Federal Scientists Detail Stronger Evidence of Global Warming in National Climate Assessment
A map depicts temperature changes over the past 20 years, compared to the average between 1901 and 1960. "The period from 2001 to 2011 was warmer than any previous decade in every region," according to the National Climate Assessment.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released its draft National Climate Assessment on Jan. 11, just a week after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed the U.S. experienced its warmest year on record.
According to the Letter to the American People provided with the report:
Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. This report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee concludes that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report, written in 2009. Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience. So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.
Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.
The report fulfills the requirements of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which says an assessment of climate disruption must be provided to the President and Congress every four years. The report is coordinated by the USGCRP, a 13-agency working group. But it is written by the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC), an advisory committee that consists of 60 scientists and other experts.
"The draft climate assessment released today confirms what the science says and what our eyes are telling us: It’s getting hotter, and that carbon pollution is driving climate change, fueling more violent and frequent weather events and threatening public health," said Center for American Progress Distinguished Senior Fellow Carol M. Browner, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.
"Climate alarms continued to blare in 2012, which was the hottest year on record in the United States. And destructive superstorm Sandy was one of 11 storms, floods, droughts and heat waves last year that each caused at least $1 billion in damages. The draft assessment warns us that the loss of lives and livelihoods will only get worse, and no part of the nation is safe," said Browner.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), while the report is in draft form and will not be finalized for months, it integrates developments in climate science since the agency’s last report in 2009. The impacts of climate change—including increasingly high temperatures and rising sea levels—are more apparent and extreme impacts are becoming more likely as global emissions rise. At the same time, scientists have been able to more definitively link climate change to human activities and have found that human-induced climate change is causing some weather extremes to worsen. The draft assessment includes a number of new scenarios and maps that examine the consequences of a warming climate for various regions, including increased heat and shifting precipitation.
Scientists continue to study the effects of climate change on specific sectors, such as agriculture and water management, and are producing assessments designed to help policymakers understand their options in the context of other factors, such as economic development and differing needs for rural and urban communities.
“Climate change is already affecting us and there’s a growing demand at the local level for information about what it means for our present and our future,” said Todd Sanford, a UCS climate scientist. “The climate conversation always starts with science. Because policymakers have generally supported policies that increase emissions, successfully adapting to climate change is becoming more difficult.”
A final assessment is expected to be released in 2014. Around the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its fifth assessment report of global climate change through the United Nations.
During the 90-day public review period, local officials, scientists and citizens can make a comment on the assessment. If you have important considerations and comments on the draft assessment, you can comment via the online comment form. The USGCRP will host at least eight town halls in the coming months to gather feedback for its final report.
“The evidence is clear and mounting. The United States sits at the center of the climate crisis. Record heat is devastating crops, rivers are drying up, and storms are bearing down on our cities," said President of World Resources Institute Dr. Andrew Steer. "Climate change is taking its toll on people and their economies, and will only become more intense without a strong and rapid response here in the United States and around the globe. It’s not too late to take action, but given lags in policy and geophysical processes, the window is closing."
“In his second term, President Obama has a chance to ensure his legacy as a leader on climate change. Now is the time for the Administration to move forward with new standards on power plants and other actions to put America on course to a low-carbon future.”
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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