Judge dismisses New York City’s climate change lawsuit against oil and gas companies

Judge dismisses New York City’s climate change lawsuit against oil and gas companies

https://mic.com/articles/190358/judge-dismisses-new-york-citys-climate-change-lawsuit-against-oil-and-gas-companies#.4aAvv0TFK

New York City’s efforts on climate change were dealt a blow in court Thursday, as a U.S. District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit the city brought against five oil and gas companies.

The city filed suit against BP, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil over the role the companies play in exacerbating climate change. According to the ruling, the companies are collectively responsible for over 11% of all carbon and methane pollution that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

They have also allegedly known for decades about the dire effects their businesses have on the environment; the ruling notes that the companies have known since the 1950s “that their fossil fuel products pose risks of severe impacts on the global climate” — yet despite knowing these risks, the companies “extensively promoted fossil fuels for pervasive use, while denying or downplaying these threats.”

These fossil fuel emissions are the primary cause of climate change and directly threaten New York City, the ruling explains. The city’s coastline is vulnerable to sea-level rise, which is largely due to climate-related factors, and the ruling notes that rising temperatures could result in an estimated 30% to 70% increase in heat-related deaths in the summer of 2020.

As a result, New York City sought compensatory damages for its climate change-related costs from the companies, in order to “shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat.” The city argued that the companies’ “ongoing conduct continues to exacerbate global warming and cause recurring injuries to New York City,” and filed the lawsuit on the grounds of the companies’ actions being both a public and private nuisance and constituting as trespassing.

In his ruling, however, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan dismissed the case by saying that federal law and the Clean Air Act displaces the city’s claims, as the “widespread global dispersal” of the companies’ greenhouse gas emissions go far beyond New York City. The Clean Air Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency to establish pollutant standards and prosecute polluters who do not comply, which a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling noted means that “any federal common law right to seek abatement of carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants” — such as New York City’s attack on oil companies — are displaced.

A tanker truck passes the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, in 2010.
A tanker truck passes the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, in 2010. Paul Sakuma/AP

“Given the interstate nature of these claims, it would thus be illogical to allow the City to bring state law claims when courts have found that these matters are areas of federal concern that have been delegated to the Executive Branch as they require a uniform, national solution,” Keenan wrote.

Keenan also noted the global nature of these companies — two of which are not based in the U.S. — and that their greenhouse gas emissions prohibit the city’s case from going forward, due to “the need for judicial caution in the face of ‘serious foreign policy consequences.’”

“The Court recognizes that the City, and many other governmental entities around the United States and in other nations, will be forced to grapple with the harmful impacts of climate change in the coming decades,” Keenan wrote. “However, the immense and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms.”

“To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. Government. Accordingly, the Court will exercise appropriate caution and decline to recognize such a cause of action.”

In a statement quoted by the New York Times, New York City spokesman Seth Stein said about the ruling: “The mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City. We intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change.”

Keenan argued against using the courts to fight climate change more generally in his ruling, saying “the serious problems caused [by climate change] are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”

This reasoning was praised by Chevron’s lead lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who said in a statement quoted by the Times that “Judge Keenan got it exactly right.”

“Trying to resolve a complex, global policy issue like climate change through litigation is ‘illogical,’ and would intrude on the powers of Congress and the executive branch to address these issues as part of the democratic process,” Boutrous said.

Despite Keenan’s warning, however, New York City’s lawsuit is one of many climate change suits that have recently emerged and moved forward in an attempt to force accountability on climate change.

The New York City lawsuit marks the second oil company suit to be thrown out in recent weeks, after a similar legal challenge by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California, failed in June. Yet there are still other opportunities for such suits to prevail: The Boston Globe noted that more than a dozen cities and counties have filed suit against fossil fuel companies, including legal challenges in ColoradoWashington and Imperial Beach, California.

“It’s easy to see this decision as momentum,” Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told Grist about the New York ruling’s potential effect on other cases. “[But] no other court is bound by this decision. It’s as simple as that.”

Rhode Island became the first state to file suit against these companies in early July, and the Boston Globe noted that state courts could take a different view than the more unfavorable recent federal court rulings. Keenan explained in his ruling that while federal common law challenges are invalid under the Clean Air Act, state law claims against polluters could be brought under “the law of each State where [oil and gas companies] operate power plants.”

Investigations are also underway in Massachusetts and New York to determine if Exxon Mobil misled the public and its investors by concealing information about climate change. A state court allowed the Massachusetts investigation to move forward in April after Exxon Mobil sued to bring the investigations to an end.

Activists rally outside of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to support the New York state investigation into whether the oil giant Exxon covered up its knowledge about climate change on Feb. 22, 2017, in New York City.
Activists rally outside of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to support the New York state investigation into whether the oil giant Exxon covered up its knowledge about climate change on Feb. 22, 2017, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Trump administration has also been frequently taken to task in the court system for its role in exacerbating the climate change crisis. The New York Times reported in March that since January 2017, attorneys general in blue states have filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration’s environmental policies — and the lawsuits have only continued to mount. Fourteen states sued the EPA for failing to establish guidelines for limiting methane emissions in April, and 17 states separately sued the EPA over its attempt to roll back emission standards in May.

Most recently, California and 14 other states filed suit against the EPA on Thursday over its recent decision to suspend Obama-era rules that limited pollution from trucks, the Associated Press reported. The initial rules limited the production of trucks with older engines that don’t meet emission standards. While the EPA claimed the rule was to protect small businesses who produce the trucks, the Obama administration said the pollution from these noncompliant engines could result in an additional 1,600 early deaths per year, according to the AP.

In addition to these attorney general-backed lawsuits, another group has emerged as a major force in climate change lawsuits: America’s youth. Climate advocacy group Our Children’s Trust is currently backing lawsuits brought by young Americans against the governments of nine states: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.

The lawsuits are aimed at forcing “science-based climate recovery action” in the states. The Florida lawsuit, for instance, attacks the government’s “deliberate indifference to [the Plaintiffs’] fundamental rights to a stable climate system in violation of Florida common law and the Florida Constitution” and asks the state to take such actions as “prepar[ing] and implement[ing] an enforceable comprehensive statewide remedial plan” to phase out fossil fuel use.

Twenty-one children and young adults are also taking the federal government to task for its climate change inaction. The federal lawsuit, which was first filed against the Obama administration in 2015, alleges that through “the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources,” Our Children’s Trust wrote on its website.

The federal trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 29, although the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to block further legal proceedings until an appeals court rules on a request to have the case dismissed.

Advertisements

In global warming fight, new tactics to make cows burp less

https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2018/0719/In-global-warming-fight-new-tactics-to-make-cows-burp-less

Scientists around the world are making strides in reducing methane emissions from belching livestock by developing probiotic supplements, breeding animals that emit less, and planting trees in pastures to absorb greenhouse gasses.

Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters/File
|
Caption

From New Zealand to the United States and Kenya to Colombia, scientists are on a mission to fight global warming by making livestock less gassy.

Livestock are responsible for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

According to calculations by some experts, this puts the livestock sector on par with transport. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says transport is responsible for 14 percent of emissions.

