Climate Change News Digest May 2021

Climate change good news question of the month: What country’s federal court was the latest to rule that their government has a responsibility to protect young people from harm and injury due to the climate crisis? Read on to find the answer in this month’s Climate Change News Digest prepared for followers of the PLM Green Global Alliance.

New studies have shown the urgency of drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) starting now and limiting temperature increases to avoid massive melting of ice on land and sea. Over the coming years scientists predict that the melting of land-based ice, like that in Antarctica and Greenland, will be responsible for about half of the predicted rise in sea-level. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that sea level rise by 2100 will be from 1 to 3 feet. Other scientists worry that an irreversible tipping point, like “ice cliff instability”, could be reached that accelerates Antarctica melting, resulting in rapid sea level rise of dozens if not hundreds of feet.

In the US, Hawaii has become the first state to officially declare a climate emergency. In a resolution the state legislature has declared that climate change threatens both humankind and the environment. A supporter said that “every day we wait to take action is another day lost.” Hawaii joins nearly 2,000 other jurisdictions from 34 countries, including Australia and Great Britain, that have declared climate emergencies. Most climate change activists have now moved to using the term climate crisis.

The US EPA has proposed a new rule to phase out the use of potent GHG, hydrofluorocarbons, used in refrigeration and air conditioning which have been called climate super-pollutants. The current HFCs in use were developed as a substitute to earlier-generation gasses that were responsible for creating the ozone hole.  A global reduction of HFCs is estimated to help avert a half degree C rise in temperature by end of the century due to this source alone.

New data released by NOAA confirms that America’s new normal temperature is already one full degree warmer than it was just two decades ago. Nearly every location in the US has warmed in the past decades.

Despite near universal international condemnation, Brazil continues to allow vast areas of the Amazon to be deforested. The rate of deforestation is reported to have risen by over 40% in the past year.

The first large scale offshore wind farm in the US has been approved by the Biden Administration. Once completed the farm may have up to 84 turbines, producing nearly 1 MW of electricity each, capable of producing enough green energy to power 400,000 homes.   The administration has pledged to approve offshore wind farms that will eventually produce 30,000 megawatts by 2030.

Shortly after this announcement, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that his state will designate two areas of the western US coastline for wind energy development. They could eventually generate close to 5 GW of clean energy from over 300 massive turbines. These would be the first offshore wind farms on the west coast where construction is more challenging due to deeper waters than the east coast. As a result, the wind turbines are expected to be floating instead of mounted into the sea floor.  Approvals for over a dozen other offshore wind projects are being reviewed by the US Dept. of Interior.

After being muzzled during much of the Trump administration, the US EPA has announced that the effects of climate change in the US are getting worse. Temperatures are now said to be rising as much as 0.5 degrees F per decade. It cited over 50 indicators which included: increasing heat waves, more droughts, higher average temperatures, warmer nights, sea ice reductions, coastal  flooding, increased wildfires, and shrinking glaciers in Alaska where the average temperature has risen by more than 4 degrees in the past century.

A new study has found that that greenhouse gases are shrinking the stratosphere. A warmer lower atmosphere, the troposphere, is said to be expanding and thus pushing up the bottom of the stratosphere causing it to contract by some 400 meters since the 1980s.The stratosphere extends from 20-60 km above the surface and has several important functions, including the ozone layer which absorbs UV rays from the sun.

The Biden administration will repeal Trump-era restrictions that kept the EPA from using the value of certain health benefits when performing a cost-benefit analysis of proposed regulations. This includes those costs associated with climate change.

President Biden has also ordered federal agencies to begin including the threats, risks, and costs of climate change to the overall economy for use in financial planning of the country. An administration official said that our economy was built on the assumption of a stable climate, but it is clear that is no longer the case.

Russia continues to build up its military presence in the high North and Arctic regions. They appear to be counting on the Arctic becoming ice free and open to new shipping lanes along with the exploration of natural resources.

With summer heat just getting started, over 80% of the US West is considered in a drought condition with nearly half in severe or extreme condition. Officials are warning of severe water shortages for rural farmers and urban cities alike. The cause is said to be years of warming temperatures, reduced rainfall, and lower mountain snow packs, all predicted by climate change. Rivers and lakes are running dry while the fear of massive wildfires rises.

NOAA has forecasted that the Atlantic hurricane season which begins on June 1 will once again be more active than normal. They predict 13-20 named storms with 6-10 of those becoming hurricanes. The above average forecast is due to warmer Atlantic waters. Last year broke a record with over 30 named storms due in part to water temperatures 1 full degree above normal.

Weather-related disasters and crises are reported to be the largest reason that forced over 40 million from their homes around the world in 2020. Floods, wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes, along with civil unrest and conflicts afterwards, were cited as the reasons for these displacements.

