Climate Change Chronicles August 2022

The latest Climate Change Chronicles news digest, prepared for followers of the PLM Green Global Alliance, summarizes substantial news from around the world during the month of August, 2022 about the worsening climate and progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This month’s good news question: what is the name of the recently passed legislation in the US that supporters say will help the country meet its 40% reduction in emissions target by 2030? Read on to find out while joining others in bearing witness to the growing impact of global warming on people and the planet.

For more positive news about the use of PLM-enabling technologies in creating a more sustainable, lower carbon, circular economy, subscribe to the PLM & Sustainability Newsletter then join our PLM Green LinkedIn Group.

👍 The US House and Senate, along party lines, passed then President Biden signed the most significant and ambitious legislation to date that moves the country toward a low-carbon future. The Inflation Reduction Act, which is more accurately an emissions reduction act, provides over $370B towards a plethora of green energy programs that include: tax credits for purchasing new and used EVs produced in the US, methane emissions penalties, financing for alternative energy programs like hydrogen, tax credits to keep existing nuclear power plants from closing, support to reduce agricultural emissions and capture carbon, help for factories that produce materials used in alternative energies, help for states and local governments to deploy clean energy technologies, and aid for low-income and disadvantaged communities impacted by extreme weather and a changing climate. Here’s a closer look at everything that is in the inflation Reduction Act which rightfully should be called the Emissions Reduction Act.

👍 Scientists say that the bill will definitely help reduce global warming and should reduce US emissions to 40% below 2005 levels, an increase of 10% from the current trajectory the country was on. While most environmentalists celebrated the signing, others bemoaned that it is too little too late after decades in the making. Many also objected that in the 700-page bill was a provision to guarantee that millions of acres of federal lands and offshore waters would be open to new oil and gas leases each new year. This will only put more CO2 into the atmosphere all while we subsidize others to remove it.

👍 Yet, also buried in the bill was legislation granting the EPA explicit authority to regulate the emissions of GHG as pollutants and use its power to increase renewable energy production. This was a very big win as the Supreme Court just last month said the agency did not have this authority.

US Vice President Kamala Harris called climate change an immediate and urgent climate crisis. In doing so she refenced one disaster after another this summer: the western megadrought, deadly floods in Kentucky and Missouri, and wildfires across the west.

As the world suffers from rising food prices, climate change is one large factor making wheat harvests less predictable. Excessive droughts and massive flooding both wreak havoc on farmers and wheat prices have nearly doubled during this past summer.

👍 The Singapore government has launched a project to build digital urban climate twin models of Singapore to help evaluate various heat-mitigation strategies. The city-state experiences a punishing combination of high temperatures and high humidity, called extreme wet-bulb temperature, that if they keep rising could make it uninhabitable.

A new study from Brown University reveals that during one period when the Trump administration announced that the US would leave the Paris Agreement, nearly 25% of all Twitter tweets about climate change were from bots. Many of them spouting disinformation and false science to deny the existence of climate change.

👍 Down under, Australia’s parliament passed a bill committing its government to reduce carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 43% by 2030. This progress only after years of slow walking any changes, despite the country experiencing one after another climate-related disasters.

👍 Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s government released it first national climate adaption plan that acknowledges the risk that some coastal communities will become inhabitable due to rising sea levels, impacting over 70,000 homes in low lying areas.

Myanmar is losing carbon-sequestering forests in the rush for foreign firms to find and mine rare earth metals so vital to renewable energy technologies. Numerous environmentalists are sounding the alarm that simply replacing millions of ICE vehicles with millions of EVs will turn out to be not as environmentally sound as promoted.

States across the US are assessing their potential damages and economic risks due to wildfires and floods. Oregon spent $220M to create a risk assessment hazard map which concluded that nearly 80,000 structures were of high risk from wildfires.

Nearly 9,000 temperature records were broken around the world last month, including 6,000 in the US alone.  The US also experienced the warmest average temperatures of nights, which adds stress to people, animals and infrastructures that cannot cool down overnight as in previous years.

