Current estimates of carbon emissions from melting Arctic permafrost rely on a model of a gradual melt. New research has found abrupt thawing of permafrost which means carbon emissions estimates should be doubled. The rate at which permafrost is thawing in the Arctic is gouging holes in the landscape, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has not considered the phenomenon of thermokarst — the degraded land ravaged by an abrupt thaw. When the permafrost that supports the soil disappears, then hillsides collapse and enormous sinkholes suddenly appear, as Wired reported. The effect runs through meters of permafrost and takes a matter of months or a few years. That upends the traditional models of permafrost thawing, which look at a few centimeters of permafrost melt over several decades. The rapid change to the permafrost shocks the landscape, causing an enormous release of carbon.
"The amount of carbon coming off that very narrow amount of abrupt thaw in the landscape, that small area, is still large enough to double the climate consequences and the permafrost carbon feedback," said study lead author Merritt Turetsky, of the University of Guelph and University of Colorado Boulder, as Wired reported.
The researchers found that abrupt thawing will happen in less than 20 percent of the permafrost zone, "but could affect half of permafrost carbon through collapsing ground, rapid erosion and landslides," the authors wrote in the study.
Not only does an abrupt thaw release carbon, but it also releases a tremendous amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. So, while only 5 percent of the permafrost may experience abrupt thaw at one time, the emissions will be equal to a much larger area going through a gradual thaw. This can rapidly change the landscape drastically.
"Forests can become lakes in the course of a month, landslides occur with no warning, and invisible methane seep holes can swallow snowmobiles whole," Turetsky said in a statement from the University of Colorado Boulder. "Systems that you could walk on with regular hiking boots and that were dry enough to support tree growth when frozen can thaw, and now all of a sudden these ecosystems turn into a soupy mess," Turetsky added.
The most worrisome permafrost is the type that holds a lot of water because frozen water takes up more space than water. When it thaws it loses a lot of volume. "Where permafrost tends to be lake sediment or organic soils, the type of earth material that can hold a lot of water, these are like sponges on the landscape," Turetsky said, as Wired reported. "When you have thaw, we see really dynamic and rapid changes."
Turetsky has witnessed the rapid change in the course of the study. She has seen the melting submerge equipment she has placed to check temperature and methane.
"When you come back in, it's a lake and there's three meters of water at the surface. You have to probably say goodbye to your equipment," she told Wired. "Essentially, we're taking terra firma and making it terra soupy."
The researchers realized that the thermokarst they observed was absent in climate emissions models and tried to account for its output.
"The impacts from abrupt thaw are not represented in any existing global model and our findings indicate that this could amplify the permafrost climate-carbon feedback by up to a factor of two, thereby exacerbating the problem of permissible emissions to stay below specific climate change targets," said David Lawrence, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a coauthor of the study in a press release.
The paper shows the sudden need to include permafrost thaw in all climate models.
"We can definitely stave off the worst consequences of climate change if we act in the next decade," Turetsky said in a press release. "We have clear evidence that policy is going to help the north and thus it's going to help dictate our future climate."
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By Carter Dillard
In 2019 a study linked climate change and hotter weather to early childbirth in the United States. "That's enough to take somebody from what's considered to be a pretty healthy pregnancy into a 'we are somewhat worried' pregnancy," said Alan Barreca, a UCLA professor of environment and human health and lead author of the study.
Prior to this, several studies showed that the most effective way to mitigate the climate crisis, in terms of individual behavior, was to choose a smaller family, and have fewer children than one normally would.
That means the best thing we can do to protect our kids is to change the way we plan families. If you think about that statement, it makes sense: Planning ahead is much more effective than simply reacting to a situation. But as the climate crisis kills off nature and superheats the planet at an accelerating rate, pregnancies give us a beautiful window to see the interconnection in one stark way — at the nexus between the human world and the nonhuman world and the environment we are overrunning — and to consider the best solution to the problem.
There's something hidden in this question that could be preventing the world from taking the effective action necessary to deal with the climate crisis, and related crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. What do we mean by the environment? What are we protecting from the climate crisis, and wish to have in the future? This is called the normative baseline problem, and it halts progress on policy and action as we struggle at the crossroads of different ways to go, between more anthropogenic and less anthropogenic choices.
The baseline problem tends to linger when we consider things in terms of human welfare. If we switch to a framework of human freedom, our preference should become clear. Should infants be free of the ravages of an anthropogenic climate? How can we be free from others without restoring nature, or adhering to the highest environmental baseline possible? Freedom from the power of others is contingent upon restoring nature and the wild — or a baseline based on the absence of human power — and pursuing the highest form of environmental protection. Freedom from others logically starts with the nonhuman world or the rewilding of our planet.
The Baseline Problem
There is a cognitive dissonance prevalent in our species of evaluating something without thinking through the normative baselines, or the things against which we are making the evaluation. For example, I might think that — relative to how I will feel in a minute's time — it is a good idea to gorge on doughnuts right now. If I had really considered how I would feel later, and especially in the long run, and if I keep making the same decision, I would realize that I should have thought beyond the short term, or made the decision at a later point of time.
The world made the baseline mistake in developing environmental policy decades ago, choosing to treat nature as a resource for humans. The baseline was too low and allowed policies that fell short; indeed, it is one of the reasons our planet continues to superheat. We are making that same mistake now with regard to COVID-19, by financially stimulating factory farming and other forms of ecocide that degrade the buffer (or social distancing) between people that our pre-Anthropocene environment offered. Degrading that "natural buffer" exacerbates the risk of pandemics and determines how we can react to them. As the New Republic reported, the next pandemic could be hiding in the Arctic permafrost.
Solving the baseline problem will allow us to trace these calamities — like the unfolding death of the Great Barrier Reef — and help us back to an ultimate source, and, perhaps, to a solution. We can no longer use a baseline for environmental policy that treats nature or the nonhuman world as a human resource. This is the baseline most environmentalists use, and the one that created the Anthropocene era in which we find the world today. A much higher baseline would view nature as something that ought to be a nonhuman habitat or the homes of sentient species who have a right to survive and thrive. This would be a restorative baseline, and the one more consistent with animal liberation. Such a baseline would be most protective against things like climate change and the pandemics it drives. A policy based on this baseline would revolve around ensuring our children have the only environment proven — over millennia‚ that allows humans and all species to thrive. It would seek to eliminate the way the absence of nature in our lives is degrading our psyches.
