Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
For a deeper dive:
- Scientists Alarmed at Surging Atmospheric Methane, CO2 - EcoWatch ›
- New 3D Methane Models Help NASA to Track Global Trends ... ›
- New Satellite Data Reveals One of the Largest Methane Leaks in ... ›
- Environmental Defense Fund to Launch a Satellite That Will Monitor ... ›
A new report promoting urgent climate action in Australia has stirred debate for claiming that global temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade.
Australia's Climate Council released the report on Thursday. The council is an independent organization of climate scientists and experts on health, renewable energy and policy who work to inform the Australian public on the climate crisis. But their latest claim is causing controversy.
"Multiple lines of evidence show that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above the preindustrial level, without significant overshoot and subsequent drawdown, is now out of reach due to past inaction," Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Prof. Christopher Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment wrote in the foreword. "The science is telling us that global average temperature rise will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 2030s, and that long-term stabilization at warming at or below 1.5°C will be extremely challenging."
The report is titled "Aim high, go fast: Why emissions need to plummet this decade," and as the name suggests, it is ultimately concerned with urging more robust climate action on the part of the Australian government. The report calls for the country to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2035 in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris agreement, which means limiting warming to well below two degrees Celsius.
"The world achieving net zero by 2050 is at least a decade too late and carries a strong risk of irreversible global climate disruption at levels inconsistent with maintaining well-functioning human societies," the authors wrote.
The report further argues that global temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2030s based on existing temperature increases; locked-in warming from emissions that have already occurred; evidence from past climate changes and the percentage of the carbon budget that has already been used.
The report isn't a call to give up on the Paris agreement. It is possible that global temperatures could swell past 1.5 degrees Celsius but still be reduced by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if temperatures do exceed 1.5 degrees, every degree of warming that can be prevented makes a difference.
"Basically we can still hold temperature rise to well below 2C and do that without overshoot and drawdown," Will Steffen, lead report author from the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, told Australia's ABC News. "Every tenth of a degree actually does matter — 1.8C is better than 1.9C, and is much better than 2C."
However, some outside scientists question both the accuracy and effectiveness of the report's claim. Both Adjunct Professor Bill Hare from Murdoch University and Dr. Carl-Freidrich Schleussner from Humboldt University told ABC News they have been trying to contact the Climate Council about its 1.5 overshoot claim for months. They said that it went against other major reports, including the UN Environment Program Gap Report and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5˚C.
"The big challenge their report reinforces is the need for urgent action to get on that 1.5C pathway, [so] it's very paradoxical to me that they've chosen to attack that target," Dr. Hare told ABC News.
However, Scientist Andy Pitman from the Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales told The Guardian that the report's assessment was correct.
"It's simply not possible to limit warming to 1.5C now," he said. "There's too much inertia in the system and even if you stopped greenhouse gas emissions today, you would still reach 1.5C [of heating]."
However, one aspect everyone agreed on involved the importance of lowering emissions as soon as possible.
"[There is] absolute fundamental agreement on the task at hand, which is to get emissions to plummet," Simon Bradshaw, report author and Climate Council head of research, told The Guardian.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
NOAA also announced global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are higher than at any point in the last 3.6 million years. "It is very scary indeed," Euan Nisbet, professor of earth sciences at Royal Holloway University of London, told the Financial Times. About 60% of methane emissions are caused by human activity, and U.S. oil and gas operations are a major driver of recent methane pollution increases.
"Although increased fossil emissions may not be fully responsible for the recent growth in methane levels," NOAA research chemist Ed Dlugokencky said in a statement, "reducing fossil methane emissions are an important step toward mitigating climate change."
Methane is a far more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, and scientists are worried global warming could be triggering accelerated methane releases from tropical wetlands and melting Arctic permafrost. "Our path to net zero is obvious, challenging and necessary," Martin Siegert, a professor at the Imperial College London, told The Guardian, "and we must get on with the transition urgently."
As reported by The Guardian:
Professor Simon Lewis, from University College London, said: "It is easy to forget just how much and just how fast fossil fuel emissions are affecting our planet.
"It took over 200 years to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 25%, and just 30 years to reach 50% above pre-industrial levels. This dramatic change is like a human meteorite hitting Earth."
But he added: "If countries make plans now to put society on a path of sustained and dramatic cuts to emissions from today, we can avoid ever-rising emissions and the dangerously accelerating impacts of climate change."
