(This graphic tells you all you need to know about our progress to date combating CO2 emissions.)
Climate change is already here
There is such an abundance of scientific evidence that establishes the causes of climate change and the dominant role that man’s emissions are playing in causing anthropomorphic warming of the atmosphere that we could not possibly list it all here. New studies emerge almost daily which authoritatively confirm that climate change is already upon us and wreaking havoc on weather patterns, biologic patterns, the temperature all around the earth—atmosphere and oceans—ocean circulation patterns and acidity levels of the ocean, all with potentially catastrophic long-term impacts. As these biologic changes become more acute, they cause increasing amounts of damage and, given the current trends, will soon reach a point beyond which we will be unable to reverse such effects in our lifetimes. We list a few of more authoritative reports but, if you don’t believe that climate change is happening, it means you aren’t reading the science.
The Trump administration released a 1,656-page report, called the Fourth National Climate Assessment: Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States, co-written by three hundred scientists finding that climate change is already causing increasing damage to the United States. (Volume I of the same report was issued earlier in 2017 and provided an assessment of the physical science underlying climate change.) The Trump administration attempted to bury the report and its inconvenient findings that climate change is causing enormous damage and will be getting significantly worse, by releasing it on the Friday after Thanksgiving. This report was followed by another report detailing the growing gap between the commitments made at earlier U.N. conferences and what is needed to steer the planet off its calamitous path.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) report comes from the congressionally mandated U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which was created with the passage of the Global Change Research Act of 1990. This recent report, Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States, assesses a range of climate change impacts and risks. These reports are part of the USGRCP effort across 13 U.S. Federal agencies to advance the science, communicate the results, and inform decision makers.
In addition to covering new scientific advances since the third NCA report in 2014, such as a new chapter on air quality at the national scale, this report will also shift its focus from national analyses to regional ones, as demand increases for more localized information on risks and impacts. New geographical sections have been added to illustrate impacts to the U.S. territories in the Caribbean and to other U.S. interests internationally. According to ClimateCentral, an independent organization of scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public, the report also increases coverage of economic impacts and interdependencies between regions.
Volume II of NCA4 contributes to the multiple lines of evidence showing that the Earth is warming, humans are the cause, and the already serious impacts — like the current California droughts and wildfires — are only going to get worse. Holding warming globally to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, will require drastic and immediate emissions cuts, the scaling up of energy solutions already in place, lower-carbon transportation, and sustainable farming practices. The goal is still within reach, but the window is closing rapidly and will likely require new technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere as highlighted in the recent IPCC report.
In October, 2018, a top U.N.-backed scientific panel found that nations have barely a decade to take “unprecedented” actions and cut their emissions in half by 2030 to prevent the worst consequences of climate change. The panel’s report found “no documented historic precedent” for the rapid changes to the infrastructure of society that would be needed to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. This means, that we all need to work together to figure out how to effect an unprecedented transformation of our society, our use of energy and our control of carbon dioxide in ways that we have never accomplished before. Chapter 1 provides understanding of the impacts of 1.5°C global warming above pre-industrial levels and related global emission pathways in the context of strengthening the response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty. Chapter 2 explores ways that emissions can be brought to zero by mid-century while staying within the small remaining carbon budget for limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Chapter 3 talks about why it is necessary and even vital to maintain the global temperature increase below 1.5°C versus higher levels. Adaptation will be less difficult. Our world will suffer fewer negative impacts on intensity and frequency of extreme events, on resources, ecosystems, biodiversity, food security, cities, tourism and carbon removal. Chapter 4 covers the global response to warming of 1.5oC, comprising transitions in land and ecosystem, energy, urban and infrastructure, and industrial systems. The feasibility of mitigation and adaptation options, and the enabling conditions for strengthening and implementing the systemic changes, are assessed in this chapter. Finally, Chapter 5 covers the interactions of climate change and climate responses with sustainable development, including sustainable development impacts at 1.5C and 2C, the synergies and tradeoffs of mitigation and adaptation with the Sustainable Development Goals/SDGs, and the possibilities for sustainable and equitable low carbon, climate resilient development pathways.
