John Kerry Says Current Goals Under the Paris Climate Agreement Are Insufficient to Limit Earth’s Temperature


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Nicole Welle | February 1, 2021

John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, said Sunday that the goals outlined under the Paris Climate Accord will not be enough to limit the Earth’s rising temperatures.

Kerry said that the goal of reaching a 1.5°C limitation on global warming is appropriate, but the promises countries have made to reach that goal are insufficient to achieve it. However, he added that there is still time to take more aggressive action to fight climate change if governments are willing to do so. Kerry has expressed personal approval of implementing a carbon tax to help combat the climate crisis, and President Joe Biden is likely to consider that move after saying that he would support it during the 2020 presidential campaign, according to a CNN article.

President Biden recently announced that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and has set a goal for the country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Climate experts have said that this aggressive goal is achievable. However, while Biden has already signed multiple executive orders aimed at combatting climate change, he may face pushback from congress as he pursues further climate legislation.

Biden will also have to incorporate climate change into his administration’s foreign policy if he hopes to address the issue on a global scale. That would mean introducing it into trade policies, foreign aid programs and bilateral discussions, a shift that would become Kerry’s responsibility as the new envoy for climate change, according to a New York Times article.

Study shows Earth is losing 1.2 trillion tonnes of ice each year.


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Maxwell Bernstein | January 27, 2021

British researchers have combined satellite data and numerical models to show that Earth is now losing 1.2 trillion tonnes of ice each year, according to the study and the Washington Post. Since the 1990s, ice loss has risen by 57%, from .8 to 1.2 trillion tonnes of ice each year due to the losses from mountain glaciers, Antarctic and Greenland ice shelves. Since 1994, Earth has lost a total of 28 trillion tonnes of ice. 

To put this amount of energy into context, William Colgan, an ice-sheet expert said in an interview with the Washington Post, “That’s like more than 10,000 ‘Back to the Future’ lightning strikes per second of energy melting ice around-the-clock since 1994…That’s just a bonkers amount of energy.” 

By the year 2100, ice sheets could increase sea levels by 16 inches, according to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Scientists are discovering that production of electricity using coal and petroleum, and other uses of fossil fuels in transportation and industry, affects our environment in ways we did not understand before,” said the National Snow & Ice Data Center. “Within the past 200 years or so, human activity has increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 40 percent, and other gases, such as methane (natural gas) by a factor of 2 to 3 or more. These gases absorb heat being radiated from the surface of the earth, and by absorbing this heat the atmosphere slowly warms up. Heat-trapping gases, sometimes called “greenhouse gases,” are the cause of most of the climate warming and glacier retreat in the past 50 years.”

2020 Could Top 2016 as the Hottest Year on Record


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Nicole Welle | December 28, 2020

The past year brought intense wildfires, an increase in localized heat waves and one of the hottest Novembers on record, so it comes as no surprise that 2020 could be the hottest year ever recorded.

An intense, warming El Niño event occurred four years ago and contributed to the intense heat that caused 2016 to go down as the hottest year on record. This year, a cooling La Niña event should have led to lower global temperatures, but it did not seem to have much of an impact. The first 11 months of 2020 were only 0.2 degrees cooler than 2016, and climate experts have said there is a 55% chance 2020 will beat the record by the end of the year, according to the Associated Press.

Whether 2020 beats the record is less important than what the global temperature trend has revealed over the last decade. 2020 will mark the end of the hottest five-year period since recording began in 1880, a disturbing statistic that climate scientists say will continue into the future. Greenhouse gas concentrations are still rising in the atmosphere. This will cause global temperatures to continue to rise and lead to more years with increasingly intense hurricanes, more wildfires, less sea ice and longer heat waves, according to an NPR article.

Governments and corporations will have to make major changes in prioritizing environmental action if there is any hope of reducing future climate-driven disasters like these. Climate-driven disasters can cause billions of dollars of damage, and they take a heavy toll on human health and life, often disproportionately affecting poor communities and exacerbating inequality. Governments around the world are taking steps to reduce emissions and Joe Biden has promised to aid in the effort to reduce global emissions once he takes office. However, climate scientists say that these extreme events will continue to increase in intensity, so it is important that governments and communities prepare for them as much as possible.

