As parts of the Western US emerge from one of the driest winter seasons on record, the expectation of yet another summer of wildfires will be familiar to many.
Scientists, in fact, are already issuing warnings of an increased risk of wildfires in places such as California for 2021, and other parts of the Western US, as the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported.
The region, where wildfires are increasingly common, is ripe for wildfires following a winter with extremely dry conditions – and reportedly the third worst ever seen.
And it could for a single reason – what is being described by scientists as the second worst drought for 1,200 years.Scientists Begin Studying ‘The Year Of The Quiet Ocean’PauseNext video0:00 / 0:00SettingsFull-screen
The Western US, a region at the front of the world’s fight against a warming climate, is on the verge of a “mega drought”, according to a report by CBS, following analysis of the US Drought Monitor and warnings from scientists.
The period of so-called “mega drought”, of which the consequences are only starting to be seen, is thought to have begun in 2000, with peaks in periods of severe drought – and wildfires.
As shown in figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the period was responsible for the two worst droughts to occur, in 2003 and 2013.WEEKLY EXCLUSIVE EMAIL
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Figures for 2020-2021 are more alarming, with the amount of area being in a state of “exceptional drought” at 20 per cent – wider than at any point for 20 years.about:blank
Craig Clements, a professor at California’s only wildfire research centre, told the Chronicle that “the lack of rain this season has severely impacted” the moisture of the ground – or its ability to catch alight.
Roughly 60 per cent of Western states are currently under severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to The US Drought Monitor. The region’s reservoirs are also at half of their operating capacity.
It follows winter temperatures ranging from 4 to 15 degrees above average for Western states, and a lack of snowfall — immediately after the worst wildfire event for California in 2020, and another summer of below average rainfall.
Scientists argue that it could end with permanent drought for swathes of the Western US, which could soon become unable to recover from recurring dry winters and summers.
Reasons for the “mega drought” are twofold, a warming climate caused by human activity, and in the short term, a La Niña event in which cooler waters in the Pacific are failing to provide moisture.
“It’s hard to say if it’s going to be worse, but it could be very similar,” Mr Clements added of the current conditions. “As long as we don’t have a lightning event, we should be in better shape, but our fuels are not.”
Without condoning or condemning the poorly understood tactic, recent reports suggest we should try to understand one proposed strategy to cool the planet: altering the atmosphere to reflect sunlight. Called solar radiation modification (SRM), this strategy is a type of geoengineering that involves scattering particles into the sky that cause sunlight to reflect out into space rather than warming the Earth’s atmosphere.
In theory, SRM could cool off the planet and help limit global warming to 1.5ºC compared to preindustrial levels. But it’s viewed as something of a last-resort tool to tackle climate change. Two new analyses explore what deploying this tactic could mean for the environment and the flora, fauna and people living in it. In all, the authors of both reports suggest that more work needs to be done to understand SRM.
But studies may be what we need most. According to one of the papers, which was published this week, a great many unknowns within SRM still need to be addressed.
The document is the outcome of a large group of geoengineering modelers, climate scientists, and ecologists who met digitally over the past two years. Called the Climate Intervention Biology Working Group, the team was concerned that efforts, like GeoMIP, to understand or model SRM outcomes didn’t account for ecology and biodiversity. The paper doesn’t come out for or against SRM but rather suggests that these knowledge gaps need filling before the world decides to use the strategy.
This research focused on one particular SRM approach called stratospheric aerosol injection, which involves releasing reflective particles into the stratosphere.
The paper lays out an agenda for us to understand what these impacts might be. According to Peter Groffman—professor at the Advanced Science Research Center at City University of New York and one of the paper’s authors—it advocates for increased teamwork between climate scientists, geoengineering modelers, and ecologists. In the past, this teamwork was uncommon, he said.”We went in with the idea that we really needed to bring these groups together to talk about this complex problem,” he told Ars.Advertisement
Alan Robock is one of the founders of GeoMIP and a co-author on the paper. GeoMIP asks climate scientists around the world to perform standardized tests on how climate would change in certain situations: a continued release of carbon, a reduction of carbon emissions, and under a hypothetical deployment of SRM.
Currently, GeoMIP’s climate models work on parcels of land, which can contain different types of natural vegetation and crops. But considering the importance of accurate modeling in understanding SRM’s potential impacts, the paper also suggests expanding GeoMIP to include Earth’s many and complex ecosystems. For example, while current modeling can take into account, say, a field of corn, it misses out on the myriad other plants, animals, and insects that live within it. Several of the paper’s authors are also ecology scholars who focus on biodiversity.
