, the vice chair of the Federal Reserve who has cited the financial risks posed by climate change, to be his top economic adviser at the White House’s National Economic Council.  Biden also chose Richard Revesz, an environmental lawyer and an academic known for defending climate regulations, to head the White House’s top regulatory office, The Office of Internal and Regulatory Affairs,

“This is a new thing that we’ve seen from the Biden White House as they have made climate central to their economic recovery and regulatory agenda,” said Jamal Raad, executive director of the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action. “Putting people in positions of power that are not traditionally climate positions who deeply understand the climate crisis and the need to act on it.”

Ms. Brainard is expected to play a key role in the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act. Mr. Revesz  will vet all proposed federal regulations and balance the demands of protecting health, safety and the environment against the cost to industries. Mr. Revesz will be the gatekeeper for all new federal regulations.

In late March, the Treasury Department issued rules that will significantly shorten the list of electric vehicles that qualify for federal tax credits. Up to $7,500 in credits are intended to encourage automakers to move their supply chains out of China and to the US or its allies and reduce their reliance on China for batteries and raw materials. China currently makes most of the world’s batteries and dominates the processing of critical raw materials. The new rules require that at least 50% of the components in an electric car battery must be made in North America. And 40% of the minerals used to make the batteries, which often contain nickel, manganese and cobalt, must come from domestic sources or from countries that have trade agreements with the US. The minerals quota will rise every year until it reaches 80% by 2027 and will rise to 100% in 2029.

The change will affect Tesla. The Model 3 sedan is one of its most popular EVs. It will lose its eligibility for the full credit as its battery is made in China. Some Tesla vehicles are likely to remain eligible as it makes cars in California and Texas and batteries in Nevada. General Motors may qualify as it produces batteries in Ohio in a joint venture with LG Energy Solution. Ford Motor said it would “soon” disclose whether any of its vehicles qualify.

James M. Wickett, a partner at Hogan Lovells said the EV tax credit was “moving supply chains, to the tune of tens of billions.” The law includes prohibitions on using critical minerals and battery components from a “foreign entity of concern,” a term that includes companies based in China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. Immediately after Biden signed the bill in August, a provision excluded from the tax credits any EV not made in the US, Mexico or Canada.

Hyundai and Kia cars made in South Korea no longer qualified, angering that nation’s leaders, who felt betrayed by a close military and trade partner. Sales of South Korean-made EVs have since lost market share in the US.

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a pivotal player in the Inflation Reduction Act’s writing and passage, threatened legal action challenging the administration’s interpretation of the law.

Carmakers will have to certify whether their vehicles meet the components and minerals requirements. The IRS will enforce the rules. Some vehicles may qualify for only half the credit if, for example, they meet the component quotas but not the minerals quotas.

The list of eligible cars is expected to grow as it becomes easier for companies to buy processed lithium and other materials from US trade partners like Canada and Australia. More cars will also qualify once Hyundai, Ford, Honda and other automakers finish building new car and battery plants in the US.

An additional new rule, issued by the Biden administration in early April, will require coal and oil-fired power plants to reduce mercury, arsenic, nickel and lead emissions, and protect public health. The rule is part of the effort to address climate change as another incentive to transition away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources like solar and wind.

The coal industry and several Republican-led states are expected to challenge the rule as they previously fought to block Obama’s regulation of mercury. That rule, which took effect in 2012, reduced mercury emissions about 90%. Still, EPA found that even low amounts of mercury from power plants pose a risk to human health. The Biden rule aims to eliminate 70% of the remaining mercury emissions as well as other toxic pollutants like lead, nickel and arsenic. EPA estimated that the health benefits over the lifetime of the rule would be $2.4 billion and $3 billion including the prevention of deaths or hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular disease. The estimated cost to industry of complying with the rule is $230 million and $300 million.

