Climate Change: Part 6. Deadly serious now.
WHATS IN THIS BLOG:
• Wildfires in California.
• Greenhouse gases reach new high.
• New US government report – what does President Trump think?
There is a reason for Part 6 in this series on Climate Change. I am concerned that the world is on the cusp of a pretty big crisis. And I sense that events of the past couple months are moving USA opinions to a tipping point.
Part 5 and Part 6 here present information to support this tipping point. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – please use the Comment box at the bottom of the blog.
If you’re interested in reading previous Parts 1-5 you can do a search on Climate Change in the SEARCH box on the main page of my blog article.
WILDFIRES IN CALIFORNIA.
The Californian town of Paradise has been devastated by the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. When gale-force winds drove flames from the Camp Fire through dried-out scrub and trees into Paradise on 8 November 2018, its people fled for their lives. In the space of a day, the flames had engulfed much of the town – home to 27,000 residents.
• 81 dead.
• 15,200 buildings destroyed. Including nearly12,000 homes. The previous high was 5,300 buildings in 2003.
• In one expert’s opinion, the post-fire clean-up will be the biggest in California since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
What’s the connection between wildfires and global warming?
• I summarized a peer-reviewed study (see HERE) that showed that bigger fires are caused by higher temperatures in an area such as the northern Rocky Mountains. Higher temperatures in spring and summer cause earlier snowmelt, longer summers, drier forests, etc.
• The recent warming — of less than 0.9°C — caused the wildfires in western USA observed in spring and summer during recent decades. This is less than 1 C degree.
• Virtually all climate-model projections indicate that warmer springs and summers will occur over the western USA in coming decades.
• So it’s clear — more wildfires are coming! No, wait… it’s already happening, as the town of Paradise attests.
GREENHOUSE GAS CONCENTRATIONS REACH NEW HIGH IN 2017.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced in November 2018 that greenhouse gas concentrations measured in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2017. These are the gases that are driving up global warming. Here are just a few pointers from an insightful summary:
• Carbon dioxide levels reached 405 parts per million (ppm) in 2017, a level not seen in 3-5 million years.
• 2017 continues the rise in concentration of carbon dioxide which is now 46% greater than the levels in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution.
• Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, and level in the atmosphere is now 257% of what it was before the industrial revolution.
• Nitrous oxide comes from natural and human sources including fertilizer use and industry. It’s now about 122% above pre-industrial levels.
NEW US GOVERNMENT REPORT.
As reviewed by the BBC (click HERE), the Fourth USA National Climate Assessment, out on Thanksgiving Friday, says climate change is “presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth”:
• Global warming is here in the US, they say – now. It is already deadly serious and without urgent, dramatic change, it will be catastrophic.
• The report gives many specific examples – overwhelmed dams in South Carolina; failing crops in the parched Great Plains; a rise in insect-borne disease in Florida.
• And it majors on the economic impact, in effect challenging the White House’s insistence on prioritizing economic growth over environmental regulation.
• With warnings about the effects on crumbling infrastructure, falling crop yields and decreasing labor productivity, the report sounds an alarm that climate change will soon cascade into every corner of American life.
• “With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.”
• “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists and one of the report’s authors, said the report made it clear that climate change was not “some problem in the distant future”.
COMMENTS BY PRESIDENT TRUMP ON THE USA REPORT:
The White House said the report – compiled with help from numerous US government agencies and departments – was inaccurate.
Last month, President Trump accused climate change scientists of having a “political agenda”, telling Fox News he was unconvinced that humans were responsible for the earth’s rising temperatures.
After taking office he announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, which commits another 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels.
TAKEAWAY: “The new IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C shows that deep and rapid reductions of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will be needed in all sectors of society and the economy,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. [IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.]
APPENDIX: DATA THAT SUPPORTS GLOBAL WARMING IS MAN-MADE. The graph below shows a close correlation between carbon dioxide levels (the primary greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere and average global temperatures in recent years.
The years of the graph, 1880-2015, include the Second Industrial Revolution and during this time CO2 concentration has increased by 38%, which is a lot.
Rapid economic growth began to occur after 1870, springing from a new group of innovations in what has been called the Second Industrial Revolution. These new innovations included new steel making processes, the large-scale manufacture of machine tools and the use of increasingly advanced machinery in steam-powered factories. [GN: steel-making and steam-power relied on burning coal which is a huge emitter of carbon dioxide.]
The graph strongly suggests cause-and-effect: that made-made greenhouse gases have caused the heating of our planet.