The Green New Deal
Several of the newly elected Congressional Democrats, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have announced their intentions to draft legislation that responds to the climate challenge in proportion to the dangers posed by climate change. This is a priority welcomed by many within the environmental movement, and the efforts to organize support are being hosted by a range of groups including Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats. The first step appears to be the draft text of a proposed addendum to House rules for the 116th Congress, providing the authority to the Congress for the establishment of a Select Committee For A Green New Deal with legislative authority. Click here for the draft text for the proposed addendum to House Rules for the 116th Congress.
Currently, the Sunrise site is showing support for an as yet unwritten Green New Deal from 45 Congressional representatives as of early December 2018. While many of the statements that have emanated from Representative Ocasio-Cortez make it sound like the Green New Deal will be focused on increasing the amount of renewables, a search for the Green New Deal turned up an official Green New Deal framework document published by a team at Data for Progress, which has clearly approached the task at hand with a more scientific orientation that is focused on clean energy.
Greg Carlock is the Lead Author, Emily Mangan is a Contributing Author and Sean McElwee is the Executive Producer for this report, which starts out saying:
The popularity of progressive policies has been rising steadily since the 2016 Presidential Election season and has increasingly moved the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction. Mounting concern over economic inequality, injustice, and the threats of climate change are leading an increasing number of progressive candidates to call for more dramatic action. They propose an equitable transition to a 21st century economy and clean energy revolution that guarantees clean air and water,modernizes national infrastructure, and creates high-quality jobs.
First: A Green New Deal is necessary to meet the scale and urgency of environmental challenges facing the United States, based on the best available research. Second: A Green New Deal can bring job growth and economic opportunity, with particular focus on historically disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Third: A Green New Deal is popular among American voters and can mobilize them in 2018. Fourth: A Green New Deal can be executed in a way that is environmentally just and distributes benefits equitably. Finally, A Green New Deal is financially feasible and necessary.
The report describes how the U.S. should transform to a low-carbon economy the following way:
The United States needs to reduce its annual greenhouse emissions from 2016 by 16 percent to achieve our 2025 reduction target communicated through the Paris Agreement, and 77 percent to reach our 2050 target. To strive for the global goal of a 1.5-degree future, the U.S. should aim for zero net emissions by mid-century. This requires massive economic and technological transformation in how we create and consume energy, build structures, and transport people and goods. This transformation must accelerate now.
CLEAN & RENEWABLE ENERGY
✔ 100% Clean and Renewable Electricity by 2035
All electricity consumed in America must be generated by renewable sources, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, sustainable biomass, and renewable natural gas, as well as clean sources such as nuclear and remaining fossil fuel with carbon capture [emphasis added].
✔ Zero Net Emissions from Energy by 2050
We must end all emissions from fossil fuels. The full U.S. economy can and must run on a mix of energy that is either zero-emission or 100 percent carbon capture by mid-century. This includes residential, commercial, and industrial electricity; thermal energy; and transportation.
Note: We are not sure if the framework described by the Data for Progress team is the official framework or not but so far it looks like a smart approach. Nevertheless, we all need to keep our eye on this very promising but perilous endeavor.
Primers on Climate Change
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is one of the foremost authorities on climate change in the U.S. They are responsible for studying and understanding weather and climate and work closely with NASA and other agencies to collect global data, including on Extreme Weather Events. Although the Trump Administration has been applying anti-science pressure to all of the departments of the government, NOAA’s climate.gov website is still up and hosting the Global Climate Dashboard, shown above. Click on the dashboard to go to the interactive dashboard, where you can see the data charts for global temperature, carbon dioxide, sea level, arctic sea ice, snow, glaciers, ocean heat, sun’s energy and heat-trapping gases. The Global Climate Dashboard is now accessible via mobile devices.
