NASA head Jim Bridenstine, once doubtful, confirms he believes humans are the leading cause of climate change

The Washington Post reports:

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who previously questioned whether humans are primarily responsible for climate change, left no doubt Wednesday that his position has changed. Signifying a striking conversion, he confirmed that he now accepts that humans are, in fact, the leading cause.

During testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) asked Bridenstine whether he believes greenhouse gases are the primary cause of climate change. Bridenstine quickly replied in the affirmative.

“The National Climate Assessment, that includes NASA, and it includes the Department of Energy, and it includes NOAA, has clearly stated it is extremely likely, [that] is the language they use, that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming, and I have no reason to doubt the science that comes from that,” Bridenstine said.

Schatz followed up by asking, “Is it fair to call this an evolution of your views?”

Bridenstine replied: “Yes.”

On further questioning from Schatz, Bridenstine also committed to defending the independence and integrity of climate science at NASA.

Schatz thanked Bridenstine for his evolved stance. “I have come to the conclusion that this is a true evolution. That you respect people with whom you work, you respect the science, you want their respect. And there is no way to move forward if you’re going to be undermining the science. So I’m really pleased to see this change,” the senator said.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate in November, Bridenstine’s responses to a similar line of questioning were much more nuanced and opaque. When asked whether human activity was the primary cause of climate change, he said, “It’s going to depend on a lot of factors, and we’re still learning more about that every day.” [Continue reading…]

In an internal memo, the White House considered whether to simply ‘ignore’ federal climate research

The Washington Post reports:

White House officials last year weighed whether to simply “ignore” climate studies produced by government scientists or to instead develop “a coherent, fact-based message about climate science,” according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The document, drafted Sept. 18 by Michael Catanzaro, President Trump’s special assistant for domestic energy and environmental policy at the time, highlights the dilemma the administration has faced over climate change since Trump took office. Even as Trump’s deputies have worked methodically to uproot policies aimed at curbing the nation’s carbon output, the administration’s agencies continue to produce reports showing that climate change is happening, is human-driven and is a threat to the United States.

Catanzaro, who prepared the memo for a meeting of senior White House and agency officials that took place a couple of days later, asked whether the Trump administration should “consider having a firm position on and a coherent, fact-based message about climate science — specifically, whether, and to what extent, anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are affecting the climate system, and what level of concern that warrants.”

The memo presented three options without endorsing any of them: conducting a “red team/blue team” exercise to “highlight uncertainties in climate science”; more formally reviewing the science under the Administrative Procedure Act; or deciding to just “ignore, and not seek to characterize or question, the science being conducted by Federal agencies and outside entities.”

It did not consider touting federal scientists’ findings.

Although administration officials did not adopt a formal policy in the wake of these deliberations, in practice they have largely ignored the findings of U.S. government researchers. As a result, these scientists have continued to sound an alarm on climate effects such as sea-level rise and wildfires — even as top Trump officials emphasize that they can neither endorse nor repudiate these findings. [Continue reading…]

Data centers, the factories of the digital age, emit as much CO2 as the airline industry

Yale Environment 360 reports:

The cloud is coming back to Earth with a bump. That ethereal place where we store our data, stream our movies, and email the world has a physical presence – in hundreds of giant data centers that are taking a growing toll on the planet.

Data centers are the factories of the digital age. These mostly windowless, featureless boxes are scattered across the globe – from Las Vegas to Bangalore, and Des Moines to Reykjavik. They run the planet’s digital services. Their construction alone costs around $20 billion a year worldwide.

The biggest, covering a million square feet or more, consume as much power as a city of a million people. In total, they eat up more than 2 percent of the world’s electricity and emit roughly as much CO2 as the airline industry. And with global data traffic more than doubling every four years, they are growing fast.

Yet if there is a data center near you, the chances are you don’t know about it. And you still have no way of knowing which center delivers your Netflix download, nor whether it runs on renewable energy using processors cooled by Arctic air, or runs on coal power and sits in desert heat, cooled by gigantically inefficient banks of refrigerators.