“They don’t have details that ecologists like to look at, at very fine scales,” Robock told Ars. “They could do with better simulations, but for that, we would need better data.”
According to Groffman, right now, SRM’s impacts on many important ecological functions are unknown. For example, injecting particles into the atmosphere might impact precipitation in unforeseen ways, as it and temperature are closely linked.
Similarly, an SRM strategy might work to cool the planet, but it would still leave carbon lingering in its atmosphere, which can create problems down the line. But it also can change ecosystems in the present. Plants use both sunlight and carbon dioxide—the former decreasing in this hypothetical, and the latter remaining the same. So the tactic might change how they grow in unpredictable ways. This, in turn, could have unforeseen consequences to river flows, groundwater, and the slew of organisms that rely on trees for food and shelter, Groffman said.
SRM proposes a kind of indirect pathway toward mitigating the effects of humanity’s filling of the atmosphere with carbon without directly impacting the cause. “You’re solving a problem in a different way from how it was created, and that makes huge uncertainties as to how it’s going to affect ecosystems,” he said.
The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine published a similar report a few weeks ago. A large and diverse team—ranging from lawyers to atmospheric chemists—were part of the committee that oversaw its creation.Advertisement
While the ecosystem report focused on aerosol injection, the National Academies looked at two additional methods: marine cloud brightening and cirrus cloud thinning. Cloud brightening involves adding aerosol particles to the lower atmosphere to make clouds more reflective, particularly near coastal regions. The theory behind cloud thinning—which is not technically a proper SRM strategy—is to modify high-altitude clouds to make them thinner, increasing the planet’s ability to radiate heat.
The 329-page document suggests the creation of a research program in the United States to answer the environmental questions like those raised by the other report, as well as the technical and social questions that come with SRM. We should also investigate its viability, the document notes. It suggests this program be funded at between $100 and $200 million over a 5-year period.
“I think the main message from both [reports] is that we would need to understand a lot more about impacts before we did anything,” said Christopher Field, chair of the committee that drafted the document.
Even beyond the ecological and technical questions, the National Academies document dives into how to address public concern—like the public outcry that saw the Swedish test canceled. Some people, for example, don’t think a government should be deliberately mucking around with the environment. The document also outlines the importance of addressing these concerns and even proposes ways of addressing them, like a liability system if an SRM strategy goes awry.
“I wish… we didn’t need to consider this”
There are also worries that any emphasis on geoengineering would distract from more pressing issues. “[Some] people are concerned that even the idea of discussing solar geoengineering might lead to a decreasing emphasis on mitigation,” Field told Ars.
All of the researchers agreed that SRM is not necessarily a solid alternative to reducing greenhouse gasses. Field noted that the big hope is that humans decrease their carbon emissions to a sustainable level, but that might not happen in time for the world to reach its climate goals. In the meantime, scientists, policymakers, and environmentalists should have a “full toolbox” of strategies to handle global warming, and this means understanding if SRM has a place in it, he said.
“Like everybody, I wish we were in a situation where we didn’t need to consider this.”
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.”
Based on data collected at the Mauna Loa laboratory in Hawaii, the peak comes after relatively low readings throughout March and early April, aside from a single uptick recorded between March 19 to 21.
Notably, however, when observing annual trends, this record-breaking volume represents a return to pre-pandemic levels.
Carbon dioxide emissions have gradually increased since hitting record low levels during September and October of 2020, in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This is broadly due to less travel by car, plane and other modes of transportation during lockdowns.
Prior to these record drops, emissions had posted steady declines since May 2020, with decreasing carbon dioxide levels occurring monthly from June to September of 2020.
The holiday months of November and December of 2020 saw burgeoning increases as a travel boom gave way to another surge of COVID-19 infections. This trend of rising carbon dioxide levels continues to persist.
A silver lining of the mass economic shutdowns spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic were widespread decreases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, the main factors in anthropomorphic climate change.
As travel begins to resume, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are also increasing to comparable pre-pandemic levels.
Since the 1960s, per Mauna Loa station data, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased dramatically each decade.
Environmental advocates have underscored the need for sustainable policies of a government level to reduce the effects of climate change.
