Executives call on Biden to slash greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change


PUBLISHED TUE, APR 13 202110:00 AM EDTUPDATED TUE, APR 13 202112:40 PM EDTEmma Newburger@EMMA_NEWBURGERSHAREShare Article via FacebookShare Article via TwitterShare Article via LinkedInShare Article via EmailKEY POINTS

  • More than 300 businesses have called on President Joe Biden to nearly double U.S. targets to reduce planet-warming emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • The push by leaders from companies like Google, Apple, Walmart and Unilever comes ahead of the global leaders’ climate summit the Biden administration is hosting next week.
  • The Obama administration set out to cut emissions by up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, but former President Donald Trump halted federal efforts to meet that target.
U.S. President Joe Biden joins a CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience via video conference from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.

U.S. President Joe Biden joins a CEO Summit on Semiconductor and Supply Chain Resilience via video conference from the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 12, 2021 in Washington, DC.Amr Alfiky | Getty Images

More than 300 businesses and investors are calling on President Joe Biden to nearly double U.S. targets to reduce planet-warming emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.

In a letter published Tuesday, corporate leaders from companies like GoogleAppleWalmartUnilever and General Electric praised the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris climate accord and aggressively addressing climate change.

The push by executives of some of the country’s largest companies to set a goal to slash emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases by at least 50% — a target in line with what environmental groups want — comes ahead of the global leaders’ climate summit the administration is hosting April 22.

The White House plans to unveil a stricter emissions target for the Paris accord on or before the summit of world leaders. The Obama administration set out to cut emissions by up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, but former President Donald Trump halted federal efforts to meet that target and pulled the U.S. from the Paris accord.

The companies that signed the letter comprise more than $3 trillion in annual revenue and more than $1 trillion in assets. The letter indicates a shift by the private sector to address their own climate change impact and better align with the goals of the Biden administration, which has vowed to put the country on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach 3.6 Million-Year High

Residential houses next to an oil refinery in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.
Residential houses next to an oil refinery in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

BYMatthew RozsaSalonPUBLISHEDApril 9, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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READING LISTPRISONS & POLICINGMore Than Two-Thirds of Students Want Police Out of SchoolsPOLITICS & ELECTIONSGeorgia’s Voter Suppression Is Sparking Boycotts. History Shows They Can Work.ECONOMY & LABORUnion Calls Foul Play as Amazon Unionization Vote FailsPOLITICS & ELECTIONSMcConnell-Led Opposition to Infrastructure Plan May Haunt GOP in Next ElectionsPOLITICS & ELECTIONSGOP Threatens to Out Donors as “Defectors” to Trump If They Don’t Give MonthlyECONOMY & LABORWork Isn’t Fulfilling Because Capitalism Is a Death March

Because the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive economic slowdown, experts had hoped that the decline in transportation and manufacturing might slow greenhouse gas emissions at least a little.

Unfortunately, a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reveals that one of the major gases behind climate change has reached its highest level in 3.6 million years.

The NOAA reports that the average amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was 412.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, an increase by 2.6 ppm through the course of the year.

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Climate scientists generally agree that in order for life on Earth to be minimally interrupted, Earth’s carbon dioxide levels should remain under 350 parts per million. Yet since NOAA begin recording atmospheric composition data in 1960, there has not been a year in which carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere did not increase.

Likewise, in 2020, overall carbon dioxide emissions increased at the fifth-highest rate in the 63 years that NOAA has been recording. It was only surpassed by the rates of increase in 1987, 1998, 2015 and 2016.

A senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, Pieter Tans, said that if there had not been an economic slowdown, it would have been the highest increase on record. As things current stand, the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at a point comparable to the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period, when the temperature was 7 degrees hotter and the sea level was roughly 78 feet higher than today.

Another organization, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, released similar results on Wednesday, announcing that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 417.4 ppm at their monitoring station in Hawaii.

The NOAA also reported a “significant jump” in the atmospheric burden of methane in 2020, with the annual amount increasing by 14.7 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020. Not only is this the biggest jump since methane levels began to be systematically measured in 1983, but it is also troubling because of how effective methane is at trapping heat. Although there is much less methane than carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, it is 28 times more potent at trapping heat over the course of a century.

Still, the COVID-19 lockdowns had a minor effect on emissions.

“The estimates vary among the different groups doing these sorts of calculations, but the consensus seems to be about a 7% decrease [in greenhouse gas emissions] relative to 2019 levels,” Dr. Michael E. Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, wrote to Salon in December.

If climate change is not halted and/or reversed in the near future, experts agree that there will be serious and negative repercussions for all life on Earth, including humans. There will be an increase in extreme weather events like hurricanes and blizzards, an increase in the amount of wildfires and a reduction in the amount of land that can be used to produce food. All of this will lead to fierce competition for resources and mass population displacements, even as an increasing amount of the world’s surface either too hot or too dry to be inhabitable.

President Joe Biden has said that he will prioritize fighting climate change in his presidency. Shortly after taking office, he said in a statement that “environmental justice will be at the center of all we do.”

Run The Oil Industry In Reverse’: Fighting Climate Change By Farming Kelp

March 1, 20215:00 AM ET



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Adam Baske (left) and Capt. Rob Odlin of Running Tide Technologies in the Gulf of Maine. They release rope that’s entwined with early-stage kelp, a fast growing seaweed that will soak up carbon dioxide.Fred Bever/Maine Public

In the race to stall or even reverse global warming, new efforts are in the works to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and put it somewhere safe.

