Are We Already Past the Point of No Return for Climate Change?


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | November 16, 2020

A new study found that global temperatures may continue to rise for hundreds of years even after humans completely cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Authors of the study, which was published Thursday in the British Journal Scientific Reports, wrote that the only way to stop global warming would be to eliminate human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and find a way to extract huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, according to an article in USA Today.

The scientists used a model to study the effect of greenhouse gas emission reductions on the Earth’s climate from the year 1850 to 2500. They then created projections of global temperatures and sea level rises. The model showed that cutting greenhouse gas emissions at any point in the future will not be enough if it is the only tool humans employ to combat rising temperatures and sea levels.

As the burning of fossil fuels release gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, global temperatures increase. This causes Arctic ice and carbon-containing permafrost to melt, a process that releases even more carbon into the atmosphere and reduces the ability of Earth’s surface to reflect sunlight. Human action triggered these processes, and they will continue to warm the earth unless humans capture carbon in the atmosphere and make the Earth’s surface brighter, according to the study’s authors.

This study was an important thought experiment, but some environmental experts are skeptical about the accuracy of its results. Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann said that the computer model used was too simple and failed to accurately represent large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns that could affect the results.

Regardless of the results’ accuracy, this study still reflects on the importance of finding ways to combat climate change even after global emissions reach net zero. The authors also urge other scientists to follow up and expand on their work.

How Trump’s and Biden’s Plans for the Environment Compare


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Nicole Welle | October 19, 2020

With election day drawing nearer, it is important to know where the two presidential candidates stand on environmental policy issues.

Joe Biden has spoken repeatedly about his comprehensive plan to combat climate change, but president Trump has not clearly outlined his plans for the environment if he is reelected. In order to see where exactly Trump stands, one must look at his past actions and brief comments on the issue.

Joe Biden proposed a $2 trillion clean energy plan. This plan sets a number of research and development goals, the primary one being reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. He believes these goals will ultimately increase job opportunities and reduce the negative effects of climate change on communities according to an Iowa Public Radio article. Here are some of the main goals Biden has pledged to address:

  • Allocate 40% of clean energy plan investments toward low-income and minority communities more heavily affected by pollution and climate change.
  • Seek to rejoin the Paris climate accords.
  • Increase climate-focussed investments in the auto and transportation industries to cut emissions and create jobs.
  • Implement energy upgrades in 4 million buildings, weatherize two million homes in the U.S. and build 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.
  • Create a division within the Justice Department that regulates and penalizes companies for environmental effects on communities.

President Trump has denied the validity of climate science in the past and has made a number of statements about his stance on climate change that often contradict each other. Here are some of Trump’s past actions and statements that could reflect his plans if reelected:

  • The president’s website lists partnering “with other nations to clean up our planet’s oceans” as one of his innovation goals for the future. He has also supported legislation to remove garbage from the oceans.
  • He put $38 billion toward “clean water infrastructure.”
  • He allocated additional funding for national parks and public lands.
  • He pulled the U.S. out of the international Paris climate deal and has tried to push policies that back the coal industry.
  • He has supported boosting production of oil and natural gas in the U.S.
  • Trump has called man-made climate change a “hoax,” and reversed multiple climate policies put in place during the Obama administration.

Some Republican lawmakers have begun to separate themselves from the outright denial of climate change, and they are pushing for a “clean energy mix” that involves multiple energy sources. This makes it unclear what Trump’s reelection could mean for energy policy in the next congress, according to an article in Market Watch.

Takeaways from 2020 Iowa Climate Statement: Will COVID-19 Lessons Help Us Survive Climate Change?


Maxwell Bernstein | October 7, 2020

The Iowa Climate Statement for 2020 is focused on the connections and lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and applying this knowledge to fight against climate change. 

The three main lessons that the statement touches upon are: 

  1. “The best available science as described by professional organizations remains by far the most reliable source of information.” 
  2. “The cost of late action far outweighs the costs of prevention and preparation.” 
  3. “Building community resilience against multiple threats is critical, especially for the most vulnerable among us.” 

