How Costa Rica is pursuing decarbonization despite global inaction

 

The race to understand Antarctica’s most terrifying glacier

Jon Gertner writes:

Few places in Antarctica are more difficult to reach than Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized hunk of frozen water that meets the Amundsen Sea about 800 miles west of McMurdo. Until a decade ago, barely any scientists had ever set foot there, and the glacier’s remoteness, along with its reputation for bad weather, ensured that it remained poorly understood. Yet within the small community of people who study ice for a living, Thwaites has long been the subject of dark speculation. If this mysterious glacier were to “go bad”—glaciologist-­speak for the process by which a glacier breaks down into icebergs and eventually collapses into the ocean—it might be more than a scientific curiosity. Indeed, it might be the kind of event that changes the course of civilization.

In December 2008, a Penn State scientist named Sridhar Anandakrishnan and five of his colleagues made the epic journey to Thwaites, two days from McMurdo by plane, tractor, and snowmobile. All glaciers flow, but satellites and airborne radar missions had revealed that something worrisome was happening on Thwaites: The glacier was destabilizing, dumping ever more ice into the sea. On color-coded maps of the region, its flow rate went from stable blue to raise-the-alarms red. As Anandakrishnan puts it, “Thwaites started to pop.”

The change wasn’t necessarily cause for alarm. Big glaciers can speed up or slow down for reasons that scientists still don’t completely grasp. But Anandakrishnan knew that Thwaites’ unusual characteristics—it is shaped like a wedge, with the thin front end facing the ocean—left it vulnerable to losing vast quantities of ice quickly. What’s more, its size was something to reckon with. Many glaciers resemble narrow rivers that thread through mountain valleys and move small icebergs leisurely into the sea, like a chute or slide. Thwaites, if it went bad, would behave nothing like that. “Thwaites is a terrifying glacier,” Anandakrishnan says simply. Its front end measures about 100 miles across, and its glacial basin—the thick part of the wedge, extending deep into the West Antarctic interior—runs anywhere from 3,000 to more than 4,000 feet deep. A few years before Anandakrishnan’s first expedition, scientists had begun asking whether warming waters at the front edge could be playing a part in the glacier’s sudden stirring. But he wanted to know what was going on deep below Thwaites, where its ice met the earth. [Continue reading…]

Have the Democrats hit a tipping point on climate change?

The New Republic reports:

When President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address nearly a year ago, he didn’t talk about climate change. But he didn’t get criticized nearly as much as the Democratic Party did for failing to mention the topic in its official response to Trump’s speech. The omission led the Sierra Club to declare that Democrats had “a climate change problem,” while the far-right website Breitbart announced that global warming had “officially ceased being an important issue in U.S. politics. #Winning!”

But the political climate in Washington has changed since then, especially after Democrats won back the House of Representatives in last month’s blue wave. Environmental protestors have flooded the Capitol twice in high-profile demonstrations, demanding senior Democratic leaders support a “Green New Deal.” Recent polling shows that Democratic voters are prioritizing climate change as an issue for the next Congress. And Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020 are facing pressure to support aggressive climate policies.

That last development is particularly surprising given that most Democratic candidates didn’t talk about global warming at all during their midterm campaigns. So what happened? Who is responsible for this newfound climate enthusiasm, and is it sustainable? Will it lead to meaningful action over the next two years, or peter out by 2020?

Some credit must be given to progressive darlings like incoming New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three-term Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who showed with their midterm campaigns that it was possible to mobilize voters around the promise of comprehensive climate legislation. O’Rourke lost his challenge to Senator Ted Cruz by fewer than 3 points, despite running as a staunch environmentalist in an extremely Republican state. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign centered on creating a Green New Deal, an ambitious plan inspired by FDR’s New Deal to invest trillions in renewable energy development and manufacturing. At the time, climate scientists told me that, if Democrats ever decided to mobilize on global warming, a plan as aggressive as Cortez’s could make a tangible difference in lessening some of warming’s expected catastrophic effects. [Continue reading…]

The Arctic is in even worse shape than you realize

The Washington Post reports:

Over the past three decades of global warming, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95 percent, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card.

The finding suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state, with major implications not only for creatures such as walruses and polar bears but, in the long term, perhaps for the pace of global warming itself.

The oldest ice can be thought of as a kind of glue that holds the Arctic together and, through its relative permanence, helps keep the Arctic cold even in long summers.

“The younger the ice, the thinner the ice, the easier it is to go away,” said Don Perovich, a scientist at Dartmouth who coordinated the sea ice section of the yearly report.

If the Arctic begins to experience entirely ice-free summers, scientists say, the planet will warm even more, as the dark ocean water absorbs large amounts of solar heating that used to be deflected by the cover of ice. The new findings were published as climate negotiators in Poland are trying to reach a global consensus on how to address climate change. [Continue reading…]

Climate change is not only influencing extreme weather events, it’s causing them

Brandon Miller writes:

Extreme weather events that spanned the globe in 2017 have been directly linked to — and in some cases were even caused by — continued warming of the planet via human influence through greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report.

For the second year in a row, the annual report from the American Meteorological Society found weather extremes that could not have happened without human-caused warming of the climate. Advances in scientific modeling and additional climbs in temperatures are making the connection between global warming and extreme weather much more concrete.

