2020 ties for the hottest year on record

“2020 was one of the two warmest years on record, tied only with 2016.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, in 2020, average temperatures globally were 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.25 degrees Celsius) warmer than preindustrial levels — the point at which scientists agree that human activity, and particularly the burning of fossil fuels, began to accelerate global warming.

In nearly every way, 2020 was a record year for climate-related disasters.

The impacts of the record heat have been felt both around the globe and in the United States. Historic wildfires burned in California, Colorado, Australia, and the Amazonian rainforest. The Atlantic hurricane season produced a record 30 named storms.

Swarms of crop-destroying locusts invaded East Africa, causing devastation to a region already struggling with food insecurity. The Arctic, the area that is currently warming faster than any other place on the planet, saw record declines in ice cover as well as records for how late in the year the ice actually froze.

Even more troubling, 2020’s high temperatures occurred despite the absence of an El Niño event, which typically has the effect of warming the globe; 2016, the other warmest year on record, had an El Niño.”

President Biden’s international restoration project has begun

“Biden, in the first hours of his presidency, rejoined the Paris climate accord and recommitted to the World Health Organization, fulfilling promises he made during the campaign.

He is also taking the first steps toward achieving his larger foreign policy agenda of restoring American leadership abroad.

But these day one orders are the easy part. Now Biden begins the difficult task of rebuilding trust among allies, and trying to prove America can be a reliable partner.”

Why the Biden administration should establish a Department of Climate

“Establishing new Cabinet departments in the US isn’t that unusual either. In fact, more than half of the government’s 15 active departments have been formed in just the past 75 years. But among these executive-level departments and in all the hundreds of federal agencies, not one has a mission solely dedicated to the climate crisis.”

“When the US faced grave security threats in the past, it rose to those challenges by reorganizing the executive branch. For instance, after World War II, Congress enacted the National Security Act of 1947 and it was signed by President Truman. The Act reorganized military and intelligence branches, established the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency, and merged the War and Navy department into what became the Department of Defense.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security was established, integrating 22 different federal agencies and offices into one unified Cabinet department. In a message to Congress on June 18, 2002, President George W. Bush wrote: “History teaches us that new challenges require new organizational structures. History also teaches us that critical security challenges require clear lines of responsibility and the unified effort of the US Government.””

“legion of civil servants, who have devoted their careers to combating climate change, are fragmented and lack that clear line of responsibility President Bush described as necessary to address critical security challenges. These leading experts could be convened under one broad mission, with the potential for producing unified actions and outcomes far greater than the sum of their disaggregated parts.
Just as the Department of Homeland Security promises “relentless resilience” to attacks against the United States, a Department of Climate could deploy this same mindset, ensuring the US has the foundation it needs to take on the threats climate change poses to this nation and to future generations.”

“federal health agencies’ ability to focus on climate-related health impacts is currently inadequate. This is in part due to leadership that is dismissive of climate change — and in part because their attention is, understandably, on the Covid-19 pandemic. And the 2018 hurricane season before that, and Zika before that, and Ebola before that. While the CDC and other health agencies are full of experts working to mitigate climate-related health threats, their priorities will always be driven by the next new global health crisis — and by each new administration’s political whims.

A new department would not be completely immune to the same geopolitical winds that tug on other federal agencies’ attention; but a dedicated budget and clear language in its mission mandating action on climate change would better position it against such winds. Instead of each new administration interpreting whether work on climate falls within the scope of an agency’s mission, there would be no question that addressing climate change is within the purview of a Department of Climate.

While there are many offices or divisions across numerous agencies engaged in work related to energy or transportation, these cross-cutting topics nevertheless have Cabinet-level leadership and congressionally determined budgets to ensure their missions are met regardless of who sits in the White House. As with education, labor, or agriculture, we should have a Department of Climate so that our nation always has the clear dedication of resources it needs to concentrate on crucial issues.”

Why the record low Arctic sea ice this October is so alarming

“Changes in the ice are part of a larger “cascade effect,” as Webster describes it, in which delayed winter ice growth leads to thinner ice, which melts more easily in the summer months compared to older, thicker sea ice. This creates more open ocean.

This transformation contributes to both regional and global warming. Where a white sea ice surface would have reflected sunlight, the dark water absorbs heat, which further reduces ice growth. This change in albedo (or reflectivity) on sea and land in the Arctic is one of the main reasons the region is heating at twice the global average rate, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2019 Arctic Report Card. According to the recent Nature Communications study, it will also be a significant contributor to global warming.