One startup in Maine has a vision that is drawing attention from scientists and venture capitalists alike: to bury massive amounts of seaweed at the bottom of the ocean, where it will lock away carbon for thousands of years.

The company is called Running Tide Technologies, and it’s prototyping the concept this winter. On a recent day in the Gulf of Maine, boat captain Rob Odlin says the task itself isn’t much different from any other in his seafaring career, whether chasing tuna or harvesting lobster.

“We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” he says.

Running Tide CEO Marty Odlin — the boat captain’s nephew — comes from a long line of Maine fishermen, and once imagined he would continue the tradition. But he watched as the warming climate drove major shifts in fish populations, while regulators put a lid on how much could be taken from the sea.Article continues after sponsor messagehttps://ba5f3a62dbe3ec3c57249fbe1f5df38f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html


Natural Gas Companies Have Their Own Plans To Go Low-Carbon

“It just got really hard for me to go into crazy debt to buy a boat to catch fish that were swimming away,” Odlin says.

The Dartmouth-trained engineer did start an oyster farm. But he also started thinking about how to stop the damage in the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest warming bodies of water on the planet.

“Essentially what we have to do is run the oil industry in reverse,” he concluded.

As Odlin notes, the fossil fuels we burn for energy started out as plants millions of years ago. Much of it was ocean algae that sank to the bottom of ancient seas, where chemistry and water pressure transformed it into oil, over geologic timescales.

Olivia Mercier runs the kelp hatchery at Portland’s Running Tide Technologies. She raises sporophytes, or early-stage kelp, on a pipe wrapped with biodegradable string; the string will be placed in the ocean.Fred Bever/Maine Public

Odlin wants to mimic those natural processes, and do it in a hurry. He envisions an armada heading hundreds of miles offshore each fall, to deploy millions of free-floating cellulose buoys, each tethered to a kelp-bearing rope.

The kelp will soak up carbon — gigatons of it — via photosynthesis. Months later the mature plant blades will grow too heavy for their biodegradable buoys.

“So the kelp will sink to the ocean bottom in the sediment, and become, essentially, part of the ocean floor,” Odlin says. The ultimate goal is that it will stay there, sequestrated for millions of years, turning back into oil.

This year’s goal is more modest: an on-the-water experiment, floating about 1600 single-buoy “micro-farms” to gather data and prove the concept.


As Cities Grapple With Climate Change, Gas Utilities Fight To Stay In Business

Low-tech elegance

The company is part of a new wave of big-thinking about removing carbon from the atmosphere at a planetary-scale.

Microsoft last year committed a billion dollars to kick-start research and development in the emerging field of carbon-removal tech. It also promised to find ways to remove all the CO2 its operations have put in the air since it was founded.

High-tech carbon-removal innovations are emerging around the world. Towering banks of fans that can pull CO2 from the sky. Pumps injecting plant-based biofuels into the earth. But Running Tide seems to be capturing attention — and investment — because of its low-tech elegance.

“When we started learning about Running Tide’s approach, I was blown away by the simplicity,” says Stacy Kauk, who directs sustainability efforts at Shopify, a $150-billion e-commerce company which will be Running Tide’s first customer for carbon-capture credits.

She says Shopify is willing to pay a premium for the credits now, in hopes the technology can ultimately be brought to a price-point that would attract broad buy-in from other businesses and governments.

“They’re not relying on expensive equipment, or energy-intensive processes,” she says. “It’s very simple, and the economies of scale associated with that make Running Tide’s solution have huge potential.”

Marty Odlin, CEO of Running Tide Technologies, in its workshop on Portland’s waterfront. The Dartmouth-trained engineer comes from a fishing family and once wanted to be a fisherman. But after seeing global warming’s effects on the Gulf of Maine fisheries he decided to try and reverse the damage.Fred Bever/Maine Public

At a large scale, though, Running Tide is mindful there could be unwanted consequences. It’s modeling whether, for instance, a multitude of free-floating micro-farms could entangle whales, hinder shipping, or foul beaches.

Outside experts are pitching in: A consortium of oceanographers from MIT, Stanford and other top research outfits will review the project and its environmental risks. But executive director Brad Ack says all that will be weighed in the context of the urgency of combating climate change.

“We have to compare them against the no-action alternative,” he says. “And in this case, the no-action alternative is very grim.”


A Looming Disaster: New Data Reveal Where Flood Damage Is An Existential Threat

Running Tide’s Marty Odlin says it will take a World-War II level mobilization to remove a major chunk of some 200 years’ worth of humanity’s CO2 pollution, whether via his model or any others that show real-world promise.

“We’re kind of in a cage-match with it right now,” he says. “I’m not in this to give Godzilla a paper-cut.”

For now, from his uncle’s re-purposed lobster boat off Maine’s coast, the Running Tide team is tending the buoys, making sure they survive the winter storms. They’ll return in the spring to sink this test-crop of carbon-removing kelp a thousand meters deep, hopefully to stay there for millennia.