Ruminants such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats produce nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane, which is the most emitted gas and is released through belching.

Scientists are working on ways to reduce those emissions, including by breeding animals that burp less, adjusting their diets so they produce less methane, and planting trees in pastures.

“We domesticated ruminants over 10,000 years ago and relatively little has changed. It’s time that got an upgrade,” said Elizabeth Latham, co-founder of Texas-based Bezoar Laboratories.

Her company is working on a type of probiotic – helpful bacteria or yeasts in the digestive system – which has shown a 50 percent reduction of methane emissions in cattle during research.

Although less prevalent than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, methane is more potent because it traps 28 times more heat, according to a 2016 study by the Global Carbon Project, which groups climate researchers.

Bezoar’s probiotic can be put in water or feed, and even sprinkled on grass, said Ms. Latham, who won a Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award in 2017 for the patent-pending product.

Thousands of miles away, New Zealand’s AgResearch has bred sheep to produce 10 percent less methane.

“In a single sheep, a 10 percent drop maybe not so significant. But when there’s 19 million sheep in the country, it starts to make a huge impact,” said Suzanne Rowe, a geneticist at the government institute.

The low-methane sheep are the result of a decade of research, and they are also leaner and grow more wool, she said.

“The beauty of breeding the animal to be low methane … is it’s permanent,” Ms. Rowe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding the team is conducting similar research on cattle and deer.

Agriculture accounts for nearly half of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and transforming the sector is key to meeting the target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, Climate Change Minister James Shaw has said.

Attempts to reduce methane emissions from livestock are not limited to the world’s most affluent nations.

In India, a national program to boost the milk production of cows and buffalos by improving their diet is also helping the environment, according to Rajesh Sharma, senior manager at the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB).

The NDDB uses software to assess the ideal diet for an animal, based on its physical profile and environment. Changes usually include adjusting the feed quantity and adding locally-available mineral supplements.

The tailored diet means each animal produces 12 to 15 percent less methane, according to Mr. Sharma.

Over the past five years, the program has reached about 2.6 million of the nearly 300 million cows and buffalos recorded in India’s 2014 livestock census, he said.

In Kenya, scientists are testing various local grasses to see if they improve the productivity of livestock, which would reduce the amount of emissions per kilogram of milk, meat, or eggs.

Cows are placed in respiration chambers where scientists measure the methane emissions from different feeds available in East Africa, said Lutz Merbold, senior scientist at the Mazingira Centre, a Nairobi-based research institution.

Results are expected in mid-2019, according to Mr. Merbold, who hopes to persuade farmers to adjust feed practices by appealing to their concerns on climate change.

“If you have a well-fed cow and drought hits you, it will probably survive longer than a less well-fed cow,” he said.

Improvements in productivity alone could reduce up to 30 percent of methane emissions from livestock globally, said Anne Mottet, FAO’s livestock policy officer.

Her department has developed a web application that allows farmers and researchers to calculate how changes in animal feed may affect emissions.

Latin American ranchers are experimenting with silvopastoralism – planting trees in pastures where they absorb greenhouse gases and offset emissions, while restoring degraded soil and improving biodiversity.

“They can be different types of trees – for timber, fruit trees, even trees that animals can eat,” said Jacobo Arango, a researcher at the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

As consumers have become more environmentally conscious, ruminants have been vilified for their emissions, as well as the amount of land and water they require.

Beef farming in particular has been heavily criticized, as it accounts for 41 percent of the livestock sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to FAO.

In a March report, Greenpeace warned that a continued increase in the consumption of meat and dairy could undermine Paris Agreement targets to stop temperatures from rising more than 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial times.

The environmental group called for global meat and dairy production and consumption to be cut by half by 2050.

Yet, campaigns to abandon meat sometimes ignore the reality of small-scale farmers in Asia, Africa, and South America who depend on animals for their health and livelihoods, according to experts.

Merbold, of the Mazingira Centre, said consumers in richer countries have the privilege of turning away from meat-heavy diets.

“But if you’re living in certain regions in Africa, livestock provides you with essential nutrition you can’t get somewhere else,” he said.

The animals are also used to transport water and plow land, as well as producing manure to fertilize crops, said FAO’s Mottet.

What is needed is balance, she said.

“We have countries that consume about 220.462 lbs of meat [per person each year]. In others, it’s about four.”

This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The disturbing reason heat waves can kill people in cooler climates

It’s not a record-high temperature that necessarily makes a heat wave dangerous. It’s whether you can cool off.

People cool themselves in water spray from a fire truck during a July heat wave in Washington, DC.
 Alex Wong/Getty Images

Already this summer, nine all-time temperature records have been broken and 10 recordshave tied in the United States. One of them was Chino, California, near Los Angeles, which hit a blistering 120 degrees Fahrenheit on July 6.

Overall, 2018 is on track to be the fourth-warmest year on record. And many other countries are suffering from the heat too. A village in Oman saw temperatures linger above 108°F for 51 hours straight, which likely broke the world record for highest minimum temperature ever. Sydney, Australia saw temperatures rise to 76.5°F for more than two days earlier this month, which is astounding since it’s the middle of winter there.

NWS

@NWS

Another day of dangerous heat for parts of the western & southern U.S. on Tuesday, then a cooling trend. Excessive Heat Warnings in effect for northern CA and southwestern OR; Heat Advisories cover parts of the southern Plains/Lower MS Valley. http://go.usa.gov/3kd2P 

These heat waves comport with what scientists expect from climate change. The body of evidence shows that the world will face longer, more intense heat waves as average temperatures go up, and that they will be deadly.

In Canada, at least 70 people have died from the recent heat. Over the weekend, eight died and more than 2,000 were reported injured in Japan from record temperatures. In May, a heat wave killed 65 in Karachi, Pakistan.

But while temperatures in Pakistan reached 111°F, in Canada, they only reached 95°F. In Japan, the high this past weekend was 101°F.

Which shows that heat waves are often most dangerous not necessarily where it’s hottest, but where it’s hardest to cool off.

Heat waves are not an equal-opportunity threat

The common denominator in the recent heat-related deaths and hospital visits in Canada and Japan is that many occurred among people who were already facing health risks and who didn’t have access to cooling. We saw this play out in Quebec, where many of Canada’s recently heat-related fatalities occurred, according to NPR:

Most of the people who died as the region reached temperatures up to 95 degrees are elderly men and women living alone in apartments with no air conditioning, and many had chronic health conditions.

David Kaiser, a physician manager at the Montreal Regional Department of Public Health, confirmed to NPR that 34 of the deaths occurred in the city from June 29 through July 7. With few exceptions, he said, the people were over the age of 50, many between 65 to 85. About 60 percent were men and most had an underlying medical or mental health condition, Kaiser added.

In Pakistan, many of the deaths during its heat wave came during a power outage that swept Karachi that left people with no way to escape the heat. The heat wave in Japan came after massive flooding and landslides that also knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes the week before.

Without air conditioning, homes can overheat, putting people at higher risk of heat stroke, where the body’s internal temperature reaches 104°F or higher.

