Tag Archives: climate change

Species Extinctions

President Obama, when announcing his clean power plan to reduce carbon emissions said “we only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no plan B.” The current human population is about 7.4 billion and growing by about 80 million a year. The United Nations population program projects a global population of 11 billion people by the end of this century, on our only planet.

Humans and our as yet unrestrained growth are having a profound impact on our only home, planet earth. We have transformed our atmosphere by filling it with excess carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The oceans are becoming more acidic from the same carbon dioxide dissolving to form carbonic acid. Agriculture has transformed over 80 per cent of the arable land and 50 per cent of the total land surface.

Our evolutionary success comes at the expense of the rest of the planet’s wildlife. We are driving other species to extinction at an unprecedented rate. Species come and go but scientists at the World Wildlife Fund estimate that human activities have accelerated the rate by over a 1000 times the natural extinction rate.

Our largest or possibly most gentle competitors for the resources of the planet are going first. Marine mammals are particularly stressed. A twenty million year old river dolphin found only in China is now officially extinct. The Banjii, called the “goddess of the Yangtze,” succumbed to human pressures in the form of habitat loss, suffocation in fish nets and collisions with shipping.

The world’s smallest porpoise is also the world’s most endangered. The Vaquita lives in the northern end of the Gulf of California, There are likely less that 60 animals, and these continue to die mainly in fish nets, many of which are illegal. Scientists are considering a hail Mary approach to its survival similar to the successful effort to save the California Condor. The rescue plan would involve collecting and captive breeding to rebuild stocks of the Vaquita. The problem is that this animal has never been held in captivity and uncertainties abound.

All 5 of the worlds species of Rhinoceros are endangered. Fewer than 60 Javan and 100 Sumatran Rhino’s survive in southeast Pacific Islands. Other Rhinos in India and Africa are more numerous but still critically endangered.

All is not lost however, as there are a couple of uplifting trends. A giant concern for the future is global warming. On that front there is some good news. Carbon free energy sources around the globe are the fastest growing source of new power. Simultaneously at least here in the US, our per capita consumption is actually decreasing. Even though there are more of us, we each are using less.

Most promising for the planet is the strong positive correlation between increased women’s education and birthrates. The more educated a woman, the fewer children she will have. Also more educated women delay childbirth and are therefore better able to provide for the children they have.

Agriculture and Climate Change – A Two Way Street

garden

Global warming and the attendant changing climate is caused mainly but not entirely by burning fossil fuels. This releases carbon dioxide, the principle greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere which traps heat by absorbing infrared radiation. Close to 25 per cent of the greenhouse gasses produced in the United States is due to agriculture.

Fuel, mostly oil derived gasoline and diesel fuel is used in tractors and other farm equipment to produce and haul food and fiber. Additional fossil fuels are used to produce fertilizer and a bevy of “cides” – insecticides, herbicides, etc. .

Nitrous Oxide and Methane are two more greenhouse gasses released to the atmosphere and have agricultural sources. Nitrous Oxide comes mainly from application of nitrogen fertilizers. Methane comes from the action of anerobic bacteria on plant matter. This can occur in wet soils such as occur in rice farming. Sewage lagoons where the wastes from confined animal operations also produce methane. Last but not least the stomachs of ruminants such as cows and sheep contain the same bacteria and produce the same methane emissions.

A final agricultural contribution to global warming comes from clearing timberland or more importantly rainforests for crop production. This is not particularly an issue here in the United States but is an issue on the global stage. The role the United States plays is as a consumer. Rainforests in the Amazon basin are being cleared to create pasture for cattle, aka hamburgers. In southeast Asia forests are cleared to create cropland for palm oil production, aka deep fried whatever.

Briefly that’s the impact of agriculture on climate change, how about the obverse, the impact of climate change on agriculture, especially here in the United States? The picture is not pretty.

Global warming is a cause, climate change is a result. Changing climate means a disruption of agricultural zones, not only based on temperature, but also rainfall. Crop production, whether for us to eat directly or for feed for livestock requires climatic stability. Any individual crop requires just the right combination of temperature, rainfall at the right time and proper soil conditions for that crop.