In other words, what should our environment be like? What environment do our kids deserve? Do we want to raise kids with antisocial personalities who will plague their future generations with the same issues? Can we avoid doing so? Our choices to answer that question are being cut off as corporate and government forces convert nature into profits for the uber-wealthy. Our freedom to choose, our freedom through nature, is being taken away from us.
Whether we and our children have a right to that higher baseline and environment — what our future ought to look like — underlies the climate debates and the culture wars over how we respond to COVID-19. In this context, the debate centers around whether we should prioritize economic growth over preserving nature, and the protection of human life. The debate is between those who favor a lower environmental baseline and economic growth and those who favor a higher baseline and human rights, like the right of the most vulnerable groups to survive the pandemic.
It is a debate that is now being fought out in federal court. The case will determine a lot about what it means to be free in America — for us and for our kids.
Here is the key to that case, something many people miss. In order for us to be free, wilderness — or the relative absence of human domination over nature — has to remain and be protected as a potential baseline against the imposition of human power. Without it, we will lose our point of orientation to know what it means to be free from others. Or as Senator Frank Church of Idaho said in helping to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964, that "without wilderness this country will become a cage." Consider this, and the uber-wealthy class: People like Elon Musk insert themselves between us and nature in order to overrun it and promote increased population growth to accelerate that process. They envision a future in which the world is one big market, or a place they can dominate as the alternative — or the free world of Thoreau — recedes into extinction.
It's hard to think outside of the box when there is no outside, when there is no alternative to a man-made, human-dominated world. Anti-environmental groups who wish to convert the entire world into a market that is owned by a powerful few, who are now even eyeing the resources in space, know and exploit this fact. When I am in nature, in the wild, I can see the box or cage from the outside. I am free because I have that perspective, point of orientation, or baseline. Shouldn't we ensure that our kids have the same choice, and can see from that perspective?
The founders of this country thought so. They understood how crucial it was to have a baseline that could be used to judge and orient ourselves against human power, and wrote it into the Declaration of Independence, using the concept of wilderness and nature as the foundation upon which to build the latticework of the American social contract. They understood that human rights and democracy are objective values and should orient around an external and objective point like nature. In the Declaration, they explicitly assured it to our progeny.
No Freedom Without Nature
In the case, which is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Seeding Sovereignty, two nonprofits, allege that the federal government's policy of ignoring the climate crisis — and in many cases knowingly exacerbating it — violates Americans' right to be free because it is destroying our environment relative to the higher, or restorative baseline. The concept of constitutional freedom can be complex but one way to unpack it is by dividing it into positive and negative freedoms — or the right to be free from the nonconsensual impact other people have on you, and the freedom to choose how to live your life. The plaintiffs allege our government is violating both these freedoms.
Consider the impact of the climate crisis on pregnant women, as the baseline environment, which generations of American mothers have enjoyed, and is now being degraded. Not only are the mothers and their babies subject to the disastrous and long-term impacts of the crisis, but their choices and opportunities in life are being cut off by such long-term impacts. Instead of addressing this issue, the government's policies internationally have shifted the benefits to polluters, who use the wealth to minimize the harm of the crisis upon themselves and expand their own choices in life by ensuring poorer health, additional costs of care, etc. This case argues that because we have the right to be free from others and to live our lives as we choose, such government policies violate the Constitution, which protects us from these and similar intrusions. How can we have a right to be free from relatively nonintrusive things like government surveillance, as the Supreme Court has always held, but not be free from life-threatening ecological impacts? We do have such a right — a right to a natural and restorative environmental baseline, or the highest possible standard of environmental protection, which stands as a wall between us and those who would use nature for their own profits, and prevents from further endangering pregnant women and their children, and exacerbating pandemics in the future. Having that right is what it means to be free.
Taking a Revolutionary Perspective and Acting on It
The case of Juliana v. United States, which was filed in 2015 by 21 youth and organizational plaintiff Earth Guardians, is powerful and differs significantly from other constitutional litigations regarding the climate crisis as it is focused on anthropocentric standards for environmental protection, and relies on the role of nature, and wilderness, in particular, in the American Revolution and the founding of the country. Could the Founding Fathers have imagined that Americans would one day be so impacted by others, that nature would be so degraded, that our own environment threatened pregnancy? How would they have wanted us to react to that threat and our rights to be free from others, and free to live our lives as we see fit, relative to the environmental baseline they enjoyed and extolled as a necessary condition of freedom? This country is built on a promise to our progeny and we know the people who are making it impossible to keep that promise.
This is not about fealty to our Founding Fathers or some other form of nationalism masquerading as liberalism. If we don't orient our political systems around the absence of human power and the restoration of nature, we are adopting a concept of freedom that is incoherent. That, in turn, poses serious legitimacy problems for any form of governance, making consensual political association physically impossible. In other words, without the absence of human power — or nature or the nonhuman world — it becomes impossible to consent to human power. We cannot allow ourselves to simply embrace — and foist upon future generations — a world where we cannot be free from others' harmful influence, in which freedom from the power of others does not exist and political liberty is replaced by a degrading form of consumerist freedom. In such a world, freedom is more economic than political, and the average person's role is reduced to being a buyer and seller in a world market rather than that of an empowered citizen in free democracies surrounded by nature. Those promoting such an emaciated form of freedom, and blocking family planning reforms that would ensure people are empowered as truly free and equal might be thought of as pre-constitutional, but it is preventing the intergenerational constituting or coming together of people as truly self-determining.
The move away from a lower or resource-based baseline has begun, in part, with the recognition that humans and the environment are inextricably linked, which is a partial move away from the view of nature as a resource and separate from humanity. The next steps involve understanding exactly what we mean by the concept of nature and why we value it, and moving from the descriptive realm to the normative or evaluative realm — the realm of law and human rights — where we can articulate exactly how nature should be part of us and part of who we as a species should be. And when it comes to taking action, a useful perspective would be understanding that the fight for nature involves liberating the most vulnerable entities in the world — future generations and nonhumans. This involves universal reform of our family planning system. One effective option would be to liberate them by seizing the resources of those at the top of the power and population pyramid that Nobel laureate Steven Chu recognized and using those resources to fund universal family planning programs that promote smaller and more equitable families. And while we have been taught that countries like the United States were "constituted" by god-like wealthy white men in the past, new scholarship argues that this idea is nonsense and that if we assume political power derives from actual people, we are constantly either constituting legitimate democracies or deconstituting into illegitimate "pre-constitutional" political states, depending on the family planning systems at play.