For a deeper dive:
- Atmospheric CO2 Passes 420 PPM for First Time Ever - EcoWatch ›
- Record Rainfall Linked to Surging Methane Emissions in East Africa ... ›
- Methane Is Short-Lived in the Atmosphere but Leaves Long-Term ... ›
- New 3D Methane Models Help NASA to Track Global Trends ... ›
- New Satellite Network Will Find and Monitor Methane Super-Emitters ›
By Kenny Stancil
The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide surged past 420 parts per million for the first time in recorded history this past weekend, according to a measurement taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii.
When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research station "began collecting CO2 measurements in the late 1950s, atmospheric CO2 concentration sat at around 315 PPM," the Washington Post reported. "On Saturday, the daily average was pegged at 421.21 PPM—the first time in human history that number has been so high."
Climate activist Greta Thunberg took notice of NOAA's most recent data on CO2 levels. She described the first-ever documented eclipse of 420 PPM of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere as "truly groundbreaking."
Is this is confirmed, then it is truly groundbreaking to say the least. And I don’t mean that in a good way... https://t.co/vwFOENLcWQ— Greta Thunberg (@Greta Thunberg)1617619321.0
Exceeding 420 PPM of the heat-trapping gas "is a disconcerting milestone in the human-induced warming of the planet, around the halfway point on our path toward doubling preindustrial CO2 levels," the Post noted, adding:
There is special significance in reaching and surpassing a concentration of 416 PPM. It means we've passed the midpoint between preindustrial CO2 levels, around 278 PPM, and a doubling of that figure, or 556 PPM.
The record of 421 PPM reached Saturday is just a single point and occurred as CO2 levels are nearing their yearly peak. But the levels over the past two months, of more than 417 PPM, signal that the annual average concentration is likely to exceed 416 PPM.
While the growing concentration of atmospheric CO2—which increases the global average temperature and the number and severity of extreme weather events—is a long-term trend that corresponds with the rise of fossil fuel-powered capitalism, it has accelerated particularly rapidly since the 1970s.
CO2 concentration at the Mauna Loa Observatory reached a daily record of 421.21 Parts Per Million (PPM) on April 3.… https://t.co/2KYjC8IntE— Steve Bowen (@Steve Bowen)1617640923.0
The doubling of atmospheric CO2 is expected to increase Earth's temperature by 2.6 to 4.1ºC above preindustrial averages, a level of planetary heating that would "rul[e] out more modest warming scenarios," as the Post noted.
"Even if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were to plummet overnight, the planet would continue warming for years to come," the Post added. That's because, as Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute in California, told the newspaper: "The amount of warming that the world is experiencing is a result of all of our emissions since the industrial revolution—not just our emissions in the last year."
As the Post reported, CO2 isn't the only GHG with "worrying trends." Emissions of methane and sulfur hexafluoride have spiked, too.
Although methane doesn't remain in the atmosphere as long as CO2, it absorbs heat much more effectively, which means that it greatly exacerbates the climate crisis. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in the first two decades after its release.
Here's the Post on sulfur hexafluoride, a GHG that "results from the production of insulators used on electrical grids [and] also reached all-time records of 10 parts per trillion":
While its concentration remains orders of magnitude more dilute than that of most other major greenhouse gases, its rate of increase in the atmosphere has doubled since 2003.
Sulfur hexafluoride is also thousands of times more potent—a single molecule can cause 23,900 times more warming than a molecule of CO2. And a single molecule of sulfur hexafluoride can stick around in the atmosphere for more than three millennia.
While the Paris climate agreement seeks to limit the rise in annual mean global temperature to 1.5°C above preindustrial averages by the end of the 21st century, the World Meteorological Organization warned last year that there is a 20% chance the world will hit or surpass that level of warming in at least one year by 2024.
"The science is clear," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in December. "Unless the world cuts fossil fuel production by 6% every year between now and 2030, things will get worse. Much worse."
As forest ecologist Giorgio Matteucci tweeted Monday, "We have to act!"
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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There is already robust evidence that human activity is causing the climate crisis. This conclusion is supported by 97 percent of climate scientists, and has been established through direct observations of skyrocketing carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures. However, the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and their climate effects remained theoretical, until now. NASA scientists have provided evidence through satellite observations that greenhouse gases are heating the Earth. "It's direct evidence that human activities are causing changes to Earth's energy budget," Ryan Kramer, the study's first author and a researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told CBS News.
The research, published in Geophysical Research Letters on March 25, used satellites to provide evidence of radiative forcing.
Essentially, this is the mechanism behind the greenhouse effect, CBS News explained. When sunlight enters Earth's atmosphere, some of it is reflected back into space, while some of it is absorbed as heat. In order for global temperatures to remain steady, solar energy coming in needs to equal solar energy going out. Heat can be trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. As the concentration of heat-trapping gases increases, the energy balance is thrown off and the Earth becomes warmer. This radiative forcing is the driving mechanism behind climate change.