Climate change will disrupt all of the above. Consider our breadbasket, grain production in the upper midwest. Two factors impacted by global warming are a problem. First is the temperature. As the planet warms the growing zone will shift to the north. No problem you say, we will just grow our corn in Manitoba rather than Iowa. The problem is that the deep loam of Iowa doesn’t exist in Manitoba, and soil is a big deal.

Second is timely rainfall. Computer models of global warming predict that rainfall patterns will change in two ways. Rainfall will increase in the coastal areas, but decrease in the mid-continental regions. Not good. Also what rainfall that does occur will come in more intense storms. Even worse.

We have to eat, but we need to learn to produce our food in ways that lessen our carbon footprint, and at the same time decrease our dependence on crops that are too sensitive to climate. For starters, support your local small farmers. They generally have a smaller carbon footprint and can react more quickly to climate change.

Hottest.April.Ever

While conservatives in several states are tearing their hair out over transgender bathroom issues and passing laws to the same and Donald Trump is ranting about Hillary coming for your guns, a more pervasive real issue is pounding on the front door.

For the seventh straight month, and the third strait year, it’s the hottest ever recorded on planet earth. Whether you use actual thermometer readings, or proxies for temperature such as freeze-thaw dates, the answer is the same. Whether you use land based or sea surface temperatures, the answer is the same. Whether you use ground based or satellite data, the answer is always the same.

It’s hotter than ever and more importantly, it’s getting hotter faster than ever. That is the really scary part. The earth’s average temperature has changed radically over time. It has been hotter and it has been colder, but never in the past 800,000 years has the temperature of the earth been warmer nor changed as rapidly as it has in the last couple of centuries. And the rate of change is accelerating.

This planetary cycle is driven by our continuing to flood the atmosphere with certain gases, called radiatively forcing gases which trap heat and hence warm the surface of the planet. It’s really not very complex science, and most of the world’s scientists understand.

The time period arbitrarily chosen as a baseline is 1950-1980. If we call that zero, then the temperature In in April was hotter than ever. New data from NASA, the agency that put man on the moon, and maintains people in space on the International Space Station, show that the average combined land and sea temperatures for April were 1.11 degrees Celsius (2.00 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the baseline. That is the average. It was much hotter near the poles (here in Bullfrog Valley it was actually a little cooler as I recall but BFV is not the rest of the world.)

In locations such as Alaska, Russian Siberia, and Greenland, the difference was as much as 4 C (> 7 degrees Fahrenheit). “The interesting thing is the scale at which we’re breaking records,” said Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “It’s clearly all heading in the wrong direction.”

The saddest and most maddening thing is that this is nothing new or surprising. Scientists around the planet have been beating the drum, loudly, since the 1980s. Our climate is in crisis and we need to act now. Every day we delay means more costs to our children both in dollars and a loss in biological richness. Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist warned of the possibility of global warming in a paper published in 1896, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid [Carbon Dioxide] in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.

Forewarned is forearmed, if we will just listen.

icey

Selective Environmental Review for 2015

A review of environmental protection, locally, nationally and internationally are all somewhat positive for 2015, especially when it comes to clean air and climate change issues.

Without doubt the biggest win for the environment was the December signing of an agreement by representatives from 190 countries to rein in global warming by reducing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions. Most of the world, with the exception a few countries such as North Korea and the republican leadership here in the US, agree that global warming and rapid climate change must be addressed. Of course the plan is voluntary and each country has submitted there own plan as to what they will achieve but it is an important first step for the international community.

In August this year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the clean power plan. The aim of the plan is to reduce CO2 emissions over 30 % by 2030. Each state has it’s own target. The formula is based on the amount of CO2 released per energy produced. Those states that have already taken steps will have an easier time achieving their particular goal. California has a relatively high mix of non carbon energy sources already so their target is only a 14 % reduction in emissions, whereas Arkansas needs a net reduction of 36 %.

Meeting the targets for the clean power plan will be made easier by the signing of the omnibus budget bill last week. Under the current legislation existing tax credits will not expire. The 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar will be extended for another three years. It will then ramp down incrementally through 2021, and remain at 10 percent permanently beginning in 2022. The 2.3cent per kWhr Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind will also be extended through next year. Projects that begin construction in 2017 will see a 20 percent reduction in the incentive. The PTC will then drop 20 percent each year through 2020.

