By Jessica Corbett
New data from a Norwegian nonprofit is generating fresh concerns about humanity's destruction of the natural world, revealing Monday that people have ravaged about two-thirds of original tropical rainforest cover globally.
The Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) analysis found that human activities including logging and land-use changes—often for farming—have destroyed 34% of old-growth tropical rainforests and degraded 30% worldwide.
RFN defined degraded forests as those that are partly destroyed or fully wiped out but replaced by more recent growth. The group's definition for intact forest, considered too strict by some experts, includes only areas that are at least 500 square kilometers or 193 square miles; trees and biodiversity are at greater risk in smaller zones.
Two-thirds of the world’s original tropical #rainforest cover have been degraded or destroyed, new @RainforestNORW… https://t.co/h4lzA5lyqg— WWF EU (@WWF EU)1615220106.0
The RFN findings, reported by Reuters, show that over half of the destruction since 2002 has been in the Amazon and neighboring rainforests. Deforestation in South America—particularly within Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon—has caused recent alarm given the role of rainforests in trapping carbon.
"Forests act as a two-lane highway in the climate system," explained Nancy Harris, Forests Program research director at the World Resources Institute (WRI), earlier this year. "Standing forests absorb carbon, but clearing forests releases it into the atmosphere."
A forest carbon flux map released in January by organizations including WRI found that between 2001 and 2019, forests emitted an average of 8.1 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide annually due to deforestation and other disturbances but also absorbed 16 billion metric tonnes per year over the same period.
Reuters reported Monday on RFN's analysis:
As more rainforest is destroyed, there is more potential for climate change, which in turn makes it more difficult for remaining forests to survive, said the report's author Anders Krogh, a tropical forest researcher.
"It's a terrifying cycle," Krogh said. The total lost between just 2002 and 2019 was larger than the area of France, he found.
Deforestation has surged in Brazil since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro—a foe of both environmental regulations and Indigenous people in his country—took office in early 2019. Brazilian forest loss hit a 12-year high in 2020, according to satellite imagery from the country's space research agency.
"Instead of acting to prevent the increase in deforestation, the Bolsonaro government has been denying the reality of the situation, dismantling environmental agencies, and attacking NGOs who work on the ground in the Amazon," said Greenpeace Brazil Amazon campaigner Cristiane Mazzetti in response to the data.
A look at tropical rainforest deforestation globally in 2019. Brazil/Americas far and away the leader. The drivers… https://t.co/w2ZWv1pYnd— Jake Spring (@Jake Spring)1615206122.0
Bolsonaro enjoyed a close relationship with former U.S. President Donald Trump—and both leaders faced an onslaught of global criticism for their similar response to various crises, from the raging coronavirus pandemic to the climate emergency.
Comments from Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo on Friday suggest that the recent swearing-in of U.S. President Joe Biden may mean a shift. According to Reuters, Araújo—who has called human-caused climate change a "Marxist conspiracy"—said the administrations are now collaborating on the crisis.
"Something that was regarded as an impediment... is totally out of the way. We are now working together... as key partners towards a successful COP26 and fully implementing climate agreements," said Araújo, referring to the United Nations climate summit rescheduled for November due to the pandemic.
A U.N. report released late last month found that the international community is quite far off from meeting the Paris climate agreement's 1.5°C and 2°C temperature targets based on the greenhouse gas emissions reduction pledges that governments have proposed for the next decade.
Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Brazilian group Observatório do Clima, called Bolsonaro's plan "a trainwreck of reduced ambition" that "violates the Paris agreement by giving the country a free pass to emit 200 million tons to 400 million tons of CO2 more than the 2015 pledge."
"It totally eliminates any mention of deforestation control and it lacks clarity on its conditionality," added Astrini. He warned against accepting "such a dangerous precedent" and called for global pressure on his government "to go back to the drawing board" and formulate a pledge "with real targets."
Our new global report shows humans have degraded or destroyed 2/3 of the world’s original tropical #rainforest cove… https://t.co/aIXLccChAr— Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) (@Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN))1615205235.0
The Amazon "represents the best hope for preserving what rainforest remains," Reuters noted, adding that Krogh found the world's largest rainforest "and its neighbors—the Orinoco and the Andean rainforest—account for 73.5% of tropical forests still intact."
While that fact "gives hope," RFN tweeted Monday, the "current rate of destruction is frightening."
The group found that after South American rainforests, the top deforestation hot zones since 2002 have been Southeast Asian islands where trees have been cleared for palm oil plantations followed by Central Africa—specifically around the Congo River basin, where forest loss results from agriculture and logging.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Richard B. Primack
Weather patterns across the U.S. have felt like a roller coaster ride for the past several months. December and January were significantly warmer than average in many locations, followed by February's intense cold wave and a dramatic warmup.
If you've ever seen lilac bushes crushed by snowdrifts, then budding on a warm day just a few weeks later, you may wonder how plants tolerate such extremes. I study how climate change affects the timing of seasonal events in the life cycles of plants, birds and insects in Massachusetts, so I know that species have evolved here to handle New England's famously changeable weather. But a warming climate is disrupting weather patterns and testing the abilities of many species to adapt.
On brutal winter days when temperatures are far below freezing, animals hibernate underground or huddle in protected spots. But trees and shrubs have to sit there and take it. The tissues in their trunks, branches and roots are alive. How do they survive the freezing cold?
In autumn, woody plants in many parts of North America start preparing for winter. When their leaves change color and fall, their twigs, branches and trunks start to lose water. As a result, their cells contain higher concentrations of sugars, salts and organic compounds.
This lowers the freezing point of the cells and tissues, and allows them to survive temperatures far below the normal freezing point of water. The trick has its limits, though, so extreme cold events can still kill certain plants.
Tree and shrub roots remain largely unchanged and inactive during winter, relying on insulation from snow and soil for protection. For the most part, the temperature of the soil around roots stays at or above freezing. Soil, fallen leaves and persistent snow layers insulate the ground above the roots and prevent it from losing heat.