People with cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure also suffer in the heat since they often take medications that can dehydrate them. High temperatures can also accelerate the formation of pollutants like ozone, which can inflame the lungs. At night, if temperatures don’t decline, people can’t cool off enough to cope. And as the climate changes, nights are warming faster than days.

Even healthy people suffer under these conditions, but the elderly face the highest health risks from heat.

These events are a reminder that cooling isn’t a luxury; it can be a matter of life and death.

Temperatures don’t have to reach extremes before turning deadly

As I’ve written about before, scientists have figured out that when it comes to health risks from high temperatures, the key factor to pay attention to is the deviation from the norm.

A 105°F day in Phoenix may barely register for Arizona residents, but 90°F weather in Portland, Oregon, could send people to the hospital.

Heat waves are often most pronounced in dense, urban areas. Asphalt, concrete, steel, and glass soak up the summer weather and create a heat island, which can make a city upward of 22°F warmer than its surroundings. And the climate itself is becoming more erratic, with parts of the world seeing major temperature swings over the course of a few days, making it harder for people to adjust.

The World Meteorological Organization says that heat-related deaths and illnesses have risen steadily since 1980, and now 30 percent of the world’s population lives in regions vulnerable to heat waves. With climate change exacerbating heat waves, we need to prepare for more deadly heat across the US and around the world.

Global Temperature Projections Could Double as the World Burns

A recent mountaineering trip found two friends and myself venturing into the central Cascade Mountains of Washington State. The approach to our climb meant we had to take a ferry 40 miles up the 55-mile-long Lake Chelan to Lucerne village on its western banks, then venture up into the mountains from there.

When we returned to Lucerne after our climb to catch the ferry back, I took note of a US Forest Service sign with information about the remediation work at Holden Mine, which we’d seen nine miles up a dirt road to the trailhead we had used to begin our approach hike.

The propaganda on the sign claimed that the Holden Mine remediation was “Cleaning up the past to improve the future.” I confidently use the term “propaganda” because this is exactly what this is. The sign went on to tell of the covering up of waste rock and mill tailings, because, “Over the several past decades these piles have been exposed to rain, snowmelt and ground water creating acidic water runoff with high concentrations of aluminum, zinc, iron, cadmium and copper. The impacted runoff entered Railroad Creek and degraded water quality and aquatic habitat downstream from the site.”

After reading it, I turned around and looked at the brilliant blue waters of Lake Chelan glistening in the early afternoon sun. This lake — the third-deepest in the United States at well over 1,000 feet with several hundred feet of its deepest reaches even lower than sea level — is the primary water source for a massive amount of farming in Central Washington and hundreds of thousands of people annually use it for fishing and recreation. The lake’s water is toxic.

Lake Chelan is yet another wound that the white colonialist mentality has gouged into the Earth. But as profound as this wound is, it pales in comparison to the ongoing and worsening impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).

Two new studies investigating corn and vegetables have warned of an increasing risk of food shocks around the world, along with malnutrition, if ACD continues unchecked, which by all accounts it will, given the governmental refusal to even discuss the actions necessary for mitigation. Both studies were published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and showed how ACD will increase the risk of simultaneous crop failures across the planet’s largest corn-growing regions, as well as sapping nutrients from critical vegetables. For example, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius (4°C) — which is essentially the current trajectory we are on to reach by 2100 — could cut US corn production nearly in half. Meanwhile, the likelihood of simultaneous crop failures for the four biggest corn exporters (US, China, Brazil, Argentina) suffering yield losses of 10 percent or greater increases from 7 percent at 2°C warming to 86 percent at 4°C.

Another study warns of how ACD already poses a serious threat to the nutritional value of crops, and a lack of action could well have major global implications for both food security and global health. The same study showed that global crop yields could be reduced by nearly one-third with a 4°C temperature increase.

But the food crisis is already current, because drying wells and sinking land at the heart of the most productive farmland in the US, the Central Valley of California, are an indication that we are watching the collapse of this once bountiful area. Large portions of the San Joaquin Valley have already sunk nearly 30 feet since the 1920s, with some areas having dropped a staggering three feet over just the last two years. All of this is the result of farmers’ relentless pumping of groundwater to offset the lack of snowpack and rainfall, both of which stem largely from ACD. It is important to note that the groundwater the farmers are using accounts for between 30 to 60 percent of the water that all Californians use each year, depending on how much rain and snow the state gets. The US Geological Survey stated that the pumping and resultant sinking of the San Joaquin Valley is “one of the single largest alterations of the [planet’s] land surface attributed to mankind.”

Another sign of the dramatic changes besetting the planet comes from the Arctic, where a cyclone became one of the most powerful on record. The fact that it occurred in June was also noteworthy, as historically these storms don’t normally begin to hit the Arctic until late summer. Its impacts on what is left of the ever-shrinking sea ice are, of course, deleterious.

Another recent report illustrates how what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. The loss of Arctic sea ice could well cook the tropics by changing critical ocean currents and altering wind patterns, which will of course cause dramatic changes across the entire planet.

Look out your window. Better yet, go outside and feel what is happening. By early July, cities across the globe set all-time-high temperature records. While no single weather event can ever be attributed solely to ACD, it has been well known for decades now that all of these phenomena are being driven in part (and most are largely driven) by ACD.

Earth

Nearly 1 billion people across South Asia are at risk of seeing their already desperate plight worsen, according to a recent World Bank Report. The report pins the cause on increasing temperatures and precipitation changes stemming from ACD, if major changes are not made to current global emission rates.

Baobab trees that live for millennia and are common throughout sub-Saharan Africa are now rapidly dying off, and scientists are pointing to ACD as the cause. A recent report showed that of the 13 oldest baobab trees, four have died in just the last dozen years, and five others are on their way out, given that they have already lost their oldest stems.

A very disconcerting study coming out of Northwestern University has warned that even slight increases in temperatures could lead to the extinction of bees across the US Southwest in the very near future. Over a two-year period, the study simulated the predicted warmer future climate, and the results are shocking: 35 percent of the bees died the first year, and 70 percent died the second year.

Adding insult to injury, another recent report warned of something we’ve known for years now: that warming temperatures could increase the spread of bark beetles, which are well-known for how effectively they decimate forests.

Meanwhile, Atlantic puffins, which were nearly decimated by hunters about a century ago, had made a comeback thanks to a protection program run by the National Audubon Society. But now, according to a recent report, they are likely on their way out again due to ACD impacts.

Water

Basic high school physics shows that as the atmosphere continues to warm, it can hold more moisture. Hence, we should expect greater severity of rain events due to ACD.

Recent events in Japan provide an example of this, where record rainfallcaused flooding and landslides that have led to at least 155 deaths, with dozens still missing at the time of writing.

The flip side of this phenomenon is that there are longer periods between these rain events, which brings drought.

In the US, the Rio Grande River (the fourth-longest river in the country) is vanishing before our eyes. Authorities recently warned that the river likely won’t make it out of Colorado into New Mexico this summer, let alone further down into Texas or Mexico. This means that farmers in the already drought-prone region will be struggling with their crops through a summer of extreme drought.