Do you think the idea of linking equity and a universal ethic of smaller families to population and family planning sounds far-fetched? Others, like Michael Moore and David Brooks, are already making the connection in the mainstream.
The war on nature has turned into a war against us and our kids. We cannot afford to make the baseline mistake in the face of threats like the climate crisis, COVID-19, mass extinction and many other interrelated catastrophes. That is what the case is about: arguing that our fundamental human rights include a right and responsibility to nature, which in essence means seeing ourselves as guests of nature, and not its master. It is an argument that completely gels with changes around the country to limit destructive and mythical property rights, such as those over animals and over specific parts of our environment, in favor of a form of personhood that would protect the most vulnerable entities in the world.
And whether courts recognize that right to be free in nature or not, the tide of those willing to fight for the highest standard of environmental protection, and to protect those most vulnerable will continue to rise all the way up to the doorsteps of our oppressors — specifically those who push for a lower environmental baseline and economic growth over our right and responsibility to nature.
Carter Dillard is the founder of HavingKids.org. He served as an Honors Program Attorney at the United States Department of Justice and served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. He has begun to implement the transition to child-centric "Fair Start" family planning, both as a member of the Steering Committee of the Population Ethics and Policy Research Project, and as a visiting scholar of the Uehiro Center, both at the University of Oxford.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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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.
By Jessica Corbett
Climate action advocates and wildlife defenders celebrated Monday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration's approval of Liberty, a proposed offshore oil-drilling project in federal Arctic waters that opponents warned would endanger local communities, animals, and the environment.
"This is a huge victory for polar bears and our climate," declared Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "This project was a disaster waiting to happen that should never have been approved. I'm thrilled the court saw through the Trump administration's attempt to push this project through without carefully studying its risks."
Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, similarly applauded the ruling, saying that "thankfully, the court put the health of our children and our planet over oil company profits."
Both groups joined with fellow advocacy organizations Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, and Pacific Environment for a lawsuit challenging the Hilcorp Alaska project, which was approved in 2018. The energy company planned to construct an artificial island, wells, and a pipeline along the Alaska coast in the Beaufort Sea.
BREAKING: In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center and allies, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit… https://t.co/6VuTXp84qH— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1607382461.0
Jeremy Lieb, an attorney at the nonprofit law organization Earthjustice, which represented the advocacy groups, praised the court for rejecting the administration's "inaccurate and misleading analysis of this project's impact to the climate." The court determined that the administration hadn't properly considered Liberty's climate impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, specifically taking issue with an economic model claiming the project would benefit the climate.
"In the face of a worsening climate crisis, the federal government should not be in the business of approving irresponsible offshore oil development in the Arctic," Lieb said. "The world cannot afford to develop new oil prospects anywhere, but especially in the Arctic where warming is already taking such a significant toll."
Research has shown that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world, which has devastating effects on its human and animal inhabitants — including caribou, polar bears, reindeer, and walruses — and the planet more broadly. As one expert put it last year: "What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic."
Calling the court ruling "a victory for the planet and its people," Greenpeace senior research specialist Tim Donaghy said that it "affirms that the U.S. must take steps to transition off of oil and gas if we are to have any hope of halting the climate crisis."
"If we are going to create a just, green, and peaceful future, it must start with rejecting destructive projects like Liberty," he explained, before referencing President-elect Joe Biden's win over President Donald Trump. Ahead of the November election, climate advocates had rallied around Biden while pushing him to embrace bolder policies.
"Climate action must happen now and the Biden administration needs to keep its promise to halt any new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters," Donaghy said.
BREAKING: A federal court just sided with us in court, shooting down down a proposed oil project in the Arctic for… https://t.co/OuAKQUoQWI— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))1607378030.0
In addition to the climate finding, the court also determined that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to sufficiently analyze Liberty's impact on polar bears, in violation of the Endangered Species Act — a decision that was welcomed by Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director at Defenders of Wildlife.
"Today's news is a victory for Alaska's imperiled polar bears that are threatened by oil and gas development throughout virtually all of their terrestrial denning critical habitat — in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and in the nearshore marine environment as well," she said, vowing to "continue our fight against destructive oil and gas drilling and for the survival of polar bears in the Arctic."
Despite the win for the region's polar bears in terms of offshore drilling, the animals are still threatened by the Trump administration's ongoing effort to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas extraction — despite opposition from local Indigenous people as well as environmentalists.
The administration on Monday proposed an "incidental harassment authorization" that would allow energy companies to disrupt polar bears while looking for oil and gas deposits. According to Reuters:
The Fish and Wildlife Service said that no polar bears are expected to be injured or killed during seismic operations, some of which are scheduled to take place next month, and expects disturbances to impact only a few bears.
But several veteran Arctic scientists and environmentalists in Alaska have warned against seismic operations — which can involve blasting to produce sonic images of underground formations. They argue the testing will upset wildlife and that the heavy machinery and activity involved in the work will damage tundra and speed up the thaw of permafrost.
As Monsell concluded: "The Trump administration seems determined to push polar bears further down the path to extinction before leaving office."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
But not this year. For the first time since records have been kept, open water still laps this coastline in late October though snow is already falling there.
"In one sense, it's shocking, but on the other hand, it's not surprising," said Walt Meier, a research scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Over the past 40 years, unprecedented climate change-driven events such as this have become the new normal in the Arctic — which is heating up far faster than the rest of the planet.
While weather patterns at the top of the world vary, the overall changes are dramatic and occurring so rapidly that the region may be entering a "new Arctic" climate regime, says Laura Landrum, an oceanographer with Colorado's National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The Arctic is transitioning from a mostly frozen state into an entirely new climate — and impacting the entire planet, she said.
