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Where We Stand - 2013

December 16, 2013 – The end of the year is a time for taking stock, so that’s what we’ll do today.  To a large degree, I will simply be lifting information from an article that first appeared online in Climate Progress.
There’s a lot to talk about, and really very little analysis warranted; the facts speak for themselves, and very loudly, too.  None of the news is good - we appear to have much in common with the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.

CO2 levels hit 400 ppm – the highest level in recorded history.  This fact notwithstanding, Americans rejoice in being told that our country is once again energy independent, thanks to the fracking of oil and gas.  At the current pace of increase, there will be 450 ppm within three decades, which will drive catastrophic climate change.

Hotter, faster – In its fifth assessment report, released this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determines that the world as a whole will be 7 degrees F. warmer by 2100.  The United States will, on average, be 9 degrees F. warmer (hotter?).  Sea levels are rising more quickly, droughts and floods are growing in severity.  The oceans have absorbed enormous amounts of carbon dioxide.

Mass extinctions – 40 to 70 percent of all species may become extinct.  The oceans are more acidic now than at any time in the last 300 million years.  Marine plankton, the basis for the entire ocean food chain, are at their lowest numbers ever.  The acidification of the water in which they swim has warped some fishes’ brains, and makes the formation of shells very difficult for shellfish.  Jellyfish populations are exploding.  Fish populations continue at the brink of collapse globally, due to overfishing.

Heat, drought, wildfires – November 2013 was the hottest November on record in the U.S.  In China, the worst heatwave in 140 years caused temperatures to top out at 105 degrees F.  Australia experienced its hottest month on record in January, hottest September on record, and multiple major wildfires after an early start to the wildfire season.  Wildfires took a tremendous toll in the U.S., as well.  Colorado experienced its most destructive wildfire in state history, while California endured its third largest, covering an area of 402 square miles.  In fact, the western U.S. has seen so little rain during the past 13 years that scientists are describing conditions as a “megadrought.”  They believe it could continue for several more years, exacerbating wildfires in Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon.

Air pollution – China experienced its worst pollution ever in January of this year.  In October, air pollution nearly shut down the entire city of Harbin.  Schools, roads, and airports were closed.  This month, children and the elderly were ordered to remain inside for seven days (and counting) in Shanghai.  The Chinese government claims to be aware of the need for clean energy; it unveiled a plan to fight pollution in September.  Oddly enough, the country doubled its renewable energy capacity this year.

The need for action – Australians have elected a government that quashed the country’s Climate Commission, and has plans to eliminate the carbon tax.  Japan, still reeling from the effects of the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, arrived at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poland only to announce that it would cut its emissions by only 3.8 percent by 2020.  Japan has been hit with increasingly deadly typhoons, the result of sea level rise, and in August Tokyo recorded its warmest daily low temperatures in modern history.

Rising sea levels – As the oceans heat up, they expand.  In March 2013, global sea levels hit a record high, according to the World Meteorological Association.  Currently, sea levels are rising at a rate of 3.2 millimeters per year (a third of a centimeter).  This makes every ocean storm that much more dangerous, as seen with Super Storm Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Fossil fuels redux – So-called developed countries will have to lower emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels (NOT 2005 levels) by the end of this decade in order to stay below a 2 degrees centigrade increase (4 degrees F.).  Yet global oil demand was higher than projected this year.  The U.S. is more than ready to meet that challenge, exporting more oil than it imports.  How will the American people fare as a result?  More oil spills to clean up, pipeline explosions to clean up, exploding trains to clean up.  And a global total of 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, to which we contribute an increasing proportion.

More methane – The IPCC reported this year that methane (natural gas) is more toxic than at first realized.  Compared to a molecule of carbon dioxide, methane is 34 times more effective at trapping heat over a 100-year time scale.  Over a period of 20 years, it is 86 times more effective.  Worst of all, far more of the deadly substance is leaking at fracking sites than was realized.  The EPA claimed only1.5 percent of the natural gas produced leaked into the atmosphere.  However, several new studies measured amounts anywhere from 3 to 17 percent.  A 3.2 percent leakage rate is the threshold beyond which gas is no better for us or the environment than coal.  Natural gas is looking less and less like the transitional fuel we had hoped it would be.

With thanks to Climate Progress and


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