Over in Iraq, ACD-fueled drought coupled with upstream countries damming the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is creating a crisis for farmers. This is causing even more of Iraq to turn into desert, and the future for farmers there is dismal.

The oceans are continuing to warm as they absorb the majority of the heat humans are generating in the atmosphere.

The giant North Pacific “blob,” a massive area of warming water that occurred from 2014-16, is still having major impacts on Alaskan fisheries. That state’s famous Copper River red salmon are currently in decline, and a dismal salmon run forced the state to carry out an “unprecedented” shutdown of fishing at a popular dip netting area there.

To make matters worse, Alaska also had to shut down several king salmon fishing areas in the Susitna Valley — one of the main reasons again being the ACD-fueled “blob.”

Warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico are causing fish there to change their geographic distribution, a phenomenon happening around the world that has been mentioned in several other climate dispatches.

A fascinating study was recently published showing that, regarding sea level rise, rising bedrock below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could actually slow down what was expected to be a catastrophic collapse of that ice sheet. The study revealed how as the ice melts, it releases its weight load from the bedrock, which then rises. Projections show that this could rise by as much as eight meters in the coming century, which could potentially protect the ice from the warm seawater that has been melting it from below. The author of the study said that this could buy the world a few extra decades to prepare for what is still eventually to come with sea level rise.

However, a significant amount of sea level rise is already set in motion, given thermal expansion of ocean waters, ongoing melting in Greenland and the rest of the cryosphere, and other factors.

Case in point: Watch a four-mile-long iceberg carve off the Helheim Glacier in late June; an event where half-mile-high columns of ice broke free and spun onto their backs, releasing 10 billion tons of ice into the ocean.

recently released study shows that coral reefs “will be overwhelmed by rising oceans,” given that they cannot grow fast enough to keep up with rising sea levels. Reefs only grow in certain water depths, so as waters rise, the coral simply cannot cope.

In Bangladesh, ongoing rising sea levels coupled with recurrent flooding is causing an increase in homelessness, and now a recent report shows that growing unpredictability of shifting rainfall patterns is further complicating the people’s plight.

Another report on the ramifications of sea level rise in the US warned that more than 150,000 homes and businesses could face more frequent high tide flooding within 15 years, and the number of homes and businesses impacted by this could well double by 2045. It is worth noting that these projections are not based on worst-case sea level rise estimates, which have thus far themselves not been keeping pace with reality.

The same report warned that Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the riskier places to live on the coast in the Southeast, as within the next three decades, as many as 8,000 homes in Charleston County could flood at least 26 times if seas rise just two feet. Also singled out in the report was Texas, where more than 5,500 homes along coastal areas of that state could be flooded by rising sea levels by 2030.

As a harbinger of further planetary warming, a recent study showed that the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean is continuing to warm dramatically, which means it could soon transition from being a cold Arctic area to a warmer Atlantic-dominated climate regime, hence shifting the climate for the entire region, with global implications. The study showed that the Barents Sea is likely on track to become ice-free year round in the near future.

Fire

Summer is now in full swing, and so is fire season along with record temperatures.

Wildfires have been blazing across the Western US for weeks now. By July 4, thousands of people had already been forced to evacuate from their homes due to encroaching fires, as more than 60 large, active fires were present, mostly across the already drought-ridden Western states. Colorado had already had its third-largest fire in its history, which was still expanding beyond the already 147 square miles it had burned, roughly 200 miles southwest of Denver.

Also in early July, someone in the Rocky Mountains described a “tsunami” of flames, and one of the fires burning in the Rockies had already burned an area larger than the city limits of Denver and was only 5 percent contained.

Wildfires in California this summer have already scorched more than two times the five-year average of land burned this year, and that is only as of July 1.

Things are so bad across the Western US that officials have opted for a rare shutting down of national forests. This is due to widespread “exceptional” drought, record warm temperatures and the high danger of more fires. Thus far, national forests and parks in New Mexico and Arizona have been shut down, along with the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado.

Air

For most of you reading this dispatch, you don’t need science to tell you how much warmer it is outside than it used to be. One look at these global heat maps from early July showing temperature departures from normal tell the story.

A major heat wave swept across most of the US, setting records across the country, while in China, a heat wave torched Shanghai, Beijing and other cities, forcing the country to speed up its natural gas imports to meet energy demand to run air conditioners. Around that time, the UK recorded the hottest temperatures it has ever recorded for June, while in Scotland, the roof of the Glasgow Science Centre got so hot it began to ooze tar as portions of the structure literally began to melt.

In Alaska, just before July 4, Anchorage set a new heat record when the city saw 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

At least 33 people died from the heat across southern Quebec in Canada as the province baked under extreme temperatures, causing Montreal to open pools and air conditioned spaces to the general public in hopes of preventing more deaths.

Across the US, the number of summer days with above normal temperatures has been trending upward, with 92 percent of the 244 cities analyzed in a recent study having more summer days with above-normal temperatures than half a century earlier.

Denial and Reality

As usual, the denialism in the fossil-fuel-funded GOP is on parade.

Four Republican senators recently called to halt funding for an ACD education program, calling the program “propaganda.”

Swerving back into reality, a recent study dispelled, again, the myth about natural gas being a “clean” energy source. The report showed that natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal does, in the short term. “That’s because its main ingredient, the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been leaking from oil and gas facilities at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim,” an article in Science said of the study. “A new study finds that in the United States, such leaks have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide (CO2)-emitting coal plants for 2 decades. (Methane doesn’t persist in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does, but while it does, its warming effect is much stronger.)”

You know things are really bad when even the pope is warning that unless governments take ACD seriously, Earth will be nothing more than “rubble” and “refuse.”

To underscore everything in this month’s dispatch, an international team of researchers from 17 countries recently published their findings in Nature Geoscience, which showed that global temperatures could eventually double those that have been predicted by climate modeling. According to their findings, sea levels could rise by six meters or more, even if the world meets the 2°C maximum temperature rise level set by the Paris climate agreement.

Summer Heat Waves Break Records Across Northern Hemisphere

 http://buzzflash.com/commentary/summer-heat-waves-break-records-across-northern-hemisphereCone 0705wrpA melted ice cream cone. (Photo: Steve Snodgrass / Flickr)

OLIVIA ROSANE OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The summer of 2018 is shaping up to be one for the record books. Locations across the Northern Hemisphere have recorded their hottest temperatures ever this past week, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. While the Post points out that no single heat record can be linked to climate change, this summer’s high temperatures follow a trend of record-setting years and open a window into what will be the new normal if we don’t act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Records were set across the U.S. as people prepared to kick off summer with outdoor Fourth of July celebrations. Denver tied its record of 105 degrees Fahrenheit on June 28, but while temperatures soared across the nation, it was the usually mild New England that broke the most records. On July 1, both Mount Washington, New Hampshire and Burlington, Vermont tied and set their highest low temperatures of 60 degrees and 80 degrees respectively, according to the Washington Post.