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You don’t mention the sun as a change agent
Carole, I’ve heard evidence that long-term variation in sunspots (way longer than the 11-year cycle) can affect global temperature. E.g. Ken McCracken’s excellent book called Blast Off. But, the timing correlation between measured CO2 in the atmosphere since 1880 and the cause of this being increased coal-burning in the Second Industrial Revolution and the measured global warming temperature argues against the sun’s control — that would be too fortuitous I think.
Thanks for the update on climate change and the latest IPCC Special Report on Global Warming. I imagine that the fossil fuels industry sees the writing on the wall and is looking into clean energy options to some extent, but they could use a push by the U.S. government and energy agencies. I hope voters see what is happening and do what is necessary.
Yes John, it is a dilemma for oil-and-gas companies. Their business is to produce, deliver and refine oil and gas into electricity for homes and work, petroleum for cars, fuel for jets, heating for homes, and foodstock for plastics: things that have upgraded our quality of life immensely over the past 100 years.
At the same time, burning of fossil fuels in power plants and vehicles emits greenhouse gases such as CO2 and CH4 that are contributing to global warming. Made worse are emissions of methane from leaks in gas wells, pipelines, and processing facilities. This issue has boiled to the top of concerns in recent years.
What are the oil-and-gas companies to do? One major, Shell International, has taken a leading position. They argue that shell is confronting an energy transition period of 50 years which is their estimate of the time it will take to fix global warming (IPCC and other USA government reports say the time-scale for action needs to be much shorter). Other companies such as BP and Exxon-Mobil are following.
Thanks for your blogs on Climate Science, Ian. They have been accurate, well resourced and researched without the nastiness and unpleasant accusations we often see in this debate. I believe that this is the greatest moral challenge of our times and it is disappointing, even frightening, that action in this area is so often limited because of certain ideological positions based on a fear of change or on campaigns by fossil fuel companies. I think that opinions are changing but will politicians listen before it is too late!
Well-said Julian. An extra reason for non-acceptance of climate change (and staying with an idealogical position) is not being aware of the data. The graph at the bottom of the blog is data that is very hard to explain by anything else than man-made global warming. When the president asks, during a deep freeze weekend, “What became of global warming?” he’s confusing weather and climate. Climate consists of long-term trends while weather is daily. This suggests a poor understanding of what climate change actually is and what it predicts.
I have read the statistics and observed the graph demonstrating the close correlation between carbon dioxide levels and average global temperatures in recent years and many other factors such as glacial retreat, rising sea levels in Pacific island nations, more frequent and more severe cyclonic activity, all indicate that global warming is very real, and probably the greatest threat to mankind.
Unfortunately, Australia continues to export huge quantities of coal to China and other nations, yet, ironically, Australian governments are advocating the closure of coal-fired power stations. The Port Augusta (South Australia) coal-fired power station was decommissioned over two years ago and since then, the steel infrastructure has been cut up and the scrap exported to China. The scrap removal was completed last week and the final blow – the felling of the huge chimney – was carried out a few days ago. Massive solar power installations and wind farms have been constructed to offset the loss of that coal-fired facility, with more to follow.
However, Australia’s carbon footprint is relatively minor in comparison to China, India and USA, for example, and the mothballing of more coal-fired power stations in Australia is part of Australia’s push to promote itself as a “clean and green” economy.
The world is aware of the direction it needs to take to limit (or reduce) global warming but conversion to environmentally friendly power sources is a task that will take many years to accomplish. Immediate (or rapid) closing down of coal-fired power stations by government directive, without adequate replacement power sources, would create chaos, loss of production, loss of employment and great civil unrest. The owners of these coal-fired power stations could also lose a enormous amounts of money and, unless there is a massive construction program of alternative clean energy facilities in the heaviest polluting countries to replace the current power sources, I fear that global warming will continue.
Bob, thanks for an Australian perspective. It is irony when Australia closes coal-burning electricity power plants but sells coal to China to burn it in power plants there. I’ve heard though that China are starting to replace coal-burning plants with plants that burn natural gas (which is cleaner than coal).
You talk about Australia replacing coal-burning power plants by solar and wind renewables. The USA are taking a smaller step – replacing coal by gas-burning plants. It works economically because the shale revolution has made gas cheaper than coal. You don’t have a shale gas revolution over there but you have plenty of coal seam gas. Except that most of this is sold to southeast Asia countries including China!
I said the USA were taking a smaller step because natural gas burns cleaner than coal, but it still emits greenhouse gases (but only half as much). So natural gas power plants may be viewed as a halfway house. It represents progress towards reducing greenhouse emissions, but is it fast enough to save the planet? time will tell.