The Surprising Danger of Spring Frosts
After plants stoically withstand cold winters, early spring brings new dangers. Plants need to leaf out as early as they can in spring to take full advantage of the growing season. But this involves pumping water into their developing leaves, which reduces the concentration of sugars, salts and organic compounds in their tissues and removes their winter protection from cold.
Each species has a characteristic leaf-out time. Early-leafing species such as blueberries and willows are the gamblers of the plant kingdom. Later species, like oak and pine, are the cautious and conservative types. For any species, leafing out too early is a risk because late frosts can damage or kill young leaves.
Flowers are also vulnerable to unpredictable spring frosts because they contain lots of water. If the flowers of fruit trees, such as apples, are killed by frost, the trees won't produce fruit later in the summer. Late frosts also can cause disappointingly short flowering seasons for early-flowering ornamental plants such as forsythias and magnolias.
Plant Wake-Up Calls
To guard against frost and still take advantage of the full growing season, trees and shrubs have developed three ways to know when it is time to start growing in spring.
First, plants have winter chilling requirements: They hold on to winter dormancy until they have been exposed to a certain number of cold winter days. This trait helps them avoid leafing or flowering during abnormally warm periods in midwinter.
Second, plants also have spring warming requirements that promote growth after they experience a certain number of warm days each spring. This feature helps them start to grow as soon as it is warm enough.
Third, some plants also have a photoperiod response, which means they react to the length of time they are exposed to light in a 24-hour period. This prepares them to leaf out as days get longer and warmer in the spring. Beech trees have both a warming requirement and a photoperiod response, but the temperature requirement is much stronger, so they get going after just a few warm days in late spring.
Interestingly, North American trees such as red maple and black birch are more cautious and conservative than European and East Asian trees. The weather in eastern North America is more variable, and the threat of late spring frosts is higher here than in those regions. As a result, North American trees have evolved to leaf out a few weeks later than comparable trees from Europe and East Asia.
Climate Change Scrambles the Signals
Plants are highly attuned to temperature signals, so warming driven by climate change is making it harder for many species to withstand winter cold and spring frosts. As spring temperatures get warmer than in the past, trees such as apples and pears may respond by leafing out and flowering several weeks earlier than normal. This can increase their vulnerability to late frosts.
The leaves on this cherry tree have suffered damage from a late frost. Richard Primack, CC BY-ND
In 2007, an exceptionally warm period in March triggered trees to leaf out across the eastern and central United States. A hard frost in April then killed the young leaves and flowers of oaks, hickories and other tree species. The trees were able to produce a second crop of leaves, but could not fully replace the leaves they'd lost, which quite likely stunted their growth for that year.
Insect pests also pose an increasing threat to plants. Harsh winter weather holds in check many insects found in northern climates, such as hemlock woolly adelgids and emerald ash borers. As winters become milder, these insects are more likely to survive, move further northward, cause major outbreaks and damage trees.
Warmer winters also lead to more days when the ground is bare. Cold snaps that occur when there is no insulating layer of snow can freeze the soil and kill roots. Tree and shrub branches then die back because the damaged roots cannot supply enough water and nutrients. In extreme cases, the plants may die.
In coming decades, many cold-loving tree species such as spruces and firs will become less abundant when they are not able to handle new challenges associated with a warmer climate. In the Northeast U.S., native species such as sugar maple and beech will be gradually replaced by native species from farther south, such as oaks and hickories. And nonnative species, such as Norway maples, are taking advantage of these disruptions to disperse into forests from roadsides and neighborhoods.
Similar shifts are happening in many places as climate change alters the signals plants rely on to mark the changing seasons.
Richard B. Primack is a professor of biology at Boston University.
Disclosure statement: Richard B. Primack does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
In 2017, a team of researchers went to the Santa Cruz Mountains to study how mountain lions responded to human disturbance. Hanging speakers that broadcasted human voices, they found mountain lions were fearful of the sounds, altering their eating behaviors and the corresponding food chain, The Atlantic reported.
"People often fear large carnivores like mountain lions, but in reality, they are far more scared of us," Kaitlyn Gaynor from UC Berkeley, who was not involved in the study, told The Atlantic.
Scientists have long understood that human activity impacts wildlife, but most studies have focused on individual species' behaviors.
For the first time, researchers calculated the global impact of human activity on animal movement, according to the University of Sydney. Their findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Compiling data from 208 studies on 167 species, from both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, scientists quantified how human activity impacts the movement of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and arthropods, the authors wrote.
"It is vital we understand the scale of impact that humans have on other animal species," lead author Dr. Tim Doherty, a wildlife ecologist, told the University of Sydney. "The consequences of changed animal movement can be profound and lead to reduced animal fitness, lower chances of survival, reduced reproductive rates, genetic isolation and even local extinction."
Human disturbance reduced an animal's movement, on average, by 37 percent or increased it by 70 percent, the authors wrote in The Conversation.
South Africa's spotted sand lizard, for example, was found to move more frequently over larger areas than lizards in less disturbed areas. Similarly, moose in Norway were found to increase their home ranges by 84 percent due to military operations, the University of Sydney noted.
While some species increased their movements, others were restricted from human disturbances. Due to forest fragmentation, South America's Northern bearded saki monkey decreased its home range and movement speeds, The Guardian reported.
Changes in their movement impact more than just the animal's ability to "find mates, food and shelter, escape predators and competitors, and avoid disturbances and threats," the authors wrote in The Conversation. These changes also "cascade" throughout ecosystems.
For example, when mountain lions heard human voices, their movements slowed, which increased the distances of rodents in the area, The Guardian reported.
"Animal movement is linked to important ecological processes such as pollination, seed dispersal and soil turnover, so disrupted animal movement can have negative impacts throughout ecosystems," Doherty told the University of Sydney.
While all human activities can impact animal behavior, the scientists found that hunting and recreation had more of an impact on animals than urbanization and logging, The Guardian reported.
