Climate change is not a short news story that can be told in one post, but is a long narrative that will span decades in which history will judge humanity for what we did and did not do as we individually and collectively bear witness. The latest Climate Change Chronicles news digest, prepared for followers of the PLM Green Global Alliance, summarizes news during just one month from around the world about the changing climate and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The past month of July 2022 was another month of climate-related suffering – including my own Midwest city of St. Louis which flooded from 10 inches of rain over one night – with abundant scientific evidence that demonstrates the worsening effects of climate change and a warming planet. Despite all the bad news, there was continued progress in the movement to decarbonize industry as we share with the PLM Green LinkedIn Group.
Our good news question of the month: what country has started sending its citizens a quarterly climate carbon dividend rebate from a tax on carbon polluters? Read on to find out and learn what you might have missed in your own climate news feeds during the past month. For news about the role of PLM in creating a more sustainable low-carbon economy, subscribe to our other PLM Green news digest on the Intersection of PLM & Sustainability.
At the start of the month, in what President Biden called a devastating opinion, the US Supreme Court ruled against the EPA by restricting its power to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants in a way that would result in their closing. The court said the agency did not have the authority to transform the nation’s power grid away from coal. Instead, it ruled that Congress must first delegate that specific authority to the agency, which of course SCOTUS knows very well won’t happen in the current dysfunctional Congress.
👍 The EPA responded by saying there were other paths to accomplish the mission of cutting emissions by half this decade. The ruling also means that individual states and cities will have to do more to decarbonize electricity production for their own residents and businesses. Thankfully, many states like California, New York and Washington are rising to the challenge. To meet GHG goals, the court’s decision will ultimately place more burden on the private sector to accelerate electrification and decarbonization of their operations and products.
Activists reacted in dismay because the EPA was established and given the authority over 50 years ago by a Republican administration to regulate air pollutants that affect human health and public safety. Many now rightfully fear that more conservative states and lawsuits will work to deconstruct all of the environmental progress the country had made over decades.
Climate Envoy John Kerry said the ruling will slow the pace of progress, but the country can still achieve its goals. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that this was another setback when the world remains far off-track in reducing emissions.
The European Central Bank conducted a climate stress test on a number of its member banks across the EU. It found that over half of the surveyed banks had no framework for assessing risks of a changing climate to their financial condition or that of their borrowers.
During a prolonged early-summer heat wave, a glacier in the Italian Dolomite mountains collapsed killing at least 10 hikers in its path. Due to a warming climate, glaciers in this region of Europe have already shrunk by 30% and may disappear altogether by mid-century.
In the US Midwest and Northeast, warmer winters are allowing populations of rodents, such as mice and rats, to grow in size and geography. Some species are also migrating further northward. As a result, they are bringing new tick-borne diseases, like Lyme, with them.
Massive flooding has struck Sydney, Australia, for the fourth time in less than two years. A disaster declaration followed evacuation orders for nearly 50,000 residents of the city. Rivers and dams were overrun after days of torrential rains, including nearly 8 inches in one day. Australians, which are known to be highly resilient, are said to be tiring of non-stop climate-related disasters, forcing many to reconsider where to live.
The heavy rains and catastrophic flooding which last month struck America’s oldest national park, Yellowstone, caught weather forecasters by surprise. Hydrologic models used to predict flooding have become increasingly unreliable to deal with the changing climate. Rainfall and snowpack melt, combined with hot weather, happened so fast that conventional models failed to predict the massive rise in river levels.
Fires within another beloved US national park, Yosemite, have become yearly events with a warming climate. A massive wildfire in California is threatening giant Sequoia trees, including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant. Recent fires have killed an estimated 20% of these majestic trees that were once thought to be against wildfires. Over 140 million trees are believed to have perished in California over the past decade alone. Wildfires like these around the world last year were estimated to put 1.76 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Methane, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere is growing faster than experts had predicted. At 1,900 ppm it is nearly three times pre-industrial levels. New research has found that methane is more sensitive to global heating that originally thought. About 60% of methane emissions comes from human sources, such as oil and gas or agriculture, and 40% is due to natural sources. Scientists hypothesize that the increase in wildfires has caused elements in the atmosphere that would help break down methane instead to be consumed by carbon monoxide from the fires.
It is also well known that a warming planet increases methane emissions from wetlands, bogs, marshes and once frozen tundra. Some scientists believe that microbes in warming wetlands are the source of the recent unexpected increase in methane.