NOAA’s (recently renamed) Supporting Decisions section offers authoritative factual information for planners, decision makers, and policy leaders and is a clearinghouse of climate science and policy reports, decision support tools, datasets, and professional development opportunities. There are now also interviews with decision makers talking about how they use climate information and short video tutorials on handy tools to help people make climate-related decisions.
NOAA’s data area is called Maps & Data and contains data collections showing the latest climate conditions. GIS-savvy users will want to explore their Integrated Map Application, where there are even more datasets.
NOAA’s Teaching Climate section now leverages tens of millions of dollars in NOAA, NASA, and NSF federal education grant projects by providing more than 514 of the best of the best climate education resources that have been produced over the last 10 years or so. Through a partnership with the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), these resources were selected from over 15,000 resources that were rigorously reviewed by teams of subject experts for scientific accuracy, pedagogical soundness, and usability, which help support implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) through an integrated Earth system science approach in K-12 education.
The WIRED Guide to Climate Change explains why the world is getting warmer and the weather is getting worse. Authors Katie M. Palmer and Matt Simon of WIRED do a wonderful job of telling you everything you need to know about what is happening and what humans can do to stop wrecking the planet. You can also click on the image to go to WIRED’s video entitled “How Climate Change is Already Affecting Earth.”
Q: Are humans causing or contributing to global warming? How strong is the scientific evidence that Earth is warming and that humans are the main cause?
A: There is overwhelming scientific evidence that Earth is warming and a preponderance of scientific evidence that human activities are the main cause. Thousands of weather stations worldwide—over land and ocean—have been recording daily high and low temperatures for many decades and, in some locations, for more than a century. When different scientific and technical teams in different U.S. agencies (e.g., NOAA and NASA) and in other countries (e.g., the U.K.’s Hadley Centre) average these data together, essentially the same results are found: Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by about 1.5°F (0.85°C) since 1880.
The primary cause is that, over the last 200 years, human activities have added about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, increasing the abundance of this heat-trapping gas by about 40 percent. Today, humans add about 70 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every day. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from about 278 parts per million (ppm) in 1800 to about 398 ppm today. Today’s carbon dioxide levels are unusually high; much higher than at any other time in the last 800,000 years. The warming influence of heat-trapping gases was recognized in the mid-1800s.
Additionally, many other lines of evidence confirm that our world has warmed over multiple decades:
- Sea surface temperatures have increased.
- Air temperatures aloft are increasing, according to weather balloons and satellites.
- Birds are migrating earlier and their migration patterns are changing.
- Plants are blooming earlier in the spring.
- Fish species are migrating northward and toward cooler, deeper waters.
- Overall, glaciers are melting and spring snow cover is declining in the Northern Hemisphere.
- Greenland’s ice sheet—which holds about 8% of Earth’s fresh water—is melting at an accelerating rate.
- Mean global sea level is rising.
- Summertime Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly in both thickness and extent.
Skeptical Science has created a unique calculation and widget, called Global Warming at 4 Hiroshima Atomic Bombs a Second, embedded below, showing how much the excess carbon emissions and related heat-trapping gases like methane, chlorofluorocarbons and nitrous oxide, are adding to our atmopshere. According to them:
The earth has warmed rapidly over the past century due mainly to human activity, and especially over the past few decades. The increased greenhouse effect has warmed the land and air and melted ice, but most of it (about 90%) has gone into heating the oceans. Several Skeptical Science contributors worked together to publish a scientific paper1 which combined the land, air, ice, and ocean warming data. It found that for recent decades the earth has been heating at a rate of 250 trillion Joules per second.
“Joules per second” is a difficult unit of measure to appreciate, and is especially foreign to people who are unfamiliar with science. This widget attempts to put that heating into terms that are easier to visualize. 250 trillion Joules per second is equivalent to:
Detonating four Hiroshima atomic bombs per second, or
Experiencing two Hurricane Sandys per second, or
Enduring four 6.0 Richter scale earthquakes per second, or
Being struck by 500,000 lightning bolts per second, or
Exploding more than eight Big Ben towers, with every inch packed full of dynamite, per second