So far this summer, the US has experienced an onslaught of 1-in-100 and 1-in-1,000 year extreme weather events, from droughts in the West to torrential floods in the Midwest and East. And when rain does fall on parched earth, it is doing so in greater volumes causing flash floods. Some locations in the midst of a record drought are getting hit with a deluge of rain in a short time frame, then whiplashed returning to drought conditions.

NOAA has issued a new report predicting that high-tide flooding will worsen in the coming years due in large part to rising sea levels. Along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans coasts, high-tide flooding is occurring twice as often as it did just over 20 years ago. As a result, communities like Fort Lauderdale, Florida are planning to spend hundreds to millions of dollars to prevent flooding.

Extreme heat waves due to a warming climate are threatening sports teams and their fans. The game of cricket is popular among equatorial countries like India that often experiences temperatures routinely exceeding 100 degrees.

Spain is limiting the cooling of public buildings to no less than 81 degrees F in the summer and heating to no warmer than 66 degrees F in the winter. Spain follows Greece and Italy with similar restrictions.

France has declared this summer as the most severe drought in its history due to successive heat waves which have struck much of Europe. Fires continue to burn across the country as restrictions on water usage expand.

👍 Also in France, the nation has become the first European county to ban advertisements for fossil fuels which will include energy from coal. Other cities around the world have acted to do the same when their national governments have failed to act, including Amsterdam and Sydney.

Climate scientists and marine biologists are warning that the Mediterranean Sea and neighboring regions are already suffering from a warming planet. Temperatures in the Mediterranean are running 3-5 degrees F warmer this year than the norm, warming seawaters and threatening marine life.

Along the Mediterranean in northern Africa, fast-moving wildfires in Algeria killed over three dozen people. A UNESCO listed biosphere reserve was burned by one of the fires.

Mexico is also facing a historic drought that is causing more than half the country’s municipalities to face water shortages. As faucets run dry, the poor and rich alike are chasing water supplies from roaming water trucks across major cities. Long lines and violence are not an uncommon occurrence.

The combination of heat wave and drought continues to fuel wildfires across Europe. The grand rivers of Europe are drying up in what may turn out to be the worst drought in 500 years, stranding barges and river cruises, hurting a massive commerce and tourism industry based on river traffic.

A new study has found that more than half of all human diseases due to pathogens have been impacted by climate-related hazards like heat waves, floods, and wildfires.

A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that heat waves are hazardous to our mental health. Researchers report higher rates of aggression, suicide, depression, anxiety and other mental disorders during hot weather that send some to the hospital ER. Warmer nights, which make it difficult to recover from the day’s heat, also contribute to poor sleep which adds on to the stress. Some believe that those with preexisting mental health issues are simply more vulnerable to the stress and inflammation caused by higher environmental and body temperatures.

An Australian climate researcher claims that central bank regulators are misjudging the financial risks of climate change by trillions of dollars. The author of the report argues that financial institutions are ill-equipped to assess the risks to their economies.

Climate change is making the cost of insuring homes prohibitive for millions of Americans. Insurance premiums have risen by double digits across much of the country and have more than doubled in some flood-prone areas. There were twenty disasters of over $1B in 2021 alone.

A new study has found that the Arctic is warming at a much faster rate than previously thought, nearly 4 times faster.  The region has warmed by over 5 degrees F since 1979. Scientists think that is it due to a climate feedback mechanism where warming waters cause sea ice to melt which allows the ocean to warm further because ice cover would have reflected more of the sun’s heat.

Arctic Temperature Change from Carbon Brief

Locations across the US, like those recently in Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois, are receiving massive amounts of rainfall in shorter periods of time, causing catastrophic flash flooding.  Rainfalls per hour are reported to be 30-50% more extreme than just a few decades ago. In four days nearly a foot and half of water fell in some regions of Kentucky. St, Louis received 25% of a normal year’s rainfall in less than 12 hours. Neither weather forecasting models nor public infrastructures seem capable of handling such deluges.

👍 The largest offshore wind farm in Scotland is starting to produce power.  When the site is completed, over 100 turbines will produce more than 1 GW of electricity, enough to power a million homes.  Scotland has four wind farms in planning stages with a goal of producing over 10 GW of power by 2030.

