By Jeff Berardelli
This story was originally published on CBS News on September 9, 2020. All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication.
Right on the heels of arguably the West Coast's most intense heat wave in modern history comes the most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory. Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles east, a 60-degree temperature drop over just 18 hours in Wyoming and Colorado was accompanied by an extremely rare late-summer dumping of up to 2 feet of snow.
It's not coincidence, it's climate change.
Increase in California areas burned by wildfires, 1975 to 2015. WILLIAMS, ABATZOGLOU ET AL., EARTH'S FUTURE<p>Abatzoglou makes clear that there are many factors — not just climate change — that contribute to the escalation of fire activity. These include the increased settlement of people in fire-prone lands and a legacy of fire suppression in many lower-elevation forests, which led to years of heavy growth of trees and brush.</p><p>"We can focus on the bad fortune of the <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lightning-siege-hits-california-with-nearly-12000-strikes-in-a-week-2020-08-22/" target="_blank">lightning siege</a> around the San Francisco Bay Area, or the multitude of <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gender-reveal-fire-party-california-wildfire/" target="_blank">stupid human tricks</a> that materialized in large wildfires, but the confluence of long-term and short-term environmental factors set the table for the 2020 fire season," he said. </p><p>In other words, though climate change does not cause the heat waves or fires, it sets the stage so that when conditions are ripe, like the summer and fall of 2020, heat waves are more intense and fires burn more fiercely. </p>
CLIMATE CENTRAL<p>This summer has been extremely hot and dry in the West. According to NOAA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah each had their <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/summer-2020-ranked-as-one-of-hottest-on-record-for-us" target="_blank">warmest August</a> on record. Research has found that heat waves are now larger, getting more intense and lasting longer than decades ago. Specifically in California, extreme heat waves — like the ones of recent weeks — are now <a href="https://crd.lbl.gov/assets/Uploads/Wehner/California-heatwave-attribution-and-projection.pdf" target="_blank">3 to 4 degrees</a> Fahrenheit warmer due to climate change. By 2080, that same study finds such heat waves will intensify by another 3 to 5 degrees.</p><p>This week's NOAA report also finds that the same general area in the West also experienced one of its driest Augusts on record. This short-term dry and hot pattern is mainly due to natural cycles in weather, and from season to season has the biggest impact on the amount of area burned because it determines how dry the forests and brush are.</p><p>"Across the Western U.S. forests, we find that climatic measures of fuel dryness explain about ¾ of the year-to-year variability in the burned area — highlighting that climate very strongly enables big fire seasons in warm-dry summers and inhibits widespread fire activity in cool-wet summers," explains Abatzoglou.</p><p>But over the long term, human-caused climate change has been gradually drying out the atmosphere and the fuel. "The observed changes in fuel dryness [plus the] number of days of high fire danger have been particularly stark in the American West over the past half-century," says Abatzoglou.</p><p>Since the 1970s the warm season in the West has heated up by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This extra heat has increased the evaporation of moisture from the surface. While atmospheric moisture has also increased some, it has not increased nearly as fast as the temperature. That has caused a long-term "moisture deficit" and has accelerated the rate of foliage drying. This is part of the reason why, according to research, the West has entered into one of the worst <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-drought-california-western-united-states-study/" target="_blank">megadroughts</a> in the past 1,200 years.<br> <br>A <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019EF001210" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recent study</a>, co-authored by Abatzoglou, found a direct link with <em>nearly all</em> of the increase in summer forest-fire area during the period from 1972–2018 driven by the increased moisture deficit. To illustrate just how impactful the moisture deficit is, right now, as <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/california-wildfire-overruns-14-firefighters-rugged-mountains/" target="_blank">unprecedented wildfires</a> burn out of control, the deficit is at record low levels in the majority of the Western U.S.</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
From the historic heat wave and wildfires in the West, to the massive derecho that tore through the middle of the nation, to the record-breaking pace of this year's hurricane season, the unprecedented and concurrent extreme conditions resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's happening right now.