"While there are well‐established observational records of greenhouse gas concentrations and surface temperatures, there is not yet a global measure of the radiative forcing, in part because current satellite observations of Earth's radiation only measure the sum total of radiation changes that occur," the study authors noted.
To get around this, researchers used radiative kernels (a type of methodology) to separate radiative forcing from the totality of energy balance changes observed by satellites between 2003 and 2018. They found that radiative forcing increased, and that these increases were caused primarily by rising greenhouse gases, and secondarily by decreasing aerosol pollution, which has a cooling effect.
In total, radiative forcing increased by 0.5 watts per meter-squared, which is 10 times the energy used by people in a given year, and enough to heat the atmosphere by more than half a degree Fahrenheit in 16 years, CBS News reported.
The study builds on a new but growing body of direct evidence for radiative forcing. A 2015 study made the first observations of carbon dioxide's ability to absorb heat radiated from Earth's surface at the surface level. That study focused on two locations in North America during 11 years.
"Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect," Daniel Feldman, lead author and a scientist in the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said in a press release at the time.
However, the NASA study provides the first comprehensive observations of these changes. That said, the observations are just confirming what most scientists already know to be true.
"In reality, the observational results came in just as predicted by the theory," Brian Soden, study co-author and professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told CBS News. "There is no surprise in the results, but rather it's really more of 'dotting the i's and crossing the t's' on anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change. It closes that last link between rising CO2 levels and planetary warming."
Another study finds evidence that the majority of climate-damaging flights are undertaken by a small minority of frequent travelers.
The research, published by the UK-based climate charity Possible, is based on a review of the existing literature on global flight frequency before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the aviation industry. It found extensive evidence of flight inequality both between and within countries.
"This report shows the same pattern of inequality around the world — a small minority of frequent flyers take an unfair share of the flights," Possible's Alethea Warrington told BBC News. "While the poorest communities are already suffering the impacts of a warming climate, the benefits of high-carbon lifestyles are enjoyed only by the few. A lot of people travel. But only the privileged few fly often."
Globally, few people fly regularly. Less than 20 percent of people have ever flown, according to the report, and only five to 10 percent of the world's population flies in any year. Further, the wealthiest 10 percent of people are responsible for 76 percent of the energy consumption involved with packaged holidays.
Meanwhile, the top 10 countries for aviation emissions account for 60 percent of the world's total, while the top 30 account for 86 percent. The top three countries for total emissions from flying were the U.S., China and the UK, while the top five for per capita emissions from residents came from Singapore, Finland, Iceland, Australia and the UK.
At the same time, a gap remains within those top-flying countries between the most frequent flyers and everyone else.
- U.S.: 12 percent of the population takes 66 percent of the flights
- UK: around 15 percent of the population takes 70 percent of the flights
- France: two percent of the population takes 50 percent of the flights
- Canada: 22 percent of the population takes 73 percent of the flights
- Netherlands: eight percent of the population takes 42 percent of the flights
To address these inequalities and reduce aviation emissions, Possible is proposing a Frequent Flyer Levy in the UK, which would tax people who take more flights.
"Air travel is a uniquely damaging behavior, resulting in more emissions per hour than any other activity, bar starting forest fires. So targeting climate policy at the elite minority responsible for most of the environmental damage from flights could help tackle the climate problem without taking away access to the most important and valued services that air travel provides to society," Leo Murray, Possible director of innovation, told The Guardian.
Other environmental groups agree with the frequent flyer levy, but also argue for an end to frequent flyer rewards programs.
"Taxing frequent fliers is a good idea — but we also have to do something about air miles, which reward frequent fliers for flying more frequently," Greenpeace Executive Director John Sauven told BBC News. "This is obscene during a climate crisis — and it should be stopped."
However, a UK treasury spokesperson noted that there would be some problems implementing a frequent flyer levy. It could be complicated to apply, raise privacy concerns, be hard to enforce for people holding more than one passport and pose a problem for people who travel for essential work.
The airline industry also opposed the tax and argued in favor of technological fixes.
"Taxes have proved to be an ineffective way to tackle emissions," Michael Gill, executive director at the International Air Transport Association, told The Guardian. "The focus instead should be on practical means to mitigate the CO2 impact of aviation, while still enabling people to fly for business and family reasons."
However, Finlay Asher, a climate activist and former airline engineer, said technological innovation was not likely to do the trick.
"As an engineer working on future aircraft technology, I quickly realized that technology development is moving too slowly compared with growth in air traffic," Asher told The Guardian. "The only way to reduce emissions from the sector in time is government policy to fairly limit demand for flights. Without that, no amount of technology will help."