Last week’s press conference by President Joe Biden, his first since taking office, was a deliberate exercise in calm. It was not, unfortunately, a similarly deliberate exercise in fact-seeking. This was not entirely the fault of the president; the folks he shared that room with seemed to have lost the tether on their job description after four years of enforced mayhem.
The so-called cream of the Washington, D.C. press corps leaned into garish stories their phone algorithms appeared to tell them were important — the border situation and “Is the president senile?” — while failing for most of the hour to ask about, for one example, effective strategies for addressing gun violence. Similarly, and remarkably, not one direct COVID question was asked, though Biden did take a fair portion of the time bringing the assembled up to date on that crisis. The man baked bread with the dough he was handed; what else can you do?
One question, however, elicited a dramatic response from Biden. When pressed on abolition of the Jim Crow-era filibuster, Biden went silent in a drawn-out moment of pause so wide you could have sailed the Ever Given through the gap without scraping the paint. Locking eyes with his questioner, Biden finally replied in a hushed tone, “Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible.”
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The line was lifted from Otto von Bismarck, the formidable “Iron Chancellor” who dominated German politics at the close of the 19th century, and in using it, Biden was throwing down a clear marker: This administration is going to be about adhering to the passage of a few very specific policies. We cannot do everything at once with Congress in its current state. COVID-19 takes top priority, followed (if indications are accurate) by a massive infrastructure bill to help salvage the economy.
A thorough search of the press conference transcript reveals the word “climate” was used exactly twice — both times by a reporter — while the word “environment” was used once by Biden himself: “How will people adjust to these significant changes in science and technology and the environment?” When pressed by an Associated Press reporter on the huge slate of issues to contend with, Biden replied, “And the other problems we’re talking about, from immigration to guns and the other things you mentioned, are long-term problems; they’ve been around a long time.”
COVID and the economy, then. Immigration, guns and climate can take a number for now. The fate of H.R. 1 (also known as the For the People Act) and H.R. 4 (the Voting Rights Advancement Act) hinge on the dismantling of the filibuster; if Biden chooses not to pursue that course, it will be a clear indication that the defense of voting rights will be on the back burner for a while, as well.We have proven to ourselves once again that solutions are there to be seized.
From a purely political perspective, this decision makes unequivocal sense. This Congress is a bag of cats. The COVID bill was needed desperately by the people, and still required reconciliation for passage. It was also the means by which this new administration announced its presence with authority. On infrastructure, there are at least a dozen GOP senators who would love to be a part of a massive rebuilding package. The only thing standing in the way is the partisan sand in the gears, but then again, that’s like saying the only thing keeping you from getting to Nepal from China is Mount Everest and the Himalayan wall.
On its face, the seeming decision to de-emphasize climate disruption appears to be a terrible error in judgment, yet another short-sighted view of an existential threat unlike any other we currently face. There are wheels within wheels here, however. The proposed infrastructure bill, for one example, is about far more than fixing bridges and filling potholes.
“Biden and Democrats see an infrastructure package as the best way to tackle climate change and get the country to net-zero electricity emissions by 2035,” reportsVox, “by installing more electric vehicle charging stations on the nation’s roads, modernizing the electrical grid, and incentivizing more wind and solar projects. It could be financed at least in part with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.”
Biden is also organizing a 40-nation climate summit that seeks to include both China and Russia, two major polluters (along with, of course, the U.S.) whose lack of participation in any future climate endeavors would essentially render the entire effort moot. Biden has also rejoined the Paris climate accord, a further step in re-establishing a U.S. presence in the global climate fight after four years of pollution-happy chaos.
Let us not delude ourselves: These measures are but a teardrop in the bucket of what will be required to stave off our collective environmental doom. As we creep ever closer to fire season out west, the climate will again become as pressing a national political issue as the children at the southern border. Meanwhile, COVID-19 taps us daily on the shoulder and whispers, “This is the future, this is what environmental degradation can do to you, there is much more to come, and you are woefully unprepared.”
The COVID example, though, is telling. One year ago, when we were locking down and taking shallow breaths and afraid of everything, the word “vaccine” became almost a prayer. There was only one problem: The record for fastest development of a vaccine was four years, for the mumps. Were we really facing four years of this nightmare before something vaguely normal returned?