<div id="004a5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="809799a50bac6ced919c6da89ce0efec"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1297987100491554816" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Multiple extremes resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's… https://t.co/CjhLfao5rc</div> — CBS News (@CBS News)<a href="https://twitter.com/CBSNews/statuses/1297987100491554816">1598299214.0</a></blockquote></div><p>To be sure, these events are not all related to each other, but the one thing they do have in common is that climate change makes each one more likely. The simple explanation is that there's more energy in the system and that energy is expended in the form of more extreme heat, fire, wind and rain.</p><p>It may be tempting to look at these extremes as a "new normal," but Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says while it may be new, it won't be normal.</p><p>"For some time we have talked about a 'new normal' but the issue is that it keeps changing. It does not stop at a new state. That change is what is so disruptive," he said.</p>
California Wildfires<p>The fires unfolding in California right now have no parallel in modern times. With more than 1 million acres burned in just one week, the season is already historic with more acres burned in this past week than is typical of an entire year. Two of the state's top three largest fires on record are burning at the same time — the LNU and SCU complex fires — with the likelihood that one of these will take over the top spot soon.</p><p>As of Monday morning, CalFire <a href="https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/" target="_blank">reports</a> over 7,000 fires have burned more than 1.4 million acres this season, overwhelming resources to the point where many of the smaller fires are being allowed to burn. CalFire stated that to fight these fires to the maximum of their ability, the agency would need nearly <a href="https://weatherwest.com/archives/7459" target="_blank">10 times</a> more firefighting resources than are available.</p><p>As is the case in any natural disaster, the cause can be traced to multiple coinciding events. In this case, the spark for most of these fires was a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lightning-siege-hits-california-with-nearly-12000-strikes-in-a-week-2020-08-22/" target="_blank">siege of lightning strikes</a> as a result of moisture drawn into California from two decaying tropical systems in the eastern Pacific, which ignited dry brush.</p><p>Daniel Swain is a well-known climate scientist who specializes in studying the link between climate change and weather in the West at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a <a href="https://weatherwest.com/archives/7459" target="_blank">blog post</a> he described how even someone like him, well-versed in climate disaster, is shocked by the current situation: "I'm essentially at a loss for words to describe the scope of the lightning-sparked fire outbreak that has rapidly evolved in northern California – even in the context of the extraordinary fires of recent years. It's truly astonishing."</p>
<div id="9db58" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ab45cd0dbe96672e8d896463f1d8fcca"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1296620330861989889" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">"Vapor pressure deficit" (gap between how much moisture *could* be in the air vs. how much is *actually* there) is… https://t.co/LXKN0hUQLi</div> — Daniel Swain (@Daniel Swain)<a href="https://twitter.com/Weather_West/statuses/1296620330861989889">1597973351.0</a></blockquote></div><p>According to the paper, "Nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during 1972–2018 was driven by increased vapor pressure deficit."</p>
Midwest Derecho<p>A derecho is a particularly fierce and long-lasting line of thunderstorms, often causing winds over 75 mph. While these weather events are common during summer, the <a href="https://www.weather.gov/dmx/2020derecho" target="_blank">event</a> that took place August 10 in Iowa and Illinois seemed otherworldly.</p><p>The squall line <a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147154/derecho-flattens-iowa-corn" target="_blank">plowed a path</a> 800 miles long and 40 miles wide through communities and corn fields, damaging <a href="https://www.radioiowa.com/2020/08/11/43-of-iowa-corn-soybean-crop-hit-by-mondays-storm/" target="_blank">43%</a> of Iowa's corn and soybean crop and causing nearly <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/iowa-storm-derecho-seeking-4-billion-dollars-disater-aid/" target="_blank">$4 billion in damage</a>. Winds are estimated to have reached up to 140 mph, with hurricane-force winds <a href="https://cbs2iowa.com/news/local/how-does-the-2020-iowa-derecho-compare-to-others" target="_blank">lasting</a> 40 to 50 minutes.</p><p>At first glance it would seem that this is just a freak natural event, with no real connection to climate change, but that may not be the case. While there is not much research on the connection between climate change and derechos, one <a href="https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2017AGUFM.A12C..01P/abstract" target="_blank">recent paper</a> found some alarming results.</p><p>The research team used a climate model to simulate mesoscale convective systems (MCSs), a technical term for masses of thunderstorms, in a warming world. These MCSs are the parent structures which sometimes spawn derechos. Using a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, the paper concluded: "At the end of the century, the number of intense MCSs are projected to more than triple in North America during summer due to more favorable environmental conditions." </p><p>The research also found that MCSs' maximum hourly precipitation rates will increase by 15% to 40% in the future, due to a warmer atmosphere loaded with more moisture. "The moisture source for MCSs in the central U.S. is predominantly the Gulf of Mexico and climate change will increase the low-level jet stream moisture transport from the Gulf northward," explains lead author Dr. Andreas Prein, from the National Center For Atmospheric Research.