"That most species increase movement in response to disturbance gives an interesting hint regarding the mechanism of anthropogenic pressures beyond the obvious, such as invasive predators, habitat loss or direct exploitation," professor Corey Bradshaw, director of the Global Ecology Lab at Flinders University in South Australia, told The Guardian.
Although the study confirmed much of what the scientists already knew, their findings can direct policy decisions to address human disturbance and promote conservation. But "where habitat modification is unavoidable," Doherty added, "we recommend that knowledge of animal movement behaviour informs landscape design and management to ensure animal movement is secured."
One conservation effort aimed at adapting to animal movement is currently underway in one of the world's major cities. In the increasingly growing urban environment of Los Angeles, mountain lion populations are split by a major freeway. This causes the populations to experience low genetic diversity and high mortality rates due to human activity, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
In response, the National Wildlife Federation's #SaveLACougars campaign is in its final stages of developing what may be the largest wildlife crossing in the world, enabling mountain lions and other species to cross California's 101 freeway safely.
"As evidenced from decades of wildlife crossing projects across the world... wildlife crossings work," the National Wildlife Federation wrote in a statement. The crossing can also "serve as a model for urban wildlife conservation across the globe."
By Maddy Savage
Americans love their cars — their gas-guzzling, air-polluting, smog-producing cars. Although the vast majority agree that if we all drove electric vehicles we could reduce oil consumption and pollution, only a third would consider buying one anytime soon. Far fewer are actually making the switch.
Compare that to the situation in Norway, the world's unofficial leader in EV driving, where more than 40% of new cars sold are now electric and thousands of drivers are on waiting lists for the latest models. It's a trend 30 years in the making.
"These things take time, because you need those first guys willing to break the mold, buy an EV and tell their pals, 'Shut up, this car is awesome!'" said Daniel Milford Flathagen, 36, from Trondheim, a government agency employee who waited 18 months for a Hyundai Kona Electric, his second electric vehicle.
Norway, a small, largely rural country with a population of just 5 million, has been steadily building hype for electric cars. Given their significantly larger populations, China and the U.S. report higher total sales numbers (around 1.2 million and 360,000, respectively, including plug-in hybrids, in 2018). The Scandinavian nation has the highest share of new electric vehicle purchases in the world.
Credit for this could go to an evolved cultural acceptance of functional electric cars over more "macho" gas-guzzlers, or Norway's long-held reputation as a nature-loving, environmentally friendly population. But there's a more direct, prosaic explanation: In Norway, it pays to drive electric.
"The environmental aspect is a very good bonus for everyone," said Elisabeth Sakkestad, a 32-year-old EV user who works for an aid organization in Stavanger. "You feel better about driving an electric car than a fossil-fueled one."
But it is what Sakkestad described as the "economic benefits" that have played by far the greatest role in persuading her — and huge swaths of the population — to switch to emissions-free vehicles.
Successive Norwegian governments from across the political spectrum have been offering financial incentives to electric car owners as part of their wider efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And, as electric vehicles have become increasingly advanced in terms of speed, range and aesthetics, growing numbers of consumers have become motivated to cash in on the perks.
"In Norway we tax what we don't want and we promote what we want, and the consumer has, in this way, actually the opportunity to make the right choice," said Christina Bu, secretary-general of Norsk elbilforening, the Norwegian EV Association.
In Norway, most cars are imported. On top of the regular 25% consumption tax (Value Added Tax, or VAT) charged on most consumer goods, all vehicles used to be subject to an additional purchase tax. But that tax was scrapped for electric cars in 1990. EV buyers also became exempt from paying VAT in 2001. A few years later, they scored a fast-track commute when they were given permission to drive in bus lanes.
Until 2017, EV owners were exempt from charges for toll roads and eligible for free parking. Current rules allow municipalities to charge them no more than 50% the standard toll and parking rates.
The center-right governing coalition in Norway has promised to keep most of the incentives running until at least 2021 and aims to ban all new sales of gas-powered cars by 2025.
In Norway, as everywhere, electric cars tend to be pricier than their conventional counterparts. Bloomberg analysts predict price parity in 2022, but Norway's tax breaks mean that in some cases greener models are already cheaper. The base import price for a Volkswagen e-Golf, for example, is around $36,000, compared to $24,000 for a regular Golf. But after VAT, emissions taxes and other fees, the electric version is nearly $1,000 less ($36,300 versus $37,200).
"Buying a new electric car is more or less the same price as buying a nice petrol or diesel car now," said Bu, even before you factor in additional savings such as not having to pay for gas and lower maintenance costs.
Some critics have argued that the country's incentives favor those who are already wealthy enough to afford new cars, while low-income owners can often only afford used gas-fueled models, which remain cheaper than used EVs.
Ask Ibsen Lindal, energy spokesperson for Norway's Green Party, sees the second-hand market for gas cars as an impediment to the nationwide trend toward electric cars, but he said he hopes it's just a matter of time until EVs become affordable for virtually all Norwegians.
"What's been the most important goal of the Norwegian electric car incentive is that ... you hope to start the market moving, and then prices will fall and that is what we are seeing now within a very short time," Isben Lindal said.
He said he expects that in three to five years, EVs will push nearly all new gas-powered cars out of the Norwegian market.
Globally, analysts worry about how electric vehicle sales will fare with the coronavirus pandemic shaking consumer markets and oil prices plunging. One new report predicts worldwide EV sales will tank in 2020, a factor it partly pegs to global uncertainty, which may make people less willing to take a chance on technology that's new to them.
A potential glimmer of hope? A small survey of U.K. consumers in April found that air quality improvements resulting from stay-at-home measures are inspiring new interest in buying non-fossil fuel cars.
How quickly other countries around the world might catch up with Norway's incentivized buying is an ongoing debate in the electric vehicle industry.
