Monday, May 28, 2018

Transitioning to a sustainable energy in the Climate Change Bottleneck

As we move further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our planet heats up more and our past environmental abuses (pollution, loss of biodiversity) catch up with us, we should transition quickly to clean energy sources.

If you’re trying to visualize what a Climate Change Bottleneck looks like, check out this recent interactive article in the New York Times that reveals a world steadily getting impacted by climate-related disasters.

“Christina DeConcini, the director of government affairs at the World Resources Institute, said that federal programs do not adequately emphasize adapting to the risks posed by climate change.” (The Places in the U.S. Where Disaster Strikes Again and Again, May 24, 2018 New York Times)

Many people agree with the moral proposition that we must change to a clean energy paradigm. Not doing so means a miserable future for all, which of course, is immoral. But many folks also doubt whether we can actually move to 100% renewables on a scale and time frame that will matter.

The famous Jacobson Study, which concluded that 100% renewable energy by 2050 is very possible, has gained more ground.

New Mark Z. Jacobson Study Draws A Roadmap To 100% Renewable Energy Last August, Mark Jacobson, a renewable energy expert and senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University, was the leader of a study that identified how 139 countries around the world could obtain 100% of their energy from renewable sources by 2050. But that study got some pushback from people who questioned its assumptions. The naysayers said the study relied too heavily on energy storage solutions such as adding turbines to existing hydroelectric dams or storing excess energy in water, ice, and underground rocks. (February 8, 2018) CleanTechnica)

Another study says we can also.

Can we get 100 percent of our energy from renewable sources? New article gathers the evidence to address the sceptics Is there enough space for all the wind turbines and solar panels to provide all our energy needs? What happens when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow? Won't renewables destabilise the grid and cause blackouts? In a review paper last year in the high-ranking journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Master of Science Benjamin Heard and colleagues presented their case against 100% renewable electricity systems. They doubted the feasibility of many of the recent scenarios for high shares of renewable energy, questioning everything from whether renewables-based systems can survive extreme weather events with low sun and low wind, to the ability to keep the grid stable with so much variable generation. (May 17, 2018) EurekAlert! [more on Energy and Climate Change in our area]

However, with the Trump administration fighting hard to bring back coal and discouraging renewable energy, we cannot sit back and assume that this energy transition will occur without our help.
In this context, where the Climate Change Bottleneck is getting worse, environmentalists are helping the public to understand the nature of our energy transition and how, if we get going, our future doesn’t have to be a disaster. The Sierra Club is devoting the entire month of June to showcase this film (see below) around the country in order to show that the energy transition has not only begun, it’s exciting.

Reinventing Power: America’s Renewable Energy Boom takes us across the country to hear directly from the people making our clean energy future achievable. These individuals are working to rebuild what’s broken, rethink what’s possible, and revitalize communities. These stories are proof that America does not need to choose between keeping our lights on and protecting our communities. Critically, Reinventing Power underscores the notion that we don’t have to sacrifice jobs for a clean environment. Supporting a clean energy future means building a better, more prosperous future for everyone. Over the film’s 50 minutes, you’ll meet people in eight states whose lives were changed by the renewable energy industry while exploring various aspects of the clean energy industry from innovation to installation. Sierra Club.

Monday, June 11th at 6:30PM the Rochester Sierra Club will be screening this film at the Brighton Library’s learning Center, 2300 Elmwood Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618.

We hope you will RSVP, show up, see the film, and help us move our region towards 100% renewable energy. We’ll have a discussion afterwards on how to bring our planet’s temperature down. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What are the latest Climate Change indicators telling us?

In The Truth About Animals, author Lucy Cooke explains how incredibly wrong our ancestors got the facts about many animals because of our prejudices. The animals—sloths, bats, vultures, beavers, and many more—are still around and are now understood quite well. But it’s difficult today to imagine how strongly our ancestors believed the most ludicrous myths (migrating birds flew to the moon in winter) about these creatures. A little objective reasoning and keener observations would have relieved many people of their wild untruths about even the most common of animals.

Will those for whom we will someday be their ancestors wonder in jaw-dropping incredulity at our unbelievable intransigence on Climate Change? Why, might they ask, were we not convinced by the science of the day and the facts staring us right in the face?

The answer is that we too still hold prejudices about reality. In our case, it may be because the implications of our admitting the enormity of the crisis keeps putting us off from doing what is needed. Or, we just simply refuse to think about Climate Change. Period.

