Heat — the next big inequality issue

The Guardian reports:

When July’s heatwave swept through the Canadian province of Quebec, killing more than 90 people in little over a week, the unrelenting sunshine threw the disparities between rich and poor into sharp relief.

While the well-heeled residents of Montreal hunkered down in blissfully air conditioned offices and houses, the city’s homeless population – not usually welcome in public areas such as shopping malls and restaurants – struggled to escape the blanket of heat.

Benedict Labre House, a day centre for homeless people, wasn’t able to secure a donated air-conditioning unit until five days into the heatwave. “You can imagine when you have 40 or 50 people in an enclosed space and it’s so hot, it’s very hard to deal with,” says Francine Nadler, clinical coordinator at the facility.

Fifty-four Montreal residents were killed by this summer’s heat. Authorities haven’t so far specified whether any homeless people were among them, but according to the regional department of public health, the majority were aged over 50, lived alone, and had underlying physical or mental health problems. None had air conditioning. Montreal coroner Jean Brochu told reporters that many of the bodies examined by his team “were in an advanced state of decay, having sometimes spent up to two days in the heat before being found”.

It was the poor and isolated who quietly suffered the most in the heat – a situation echoed in overheated cities across the world. In the US, immigrant workers are three times more likely to die from heat exposure than American citizens. In India, where 24 cities are expected to reach average summertime highs of at least 35C (95F) by 2050, it is the slum dwellers who are most vulnerable. And as the global risk of prolonged exposure to deadly heat steadily rises, so do the associated risks of human catastrophe.

Last year, Hawaiian researchers projected that the share of the world’s population exposed to deadly heat for at least 20 days a year will increase from 30% now to 74% by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to grow. (It will rise to 48% with “drastic reductions”.) They concluded that “an increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable”. [Continue reading…]

Terrified by ‘hothouse Earth’? Don’t despair, do something

Eric Holthaus writes:

A team of international researchers released what looks like a blueprint for catastrophe this week. On our current path, they warned, humanity might push the planet into an entirely new, hellish equilibrium, unseen since before the emergence of our species millions of years ago.

This doomsday scenario, which they dubbed “hothouse Earth,” could render large swaths of our planet uninhabitable. Their conclusion: “Humanity is now facing the need for critical decisions and actions that could influence our future for centuries, if not millennia.”

But that message got lost in the breathless media coverage over “hothouse Earth” — even though it’s the most important thing each one of us needs to hear at perhaps the most important turning point in our species’ history.

Yes, the prospect of runaway climate change is terrifying. But this dead world is not our destiny. It’s entirely avoidable. As the authors of the paper have argued in response to the coverage, implying otherwise is the same as giving up just as the fight gets tough. [Continue reading…]

Carmakers speed toward electric future despite Trump rollback

Bloomberg reports:

The Trump administration wants to try to limit California’s special ability to require increasing purchase of electric vehicles in the state—but major automakers say they have no intention of reversing course on their electric vehicle plans.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are targeting California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set stricter tailpipe emissions limits and zero emission vehicle requirements than the federal government.

The agencies, as part of a larger Aug. 2 proposal to relax Obama-era fuel economy standards for passenger cars, argued federal regulators’ authority preempts the Golden State’s ability to go beyond federal requirements.

“By 2020, more than 15 percent of our U.S. lineup will consist of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell electric vehicles. And that’s regardless of what regulation does,” Fred Turatti, general manager of environmental regulation for Toyota, told a July 23 event hosted by the Energy Consumer Market Alignment Project, a recently launched energy policy nonprofit group.

Toyota isn’t an outlier. Other major automakers told Bloomberg Environment, or have said publicly, they will stay on track toward their electric vehicle plans.

And analysts say that is because China—and the rapid growth in the country’s electric vehicle market—is a larger and more long-term driver for U.S. and foreign automakers’ focus on electric vehicles, more so than stringent federal fuel economy regulations or state zero emission vehicle mandates. [Continue reading…]

Scorching summer in Europe signals long-term climate changes

The New York Times reports:

In Northern Europe, this summer feels like a modern-day version of the biblical plagues. Cows are dying of thirst in Switzerland, fires are gobbling up timber in Sweden, the majestic Dachstein glacier is melting in Austria.