The U.S. wasn’t the only country where typically milder climes faced scorching heat. In Canada, Montreal recorded its highest temperature since it began keeping records 147 years ago. Thermometers rose to 97.9 degrees on July 2, and the city also suffered its most extreme midnight combination of humidity and heat. The heat wave in Eastern Canada has turned deadly, killing at least 19 people in Quebec, 12 of them in Montreal, RTE reported Thursday.

If you’re a regular reader of BuzzFlash, why not pledge a small monthly gift to support our work? Just make a tax-deductible donation and choose the “recurring” option at checkout.

“My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have died in Quebec during this heat wave. The record temperatures are expected to continue in central & eastern Canada, so make sure you know how to protect yourself & your family,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter, according to RTE.

To the west, Ottawa also recorded its most extreme heat and humidity combo July 1 but RTE said no deaths have been reported in its province of Ontario.

Eastern Canada is expected to see some relief Thursday and Friday as temperatures fall, but it can expect more of the same in years to come.

“All the predictions illustrate that going forward in Canada, things are going to be hotter, wetter and wilder,” University of Waterloo climate scientist Blair Feltmate told Global News. “It’s not any particular year that matters. What matters is the overall, the long-term trend.”

Across the Atlantic, a heatwave in the United Kingdom also broke records. Scotland has provisionally announced its highest ever temperature of 91.8 degrees in Motherwell on June 28 and Glasgow recorded its hottest day of 89.4 degrees. Shannon, in Ireland, recorded its hottest day of 89.6 degrees, and in Northern Ireland, Belfast and Castlederg both broke their records of 85.1 degrees on June 28 and 86.2 degrees on June 29 respectively, the Washington Post reported.

The UK heatwave, which began two weeks ago, is expected to persist for two more. It is already causing wildfires in Wales and putting agriculture at risk, the Independent reported Thursday.

“It could be a bad summer for dairy farmers, with the National Farmers Union (NFU) warning that in many areas the grass has stopped growing, crops are ripening too early and milk yields and animals’ winter food supplies could be hit,” the Independent wrote.

Temperatures in Eurasia and the Middle East are also spiking. Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, broke its record July 4 when temperatures reached 104.9 degrees. The Armenian capital of Yerevan tied its record of 107.6 degrees on July 2, also breaking its record for July. Parts of southern Russia also tied or broke records June 28, according to the Washington Post.

Finally, Quriyat, in Oman, broke the world’s record for hottest low temperature with a whopping 108.7 degrees recorded the night of June 26.

Alaska Wants to Fight Warming While Still Drilling for Oi

l

 

As the state weathers https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/alaska-wants-to-fight-warming-while-still-drilling-for-oil/the impacts of climate change, its economy still relies on fossil fuels

Alaska Wants to Fight Warming While Still Drilling for Oil
The Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) near Copperville, Alaska. Credit: Daniel Acker Getty Images

Alaska’s appetite for oil is as ubiquitous as the state’s proliferating examples of a changing climate.

The Arctic is melting faster than anywhere else in the world. Permafrost is thawing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Warmer air and ocean water have diminished sea ice. Native villages along the coast are moving inland to flee rising seas.

But climate change is a political issue. Although Alaskans may not dispute the science, they do disagree about what to do about it. After all, oil and gas makes up the vast majority of the state’s revenue. After the price of oil plummeted in recent years, oil drillers slowed production, crippling the state’s economy.

Now, amid tough economic times, three gubernatorial candidates—one Democrat and two Republicans—are challenging Gov. Bill Walker, an independent who is running for re-election.

Economics are the most important issue in the race, political observers note. And economics are tied to attitudes about climate policies. Every Alaskan is paid a per-person royalty based on the amount of oil sucked out of Alaskan soil. Residents therefore have a direct interest in continued production. This creates a steep challenge for politicians hoping to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s almost schizophrenic,” said Beth Kerttula, a Democratic former state legislator who later served as director of the National Oceans Council under President Obama. “You can see climate change immediately. … At the same time, we have the oil industry in particular wanting to open the [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] and bringing in more development. I think that has affected our politics in ways that are just very profound.”

None of the candidates running to be Alaska’s governor opposes oil drilling in the Arctic.

To the left of Walker, Mark Begich, a former Democratic senator who jumped into the race in the eleventh hour, said his position to support oil drilling has stayed the same, adding that some environmentally sensitive places like Bristol Bay should be off-limits. On the right, Mike Dunleavy and Mead Treadwell—Republicans who will face off during next month’s primary election—have ardently supported more drilling while at times questioning human’s role in global warming.

Faced with salient examples of climate change, Walker convened a task force last year that holds regular meetings throughout the state to gather evidence. It released a draft report in April proposing climate policies, which emphasize adapting to a warming planet over mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

The task force appears to be a reincarnation of efforts launched by former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin in 2007, a year before she disavowed human-caused climate change on the presidential campaign trail. Climate hawks lament that in the decade since, actual implementation of climate policies has stalled.

In fact, the politically irreconcilable climate perspectives are even spelled out in the task force’s draft report: “The state economy is dependent on natural resource development, including oil and natural gas production,” the draft report states. “While these resources are finite and contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, which are a root cause of climate change, they also support essential government services and as such our ability to adapt and respond.”

But beyond oil, there is not much else in Alaska to generate revenue; state lawmakers have blocked a sales tax and income tax.

POLITICAL CLIMATE

Because the governor’s race is a three-way contest, the Republican nominee has an advantage as Walker and Begich are competing for many of the same voters.

“The odds are that the Republican wins,” said Mike Coumbe, a longtime conservationist and political observer. “If there was betting in Las Vegas, that’s the way the bets would be laid. There is still an open question that one of the candidates would pull out, but it seems like the egos are too high.”

The Cook Political Report calls the race a toss-up.

In an interview with E&E News, Begich stressed hardships in Alaska. He blames the current administration for failing to diversify the economy. University graduation rates are low. Crime rates are high. People are leaving the state. “We need to be better than these data points,” he said.

He further complained that the state Legislature in 2010 set a goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2025. But it is not on track to achieve that target.

As for Walker’s climate task force, Begich said: “When I was mayor of Anchorage, I did not form a task force to work on this issue. We just got busy.”

Although he supports oil drilling in the Arctic, Begich said he does not support drilling in environmentally sensitive places such as Bristol Bay. It is the “same reason I don’t support mining in Pebble mine,” he said. Pebble mine is a controversial gold mine in the Bristol Bay region in the southwest part of the state.

Begich has said over the years that Alaskan Democrats are “different.” Support for oil drilling is among the key reasons.

Eight years ago, Begich was named by the environmental group Friends of the Earth one of the “BP Ten,” for being among the 10 members of Congress who’ve received the most money from the oil company shortly after the Deepwater Horizon spill tarnished its reputation. A spokesperson at the time told E&E News: “You can’t ask for a better endorsement in Alaska than getting blasted on recycled paper by Friends of the Earth. Oil and gas companies are a major part of Alaska’s economy and employ thousands of people in our state” (Greenwire, June 18, 2010).