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Too Much CO2 Has an Unnerving Effect on The World’s Trees, New Study Finds

main article image
(Matthew Smith/Unsplash)

Trees that grow quickly die younger, risking a release of carbon dioxide that challenges forecasts that forests will continue to be a “sink” for planet-warming emissions, scientists said Tuesday.

Researchers said current climate models expect forests to continue to act as a carbon sink through this century, with high temperatures and concentrations of CO2 thought to stimulate tree growth and so help them absorb more carbon as they mature quicker.

But in the study, led by England’s Leeds University and published in the journal Nature Communications, they warned that this faster growth was also linked to trees dying younger – suggesting increases in the role of forests as carbon storage may be “short lived”.

The researchers examined more than 200,000 tree-ring records from tree species across the globe and found that trade-offs between growth and lifespans occurred in almost all of them, including tropical trees.

Society has benefited from the increasing ability of forests to soak up carbon in recent decades, said co-author Steve Voelker, from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in a Leeds University statement.

“Our findings, very much like the story of the tortoise and the hare, indicate that there are traits within the fastest growing trees that make them vulnerable, whereas slower growing trees have traits that allow them to persist,” he said.

The researchers said the findings suggest that the chances of dying increase dramatically as trees reach their maximum potential size.

But they said it might also be that fast-growing trees invest less in defences against diseases or insect attacks, or are more vulnerable to drought.

Earth’s average surface temperature has risen just over one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, enough to boost the severity of droughts, heatwaves and superstorms made more destructive by rising seas.

Sink or source?

Commenting on the study, David Lee, professor of atmospheric science at England’s Manchester Metropolitan University, said Earth system climate models currently predict the carbon storage of forests to continue or increase.

“This study shows the opposite, that increased CO2 compromises forests as a carbon sink,” he said.

But Keith Kirby, woodland ecologist at the University of Oxford, said it was not necessarily the case that forests would reverse their carbon role.

“We cannot rely as much on increased growth per unit area to maintain and enhance the forest carbon sink potential, but this might be offset by slowing deforestation and increasing the expansion of the extent of forests where this can be done in a sustainable way,” he said.

Global forests – and especially the tropics – soak up 25 to 30 percent of the planet-warming CO2 humanity spews into the atmosphere.

Last year, a football pitch of primary, old-growth trees was destroyed every six seconds, about 38,000 square kilometres (14,500 square miles) in all, according to Global Forest Watch.

© Agence France-Presse

Scientists have ruled out the worst-case climate scenario — and the best one too

There’s a range of possibilities for how much the earth will warm. A new study narrows the likely window by the largest margin in decades.

An oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Oil refineries like this one in Corpus Christi, Texas, are heating up the planet.
 Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

The basic mechanics of climate change are simple: Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. More carbon dioxide means more heat is trapped across the Earth, causing it to warm up.

But scaled up over the entire planet, these physical processes interact in a myriad of complex and sometimes unexpected ways. The Arctic reflects sunlight back into space. Clouds in some circumstances trap heat, and in others, they cool the region beneath them. Forests store a big chunk of carbon, but they’re being burned, cut down, and dying off from warming. The ocean soaks up a huge amount of heat and carbon dioxide, but it can’t absorb it forever. And these effects are not all linear; some may taper off as the planet heats up while others may suddenly accelerate.

That’s why scientists for decades have struggled to answer the basic question of how much the earth will eventually warm up for a given amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The term for this parameter is equilibrium climate sensitivity. The classic way of framing it is asking what happens if we double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared to levels prior to the industrial revolution. Back in the 1800s, it was about 280 parts per million. Today, it’s about 413 ppm. Some estimate it could reach 560 ppm as soon as 2050 without major mitigation steps.

A team of 25 scientists from around the world recently took a stab at answering the question of how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to carbon dioxide and came up with range of possibilities. Their results, published July 22 in Reviews of Geophysics, showed that the planet would most likely warm on average between 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 7 degrees Fahrenheit (2.6 degrees Celsius and 3.9 degrees Celsius) if atmospheric carbon dioxide were to double.

This is still a wide span, but it’s much smaller than prior estimated range of 2.7 and 9.1 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius) that had been the reigning benchmark for decades.

Why climate sensitivity is so important to our understanding of climate change

In 1979, the National Research Council put together a report looking at the ways increasing carbon dioxide emissions would impact the world. The researchers behind the report understood even then that it would be a complicated task.

“In order to address this question in its entirety, one would have to peer into the world of our grandchildren, the world of the 21st century,” they wrote. “A complete assessment of all the issues will be a long and difficult task.”

It was this report that came up with the climate sensitivity range between 2.7 and 9.1 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius). Now that we’re in the 21st century, how much has our understanding of climate science improved?

On many fronts, the gains in climate science have been vast and substantial. New measurements from ice cores, satellite monitoring, and sophisticated computer models have yielded new insights in the the climate of the past, present, and future. Scientists are even getting close to being able to see carbon dioxide emissions in real time.

Aerial photo taken on Sept. 1, 2017 shows flooded houses after Hurricane Harvey attacked Houston, Texas
Scientists have found that the record flooding in Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was worsened by climate change.
 Yin Bogu/Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

However, until recently, the estimates of climate sensitivity barely budged. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a team of scientists assembled by the United Nations, came up with the same estimate climate sensitivity in 2014 as the National Research Council came up with in 1979. But not for lack of trying.