Due to the European energy crisis, precipitated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany has admitted it may not after all shut down its three remaining nuclear power plants by the end of the year. Nuclear provides about 6% of the country’s energy supply, compared to its neighbor France which gets 70% from nuclear.  Some climate change activists are now saying that nuclear may have its place in decarbonizing the economy.

Energy bills this fall and winter are expected to jump by more than 50% in Britain and across Europe. This increase, which will devastate household budgets and spending that can precipitate a global recession, is due largely to the scarcity and cost of natural gas imports caused in part by stockpiling for the winter. Yet, consumers rightfully ask why electricity from less costly renewable sources like wind and solar are also rising, and not keeping overall energy prices lower. The answer is that energy prices are set by the global price of the most expensive component, in this case natural gas, leading many to say that wholesale energy markets, trading, and regulations need fundamental reforms going forward.

New research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say that frozen methane gases stored in the Atlantic Ocean floor may be more vulnerable to release due to ocean warming than previously thought. It is thought that about one-sixth of the world’s methane is currently sequestered in layers of sea floors under high pressure and cold temperatures. Scientists speculate that global warming is slowing the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current due to melting Arctic ice which can destabilize the burred methane.

Republican state lawmakers and treasurers across the US, many who remain in denial of climate change, are working to punish financial institutions with strong ESG governance that restrict investments in fossil fuels.

An analysis of hundreds of studies confirms that climate change is amplifying extreme weather events that right now, not sometime into the future, are causing the loss of lives and livelihoods for many thousands of people around the world.

One study looks at hurricane Harvey that struck Houston, Texas in 2017, taking more than 60 lives and costing more than $125B. The study found that without climate change the effects of the hurricane would have been much less with perhaps up to half of the flooded neighborhoods and homes escaping flooding. This is largely because a warmer atmosphere with greater energy holds more moisture (about 4% more for every degree F) that can fall out at high rates during storms that are bigger and last longer over land. And as with most extreme weather events, the most vulnerable populations, Latinos in this case, suffered the greatest losses to life and property.

The reality of having climate refugees and climate migration within the United States is starting to gain public awareness. Wildfires, floods, and storms, combined with the loss of homes and insurance options, are causing many to flee their communities. Previous studies warned that more than 10 million people across the county may be forced to relocate in the coming years. Already, some 30% of Americans are reported to have cited a changing weather and climate as a motivator to move.

👍 International climate migration is not yet formally recognized by the UN as grounds for claiming status as a refugee, but it is coming. A number of NGOs and countries around the world are working to lay the groundwork on policies to provide universal set of protections to climate migrants. In recent years, climate-related natural disasters have forced both the poor and wealthy alike in some countries like Honduras to leave.

While most of the world is moving toward renewables, some countries are laggards and regressing. Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez is celebrating the construction of new oil refineries and mocking the move to green energy, claiming his country is just not ready. Mexico, a country of abundant sunshine that should lead the world in solar power, still generates 80% of its energy from fossil fuel sources.

With so many companies in a rush to acquire and trade carbon offsets, countries like New Zealand are seeing the price of land used for forests and farming skyrocket.  New Zealand allows companies to offset 100 percent of their emissions through forestry. Carbon farming then becomes a more financially viable use of the land. The country’s Climate Change Commission projects some 2.7 million acres will eventually be needed, while others warn it may be closer to 13 million.

👍 New investments in carbon capture and sequester (CCS) technologies, which are part of the recent Biden Administration legislative win, are being viewed with increasing skepticism by some climate scientists and economists. The concern is that some emitters, especially oil and gas industry, will simply use the CCS investment credits to finance more fossil fuel projects that continue to emit carbon and methane. The few CCS demonstrator projects in the US have so far have underperformed or failed.

Tensions between the US and China over Taiwan have spilled over into cooperation on reduction of emissions. The Chinese have said they are cancelling climate talks with the US to which the US responded that does not punish America but the world. China previously announced its intentions to be net zero before 2060 after a peak in emissions in 2030.