On the right, Dunleavy, a former state senator, is believed to be the GOP front-runner. Treadwell, a former lieutenant governor, jumped into the race at the last minute. The primary election is Aug. 21.

Dunleavy, the first to contest Walker, criticized the governor’s climate change task force at a debate last month. It “would be one thing if we were a smokestack state like Ohio or Pennsylvania, but we’re not,” he said, according to the newspaper Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. “We’re a resource development state, not a manufacturing state.”

He added: “The opportunity in Alaska is amazing. We haven’t run out of oil, haven’t run out of gas, timber, fish, gold—you name it. Yet the Lower 48 has passed us by, and we’re in a malaise. We have folks leaving the state, and [our policies] are drifting farther to the left and pushing us toward becoming a welfare state.”

Treadwell has talked about the melting Arctic but has questioned human responsibility. Seeking an endorsement in 2010 from a conservative group, he wrote: “I challenge the argument that man made CO2 emissions are causing significant global warming and I will oppose any costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness” (Climatewire, Aug. 26, 2010).

What’s new for this gubernatorial election is that voters are automatically registered to vote when they signed up to receive their annual dividend. Begich said he believes that will help him.

PALIN’S CLIMATE LEGACY

More than 400,000 barrels are produced in the state every day, according to the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, and shipped all over the world.

The state has largely failed to diversify its economy, and oil and gas remain the key economic drivers, explained Jerry McBeath, a retired environmental politics professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “Time after time we go back to oil,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be depleted in the next century.”

Walker’s popularity plummeted last year after he cut the royalties from the state’s permanent fund. The fund currently doles out $1,000 to every Alaskan every year. Walker had cut the checks nearly in half to pay for government services.

Last year, shortly after President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, Walker convened the task force to address climate change. Democratic Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, an Alaska leader of Tlingit heritage, heads the effort. Speaking at an event in Washington this spring, Mallott recalled seeing massive Alaska glaciers as a child, unable to imagine that they would not be there someday.

Mallott said the Walker administration felt a keen sense of responsibility to be engaged on climate change, “regardless of what our federal government did.”

The draft policies have emphasized adapting to sinking houses rather than mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions. The task force will present policy recommendations to the governor in September.

Kerttula said she was impressed by the work the task force was doing. “The committee is now working on specific recommendations that I know are really important, such as working with Tribes, bringing back coastal zone management, changing the Stafford Act so communities falling into the ocean can get federal help, supporting ocean observing—teaching kids about what is happening, and aggressively reducing carbon,” she wrote in an email.

Others were less enthusiastic.

“It’s good to see our state administration facilitating discussion of climate change action. But we’ve been here before,” said Polly Carr, executive director of the Alaska Center. “Alaskans have been talking about climate change since the Palin administration, with little policy and action to show for it.”

Palin’s administrative order issued in 2007 created a Climate Change Sub-Cabinet to develop recommendations on a number of issues, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, assessing impacts on vulnerable communities and exploring carbon-trading markets.

But the recommendations never went anywhere, and Palin sharply changed her tune on mainstream climate change science when she became the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008.

Fast-forward to today, and little progress has been made.

Speaking in Washington, Mallott acknowledged a common attitude in Alaska: The state’s emissions are so minor—there are only 750,000 people in the state—that it isn’t worth engaging on the issue. “To us, that is the worst kind of attitude,” he said. “Every action that we can take no matter how small is important and ultimately beneficial.”

But for the politicians running to be Alaska’s governor, that doesn’t mean oil drilling should stop.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

Study reveals what natural greenhouse emissions from wetlands and permafrosts mean for Paris Agreement targets

July 9, 2018 by Simon Williams, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
emissions
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Global fossil fuel emissions would have to be reduced by as much as 20% more than previous estimates to achieve the Paris Agreement targets, because of natural greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands and permafrost, new research has found.

The additional reductions are equivalent to 5-6 years of  from human activities at current rates, according to a new paper led by the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement aims to keep “the global average temperature increase to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.

The research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience today (July 9, 2018) uses a novel form of  model where a specified temperature  is used to calculate the compatible .

The model simulations estimate the natural wetland and  response to climate change, including their , and the implications for human fossil-fuel emissions.

Natural wetlands are very wet regions where the soils emit methane, which is also a greenhouse gas. The methane emissions are larger in warmer soils, so they will increase in a warmer climate.

Permafrost regions are those which are permanently frozen. Under a warming climate, permafrost regions begin to thaw and as a result the soils begin to emit carbon dioxide, and in some cases methane, into the atmosphere.

The greenhouse gas emissions from natural wetland and permafrost increase with global temperature increases, this in turn adds further to global warming creating a “positive feedback” loop.

The results show the “positive feedback” process are disproportionately more important for the  reductions needed to achieve the 1.5 °C target rather than the 2 °C target.

This is because the scientists involved in the study modelled the impact of the additional processes for the time-period 2015-2100, which are broadly similar for the two temperature targets.

However, as the emissions budgets to achieve the 1.5 °C target are half of what is required to meet the 2 °C target, the proportional impact of natural wetlands and  is much larger.

Lead author Dr. Edward Comyn-Platt, a biogeochemist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said: “Greenhouse gas emissions from natural wetlands and permafrost regions are sensitive to climate change, primarily via changes in soil temperature.

“Changes in these emissions will alter the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and must be considered when estimating the human emissions compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Co-author Dr. Sarah Chadburn, of the University of Leeds, said: “We found that permafrost and  get more and more important as we consider lower global warming targets.

“These feedbacks could make it much harder to achieve the target, and our results reinforce the urgency in reducing fossil fuel burning.”

Co-author Prof Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “We were surprised at how large these permafrost and wetland feedbacks can be for the low warming target of just 1.5°C.”

The other institutions involved in the research were the University of Exeter, the Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, the University of Reading and the Joint Centre for Hydrometeorological Research, Wallingford.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-07-reveals-natural-greenhouse-emissions-wetlands.html#jCp

Ford is saying goodbye to cars and hello to batteries

Ford

Ford made waves recently when it announced it would stop producing cars(except for the iconic Mustang) — in favor of SUVs, trucks and other large vehicles — for the United States. It wasn’t a big surprise and if anything it was expected since SUV and truck sales are growing while car sales plummet. But there’s another big change going on at Ford: the move to electrification.

“With (Ford CEO Jim) Hackett, we’re all in. We’re going to be bigger and we want to change the process,” Ted Cannis, Ford’s global director of battery electric vehicles, said during a recent interview with Engadget. The automaker is adjusting to a rapidly changing automotive world. That means dropping vehicles that no longer sell (cars) and making sure that its lineup is electrified.

Moving away from cars and simultaneously going electric may seem counterintuitive (it takes more energy to move all that extra weight), but SUVs and trucks offer more battery space and consumers have voted with their pocketbooks that they want the room these bigger vehicles provide.

According to Cannis, the move to electrification is also driven by consumers, thanks to advancements in EV technology. “When it was compliance cars, there’s nothing wrong with Ford Focus Electric. It’s executed well. But, it’s not too exciting,” he said.