In London, stores are running out of fans and air-conditioners. In Greenland, an iceberg may break off a piece so large that it could trigger a tsunami that destroys settlements on shore. Last week, Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise mountain, no longer was in first place after its glacier tip melted.

Southern Europe is even hotter. Temperatures in Spain and Portugal are expected to reach 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend. On Saturday, several places in Portugal experienced record highs, and over the past week, two people have died in Spain from the high temperatures, and a third in Portugal.

But in the northernmost latitudes, where the climate is warming faster than the global average, temperatures have been the most extreme, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University and the World Weather Attribution network.

By analyzing data from seven weather stations in northern Europe, the researchers found that the closer a community is to the Arctic Circle, the more this summer’s heat stood out in the temperature record. A number of cities and towns in Norway, Sweden and Finland hit all-time highs this summer, with towns as far north as the Arctic Circle recording nearly 90-degree temperatures. [Continue reading…]

Trump administration unveils its plan to relax car pollution rules

The New York Times reports:

The Trump administration on Thursday put forth its long-awaited proposal to freeze antipollution and fuel-efficiency standards for cars, significantly weakening one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies to combat global warming.

The proposed new rules would also challenge the right of states, California in particular, to set their own, more stringent tailpipe pollution standards. That would set the stage for a legal clash that could ultimately split the nation’s auto market in two.

The administration’s plans immediately faced opposition from an unusual mix of critics — including not only environmentalists and consumer groups but auto-industry representatives as well as individual states — who are now launching efforts to change the plan before it is finalized. [Continue reading…]

Mexican president-elect vows to end use of fracking

The Associated Press reports:

Mexico’s president-elect said Tuesday that he will end fracking, the oil and gas extraction method that has just begun to take root in areas of the country’s north.

Asked about the potential risks of fracking at a news conference, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, “We will no longer use that method to extract petroleum.”

Mexico has a huge potential shale formation in the Burgos basin, similar to the Texas Eagle Ford fields.

But while a few wells have been drilled, the Mexican government has only recently scheduled bidding on opening some blocks for commercial development through fracking. [Continue reading…]

Scientists aren’t impressed with New York Times’ new feature story on climate change

Joe Romm writes:

The New York Times Magazine is hyping a massive new story claiming that the period from 1979 to 1989 was “The decade we almost stopped climate change.”

But the just-released, roughly 30,000 word article by Nathaniel Rich is already being widely criticized by leading scientists, historians, and climate experts. As physicist Ben Franta, who studies the history of climate politics, put it, “Rich’s exoneration of fossil fuel producers as well as the Republican party seem based on logical non sequiturs.”

Bob Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist and author of numerous studies on climate politics and lobbying, said in a media statement, “This article strikes me as a highly selective historical account that omits key facts that run counter to its overall narrative.”

In particular, “its treatment of industry actors is limited to their official statements, and neglect their political actions,” Brulle said. Those political actions have always been to oppose action on climate change and spread disinformation.

The article’s thesis is that the reason we failed to act during this supposedly “decisive decade” was neither Republican intransigence nor Big Oil’s efforts to downplay the issue and block action, but just human nature. [Continue reading…]

Global greening’ sounds good. In the long run, it’s terrible

Carl Zimmer writes:

“Global greening” sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Plants need carbon dioxide to grow, and we are now emitting 40 billion tons of it into the atmosphere each year. A number of small studies have suggested that humans actually are contributing to an increase in photosynthesis across the globe.

Elliott Campbell, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his colleagues last year published a study that put a number to it. Their conclusion: plants are now converting 31 percent more carbon dioxide into organic matter than they were before the Industrial Revolution.

Climate change denialists were quick to jump on Dr. Campbell’s research as proof that increased carbon dioxide is making the world a better place.

“So-called carbon pollution has done much more to expand and invigorate the planet’s greenery than all the climate policies of all the world’s governments combined,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute declared shortly after the study came out.