What we know today about Climate Change, including the consensus of climate scientists who know that this planetary warming is happening and that we are causing it, is that there are many indicators of Climate Change that reveal the wide-ranging changes going on. Climate indicators, observed changes in our climate system, often cover specific regions of our planet. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) indicators cover the US. California has some of the same indicators and some of its own.

Climate change ruining California’s environment, report warns Bigger, more intense forest fires, longer droughts, warmer ocean temperatures and an ever shrinking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada are “unequivocal” evidence of the ruinous domino-effects that climate change is having on California, a new California Environmental Protection Agency report states. The 350-page report released Wednesday tracks 36 indicators of climate change, including a comprehensive list of human impacts and the effects on wildlife, the ocean, lakes, rivers and the mountains. The study pulled together research from scientists, academia and research institutions and found that despite a marked downward trend in greenhouse-gas emissions in California, including a 90 percent drop in black carbon from tailpipe emissions over the past 50 years, CO2 levels in the atmosphere and in seawater are increasing at a steady rate. (May 9, 2018) San Francisco Chronicle[more on Climate Change in our area]

In the above study “Indicators of Climate Change in California”(May 2018) on page S-14, you get a glimpse of how these indicators are arranged so scientists can measure and track our climate crisis:

CLIMATE CHANGE DRIVERS: Greenhouse gas emissions, Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, Atmospheric black carbon concentrations, Acidification of coastal waters
CHANGES IN CLIMATE: Annual air temperature, Extreme heat events, Winter chill, Cooling and heating degree days, Precipitation, Drought
IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON PHYSICAL SYSTEMS: Snowmelt runoff, Snow-water content, Glacier change, Lake water temperature, Coastal ocean temperature, Sea level rise, Dissolved oxygen in coastal waters
IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS: On humans: Vector-borne diseases, Heat-related mortality and morbidity. On vegetation: Forest tree mortality, Wildfires, Ponderosa pine forest retreat, Vegetation distribution shifts, Changes in forests and woodlands, Subalpine forest density, Fruit and nut maturation time. On wildlife: Spring flight of Central Valley butterflies, Migratory bird arrivals, Bird wintering ranges, Small mammal and avian range shifts, Effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms (Type III*), Nudibranch range shifts, Copepod populations, Sacramento fall-run Chinook salmon, abundance, Cassin’s auklet breeding success, California sea lion pup demography (Note: A “Type III” indicator is conceptual; no ongoing monitoring or data collection is in place.)

After reading the entire report, you may not feel so queasy about California’s attempts to require solar panels on new homes. I know, people, especially people in the developed nations, do not like to be told what to do—so a rule requiring new homes to be built with solar panels may not go so well.
But besides the gloomy report from California, the world itself is seeing Climate Change indicators go through the roof. The Arctic was very warm this year. [See Another extreme heat wave strikes the North Pole a very warm Arctic this year, May 7, 2018 The Washington Post.] And, our planet’s greenhouse gas concentration is reaching new highs. [[See: Earth has crossed a scary threshold for the first time in more than 800,000 years, and it could lead to tens of thousands of deaths, May 9, 2018 Business Insider]

There are also some new studies, reported on this week, that indicate that there might be some more Climate Change indicators we need concern ourselves with: The Atlantification of the Arctic, the slowing down of ocean circulation, and a surprising amount of methane oozing up from our freshwater lakes. Much more methane (a very potent greenhouse gas) comes from our freshwater lakes than all the oceans—who knew? 

Along with the dismal progress in the Bonn Climate talk last week, things are looking a bit bleak for our future. If we find ourselves laughing at how our ancestors thought the world worked back in the day, we might reflect on our own generation’s lack of appreciation of the speed at which our Climate Change indicators are shifting and our increasing disinclination to even look. We are dismantling our climate. Our children won’t think it all so humorous.

Time passes. 

Monday, May 07, 2018

Why doesn’t the new CDC report “Vital Signs: Trends in Reported Vectorborne Disease Cases” mention Climate Change?

From which side of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s mouth should we understand Climate Change’s role in the rapid spreading of tick and mosquito infections? Our public health officials should offer more clarity about Climate Change and public health when communicating to the public.

The report’s abstract does not mention Climate Change, nor does the CDC public information page on the study: “Illnesses on the rise From mosquito, tick, and flea bites”.

In two of our major publications, the same CDC official seems to highlight the importance of Climate Change in the recent spread of vectorborne diseases in one paper and in the other paper shies away from this position.
  • ·         From The Washington Post: “Climate change, which experts say can exacerbate many public health threats, also plays an important role, allowing mosquitoes and ticks to thrive in warmer temperatures, said Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, which produced the report”
  • ·         From The New York Times: “But the author, Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, the agency’s director of vector-borne diseases, declined to link the increase to the politically fraught issue of climate change, and the report does not mention climate change or global warming.” 

