Climate crises around the world are occurring. Last week Zhengzhou, China experienced catastrophic floods that accumulated the amount of rain normally expected in a year, in just 72 hours. Already 63 people have been found dead, and irreversible damage has been made on buildings, roads and houses. These floods are being called by some- once-in-a-thousand-year floods.
China is not the only place experiencing flooding. Europe is also seeing deathly flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. In Germany, at least 158 people are missing, and in Belgium 18 people are missing. These floods have killed at least 205 people in Europe.
On the other end of crises, fires are rapidly destroying areas in Oregon and Canada. Oregon’s fire, which is being referred to as the Bootleg fire, is so far the third largest fire in United States history. 67 homes have been destroyed, and 2,500 people were advised to evacuate their area.
In Canada, even more people were evacuated and entire villages have been burned. Two weeks ago, British Columbia declared a state of emergency. The wildfire smoke become so thick that many places in Canada issued air quality warnings. Those in areas not burning were still greatly affected.
At the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York on Monday, international government officials, business leaders and change-makers gathered to promote efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at present and in coming decades.
The United Nations website touts achievements from this summit, including increasing participation in programs like the “Powering Past Coal Alliance.”
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his country’s launch of the new “Climate Ambition Alliance” at the conference, as well. Sixty-five countries and the European Union, as well as numerous cities, businesses and investors signed-on to achieve net‑zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Others have indicated intention to ramp up current efforts in the next year.
Several U.S. states, cities, businesses and investors were among the early signers, but the nation as a whole has not joined the alliance. New York Times reporters Somini Sengupta and Lisa Friedman emphasized the U.S.’s recent backpedaling on climate urgency and China’s lack of action in their coverage of the event.
Star teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg noted her disappointment with world leadership’s overall lack of urgency during a speech to the assembly.
“How dare you? ” Thunberg said, accusatorially. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words…. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
That same day, Thunberg and 15 other youth activists filed an official complaint to the United Nations, CNN reports. The children alleged that Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey collectively violated a human rights treaty by taking inadequate steps to curb emissions.
A recently published study in the journal Nature Human Behavior found that humans’ personalities are shaped by the temperatures where they live. Existing research confirms that human personality varies geographically, but it is unclear why exactly that is. The study’s leading author Lei Wang, a social and cultural psychologist at Peking University in Beijing, posits that temperature could play a big role because the conditions outside influence people’s habits.
Regardless of gender, age, sex, or income, people from regions with temperatures that were mild were more agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, extroverted and open to new experiences. These findings were true in both countries. However, people living in harsher weather regions in the U.S. and China had generally different personality types. Those that resided in harsher weather zones such as Heilongjiang, Xinjiang and Shandong had more collectivist personality traits than their fellow Chinese from more temperate climates. In the U.S., people who live in harsher climates like Montana and Minnesota generally have more individualistic personality traits than those that live in more mild climates.
The study’s authors call for more research on the topic but also point out, “as climate change continues across the world, we may also observe [associated] changes in human personality. Of course, questions about the size and extent of these changes await future investigation.”
A recent state-run tabloid read, “Western opinion should continue to pressure the Trump administration on climate change. Washington’s political selfishness must be discouraged.” It continued, “China will remain the world’s biggest developing country for a long time. How can it be expected to sacrifice its own development space for those developed western powerhouses?”
China consumes more energy from coal than the rest of the world’s nations combined and is also the global leader in greenhouse gas emissions; the U.S. is in second place. China’s population measures 3.4 billion people while the U.S. population is roughly 3.3 million. China also leads the world in the exportation of renewable energy.
The Trump administration discussed the possibility of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement after the President referred to it as a “bad deal” for the U.S. Projections from the International Energy Agency reveal that if the U.S. backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement and all other countries stuck to emission reduction goals, 10 percent of emission decrease expected from the agreement would be lost.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”
Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the U.S., echoes Xi’s sentiment. “We welcomed the Paris Agreement when it was announced in December 2015, and again when it came into force in November 2016. We have reiterated our support on several occasions,” said Peter Trelenberg, the company’s environmental policy and planning manager, in a letter to the White House.
According to a report from the United Nations, Earth is expected to warm by about 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century – even if all nations keep their end of the Paris Agreements.
The lecture, titled “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution” featured opening remarks from University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld. Quoting Dr. Jerry Schnoor, Carmichael’s co-director at CGRER, President Harreld joked, “Greg is now more traveled than George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air, four million miles and counting.” Carmichael’s extensive research of the long-range transport of air pollution has taken him to many parts of Eastern Asia, South America, Africa and Europe, among other locations.
Carmichael’s lecture was organized into three parts: the global reach of air pollution, the link between climate change and air pollution, and a finally, a discussion about the action necessary to curb air pollution worldwide. The lecturer made a strong case for air pollution research, citing that it is the root cause of 7 million avoidable deaths per year. Carmichael pointed out that air pollution has economic consequences too; each year, it leads to loss of 10 percent of U.S. soybean yields.
The lecture encouraged a sense of urgency when it comes to cleaning up the atmosphere. Carmichael warned, “That molecule that we put in the air today will stay in the air for a long time.” He went on to say that 20 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere today will remain there for thousands of years. Professor Carmichael’s research focuses primarily on the utilization of comprehensive computer models and big data to simulate the interplay of air pollutants with weather and climate.