Bu said she accepts that it is "probably politically very difficult" for most governments, including in the U.S., to introduce the type of wide-ranging tax differences for electric and fossil-fuel-powered cars that Norway has used.
"I think we will see different countries following faster than the others, but interest is growing," she said. "We definitely will start seeing the same development in country after country."
In Sweden, EV buyers get a bonus of up to 60,000 Swedish krona (roughly $6,000) paid to them six months after their purchase, while Germany recently expanded its subsidies to a similar amount, as long as owners keep their car for at least nine months. Costa Rica, which has committed to going carbon neutral by 2050, exempts electric car owners from its regular 13% sales tax on vehicles.
In the U.S., the federal government has boosted EV sales by offering a $7,500 tax credit to buyers. But that amount phases down once manufacturers sell 200,000 cars; Tesla has already hit the threshold for all its models, as has the Chevrolet Bolt. In December, Congress declined to expand the federal credit program.
Nearly every state and Washington, D.C., offers some incentives for buying an electric vehicle. But while the majority of Americans support the idea of tax breaks or other incentives, and even those who aren't actively considering buying an EV say such a break would encourage them to do so, eight out of 10 of people don't know whether any are available in their state, according to one 2019 poll.
Cost issues aside, American drivers, most of whom can't name an electric car make and model or describe how the vehicles work, are still largely paralyzed by two key worries: that they won't be able to get where they're going on a single charge, and that they won't be able to find a charging station when they need one.
Such anxieties persist among consumers even though today's EVs generally have enough range to handle most drivers' daily travel. The average American drives less than than 30 miles a day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, while more than half a dozen electric models now get over 200 miles on a single charge.
When it comes to charging infrastructure, Norway is miles ahead. It has been rapidly increasing the availability of charging points and electricity supply since 2015, when the government set the goal of having at least one fast charging station every 31 miles on major highways, offering subsidies to providers in order to accelerate installations. By mid-2017, there were more than 1,500 stations along these key routes, up from 300 in 2014.
The country was also the first in the world to introduce supercharger points, where more than two dozen vehicles can charge at the same time. The capital, Oslo, is working with housing cooperatives to install thousands more charging points outside people's homes, and it has started a program that provides wireless charging for its taxi network.
Environmental activists like Ibsen Lindal argue that Norway still isn't quite keeping up with demand. He said that although Oslo has gained a reputation as something of a trailblazer when it comes to charging infrastructure, other cities and municipalities are further behind.
Nationwide, there were about 1.7 electric vehicles per charging point in 2011, compared with around 19.5 today. Ibsen Lindal said that while hard data is limited, anecdotal evidence suggests some electric car users who are frustrated with the current infrastructure may be returning to fossil-fueled vehicles for convenience.
"There have been some reports on people buying electric cars, but then after a few months, they say that there are too many people in line waiting at charging stations, making EV ownership impractical for some people today," he said.
Trondheim EV-owner Flathagen said he has observed long queues at some rural stations and met customers, usually elderly people, who "aren't really prepared for how rapid charging differs from getting gas at a petrol station" or how to use some of the other necessary related technologies, such as apps or SMS messages to pay for electricity. (Norsk ebilforening's research suggests that while early adopters tended to be young, educated men, a much wider range of consumers are now buying the vehicles, including increasing numbers of women and people over 50 years of age.)
Geir Kulia, a 28-year-old in southern Norway who recently bought an electric BMW i3, admitted that while it's been surprisingly easy to charge his car, "the planning phase is a bit more important" when it comes to longer trips. "There is a limit to your freedom; you have to consider where to charge and the time it takes to charge, so you can't just go off driving around Europe."
For Americans with range anxiety, Flathagen said that although Norway is far smaller than the United States, in some ways it's a perfect proving ground.
"It's a rural country with a cold climate, where people drive longer distances than most other European countries," he said. (Cold weather saps batteries faster.) "If EVs work here, they should work everywhere."
This story originally appeared in HuffPost and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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A rare orca stranding on Scotland's Orkney Islands had a happy ending when volunteers and local residents teamed up to send the animal back out to sea.
"Strandings of Orca do occur but are incredibly rare and it is thought that this is the first successful refloat of an Orca by BDMLR in the UK," the group wrote on their Facebook page.
The orca, an 11 foot animal believed to be a male, was first seen on a beach at the Bay of Newark on the Orkney Island of Sanday, BBC News reported.
Local residents Colin and Heather Headworth first thought it was a dolphin when they saw it in the surf near their home Monday morning, according to BDMLR. They alerted BDMLR Area Coordinator Emma Neave-Webb, who called a local team to the scene.
However, when they arrived, medics realized that the stranded animal was in fact an orca. The animal was lying on its side parallel to the sea, making it hard for it to swim to freedom.
"The first thought really is a little bit of panic on how on earth are we going to deal with it, and then all the training kicks in," Neave-Webb told ITV News.
The BDMLR team recruited local residents to help them turn the whale so that it was upright and its blowhole was out of the water, making it easier for it to breathe. They then turned it to face the sea as the tide came in and placed it on a dolphin stretcher.
"After about an hour and with help from local residents to stabilise the animal, it suddenly took matters into its own fins and made a move to swim off," BDMLR wrote. "Unable to hold the animal any longer, the stretcher was lowered and the orca swam forward straight out towards the open sea. It rolled a couple of times and then submerged and continued straight out away from the beach without looking back."
Neave-Webb told ITV News that the orca's escape was cause for celebration.
"There was a lot of cheering, awful lot of cheering," she said. "I'm still buzzing now."
Medics think the orca will survive, since it had fed recently and was in good condition. However, they are monitoring the shore to make sure it does not get stranded again. They believe it is a young male of about three to four years old.
Neave-Webb told ITV News that the orca had likely been feeding in shallow water when the tide went out, leaving it stranded on shore.
Orcas are common in the Orkney Islands, according to BDMLR. However, area experts think the stranded orca may not belong to any local pods.