As the EU suffers from an energy crisis, the European Parliament has labeled some gas and nuclear projects as green and sustainable which will allow them to receive financing and subsidies. Critics protested the move as more greenwashing that will delay the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels and aging nuclear power plants that have their own environmental risks.
With rising energy prices and shortages, Europe’s largest economy in Germany is preparing to bail out Uniper, its largest importer of natural gas from Russia. France announced it was going to renationalize nuclear energy giant EDF, stating that the energy transition will require the ongoing support of nuclear power. The country gets about 70% of its energy from nuclear power, the largest share than any other country.
Summers in the US are getting warmer with the average temperature some 1.7 degrees F hotter. Western states have seen averages rise by 2.7 degrees from the average of 1971-2000. One location, Reno, Nevada, has seen its average rise by over 10 degrees. Nights are warming faster than days in many locations, making heat waves more deadly. As a result, the wildfire season continues to lengthen while droughts empty lakes and reservoirs.
Poor and developing countries which to date have emitted the least carbon are likely to face more harm from global warming than those which have produced the most emissions. While China is currently the largest emitter of carbon, the US over time leads all other countries.
With the increase in deadly heat waves and public emergencies, cities like Los Angeles and Miami are employing a chief heat officer to lead the response to a changing climate. Heat kills more Americans than any other type of natural disaster.
👍 A new technology is being tested which generates electricity from burning natural gas but without greenhouse gas emissions. The power plant uses a closed-loop process of a supercritical fluid using highly pressurized CO2 to power turbines.
Miners of Bitcoins in the US are said to consume as much electricity as the residential homes in all of the city of Houston. Cryptocurrency consumes a huge amount of electricity to power the computers servers used in the digital mining of new coins.
👍 With high gas prices, Americans are buying electric vehicles at a record pace. EVs now account for over 5% of all new car sales in the US. However, the average price of an EV is over $65,000 compared to just over an average of $45,000 for all new autos in the US. The US is still far behind other countries, where 20% of new cars sold in China and 10% in Europe are battery powered.
Despite the worsening climate crisis, a new study says that only about one-third of Americans occasionally talk about climate change with their family, neighbors, and co-workers. Most feel that the topic is just too controversial or political.
Americans, like much of the world, are exhausted by their concerns on the pandemic, economy, and a broken democracy teetering on the edge of a civil unrest. As a result, concern about climate change has fallen as a priority for voters, even though it is directly impacting millions each day due to extreme weather, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.
👍 Better news from the Yale Climate Opinion Communication project shows more and more Americans believe that climate change is happening. Only in three states did a majority think it is not; coal producing states Wyoming, West Virginia, and North Dakota.
New climate action legislation is once again stalled in the US Congress, this time not due to Republican obstructionism, but a lone Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of coal-state West Virginia. As a result, the Biden Administration’s goal of reducing US GHG emissions by 50% (over 2005 emissions) by the end of 2030 appear to be far less likely.
There are now only 100 months left to reach the 2030 emissions targets. Analysts report that we are presently on track to only reduce emissions by about a third without significant changes.
Between the recent Supreme Court ruling and now the failure of Congress to act with time running out. the US is failing its population and that of the world. Yet, in a new report, over 60% of Americans still think Congress should be the responsible party to take more climate action than it has to date.
Dozens of countries and thousands of cities and counties across the globe have resorted to declaring a climate emergency, though some climate activists assert that most declarations have been largely symbolic without much substance. Despite growing calls for President Biden to respond to the climate crisis by declaring an official climate emergency the President announced he would not yet do so. Such a declaration would allow the more aggressive use of executive actions and regulatory policy changes to further reduce GHG emissions.
👍 To our north, Canada declared a climate emergency in 2019 and in the same year it put into effect a carbon fee on polluting industries. As a result, Canadian citizens have started to receive their first quarterly carbon dividend rebate.
👍 Following the breakdown in congressional talks, the President in a trip to a shuttered coal plant did declare climate change was literally an “existential threat to our nation and the world”. It was followed by a series of executive actions and federal funding to help communities prepare for or respond to climate-related disasters.
As heat waves and wildfires spread across the globe, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres once again sounds the alarm, warning that humanity faces a collective suicide over climate crisis if more is not done faster. But on a more hopeful note, he also reminds us we have the choice and tools to reverse trends.
Record-setting heat waves are being experienced across the northern hemisphere this summer. Britain shattered its highest temperature with 40.2 degrees C (104.4 deg F) being recorded in London, blowing past the previous record of 38.7 set only two years before. It was the first time temps were recorded above 104 F in the country. Britain issued its first red warning for extreme heat which will likely become routine as climate change worsens. Researchers with World Weather Attribution say that without climate change, Britain’s heat wave would have been very unlikely.
