415.26 parts per million: CO2 levels hit historic milestone, highest in 3 million years; first time in human history

Getting back to around 350 ppm is required for a safe climate to sustain life as we know it on Earth. The last four years were the four hottest on record and, in spite of the Paris deal and increasing public awareness of the problem, mankind continues to break its own emissions records, year on year.

Read full PhysOrg post here

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which has tracked atmospheric CO2 levels since the late 1950s, on Saturday morning detected 415.26 parts per million (ppm)….

The last time Earth’s atmosphere contained this much CO2 was more than three million years ago, when global sea levels were several metres higher and parts of Antarctica were blanketed in forest.

“It shows that we are not on track with protecting the climate at all. The number keeps rising and it’s getting higher year after year,” Wolfgang Lucht, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), told AFP. It was also the first time on record that the observatory measured a daily baseline above 415 ppm….

….The 2015 Paris Agreement calls on humanity to block the rise in Earth’s temperature at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels, and 1.5C if possible. ….Earth’s average surface temperature has already increased 1.0C since pre-industrial times due to man-made emissions.

Four years after California’s largest dam removal project, Steelhead trout numbers are growing, a model for other projects nationwide

by Paul Roger Read full Mercury News article here

The destruction of the [10-story] San Clemente Dam [along the Carmel River near Monterey], which had blocked the river since 1921, remains the largest dam removal project in California history. It’s still early, but one of the main goals of the project seems to be on track: The river is becoming wilder, and struggling fish populations are rebounding.

…. The 106 foot-tall dam had been located 18 miles up river from Monterey Bay. In 2016, the first year after it was removed, researchers found that no steelhead trout, an iconic type of rainbow trout listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, swam past its former site to a tagging location seven miles upriver. By 2017, seven steelhead had made the trip. Last year, the count was 29. So far this year, 123 steelhead have traveled upriver.

… The broader lesson, scientists say, is one of hope. Despite declines in other species, some wildlife species — from the Great Plains bison to Pacific gray whales to bald eagles — have rebounded significantly, despite plummeting close to extinction, after humans recognized what was killing them and corrected it. For bison and whales, it was hunting. For bald eagles, it was the now-banned chemical DDT. For steelhead trout, dams built across the West over the past century blocked their ability to swim to the ocean and return upriver to spawn, crashing their populations….

… Crews recycled the dam’s steel. They broke the concrete pieces ranging in size from softballs to boulders. They buried the debris in the sediment pile and covered it with willows, sycamores and other native plants. They built rocky step-pools, each one foot higher than the previous one so the fish could migrate upriver more easily. ,,

U.S. Fossil Fuel Subsidies Exceed Pentagon Spending

The world would be richer and healthier if the full costs of fossil fuels were paid, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund. The authors found that if fossil fuels had been fairly priced in 2015, global carbon emissions would have been slashed by 28 percent. Deaths from fossil fuel-linked air pollution would have dropped by nearly half. Fossil fuel subsidies were nearly 10 times what Congress spent on education. Broken down to an individual level, fossil fuel subsidies cost every man, woman and child in the United States $2,028 that year.

by Tim Dickinson Read full Rolling Stone article here

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

The study defines “subsidy” very broadly, as many economists do. It accounts for the “differences between actual consumer fuel prices and how much consumers would pay if prices fully reflected supply costs plus the taxes needed to reflect environmental costs” and other damage, including premature deaths from air pollution….

Dangerous decline of nature and increase in species extinctions unprecedented in human history- New UN report

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” The five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Read Policymakers Summary here (Pdf), press release here and ScienceDaily coverage here.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, per a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)… More than 1,000,000 species- or ~25% of all species- are threatened with extinction. Transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature for our well-being.