After years of stalling the EPA will begin enforcement of their regional haze rule. This rule is will reduce smog especially in wilderness areas and National Parks by forcing regulation of cross-state emissions. Essentially power plants and Texas and Oklahoma will have to reduce smog which drifts downwind and impacts Arkansas’ air quality.

In November president Obama moved to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This oil pipeline was designed to move the heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Athabasca in Saskatchewan Canada to refineries on the gulf coast. Because of the nature of this heavy crude, most of its refined products would be exported and provide little benefit to the US, while adding a significant carbon load to the atmosphere.

Cleaner water has not escaped attention either. In May the EPA finalized a rule broadening the definition of what waters would be regulated and at the same time clarified the regulations for the Clean Water Act. The original act was initially applied to “navigable waters” and this lead to confusion. What is now called the waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule is meant to protect drinking water specifically and the environment more generally.

Finally a partial win to protect the Buffalo National River (BNR) from agricultural nutrient pollution follows from the state Pollution Control and Environment commission’s 5 year extension of a moratorium. It will prevent development of any new medium to large size hog factories in the watershed of the BNR. The existing 6,500 hog factory at Mt Judea will remain in operation.

Upcoming Paris Talks

Next month, world leaders from over 190 countries, and scientists that represent governments and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will meet again, this time in Paris, to try to address the issue of global warming. This is a mind-bogglingly difficult task. Fully 80% of the global economy runs on the energy produced from burning fossil fuels which releases Carbon Dioxide. The CO2 in the atmosphere acts like a blanket trapping heat which results in warming the planet.

The answer is simple and clear, but the solution is anything but. The answer is to stop burning carbon as an energy source. How that is achieved is the crux of the problem. Some say that if we can put a man on the moon, we ought to be able to solve the climate problem. To be honest that was an easy goal to achieve. First and foremost we did it essentially alone. The global warming challenge requires the cooperation of every country on the planet, something which has never happened before.

Our putting a man on the moon also didn’t require any special source of energy or concern for the wastes produced therefrom. To solve the global warming crisis will require a combination of drastic reductions in burning fossil fuels, massive improvements in energy efficiency to reduce demand and an expansion of sustainable non-carbon energy sources over an extremely short time scale, unprecedented in the history of mankind.

Some steps have been initiated in a few countries, most notably Western Europe, where several countries have moved aggressively to deploy wind and solar. On a good day Denmark can get 100 % of its electrical energy needs from wind. Germany is not particularly well situated for solar power yet in 2014 they produced over 6% of the electrical energy from solar PV panels. Even China is reacting. Their current 5-year plan has a goal of over 11% of energy needs from renewable sources. That’s some of the good news, the bad news is that it is not nearly enough.

If the countries could agree to reduce carbon emissions by 20% from the current scenario, over the next 50 years, it will only push back the time it takes to double the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by 10 years – from 2065 to 2075. Some countries such as those in western Europe have both the technological acumen and the political will to achieve that kind of a goal. Others like the US have the technology but as yet have not expressed the political will to take on the task. And finally much of the rest of the world has neither.

So where does that leave us? Eventually the planet with run out of energetically available fossil fuels, but it doesn’t look like curtailing their use will happen any time soon. Adapting to “a new world order” of the climate variety seems inevitable. If there is one thing we humans do well is adapt. As a species we are very young, but have come out of Africa and covered the globe, occupying every conceivable niche. From the frozen tundra to desiccated wastes of deserts. From lowland swamps to the tops of mountain ranges.

We will pull our cities back from the submerging coasts, and adapt our crops to the hotter regimen. But what about the rest of the biosphere? I suspect we will be adapting to a more biologically barren world.

Global Warming and Politics

Anthropogenic Global warming (AGW)and the resultant climate change is acknowledged by essentially every scientific body around the world. President Obama recognizes this and has instituted several policy initiatives.

These include but aren’t limited to a mandate to increase transportation efficiency to reduce the use of oil and oil derived fuels. The new Corporate Average Fleet Economy (CAFE) standard will rise to over 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

The EPA is completing rule making which will result in a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants. Obama also supports research and development of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal to replace the use of fossil fuels.

