Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Slowing Emissions to Beat the Heat

We know that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address the climate crisis. It is getting hotter and it will get hotter still. Left unchecked we will create a future in which there will be swaths of the earth that will be uninhabitable for parts of the year.

In an Intelligencer's, David Wallace-Wells described July as, "a month of historic, even unprecedented, climate horrors". This is but the most recent manifestation of decades long warming trends. In 2018 we witnessed another summer of extreme heat, especially in the Arctic. This is driving a whole host of phenomenon including wildfires. For decades scientists have been warning that increases in atmospheric carbon will generate more intense extreme weather and larger fires.

We are entering uncharted territory. Historically we have used past temperatures to anticipate future weather, but this is no longer valid explains LeRoy Westerling, a management professor who studies wildfires at UC Merced. It is inaccurate to describe this worsening temperature trend as the new normal because there is no baseline we can draw upon. The statistical mean is trending ever upwards at an accelerating pace."We can no longer use the observed past as a guide. There’s no stable system that generates a measurable probability of events to use the past record to plan for the future," Westerling said.

The media is failing in its duty to report the facts. Wallace-Wells review of Media Matters this summer showed that of the 127 heat related segments on the major networks only one mentioned climate change. Climate change is an unavoidable part of the heat equation and if we want to try to stabilize the warming trend, we will need to reduce climate change causing emissions.

The tragic irony is that we were taking important steps to stem the tide of rising emissions. Almost 200 countries signed on to the Paris Accord designed to work towards keeping temperatures from rising beyond the tipping point of 2C (3.6F) above postindustrial levels. We are running out of time as we are already more than half way there as the average global temperature has increased by more than 1C.

There are also other incentives for reducing emissions. It both saves lives and reduces costs. According to recent research, without mitigation and adaptation efforts there will be 200,000 heat-related deaths per year in Europe by 2100, as well as €10 billion ($15.7 billion) worth of river flood damages, increased forest fire damage and reduced crop yields.

Europe has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and by 80-95 per cent by 2050. However, emissions reductions pledges are in doubt due in large part to the actions of the Trump administration in the US. This administration is doing the opposite of what it must do to reduce emissions. Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt went a long way to killing climate action in the US.. The Trump administration is embracing fossil fuels at the expense of renewable forms of energy. Despite the benefits of efficiency, this administration has embraced a policy of inefficiency.

Researchers who study the relationship between heat and climate change argue that governments should be doing more to cut carbon emissions. This was the conclusion of a climate-change attribution study.

"The logic that climate change will do this is inescapable - the world is becoming warmer, and so heatwaves like this are becoming more common," said Dr Friederike Otto, from the University of Oxford at the University of Oxford. She works for the World Weather Attribution (WWA) consortium.. "What was once regarded as unusually warm weather will become commonplace - in some cases, it already has," she added.

"We are not taking the right measures," said Dr Robert Vautard, from the CNRS in France. "We are discovering climate change rather than doing something against it."

The Huffington Post reports on a recent study which states that we are at risk of creating "hothouse" conditions with temperature increases of as much as 5 degrees Celsius above global average temperatures. This research was conducted by scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Center, the University of Copenhagen, Australian National University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

While mainstream media may not report it, the truth about climate change is disquieting to say the least. Unabated warming will trigger tipping points which could accelerate warming beyond the point from which we can recover. Warming above 2C may trigger permafrost thaw releasing greenhouse gases, the release of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weaker land and ocean carbon sinks, the loss of Arctic summer sea ice and the reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets.

"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another," said Johan Rockström, co-author of the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

In addition to reducing GHG emissions the report suggests that we will also need to improve forest, agricultural and soil management, conserve biodiversity and implement technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

We know that we have to reduce emissions. We need popular media to inform the public about the facts and we need political leaderships that are receptive to science.

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