Findings include:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production…

….Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point…”

For ease of reference, a number of issues highlighted in the Report are summarized in the ‘Further Information’ section that follows below, specifically on:

…Societal goals – including those for food, water, energy, health and the achievement of human well-being for all, mitigating and adapting to climate change and conserving and sustainably using nature – can be achieved in sustainable pathways through the rapid and improved deployment of existing policy instruments and new initiatives that more effectively enlist individual and collective action for transformative change. Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such fundamental, structural change is called for. By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good. If obstacles are overcome, commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets, supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities at the local level, new frameworks for private sector investment and innovation, inclusive and adaptive governance approaches and arrangements, multi-sectoral planning and strategic policy mixes can help to transform the public and private sectors to achieve sustainability at the local, national and global levels…

El Nino events increased dramatically over past 30 years compared to past 400 years

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

There has been an unprecedented increase in the number of El Niños forming in the Central Pacific over the past 30 years, compared to all 30 year periods in the past 400 years. At the same time, the stronger Eastern Pacific El Niños were the most intense El Niño events ever recorded, according to both the 100-year long instrumental record and the 400-year long coral record. This information will help improve climate change models to understand future impacts on weather and extreme events.

….Australian researchers have produced a world-first seasonal El Niño record extending 400 years and a new methodology that will likely be the basis for future climate research…..”The El Niño phenomenon is one of the most important features of global climate, and changes to its behaviour have very serious implications for weather patterns and extreme events around the world,” said Dr Henley.

Mandy B. Freund, Benjamin J. Henley, David J. Karoly, Helen V. McGregor, Nerilie J. Abram & Dietmar Dommenget. Higher frequency of Central Pacific El Niño events in recent decades relative to past centuriesNature Geoscience, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41561-019-0353-3

Plants and soil microbes shape forest types worldwide through local underground alliances

Patterns researchers found will predict what communities of trees will go where, their effect on the environment, and how they will respond in the future to climate change and increased carbon dioxide.

Princeton University Read ScienceDaily summary here

Mingzhen Lu, Lars O. Hedin. Global plant–symbiont organization and emergence of biogeochemical cycles resolved by evolution-based trait modellingNature Ecology & Evolution, 2019; 3 (2): 239 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0759-0

Researchers report that the distribution of forest types worldwide is based on the relationships plant species forged with soil microbes to enhance their uptake of nutrients. These symbioses could help scientists understand how ecosystems may shift as climate change alters the interplay between plants, microbes and soil.

….The biome-specific dynamics between plants and soil microbes could help scientists understand how ecosystems may shift as climate change brings about warmer temperatures that alter the interplay between trees, microbes and soil, the researchers report. Because the most competitive symbiotic arrangements for a particular biome triumph, scientists would only need to understand how an ecosystem is changing to gauge which vegetation will be moving in and which will be moving out.

…”The pattern we found can be used to tell us the landscapes that are more sensitive to human disturbance,” said senior author Lars Hedin, the George M. Moffett Professor of Biology and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Princeton Environmental Institute. “It will predict what communities of trees will go where, their effect on the environment, and how they will respond in the future to climate change and increased carbon dioxide.”

Behavior Change For Nature: A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners.

Expanding the traditional environmental toolkit of regulations, taxes, and awareness campaigns to include behavioral insights
such as our cognitive biases, emotions, social networks, and decision-making environments that can enhance practitioners’ ability to achieve lasting change, according to a recent Rare report, which…offers 15 behavioral strategies and numerous case studies aiming to address today’s most pressing environmental challenges.

….The authors discuss the merits and shortcomings of three key approaches: legislation and regulation; market forces and material incentives; and awareness and education. They also highlight three fundamental insights from behavioral science: the need to focus on non-conscious as well as conscious drivers of behavior; the need to focus on the setting of our behaviors as well as internal motives and drivers; and the need to focus on behaviors rather than solely beliefs, attitudes or intentions….

Flight attendants know the real job killer is climate change with 2x or more clear air turbulence (CAT) projected by mid-century

We find large relative increases in CAT, especially in the mid-latitudes in both hemispheres, with some regions experiencing several hundred per cent more turbulence. The busiest international airspace experiences the largest increases, with the volume of severe CAT approximately doubling over North America, the North Pacific, and Europe.

Vox Read full article here

Luke N. Storer, Paul D. Williams, Manoj M. Joshi .
Global Response of Clear‐Air Turbulence to Climate Change . Geophysical Research Letters. 2017https://doi.org/10.1002/2017GL07461L

Severe turbulence is becoming more frequent and intense due in part to climate change.Research indicates that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere cause disruptions to the jet streams and create dangerous wind shears that greatly increase turbulence, especially at moderate latitudes where the majority of air travel occurs…

… According to a study by professor Paul D. Williams and his colleagues at the University of Reading in the UK, CAT is expected to more than double by midcentury, and turbulence “strong enough to catapult unbuckled passengers and crew around the aircraft cabin” is expected to double or triple.