“There have been a number of research studies over the years that have looked at the climate sensitivity range,” said Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois and an author of the 2014 IPCC report who was not involved in the new paper, in an email. “The best of those studies had not been able to reduce this sensitivity from the range much differently than the traditional range of 1.5-4.5 C.”

So a new smaller climate sensitivity range is significant. Since it’s a foundational parameter of climate models, it can yield a more precise range for what to expect as the world continues warming.

It took decades of advances in science to narrow the boundaries of climate sensitivity

Then how did this team of researchers chip away at a problem that has vexed climate scientists for more than 40 years?

It wasn’t any one finding in particular. Rather, the team took the colossal body of research that has built up in the intervening decades to create their sensitivity estimate. They drew on paleoclimate records dating back 3 million years, observational temperature records over the last 150 years, and a new generation of climate models.

“The single biggest factor was the ability to combine estimates from these three independent lines of evidence,” explained Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute and a coauthor of the new paper.

Baked into these lines of evidence is a better understanding of underlying phenomena like how albedo — the reflectiveness of the earth’s surface — changes as the air warms, how aerosols form and reflect sunlight, and how natural variability in the climate factors in.

Hausfather added that in recent years, scientists have gained to insight into feedback loops in the climate that can enhance warming. That means that over time, greenhouse gas emissions will pack a bigger punch for the climate.

“We’d expect a bit more warming, all things being equal, in the future from emissions than we have today,” he said.

The resulting estimate of climate sensitivity — 4.7 degrees to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (2.6 degrees Celsius and 3.9 degrees Celsius) — may seem small, but it represents a drastic shift from the world as we know it today. In an editorial in the Hill, Hausfather pointed out that during the last ice age 20,000 years ago, the planet was on average 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) cooler than today. That led to so much ice across the planet that global sea levels were 300 feet lower than they are today.

Members of the “Ice Memory project” extract an ice core piece out of a drill machine, on August 25, 2016.
Scientists examine an ice core drilled from a glacier. These sample provide a window in the past climate of the planet. 
Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images

It’s also important to remember that the climate is already changing, providing some real-world results for how the climate system responds to carbon dioxide. The world has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Sea levels have risen more than 8 inches since 1880, and the rate is accelerating.

Even if humanity were to halt emissions now, there is still inertia in the climate system and the planet would likely continue warming by a certain amount.

And while much of climate discussions center on changes in average temperatures, those shifted averages obscure the fact that there can be drastic increases in the extremes. Scientists have found signals of human caused emissions in the growing intensity of hurricanes, the frequency of heat waves, and the drying of some forests, a key ingredient in wildfires.

Could scientists narrow the boundaries of climate sensitivity even more?

“It’s difficult,” Wuebbels said. “I would expect though that after another decade (or so) of climate changes and the observations of climate relevant processes that the range should be able to be reduced further.”

However, the world can’t wait another decade for better information to act, and Ploy Pattanun Achakulwisut, a climate scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, said the new findings are a call to action.

“This study is an important milestone for the climate science community, and only serves to strengthen what the public and policymakers have known for decades: that we need to transition away from fossil fuels,” she wrote in an email. Achakulwisut added that the results emphasize the need for leaders to create policies to speed up the move toward low-carbon energy.

Human action remains the greatest uncertainty for the global climate

While the new climate sensitivity estimate gives the world a clearer vision of the future, it is a future that can still be altered by our actions.

Indeed, the biggest factor shaping the future of the climate, and the greatest source of uncertainty, is what humans will do about it in the coming years. Power plants, farms, aircraft, trucks, buildings, deforestation, and other human-sources collectively spew carbon dioxide into the air at a rate of 2.6 million pounds per second, making humans the dominant source of changes in the climate over the past 50 years. And that rate is accelerating: More than half of all human greenhouse gas emissions occurred in just the last 30 years.

The question is how long this will continue and when the curve of carbon dioxide emissions will bend. However, like climate sensitivity, there has been some narrowing of what to expect in recent years. Current human greenhouse gas emissions are now much less likely to follow the most pessimistic trajectory, which assumes unchecked growth of fossil fuel combustion and little to no efforts to limit climate change.

Protestor with “Our future in your hands” written on their hands.
Student call for action on climate change at protest in Brussels, Belgium.
 Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

The dirtiest sources of energy are now declining, and some parts of the world are making progress to cut emissions while others have signed onto aggressive targets. But emissions are still rising, and limiting climate change demands cutting them drastically, and soon.

2018 report from the IPCC examined what people would have to do to meet the more aggressive target under the Paris climate agreement, limiting warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report concluded that the world’s greenhouse gas emissions need to be half of where they are now by 2030, zero by 2050, and thereafter emissions would actually have to be removed from the atmosphere to stabilize the climate.

That goal is almost certainly out of reach. The emissions gap between where the world is and where it needs to be is only getting wider.

And now with the latest estimate of climate sensitivity, the low-end estimate of climate sensitivity has gone up, meaning there’s virtually no chance of staying below 2 degrees Celsius of warming if carbon dioxide concentrations reach 560 ppm. Even with the inherent uncertainties of these forecasts, these factors point toward a need for more concerted action to curb greenhouse gases.

