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.

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.”

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.

Global Warming and Judaism: a Yom Kippur Sermon on climate change and the Bible– a re-post from 2006

For Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Rabbi Camille Shira Angel;

See here and here for some current resources on religion and climate change; Read entire sermon here

By Ellie M. Cohen October 2, 2006

My 4 year old daughter and I were fortunate to spend a few days in August on a beautiful high Sierra lake.  One morning we decided to attempt her first fishing lesson.  The early morning air was pine-resin, mountain fresh as we sat down at the edge of the small dock.  The lake was quite still at first—a mirror reflecting the rising sun and the forests that lined the shores. 

We carefully cast out our line, trying hard to avoid getting hooked ourselves.  Together we very gradually pulled the line in, with the lightweight reel clicking and ratcheting each step.  We had no bait —so our biggest catch was some “lakeweed.”  After a few castings, Leah took off her socks and shoes, happily dangling her feet in the still-ice-cold snow-melted water. 

Suddenly a brisk wind picked up and we snuggled closer.  She dodged the chill by laying flat on her back on the sun-warmed dock and I joined her.  The new view was enchanting.  We found ourselves looking straight up into the most magnificent blue sky — that clarity you can only see when you are a mile and a half above sea level.  Wisps of clouds moved in from the south—enormous feathers of the whitest whites as my daughter described them.  Then she asked, is that God?  I hesitated, then with great parental authority, asked…. what do you think?  She replied, “I think God is everywhere– in the clouds, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds and in the ground.”  God was definitely present in that very special moment.

The High Holidays are a time to contemplate the meaning of heaven and earth as we celebrate the creation of the world, its incredible diversity of inhabitants and the powerful forces that shape it every day.  On Yom Kippur especially— as we explore repentance and forgiveness on this holiest of days, this final day of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe—we refrain from earthly pleasures, abstain from food, even abstain from colorful clothing as our thoughts are focused towards heaven.   Yet paradoxically, Yom Kippur prayers constantly bring us back to earth by urging us to reflect on our mundane routines and behaviors to reach the lofty goals of reconciliation and renewal. 

Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon observed almost 2,000 years ago, ‘Why does Scripture at times put earth before heaven and at other times heaven before earth?  To teach that the two are of equal value.[2]

What better day than today to contemplate heaven and earth, the oneness of our world, our role as stewards of God’s creation and our commitment as Jews to preserving it….. [Read more here]

Last 4 years warmest on record; ~62 million people directly impacted by extremes; accelerating climate change impacts in 2018 per WMO report


We are already seeing record sea level rise, as well as exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years.

Read more here

….“The data released in this report give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline,” Mr Guterres wrote in the report.

“These data confirm the urgency of climate action. This was also emphasized by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. The IPCC found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and far reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities and that global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050,” wrote Mr Guterres. …

Freshwater coastal erosion impacts global carbon stores; wetlands have high carbon storage rates but can lose carbon much faster than accumulate it

Shoreline erosion can transform freshwater wetlands from carbon-storage pools to carbon sources

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

….Wave action and high water levels sweep away soils and plants at a rate much higher than nature can replace them. An accurate measurement of this carbon budget imbalance may help better prioritize coastal management efforts and improve global carbon-cycle mode.

Freshwater wetlands account for as much as 95 percent of all wetlands — freshwater and marine — and have one of the highest carbon-storage rates of any environment, the researchers said (see here reporting that wetlands just in continental US hold ~12 billion tons of C).

The study found a large mismatch between how long it takes the carbon to accumulate versus how long it takes to erode, Braun said. “Ten percent of what took 500 years to accumulate disappeared in a six-month period. This wetland — or carbon reservoir, if you are looking at it from a carbon-budget perspective — took a permanent ding. The rate at which wetlands may rebuild can never catch up to the rate at which they were eroded.”