Meier calls the Arctic the "bellweather of climate change" because it's a place where a small bump in temperature has real impact: a change from -.5°C to .5°C (31°F to 33°F) is the difference between ice skating and swimming, he said, while a couple of degrees warmer in Florida may not even be noticed.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
An Extreme Year in a Region Known for Extremes
It's been quite a year in Siberia — on land, and off the Arctic coast. The first six months were extraordinarily warm and the sea ice began melting early. By May, fires burned in permafrost zones that are usually frozen year-round. In June, temperatures hit a record-breaking 38°C (100°F), and by September, blazes incinerated about 14 million hectares (54,000 square miles) of tundra — an area the size of Greece.
A combination of changing climate and quirky weather are now preventing this fall's freeze-up. Siberian sea temperatures are higher than usual because of this year's extreme climate events. The heat wave warmed the many rivers that feed into the Arctic Ocean and also triggered an early melt-out. Without ice and snow that acts like a mirror — reflecting the sun's heat back into the atmosphere — the dark ocean absorbed extra warmth over the summer. Much of the remaining ice disintegrated. Then in September, unusually strong, warm winds blew in from the south, pushing any newly formed ice out to sea.
In the past, a shift in the winds wouldn't have mattered much. Back in the 1980s, Igor Polyakov, a climate scientist at the University of Alaska, remembers being part of expeditions that landed small seaplanes on sea ice to study the Siberian Arctic. He described the Laptev Sea as a solid, glaring white landscape punctuated by pastel-tinged ice: rose-colored, light blue and green. Since the regions' deeply cut gulfs and bays are located in shallow continental shelf waters, they mostly stayed frozen.
But by summer 2002, sea ice was less stable, and today, ice breakers can travel the region through open water. "The changes are dramatic," he said. "It happened in front of our eyes. Now, in the summer, there's no ice at all for thousands of kilometers, sometimes as far north as the 85th parallel." That's five degrees from the North Pole.
In the 1980s, about 80% of the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas were frozen in thick, "old ice" that mostly survived the summer melt, said James Overland, an oceanographer with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who has studied the Arctic for decades. "Now much of that has to refreeze each winter. We did not expect to see this so soon."
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
A Dangerous Cycle
Across the Arctic, ice is now thawing earlier, freezing later, thinning and — in many places — disappearing altogether.
Thinner ice is less resilient. Picture ice cubes in a glass. Thick chunks last longer and melt slower than ice chips and slivers. All disintegrate faster in warmer liquid. This is a huge problem in the Arctic, where vast stretches of open blue water absorb the sun's heat during summer, when the sun never really sets. Those warm waters flow beneath the ice to melt it from below.
This year, the overall health of the sea ice was bleak: the end-of-summer minimum was tracking at the second-lowest amount of sea ice in 42 years, Landrum said. Measurements by NASA and the NSIDC found it was about 2.6 million square kilometers (1 million square miles) lower than the average from 1981 to 2000. NASA satellite data shows an overall downward trend in Arctic ice is averaging 12.9% a year.
This year's average global temperature will be among the warmest on record, researchers say. Current models predict the Arctic will be ice-free in summertime by 2040 – 2050. Overland thinks this so-called Blue Ocean Event (BOE) might come even sooner.
Many factors are colliding that could speed massive melt. New feedback loops continue to emerge, compounding and accelerating changes. For example, early climate models didn't factor in methane — a potent greenhouse gas — that's pouring into the atmosphere from melting permafrost. The tundra is now thought to be emitting 300-600 million tons of carbon yearly, the equivalent of driving between 65 and 129 million cars for a year.
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
Likewise, thick ice that withstood high winds and storms decades ago, now is thin and can be severely damaged by such storms — amplifying one-off extreme weather events. Then there's "Atlantification," the increasing intrusion of salty, temperate Atlantic Ocean waters into chillier Arctic seas.
The changes in the Laptev Sea, long known as an Arctic "ice factory," add another concerning factor. In the past, sea ice created there typically moved with wind and ocean currents, traveling over the North Pole towards Greenland. Depending on changing conditions, that ice then spent years trapped in a slowly spinning gyre in the Beaufort Sea; ended up off the Greenland coast; or piled up on the north shore of the Canadian Archipelago, building ice ridges that towered 3 to 9 meters (12 to 30 feet) high — multi-year ice that resisted melting.
That system no longer works as before, with the Laptev Sea now turning to blue water every summer, the "ice factory" largely shut down, and multi-year Arctic sea ice at a record low — and still dropping.
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
An Interconnected Planet
The polar bear has become the poster child for climate change impacts on wildlife. But Ursus maritimus isn't the only victim; cascading affects throughout the Arctic food chain are impacting everything from plankton to seals, globally important fisheries species like pollock, on up to whales, musk ox and other cold climate mammals.
In Siberia, reindeer are starving in wintertime. "Weather whiplash" is bringing rain, in what should be the frigid dead of polar night. The falling rain freezes atop the snowpack, forming a layer of thick ice that makes it impossible for reindeer to dig down to grass and plants below; many now die of hunger. These once-rare Arctic warm spells are now commonplace.
Indigenous people are also suffering. Without proper ice platforms, it's growing harder for them to hunt for the walrus and whales that sustain them. Coastlines are eroding as sediments held together by permafrost become unglued. And rising seas are inundating coastal villages.
Worse, rapidly escalating climate change in the Far North is being exported to the rest of the world: The Earth's biomes are interconnected. "You can't alter one system without affecting others," explained Mark Serreze, a research scientist for the NSIDC. "What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic, and the changes are unfolding faster than our ability to keep up with them." Serreze, in his 2018 book framing the problem, dubbed the north polar region as, "The Brave New Arctic."
Serreze notes that the Arctic covers a massive area; it's the size of the lower 48 U.S. states combined. Amplified Arctic warming alters global weather, and impacts the rest of the planet, changing weather, ocean patterns and the jet stream.
Intense storms, droughts and heat waves — once every 100- or 500-year extreme weather events — are now occurring regularly around the globe, with devastating impacts on people, economies, and ecosystems. This year alone, for example, saw massive record wildfires in California, Colorado, Siberia, and Brazil, and no one yet knows how this autumn's delayed Arctic re-freeze might impact the planet's upcoming weather.
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
Julienne Stroeve, who specializes in sea ice research at NSIDC, adds another potential serious impact to the list: threats to our food supply. "What's predicted to happen in agricultural sectors is not good news ... We're going to be living on a very different planet if we keep adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere," she said. "We're conducting this blind experiment, and we don't yet know the real implications.