</p><p>"How this all relates to changes in derecho frequency and intensity is poorly understood," Prein admits, but now that climate models are capable of modeling this, he plans to make it a priority in future studies.</p><p>While Mann did not comment specifically on derechos, he does feel extreme events are not properly captured in current climate models. "I have argued that the climate models are likely underpredicting the impact on the frequency and severity of various types of extreme summer weather events due to deficiencies in their ability to capture some of the relevant jet stream dynamics."</p>
Hurricane Season<p>Having two tropical systems like Marco and Laura in late August, the beginning of the peak of hurricane season, is not abnormal, even if the storms are very close to one another. But what is abnormal is the record-setting pace of the current hurricane season. So far the Atlantic season has tallied 14 named storms, 10 days ahead of record pace. That's two more than the average number for an entire season, which runs through the end of November. Seasonal forecasters are <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hurricane-season-2020-forecast-extremely-active-24-named-storms/" target="_blank">predicting up to 25 named systems</a> this year, which would place second behind 2005.</p><p>While there are many factors that contribute to how active a hurricane season will be, the most obvious is the warm water which fuels storm development. This year, nearly the entire tropical Atlantic Basin is above normal. This is part of a long-term trend of warming in which Atlantic sea surface temperatures have<a href="https://twitter.com/ClimateCentral/status/1005109784750776320/photo/1" target="_blank"> increased</a> by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, and the measure of <a href="https://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/3M_HEAT_CONTENT/" target="_blank">Ocean Heat Content</a> hits record highs each and every year.</p><p>Warmer ocean temperatures do not guarantee more storms, but they do tip the balance, giving storms that extra boost to develop. After years of <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/07/how-climate-change-is-making-hurricanes-more-dangerous/" target="_blank">research</a>, climate science is still not sure how a warming climate will impact the number of systems in the future, but there is consensus that, in general, hurricanes will get stronger and the strongest, most destructive hurricanes will get more frequent. Since major hurricanes — <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hurricane-categories-what-the-ratings-scale-means/" target="_blank">Category 3 and greater</a> — are responsible for 85% of the damage, a warmer climate is likely to have devastating economic and human consequences.</p>
Compound Events<p>Within research circles and among emergency planners, the concept of <span style="background-color: initial;"><a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-multiple-disasters-at-once-study-warns/" target="_blank">compound threats</a></span> has become a very popular subject. For years now scientists have warned that increasing population, exposure and vulnerability combined with extreme events spiked by climate change, would overwhelm resources and compromise emergency response. Experts argue we are now seeing that unfold in real time.</p><p>"These equally profound events occurring in different parts of the country at the same time — what we call compounded or connected extremes — run the risk of putting significant strain on resources, budgets, and the supply chain," said Bowen. </p><p>This is a topic often missed in general discussions of climate change. It may seem easy to dismiss a few degree rise in global temperatures as inconsequential. However, when a cascade of extreme events, each made worse by human-caused climate change, pile on top of one another, it exposes the fragility of interconnected human systems. </p><p>"Add in the continued complications posed by COVID-19, and you're faced with even greater challenges in trying to get communities back on their feet," Bowen said.</p><p>Bowen recently authored a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0790-4" target="_blank">paper</a> with other prominent scientists attempting to tackle this complicated issue. He says because of socioeconomic factors, population spreading into more high-risk regions, and an acceleration of climate change, more intense events "will only exacerbate the impacts of these compound scenarios in the future." </p><p>Experts warn that what we are witnessing in the present moment is a window into everyday life in the not-too-distant future if humans do not reverse course and curb emissions. This is how climate change becomes a truly destabilizing force. That's why Bowen and colleagues argue that much more urgency is needed to identify these unexpected combinations and the risks they pose to society.</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Jane Goodall on Conservation, Climate Change and COVID-19: 'If We Carry on With Business as Usual, We're Going to Destroy Ourselves'
By Jeff Berardelli
While COVID-19 and protests for racial justice command the world's collective attention, ecological destruction, species extinction and climate change continue unabated. While the world's been focused on other crises, an alarming study was released warning that species extinction is now progressing so fast that the consequences of "biological annihilation" may soon be "unimaginable."