There’s an economic cost, too. Turbulence is already costing US airlines $200 million per year, with damage to aircraft plus injuries to passengers and crew. That number will skyrocket as extreme incidents increase. Costs are passed on to consumers and used to justify cuts to pay, benefits, and staffing levels for crew….

South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95%

In 2005, dumping food in landfill was banned, and in 2013 the government introduced compulsory food waste recycling using special biodegradable bags

World Economic Forum Douglas Broom Read article here

The world wastes more than 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year. The planet’s 1 billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food wasted in the US and Europe.

In a recent report, the World Economic Forum identified cutting food waste by up to 20 million tonnes as one of 12 measures that could help transform global food systems by 2030.

Now South Korea is taking a lead, recycling 95% of its food waste….

As far back as 2005, dumping food in landfill was banned, and in 2013 the government introduced compulsory food waste recycling using special biodegradable bags. An average four-person family pays $6 a month for the bags, a fee that helps encourage home composting.

The bag charges also meet 60% of the cost of running the scheme, which has increased the amount of food waste recycled from 2% in 1995 to 95% today. The government has approved the use of recycled food waste as fertilizer, although some becomes animal feed….

The Problem With Putting a Price on the End of the World

The key political advantage [of] performance standards – [they] focus voters on the end goal, rather than on the technocratic mechanism for achieving it. Carbon pricing puts attention on the mechanism, be it a dreaded tax or a byzantine cap-and-trade system. Mechanisms don’t inspire people. 

by David Leonhardt Read full NY Times Magazine story here

…When a product becomes more expensive, people use less of it. Carbon pricing is an elegant mechanism by which market economics can work on behalf of the climate rather than against it….

….As Nordhaus acknowledged in his speech, curbing dirty energy by raising its price “may be good for nature, but it’s not actually all that attractive to voters to reduce their income.” … Climate change may be an existential crisis, but in their day-to-day lives, many people are more worried about the problems created by the most obvious solution than by climate change itself. …

…The province of British Columbia enacted a carbon tax in 2008, and it has worked well. It includes a clever provision to reduce political opposition: Every dollar that is raised is returned to families and businesses through tax credits. An all-star roster of Nobel laureates and former Republican and Democratic presidential appointees — including Treasury Secretaries George Shultz and Lawrence Summers and the Federal Reserve chiefs Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan — recently signed a joint statement in favor of a similar carbon tax for the United States. But it remains a long shot in this era of government distrust. …

….The financial crisis and its aftermath intensified many families’ economic problems. Income growth has since been sluggish. Amazingly, the wealth of the median American household has fallen 30 percent since 2007, according to the most recent Federal Reserve data, making higher energy costs an even harder sell. The second change is political. A decade ago, there was reason to think that carbon pricing could be bipartisan…

…The key political advantage is that performance standards focus voters on the end goal, rather than on the technocratic mechanism for achieving it. Carbon pricing puts attention on the mechanism, be it a dreaded tax or a byzantine cap-and-trade system. Mechanisms don’t inspire people. Mechanisms are easy to caricature as big-government bureaucracy. Think about the debate over Obamacare: When the focus was on mechanisms — insurance mandates, insurance exchanges and the like — the law was not popular. When the focus shifted to basic principles — Do sick people deserve health insurance? — the law became much more so….

…In Nevada, the measure did get on the ballot, and the campaign in favor of it has some lessons for winning future fights. The messages were simple and powerful. They focused on the immediate benefits from clean-energy use, like fewer health problems, lower medical costs and more jobs that pay well. …

….The better bet seems to be an “all of the above” approach: Organize a climate movement around meaningful policies with a reasonable chance of near-term success, but don’t abandon the hope of carbon pricing…
Eventually, Americans may decide to punish politicians who deny or play down climate change. By the time a price on carbon took effect, it might not be so unpopular anymore. But we can’t wait for the politics to change to begin taking action.