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By James W. Hurrell, Ambuj D Sagar and Marion Hourdequin
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine tackles a controversial question: Is solar geoengineering – an approach designed to cool Earth by reflecting sunlight back into space or modifying clouds – a potential tool for countering climate change?
The report, produced by a committee of 16 experts from diverse fields, does not take a position but concludes that the concept should be studied. It calls for creating a multidisciplinary research program, in coordination with other countries and managed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, that seeks to fill in the many knowledge gaps on this issue.
The study emphasizes that such research is not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and should be a minor part of the U.S. response to climate change. It notes that "engineering the climate" would not address the root cause of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. And it calls for a research program that draws on physical science, social science and ethics and includes public input.
These perspectives from three members of the study committee underline the complexity of this issue.
Three Options, Many Questions
James W. Hurrell, professor and Scott Presidential Chair of Environmental Science and Engineering, Colorado State University
Solar geoengineering strategies are very controversial within and beyond the climate science community. It is a major step forward to have 16 experts from different disciplines agree that now is the time to establish a research program on this topic. Our committee traveled a long road to reach this recommendation, working through many complex and contentious issues to reach consensus, but we did it collegially and productively. Each of us learned a great deal.
The three options we considered raise many questions:
Stratospheric aerosol injection would increase the number of small reflective particles (aerosols) in the upper atmosphere to increase reflection of sunlight back into space. While strong evidence exists that this approach can induce cooling at a global scale, there is limited understanding of how cooling potential relates to the amounts of injected aerosols, their location and type, and the ensuing regional climate responses and impacts.
Marine cloud brightening would add materials to low clouds over the ocean to make them more reflective. Water vapor in clouds condenses into droplets when it comes into contact with particles, such as salt; adding particles produces more droplets, making the clouds more reflective.
Where and by how much the brightness of clouds can be modified, and whether feedback processes will mask or amplify some of the effects, are important research questions. Key processes occur at scales too small to include directly into the current generation of global climate models, and these process uncertainties will need to be reduced in order to develop reliable projections of climate impacts.
Cirrus cloud thinning would seek to reduce the formation of wispy, thin clouds that retain heat radiating upward from Earth's surface. The efficacy of this approach is unknown because of very limited understanding of cirrus cloud properties and the microphysical processes determining how cirrus clouds may be altered. Existing climate model simulations have yielded contradictory results.
Given the risks of rapid warming and its impacts, it is important to consider a portfolio of response options, and to understand as quickly and efficiently as possible whether solar geoengineering could be a reasonably safe and effective option. A transdisciplinary, coordinated and well-governed research program might prove that more investment is warranted. Or it could indicate that solar geoengineering should not be considered further. The key point is that either outcome will be guided by sound science.
The new report examines three solar geoengineering options: stratospheric aerosol injection, marine cloud brightening and cirrus cloud thinning. NAS
A Thoughtful and Inclusive Process
Ambuj D. Sagar, founding head, School of Public Policy, and professor of policy studies, The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Few climate issues are as polarizing as solar geoengineering, and for good reason. To many, even considering it could dilute efforts to cut emissions. It also reinforces the notion that as a society we are willing to place our faith in technology to solve our self-inflicted problems.
But refusing to engage with solar geoengineering also raises questions. Can we be sure that we won't need it in the future? What if greenhouse warming generates horrendous climate impacts? And if it turns out that solar geoengineering is not technically feasible or socially acceptable, should we not learn that now?
This report recognizes that there is value in understanding more about the feasibility, acceptance, risks, ethics and governance of solar geoengineering to inform decision-making. But it also calls for a measured, nuanced and integrative approach. And it makes the point that exploring solar geoengineering should not compromise research or action on climate mitigation and adaptation.
Public engagement and participation, and insights from various disciplines, are key to carrying out effective research on solar geoengineering. At the same time, suitable expertise and institutional arrangements are needed to engage better with this complex topic. We need to understand how to effectively enhance such participation and strengthen such capacity.
Paying attention to these issues will open the door to including perspectives and researchers from the global south and other communities that often are marginalized. It also will help make the research agenda more robust and help people better understand potential risks around the world from solar geoengineering. A strong and inclusive research program should also fully involve developing countries and other relevant communities in exploring governance models for solar geoengineering.
Our panel recommended that the proposed U.S. research program be carried out in coordination with other countries. We hope this approach will spur deeper engagement worldwide, especially by developing countries that need to be part of global conversations and decisions on this issue.
Overall, I hope that perspectives and approaches presented in this report will catalyze a thoughtful and socially robust research program and equally thoughtful deliberations by scholars, policymakers and citizens on this thorny topic.