Those days are over (or at least coming to an end). Instead, in his view, adding a battery to a car should make it better for drivers. “Let’s make them awesome. Let’s amplify what’s best about that for that user group and really make awesome vehicles.” The automaker is no longer seeing high mpg and battery-powered cars as a government-mandated necessity. Instead, EVs and hybrids have become an opportunity to appease a market hungry for technology and a greener lifestyle.

That includes bringing the “awesome” 300-mile range Mustang-inspired small SUV (codenamed Mach 1) to a dealership near you in 2020. After that, the company will introduce 40 electrified vehicles (16 of which will be EVs) worldwide by 2022.

This new direction and excitement about electrified vehicles is a bit of an about-face from 2016, when former CEO Mark Fields shared his concerns that EV sales were soft. That’s despite Tesla Model 3 pre-orders hitting over 300,000 a few months before his remarks.

There’s a new CEO at the helm, though and according to Cannis, Hackett is adjusting how the company operates from end-to-end for this electrification plan. Cannis said the company wants to move quicker, like a startup. It’s not a small division or test program, this is the entire organization moving towards a single goal to bring electrification to the road. It better hit those goals because it needs to do some catching up.

Ford is behind right now. Its Focus EV is just an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle that’s been modified to be an EV. Meanwhile, Nissan, Honda, GM, Jaguar and, of course, Tesla are building and selling EVs built from the ground up. Some of those cars are actually awesome. The Focus EV, not so much.

On Ford’s horizon, though, are crossovers, SUVs and even a hybrid F-Series (you can’t beat that electric torque). They’re vehicles that are meant to be sold on features instead of gas mileage. The automaker wants you to buy them because you have some sort of emotional connection. Very few of us buy cars based on logic; it’s all about what you like and what you think you need. Ford is hoping you think you need an “awesome” EV crossover that sort of looks like a Mustang. It’s not just hoping; it’s betting everything on it.

Record heat put thousands of Californians in the dark Friday. Scientists predicted this from climate change

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2018/07/09/record-heat-put-thousands-of-californians-in-the-dark-friday-scientists-predicted-this-from-climate-change/?utm_term=.98d223de0c9e
July 9 at 2:49 PM

A surfer attempts to beat the heat in San Diego on Sunday. (Jim Grant via Twitter)

Temperatures shot up over 110 degrees in Southern California on Friday, obliterating all kinds of long-standing heat records, and the lights went out for tens of thousands of customers. Californians were powerless, without air conditioning, in the hottest weather many had ever experienced.

Climate scientists have known this was coming, and it may only be the beginning.

“We studied this a long time ago . . . now our projections are becoming reality,” tweeted Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University.

In 2006, Hayhoe and colleagues published the study “Climate, Extreme Heat, and Electricity Demand in California” in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.

“Over the twenty-first century, the frequency of extreme-heat events for major cities in heavily air-conditioned California is projected to increase rapidly,” the study said. It warned that as temperatures soared, electricity demand would exceed supply.

Friday’s weather and the resulting blackouts illustrated their point.

“Skyrocketing electricity demand due to Friday’s triple-digit temperatures triggered power outages around Los Angeles that are still affecting about 34,500 residences and businesses,” the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday afternoon. “Peak energy demand climbed to 6,256 megawatts on Friday, knocking down the previous July record of 6,165 megawatts set in 2006,” which happened to be the same year the Hayhoe study was published.

Hot air masses are more intense

The blistering temperatures Friday, more than the power grid could handle, occurred against a backdrop of more-intense hot-air masses due to climate change.

Multiple analyses have shown that the strength of heat domes, the bulging zones of high pressure that are the source of extremely high temperatures, has trended upward in recent decades.

An analysis conducted by meteorologists at the National Weather Service in State College, Pa., and Pennsylvania State University found an increase in the intensity of heat domes over the entire Northern Hemisphere during the summer months from 1979 to 2010.

The intensity of heat domes is evaluated using a measure known as “geopotential height,” which is the height in the atmosphere at which 500 millibars of pressure occur. The higher this pressure level is, the hotter it is, because hot air is less dense than cold air and fills more space. The most intense heat domes, which are extraordinarily rare, feature geopotential heights exceeding 6,000 meters at their core.

Friday’s heat dome exceeded the 6,000-meter geopotential height threshold in several locations in the Western United States and was nearly that high (5,940 meters or higher, as shown within the red outline in the image below) over a sprawling area from Southern California to southern New England.

Radiant Solutions | Weather Desk@Radiant_Weather

The last two weeks have featured all-time record heat in Denver in late June, near-record heat in the East last week, and daily/monthly/all-time record heat in SoCal late last week. 500 mb loop (maps via @NWSSPC) shows the burgeoning ridge responsible for the heat. pic.twitter.com/kfh5KSLTSo

Radiant Solutions | Weather Desk@Radiant_Weather

The coverage of the area with >594 dm 500 mb heights at 0z July 6 is really impressive pic.twitter.com/KDwvYcR5KI

View image on Twitter

It was this same heat dome that led to the hottest weather ever recorded in Denver and Montreal, where dozens of heat-related deaths have occurred.

Data shows that hot domes this extreme are becoming more common. Last summer, Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for Weather.us,  examined data back to 1958 and found almost all of the heat domes exceeding this 6,000-meter threshold in the Western United States have occurred since 1983 — with the overwhelming majority forming since 1990.

Because of the warming climate, “I’d surmise that the [6,000-meter] threshold — while an arbitrary big round number — is now more easily exceeded,” Maue told the Capital Weather Gang.

‘Jaw dropping’ records set

The massive heat dome spurred a remarkable slate of high-temperature records in Southern California. Most records for July 6 were obliterated, and quite of few of the highest temperatures were the highest for the month of July or any month of the year, known as “all-time” records.

Friday’s high of 120 degrees in Chino was the highest ever recorded by any automated weather station in the region around San Diego. “This one, to me, was absolutely jaw dropping,” tweeted Matt Lanza, a meteorologist based in Houston.

The weather station at the University of California at Los Angeles, which has kept measurements since 1933, posted a high of 111 degrees, destroying the previous July 6 record of 89 and edging past its all-time record of 109 set Sept. 20, 1939. Other locations that set all-time highs include:

  • Hollywood Burbank Airport, 114 degrees
  • Van Nuys Airport, 117 degrees
  • Ramona, 117 degrees
  • Santa Ana, 114 degrees
  • Riverside, 118 degrees (tying record from 1925)

Not only were temperatures historically hot during the day, but they also failed to cool off much at night — placing added stress on the power grid. Downtown Los Angeles cooled to only 79 degrees Saturday, its highest minimum temperature on record for the month of July.

Only the beginning?

If projections are correct, heat waves will become worse in the coming decades, further taxing California’s energy supply. Hayhoe’s 2006 study concluded a “potential for electricity deficits as high as 17 percent” later this century.

Of course, the Catch-22 is that if cities increase electricity capacity to adapt to a changing climate using fossil-fuel-based energy sources, greenhouse-gas emissions increase, which warm the climate even more.