To mitigate the consequences of climate change, the climate statement talks about maximizing trust in expert opinion and reliable gathering of information, planning for potential future impacts that will be caused by the impacts of climate change, and reducing racial and social inequality. 

“These lessons show us that smart investments in public health and climate mitigation and adaptation will create more resilient communities and people,” said Eric Tate, Associate Professor of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa. “Building community resilience against multiple threats is critical, especially for the most vulnerable among us.”

The statement has 230 signatures from Iowa science faculty and researchers who represent 37 universities across Iowa.

Greenland Ice Sheet is Melting at a Historically High Rate


Image of Greenland’s ice melt by NASA, via Flickr.

Maxwell Bernstein | October 2, 2020

Research that was published in Nature shows that the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting at some of the fastest rates since the Holocene because of rising global temperatures. 

The largest pre-industrial rate for mass loss occurred in the early Holocene, the title for the last 11,700 years of Earth’s history since the end of the ice age, with around 6,000 billion tonnes of mass lost per century.  

If humans manage to maintain warming within 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the current goal for the Paris Agreement, the Greenland Ice Sheet is expected to lose 8,800 billion tonnes over the 21rst-century.

If humans continue to produce the high greenhouse gas emissions we see today, the Greenland Ice Sheet is expected to lose 35,900 Billion tons of mass over the 21rst-century. 

“In addition to storm surges and high tides that will increase flooding in many regions, sea level rise exacerbates events like hurricanes,” NASA said in an article that described the implications of Greenland’s ice loss. “Greenland’s shrinking ice sheet also speeds up global warming. The vast expanse of snow and ice helps cool down Earth by reflecting the Sun’s rays back into space. As the ice melts and retreats, the region absorbs more solar radiation, which warms the planet.”

President Trump and Joe Biden Discussed Climate Change in First Presidential Debate


Images from Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Maxwell Bernstein | September 30, 2020

Last night’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and the Democratic nominee Joe Biden discussed topics such as supreme court nominations, COVID-19, civil unrest, and climate change. 

Despite the debate being cacophonous, riddled with harsh insults, interruptions and mistruths, Joe Biden discussed the topic of climate change for 5 minutes and 24 seconds while President Trump discussed the topic of climate change for 4 minutes and 32 seconds, according to this graphic from NBC News

Chris Wallace, the moderator of the presidential debate, asked President Trump about his stance on the science of climate change by asking about Trump’s move on pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, rolling back Obama era regulations and citing Trump’s recent quote, “Well, I don’t think the science knows.” 

“I want crystal clean water and air,” President Trump said. “We have now the lowest carbon, if you look at our numbers, we are doing phenomenally.” Despite the President’s words, the West Coast wildfires created some of the worst air quality on the planet as reported by Iowa Environmental Focus

Joe Biden discussed his $2 trillion plan for climate change and environmental justice by talking about job growth through investing in green infrastructures and businesses. Biden cited global warming as the reason for the derecho that hit Iowa

Although global warming is directly increasing severe weather, it is unknown if global warming directly caused the derecho that hit Iowa in August since derechos have occurred in the past. 

The rise in temperatures from CO2 emissions does directly cause an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather patterns and forest fires.  

Climate Change is now Inevitable


Image from EPA

Maxwell Bernstein | September 23, 2020

Climate change is inevitable and natural disasters that are similar to those currently affecting the Gulf and West Coast will be twice as bad as they are now, if not worse, according to The New York Times

Proper actions are needed to mitigate some of the effects of climate change such as planning for the effects of natural disasters and rising sea levels, along with reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The succession of storms in the Gulf Coast and the record-breaking fires in the West Coast are all exacerbated by the changing climate, which stems from human-produced CO2 emission’s ability to trap heat. The frequency and severity of natural disasters will increase over time.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in August, “The global average atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2019 was 409.8 parts per million (ppm for short), with a range of uncertainty of plus or minus 0.1 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years.”

As of Saturday, the Metronome, a large public art installation in Union Square in New York City now displays the Climate Clock, a time limit, “to curb greenhouse gas emissions enough to give the Earth a two-thirds chance of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, as compared to pre-industrial times,” according to CBS news. 