Near Greenland — which holds a massive ice sheet — the warming loop set off by sea ice loss has a minor effect on its warming, but not a substantial effect on the ice sheet itself, researchers found in a 2019 study in Geophysical Research Letters.

The sea ice shift could also impact seasonal weather, potentially intensifying extreme weather. However, Labe says the issue requires further research. “Scientists are actively studying the connections between Arctic sea ice loss and wintertime weather patterns in North America, Europe, and Asia,” he said. “However, these relationships remain highly uncertain in the scientific literature and for seasonal weather forecasts.”

For now, the plummeting sea ice volumes are a startling reminder of just how rapidly the planet is changing, and how dire the consequences of delaying radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will be.”

Trump’s pullback of pollution controls is even more hazardous than you think

“The Permian Basin is one of the most prolific oil and gas plays in the world, responsible for more than a third of the United States’ oil and one-sixth of gas production last year.

The formation in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that has minted fortunes and transformed the country into a global petroleum supplier is also ground zero for the worst oil and gas air pollution in the country.

“You don’t know what you’re breathing,” said Gene Collins, a minister and community activist in Odessa, Texas.

It could get worse.

The US Environmental Protection Agency in August rescinded controls installed by the Obama administration to curb releases of methane, a potent, planet-warming gas leaked during oil and gas production, processing, and transportation.”

“Experts say it could lead to higher emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and hazardous air pollutants — chemicals that cause smog and are linked to cancer, respiratory illnesses, and a growing list of other ailments.”

“The change will likely worsen air pollution and harm people’s health. But the EPA didn’t bother to estimate the potential extent of the damage, despite what’s at stake for people living in communities like Odessa.”

SOURCES: Nuclear Power. Good idea or bad idea?

Nuclear Powerin Competitive Electricity Markets Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2000. https://www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/reports/2000/nea2569-dereg-2.pdf Economics of Nuclear Power World Nuclear Association. 3 2020. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspects/economics-of-nuclear-power.aspx Economics of Nuclear Power Plant InvestmentMonte Carlo Simulations of Generation III/III+ Investment Projects Ben Wealer, Simon Bauer, Leonard Goke,

The US just left the Paris climate agreement

“It took the world decades of stops and false starts to come up with the Paris climate agreement, and it remains the most potent international framework to get countries to reduce their contributions to global warming. However, it has critical weaknesses that have threatened to collapse it completely.

In 2015, just about every country in the world convened in Paris and agreed to a few simple but hard-fought principles: The climate is changing due to human activity, the world should aim to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius this century compared to preindustrial levels, every country has an obligation to act, but every country gets to set their own goals.

The terms of the climate agreement are voluntary and don’t carry the force of law (hence “Paris agreement” or “Paris accord,” and not “Paris treaty,” which would be legally binding). But the terms are structured in a way that creates a lot of incentives to encourage countries to do more to limit their emissions of heat-trapping gases, and it contains some prods for countries that are slower to act.

It was clear from the outset that what countries initially planned to do to cut greenhouse gases wouldn’t be enough to stay below 2°C, let alone hit an even more aggressive target under the agreement of limiting warming to less than 1.5°C.”

“the idea of the Paris agreement was to get everyone to agree to a common set of goals and strengthen their commitments over time, with periodic international meetings to see where everyone stands and to hammer out the tedious rules of how to gauge progress. So far, this hasn’t been enough to keep the world on track to meet the goals of the accord.”

“In September, China made a surprise announcement at the United Nations General Assembly that it’s striving to be carbon-neutral by 2060. While China hasn’t laid out exactly how it plans to meet its goal, researchers have begun chalking out a road map to get China to its targets.

The European Union, meanwhile, has adopted a program called the European Green Deal, which aims to make its 28 member countries carbon-neutral by 2050. Its core elements, such as ensuring a just economic transition for workers in industries likely to be left behind in the shift to clean energy, are actually modeled on the Green New Deal proposal in the US. Crucially, Europe’s program calls for a border adjustment carbon tax that could go into effect as soon as 2021. For countries that aren’t doing enough to fight climate change, their goods could face additional tariffs in the EU.

If the United States decided to stay out of the Paris agreement and not step up its commitments, the EU’s new policies could take a big bite out of the US’s roughly $320 billion worth of exports to the bloc.

The EU, China, Japan, and South Korea are also working on their own trade agreements with climate change as a key element.”