“When it comes to climate, uncertainty is not our friend because the damages of climate change increase non-linearly,” Hausfather said. “Because there are some uncertainties we are never really going to be able to get rid of, it really suggests we need to be cautious about our emissions.”

The problem of dangerous levels of global warming can still be solved, but the easiest options are off the table, and the longer we wait, the harder it gets.

Carbon Emissions Are Chilling The Atmosphere 90 Km Above Antarctica

main article image
Noctilucent clouds, Kuresoo bog, Soomaa National Park, Estonia. (Martin Koitmäe/Wikimedia/CC BY 4.0)

28 JULY 2020

While greenhouse gases are warming Earth’s surface, they’re also causing rapid cooling far above us, at the edge of space.

In fact, the upper atmosphere about 90 kilometres (56 miles) above Antarctica is cooling at a rate 10 times faster than the average warming at the planet’s surface.

Our new research has precisely measured this cooling rate, and revealed an important discovery: a new four-year temperature cycle in the polar atmosphere. The results, based on 24 years of continuous measurements by Australian scientists in Antarctica, were published in two papers this month.

The findings show Earth’s upper atmosphere, in a region called the “mesosphere”, is extremely sensitive to rising greenhouse gas concentrations. This provides a new opportunity to monitor how well government interventions to reduce emissions are working.

Our project also monitors the spectacular natural phenomenon known as “noctilucent” or “night shining” clouds. While beautiful, the more frequent occurrence of these clouds is considered a bad sign for climate change.

Studying the ‘airglow’

Since the 1990s, scientists at Australia’s Davis research station have taken more than 600,000 measurements of the temperatures in the upper atmosphere above Antarctica. We’ve done this using sensitive optical instruments called spectrometers.

These instruments analyse the infrared glow radiating from so-called hydroxyl molecules, which exist in a thin layer about 87 kilometres (54 miles) above Earth’s surface. This “airglow” allows us to measure the temperature in this part of the atmosphere.

Our results show that in the high atmosphere above Antarctica, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases do not have the warming effect they do in the lower atmosphere (by colliding with other molecules). Instead the excess energy is radiated to space, causing a cooling effect.

Our new research more accurately determines this cooling rate. Over 24 years, the upper atmosphere temperature has cooled by about 3 degrees C, or 1.2 degrees C per decade. That is about ten times greater than the average warming in the lower atmosphere – about 1.3 degrees C over the past century.

Untangling natural signals

Rising greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to the temperature changes we recorded, but a number of other influences are also at play. These include the seasonal cycle (warmer in winter, colder in summer) and the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle (which involves quieter and more intense solar periods) in the mesosphere.

One challenge of the research was untangling all these merged “signals” to work out the extent to which each was driving the changes we observed.

Surprisingly in this process, we discovered a new natural cycle not previously identified in the polar upper atmosphere. This four-year cycle which we called the Quasi-Quadrennial Oscillation (QQO), saw temperatures vary by 3-4 degrees C in the upper atmosphere.

Discovering this cycle was like stumbling across a gold nugget in a well-worked claim. More work is needed to determine its origin and full importance.

But the finding has big implications for climate modelling. The physics that drive this cycle are unlikely to be included in global models currently used to predict climate change. But a variation of 3-4 degrees C every four years is a large signal to ignore.

We don’t yet know what’s driving the oscillation. But whatever the answer, it also seems to affect the winds, sea surface temperatures, atmospheric pressure and sea ice concentrations around Antarctica.

‘Night shining’ clouds

Our research also monitors how cooling temperatures are affecting the occurrence of noctilucent or “night shining” clouds.

Noctilucent clouds are very rare – from Australian Antarctic stations we’ve recorded about ten observations since 1998. They occur at an altitude of about 80 kilometres (50 miles) in the polar regions during summer. You can only see them from the ground when the sun is below the horizon during twilight, but still shining on the high atmosphere.

The clouds appear as thin, pale blue, wavy filaments. They are comprised of ice crystals and require temperatures around minus 130 degrees C (266 F) to form. While impressive, noctilucent clouds are considered a “canary in the coalmine” of climate change. Further cooling of the upper atmosphere as a result of greenhouse gas emissions will likely lead to more frequent noctilucent clouds.

There is already some evidence the clouds are becoming brighter and more widespread in the Northern Hemisphere.

Measuring change

Human-induced climate change threatens to alter radically the conditions for life on our planet. Over the next several decades – less than one lifetime – the average global air temperature is expected to increase, bringing with it sea level rise, weather extremes and changes to ecosystems across the world.

Long term monitoring is important to measure change and test and calibrate ever more complex climate models. Our results contribute to a global network of observations coordinated by the Network for Detection of Mesospheric Change for this purpose.

Harvard Profs Plan Geoengineering Experiment, Igniting Ethics Debate


July 24th, 2020 by 

When Mount Pinatubo erupted in June of 1991, it shot 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide 22 miles into the atmosphere. As the gas spread around the world, it cooled the Earth by about half a degree Celsius. Now two Harvard professors say they are planning to inject calcium carbonate dust into the air over Arizona to see what effect it has on the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth below. The dust “would reflect away a little bit of sunlight, just the way a very thin cloud reflects away a little bit of sunlight … to offset some of the warming that comes from the slow buildup of carbon dioxide from our industrial activity, David Keith, a professor of applied physics at Harvard, tells WBUR.