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By Jeff Berardelli
In recent weeks, our nation has been forced to come to grips with the variety of ways in which inequality harms minority communities, from the death of George Floyd at the hands of police to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. A recent Harvard study concluded that air pollution — which is typically worse in areas with larger minority populations — is linked to higher coronavirus death rates, along with a slew of other health problems.
By Irina Ivanova
The millions of Americans who are skipping their morning commute and working from home because of the coronavirus have drastically reduced smog over America's largest cities and otherwise benefited the environment. Yet the growing ranks of workers now plying their trade online using tools like Zoom and Slack are taking their own toll.
How Dirty Is the Cloud?<p>Indeed, the digital domain is hardly emissions-free. Manufacturing a smartphone, tablet or computer as well as the network that supports them consumes considerable resources — everything from <a href="https://cms.cbsnews.com/hub/cmsframework/reroute/content_article/56996486-e00f-41e8-ba81-aff54844d68e#link=%7B%22assetType%22:%22article%22,%22uuid%22:%2256996486-e00f-41e8-ba81-aff54844d68e%22,%22slug%22:%22how-clean-energy-demand-could-fuel-conflict-in-congo%22,%22linkText%22:%22mining%20rare%20minerals%22,%22href%22:%22https://cms.cbsnews.com/content/article/56996486-e00f-41e8-ba81-aff54844d68e/version/us%22,%22role%22:%22content_link%22,%22target%22:%22_blank%22,%22edition%22:%22us%22%7D" target="_blank">mining rare minerals</a> to laying undersea cables for high-speed internet. And of course it takes oodles of electricity to power the whole system. Electricity in the U.S. still comes <a href="https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3#link=%7B%22role%22:%22standard%22,%22href%22:%22https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3%22,%22target%22:%22_blank%22,%22absolute%22:%22%22,%22linkText%22:%22overwhelmingly%22%7D" target="_blank">overwhelmingly</a> from generators powered by fossil fuels, not wind or solar.</p><p>"When we're using our cars, we see that we're using gas … But when you use a computer or a smartphone, it is not so obvious that it's also responsible for greenhouse gas emissions," Hugues Ferreboeuf, project director at the Shift Project, a Paris-based think tank, recently told CBS News.</p><p>The Shift Project issued an alarming <a href="https://theshiftproject.org/en/article/lean-ict-our-new-report/#link=%7B%22role%22:%22standard%22,%22href%22:%22https://theshiftproject.org/en/article/lean-ict-our-new-report/%22,%22target%22:%22%22,%22absolute%22:%22%22,%22linkText%22:%22report%22%7D" target="_blank">report</a> last year that found digital technologies' energy demand was growing at an unsustainable rate. "The only chance to keep the [global] temperature increase to 2 degrees is to divide by two the greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years," Ferreboeuf said. "If we want to change things, there is no alternative to us reviewing the way we use digital." </p>
Big Data Gets Bigger<p>The silver lining is that, at least for now, the energy impact of cloud computing remains relatively modest. Over the past decade, data centers — often called the "brains" of the digital world — have massively increased the amount of information they process while increasing energy use only a little. Since 2010, such data crunching has jumped more than fivefold, while energy use rose only about 6%, according to a <a href="https://datacenters.lbl.gov/sites/default/files/Masanet_et_al_Science_2020.full_.pdf#link=%7B%22role%22:%22standard%22,%22href%22:%22https://datacenters.lbl.gov/sites/default/files/Masanet_et_al_Science_2020.full_.pdf%22,%22target%22:%22_blank%22,%22absolute%22:%22%22,%22linkText%22:%22paper%22%7D" target="_blank">paper</a> published this year in Science.</p><p>"We're consuming much more data than we used to for not that much more energy," said Masanet, the paper's lead author. </p><p>Here's why: Data center operators have become much better at heating and cooling their massive buildings, essentially limiting or even eliminating a function that hogged more energy than running the servers themselves. The trend toward larger centers and better servers over the last decade, led by cloud-computing giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, has also helped lower the energy-to-data ratio.</p>