Paris hit 104.9 degrees F, only the third time where temperatures exceeded 104. It was only 3 years ago that the city experienced an all-time record of 108 degrees. Temperatures exceeded 113 F in Portugal with over a dozen fires burning across thousands of acres.
England like much of Europe is ill-prepared for a warming planet. Many homes, shops, workplaces, nursing homes and public buildings like hospitals do not have air-conditioning, nor have they needed it until recently. Public transportation infrastructure, especially rail lines and airports, will be impacted if not rendered inoperable by such high temperatures.
Heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense in Europe than almost any other place on the planet, with the exception of the American West. Scientists speculate that a warming Arctic and a decrease in the temperature differentials across the Northern Hemisphere have impacted summer winds and circulations, causing tropical-like heat and humidity to move northward.
The EU has agreed to reduce its reliance on natural gas by up to 15% as Russia announced further cuts to its supply of the European market. There is growing concern that they current energy emergency may worsen into the fall and colder winter months.
The heat wave has made the European energy crisis even worse by increasing power demands for cooling by 10% in some countries. The good news is that solar generation in Germany is up more than 30% from a year before. However, a drought and declining water levels have reduced hydroelectric and nuclear power generation which resulted in a shift back to coal-fired plants.
With the heat, dozens of wildfires are roaring across Spain and France. Tens of thousands of residents and tourists have been forced to evacuate. Hundreds of heat-related deaths were reported across southern Europe.
Water levels of reservoirs in the American west continue to fall to record low levels. Lake Mead which provides water for 25 million across 7 states is just 27% full.
Kenyan officials report that a drought fueled by a changing climate is now killing more elephants than poachers. The country is in a national disaster that threatens not only wildlife but millions who are facing food shortages and malnutrition.
The oldest living things on the planet, bristlecone pines of the American West that are over 1,000 years old, are being threatened by climate change. They are among a quarter of the Earth’s protected forests that are now classified at a critical threshold on the edge of catastrophic decline.
In a month of climate-related disasters and energy-driven inflation causing distress for millions around the world, oil giants Exxon, Chevron, and BP reported record profits with oil and gas prices at near record highs. These oil companies say they are also investing profits into new production from existing oil fields. The industry will use profits from suffering consumers to put more emissions into the atmosphere that will only cause additional pain.
The Carbon Mapper project has discovered massive amounts of methane venting into the atmosphere from the Permian oil fields in Texas. Methane emissions like the ones found are not illegal nor are they presently regulated.
👍 The voluntary carbon offset credit market has grown to now be valued at over $2 billion, but there are few standards for reporting. A new organization, the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market, is seeking to change that by developing core principles for creating integrity in carbon credit accounting. They hope their efforts will document climate benefits, guard against double counting, and provide independent third-party validation.
Massive rainfalls and flooding have struck portions of the Central United State. Areas around St. Louis, Missouri received over 10 inches of rain over one night, setting an all-time record. The deluge resulted in flooding homes, rivers overtopping levees, sewers and storm water drains being swamped, motorists stranded, and causing havoc across the region. And as with most weather-related disasters, the poorest neighborhoods and families suffered the most.
To the east, flash flooding killed dozens in the state of Kentucky with hundreds unaccounted for after a string of catastrophic downpours across Appalachia. Between the two disasters, thousands of families and hundreds of businesses lost everything in their homes or on their premises. Climatologists and meteorologists say that we should expect to see more extreme rainfall events like these more frequently in the coming years.
👍 Near the end of the month, some unexpectedly but badly needed good news. US Democrats in the Senate announced that a deal has been struck within their own party to move forward on legislation that would provide over $300 billion to address climate change and support renewable energy. However, with Congress still evenly split and midterm elections nearing, the bill may still not make it through both House and Senate hurdles. The 700-page bill includes: 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 factories that produce alternative energy materials, and aid for low-income and disadvantaged communities impacted the most by extreme weather and a changing climate.
Unfortunately, buried in the bill is a provision to guarantee that millions of acres of federal lands and offshore waters would be open to oil and gas leases each new year. If the deal holds together, it would be the most ambitious action to date by the US to combat climate change and help the country meet its 2050 goal of reducing emissions from 2005 levels by 40%. It’s good news, but the legislation does not address giving the EPA the authority to fully regulate greenhouse emissions that at the beginning of the month the Supreme Court ruled was needed.
Featured image is from the NASA Earth Observatory at https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/150083/heatwaves-and-fires-scorch-europe-africa-and-asia .