The rule is subject to public comments and EPA will hold a public hearing before a final rule could take effect, most likely next year. In March, the Biden administration restored a rule that gives EPA a legal foundation to regulate mercury, which had been dropped by the Trump administration.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, a coal-producing state, said “We are once again reminded that the Biden administration’s end goal is to shut down American coal plants, fire American coal workers, and do everything in its power to make America less energy independent.”

The Biden administration is providing financial help to coal communities by making $450 million available for solar farms and other clean energy projects at the site of current or former coal mines.

The 23-year drought in the western US has so depleted the flow of the Colorado River that the 7 states that depend on it (California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) can no longer get what they need. Their legal water rights are meaningless. Forty million Americans as well as two states in Mexico depend on the river for drinking water and it irrigates 5.5 million agricultural acres. Millions of homes and businesses depend on the electricity generated by dams on the river’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

The river’s flow is one-third of its historical average. Water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell are so low that it threatens to fail to turn the turbines that generate electricity and may well fall to the point that water ceases to flow out of the reservoirs. The river could stop moving and die. The term is “deadpool.”

Both Phoenix and Tuscon depend on the Colorado for drinking water. Cutting them off is unthinkable but in the era of climate change negotiators and federal officials have no choice but to deal with the reality that there is not sufficient water. California has rights of seniority, but the other 6 states have legal rights, and Native American tribes have treaty rights, and no one entity can get all that it’s entitled to. Thus, for the first time in US history, the federal government must decide how to allocate a scarce and critical natural resource among competing valid claims. The Interior Department issued a draft analysis with a final version expected this summer. The various states are contemplating an equitable cut and distribution approach notwithstanding their legal rights. An equitable division could sustain fast-growing cities but may devastate the agricultural industry in Southern California which largely feeds the nation.

John Entsminger, the lead negotiator for Nevada, agreed with the Interior Department’s assertion that making water cuts primarily by seniority may no longer make sense in a time of climate change. “We have 19th century laws, we have 20th century infrastructure, and we have 21st century climate.”  “And those three things don’t fit very well together.”

In mid-Aril, the Biden administration proposed two plans to ensure that by 2032 67% of sales of new light-duty passenger vehicles, from sedans to pickup trucks, will be all-electric by 2032 and that 46% of sales of new medium-duty trucks, such as delivery vans, will be all-electric or other zero-emissions technology by then. The EPA also proposed a companion rule governing heavy-duty vehicles intended to ensure that half of new buses and 25% of new heavy trucks sold would be all-electric by 2032. This will be a challenge as last year EVs were just 5.8% of new cars sold in the US and sales of all-electric trucks were fewer than 2% of new heavy trucks sold.

While EPA cannot mandate the sale of EVs, under the Clean Air Act the agency can limit the pollution generated by the total number of cars each manufacturer sells. The limits set by the proposed rules are stringent such that manufacturers must sell a certain percentage of zero emissions vehicles.

“They are using this established longstanding statute for an entirely new purpose, to force an entirely new goal — the transformation of the industry to electric vehicles,” said Steven G. Bradbury, the former chief legal counsel for the Transportation Department under Trump. “This is clearly driven by the president’s directive to achieve these results. I don’t think you can do this. Congress never contemplated the use of statutes in this way.”

A 2021 report by the International Energy Agency found that nations would have to stop sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 to keep average global temperatures from increasing 1.5C (2.7F) above preindustrial levels in the hope of avoiding catastrophic impacts.

Biden has pledged to cut US emissions 50% by 2030 and to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2050. The passage of the IRA projections are that US emissions will drop 40% by 2030. With these newly proposed regulations Biden’s goals may be met. “The EPA standards are a huge step forward in addressing the largest source of climate pollution: transportation,” said Luke Tonachel, senior director of the clean vehicles and buildings program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. “If the strongest standards are finalized, it will put the US on a path to end pollution from vehicle tailpipes and that’s essential to meeting both our climate and our public health goals.”

The views expressed above are my own.

Thanks to Teraine Okpoko for help with Facts on the Ground

Carl Howard, Co-chair, Global Climate Change Committee

Follow me on Twitter @HowardCarl