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


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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.

New Study Supports Complete Loss of Arctic Sea Ice by 2035


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Nicole Welle | August 13, 2020

A new study used evidence from a warm period around 127,000 years ago to support predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice by 2035.

An international team of researchers used the UK Net Office’s Hadley Centre climate model to compare arctic sea ice conditions from the last interglacial with present day conditions. The new model allowed researchers to better understand how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial and to more accurately create model predictions for the future.

The new climate model involves studying shallow pools of water that form on the surface of sea ice in the spring and early summer called melt ponds. Melt ponds are important because they affect how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space, according to a Science Daily article. Melt ponds facilitate further sea ice melt by creating surfaces that are less reflective and better suited to absorb sunlight.

Researchers discovered that, during the last interglacial, intense sunshine in the spring created large numbers of melt ponds. Because melt ponds heavily impact the rate at which sea ice melts, they were able to compare that model to current conditions and predict that the Arctic may be ice-free by 2035. Scientists working on the study hope that sea ice processes like melt ponds will be further incorporated into climate models in the future, and they are using their findings to emphasize the importance of achieving a low-carbon world as fast as possible.

Iowa City declares a climate crisis


Photo from Wikimedia Commons, American007

Tyler Chalfant | August 7th, 2019

The Iowa City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night declaring a climate crisis. The resolution set new targets for the city’s carbon emissions and directed the City Manager’s office to provide a report within 100 days, recommending ways to meet those targets.

The Council approved a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan last September, setting carbon emissions targets that matched the Paris Agreement. Then in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report on the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To meet that goal, human-caused emissions would need to fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. 

Activists around the world have been pushing for cities and local governments to declare a climate emergency as a first step towards mobilizing to combat global warming. The movement has grown momentum in the past few months, with hundreds of cities, as well as a few regional and national governments, declaring climate emergencies. In July, members of the U.S. Congress introduced a national Climate Emergency declaration, which several representatives, senators, and presidential candidates have endorsed. Iowa City is the first city in Iowa to pass such a resolution.

Iowa City students regularly walked out of class this spring to demand local action on climate change. Mayor Jim Throgmorton claims that their advocacy, in addition to the IPCC report, contributed to this move by city leaders.

Climate change associated with antibiotic resistance


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E. coli bacteria is a common cause of urinary tract infections and has shown resistance to antibiotics. (National Institute of Health/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 25, 2018

The human health impacts of climate change are myriad and include heat-related illnesses and vector borne diseases like Lyme disease. However, a new public health consequence of global warming has recently come to light: antibiotic resistance.

Earlier this week, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change reported finding that higher local temperatures and population densities are associated with increased antibiotic resistance of common pathogens. Researchers looked at 1.6 million bacterial specimens which showed resistance to antibiotics from 2013 through 2015 in various geographic locations in the U.S. These specimens included three common and deadly pathogens: Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Staphylococcus aureus. 

They found that a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius increased the bacterias’ resistance to antibiotics by four percent (E. coli), two percent (K. pneumoniae), and three percent (S. aureus). John Brownstein is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the study’s authors. He said to the Scientific American, “Places in the South [of the U.S.] tend to show more resistance than places in the North, and a good chunk of that variability can be explained by temperature.”

Researchers also explored how population density may be related to antibiotic resistance. They found that for every increase of 10,000 people per square mile, antibiotic resistance in that area increased by three to six percent. Prior to this study, most research about antibiotic resistance pointed to the overprescription of antibiotic medication as the primary reason for antibiotic resistance, but now, climate change and population density are known play a part.

The study concludes, “Our findings suggest that, in the presence of climate change and population growth, already dire predictions of the impact of antibiotic resistance on global health may be significant underestimates.”

Warmer temperatures make milkweed toxic for monarchs


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A monarch caterpillar scoots across a common milkweed leaf. (USFWSmidwest/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 6, 2018

A recent study published in the journal Ecology uncovered an unexpected consequence of climate change for monarch butterflies.