For the moment, the answer to that question appears to be, “No.” In what is arguably the single most incredible human scientific achievement in history, vaccines with 90 percent effectiveness rates were developed, tested and distributed in about as much time as it takes to build a house. Over 100 million doses have been injected into arms so far, and a moment will come soon when we have to start giving vaccine away because we made more than we needed. This is known as a “happy problem.”
This is simultaneously awe-inspiring and not in any way surprising. The awe comes from the astonishing leap made by scientists and researchers to shoot that formidable gap. The unsurprising part? People found a way to save themselves against all odds and with their asses hanging way out over a steep cliff. “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else,” Winston Churchill once famously said. This is that, but with needles and test tubes.
Cracking the COVID vaccine took funding, cooperation, and the will to get it done in the face of impending catastrophe. That is exactly where we are with the climate. We have proven to ourselves once again that solutions are there to be seized, and the ocean is coming. Let us all remind this president of that truth, of the art of the possible wed to dire necessity, before nature once again decides to do so for us.
Joe Biden is doubling down on his reset of his predecessor’s environmental policies by inviting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping of China to the first big climate talks of his administration next month aimed at increasing cooperation to fight global heating.
The Leaders Summit on Climate talks, scheduled to be held virtually on 22 and 23 April, are an opportunity for the US to shape, hasten and deepen global efforts to cut climate-wrecking fossil fuel pollution, administration officials told the Associated Press.
According to the White House, 40 invitations went out on Friday to leaders that encompass a range of nations, some already affected badly by climate crisis, others on a spectrum from relatively reformist to ultra-polluters.
Biden’s effort is an arena in which the US can display clear differentiation with the previous Donald Trump administration, which had rejected the 2015 UN Paris climate accords in favor of an America First energy policy that, among other contentious initiatives, rejected improving energy-efficiency standards and promoted domestic fracking to reduce foreign-energy dependence.
The talks are also designed to revive a US-convened forum of the world’s major economies on climate that previous administrations, Republican and Democrat, had allowed to lapse. They will also mark the first time a US leader has attended a major international climate discussions in more than four years.
The summit is also a fulfillment of a campaign pledge and executive order by Biden designed to launch in tandem with an anticipated multi-trillion dollar infrastructure spending package designed both to stimulate the post-Covid US economy and sharply cut emissions of greenhouse gasses from legacy fuel sources.
As a candidate in the 2020 election, Biden pledged $2tn in investment to help transform the US into a zero-emission economy by 2050 while building clean-energy and technology jobs.
Officials said they hope that by demonstrating US commitment to emissions cuts at home, the US could encourage similar moves abroad, including encouraging governments to reform transportation and power-generating sectors as well as broader consumer economies to meet more ambitious environmental targets
But the talks will test Biden’s pledge to make climate crisis a priority among competing political, economic, policy, pandemic and post-pandemic issues, according to AP.
Led by US climate envoy John Kerry, US officials have reportedly been emphasizing US climate intentions during early one-on-one talks with foreign leaders. Biden reportedly discussed the talks with British prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday, with both leaders agreeing on the need to keep emissions-cutting targets ambitious.
A summary of the conversation provided by the White House said the pair discussed “the importance of developing ambitious climate goals, noting the opportunities provided by the Leaders Summit on Climate and the UK’s G7 presidency”.
But officials also told the AP the US is still deliberating on how far the administration will go in setting more ambitious US emissions targets. The talks, they said, will be livestreamed to encourage other international leaders to use it as a platform to showcase their own countries’ climate-crisis commitments.
However, despite the emphasis on global cooperation, early administration efforts to reshape US relations with China got off to a problematic start last week during high-level talks in Anchorage, Alaska that began with an exchange of insults.
Against that backdrop, the climate talks – coming seven months ahead of November’s UN global climate sessions in Glasgow – will offer a deliberate test of whether, after four years of isolationist and aggressive diplomatic non-compliance, the US still has power to shape global decision-making.
Biden’s invitation list includes leaders of the world’s biggest economies and European blocs. But it is not yet clear how Russia and China, both on the list of invitees, will respond or if they are willing to cooperate with any US-led climate initiative.
While China lags the US in overall economic might, it is the world’s top emitter of climate-damaging pollution, with the US second, India third and Russia at four.
“China is by far the world’s largest emitter. Russia needs to do more to reduce its emissions,” said Nigel Purvis, who worked on climate diplomacy in past Democratic and Republican administrations. “Not including these countries because they aren’t doing enough would be like launching an anti-smoking campaign but not directing it at smokers.”