Mt. Pinatubo eruption

Mt. Pinatubo eruption, image credit: USGS

Keith is working with Frank Keutsch, a professor of atmospheric chemistry, to determine what the effect of that rock dust might be. Together, they have created a laboratory experiment that involves a metal tube about a yard long and a few inches wide. Inside, they have recreated the gaseous composition of the stratosphere, the atmospheric layer above the troposphere that begins between 10 and 10 kilometers above the Earth.

“So we go to stratospheric temperatures. We go to stratosphere pressures in there,” Keutsch explains. “We put in the aerosol that we want to understand the reactivity of. And then we look at these reactions [in the tube].”

Calcium carbonate is plentiful and cheap. It is the primary component of limestone and the shells of aquatic animals found in the world’s oceans. It is non-toxic and is used commercially in common household products such as toothpaste and antacids. There is none currently found in the atmosphere. One of the objectives of the research in the lab is to determine if the calcium carbonate would have a negative effect on ozone levels.

The plan is to load about 2 kilograms of calcium carbonate aboard a standard scientific balloon and launch somewhere in the American Southwest. “The balloon is about a few stories in diameter, and these are the same as other stratospheric balloons that have been used for science for a long time,” Keith says. The balloon would carry the calcium carbonate to an altitude of about 12 miles above the Earth. Beneath the balloon would be a metal gondola equipped with propellers.

“That gondola has a mechanism that allows you to inject particles into the stratosphere,” Keutsch says. “So as you’re moving along, you make a plume that is about a kilometer, few kilometers in length. Then you would try to turn the balloon around and sample back going through this plume, comparing how the air outside of the plume is different from the air and the aerosol in the plume.” Their project is called SCoPEx — short for Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment.

The Case For Geoengineering

The experiment is part of a process known as geoengineering, an array of strategies for humans to avoid the most catastrophic effects of human activity over the past 250 years. For some, it is the “magic bullet” that will allow us to “science our way” out of the impending climate disaster. Find a way — any way — to block some of the sun’s energy that bombards the Earth every day and deflect part of it back into space. It’s not that different from what people used to do to cool their homes in the days before air conditioning — deploy awnings over the windows and pull the curtains inside the house. It worked amazingly well, as I recall.

Scientists have devised lots of theories about how to use geoengineering. Researchers in Norway advocate injecting air bubbles into the oceans to lower the temperature of surface water. Hurricanes need hot surface water to form. Cooler water equals less powerful storms, or none at all in the best case scenario. Others propose using rockets to inject sulfur dioxide — the same gas that spewed forth from Mt. Pinatubo — to block some of the sun’s rays.

If it works, all the happy humans will be able to carry on doing exactly what they have been doing for centuries — burning fossil fuels to power civilization — and nothing has to change. As Steely Dan would say, “What a beautiful world this will be. What a glorious time to be free.”

The Case Against Geo-Engineering

Lots of people are not so sure geoengineering is that answer, and believe it could create more problems than it solves. The essence of this argument is that the Earth’s atmosphere is fantastically complex. A small change over here could have massive consequences over there, perhaps condemning part of the world to punishing floods or extended droughts. As Michael Barnard said last year, “It’s like putting out the fires caused by an arsonist wandering around with a flamethrower.”

The real solution is to stop burning fossil fuels, a strategy that few are willing to consider for fear that it might interrupt the comfortable lifestyles we have become accustomed to. The latest climate research reveals some of the complexity of climate science and suggests the dream of keeping average global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5° C is no longer a realistic possibility.

Daniel Cziczo is the head of the department of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University. For a decade before moving to Purdue, he taught at MIT. He says mucking about with the atmosphere is incredibly dangerous. “As soon as you start putting particles into the stratosphere, aren’t you intervening with climate?” he asks of WBRU.

He says the SCoPEx project fits into a category he calls “climate intervention” instead of solar geoengineering, and he says the science is dangerous. “Even though you’re saying, ‘I’m doing it as an experiment,’ the result is exactly the same,” he says. “It might be a smaller scale … But I would argue that if you’re putting enough material there that you’re going to be looking at the properties of that material and trying to tell what effect they have, that what you’re doing is an experiment on climate intervention.”

Cziczo says full-scale climate intervention would disrupt the formation of clouds, further hurt the ozone layer, and do nothing to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. “I’m not willing to sign up for something that’s a solution to the [earth’s] temperature problem that’s going to cause more skin cancer, that’s going to allow for continued acidification of the oceans, or that’s going to cause regional droughts or precipitation,” he says. “I’m just not personally comfortable with that, especially when we have another path in climate, which is the reduction of these greenhouse gases that we know are the underlying cause.”

An Agreement In Principle

The three scientists agree the real solution to global warming is to cut back on fossil fuels. They’re concerned people will view solar geoenginering as an easy out and refer to what they call the “moral hazard” of the science. “This experiment can be misinterpreted as that there is a technical remedy that gets us off the hook, where it should be clear that … even in the best case scenario with the solar geoengineering in the stratosphere, it doesn’t address the causes of climate change,” Keutsch explains. “It’s addressing a symptom.”