Who Pays for Digital?<p>So has the coronavirus lockdown in the U.S. decreased carbon emissions overall? Scientists are currently exploring that question, and it will likely be months before they can come up with a definitive answer. Yet Masanet has a strong hunch the answer is "yes" — even taking into account the rise in binge streaming.</p><p>"Of course there's more electricity use from being online more, but the savings we get from avoiding our commutes dwarf any increase in electricity," he said. "My instinct is that, yes, electricity use is going up, but the savings we get nationally from avoided travel is much greater."</p>
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By Margaret Brennan and Kelsey Micklas
Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and since well before the COVID-19 outbreak, the World Health Organization has been tracing and analyzing the impact of how climate change is impacting public health.
But as the global community continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, top climate officials say our attention needs to shift to climate-related issues that directly impact our health.
Here Are Five Other Things to Know About How Climate Change Is Expected to Impact Public Health Worldwide:<p>1. <strong>Air pollution kills 7 million people a year throughout the world</strong></p><p><strong></strong>About <a href="https://www.who.int/airpollution/news-and-events/how-air-pollution-is-destroying-our-health" target="_blank">9 in 10 people</a> around the world are inhaling polluted air. Air pollution is a contributing risk factor for many other illnesses such as heart disease and respiratory illness. According to the World Health Organization, a third of the deaths from strokes, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution, and there is some evidence emerging out of the COVID-19 outbreak that suggests people living in areas with higher air pollution are more likely to be infected with the virus.</p><p>"We're getting the first indications that places with high levels of air pollution may also have high rates of death and disease from COVID-19," said Dr. Campbell-Lendrum. "It's not conclusive at the moment, but it's what we would expect and that's what we think we're starting to see."</p><p><strong>2. But air quality has largely improved due to the coronavirus outbreak</strong></p>
NASA Earth Observatory images, based on data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus satellite, show nitrogen dioxide emissions dramatically reduced over central China as the coronavirus outbreak brought cities to a standstill. NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY<p><br></p><p>While the coronavirus has had devastating impacts around the globe, it has also led to a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-satellite-animation-shows-pollution-clearing-over-china-and-italy/" target="_blank">decrease in air pollution</a>. In the northeastern United States, air pollution dropped by 30 percent in March, and countries like China and Italy have experienced similar decreases. </p>
NASA Earth Observatory images, based on data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus satellite, show nitrogen dioxide emissions dramatically reduced over central China as the coronavirus outbreak brought cities to a standstill. NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY<p>"We would never want to say this is okay, because the human cost of COVID-19 is so great," said Dr. Campabell-Lendrum. "What we do want to make clear is that we should try and hang on to some of these gains as we come out of the COVID-19 crisis."</p>
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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.
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