Brazil’s rightwing president, Jair Bolsonaro, is also likely to be in the diplomatic crosshairs for thwarting preservation efforts of the Amazon rainforest, a vital global carbon sink.
Among those invited are leaders of countries under the most immediate – and devastating – ecological threat. They include Bangladesh and the Marshall islands, both threatened by rising sea levels.
The invitation list is notable for other reasons, too: King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is invited. But heir apparent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, subject to a diplomatic freeze out over what US intelligence agencies conclude was his approval of an operation to “capture or kill” US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is left out.
Climate data from 1952 reveals prolonged summers and shorter winters, falls, and springs.
Greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause.
Certain environmental phenomena, like flowers and plants blooming early and migratory birds travelling prematurely, is more than nature working ahead of schedule.
New research posits that the seasons changing ahead of time could be a result of climate change and the warming of average global temperatures, resulting in a prolonged summer. These balance shifts could have dangerous implications for agriculture and natural environments, as well as human health.
Published in the journal of Geophysical Research and Letters, the study looks at climate and seasonal data spanning 1952 to 2011 in the Northern Hemisphere. Collecting temperature data over these years helped scientists track when each of the four seasons began on average.
The results indicate that the average duration of summer increased from an average of 78 days to 95, while spring, winter, and fall all saw decreases in length ranging from three to nine days.
Extrapolating this data, scientists found that if this trend continues at the current rate, summer could last nearly six months by 2100.
“This is the biological clock for every living thing,” the study’s lead author, Yuping Guan, a physical oceanographer at the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told NBC. “People argue about temperature rise of 2 degrees or 3 degrees, but global warming changing the seasons is something everyone can understand.”
Some of the consequences of such seasonal change could harm humans. Guan and his team note that people could be exposed to high volumes of pollen for longer stretches of time, and suffer from an increase in mosquito populations gravitating toward warmer northern environments.
This could introduce certain viruses, like malaria, into new environments. Flora and fauna could also have a difficult time adapting to a new climate, harming existing ecosystems, and disrupting the demand for energy as warm weather grows hotter and lingers for longer periods of time.
Scientists conclude by saying that this pattern will continue if emissions are not curbed, and the Earth continues to absorb more heat than it reflects back into space.
“Under the business‐as‐usual scenario, spring and summer will start about a month earlier than 2011 by the end of the century, autumn and winter start about half a month later, which result in nearly half a year of summer and less than 2 months of winter in 2100,” the authors write. “As lengths of the four seasons change continue, which can trigger a chain of reactions, policy‐making for agricultural management, health care, and disaster prevention requires adjustment.”
The new study focused on summer lightning flashes, or “strokes,” detected above 65 degrees latitude—that includes parts of northern Canada, Alaska and Russia, as well as Greenland and the central Arctic Ocean.
The data suggests that the total number of Arctic lightning strokes has risen sharply since 2010.
Still, the scientists wanted to be sure. The World Wide Lightning Location Network has added a number of sensors over the last 10 years, and the increase in strokes could have been the simple product of better detection. So the team adjusted their data to account for the new equipment.
The study points out that summer temperatures in the Arctic have risen by about a half-degree Fahrenheit over the last decade.
While scientists know there’s a connection between air temperature and thunderstorms, the study doesn’t actually prove that warming has caused the lightning. It simply suggests there could be a link. More research would be needed to demonstrate the connection.
Still, other studies have suggested that continued climate change may cause an increase in Arctic thunderstorms. One recent paper, published in September in Climate Dynamics, projects that thunderstorms would triple in Alaska by the end of the century under a severe climate change scenario.
A follow-up study published last month in the same journal suggests that increased humidity, driven by warming and melting sea ice, is the driver.
Should governments fail to curb global heating to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, areas in the tropical band that stretches either side of the equator risk changing into a new environment that will hit “the limit of human adaptation”, the study warns.
Humans’ ability to regulate their body heat is dependent upon the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air. We have a core body temperature that stays relatively stable at 37C (98.6F), while our skin is cooler to allow heat to flow away from the inner body. But should the wet-bulb temperature – a measure of air temperature and humidity – pass 35C, high skin temperature means the body is unable to cool itself, with potentially deadly consequences.Advertisement
“If it is too humid our bodies can’t cool off by evaporating sweat – this is why humidity is important when we consider livability in a hot place,” said Yi Zhang, a Princeton University researcher who led the new study, published in Nature Geoscience. “High body core temperatures are dangerous or even lethal.”