Stroeve is desperate to inform people of the urgency: "How do you sell climate change to be as much of an emergency as COVID-19? Except that it will kill a lot more people."
She believes we can rally. If we can produce a COVID-19 vaccine in record time, and heal the ozone layer through the Montreal Protocol, Stroeve thinks "we have the ability to change the course of this train."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Stuart Braun
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the dire threat of climate change Wednesday in a speech on the state of the planet delivered at Columbia University in New York.
"The state of the planet is broken, humanity is waging war on nature," he said. "Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury."
Referring to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) provisional report, The State of the Global Climate 2020, that was released Wednesday, he reiterated that the last decade was the hottest on record, and that ice sheet decline, permafrost melting, vast climate fires and unprecedented hurricanes were just some of the consequences.
"Stop the plunder," Guterres added, referring to the ongoing deforestation that is also fueling climate change. "And start the healing."
Climate policies have failed to rise to the challenge, Guterres said, noting that emissions in 2020 are 60% higher than in 1990. "We are heading for a temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (by 2100)."
Yet the secretary-general sees hope for 2021, saying it's time to "build a truly global coalition towards carbon neutrality."
This goal will require net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. More than 110 countries are already committed to carbon neutrality by this date, he noted, representing more than 65% of emissions. Central to achieving this goal will be to encourage renewable energy by instituting a carbon price and phasing out fossil fuel financing and subsidies.
"There is no vaccine for the planet," he said regarding the need to build a global climate action movement.
Last Six Years Are Six Hottest on Record
The WMO state of climate report referenced by Guterres confirms that 2020 is currently placed as the second warmest for the year-to-date when compared to equivalent periods in the past.
The annual climate scorecard details a litany of symptoms of a heating planet: a high frequency of severe droughts, unparalleled major hurricanes, retreating sea ice, heavy rain and flooding across Asia and Africa and extensive marine heat waves.
Headlining the global climate report is confirmation in 2020 that global heating is accelerating. Though 2016 remains the warmest year on record to date, it kicked off with a very strong El Niño warm phase, via which hotter oceans elevate global temperatures.
Four years later, these peak temperatures have continued, despite a cooler La Niña weather phase that started in September, and comparatively weak El Niño conditions. The global mean temperature for January to October 2020 was around 1.2°C above the 1850–1900 baseline.
"With 2020 on course to be one of the three warmest years on record, the past six years, 2015–2020, are likely to be the six warmest on record," states the WMO climate report.
In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures were more than 5 degrees Celsius above average in 2020, reaching as high as 38 Celsius at Verkhoyansk in late June, provisionally the highest known temperature anywhere north of the Arctic Circle.
"We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the U.S. West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe."
Despite Pandemic, Greenhouse Gases Still Rising
The lockdowns implemented to slow the coronavirus pandemic have only resulted in a "temporary reduction in emissions" in 2020, according to the report. As a result, there will be a "practically indistinguishable" slowing of the fast-increasing CO2 concentrations recorded in 2019.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations generated largely by fossil fuel burning reached new highs in 2019, with carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) levels rising to a larger degree from 2018 (2.6 parts per million) than the increases from the previous two years.
"Real-time data from specific locations, including Mauna Loa (Hawaii) and Cape Grim (Tasmania) indicate that levels of CO2, CH4 and N2O continued to increase in 2020," stated the report.
This increase comes at a time when there should be rapid cuts in emissions in line with the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C.
Global Heating Symptoms Getting Worse
The report also notes that sea levels have risen at a higher rate year-on-year due partly to increased melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
Meanwhile, over 80% of the ocean area has experienced at least one marine heat wave in 2020. In addition, 43% of the ocean experienced marine heat waves that were classified as "strong."
2019 also saw the highest ocean heat content on record.
Heavy rain and extensive flooding affected large parts of Africa and Asia in 2020, especially across much of the Sahel, the Greater Horn of Africa, the India subcontinent and neighboring areas, China, Korea and Japan. With 30 named storms (as of November 17, 2020), the north Atlantic hurricane season recorded the highest ever number of named storms.
Moreover, severe drought affected much of the interior of South America in 2020, with the badly affected areas including northern Argentina, Paraguay and western border areas of Brazil.
"Climate and weather events have triggered significant population movements and have severely affected vulnerable people on the move, including in the Pacific region and Central America," the climate report said.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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A 21,000 tonne (approximately 23,000 U.S. ton) oil spill that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare an emergency last week has now reached a pristine Arctic lake, and there are concerns it could contaminate the Arctic Ocean.
Environmentalists and local officials have raised alarms about the disaster, which they say is the worst of its kind in the Russian Arctic, according to BBC News. So far, the oil has spread 12 miles from the initial spill site, a fuel tank that collapsed May 29.
"The fuel has got into Pyasino as well. This is a beautiful lake about 70 kilometres (45 miles) long. Naturally, it has both fish and a good biosphere," Krasnoyarsk region governor Alexander Uss told Interfax news agency Tuesday, as AFP reported.
A catastrophe is taking place right before our eyes. The diesel spill in Norilsk has become the first accident of such a scale in the Arctic. 20 thousand tonnes of diesel fuel have been spilled in local rivers. pic.twitter.com/PXEXkTuACE— Greenpeace Russia (@greenpeaceru) June 4, 2020
Lake Pyasino flows into the Pyasina river, which in turn flows into the Arctic Ocean's Kara Sea, BBC News explained.
Greenpeace Russia director Vladimir Chuprov told AFP it would be a "disaster" if 10,000 tonnes (approximately 11,000 U.S. tons) of fuel or more had reached the lake. He said he feared it would reach the Kara Sea as well, which would have "harmful consequences."
Uss, however, was committed to preventing that from happening.
"Now it's important to prevent it from getting into the Pyasina river, which flows north. That should be possible," he said, as BBC News reported.
The news that the spill had reached the lake came a week after a spokeswoman for the team in charge of cleanup efforts told AFP the spill had been contained.
But regional officials told a different story.
"We can see a large concentration of diluted oil products beyond the booms," Krasnoyarsk region deputy environment minister Yulia Gumenyuk said, according to BBC News.
Norilsk Nickel, the company that ultimately owns the power plant where the tank collapsed, denied that any oil had reached the lake.