Amy Coney Barrett describes climate change as a “very contentious matter of public debate”

“Barrett’s refusal to express her stance on climate change comes in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence on the subject.

“I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge, nor do I think I have views that are informed enough,” Barrett has also said.

As the New York Times’s John Schwartz wrote, however, her approach to the subject could be important in future cases: “In past decisions, the justices have accepted that human-caused climate change is occurring and determined that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gases in the case Massachusetts v. E.P.A., but a more conservative Supreme Court might revisit the issue.”

What Barrett did say ended up echoing the way many Republicans have approached the subject of climate change in the past: She declined to comment on whether humans contributed to global warming, an evasion that still seemed to signal quite a lot about where she stands.”

The best case for and against a fracking ban

“Though hydraulic fracturing as a technique has been around since the 19th century and the first commercial fracking for gas took place in the 1940s, the most recent fracking boom started in earnest around 2005. That’s when the rising prices of oil and gas forced energy companies to look for other sources, when related techniques like horizontal drilling and low-cost slickwater fracking matured, and new estimates revealed the gargantuan amounts of gas stored in formations like Marcellus Shale.

Fracking has now become the dominant technique for extracting oil and gas in the US.”

“During much of the fracking boom, the US economy grew and emissions declined. One study found that between 2005 and 2012, fracking created 725,000 jobs in the industry, not counting related supporting jobs. “This has been one of the most dynamic parts of the U.S. economy — you’re talking about millions of jobs,” Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit and founder of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, told CNBC.

That’s largely due to natural gas from fracking displacing coal in electricity production. Natural gas emits about half of the greenhouse gas emissions of coal per unit of energy. It doesn’t have the massive land footprint that open pit mines or mountaintop removal coal mines do. While it has its own pollution problems, burning natural gas doesn’t produce pollutants like ash and mercury, which can pose health and environmental hazards for years.”

“Natural gas’s flexibility has also eased the integration of variable renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. When the breezes slow down and clouds form above, natural gas steps in. This has reduced the need for other ways to compensate for intermittency, like energy storage.”

“fracking has helped insulate the US from global economic shocks, particularly in oil markets. US shale oil has provided more than half the growth in global oil supplies, so rising tensions and disruptions in countries like Iran, Libya, and Venezuela have barely moved the needle at the gas pump.”

“natural gas obtained by fracking has reduced emissions, aided the economy, and helped clean energy rise, while costing less than dirtier fuels.”

“while low natural gas prices have helped knock dirty coal off the market, low oil prices driven in part by fracking have encouraged more travel. In fact, transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gases in the US. And after years of decline, US emissions in 2018 rose by 3.4 percent.

Low oil prices have undermined the business case for cleaner transportation alternatives, like electric cars and fuel cell-powered buses. Instead, the United States has experienced a growing appetite for larger, thirstier cars and more air travel.

Meanwhile, low natural gas prices have had some collateral damage for nuclear power, the largest source of clean electricity in the US. Some of the nuclear power plants that have announced early retirements are likely to see their capacity replaced by natural gas. So while replacing coal with natural gas often leads to a reduction in emissions, replacing nuclear energy leads to an increase.

Natural gas itself can also become a climate problem. Methane, the dominant component of natural gas, produces less carbon dioxide than coal when burned. But if methane leaks, which it often does in some quantity during normal gas extraction operations, it becomes a potent greenhouse gas. Over 100 years, a quantity of methane traps more than 25 times the amount of heat compared to a similar amount of carbon dioxide.”

“then there’s the technique of fracking itself. It requires a massive volume of water. Wells can release toxic chemicals like benzene into the air. Fracking sites can experience explosions and fires. They can contaminate drinking water. More than 17 million people in the US live within a mile of an active fracking well, and research shows that fracking can lead to low birth weight in infants born in that radius.

Many of these environmental risks, on balance, are less than those associated with mining and burning coal. However, the sudden surge in fracking means many people are being confronted with its impacts for the first time, making it a more vivid political concern. That’s in contrast to coal hazards, which are mostly familiar to the public consciousness.”

“when it comes to limiting climate change, a key factor is time. Methane leaked from gas wells can stay in the atmosphere for a decade. Carbon dioxide from burning it can linger for a century. So it is imperative to ramp down greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Yet every new natural gas power plant represents a decades-long commitment to continue using the fuel. That means gas plants will have to install carbon capture systems, which would add to their operating costs and worsen the business case further, or some poor investor is going to be left holding the bag.”