The 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines injected into Earth's stratosphere vast quantities of aerosol particles, which scattered and reflected sunlight, reducing Earth's average global temperature by about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the next 15 months. Afterward, however, temperatures resumed rising. Richard Hoblitt / USGS
Broadening the Discussion
Marion Hourdequin, professor of philosophy, Colorado College
Geoengineering evolved from a fringe concept to a serious research topic less than 20 years ago, and today solar geoengineering technologies are largely in the idea stage. Computer modeling simulations and natural analogs such as volcanoes indicate that adding reflective aerosols to the stratosphere or increasing the "brightness" of marine clouds could have cooling effects. However, there are risks and uncertainties associated with these approaches, and the potential benefits – which may not be evenly distributed around the globe – are not well understood.
For example, scientists know very little about the regional effects of different solar geoengineering strategies. And researchers are just starting to explore the ecological, social, political, economic and ethical dimensions of these approaches.
What's more, many people in the U.S. and the world are unaware that research is moving forward and outdoor experiments have been proposed. So far, discussions about solar geoengineering have been concentrated among a relatively small group of researchers, primarily from North America and Europe.
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But like climate change itself, solar geoengineering would affect everyone. The technologies that our committee considered would have global and multigenerational effects. With this in mind, now is the time for broader and more inclusive conversations about how solar geoengineering should be studied and governed – and whether or not it should be seriously considered. These conversations need to include climate-vulnerable communities, Indigenous peoples and nations of the global south.
Our committee's report calls for a program that weaves together multidisciplinary research, public and stakeholder engagement, and thoughtful limits and guidelines for research. This program should facilitate cooperation and capacity building, support a more demographically and geographically diverse research community, enable equitable participation and prioritize strategies that build trust, transparency and legitimacy.
Geoengineering raises big technical, social and ethical questions that should be informed by research but can't be adequately answered by a small set of experts. And regardless of what we learn through geoengineering research, one thing is clear: Reducing emissions, decarbonizing economies and supporting adaptation to current and future climate impacts need to take center stage.
James W. Hurrell is a professor and Scott Presidential Chair in Environmental Science and Engineering at Colorado State University.
Ambuj D Sagar is the founding head of the School of Public Policy and Vipula and Mahesh Chaturevdi Professor of Policy Studies at The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
Marion Hourdequin is a professor of philosophy at Colorado College.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Stuart Braun
The melting of the polar ice caps has often been portrayed as a tsunami-inducing Armageddon in popular culture. In the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, the warming Gulf Stream and North Atlantic currents cause rapid polar melting. The result is a massive wall of ocean water that swamps New York City and beyond, killing millions in the process. And like the recent polar vortex in the Northern Hemisphere, freezing air then rushes in from the poles to spark another ice age.
The premise is obviously ridiculous. Or is it? Rapid glacial retreat in Alaska in 2015 did in fact trigger a huge landslide and a mega tsunami that was nearly 650 feet high when it hit shore. Few knew or cared because it luckily happened at the end of the Earth where no one was living.
Many of us might believe we won't be directly impacted by the breakup of trillions of tons of ice due to global heating. We figure that unless we live on a small island in the Pacific, or have a house on the beach, it's not our problem.
Or Is It?
While it's true that the glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets covering 10% of the Earth's land mass are mostly in the middle of nowhere, their rapid breakup has a cascading effect.
Consider how all the extra fresh water in the ocean is diluting salt levels. And how that messes with the balance of the Gulf Stream, one of the world's most important ocean currents. The result is climate extremes, especially tropical storms and hurricanes in places like the Gulf of Mexico, but also more frequent floods and droughts on both sides of the Atlantic. It's gonna suck for a lot of people.
To put this meltdown in context, the rate of ice sheet retreat has increased nearly 60% since the 1990s. That's a 28 trillion ton net loss of ice between 1994 and 2017. Antarctica's epic ice sheet, the world's largest, and the world's mountain glaciers have suffered half of this loss.
OK, That Sounds Like a Lot — But So What?
Again, it's the domino effect that's worrying. With temperatures rising twice as fast in the Arctic — the world's air conditioner — than anywhere else on the planet, the heat is not just melting ice. It's also weakening atmospheric air currents known as the jet stream. In other words, more bad news for the weather.
The polar vortexes that have been freezing Europe and North America in recent years are related to a weakened polar jet stream — a scenario that triggered the sudden ice age in The Day After Tomorrow.
The cold might be welcome as the planet heats up, but here's the thing: Arctic regions are heating up, too. Which means the ice that's supposed to be reflecting the sun's energy away from Earth isn't as much anymore, leaving the sea to absorb this heat.
No surprise then that in 2018 the winter ice sheet in the Bering Sea bordering Alaska was at its lowest levels in over 5,000 years.