"Our samples at the Pyasino Lake show 0.0 percent contamination results," Sergei Dyachenko, the company's first vice-president and chief operating officer, said in a Tuesday video conference reported by AFP.
He also said it was unlikely the fuel would reach the ocean.
"The distance from Pyasino Lake to the Kara Sea is more than 5,000 kilometres (approximately 3,107 miles)," he said.
The spill has also contaminated rivers and soil. So far, cleanup efforts have removed 812,000 cubic feet of contaminated dirt, according to BBC News.
"[The spill] will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks," Vasily Yablokov of Greenpeace Russia said, according to BBC News.
The polluted Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers may take ten years to clean, The Guardian reported.
Norilsk Nickel has said the collapse that caused the spill was probably due to melting permafrost, but environmental groups have accused the company of using the climate crisis to downplay its own culpability.
"It's an attempt to write off Nornickel's failure in risk management and ecological safety on the fashionable topic of climate change," Alexey Knizhnikov of the World Wildlife Fund told The Guardian. "The main factor is mismanagement."
Greenpeace said it had reported on the threat posed by thawing permafrost to oil and gas infrastructure in the fast-warning Russian Arctic as far back as 2009. But Dyachenko said in a conference call Tuesday that the company had not been monitoring the permafrost before the accident.
"It's not possible that the company did not know about [thawing permafrost], but it is possible that the company used a dangerous facility irresponsibly," Greenpeace Russia's Yablokov told The Guardian.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into a river in the Arctic Circle.
The accident is the second largest oil spill in terms of volume in modern Russian history, the Word Wildlife Fund (WWF) told AFP, as BBC News reported. The oil spread around 7.5 miles from the fuel site, turning the Ambarnaya river bright red, and contaminated a total of 135 square miles.
"The incident led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come," Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement reported by CNN. "We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals."
Russia's environmental ministry Rosprirodnadzor is already reporting contaminant levels in the water that are tens of thousands of times higher than the safe limit.
"[T]here has never been such an accident in the Arctic zone, " former deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor Oleg Mitvol told BBC News.
Greenpeace compared the disaster to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
There was a huge fuel spill near the city of Norilsk in Russia. Putin apparently found out 2 days after and a state of emergency has been ordered. Last week a fuel reservoir at a power plant collapsed https://t.co/35j5VfR9Sf— Olga Lautman (@olgaNYC1211) June 4, 2020
The spill occurred last Friday when a fuel tank at a power plant near the city of Norilsk in Siberia collapsed. The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world's No. 1 producer of nickel and palladium. Its factories are also the reason why Norilsk is one of the most polluted places on Earth, The Guardian reported.
The plant initially attempted to clean the spill on their own and did not tell authorities about the incident for two days, Ministry of Emergency Situations head Evgeny Zinichev said, according to CNN.
Alexei Knizhnikov of WWF said his group was the first to inform cleanup specialists of the spill, according to The Guardian.
"These are huge volumes," he said. "It was difficult for them to cover it up."
The governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, where the spill took place, told Putin he only learned of it Sunday from social media posts.
"Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact? Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Are you quite healthy over there?" Putin scolded Sergei Lipin, the head of NTEK, as the subsidiary that owns the plant is called.
Norilsk Nickel countered that NTEK had alerted authorities in a "timely and proper" fashion.
The Russian government has opened three criminal investigations into the incident and detained one plant employee.
The emergency declaration will increase resources for the cleanup. However, the river will be difficult to clean because it is too shallow for barges and in a remote area with few roads.
"Right now we can assume ... that due to abnormally mild summer temperatures recorded in the past years, permafrost could have melted and the pillars under the platform could have sank," Norilsk Nickel chief operating officer Sergey Dyachenko told the TASS news agency, as CNN reported.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
Northern Asia and Siberia have recorded temperatures on average more than four degrees Celsius above normal during the first four months of 2020. That is the most above normal of any region so far this year.
An "astonishing" heat wave is gripping Siberia, where temperatures are hotter than they are in D.C. Temperature anomalies are about 40 deg F above average. Oh, and have we mentioned the possibility of "zombie fires?" Yeah, that's a thing. https://t.co/gKpgnvhF74 pic.twitter.com/3ivj1m0ZSO— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) May 22, 2020
In late May, Siberia was hotter than Washington, DC and recorded temperatures about 40 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
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Arctic Ocean sediments are full of frozen gases known as hydrates, and scientists have long been concerned about what will happen when and if the climate crisis induces them to thaw. That is because one of them is methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey has listed Arctic hydrate destabilization as one of the four most serious triggers for even more rapid climate change.
Now, scientists onboard the Russian research ship R/V Akademik Keldysh have told The Guardian that there is evidence this destabilization has already begun off Siberia's eastern coast.
"The discovery of actively releasing shelf slope hydrates is very important and unknown until now," vessel chief scientist Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Guardian. "This is a new page."
The international team of 60 researchers said Tuesday they were the first to observe methane release over a wide area of the continental slope off of Eastern Siberia. They observed bubbles being released from ocean sediment at six different observation points over a 150 kilometer (approximately 93 miles) by 10 kilometer (approximately 6 miles) stretch of the slope.
They also recorded methane concentrations of as much as 1,600 nanomoles per liter at a depth of around 300 meters (approximately 984 feet) on the slope of the Laptev Sea. That's 400 times higher a concentration than would be expected in normal circumstances.
While the methane bubbles are still being absorbed by the ocean, the researchers did measure methane concentrations near the surface that were four to eight times higher than normal, and said this methane would make it into the atmosphere.
"At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered. This East Siberian slope methane hydrate system has been perturbed and the process will be ongoing," Swedish scientist Örjan Gustafsso of Stockholm University told The Guardian.
This isn't the first alarming find that Semitelov's expedition has turned up. Last fall, they released images of a methane fountain bubbling up from the floor of the East Siberian Sea, The Moscow Times reported.
However, the researchers urged caution in responding to their findings. They stressed that they needed to be confirmed once the expedition is over and the data can be reviewed and written up in a peer reviewed journal.
"Potentially they can have serious climate consequences," Semitelov told The Guardian of his discoveries, "but we need more study before we can confirm that."
Scientists who were not involved with the study responded with skepticism to The Guardian story, The Week reported.
Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather pointed to a major study of global methane emissions that relied on both satellite data and on-site observations and found that there was no increase in Arctic Ocean methane emissions as of 2017.
Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argued that there was no evidence that Arctic methane had had a significant climate impact in earlier eras when the region was even warmer than it is today.
"This story is ... unconvincing," he tweeted. "First off it's just two scientists (no publication), one of whom has made similar (unsupported) claims before & ignores the context that permafrost & methane have been degrading in this region since it was inundated in the early Holocene."
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By Kenny Stancil
"The state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal."
That's how United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres began a Wednesday address at Columbia University, in which he reflected on the past 11 months of extreme weather and challenged world leaders to use the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to construct a better world free from destructive greenhouse gas emissions.
Guterres' plea for countries to invest in a more just and sustainable future, transforming the economy and curbing climate change at the same time through the development of renewable energy among other green industries, coincided with the publication of two U.N. reports detailing the relationship between the continued extraction of fossil fuels and 2020's extreme weather.
In its annual report on the state of the global climate, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that "global temperatures from January to October were around 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, putting 2020 on track to being one of the three warmest years on record," Bloomberg Green reported Wednesday. "This decade will be the hottest on record, with the warmest six years all happening since 2015."
The Associated Press noted as well that "the WMO's report found global warming is worsening in all seven key climate indicators, but the problem is increasing human suffering in an already bad year."
According to the report, "over 50 million people have been doubly hit [in 2020]: by climate-related disasters (floods, droughts, and storms) and the Covid-19 pandemic." Guterres emphasized that "the impacts fall most heavily on the world's most vulnerable people."
"Those who have done the least to cause the problem are suffering the most," the U.N. leader pointed out, including in the deeply unequal developed world where "the marginalized are the first victims of disasters and the last to recover."
Guterres summarized the worsening toll of the world's interrelated environmental crises:
Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. Deserts are spreading. Wetlands are being lost. Every year, we lose 10 million hectares of forests. Oceans are overfished—and choking with plastic waste. The carbon dioxide they absorb is acidifying the seas. Coral reefs are bleached and dying. Air and water pollution are killing 9 million people annually—more than six times the current toll of the pandemic. And with people and livestock encroaching further into animal habitats and disrupting wild spaces, we could see more viruses and other disease-causing agents jump from animals to humans.
The U.N. leader also spelled out the catastrophic contours of the climate emergency:
Ocean heat is at record levels. This year, more than 80 percent of the world's oceans experienced marine heatwaves. In the Arctic, 2020 has seen exceptional warmth, with temperatures more than 3 degrees Celsius above average—and more than 5 degrees in northern Siberia. Arctic sea ice in October was the lowest on record—and now re-freezing has been the slowest on record. Greenland ice has continued its long-term decline, losing an average of 278 gigatons a year. Permafrost is melting and so releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are increasingly the new normal.
"Covid-19 lockdowns have temporarily reduced emissions and pollution," Guterres added, "but carbon dioxide levels are still at record highs—and rising," along with other greenhouse gases.
Despite the gravity of the situation, "climate policies have yet to rise to the challenge," the U.N. leader lamented.
In a special report on the production gap—"the discrepancy between countries' planned fossil fuel production and global production levels consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius"—researchers from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and other institutions explained that the world must decrease fossil fuel production by 6 percent per year between 2020 and 2030 to limit catastrophic global warming.
Instead, countries are planning on increasing fossil fuel production by 2 percent per year, putting the world on pace to burn more than twice the amount of carbon by the end of the decade than deemed compatible with a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway.
"As we seek to reboot economies following the Covid-19 pandemic, investing in low-carbon energy and infrastructure will be good for jobs, for economies, for health, and for clean air," said UNEP executive director Inger Andersen."Governments must seize the opportunity to direct their economies and energy systems away from fossil fuels, and build back better towards a more just, sustainable, and resilient future."
Ivetta Gerasimchuk, a sustainable energy expert at the International Institute for Sustainable Development and a co-author of the production gap report, explained to AP that "investing in oil, coal, and gas no longer makes economic sense because renewable energy is becoming cheaper than fossil fuels," especially after what she called "the pandemic-driven demand shock and the plunge of oil prices this year."
Nevertheless, she told AP, "We see that instead of governments letting these fossil fuel projects die, they resurrect them from the dead," channeling billions of dollars in public subsidies to the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
Guterres implored government officials to treat the trillions of dollars being invested in the post-coronavirus crisis recovery process as a mechanism to catapult the world onto a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable trajectory.
He stated unequivocally that devoting more funds to dirty energy than to clean energy at this pivotal moment in history, which locks in "unsustainable fossil fuel pathways," is an injustice inflicted on future generations as well as society's most vulnerable members who bear the least responsibility for climate risks and disruptions.
"The science is clear," Guterres told the BBC. "Unless the world cuts fossil fuel production by 6 percent every year between now and 2030, things will get worse. Much worse."
The solution, said Michael Lazarus, director of the SEI's U.S. Center and a co-author of the report on the production gap, is "government policies that decrease both the demand and supply for fossil fuels and support communities currently dependent on them."
Gerasimchuk acknowledged that "this may be one of the most challenging undertakings of the 21st century, but it's necessary and achievable."
"It's time," said SEI's executive director Måns Nilsson, "to imagine, and plan for, a better future."
Watch Guterres' entire address here:
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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An international team of scientists says a new way of extracting methane gas trapped in permafrost has the potential to harvest more gas while burning fewer fossil fuels in the extraction process, as Newsweek reported.
The scientists from Skoltech University in Russia and Heriot-Watt University in Scotland looked at the gas hydrates, which are ice-like structures made up of water and gas. Frequently, the gas trapped with the water is methane. They found that they could use flue gas, which is generated during fuel combustion, to recover methane. Their findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports, as Newsweek reported.
By injecting hot waste flue gas from industrial plants into the gas hydrates, the scientists may have found a carbon sink that can trap the greenhouse gases created by industrial fuel combustion, according to New Atlas.
The new method is important because gas and oil explorations in the Arctic have the potential to accidentally release a lot of trapped methane into the atmosphere. Recently, the Arctic waters around Russia have become a hotbed of oil and gas exploration, but safely extracting the resources poses risks. The area is remote and desolate and lacks infrastructure, plus gas hydrates that are not handled properly may lead to unacceptable methane-levels released into the local atmosphere, according to New Atlas.