His work has been instrumental in understanding the way in which air pollutants from China move across the Pacific Ocean and affect the Western U.S. He said, “Fifteen to twenty percent of clean air policies in the Western U.S. are being offset by Chinese emissions.”
Above all, the Karl Kammermeyer professor of chemical and biochemical engineering emphasized his passion for instructing and advising students. Carmichael has supervised the research of 40 PhD and 35 Masters of Science students at the University of Iowa.
To learn more about Dr. Carmichael’s career, check out episode 5 of CGRER’s EnvIowa podcast.
In Episode 5 of EnvIowa we speak with Dr. Gregory Carmichael, Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and Co-Director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, about his extensive research on global air pollution.
Dr. Carmichael shares his experiences collaborating with scientists in China, explains why air quality issues in East Asia should matter to Iowans and offers some perspective about what climate science research may look under the new federal administration.
This episode offers listeners the chance to learn more about Dr. Carmichael’s long and esteemed career in climate science prior to his delivery of the 34th Annual Presidential Lecture this weekend. His lecture, titled “What Goes Around, Comes Around: The Global Reach of Air Pollution,” will take place this Sunday, February 19th at 3:30 pm in the fourth-floor assembly hall of the Levitt Center for University Advancement.
EnvIowa is also available on iTunes and Soundcloud, a complete archive of EnvIowa episodes can be found here.
Beijing’s mayor, Cai Qi, announced this weekend that the officers will patrol the city looking for “open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, [and] dust from roads” that add to the city’s smog problem. Cai Qi’s announcement comes after Beijing experienced particularly dangerous air quality during the first week of 2017, and 72 Chinese cities were placed under pollution alerts.
Mayor Cai Qi said, “I totally understand the public’s concerns and complaints over air pollution,” and admitted to routinely checking the air quality index “first thing in the morning.”
The mayor announced that the city is taking additional measures to improve air quality. Beijing will close its only coal-fired plant, and in 2017 “coal consumption will be cut by 30 percent to less than 7 million tonnes” and “another 300,000 high-polluting old vehicles will be phased out,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Despite last week’s “red alert,” which temporarily shut down some pollution-producing operations, China’s environment ministry found that some 500 construction sites and businesses as well as 10,000 vehicles remained active in violation of the ban.
Chinese officials acknowledge that industry and automobiles are the primary causes of the hazardous smog problem, but reports state that the government is hesitant to crack down on major polluters in fear of economic consequences.
Meng Gao and Gregory R. Carmichael have published research in Science Advances, an open-access peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journal, that further explains extreme winter haze events in China.
Carmichael is a Karl Kammermeyer Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and co-director of the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER). Gao is a former University of Iowa postdoctoral research scholar that is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of Harvard University.
While working with Carmichael at the University of Iowa, Gao researched how well extreme winter haze pollution events in China could be predicted using state-of-the-art scientific models.
Sulfates are formed by reactions in the atmosphere or on aerosol surfaces. Prior to their recently published research, predicting rapid and heavily concentrated sulfate particulate formation was difficult. The report explains that previous models relied on photochemical oxidants, but because there is limited photochemistry activity during heavy haze events, they are not able to predict those events with the highest sulfate concentrations very well. Carmichael and Gao were only able to predict the correct number of sulfate particulates if they created an additional reaction pathway to create sulfate on particles.
The researchers note that winter haze poses health risks for more than 400 million people in the North China Plain. Sulfate is a major element in fine haze particles. This research follows record sulfate concentrations which led to the extreme winter haze event of 2013 in Beijing.
Carmichael explained, “By incorporating this new reaction pathway into our air quality model, our ability to predict winter time haze events has improved dramatically. Furthermore this more detailed understanding of how fine particles are formed will help guide more effective control measures.”
Last month a 49-member Chinese delegation signed a deal with U.S. officials to purchase roughly 13 million metric tons of soybeans – or approximately 484 million bushels. The agreement was reached during a recent trip Chinese President Xi Jinping made to Seattle. This deal accounts for roughly half of China’s annual soybean purchases.
Iowa governor Terry Branstad traveled to Seattle to meet with President Xi Jinping. Branstad said roughly 30 percent of the soybeans China imports come from Iowa. Iowa farmers are expected to harvest about 525 million bushels of soybeans this year.
During his visit, President Xi Jinping also announced that beginning in 2017, China will implement initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and utilize more renewable sources for generating electricity.
For more information about the agreement, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot org.
From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.
Scientists from Princeton University and the University of California-Irvine published a report earlier this week which suggests that carbon emission estimates are likely higher than previously estimated.
The study states that all of the world’s power plants will produce an additional 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide during their lifetime which “isn’t taken into account by current schemes to regulate these emissions.” Developing countries such as China and India are constructing new power plants which is dwarfing efforts by the U.S. and European countries to reduce carbon emissions.
The study’s authors Robert Socolow (professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton) and Steven Davis (professor of earth system science at UC-Irvine) developed a system they called “commitment accounting” which “assigns all the future emissions of a facility to the year when it begins working.” This method suggested that fossil fuel-burning power plants built worldwide in 2012 alone will produce 19 billion tons of carbon dioxide over a lifetime, factoring in that the plants operate for at least 40 years.
Prof. Socolow said the “Chinese power plant construction binge” has been going on since 1995. Power plants in China make up 42 percent of committed future emissions. India accounts for 8 percent while the U.S. and Europe combine for 20 percent.
Prof. Davis said that these projected emissions rates are not set in stone and could be lessened with the implementation of carbon capture technology or by retiring plants early.