Fish, sea bird, seal and polar bear habitats are also disappearing with the ice. Indigenous communities in the Arctic who once hunted in a thriving frozen ecosystem are being upended — their houses are also falling in the sea as the lack of ice causes the coast to erode.
Sure, it's an underpopulated part of the world. But consider also the rapid thaw of permafrost on the Siberian tundra. One of the world's biggest carbon sinks, the tundra is now releasing greenhouse gases like methane that were long trapped below the frost.
Some scientists have predicted that by century's end, 40% of permafrost regions will have disappeared, meaning they will no longer retain, but will also release carbon dioxide — and we're talking more than is already in the atmosphere right now. As global heating is turbocharged, bye bye to more ice.
Which leads us to the elephant in the room: rising sea levels.
How Bad Could Rising Sea Levels Get?
So let's start with the worst-case scenario — and remember the culprit here would be ice sheets and glaciers on land.
If the fast-retreating Antarctic ice sheet, the world's largest, completely melted, the world's oceans would rise by about 60 meters (about 200 feet). That would be Armageddon and London, Venice, Mumbai and New York would become aquariums.
Don't panic, though, this won't happen any time soon. But if emissions aren't sufficiently scaled back to mitigate climate change, some researchers reckon oceans will definitely rise by at least 2 meters by the end of the century. That's still enough to swamp the several hundred million people living below 5 meters above sea level. Another 350 million or so living higher up would have to relocate to escape regular coastal flooding.
Can't People Just Move?
Maybe, but that wouldn't be the end of it. The world's mountain glaciers, which number roughly 200,000, are melting much faster than they can accumulate these days. Problem is, though they only cover less than 0.5% of the Earth's landmass, these "water towers" provide fresh water to about a quarter of the world's population.
Glaciers also feed the rivers that irrigate the crops which hundreds of millions of people across Asia, South America and Europe depend on for their survival. So without them, many people will suffer from both thirst and hunger. Scientists say water tower retreat has put almost 2 billion people at risk of water scarcity.
Right now, cities like Santiago in Chile are watching a big part of their drinking water supply literally dry up as glaciers in the nearby Andes retreat. Meanwhile, the European Alps that supply so much fresh water across the region have shrunk by about half since 1900 and will be almost ice free by century's end if nothing more is done to curb warming.
OK, Is There Anything That We Can Do?
Like global heating in general, the best way to mitigate the meltdown is to stop polluting the atmosphere with global warming-inducing carbon.
Of course, the process can't be reversed overnight. Even if people across the world stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, one-third of the world's remaining glaciers would still disappear.
So to save some amount of precious polar and glacial ice, we need to avoid the temperature rise of over 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) that the UN says is inevitable if governments don't step up climate targets. If the world can decarbonize by 2050, it might be possible to preserve around one-third of the current glacial mass by century's end. That would take both government action and a radical commitment to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
The future remains uncertain. But it's likely that if melting isn't slowed real soon, disaster movie scenarios might not look so ridiculous to future generations.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
Scientists say the planet is facing its "sixth mass extinction" and human activity is to blame. But as ecosystems change at unprecedented rates, predicting what future life on Earth could look like may seem unimaginable.
Understanding history's worst mass extinction event could provide insight on what lies ahead — and offer a warning if global action isn't taken.
That's why an international team of researchers looked back 252 million years, during the end of the Permian period when a severe extinction event, coined as the "The Great Dying," erased 19 out of every 20 species on Earth, the California Academy of Sciences reported.
For the first time, in a study published Wednesday, researchers identified what made "The Great Dying" more severe than other extinction periods. The scientists studied this period because of similarities in crises that occurred then and are occurring now — "namely extinction following the massive release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere," they wrote, adding this period also faced global warming, acid rain and acidification.
But unlike other mass extinctions throughout history, species in the end-Permian period struggled to recover, possibly for 10 million years, the California Academy of Sciences reported. To find out why, the scientists recreated food webs, sampled from north China, spanning the Permian and Triassic periods, which showed how a single region responded to ecosystem collapse.
"By studying the fossils and evidence from their teeth, stomach contents, and excrement, I was able to identify who ate whom," lead author and Academy researcher Yuangeng Huang told the California Academy of Sciences. "It's important to build an accurate food web if we want to understand these ancient ecosystems."
By tracking food webs during this period, the scientists saw that when animals died, nothing replaced them, creating an "unbalanced ecosystem," according to the California Academy of Sciences.
"We found that the end-Permian event was exceptional in two ways," professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol told the California Academy of Sciences. "First, the collapse in diversity was much more severe, whereas in the other two mass extinctions there had been low-stability ecosystems before the final collapse. And second, it took a very long time for ecosystems to recover."