We are often told that the world’s economy is dematerializing – that physical analog stuff is being replaced by digital data, and that this data has minimal ecological footprint. But not so fast. If the global IT industry were a country, only China and the United States would contribute more to climate change, according to a Greenpeace report investigating “the race to build a green internet,” published last year. [Continue reading…]

Bitcoin consumes more energy than Switzerland

Eric Holthaus writes:

Bitcoin’s energy footprint has more than doubled since Grist first wrote about it six months ago.

It’s expected to double again by the end of the year, according to a new peer-reviewed study out Wednesday. And if that happens, bitcoin would be gobbling up 0.5 percent of the world’s electricity, about as much as the Netherlands.

That’s a troubling trajectory, especially for a world that should be working overtime to root out energy waste and fight climate change. By late next year, bitcoin could be consuming more electricity than all the world’s solar panels currently produce — about 1.8 percent of global electricity, according to a simple extrapolation of the study’s predictions. That would effectively erase decades of progress on renewable energy.

Although the author of the study, Alex de Vries, an economist and data consultant based in the Netherlands, has shared these calculations publicly before, this is the first time that an analysis of bitcoin’s energy appetite has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.

Bitcoin continues to soar in popularity — mostly as a speculative investment. And like any supercharged speculative investment, it swings wildly. Within the past 18 months, the price of bitcoin has soared ten-fold, crashed by 75 percent, only to double again, all while hedge funds and wealthy libertarians debate the future of the virtual currency.

Beyond its tentative success as a get-rich-quick scheme, bitcoin has an increasingly real-world cost. The process of “mining” for coins requires a globally distributed computer network racing to solve math problems — and also helps keep any individual transaction confidential and tamper-proof. That, in turn, requires an ever-escalating arms race of computing power — and electricity use — which, at the moment, has no end in sight. A single bitcoin transaction is so energy intensive that it could power the average U.S. household for a month. [Continue reading…]

Climate change on track to cause major insect wipeout, scientists warn

The Guardian reports:

Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis.

Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread collapse would cause extremely far-reaching disruption to life on Earth, the scientists warn. Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected.

However, if climate change could be limited to a temperature rise of 1.5C – the very ambitious goal included in the global Paris agreement – the losses of insects are far lower.

The new research is the most comprehensive to date, analysing the impact of different levels of climate change on the ranges of 115,000 species. It found plants are also heavily affected but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, suffered less.

“We showed insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the new work. “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.”

“The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she said. “People should be concerned – humans depend on ecosystems functioning.” Pollination, fertile soils, clean water and more all depend on healthy ecosystems, Warren said. [Continue reading…]

Costa Rica to ban fossil fuels and become world’s first decarbonised society

The Independent reports:

Costa Rica’s new president has announced a plan to ban fossil fuels and become the first fully decarbonised country in the world.

Carlos Alvarado, a 38-year-old former journalist, made the announcement to a crowd of thousands during his inauguration on Wednesday.

“Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first,” Mr Alvarado said.

“We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.” [Continue reading…]

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Climate denial is a form of American exceptionalism

Brian Kahn writes:

America is already great, my friends, at least when it comes to climate denial.

New research published this week in Nature Climate Change shows the U.S. is without peers when it comes to denying the basic science of climate change. Scientists surveyed people in 25 countries around the world, and found there’s no country quite like the U.S, where climate denial is much more closely tied to one’s political persuasion than any other country.

The researchers say this is actually a good thing, because it means there’s nothing inherent in conservative ideology that causes people to reject science, or that stands in opposition to making efforts to reduce emissions.

Previous research in the U.S. has shown how climate denial tends to be strongest among people who are conservative and fall into the “hierarchal individualist” ideological category, which is essentially your Gadsden flag-loving types. The thinking is that their preference for traditional power structures and individual freedom colors their acceptance of climate science. Basically, it’s easier to question climate science than accept its conclusions, because to accept the science would mean acknowledging the need for top-down actions to preserve the communal resource of our planet.