In our local Rochester media, we see a little more clarity about the significance of the CDC report and Climate Change. Both The Post and WHEC Rochester use this quote: “The biggest factor behind the boom is climate change, according to Dr. Emil Lesho at Rochester Regional Health. He said that as warmer temperatures spread north, mosquitos and ticks are traveling with it.”

Outside this new study, the CDC understands fully the connection between Climate Change and the rise in “Diseases Carried by Vectors”:

“Climate is one of the factors that influence the distribution of diseases borne by vectors (such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, which spread pathogens that cause illness). The geographic and seasonal distribution of vector populations, and the diseases they can carry, depends not only on climate but also on land use, socioeconomic and cultural factors, pest control, access to health care, and human responses to disease risk, among other factors. Daily, seasonal, or year-to-year climate variability can sometimes result in vector/pathogen adaptation and shifts or expansions in their geographic ranges. Such shifts can alter disease incidence depending on vector-host interaction, host immunity, and pathogen evolution. North Americans are currently at risk from numerous vector-borne diseases, including Lyme, dengue fever, West Nile virus disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plague, and tularemia. Vector-borne pathogens not currently found in the United States, such as chikungunya, Chagas disease, and Rift Valley fever viruses, are also threats.” (Diseases Carried by Vectors, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The New York State Department of Health understands the Health Impacts from Weather and Climate, where vectorborne diseases like Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus are affected by Climate Change. And so does our own City’s climate plan:

Impacts to human health and equity. Climate change will have a variety of public health consequences, including heat-related illnesses, allergies, asthma, water and food borne illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and others. The risk of some diseases carried by insects may increase. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease are active when temperatures are above 45°F. Warmer winters could lengthen the season during which ticks can become infected or people can be exposed to the ticks. Higher temperatures would also expand the area that is warm enough for the Asian tiger mosquito, a common carrier of West Nile virus. Climate change may also exacerbate heat related and respiratory illnesses.” (Page 4, Climate Action Plan)

So, why doesn’t the new CDC study reflect what most experts (even themselves) know about Climate Change and vectorborne diseases?

One of the messages that the CDC seems to be communicating in our troubling climate science times is that only at the local level can we solve vectorborne diseases. In this view, our local agencies and the public need to get on the ball—spray more pesticides, stay inside, etc.

But if Climate Change is one of the major reasons why more people are being bitten by more insects in more regions (and it is), then part of the solution can only be achieved at the federal and worldwide levels. We cannot spray our way out of vectorborne diseases (although the pesticide companies would love this notion to take root in our heads). We need to stop the conditions that allow more vectorborne diseases into previously cooler areas. We need to decrease the heavy flooding caused by Climate Change, which increases the spread of insects in areas like ours, and stop the northward warming trend that tropical-disease carrying insects love so much.

In other words, we need to address Climate Change. All our media need to convey to the public the connections among the consequences of Climate Change—not just through liberal strongholds. What is happening in the USA with the new disrespect for science, especially climate science, is probably happening in other nations. But certainly not to the same extent as here in the USA under the Trump administration, since most nations are scrambling to preserve the legitimacy of the Paris Accord. 

If we don’t solve our present politicalizing of science and trying to adapt to changes in our environment through a contorted view of reality, we are going to be trying to solve the problem without getting at the root cause. We’ll be trying to put out a fire in our stove, while our house burns down.

We and our public agencies need to get on the same page, where 97% of climate scientist agree that Climate Change is happening, and we are the cause. [See “Scientific consensus: Earth's climate is warming”, NASA Global Climate Change.]  We are running out of time:   

Earth’s atmosphere just crossed another troubling climate change threshold For the first time since humans have been monitoring, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have exceeded 410 parts per million averaged across an entire month, a threshold that pushes the planet ever closer to warming beyond levels that scientists and the international community have deemed “safe.” The reading from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii finds that concentrations of the climate-warming gas averaged above 410 parts per million throughout April. The first time readings crossed 410 at all occurred on April 18, 2017, or just about a year ago. Carbon dioxide concentrations — whose “greenhouse gas effect” traps heat and drives climate change — were around 280 parts per million circa 1880, at the dawn of the industrial revolution. They’re now 46 percent higher. (May 3, 2018) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change in our area]

Time passes.