The Orkney Marine Mammal Research Initiative is talking with colleagues in Norway to try to identify the animal, according to BBC News.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Since 1950, more than nine billion tonnes of plastic have been produced globally, of which only 9% is recycled, according to building tech company Othalo, while almost a billion people live in slums.
It has partnered with UN-Habitat – the United Nations program for human settlements and sustainable urban development – to create components to build three demonstration homes to help tackle Africa's housing shortage.
"In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the immediate need for low-cost housing is 160 million units," the company says.
This is expected to increase to 360 million by 2050 as a result of rapid urbanization. But with today's plastic waste, Othalo believes more than one billion houses can be built.
In 2021, the first factory producing elements such as partitions for walls, ceilings and floors from recycled plastic will be built in Kenya.
UN-Habitat says an estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.
UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo
Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.
Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with SINTEF, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's University of Tromsø.
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo
Almost seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.
Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.
Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.
Pioneers of Change
Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020.
The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.
Opening the summit, Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…
"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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By Johnny Wood
What better place to build a Doomsday Vault than the remote, snow-covered islands of Norway's Arctic Svalbard? Sitting around 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole, the facility is buried in permafrost to protect the precious seed samples housed there. But a freak heatwave is causing the region's ice to melt.
Following several days of near record-breaking hot weather in July, Svalbard temperatures topped out at 21.7℃, the country's meteorological institute reported. This is the hottest ever recorded here, exceeding the previous record of 21.3℃ set over 40 years earlier and a stark contrast to the region's average of between 5-7℃ for this time of year.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault – also known as the Doomsday Vault – is a gigantic bunker, sitting deep inside a mountain surrounded by snowy wastelands. The facility stores close to 900,000 seed samples from around the world and acts as a sort of back-up plan for agriculture, should disaster render parts of the planet unlivable or the world suffer a catastrophe, such as nuclear war or extreme climate change.
It's been described as an "insurance policy for food security."
Inside the vault, temperatures are kept below minus 18℃, cold enough to keep the seed samples safe for at least 200 years, even without backup power. But climate change is causing problems for the vault.
In 2016, which was the warmest year on record according to NASA, soaring temperatures caused meltwater to breach the vault's entrance tunnel. While no seeds were damaged, the floodwater left an expensive repair bill and tarnished the vault's reputation as impregnable to natural or manmade disasters.
The Heat Is On
Warming in the islands has been underway for some time. Figures for 2017 show average temperatures are between 3-5℃ hotter than in 1971, according to the Climate in Svalbard 2100 report, with the largest increases affecting the inner fjords.
Between 2071 and 2100, average temperatures throughout the archipelago will increase by between 7-10℃, the report predicts, shortening the snow season and causing loss of near-surface permafrost.
What's happening in Svalbard is symptomatic of wider changes impacting the Arctic expanse, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Parts of the Canadian Arctic are thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks found, a sign that climate change could be happening faster than first thought.
As warmer-than-average summers destabilize permafrost, much of which has lain frozen for millennia, methane and other gases trapped in the ice could be released at scale, accelerating climate change. In turn, warmer temperatures would lead to further permafrost loss.
Melting ice, on land and at sea, destroys animal habitats for species like polar bears and Arctic foxes, which use their snowy white coats as camouflage either to hunt for food or avoid predators.
Climate scientist Dr Boris K Biskaborn of the Alfred Wegener Institute polar and marine research centre found Arctic continuous permafrost ground temperatures increased by 0.39℃ between 2008 and 2016. A similar trend was found in Antarctica, with increases of 0.29℃ over the same period.
Warming ground temperatures are an indication of the extent of climate change. Biskaborn predicts melting permafrost could lead to increased Arctic air temperatures of up to 0.27℃ by 2100.
Svalbard's seed bank exists to protect the world's most valuable natural resources from catastrophe. If we want to avoid making multiple withdrawals, tackling the underlying causes of climate change is a priority.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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That's the takeaway from a study published in Nature Communications in October, which found that the tidal rhythms played a role in the intensity and frequency of methane releases from sediments in the Arctic Ocean. Lower tides meant more intense releases, while higher tides reduced the height and volume of gas releases.
"It is the first time that this observation has been made in the Arctic Ocean," study coauthor and researcher at the Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate (CAGE) at the UiT-The Arctic University of Norway Jochen Knies said in a CAGE press release. "It means that slight pressure changes can release significant amounts of methane. This is a game-changer and the highest impact of the study."
Methane release from natural sources is tricky to quantify and constrain, especially in the Arctic Ocean. It turns… https://t.co/RoRiV0g8aH— CAGE (@CAGE)1607935502.0
To achieve their results, the researchers put a device called a piezometer in Arctic Ocean sediment about a meter (approximately 3.28 feet) from the seafloor and left it there for four days. The piezometer measured the pressure and temperature of sediment pores every hour and revealed that the upward and downward movement of gas is linked to pressure, which is in turn determined by the tides.
"Low tide means less of such hydrostatic pressure and higher intensity of methane release. High tide equals high pressure and lower intensity of the release," study coauthor Andreia Plaza Faverola, also of CAGE, said in the press release.
The findings have two major implications.
The first concerns the amount of methane the Arctic Ocean may be releasing into the atmosphere. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Once released into the atmosphere, it has 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide before it decays to the latter after one or two decades, Scientific American pointed out. It is currently generated by human activities like fossil fuel production and transportation, livestock agriculture and the decay of organic material in landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But there is also concern that, as the planet warms, it could be released by the thawing of frozen gas deposits in the Arctic Ocean known as hydrates. Preliminary data released by Arctic scientists in October revealed wide methane release off the Eastern Siberian coast, though other scientists urged caution as the findings have not yet been peer reviewed.
Now, Plaza Faverola says the new study provides evidence that Arctic Ocean methane release is occurring more often than previous observation techniques have revealed.