Many advocate the planting of trees to help with carbon uptake and to slow climate change. However, according to a new report we are losing 27 million acres of forests every year, most of which are being cleared for farming and livestock.  The rate of deforestation has increased by 50% in less than a decade. Individuals planting trees may have good intentions, but it is clearly not enough to compensate for the losses much less make gains in new woodlands that take decades to sequester carbon. Because of our failure to act 30 years ago when scientists first started warning about climate change, the actions of individuals are simply no longer enough.

The International Energy Agency has issued a monumental report and road map for getting to net zero GHGE by 2050. The challenges are huge and the goals at first read do not seem realistic given our behavior to date. Investments in new carbon-free energies will have to be massive, rising to $5T by 2030.  EV autos will have to go from 5% to 60% of all global car sales by 2030. Half of all air travel by 2040 would need to be fueled by alternatives. The amount of new solar and wind power installed would have to quadruple every single year between now and then. Coal-fired power plants will have to be shuttered. The use of oil and gas furnaces to heat buildings will need to cease. Overall, energy demand by 2050 will have to be lower than today, despite a global economy and population that is projected to increase by over 30%. Sobering, but also highly motivating to act now.

The world remains far off course of achieving these goals. So how do we avoid scaring or terrifying our children? The NYT has published an age-appropriate guide to climate change for kids. The writers make the case that we still have time to choose a different path if we act now. Right now.

Most of the public is woefully ignorant of all the cultural changes and sacrifices that will be required to achieve the 2030 reductions then the 2050 net zero GHG emission goals. In France, even socializing the eating of less meat and more vegetarian fare has come under fire after President Macron proposed new legislation based on recommendations from a 150-person citizens climate panel. Businesses say it goes too far while environmentalists protest it does not go far enough faster.

In a landmark decision, an Australian federal court has ruled that the government’s environment ministry as a legal “duty of care” responsibility to protect young people and elders who are vulnerable from harm and injury due to the climate crisis.

Also down under, the government of New Zealand has released an annual budget focused on the well being of its citizens. The proposed budget has an emphasis on investing to tackle climate change by developing low-carbon technologies.

In another sign of progress, an investor / shareholder-led challenge within oil-giant ExxonMobil resulted in the appointment of two new board members to accelerate its transition to clean energy. Industry analysts and investors alike acknowledge that financial markets are approaching a tipping point with a transformation in corporate governance that acknowledges the reality of the climate crisis.

This good news was followed by shareholders of Chevron, the second largest US oil company after Exxon, voting in favor of proposals to reduce emissions stemming from use of its products. Then a court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its GHGE by 45% (compared to 2019) by the end of 2030. It was not a good month for big oil but an encouraging one for the planet!

The United Kingdom is commencing the largest trial of its type to compare different forms of natural carbon capture using soils, trees, peatlands, and carbon farms growing bioenergy crops. The investigators admit that this type of carbon sequestration, even if successful, will be far insufficient at removing much of the CO2 humans have put into the atmosphere.

The World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations has forecasted that there is a 40% chance the planet in the next 5 years will surpass the 2.7 degree F temperature rise limit set as a goal by the Paris Climate agreement.  They also predict this next year the Atlantic will be warmer with more dangerous hurricanes, droughts in the southwest US will continue, and that much of the northern hemisphere will be over 1 degree F warmer. They warned that the planet is warming faster than originally expected, changes in the climate are accelerating, and that strong action is urgently needed.

Leaders in the fashion industry, such as the certified B Corporation Allbirds, are advocating the use of Life Cycle Sustainability Analysis tools across their industry to calculate carbon footprints and then collaborate in ways to reduce emissions. The textile and apparel industry is estimated to produce just over 5% of total global emissions.

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change reports more than a third of heat-related deaths in some parts of the world can be attributed to a changing climate. In some Central American countries it was found to be as high as a 70% increase in deaths attributed to global warming.  Overall, the effects of climate change have increased total mortalities by 5% in some of the poorest regions of the planet.

The month ends with the Chinese government announcing a change in policy that will allow couples to now have up to three children. Officials there worry that with an aging population and fertility birth rate of under 1.5, their country will become old before it becomes prosperous if there are not more younger workers to support retirees. They are not alone as we hear this same myopic dogma from capitalist economies as well. With a population of 1.4 billion people and growing, imagine the additional burden this will put on the Chinese goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2060. We can only wish them well in meeting that goal for our benefit as much as theirs.


This month’s featured image is the peak seasonal sea ice in the Arctic during the month of March, which continues to decline, from  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/04/sea-ice-cover-arctic-antarctica/.

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