David Keith is concerned about the energy industry shirking its responsibility in helping reduce global warming. “I’m talking about big oil, big fossil fuel companies — that they will claim that because of this techno fix, there’s no need to cut emissions. That’s not true. Nothing about solar geoengineering changes the fact that if you want a stable climate, you eventually have to cut emissions to zero.” (emphasis added)

We Need Research AND Carbon Reductions

“The combination of emissions cuts and solar geoengineering could actually be significantly safer, have lower human and environmental risks, less sea level rise, less people dying from heatstroke, less change in the high arctic glaciers than would a world with just emissions cuts,” Keith says. “So there’s really a prize here, a huge human and environmental benefit.”

But the scientific community needs to research the consequences — good and bad  — before world leaders make rash decisions, the researchers say. “Some government faced by maybe a huge killing heat wave may make decisions to actually move forward deploying these technologies within the next decades, whatever research we do,” Keith says. “We are more likely to make a reasoned decision as a species, as humanity, about this if we get it out in the open, warts and all.”

No International Geoengineering Standards

There is no national or international governing structure for solar geoengineering. What Keith and Keutsch are planning to do could be subject to review by the US government under national laws regulating environmental policy and weather modification. The ethical questions raised by their research has prompted Harvard to form an independent committee to review and make recommendations on all aspects of the experiment, including its safety and environmental impact.

Despite the ethical concerns, Keith and Keutsch are planning to move forward with their experiments on the theory that some knowledge is better than no knowledge. At least they are using non-toxic calcium carbonate instead of sulfur dioxide, which forms harmful compounds like sulfuric acid when it mixes with water.

Perhaps someday, the team will be hailed as leaders of a scientific revolution that saves humanity from extinction. Or their research could lead to unintended consequences — like the infestation of rabbits in Australia that resulted when one wealthy sportsman wanted something to hunt and had them imported for his amusement. We should always keep in mind that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!

Historic carbon dioxide decline could hold clues for future climate


Historic CO2 decline could hold clues for future climate
Credit: Pixabay

A new study led by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) provides a clearer snapshot of conditions during the last ice age—when global ice sheets were at their peak—and could even lead to better models for future climate projections.

The study demonstrates a new way of recreating  in the Atlantic during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)—around 20,000 years ago.

Lead author Dr. Jimin Yu says scientists have been trying to reconstruct ocean circulation for this  for decades, because of the clues it offers about past CO2 levels and changes in climate.

“The LGM was a time of much lower CO2 levels, lower global temperature and lower sea levels,” Dr. Yu said.

The researchers say old ocean models cannot explain recently published data on the LGM, meaning a change in thinking was needed.

Using  to reconstruct deep-water carbonate ion—which traces reflecting seawater acidity—the group generated a first-of-its kind map showing  for the last glacial Atlantic.

This map reveals a new glacial deep Atlantic circulation .

“We found that carbon-rich Pacific Deep Water extended northward up to about 20° S in the South Atlantic at three to four kilometers depth during the Last Glacial Maximum,” Dr. Yu said.

“This may have contributed critically to the decline in atmospheric CO2, thereby helping to initiate the glacial maximum.”

According to Dr. Yu, ocean circulation is a key regulator of climate, storing and transporting heat, carbon and nutrients.

“This study suggests as waters shifted during the LGM, carbon was stored in the deep ocean, lowering atmospheric CO2 levels,” Dr. Yu said.

This information could also help improve or test the performance of various climate models.

“If a model is able to reproduce the data—a method known as hindcasting or backtesting—it might give us confidence in the model’s ability to map out future  conditions,” Dr. Yu said.

The research has been published in Nature Geoscience.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Near Level Not Seen in 15 Million Years, New Study Warns

Authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years. Dawn Ellner / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Jessica Corbett

As a United Nations agency released new climate projections showing that the world is on track in the next five years to hit or surpass a key limit of the Paris agreement, authors of a new study warned Thursday that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearing a level not seen in 15 million years.

For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom examined CO2 levels during the Late Pliocene about three million years ago “to search for modern and near future-like climate states,” co-author Thomas Chalk explained in a series of tweets.

“A striking result we’ve found is that the warmest part of the Pliocene had between 380 and 420 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere,” Chalk told the Guardian. “This is similar to today’s value of around 415 parts per million, showing that we are already at levels that in the past were associated with temperature and sea-level significantly higher than today.”

When CO2 levels peaked during the Pliocene, temperatures were 3ºC to 4ºC hotter and seas were 65 feet higher, the newspaper reported. Chalk said that “currently, our CO2 levels are rising at about 2.5 ppm per year, meaning that by 2025 we will have exceeded anything seen in the last 3.3 million years.”

“We are burning through the Pliocene and heading towards a Miocene-like future,” warned co-author Gavin Foster, referencing a period from about 23 to 5.3 million years ago. It was during the Miocene, around 15 million years ago, when “our ancestors are thought to have diverged from orangutans and become recognizably hominoid,” the Guardian noted.

Reporting on the study elicited concern and calls for action from environmentalists and advocacy groups.

“Every kilo of CO2 we emit is one we have to sequester later, provided the food doesn’t run out first,” tweeted Extinction Rebellion Finland, urging the international community to #ActNow.

Nathaniel Stinnett, executive director of the U.S.-based Environmental Voter Project, also responded to the report on Twitter, saying, “Big Oil and Gas are killing us.”

A new report released Thursday by the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) about global temperatures likely coming in the next five years provoked similar alarm and demands.