"This tells us that gas release from the seafloor is more widespread than we can see using traditional sonar surveys. We saw no bubbles or columns of gas in the water. Gas burps that have a periodicity of several hours won't be identified unless there is a permanent monitoring tool in place, such as the piezometer," Plaza Faverola said in the CAGE release.
Knies noted that the methane releases his team studied occured in the deep ocean, where they are less likely to reach the atmosphere and contribute to the climate crisis. But Knies suggested the study should be repeated studying shallower sediments.
"What we found was unexpected and the implications are big," Knies said in the release.
The second implication has to do with how global warming will interact with sea level rise to influence Arctic Ocean methane release. While higher temperatures mean greater thawing, the fact that greater water pressure reduces the height and volume of gas releases may mean that sea level rise partly counterbalances the impact of warming.
"Earth systems are interconnected in ways that we are still deciphering, and our study reveals one of such interconnections in the Arctic: The moon causes tidal forces, the tides generate pressure changes, and bottom currents that in turn shape the seafloor and impact submarine methane emissions. Fascinating!" Plaza Faverola said in conclusion.
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Thirty of the world's largest investors, who together control $5 trillion in assets, have pledged to cut the greenhouse gas emissions of their portfolios by as much as 29 percent in five years.
The investors, who include Allianz, the Church of England and the California Public Employees' Retirement System, are all part of the UN convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance. The group formed in 2019 with the goal of reducing the emissions of their investment portfolios to net zero by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. On the road to that goal, the group announced their 2025 Target Setting Protocol Tuesday, which includes the goal to reduce emissions across members' portfolios by 16 to 29 percent of 2019 levels by 2025.
"According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report, every year of postponed emissions peak means that deeper and faster cuts will be required," UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative leader Eric Usher said in a press release. "The Target-Setting Protocol represents world-leading progress on the required emissions reductions from some of the biggest investors in the world."
To reach their goal, the investors will pinpoint the 20 companies most responsible for their portfolios' emissions, The Guardian explained. They will also set specific targets for highly emitting sectors like oil and gas, transport and utilities.
Some financial institutions have acted on the climate crisis by divesting entirely from certain companies or refusing to fund certain ventures. For example, Norway's largest private asset manager divested in August from companies that lobby against climate action or make more than five percent of their revenue from coal or oil sands. The Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance, however, takes a different approach, seeking instead to engage with the companies it invests in in order to push the overall economy towards a just transition to renewable energy.
"Although decarbonization of portfolios could be easily achieved by selling carbon intensive investments, it is highly questionable if such actions alone would have a positive impact on the real economy," the group explained in the press release. "Additionally, it might undermine Alliance members ability to engage with these [companies] to effect reductions in the real economy."
Part of that engagement means encouraging companies to share regular reports on their climate actions and to craft plans to green their business, according to The Guardian. The alliance itself will also release yearly reports, and plans to grow its membership to 200 or the assets under its control to $25 trillion.
"Alliance members start out by changing themselves and then reach out to various companies to work on the change of their businesses," Alliance Chair Günther Thallinger, who serves on the board of management for Allianz SE, said in the press release. "Reaching net-zero is not simply reducing emissions and carrying on with the business models of today. There are profound changes and opportunities that will come from the net-zero economy, we see new business opportunities and strong wins for those who are ready to lead."
The alliance is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC's) broader Race to Zero campaign, in which cities, companies and investors work to increase the number of entities that have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier, Business Green reported. The plan is to have as many as possible commit before the next major UN climate summit, the delayed COP26.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Norway's largest hedge fund divested from companies that lobby against climate action. The article has been updated to identify the fund as Norway's largest private asset manager.
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On Wednesday, governments responsible for 40 percent of the world's coastlines and 20 percent of global fisheries announced a series of new commitments that comprise the world's biggest ocean sustainability initiative.
The fourteen countries, which combined control an ocean area the size of Africa, committed to sustainably manage their national waters by 2025 and encouraged all other nations to join them by 2030.
In practice, this means that these governments will pursue a range of strategies, including reducing shipping emissions, reducing marine pollution, scaling up offshore renewable energy, and taking a precautionary approach to deep sea mining.
"You can't just prosper, prosper, prosper—fish more, drill more," Jane Lubchenco, an environmental scientist, former NOAA administrator, and one of the panel's expert co-chairs, told Fast Company.
"You have to do it in a way that minimizes the impacts on the ecosystem and maximizes the equitable benefit."
The new sustainable ocean agenda, if achieved worldwide, would dramatically increase food and renewable energy production, and contribute a fifth of the greenhouse gas pollution reductions required to stay within 1.5°C of global warming.
For a deeper dive:
The Guardian, Fast Company, Nature, Deutsche Welle, BBC Radio, Undercurrent News, Seafood Source, National Geographic; Commentary: Nature, Jane Lubchenco, Peter Haugan, Mari Elka Pangestu comment, Nature, Erna Solberg op-ed
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By Dana Drugmand
An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
This is the first climate lawsuit to be filed with the international court in Strasbourg, France, and campaigners say the decision represents a major step towards a potential landmark judgment.
‘Protect Our Future’
Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) are bringing the case with nonprofit law firm Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), arguing that none of the countries have sufficiently ambitious targets to cut their emissions.
Portugal recently sweltered through its hottest July in 90 years and has seen a rise in devastating heatwaves and wildfires over recent years due to rising temperatures. Four of the applicants live in Leiria, one of the regions worst-hit by the forest fires that killed more than 120 people in 2017.
Responding to the development, André Oliveira, 12, said: "It gives me lots of hope to know that the judges in the European Court of Human Rights recognise the urgency of our case."
"But what I'd like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future. Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever."
"This is an appropriate response from the Court given the scale and imminence of the threat these young people face from the climate emergency," he added.
By suing the 33 countries all together, the youths aim to compel these national governments to act more aggressively on climate through a single court order, which would potentially be more effective than pursuing separate lawsuits or lobbying policymakers in each country.
If successful, the defendant countries would be legally bound not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change including those of their multinational enterprises.