In an effort to determine if this pattern holds in other countries around the globe, scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia sent a survey to 5,325 online participants in both developed and developing countries. Questions probed their ideologies, political beliefs, and belief in conspiracy theories. The survey then asked participants about their perspectives on climate science.

The results show that while there are climate deniers in other countries, the U.S. is truly special. [Continue reading…]

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Look, a federal agency is pushing for urgent climate action

Eric Holthaus writes:

It’s well-understood at this point that the Trump Administration is no friend to science-based governance. But there’s one federal agency bucking that trend.

The Bureau of Reclamation, a division of the Department of Interior, raised fresh alarm in a press release this week about the dire drought in the Southwest.

“We need action and we need it now,” said Trump appointee Brenda Burman, who runs the bureau, in the release. “We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans.”

Looking at the data that Burman’s agency supplied, though, it’s clear that the crisis is already here. Runoff from the Rocky Mountains into the Colorado River is expected to be just 42 percent of normal this year, which would continue a 19-year dry spell that ranks as the driest on record for the region. Such clear-eyed focus on the urgency of climate action has been almost unheard of for a Trump-era official.

“Dating back to 2000, this current period is one of the worst drought cycles over the past 1,200 plus years,” the bureau’s statement said. [Continue reading..]

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New record carbon dioxide levels show ‘humans are overwhelming nature’

KQED reports:

For the first time in human history, the monthly average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has surpassed the threshold of 410 parts per million.

That’s the finding of the Scripps CO2 Program, which tracks carbon dioxide measurements in the Earth’s atmosphere every 10 minutes. That data is then plotted onto the Keeling Curve, a graph that illustrates the rise in carbon dioxide levels.

The information is based on continuous measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The latest threshold was registered in April.

The latest record shows that “humans are overwhelming nature” according to Ralph Keeling, a geophysicist and the head of the Scripps CO2 Program.

“It’s important to realize that we are headed towards pretty dangerous territory if we aren’t already in it,” says Keeling. “So something like 450-500 parts per billion places us in the danger zone. Things are changing already, so it’s become a question of how hard will it be to cope with all these changes.”

Moreover, the rate has accelerated decade by decade, he says.

“It’s going up at about 2.5 parts per million per year. At that rate we will hit 450 in just 15 years. We’re already in very unnatural territory with respect to carbon dioxide.”

The unabated rise will have major consequences for people and organisms, says Keeling. Sea level rise, heat waves and rainfall patterns will all be impacted.

“Species will go extinct and areas will be flooded. A lot will happen,” he says.

The reason for the rapid rise in CO2 is almost entirely based on the burning of fossil fuels, according to Keeling. [Continue reading…]

Are we ready for an epidemic this summer?

Ronald A. Klain writes:

Summer is coming. And if you think a warm-weather surge of mosquitoes and ticks is not as frightening as the fictional winter’s White Walkers from “Game of Thrones,” you haven’t read this week’s report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the rapidly escalating danger of infectious diseases spread by insects.

The CDC’s key findings: The number of Americans infected with such diseases, including Zika, West Nile and Lyme, has more than tripled in a decade, jumping from about 30,000 cases a year in 2006 to almost 100,000 in 2016. This total includes nine types of infections never before seen in the United States, including Zika and chikungunya. Looking ahead, 80 percent of state and local health departments are not ready for the insect-borne threat we are facing in just a few weeks.

Why the surge? Global travel is a major cause; as commerce, culture and tourism spread rapidly, so do diseases. Scientists also identify more infections, thanks to new research tools. But there’s another factor slipped into the CDC report: Certain mosquitoes and ticks are “moving into new areas.” This anodyne language refers to the fact that, as temperatures and moisture rise across the United States, disease-bearing insects expand their reach. Thus, we face another risk posed by the threat that Trump administration officials dare not speak aloud: climate change. [Continue reading…]