“It’s still not too late to avoid the worst effects of the #ClimateEmergency. But governments need to act NOW,” declared Greenpeace, pushing for a #GreenRecovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WMO report projects that the annual global temperature is likely to be at least 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels in each of the next five years. Although it is “extremely unlikely” the average temperature for 2020–2024 will be 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, WMO warned certain periods could hit that temperature.

Specifically, there is about a 70% chance that one or more months during those five years will be at least 1.5°C hotter than pre-industrial levels and about a 20% chance that one of the next five years will be at least that warm, according to WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, led by the United Kingdom’s Met Office.

In a statement Thursday, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas also pointed to the coronavirus pandemic—which prompted global lockdowns that briefly caused planet-heating emissions to drop—as an opportunity to pursue bold recovery plans that incorporate policies that combat the climate crisis, such as rapidly transitioning to renewable energy worldwide.

“WMO has repeatedly stressed that the industrial and economic slowdown from Covid-19 is not a substitute for sustained and coordinated climate action,” Taalas said. “Due to the very long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, the impact of the drop in emissions this year is not expected to lead to a reduction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations which are driving global temperature increases.”

“Whilst Covid-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems, and economies for centuries,” he continued. “Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery program and ensure that we grow back better.”

Taalas added that “this study shows—with a high level of scientific skill—the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris agreement on climate change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.”

While some scientists and activists have criticized the 2015 Paris climate agreement as not ambitious enough, it is backed by nearly all nations on Earth. U.S. President Donald Trump began the one-year withdrawal process in November 2019 but former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, has vowed to rejoin the accord if he wins this year’s election.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

Slash CO2, Then Wait—and Wait—for Temperatures to Drop

Climate action today will take decades to manifest in global temperatures because of “climate inertia”

Slash CO2, Then Wait--and Wait--for Temperatures to Drop
Credit: Kryssia Campos Getty Images

Climate action taken by the world today wouldn’t be noticed for decades to come, according to researchers who say warming on Earth won’t start to slow down for at least 20 years.

And that’s probably an optimistic scenario.

study published Tuesday in Nature Communications illustrates how the rewards for aggressive action would come much later. If global carbon dioxide emissions began falling tomorrow by at least 5% every year, the rate at which the Earth is warming wouldn’t begin to change —at least in a detectable way —until after the year 2040 or so.

Currently, worldwide emissions are still rising.

The situation is similar, in some ways, to a “very large ship, which is at high speed,” said Marianne Lund, a climate scientist at the Center for International Climate Research (CICERO) in Norway and one of the study’s co-authors.

“When you want to change direction, you put your engine in reverse and you turn your wheel full over, but it still takes such a long time before you start seeing your big tanker ship really change or turn,” she said in an interview. “That’s like CO2.”

That’s partly because the climate system itself is slow to respond to changes in factors like greenhouse gas concentrations. It’s a phenomenon known as “climate inertia” —it means the carbon that humans put in the atmosphere today may continue to affect the climate for decades to come.

That’s especially true for CO2, which lasts for decades in the atmosphere. Even if CO2 emissions dropped to zero today, a certain amount of warming would already be locked into the system in the coming years.

Even for gases with shorter atmospheric life spans, such as methane, fast action doesn’t necessarily result in a quick payoff. The climate system is full of short-term variability —that is, global temperatures tend to fluctuate from one year to the next, even if they’re clearly rising in the long term.

This year-to-year variability, or “noise,” can make it difficult to pinpoint long-term trends in global temperatures. It can take years for those patterns to emerge.

The new study, led by Bjørn Samset (also of CICERO) and co-authored by Lund and colleague Jan Fuglestvedt, took a systematic look at the issue. They used models to evaluate various greenhouse gases —including CO2, methane and black carbon (also known as soot) —and how quickly immediate reductions would begin to pay off.

The results suggested that there’s no “easy fix” to the problem, Lund said. While targeting some greenhouse gases may result in slightly faster results than others, they all take decades to start producing noticeable effects.

It’s not the first study to reach that conclusion.

“I think it’s a step forward in the sense of both adding some more information, doing things more sophisticatedly —but the general message hasn’t changed,” said Claudia Tebaldi, a climate scientist at the University of Maryland’s Joint Global Change Research Institute, who commented on the new study for E&E News.

Some of Tebaldi’s previus research has come to similar conclusions.

The delayed results are a fact of the climate system. They don’t mean climate mitigation efforts don’t work, just that they take time. In the meantime, it’s important to make sure the public understands that there will be delays.

“I think just making sure that we don’t feel that we lose motivation or feel that this is for nothing, if we don’t see things changing as quickly as we might hope,” Lund said. “So just being very clear about the expectations in terms of detecting a temperature response or temperature change.”

While global temperature goals are a clear focus of climate action plans —including the Paris Agreement —there are other benchmarks scientists can use to evaluate whether climate action is working. Monitoring the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, for instance, is one way to keep track of how fast emissions are falling.

Regardless of exactly how scientists monitor the success of global climate action, it’s clear that sustained, long-term emissions reductions are necessary to produce results.

“I feel like a better education and a better communication of the general nature of this complicated system that we live in would be beneficial in then making people understand that they cannot expect immediate results,” Tebaldi said. “But it’s all money in the bank that will carry through in the long term.”