As of now, the clock gives 7 years and 99 days to reach this goal. 

Wildfires Burn Through West Coast


Screenshot from USDA that shows perimeters of wildfires.

Maxwell Bernstein | September 11, 2020

The August Complex, a chain of wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California has killed 7 people and destroyed 471,000 acres of property making this the largest wildfire in California’s history, according to The New York Times

The fires which started last month have burned through neighborhoods and forced evacuations. Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon said this “could be the greatest loss of human life and property” due to wildfires, according to the BBC.

The warming climate is creating drier conditions and higher temperatures, which increase the severity and frequency of wildfires in the west coast, according to The New York Times

For more information on the current wildfires, check out this fire information website from the United States Department of Agriculture

Connie Mutel Releases Article Comparing Climate Change to the COVID-19 Pandemic


Via Flickr

Author Connie Mutel released “COVID-19: Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis,” earlier this month.

Connie Mutel is a retired UI Senior Science Writer and climate change activist who recently began to research the parallels between responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. In the beginning of her article, she discusses the slow response administrations in the United States had to the early warning signs of both crises. She then goes on to explain the importance of taking direct measures to combat the issues sooner rather than later and the ways COVID-19 could help solve Climate Change.

“COVID has shown us what a runaway crisis looks like and feels like. It reveals a lack of predictability,” Mutel said in a Zoom conference Tuesday.

The talk revolved around the intersection of the two issues and potential paths forward. Mutel believes the crises are heavily intertwined and COVID-19 is providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fast track efforts to combat climate change.

“One crisis magnifies the other. COVID is expressed more in areas with more air pollution.” Mutel said. “Like with COVID, we need global solidarity and collective action to solve climate change.”

Click here to read “COVID-19:Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis.”

New Study Shows that Rising Water Temperatures Could Reduce Fish Populations Worldwide


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Nicole Welle | July 6, 2020

A new study conducted by researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research shows that rising water temperatures caused by climate change will negatively affect many fish species’ ability to breed.

Researchers found that fish are at a much higher risk than previously assumed. The study, which included 694 species of fish, showed that both embryos and adult fish that are ready to mate have a much lower tolerance for heat that adults outside the mating season and that that rising water temperatures could impact the reproduction of up to 60 percent of all freshwater and saltwater fish species, according to a Science Daily article.

Like many organisms, fish need to take in oxygen to produce energy, and their energy needs depend on the temperature of their surroundings. When the water is warmer, their need for energy rises and they need to take in more oxygen. Fish embryos do not have the ability to take in more oxygen as temperatures rise since they don’t have gills. Additionally, adults ready to mate produce egg and sperm cells and have an increased body mass, so their cardiovascular systems are already strained and struggle to handle any increased need for oxygen. This means that both of these groups cannot survive in warmer temperatures that require them to produce more energy.

If climate change continues unchecked, many species of fish will be forced to leave their traditional spawning areas. This could be disastrous for fish that do not have the ability to find cooler areas to reproduce due to the geographical restrictions of their habitat, and many fish populations are likely to decline.

Firefighters Battle Record Breaking Fires in Arizona


Image from NASA’s ASTER instrument. Vegetation is shown in red while the burned areas appear as dark gray.

Maxwell Bernstein | July 3, 2020

Extreme weather in Arizona has contributed to record breaking wildfires, according to The Guardian

Firefighters have recently contained 58% of the Bighorn Fire, the eighth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned 118,710 acres. The fire started on June 5th by a lightning strike in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado national forest which sits outside of Tucson, Arizona.   

The Bush fire in the Tonto national forest is now 98% contained and is the fifth largest fire in the state’s history, where it has burned about 193,000 acres.  

Arizona has been seeing regular daily temperatures of 105-110°F for the month of June, which has contributed to the severity of the fires. A potentially historic heatwave is expected to hit the U.S. in the first few weeks of July, raising concerns about the fires, according to CNBC.

These warm temperatures coincide with rising temperatures across the planet that stem from climate change. Warmer temperatures will increase the frequency of extreme fires, according to NASA.