The climate crisis has triggered large swaths of ice melt in Russia's Arctic waters. The country is looking to exploit the new openings by rapidly expanding oil and gas development. Russia has offered large tax cuts to energy companies willing to tap into the fossil fuels from its recently discovered reserves that opened up due to melting sea ice, as Newsweek reported.
And yet, according to the scientists, those gas hydrates are also a potential source for natural gas and a place to put unwanted greenhouse gases.
"Our approach not only helps extract methane and prevent its free release into the atmosphere, but also reduces carbon dioxide emissions," said Evgeny Chuvilin, a leading research scientist at the Skoltech Center for Hydrocarbon Recovery (CHR), in a statement. "I would say our method offers a double dividend in terms of environmental safety."
The method the scientists developed takes flue gas from coal-powered plants, metal refineries and other furnaces that use fuel combustion. It then takes the hot flue gas and pumps it into the gas hydrates. That starts a reaction where the methane is released and carbon dioxide replaces it and forms a new hydrate, as New Atlas reported.
The researchers found they were able to capture almost 82 percent of the carbon dioxide contained in the flue gas, as Newsweek reported.
Finding a way to trap flue gas could reap large benefits in reducing global greenhouse emissions, since it consists of several gases produced during fuel combustion. In addition to carbon dioxide, it contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and water vapor, according to New Atlas.
As for the liberated methane, it can be used in a closed cycled where the gas powers an industrial plant and the flue gases are recycled to reduce emissions and to release more methane for the plant to use, as New Atlas reported.
"In comparison with potential methods such as thermal stimulation, depressurization, chemical inhibitor injection, CO2, or CO2-mixed gases (e.g., flue gas) injection is more environmentally friendly because of the potential to capture CO2 simultaneously with methane recovery," the authors wrote in the study.
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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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By Jeff Berardelli
Herds of horses, bison and reindeer could play a significant part in saving the world from an acceleration in global heating. That is the conclusion of a recent study showing how grazing herbivores can slow down the pace of thawing permafrost in the Arctic.
The study — a computerized simulation based on real-life, on-the ground data — finds that with enough animals, 80% of all permafrost soils around the globe could be preserved through 2100.
The research was inspired by an experiment in the town of Chersky, Siberia featured on CBS News' "60 Minutes." The episode introduces viewers to an eccentric scientist named Sergey Zimov who resettled grazing animals to a piece of the Arctic tundra more than 20 years ago.
Zimov is unconventional, to say the least, even urging geneticists to work on resurrecting a version of the now-extinct woolly mammoth to aid in his quest. But through the years he and his son Nikita have observed positive impacts from adding grazing animals to the permafrost area he named Pleistocene Park, in a nod to the last Ice Age.
Permafrost is a thick layer of soil that remains frozen year-round. Because of the rapidly warming climate in Arctic regions, much of the permafrost is not permanently frozen anymore. Thawing permafrost releases heat-trapping greenhouse gases that have been buried in the frozen soil for tens of thousands of years, back into the atmosphere.
Scientists are concerned that this mechanism will act as a feedback loop, further warming the atmosphere, thawing more soil, releasing more greenhouse gases and warming the atmosphere even more, perpetuating a dangerous cycle.
Last year their fears were confirmed when a study led by scientists at Woods Hole Research Center revealed that the Arctic was no longer storing as much carbon as it was emitting back into the atmosphere.
In winter the permafrost in Chersky, Siberia stays at about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. But the air can be much colder, dropping down to 40 below zero Fahrenheit. Typically there is a thick blanket of snowfall in winter which insulates the soil, shielding it from the frigid air above and keeping it milder.
The idea behind Zimov's on-the-ground Pleistocene Park experiment was to bring grazing animals with their stamping hooves back to the land to disperse the snow, compress the ground and chill the soil.
Turns out, it worked. The 100 resettled animals, across a one-square-kilometer area, cut the average snow cover height in half, dramatically reducing the insulating effect, exposing the soil to the overlying colder air and intensifying the freezing of permafrost.
In an effort to see what impact this method could have on a much larger scale, beyond the confines of Pleistocene Park, Professor Christian Beer of the University of Hamburg conducted a simulation experiment. His team used a special climate model to replicate the impact on the land surface throughout all of the Arctic permafrost soils in the Northern Hemisphere over the course of an entire year.
The results, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, show that if emissions continue to rise unchecked we can expect to see a 7-degree Fahrenheit increase in permafrost temperatures, which would cause half of all permafrost to thaw by 2100.
In contrast, with animal herds repopulating the tundra, the ground would only warm by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be enough to preserve 80% of the current permafrost though the end of the century.
"This type of natural manipulation in ecosystems that are especially relevant for the climate system has barely been researched to date, but holds tremendous potential," Beer said.
CBS News asked Beer how realistic it is to expect that the Arctic could be repopulated with enough animals to make a difference. "I am not sure," he replied, adding that more research is needed but the results are promising. "Today we have an average of 5 reindeers per square kilometer across the Arctic. With 15 [reindeer] per square kilometer we could already save 70% permafrost according to our calculations."
"It may be utopian to imaging resettling wild animal herds in all the permafrost regions of the Northern Hemisphere," Beer concedes. "But the results indicate that using fewer animals would still produce a cooling effect."
Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the International Arctic Research Center in Alaska, agrees that snow disturbed and trampled by animal herds is a much less efficient insulator, but he has his doubts about implementing this idea. "Unless the plan is to cover millions of square kilometers with horses, bison and reindeer, how could this possibly have any significant impact? I certainly would not call it 'utopian' to destroy permafrost lands as we know them by having these animals in the distribution and numbers required."
Beer and his team did consider some potential side effects of this approach. For example, in summer the animals would destroy the cooling moss layer on the ground, which would contribute to warming the soil. This was taken into account in the simulations, but the cooling impact of the compressed snow effect in winter is several times greater, they found.
"If theoretically we were able to maintain a high animal density like in Zimov's Pleistocene Park, would that be good enough to save permafrost under the strongest warming scenario? Yes, it could work for 80% of the region" said Beer.
As a next step, Beer plans to collaborate with biologists in order to investigate how the animals would actually spread across the landscape.
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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