The new study comes at the same time as two other groundbreaking studies that also draw comparisons between "The Great Dying" and the current day. In one of these studies, scientists developed a record of ocean acidity, which allowed them to track how "The Great Dying" occurred, CBS reported.
The extinction didn't happen all at once but instead occurred as a series of events, from volcanic activity, the release of carbon gases, global warming, acidifying oceans, fire and erosion, spanning a million years, professor Uwe Brand, a geoscientist from Brock University in Canada, who was involved in the ocean record study, told CBS News.
"These are not individual and separate causes, but they all acted together, they acted in concert, and that is why I call it the perfect storm," Brand told CBS News. "You got hit on this side with temperature, on this side with acidification and then finally the knock-out punch came from deoxygenation."
While the possibility of avoiding this same ecological collapse may seem elusive, conversations on how to respond are occurring, even at a global level.
"Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet," Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said recently, according to UN News, following the release of a report, Making Peace with Nature, which calls for urgent action to combat environmental crises. "The rewards will be immense. With a new consciousness, we can direct investment into policies and activities that protect and restore nature."
Yuangeng Huang and his team's research on food webs also shows which species recovered from "The Great Dying," providing insight as to how modern species may do the same.
"This is an amazing new result," professor Zhong-Qiang Chen of the China University of Geosciences, Wuhan told the California Academy of Sciences. "The combination of great new data from long rock sections in north China with cutting-edge computational methods allows us to get inside these ancient examples in the same way we can study food webs in the modern world."
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By Gero Rueter
Proven technologies for a net-zero energy system already largely exist today, according to a report published Tuesday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The report predicts that renewable power, green hydrogen and modern bioenergy will shape the way we power the world in 2050.
Adopting such solutions would set world leaders on track to meet their target of keeping the planet from heating by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels this century, according to the World Energy Transitions Outlook report. The UN had warned in November that pledges to meet this goal were so far "woefully inadequate."
"The window of opportunity to achieve the 1.5 C Paris Agreement goal is closing fast," said Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA. "The gap between where we are and where we should be is not decreasing, but widening. We are heading in the wrong direction."
Instead, IRENA — an intergovernmental organization based in Abu Dhabi made up of 162 countries and the European Union — calls for a change in direction and a dramatic acceleration of the energy transition as countries walk the "narrow tightrope" toward the 1.5 C target.
Global Turnaround Through Green Power
That would make it the main energy source in the world, powering more than 80% of all vehicles. Heating would mainly be provided by heat pumps, whose number is set to rise 20-fold by 2050 to around 400 million.
To stay in line with climate targets, coal-fired power plants would have to be shut down and no new ones built. Ninety percent of electricity would have to come from renewable sources, mainly sun and wind, with a global installed capacity of photovoltaics almost 30 times greater than in 2018. There would have to be 14 times the wind power, and hydropower would have to double.
Fossil gas and nuclear energy, meanwhile, would make up 4% and 6% of electricity generated, respectively.
But, even with such an expansion of renewables and a drop in fossil fuels, the report relies on removing CO2 from the atmosphere to meet climate goals. This includes reforesting areas in which trees have been hacked down or burned, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere by growing plants, and capturing it from industrial sites and injecting it underground. The technology to capture carbon and store it is expensive, and exists only at a small scale.
Major Challenge, But Possible
To meet climate goals, the report assumed a globally available budget of 500 billion tons of CO2 for the current scenario. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if no more than this amount is released into the atmosphere, the world has a half-chance of warming 1.5 C and missing the target.
But, for a two-thirds chance of avoiding that level of warming, even more CO2 would have to be kept out of the atmosphere. According to the IPCC, total emissions would have to be limited to about 285 billion tons. Around 42 billion tons of CO2 are emitted by the energy and agricultural sectors every single year.
"A scenario like the one presented by IRENA is conceivable," said Christian Breyer, a professor of solar economics at LUT University in Finland, who was not involved in the study. Breyer criticized the report for its high CO2 budget and reliance on technologies to remove emissions rather than stop them in the first place.
In addition, he said, the benefits "of extremely low-cost solar electricity have not yet been fully incorporated into the scenario, but very expensive system solutions such as nuclear power and biomass with CO2 capture."
Economic Stimulus to Bring Jobs
That turnaround has already begun.
Global oil consumption will continue to fall in the coming years, and fossil gas is set to join it in 2025. "Financial markets are already reflecting this change by shifting capital away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable assets like renewables," La Camera said.