But Obama will leave office in 2017 and a new president will be in charge. What will be his or her policies towards global warming?

Democratic candidates are generally are more concerned about AGW and are more likely to enact policies that address the issue. Republican candidates, not so much.

Hillary Clinton, the hands down leader for the democratic party’s nomination, put AGW near the top of her priorities. She described it as “ “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.” She also joined with Obama by saying that she would defend the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Bernie Sanders, her challenger from the left for the democratic nomination is equally in favor of strong actions on AGW. At a speech in Burlington, the senator from Vermont said “Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world. And let’s be clear — if we do not get our act together and have the united states lead the world in combating climate change, there will be more drought, more famine, more rising sea level, more floods, more ocean acidification, more extreme weather disturbances.”

The current leader in the crowded republican field, Jeb Bush, has expressed concern for climate change but thinks private industries innovations such as fracking to produce natural gas will solve the problem. Natural gas, essentially methane, does burn cleaner than oil and coal; however methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Right now billionaire Donald Trump is runner up to Bush in the republican sweepstakes but like the remainder of the crowd is only in the single digits for support. He is a AGW denier. His comments tend to the claim that occasional cold weather or snow storms prove that it is a hoax. He has said little on energy policy but we could expect little action on climate change in his administration.

Just the announced Republican candidates are too numerous to include comments from all but here are a couple more.

Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, claims that climate change is irrelevant – “there’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on.” Mike Huckabee – “The volcano that erupted over in Northern Europe [in 2010] actually poured more CO2 into the air in that single act of nature than all of humans have in something like the past 100 years.” This patent falsehood shows where he stands.

Temperatiure vs time

Who’s in Charge of Our Enviroment?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific agency established in 1988 by the United Nations. It is comprised of climate scientists from around the world who focus on the risk of global warming and subsequent climate change. With every report, called assessments, the position of the scientific community is louder and stronger – The planet is warming, we are causing it, and we will suffer if we don’t address the root cause, the release of greenhouse gases.

From the most recent (fifth) assessment: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years, and human influence on the climate system is clear. It is extremely likely (95-100% probability) that human influence was the dominant cause of global warming between 1951-2010.”

The IPCC says little about how we should address the problem, only that we have a problem. The solution is to be left to the governments of the world. So for the United States, who is in charge and what do they think?

inhofe

inhofe

Jim Inhofe, republican from Oklahoma, is chairman of the senate committee on Environment and Public works. Mr Inhofe is essentially the poster boy for global warming denial. He has even written a book on the subject: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He has referred to the IPCC as a “soviet style trial” and the US EPA as a “gestapo bureaucracy.”

Murkowski

Murkowski

Lisa Murkowski, republican from Alaska, is Chairwoman of the senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In the past she has acknowledged that climate change is real and “we need to fight it…it doesn’t make sense to argue about how much global warming is caused by man — whether it’s 5 percent or 50 percent.“ That said, her actions speak louder than her words. She introduced a resolution to bar the EPA from regulating carbon emissions. She has called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to drilling for oil and gas. And she now claims that climate change “is too important an issue to rush and get wrong,” – shorthand for lets do nothing.

Smith

Smith

On the house side we have Lamar Smith, republican Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology committee. He claims that most of the predictions of the IPCC have been wrong and the reports clearly are biased. He stated that “we’ve now had close to 18 years of no global warming even though carbon dioxide emissions have increased 25 percent over the last 18 years. Nobody can explain that.” The only problem here is that he is dead wrong. Last year, 2014, was the hottest year and 13 of the last 15 years were the hottest on record.

bishop

bishop

The house committee on Natural Resources is chaired by Rob Bishop, republican from Utah. He received a lifetime score of only 4% from the League of Conservation Voters, meaning he consistently votes against conservation measures. He opined, “Despite the fact that scientific data underlying the studies of global warming appear to have been manipulated to produce an intended outcome, EPA officials disregarded the contaminated science, calling it little more than a ‘blip on the history of this process.’” There is no evidence whatsoever to the claim that data has been manipulated or that science is contaminated.