The research team looked at various historical data and simulations to determine how wet-bulb temperature extremes will change as the planet continues to heat up, discovering that these extremes in the tropics increase at around the same rate as the tropical mean temperature.
This means that the world’s temperature increase will need to be limited to 1.5C to avoid risking areas of the tropics exceeding 35C in wet-bulb temperature, which is so-called because it is measured by a thermometer that has its bulb wrapped in a wet cloth, helping mimic the ability of humans to cool their skin by evaporating sweat.
Dangerous conditions in the tropics will unfold even before the 1.5C threshold, however, with the paper warning that 1C of extreme wet-bulb temperature increase “could have adverse health impact equivalent to that of several degrees of temperature increase”. The world has already warmed by around 1.1C on average due to human activity and although governments vowed in the Paris climate agreement to hold temperatures to 1.5C, scientists have warned this limit could be breached within a decade.
This has potentially dire implications for a huge swathe of humanity. Around 40% of the world’s population currently lives in tropical countries, with this proportion set to expand to half of the global population by 2050 due to the large proportion of young people in region. The Princeton research was centered on latitudes found between 20 degrees north, a line that cuts through Mexico, Libya and India, to 20 degrees south, which goes through Brazil, Madagascar and the northern reaches of Australia.
Mojtaba Sadegh, an expert in climate risks at Boise State University, said the study does “a great job” of analyzing how rising temperatures “can render portions of the tropics uninhabitable in the absence of considerable infrastructure investments.”
“If this limit is breached, infrastructure like cool-air shelters are absolutely necessary for human survival,” said Sadegh, who was not involved in the research. “Given that much of the impacted area consists of low-income countries, providing the required infrastructure will be challenging.”
“Theoretically no human can tolerate a wet bulb temperature of above 35C, no matter how much water they have to drink,” he added.
The study is just the latest scientific warning over severe dangers posed by heat. Extreme heatwaves could push parts of the Middle East beyond human endurance, scientists have found, with rising temperatures also posing enormous risks for parts of China and India.
The global number of potentially fatal humidity and heat events doubled between 1979 and 2017, research has determined, with the coming decades set to see as many as 3 billion people pushed beyond the historical range of temperature that humans have survived and prospered in over the past 6,000 years.
2020 tied with 2016 for the hottest year on record, signaling a dangerous trend in the ongoing climate crisis, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Thursday.
The year’s global temperature average very narrowly exceeded that of 2016, but not by a statistically significant amount, according to NASA. The average temperature was 1.02 degrees Celsius above the baseline mean and represents an alarming amount of warming, according to experts.
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Other organizations have also reported similar results for 2020’s average temperature. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Berkeley Earth and the U.K. Met Office found that 2020 was just narrowly behind 2016, and the European Union also found the years to be tied. But, as climate journalist and meteorologist Eric Holthaus pointed out in a Twitter thread, “The continuing long-term trend of catastrophic warming is what scientists are most concerned about. Not whether this year is a fraction of a degree above or below another year. That trend is due to human activity.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1349804679933403142&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Ftruthout.org%2Farticles%2F2020-is-tied-for-the-hottest-year-on-record-nasa-says%2F&siteScreenName=truthout&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px
The seven hottest years on record have now all occurred since 2014. The top 10 hottest years have occurred since 2005. Despite being a record-setting year, 2020 will also be “likely the coolest year we’re going to have for hundreds of years, at least on a 10-year running average,” as climate scientist Peter Kalmus noted on Twitter.
Part of what is alarming about this data is that 2020 was expected to be a cooler year. 2016 was an El Niño year, which is typically warmer. 2020, however, was a La Niña year, which typically sees a cooling effect. This means that the intensity of the greenhouse effect has surpassed the cooling effect of La Niña.
Over the summer, the numerous wildfires along the West coast in 2020 amounted to the worst fire season on record. Climate scientist Daniel Swain told The New York Times, “We’ve broken almost every record there is to break” in California. Dozens died, and the fires ended up costing $16 billion — in what could be considered a single weather event.
Globally, the beginning of 2020 fell in the middle of a devastating bushfire season in Australia: Between 2019 and 2020, the fires burned for 240 days straight and burned over 27 million acres in one of the worst fire seasons on record for the country.