Skip to main content

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 reneweconomy.com.au.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The SunShot Initiative

In 2007, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. was 1.1 gigawatts (GW). As of 2017, that amount has increased to 47.1 GW. Enough to power 9.1 million average American homes. If you're thinking "we've still got a long way to go," you'd be right. On the other hand, increasing installed power by 4300% deserves some attention.  How'd we do it?

The Department of Energy played an important role. In 2011, they initiated a program called The SunShot Initiative. They set targets for the years 2020 and 2030, by which times generating solar power would have become more affordable. More affordable on a utility scale, more affordable on a commercial scale, and more affordable on a residential scale. Thus far, they've succeeded in hitting the 2020 goal for utility-scale generation. Needless to mention, they reached that goal three years early. The goals, it should be mentioned, don't take subsidies into account. It's the technology, in the case of util…

The Future Has Arrived

September 4, 2017 - Wildfires are burning throughout the Pacific Northwest. Hurricane Harvey has decimated the greater Houston area and parts of Louisiana. Hurricane Irma glowers out in the Atlantic. In other words, forecasts made decades ago are proving accurate. Four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was regarded as a tipping point, the point at which climate change would take on a life of its own. If no one ever drove their car another block, if farmers never used another ounce of chemical fertilizer, if not so much as one more acre of land was cleared with fire, climate change would continue on its way, wreaking havoc.

We passed four hundred ppm this year. I'm not sure where we stand right now; we were supposed to be at around 410 by spring. I'm not advocating giving up. Of course not. We must still - and at this point, will, whether we want to or not - consciously lower our standard of living, and stop enjoying the conveniences for which we are…