Researchers from Louisiana State University and University of Michigan set out to understand how warmer temperatures affect the relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed plants. The insects, whose population has declined by more than 80 percent in the last decade, lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants. After the larvae hatch, they feed on certain species of milkweed, which provide protection to the butterflies. Milkweed plants produce chemicals called cardenolides in their leaf tissues, which are poisonous to most of the monarch’s predators. When monarchs consume the perfect amount of these chemicals as larvae, it sends a signal to larger predators to stay away from them.

However, scientists found that as regional temperatures rise, some species of milkweed plants produce more cardenolides. This poses a threat to the monarchs’ survival. One of the researchers, Dr. Bret Elderd, an associate professor at Louisiana State University, explained, “It’s a Goldilocks situation for monarch butterflies. Too few of these chemicals in the milkweed, and the plant won’t protect monarch caterpillars from being eating. But too high of a concentration of these chemicals can also hurt the monarchs, slowing caterpillar development and decreasing survival.”

One species of milkweed by the Latin name of A. curassavica has naturally high levels of cardenolides in its leaves and is especially sensitive to rising temperatures. Landscapers and environmentalists alike have been planting more of the nonnative plant to save the monarchs, but scientists warn that this plan may have backfired. They are working to spread the word that the native variety of milkweed, A. incarnata, has naturally lower levels of cardeolides and is much less likely to become toxic to monarchs as the climate warms.

The study reads, “It has become increasingly recognized that species interactions, especially interactions between tightly-linked species, need to be considered when trying to understand the full impacts of climate change on ecological dynamics.”

The full report can be found here.

U.S. residents increasingly divided on climate change


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A Gallup graph depicts how opinions about climate change have changed over time in the U.S. (Gallup)

Jenna Ladd | March 29, 2018

A recent poll found that Americans have become even more polarized about climate change in the last year. Gallup completed the poll during the first week of March using a random sample of 1,041 adults in the United States.

While concern about global warming is still at a record high, the difference in opinions between Republicans and Democrats is now more stark. The poll found that 69 percent of Republicans thought that the seriousness of climate change is generally exaggerated in the news, while just four percent of Democrats believed the same thing. Similarly, just over 40 percent of Republicans said that they believe the undisputed fact that nearly all scientists believe that global warming is taking place, while 86 percent on Democrats did.

Gallup hypothesized about the increased polarization in opinion between the parties. They wrote,

“President Donald Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax,” may have contributed to this widening divide by reversing a number of government actions to address the issue. These included the announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the removal of climate change from the list of top U.S. national security threats and the elimination of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” from U.S. government websites and lexicons.”

Despite evidence that the number of severe weather-related deaths has risen because of climate change, few members of the Republican party seemed to think that climate change would pose a serious in their lifetime. Just 18 percent said that there was any real risk to them.

This year, Gallup has categorized about 48 percent of U.S. citizens as concerned believers in climate change, which is similar to 2017’s 50 percent figure. About 32 percent have mixed opinions about the existence and cause of climate change, and 19 percent are categorized as climate change skeptics.

Carbon emissions on the rise after years of stagnation


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Carbon emissions increased in 2017 for the first time in years. (Sunny Vhaii/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 22, 2018

Global carbon emissions were higher than ever in 2017 according to Global Energy and CO2 Status Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) based in Paris.

Carbon emissions reached a record 32.5 giggatons last year after remaining stable for the three previous years. This figure can be thought of as putting 170 million additional cars on the road. The spike in carbon emissions has been attributed to two factors. First, global energy demand increased by 2.1 percent last year. This is double the average 0.9 percent increase over the previous five years. About seventy percent of this demand was met by emission producing fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal. Second, energy efficiency improvements slowed down during 2017.

“The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said to Reuters. He continued, “For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area.”

Scientists say the carbon emissions need to peak soon and then decrease dramatically by 2020 in order to meet the international climate goal of keep average global temperature rise lower than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Although carbon emissions increased most places, the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan all saw reductions in carbon emissions. Surprisingly, U.S. carbon emissions fell by 0.5 percent, more than any other country.