The countries targeted include all of the European Union member states as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, none of which are currently aligned with Paris agreement target to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).
Climate Action Tracker rates most of Europe as "insufficient" in terms of its emissions reduction policies based on the Paris target, while Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are assessed as "critically insufficient" – meaning they are on track for a warming of 4 degrees C or higher.
The European Union has pledged to slash its emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. But the Portuguese youth plaintiffs are calling for cuts of at least 65 percent by 2030, a level that European climate campaigners say is necessary to meet the 1.5 degrees warming limit.
The 33 countries must each respond to the youths' complaint by the end of February, before lawyers representing the plaintiffs will respond to the points of defense.
"Nothing less than a 65 percent reduction by 2030 will be enough for the EU member states to comply with their obligations to the youth-applicants and indeed countless others," Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN, said in a press release.
"These brave young people have cleared a major hurdle in their pursuit of a judgment which compels European governments to accelerate their climate mitigation efforts."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Earth had its second-warmest year on record in 2020, just 0.02 degrees Celsius (0.04°F) behind the record set in 2016, and 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.76°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA reported January 14.
NASA and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service rated 2020 as tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record (NASA rates the margin of error at .05 degrees C); the Japan Meteorological Agency rated 2020 as the warmest year on record. Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of different ways they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.
Global ocean temperatures in 2020 were the third-warmest on record, global land temperatures the warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in 2020 for the lowest eight kilometers of the atmosphere were the second-warmest or warmest in the 42-year record, according to the University of Alabama, Huntsville and Remote Sensing Solutions, respectively.
The Northern Hemisphere had its warmest year on record in 2020 and the Southern Hemisphere its fifth-warmest. By continent, here are the 2020 temperature rankings:
Europe: first warmest
Asia: first warmest
South America: second warmest
Africa: fourth warmest
Australia (and Oceania): fourth warmest
North America: 10th warmest
As detailed in a January 12 post at this site by Bob Henson, 2020 for the U.S. was the fifth-warmest year in history going back to 1895. Ten states had their second-warmest year on record and four had their third-warmest year. None of the contiguous 48 states was below-average in temperature in 2020.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for 2020, the second-warmest year the globe has seen since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-high annual temperatures over land and ocean surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, southern North America, South America, and across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. No land or ocean areas were record cold for the year. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
The remarkable global warmth of 2020 means that the seven warmest years on record since 1880 were the most recent seven years — 2014 through 2020. The near-record global warmth in 2020 is all the more striking since it occurred during the minimum of the weakest solar cycle in more than 100 years and during a year without a strong El Niño. Record-warm global temperatures typically occur during strong El Niño events and when the solar cycle is near its maximum. The warmth of 2020 is a testament to how significantly human-caused global warming is heating the planet.
Figure 2. Total ocean heat content (OHC) in the top 2000 meters from 1958-2020. Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences
Warmest Year on Record for Total Ocean Heat Content
Despite the presence of a prominent La Niña event that began in August, the total heat content of the world's oceans in 2020 was the warmest in recorded human history, according to a January 13, 2021 paper by Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. In the uppermost 2,000 meters of the oceans, there were 211 to 234 zettajoules more heat in 2020 than the 1981-2010 average, and 2020 had 1 to 20 zettajoules more ocean heat content than in 2019 (a zettajoule is one sextillion joules — ten to the 21st power). For comparison, in 2010, humans used a total of 0.5 zettajoules of energy.
More than 90% of the increasing heat from human-caused global warming accumulates in the ocean because of its large heat capacity. The remaining heating manifests as atmospheric warming, a drying and warming landmass, and melting land and sea ice. Increasing ocean heat content causes sea-level rise through thermal expansion of the water and melting of glaciers in contact with the ocean. It also produces stronger and more rapidly intensifying hurricanes; causes more intense precipitation events that can lead to destructive flooding; contributes to "marine heat waves" that damage or destroy coral reefs; and disrupts atmospheric circulation patterns.
A Slew of Heat Records in 2020
International records researcher Maximiliano Herrera keeps the pulse of the planet in remarkable detail, and he logged 11 nations or territories that set or tied their all-time heat records in 2020. That total fell far short of the record of 24 such records in 2019. No nations or territories set or tied an all-time cold record in 2020. Here are the all-time heat records set in 2020:
Colombia: 42.6°C (108.7°F) at Jerusalem, February 19 (tie);
Ghana: 44.0°C (111.2°F) at Navrongo, April 6;
Cuba: 39.2°C (102.6°F) at Palo Seco, April 10; broken again April 11 with 39.3°C (102.7°F) at Veguitas, and again on April 12 with 39.7°C (103.5°F) at Veguitas;
Mayotte, France department: 36.4°C (97.5°F) at Trevani, April 14;
Taiwan: 40.5°C (104.9°F) at Taimali Research Center, July 16;
Lebanon: 45.4°C (113.7°F) at Houche Al Oumara, July 27;
United States: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
Japan: 41.1°C (106.0°F) at Hamamatsu, August 17;
Dominica: 35.7°C (96.3°F) at Canefield Airport, September 15;
Puerto Rico (U.S. territory): 37.8°C (100.0°F ) at Aguirre, September 17; and
Paraguay: 45.5°C (113.9°F ) at Pozo Hondo, September 26.
Among global weather stations having at least 40 years of record-keeping, Herrera documented 348 that exceeded their all-time heat record in 2020; only eight stations with a long-term period of record set an all-time cold record in 2020. For comparison, 632 stations set their all-time heat record in 2019 and 11 their all-time cold record.
Notable Global Heat and Cold Records for 2020
Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, U.S., August 16;
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -66.0°C (-86.8°F) at Summit, Greenland, January 2;
Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.9°C (120.0°F) at Penrith Lakes, Australia, January 4;
Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -80.8°C (-113.4°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, August 16;
Highest 2020 average temperature worldwide: 31.5°C (88.7°F) at Yelimane, Mali, and Matam, Senegal; and
Highest 2020 average temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 29.8°C (85.6°F) at Surabaya Airport, Indonesia, and Wyndham, Australia.