“The best messages are positive: CO2 increases crop yields, the earth is greening,” wrote Joseph Bast, the chief executive officer of the Heartland Institute, in an October 2017 email obtained by EE News.

In June, Mr. Bast co-authored an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in which he cited Dr. Campbell’s work as evidence of the benefits of fossil fuels. Our unleashing of carbon dioxide contributes “to the greening of the Earth,” he said.

Recently I talked Dr. Campbell, and as it turns out, he feels people like Mr. Bast are drawing the wrong lessons from his research. Here are four reasons he believes nobody should be celebrating “global greening.” [Continue reading…]

Coastal communities struggling to adapt to climate change are beginning to do what was once unthinkable: retreat

Jen Schwartz writes:

Retreating from the coasts, in concept or practice, is not popular. Why would people abandon their community, the thinking goes, unless no better alternatives remained? To emergency responders, retreat is a form of flood mitigation. To environmental advocates, it’s ecological restoration. To resilience planners, it’s adaptation to climate change. Everyone agrees, however, that retreat sounds like defeat. It means admitting that humans have lost and that the water has won. “American political institutions, even our national mythology, are ill-suited to the indeterminacy and elasticity of nature,” wrote journalist Cornelia Dean nearly two decades ago in her book Against the Tide. “It would almost be un-American to concede … that it is we who must adapt to the ocean, not the other way around.”

The U.S. has occasionally experimented with retreat on a tiny scale by offering voluntary buyouts to waterlogged families. The outcome is rarely promising. “Buyouts are extremely expensive, extremely disruptive, and many of the attempts have not gone well,” says Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They invoke fear among citizens in every political stratum, bringing to mind land grabs, racist resettlement projects, class warfare, and, depending on your ideology, either federal overreach or federal abandonment. Because they require coordination among politicians, homeowners, lawyers, engineers, banks, insurers and all levels of government, they are enormously complicated to execute, even poorly. At their worst, buyouts break up community support systems, entrench inequality and leave a checkerboard of blighted lots in their wake. At their best, they avoid these things and still displace people from their homes.

Yet anyone who has looked at a map that forecasts sea-level rise can see that in low-lying neighborhoods exposed to the tides, some amount of retreat is inevitable. Regardless of how much and how quickly humans cut greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is already producing effects that cannot be reversed. Within a few decades, as saltwater begins to regularly block roads, kill wetlands, disrupt power supplies, bury popular beaches, undermine houses and turn common rainstorms into perilous floods, the most vulnerable pockets of coastal towns will become uninhabitable. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned, “today’s flood is tomorrow’s high tide.” [Continue reading…]

California’s longer, hotter summers spark deadly, destructive fire season

The Ventura County Star reports:

California wildfires tore through mountains and foothills and into neighborhoods this week as record-breaking heat combined with increasingly dry conditions in the Golden State.

On Friday, fires burned out of control, stretching resources thin in areas and forcing thousands to leave their homes.

“We have a number of big destructive wildfires burning in very different parts of the state,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “There’s a lot going on right now in a very active fire season.”

And it’s still early, and that’s nothing new.

After a yearslong drought and persistently warmer weather, the fire season has stretched in both directions, starting earlier and lasting longer. Some have dubbed it “a new normal” for California.

Together, Cranston Fire in Riverside County, Ferguson near Yosemite National Park and Carr Fire in Shasta County had burned through more than 100,000 acres.

The Carr Fire more than doubled in size between Thursday and Friday as it hopped a river and swept into the city of Redding overnight. Two people have died in the blaze and dozens of homes have been destroyed.

“That’s the type of fire behavior firefighters are used to seeing during the hottest parts of the day, not in the middle of the night,” said Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at the University of Idaho.

“That sort of extreme, it’s something we have seen a lot in the past couple years, but it’s something we’ve been seeing more frequently and with greater magnitude for the last 20, 30 years,” she said.

Kolden disagreed with calling conditions a new normal.

“That implies that it’s not going to get that much worse,” she said. “But what our projections tell us is that it’s going to get worse.” [Continue reading…]