Demand for cooling is expected to explode in the developing world, where air conditioning is scarce. In its May story “The World Wants Air-Conditioning. That Could Warm the World,” the New York Times reported that the number of air conditioners worldwide is projected to increase more than threefold by 2050.

“Air conditioning saves lives from heat waves,” Jonathan Patz, who directs the University of Wisconsin’s Global Health Institute, told Earther. “But if the electricity to run air conditioners requires coal-fired power plants, then we have a problem.”

The US natural gas industry is leaking way more methane than previously thought. Here’s why that matters

Anthony J. Marchese and Dan Zimmerle

Gas oil North Dakota

Getty Images

Natural gas is displacing coal, which could help fight climate change because burning it produces fewer carbon emissions. But producing and transporting natural gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas that also contributes to climate change. How big is the methane problem?

For the past five years, our research teams at Colorado State Universityhave made thousands of methane emissions measurements at more than 700 separate facilities in the productiongatheringprocessingtransmission and storage segments of the natural gas supply chain.

This experience has given us a unique perspective regarding the major sources of methane emissions from natural gas and the challenges the industry faces in terms of detecting and reducing, if not eliminating, them.

More from The Conversation:

California’s Aliso Canyon methane leak: climate disaster or opportunity?

Why utilities have little incentive to plug leaking natural gas

How to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry across North America

Our work, along with numerous other research projects, was recently folded into a new study published in the journal Science. This comprehensive snapshot suggests that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are much higher than current EPA estimates.

“You do not want to give Jeff Bezos a seven-year head start.”
Hear what else Buffett has to say

What’s wrong with methane

One way to quantify the magnitude of the methane leakage is to divide the amount of methane emitted each year by the total amount of methane pumped out of the ground each year from natural gas and oil wells. The EPA currently estimates this methane leak rate to be 1.4 percent. That is, for every cubic foot of natural gas drawn from underground reservoirs, 1.4 percent of it is lost into the atmosphere.

This study synthesized the results from a five-year series of 16 studies coordinated by environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which involved more than 140 researchers from over 40 institutions and 50 natural gas companies.

The effort brought together scholars based at universities, think tanks and the industry itself to make the most accurate estimate possible of the total amount of methane emitted from all U.S. oil and gas operations. It integrated data from a multitude of recent studies with measurements made on the ground and from the air.

All told, based on the results of the new study, the U.S. oil and gas industry is leaking 13 million metric tons of methane each year, which means the methane leak rate is 2.3 percent. This 60 percent difference between our new estimate and the EPA’s current one can have profound climate consequences.

Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the climate warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released.

An earlier EDF study showed that a methane leak rate of greater than 3 percent would result in no immediate climate benefits from retiring coal-fired power plants in favor of natural gas power plants.

That means even with a 2.3 percent leakage rate, the growing share of U.S. electricity powered by natural gas is doing something to slow the pace of climate change. However, these climate benefits could be far greater.

Also, at a methane leakage rate of 2.3 percent, many other uses of natural gas besides generating electricity are conclusively detrimental for the climate. For example, EDF found that replacing the diesel used in most trucks or the gasoline consumed by most cars with natural gas would require a leakage rate of less than 1.4 percent before there would be any immediate climate benefit.

What’s more, some scientists believe that the leakage rate could be even higher than this new estimate.

What causes these leaks

Perhaps you’ve never contemplated the long journey that natural gas travels before you can ignite the burners on the gas stove in your kitchen.

But on top of the 500,000 natural gas wells operating in the U.S. today, there are 2 million miles of pipes and millions of valves, fittings, tanks, compressors and other components operating 24 hours per day, seven days a week to deliver natural gas to your home.

That natural gas that you burn when you whip up a batch of pancakes may have traveled 1,000 miles or more as it wended through this complicated network. Along the way, there were ample opportunities for some of it to leak out into the atmosphere.

Natural gas leaks can be accidental, caused by malfunctioning equipment, but a lot of natural gas is also released intentionally to perform process operations such as opening and closing valves. In addition, the tens of thousands of compressors that increase the pressure and pump the gas along through the network are powered by engines that burn natural gas and their exhaust contains some unburned natural gas.

Since the natural gas delivered to your home is 85 to 95 percent methane, natural gas leaks are predominantly methane. While methane poses the greatest threat to the climate because of its greenhouse gas potency, natural gas contains other hydrocarbons that can degrade regional air quality and are bad for human health.

Inventory tallies vs. aircraft surveillance

The EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory is done in a way experts like us call a “bottom-up” approach. It entails tallying up all of the nation’s natural gas equipment – from household gas meters to wellpads – and estimating an annualized average emission rate for every category and adding it all up.

There are two challenges to this approach. First, there are no accurate equipment records for many of these categories. Second, when components operate improperly or fail, emissions balloon, making it hard to develop an accurate and meaningful annualized emission rate for each source.

“Top-down” approaches, typically requiring aircraft, are the alternative. They measure methane concentrations upwind and downwind of large geographic areas. But this approach has its own shortcomings.

First, it captures all methane emissions, rather than just the emissions tied to natural gas operations – including the methane from landfills, cows and even the leaves rotting in your backyard. Second, these one-time snapshots may get distorted depending on what’s going on while planes fly around capturing methane data.

Historically, top-down approaches estimate emissions that are about twice bottom-up estimates. Some regional top-down methane leak rate estimates have been as high as 8 percent while some bottom-up estimates have been as low as 1 percent.

More recent work, including the Science study, have performed coordinated campaigns in which the on-the-ground and aircraft measurements are made concurrently, while carefully modeling emission events.

Helpful gadgets and sound policy

On a sunny morning in October 2013, our research team pulled up to a natural gas gathering compressor station in Texas. Using an US$80,000 infrared camera, we immediately located an extraordinarily large leak of colorless, odorless methane that was invisible to the operator who quickly isolated and fixed the problem.

We then witnessed the methane emissions decline tenfold – the facility leak rate fell from 9.8 percent to 0.7 percent before our eyes.

It is not economically feasible, of course, to equip all natural gas workers with $80,000 cameras, or to hire the drivers required to monitor every wellpad on a daily basis when there are 40,000 oil and gas wells in Weld County, Colorado, alone.

But new technologies can make a difference. Our team at Colorado State University is working with the Department of Energy to evaluate gadgetry that will rapidly detect methane emissionsSome of these devices can be deployed today, including inexpensive sensors that can be monitored remotely.

Technology alone won’t solve the problem, however. We believe that slashing the nation’s methane leak rate will require a collaborative effort between industry and government. And based on our experience in Colorado, which has developed some of the nation’s strictest methane emissions regulations, we find that best practices become standard practices with strong regulations.

We believe that the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back regulations, without regard to whether they are working or not, will not only have profound climate impacts. They will also jeopardize the health and safety of all Americans while undercutting efforts by the natural gas industry to cut back on the pollution it produces.

Commentary by Anthony J. Marchese and Dan Zimmerle, a Professor and Research Associate, respectively, covering the subject of Engineering and Energy at Colorado State University. They are also contributors at The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.