The Week in Climate Change

Jan. 1 — Jan 7, 2018

Sean C. Davis
Nov 29, 2018 · 8 min read
Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory: “The fast-moving storm hit the Southeast on January 3, delivering snow to Tallahassee, Florida, for the first time in three decades and knocking out power to tens of thousands of people in Georgia and Florida. Strengthening over the ocean, it then pummeled coastal areas of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey on January 4, with winds of up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour and several inches of snow.”

Science/Effects

Overall losses, including uninsured damage, came to $330 billion, according to the reinsurer, Munich Re of Germany. That tally was second only to 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami in Japan contributed to losses of $354 billion at today’s dollars.

Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas in August, was the most costly natural disaster of 2017, causing losses of $85 billion. Together with Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the 2017 hurricane season caused the most damage ever, with losses reaching $215 billion.

But that wasn’t all. The devastating wildfire season in California drove insured losses to around $8 billion. And at least five severe thunderstorms across the country, accompanied by tornadoes and hail, caused insured losses of more than $1 billion each.

Storms like this one have always threatened to flood coasts. Seven of New York City’s 10 worst coastal floods on record have been from nor’easters. With rising seas and warming wintertime oceans juicing the power of cyclones, there’s good reason to expect that huge winter storms will pose an increasingly severe risk to coastal communities in the Northeast. In fact, it’s exactly what we expect will happen with climate change.

It’s normal for winter storms to gather strength in a hurry — dozens of them do so every year around the world. But the “bomb cyclone” intensified at a rate far exceeding any storm to come close to the East Coast since the advent of weather satellites in the 1970s.

“Very recent research does suggest that persistent winter cold spells (as well as the western drought, heatwaves, prolonged storminess) are related to rapid Arctic warming, which is, in turn, caused mainly by human-caused climate change,” Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University and one of the study’s authors, said in an email.

“Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20–30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2ºC,” said Manoj Joshi, lead researcher from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. “But two-thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5ºC.”

Researchers determined that open-ocean “oxygen-minimum” zones have expanded since 1950 by an area roughy equivalent to the size of the European Union. The volume of ocean water completely devoid of oxygen has more than quadrupled in that time, the study found. The number of hypoxic, or oxygen depleted, zones along coasts has increased up to 10 times, from less than 50 to 500.

Our research has serious implications for coastal planners. Global warming is raising sea levels along the entire Atlantic coast, and communities should be preparing for it. In addition, our findings show that sea level can rise and fall around this level by more than 4 inches over a five-year period, due to variability in ocean-atmosphere interactions in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean basins. This variability can occur over the course of five to 10 years.

These hot spots amplify the severity of coastal flooding that is already occurring from storms and king tides. Residents between Charleston, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida — a stretch where sea levels are at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) higher now then they were in 2010 — have found this out the hard way.

From 2030 to 2050, the city could see $135 million in annualized loses; by the end of the century such losses could top $1 billion. “If anyone wants to question global warming, just see where the flood zones are,” Mayor Walsh told the Boston Globethis week. “Some of those zones did not flood 30 years ago. I think it reminds developers as they think about development, how do they build into that development potential protections?”

Lab experiments have shown that a wet bulb reading of 90 degrees F is the threshold beyond which people have trouble doing anything outside. The report, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found such conditions could occur three to five days a year in parts of the tropics. By late this century, climate change could even occasionally cause wet bulb conditions of 95 degrees Fahrenheit — a level equivalent to nearly 170 degrees of “dry” heat, which would make it difficult to survive without artificial cooling.

Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city, sits on the shores of Oahu. Its airport, which sees 19 million passengers a year, is at sea level. Its port, which has 14.6 million tons of commodities move through it each year, is at sea level. Its swankiest hotels are in the neighborhood of Waikiki, which is also at sea level. That’s why it will see a disproportionate percentage of the economic and societal impacts of climate change.

The report indicates that Oahu could see nearly $13 billion in losses and 13,300 displaced people, mostly in the greater Honolulu area. Because it serves as Hawaii’s main conduit to the rest of the world, the impacts there will ripple out to the other islands.

Energy

“Nothing is final,” Zinke said in remarks at a news conference. “This is a draft program. The states, local communities and congressional delegations will all have a say” before the proposal becomes final in the coming months.

The tax on companies selling oil in the United States generated an average of $500 million in federal revenue per year, according to the Government Accountability Office. The money, collected through a 9 cents-per-barrel tax on domestic crude oil and imported crude oil and petroleum products, constituted the main source of revenue for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Workplace deaths in the coal mining industry increased last year to their highest point in three years.

A total of 15 miners died on the job in 2017, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) data show, compared with eight in 2016.

Politics

“The Clean Power Plan would cut carbon pollution a third. A weak replacement that gets a percent or two in reductions won’t be a serious response to climate change and won’t meet Clean Air Act requirements. Americans — who depend on EPA to protect their health and climate — deserve a real solutions, not a scam,” said David Doniger, climate director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Instead of the 4.9 degrees Celsius increase the authors expect to see at the end of the century from the climate model alone (assuming business-as-usual carbon emissions), the paper’s so-called Climate Social Model found that, by 2100, temperatures could increase anywhere from 3.8 to 5.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. The range depends on how easy and accepted carbon-reducing behaviors become.

This paper concluded policy that helps people better understand climate change, and makes individual actions easier to implement, is the best way to get the temperature rise on the lower end of that scale.

We’re only a year into Trump’s reign, of course, and it’s far too early to predict his ultimate effects on energy markets. But his best case scenario — if Rick Perry succeeds in bailing out coal plants, if Pruitt’s regulatory rollbacks pass legal muster, if China’s mounting efforts to ditch coal fail — is that US coal’s decline is temporarily arrested.

[I]n my work, the impact was impossible to miss. I was helping to communicate the EPA’s goals to the public. And those goals were no longer about putting the environment first, especially if doing so would affect American industries.

What this means is that the 500 million acres of federal lands under the Department of Interior’s purview now lack basic guidelines on how address the world’s most important problem, as well as how to reduce the impacts of overuse. Which is stupid, but also par for the course as the Trump administration pursues a backwards fossil fuel agenda.

Activism

“If this country continues to encroach and continues to threaten our land rights and human rights, something is going to give,” said Dave Archambault, former chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, who led his people in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. “I can’t tell you what the next fight is going to be, but I know that if this country continues to treat a population the way it has, not just recently but the past 200 years, something has to happen.”

The Week in Climate Change

All of the climate news, science and activism you need to know about from the previous week— all in one place.

Sean C. Davis

Written by

Writer and stuff- politics, social issues, climate change, activism, etc.

The Week in Climate Change

All of the climate news, science and activism you need to know about from the previous week— all in one place.

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