Earth's record for hottest yearly average temperature was 32.9°C (91.2°F) at Makkah, Saudi Arabia, in 2010 and 2016.
126 Additional Monthly National/Territorial Heat Records Beaten or Tied
In addition to the 11 all-time national heat records, 126 other national monthly heat records were set in 2020, for a total of 137 national monthly heat records:
– January (13): Norway, South Korea, Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Dominica, Mexico, Indonesia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Cuba, British Indian Ocean Territory, Singapore;
– February (12): Spain, Antarctica, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, The Bahamas, Switzerland, Maldives, Gambia, Russia, Seychelles, Dominican Republic, U.S. Virgin Islands;
– March (7): Paraguay, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Seychelles, United States, Thailand, Northern Mariana Islands;
– April (14): Paraguay, Niger, St. Barthelemy, Honduras, Guernsey, Haiti, Congo Brazzaville, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, China, Saba, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic;
– May (10): Niger, Greece, Saba, Cyprus, Solomon Islands, Turkey, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Chile, Uzbekistan;
– June (6): Maldives, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, Saba, Kenya, Ghana;
– July (7): Mozambique, U.S. Virgin Islands, Laos, Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Northern Mariana Islands;
– August (6): Solomon Islands, Mexico, Australia, Cocos Islands, Paraguay, U.S. Virgin Islands;
– September (18): Laos, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Mexico, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Botswana, St. Barthelemy, Mayotte, Argentina, Brazil, British Indian Ocean Territory;
– October (11): Algeria, Brazil, Tunisia, Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, Peru, Myanmar, Northern Marianas Islands, Botswana, Maldives;
– November (11): Luxembourg, Finland, Nepal, Mexico, Aland Islands, Sweden, Maldives, Northern Marianas, Taiwan, Swaziland, Sudan; and
– December (11): Mexico, Ghana, Pakistan, Algeria, Qatar, Maldives, Niger, Taiwan, Dominica, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands.
One Monthly National/Territorial Cold Record Beaten or Tied in 2020
– April: St. Eustatius.
An October monthly record reported in Aruba was judged to be unreliable.
Hemispherical and Continental Temperature Records in 2020
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in January: 29.1°C (84.4°F) at Bonriki, Kiribati, January 17;
– Highest maximum temperature ever recorded in North America in January: 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, January 21;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in continental Antarctica and highest February temperature ever recorded in Antarctica plus the surrounding islands: 18.4°C (65.1°F) at Base Esperanza, February 6;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in Antarctica: 7.6°C (45.7°F) at Base Marambio, February 9;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in February in the Northern Hemisphere: 32.0°C (89.6°F) at Yelimane, Mali, February 23;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in April in the Southern Hemisphere: 31.1°C (88.0°F) at Argyle, Australia, April 2;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in Europe: 30.1°C (86.2°F) at Emponas, Greece, May 17;
– Highest minimum temperature ever recorded in May in North America: 35.0°C (95.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), May 28;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in the polar regions: 38.0°C (100.4°F) at Verkhoyansk, Russia, June 20;
– Highest reliable temperature ever recorded on Earth: 54.4°C (129.9°F) at Death Valley, California, August 16;
– Highest reliable minimum temperature ever recorded in August in North America: 40.0°C (104.0°F) at Death Valley, California (U.S.), August 17;
– Highest temperature ever recorded in Australia and Oceana in August: 40.7°C (105.3°F) at Yampi Sound, Australia, August 22; beaten again with 41.2°C (106.2°F) at West Roebuck, Australia, on August 23; and
– Highest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in November: 44.8°C (112.6°F) at San Francisco and Tubares, Mexico, November 5.
December 2020: Earth's Eighth-Warmest December on Record
December 2020 was the eighth-warmest December since global record-keeping began in 1880, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information reported January 14. NASA and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service rated the month as the sixth-warmest December on record, and the Japan Meteorological Agency rated it as the tenth-warmest. Again: Minor differences in rankings often occur among various research groups, the result of different ways they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Sea surface temperature were approximately one degree Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of moderate La Niña conditions. Tropical Tidbits
A Moderate La Niña Event Continues
La Niña conditions remained in the moderate range during December and early January, prompting NOAA to continue its La Niña advisory in a January 14 monthly discussion of the state of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.
Over the past month, sea surface temperatures in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W) have been approximately 1 degree Celsius below average. The threshold for "strong" La Niña conditions is 1.5 degrees Celsius below average; "moderate" La Niña conditions are 1.0-1.5 degrees below average.
Forecasters at NOAA and at Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society expect La Niña conditions will continue through the winter (95% chance during January-February-March), and potentially transition to "neutral" during the spring (55% chance during April-May-June). About half of all La Niña events continue into a second year, but fewer than 20% of the ENSO models predicted that La Niña conditions would last into the summer of 2021.
Arctic Sea Ice: Third-Lowest December Extent on Record
Arctic sea ice extent during December 2020 was the third-lowest in the 42-year satellite record, behind 2016 and 2017, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctic sea ice extent in December 2020 was near-average.
Notable Global Heat and Cold Marks for December 2020
– Hottest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: 41.5°C (106.7°F) at Matam, Senegal, December 2;
– Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -57.5°C (-71.5°F) at Oymykon, Russia, December 29;
– Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 48.7°C (119.7°F) at Birdsville, Australia, December 5; and
– Coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: -44.9°C (-48.8°F) at Dome A, Antarctica, December 3.
Major Weather Stations' New All-Time Heat or Cold Records in December 2020
Among global stations with a record of at least 40 years, two stations set all-time cold records in December, and no stations set an all-time heat record:
Hamamasu (Japan) min. -21.5°C (-6.7°F), December 31; and
Bibai (Japan) min. -26.5°C (-15.7°F), December 31.
Statistics courtesy of Maximiliano Herrera.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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