A historic two-month heat wave with temperatures exceeding 110 degrees F is stressing China’s population and economy as it works to come out of COVID-related lockdowns. The country is experiencing rolling power blackouts, closed factories, lower agricultural yields, drought fueled wildfires, record low river levels, offline hydroelectric plants, and water shortages in major cities. China’s central bank was forced to lower interest rates due in part to the economic impact of the summer’s heat wave.

Rivers and reservoirs in the American west continue to fall past their record low levels. Western states are fighting with each other and the federal government over water rights to the Colorado River as the American west continues with its mega drought.

Some rivers in California that flow into the Pacific Ocean are now so low that salty water from ocean tides is now creeping into what were once freshwater waterways and estuaries, threatening local ecosystems, farmlands, and public water supplies.

As water bodies and riverbeds across the world dry up from prolonged droughts, relics from bygone ages are being uncovered. The remains include 100 million year old dinosaur tracks in Texas stream beds, then naval vessels and bombs in European rivers, and human remains along the receding shoreline of Lake Mead in Nevada.

👍 The state of California approved final regulations that will ban the sale of new gas-powered (ICE) automobiles and trucks starting in 2035, previously announced by Governor Newsom two years ago. Already, many auto manufacturers like GM have announced their intentions to phase out production of internal combustion gas vehicles also by 2035. But there are many challenges including affordability of EVs and public availability of charging stations. And the new state law will not stop the use or sale of older gas vehicles that will take a decade or more to leave the road.

Other environmentalists rightfully worry about the damage that will be done from mining materials which will go into EV batteries, like lithium. Existing methods for extracting lithium can be devastating to the local landscapes, ecosystems and water supplies.

A new conservation study in the US warns that as many as one in six native tree species will eventually be threatened with extinction due in part by climate change. Droughts, wildfires, insects and diseases are all expected to take a toll.

Another report from oceanographers estimates that massive fish kills cold become six times more common by the end of the century. The culprit will be rising water temperatures, which destabilizes aquatic ecosystems, due to global warming and climate change.

👍 While the majority of Americans now believe climate change is happening and support policies to address it, they oddly think that most of their fellow Americans do not. Over 80% of the public is reported to underestimate the concern that others have for the climate. Researchers warn that this pluralistic ignorance can slow down collective action on major societal issues like global warming.

Greenwashing with misinformation has become a big business for marketing professionals and advertisers who work to improve the ESG image of their employers and clients. In one recent study from Australia, researchers found that over half of the subjects participating fell for greenwashing ads from energy companies. Some countries like France are requiring companies that promote themselves as carbon neutral to begin substantiating their claims starting in 2023.

A new report from the Nature Climate Change project projects that over 3% of Greenland’s ice sheet is now locked in to melt away and raise sea levels by nearly a foot by 2100. The study’s results are more grim than earlier analysis of sea level rise due to global warming. Glaciologists think the cause is the lack of replenishment of the edges of ice fields from snowfalls further up on glaciers.

Economists, their models and forecasts, are coming under closer scrutiny for their inability to fully account for the impact of a changing climate or the cost to transition economies to net zero. Most of the early models looked at harm and costs by future generations. With the effects of climate change happening faster, and because we have waited too long to take big actions, simply tinkering with the price of carbon or enforcing carbon taxes may be too little and too slow to have an impact. Some economists argue that massive incentives, like those in the recently passed Biden legislation, are now needed to help transition the economy, and not just penalties for failing to do so.

As flooding continues across the southern USA from swollen rivers, a major city and state capitol of over 150,000 people, Jackson, Mississippi, has lost its water supply. In a scene from the developing world, residents spend their day hunting for both drinking and non-potable water as businesses, schools, and shops are closed with National Guard troops called in to help.

As the month ends, flooding in Pakistan has topped 1,000 deaths from what the government officials call a climate catastrophe. A third of the country is reported to be under water. The country has experienced a series of heat waves, droughts, forest fires, and flooding from a historic monsoon season. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated. The flooding may further destabilize the country, a nuclear arms power, that has been hit by food shortages and high energy prices.

Featured image of arctic warming is from Carbon Brief.