“Global temperature, the backdrop in which extremes are unfolding, continues to rise. … Nature is thereby increasingly rolling back its curtain of sensitivity to rising greenhouse gases,” Martin Hoerling, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the authors of Monday’s report, wrote in an email.

“This alone is making it easier to scientifically identify the fingerprint of human influence, not to mention improved modeling tools,” Hoerling said.

Scientists found that record warm waters in the Tasman Sea in 2017 and 2018 “were virtually impossible without global warming,” and they concluded that a crippling drought in East Africa that has led to food shortages for millions of people would not have occurred naturally before the Industrial Revolution, when humans began to interfere with the climate system.

Included in the 17 events identified in the report in which global warming played a role were major floods such as those with Hurricane Harvey, fires, heat waves over land and in the ocean, and even record low sunshine in Japan in August 2017. [Continue reading…]

The planet has seen sudden warming before. It wiped out almost everything

Carl Zimmer writes:

Some 252 million years ago, Earth almost died.

In the oceans, 96 percent of all species became extinct. It’s harder to determine how many terrestrial species vanished, but the loss was comparable.

This mass extinction, at the end of the Permian Period, was the worst in the planet’s history, and it happened over a few thousand years at most — the blink of a geological eye.

On Thursday, a team of scientists offered a detailed accounting of how marine life was wiped out during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Global warming robbed the oceans of oxygen, they say, putting many species under so much stress that they died off.

And we may be repeating the process, the scientists warn. If so, then climate change is “solidly in the category of a catastrophic extinction event,” said Curtis Deutsch, an earth scientist at the University of Washington and co-author of the new study, published in the journal Science. [Continue reading…]

U.S. and Russia ally with Saudi Arabia to water down climate pledge

The Guardian reports:

The US and Russia have thrown climate talks into disarray by allying with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to water down approval of a landmark report on the need to keep global warming below 1.5C.

After a heated two-and-a-half-hour debate on Saturday night, the backwards step by the four major oil producers shocked delegates at the UN climate conference in Katowice as ministers flew in for the final week of high-level discussions.

It has also raised fears among scientists that the US president, Donald Trump, is going from passively withdrawing from climate talks to actively undermining them alongside a coalition of climate deniers.

Two months ago, representatives from the world’s governments hugged after agreeing on the 1.5C report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), commissioned to spell out the dire consequences should that level of warming be exceeded and how it can be avoided.

Reaching a global consensus was a painstaking process involving thousands of scientists sifting through years of research and diplomats working through the night to ensure the wording was acceptable to all nations.

But when it was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on Saturday, the four oil allies – with Saudi Arabia as the most obdurate – rejected a motion to “welcome” the study. Instead, they said it should merely be “noted”, which would make it much easier for governments to ignore. The motion has not yet been able to pass as a result of the lack of consensus. [Continue reading…]

Greenland’s ice sheet melt has ‘gone into overdrive’ and is now ‘off the charts’

USA Today reports:

The melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheet has now accelerated, scientists announced Wednesday, and shows no signs of slowing down, according to a new study.

“Melting of the Greenland ice sheet has gone into overdrive,” said Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University and lead author of the study. “Greenland melt is adding to sea level more than any time during the last three and a half centuries, if not thousands of years,” he said.

Ice loss from Greenland is the single largest contributor to global sea-level rise, which is predicted to lead to inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities around the world over the next several decades and centuries.

Conservative estimates of global sea level rise are currently an additional half a meter or more by 2100 , according to German news agency Deutsche Welle (DW). Alun Hubbard, a professor of glaciology at Aberystwyth University in Wales, told DW that even an increase of half a meter is “a terrible disaster for humanity – especially coastal regions of the planet.”

“From a historical perspective, today’s melt rates are off the charts, and this study provides the evidence to prove this” said co-author Sarah Das, a glaciologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. [Continue reading…]

Rapid warming caused largest extinction event ever on Earth, report says

The Guardian reports:

Rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found.

The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period. The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago.

Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared. The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet’s trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes.

Scientists have theorized causes for the extinction, such as a giant asteroid impact. But US researchers now say they have pinpointed the demise of marine life to a spike in Earth’s temperatures, warning that present-day global warming will also have severe ramifications for life on the planet. [Continue reading…]

‘We are in trouble.’ Global carbon emissions reached a record high in 2018

The Washington Post reports:

Global emissions of carbon dioxide are reaching the highest levels on record, scientists projected Wednesday, in the latest evidence of the chasm between international goals for combating climate change and what countries are doing.

Between 2014 and 2016, emissions remained largely flat, leading to hopes that the world was beginning to turn a corner. Those hopes appear to have been dashed. In 2017, global emissions grew 1.6 percent. The rise in 2018 is projected to be 2.7 percent.

The expected increase, which would bring fossil fuel and industrial emissions to a record high of 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, is being driven by a nearly 5 percent growth of emissions in China and more than 6 percent in India, researchers estimated, along with growth in many other nations. Emissions by the United States grew 2.5 percent, while those of the European Union declined by just under 1 percent.

As nations continue climate talks in Poland, the message of Wednesday’s report was unambiguous: When it comes to promises to begin cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change, the world is well off target.

“We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said this week at the opening of the 24th annual U.N. climate conference, where countries will wrestle with the ambitious goals they need to meet to sharply reduce carbon emissions in the coming years. [Continue reading…]