Echoing warnings from the UN last year, IRENA said that stimulus packages in the wake of the pandemic must be used strategically to meet the 1.5 C target. Doing so would also help employment. The report projects that investing in the energy transition will create close to three times more jobs than fossil fuels for every million dollars spent.
"While the pathway is daunting, several favorable elements can make it achievable," La Camera said. "Major economies accounting for over half of global CO2 emissions are turning carbon-neutral. Global capital is moving, too."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
The study, published in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change on Thursday, is the first to consider emissions other than carbon dioxide, such as methane from floods and cattle, and black carbon from forest-clearing fires.
"Cutting the forest is interfering with its carbon uptake; that's a problem," Kristofer Covey, lead author and Skidmore environmental studies professor, told National Geographic. "But when you start to look at these other factors alongside CO2, it gets really hard to see how the net effect isn't that the Amazon as a whole is really warming global climate."
The Amazon rainforest has long been touted as a carbon sink and natural ally in the fight against the climate crisis. However, recent studies have warned that humanity may lose the rainforest's help with continued deforestation. A study published in January found that forests worldwide still absorb 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, but rainforests in Southeast Asia have now become net emitters of carbon dioxide because of land use changes, EcoWatch reported at the time.
The Brazilian Amazon was also a net emitter of carbon dioxide between 2001 and 2019, the study authors found, even though the Amazon as a whole remained a carbon sink. However, a 2020 study warned that could change in the next 15 years.
All of these studies were limited because they focused exclusively on carbon dioxide emissions.
"As important as carbon is in the Amazon, it's not the only thing that's going on," Tom Lovejoy, study coauthor and senior fellow in biodiversity with the United Nations Foundation, told National Geographic. "The only surprise, if you can call it that, is how much more there is when you add it all up."
To address this gap, more than 30 scientists teamed up to analyze the existing data of "more." They found that it included emissions from the following sources:
- Black carbon: This is released from fires, such as the 2019 Amazon blazes that destroyed an area roughly the size of New Jersey. Soot particles from black carbon absorb sunlight and increase warming.
- Nitrous Oxide: This is naturally produced by forests, but gas emissions increase when wetlands dry and logging compacts the soil.
- Methane: This is also released naturally by rainforests from microbes in wet soil, which gets filtered into the atmosphere by trees. In the past, the Amazon's carbon storage abilities counteracted its methane emissions. Human activity is now limiting the forest's ability to store carbon as increased flooding, dam building and cattle grazing also release methane.
"We're taking away all the ability for the Amazon to absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere while also causing it to release other greenhouse gases," CNN Meteorologist Tyler Mauldin explained.
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The research, published in Nature Communications on Friday, found that wildfire smoke could be up to 10 times more harmful than other sources of air pollution, such as from vehicles or industry.
"We know wildfires are going to become more extreme, due to climate change," Rosana Aguilera, study co-author and postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told The Guardian. "And it's important that we start to reckon with the health effects of that."
The researchers examined hospital admission records in California between 1999 and 2012. They found that admissions for respiratory problems increased from around 1.3 percent to 10 percent following an uptick in wildfire-specific air pollution. The same amount of air pollution from other sources led to a smaller admissions increase, topping out around 1.3 percent.
This isn't the first study to suggest that wildfire smoke might be more harmful than other forms of air pollution, the authors noted. Animal studies have suggested the same thing.
Mary Prunicki, a Stanford air pollution researcher who was not part of the study, told The Guardian that evidence also suggested that wildfire smoke could exacerbate heart conditions and respiratory ailments.
She explained that since wildfires engulf homes and businesses, they emit fumes that contain metals, plastic and cleaning supplies. Large fires also suck smoke high into the atmosphere, where it lasts longer and combines with oxygen to become more dangerous.
"We're pretty aware of the physical costs of wildfire, in terms of firefighting costs and damage to property," Tom Corringham, a study co-author also at Scripps, told NPR. "But there's been a lot of work that has shown that the health impacts due to wildfire smoke are on the same order of magnitude, or possibly even greater, than the direct physical cost."
The study comes as this problem is only getting worse. While particulate matter air pollution has been decreasing across most of the U.S. thanks to stricter environmental regulations, that has not been the case in wildfire-prone areas, the study found. Wildfires will likely increase as long as the climate crisis persists. In 2020, California experienced six of its largest fires on record, the Los Angeles Times reported. Those fires choked the Western U.S. with smoke, in some places for weeks. An NPR analysis found that one in seven West Coast residents experienced at least one day of unhealthy air quality last year.
Unfortunately, wildfire smoke is not as easy to regulate as tailpipe or power-plant emissions. Corringham called for providing low-income households with money for air purifiers. But he also suggested a longer-term solution.
"Anything we can do today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the global climate system will have significant benefits," he told NPR.
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