Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

What is going on with California’s horrific fires?

November 13th, 2018
Wildfire smoke blows westward on November 9.

Enlarge / Wildfire smoke blows westward on November 9. (credit: NASA)

Late last year, California experienced terrible—and in the case of the October Tubbs Fire, record-setting—wildfires. The fires were especially intense due to an unusually late start to the rainy season, which left vegetation dry as seasonal mountain winds kicked up like bellows in a forge.

This year, the situation has repeated. The Camp Fire in Northern California not only broke last year’s all-time record for structures burned, it also broke a much older record for the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. And in Southern California, the Hill and Woolsey Fires have burned through homes on the north side of Los Angeles.

So what is going on with these extreme fires? Are they just chance or part of a trend? President Trump, via his Twitter account, has repeatedly blamed California for its fires and claimed that environmental policies for water use or forestry are somehow responsible. But these claims make no sense to anyone working in the state—or anyone who knows that forest fires aren’t put out by hose-carrying fire engines. In reality, many factors contribute to the current situation. And climate change is one of them.

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Posted in California, climate change, science, wildfires | Comments (0)

Geoengineering could stop warming but comes with side of sea-level rise

October 31st, 2018
Sunset seen from the International Space Station.

Enlarge / Sunset seen from the International Space Station. (credit: NASA/ISS Expedition 23 Crew)

Since we've only made moderate progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, climate science has turned to seriously investigating options that have typically been in the “far-fetched” category. That includes something called “solar radiation management”—increasing the reflectivity of the atmosphere to, in essence, shade the planet. That could provide a bit of human-caused cooling to temporarily offset some human-caused warming.

Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is the only long-term solution, but solar radiation management could buy us time to get our act together.

Such a planet-wide intervention certainly makes many uneasy, and we’ve long known that it would come with some side-effects. For example, while greenhouse warming generally causes an increase in global precipitation, cooling the planet in this way would cause an even stronger precipitation decrease that more than cancels that out. And while most ideas revolve around injecting tiny aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere, the spatial pattern of cooling can depend on where those injections are done.

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Posted in Atlantic Ocean currents, climate change, Geoengineering, science, sea level rise | Comments (0)

New York officially sues Exxon Mobil for misleading investors on climate change

October 25th, 2018
Photo by Gary Gardiner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Enlarge / Photo by Gary Gardiner/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

The New York State Attorney General hit oil giant Exxon Mobil with a lawsuit on Wednesday, claiming that the company misled its investors about climate change and the risks that it would cause for their investment.

The lawsuit has been in the works for years. New York started investigating Exxon Mobil in November 2015, when it subpoenaed the company for financial records as well as internal documents and communications.

Wednesday's lawsuit (PDF) claims that the company told investors it was managing risks from existing and potential climate change regulations, while it allegedly wasn't. Failing to build political risk into its financial models would have made Exxon Mobil look more profitable, and consequently investing in the company might have seemed like a better bet to investors.

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Posted in climate change, Energy, Exxon Mobil, Policy, science | Comments (0)

Arizona superintendent fails in last attempt to limit evolution teaching

October 23rd, 2018
Empty classroom with whiteboards.

Enlarge (credit: Steven Brewer / Flickr)

Earlier this year, we covered an attempt by Arizona's superintendent of Public Instruction to alter the state's science education standards. Superintendent Diane Douglas seemingly directed her staff to edit a set of standards prepared by educators so that numerous mentions of the word "evolution" were eliminated. Climate change was later diminished in a similar manner.

But since that time, the news has been almost uniformly good. Superintendent Douglas lost in a primary election to a fellow Republican, her edits to the school standards were rejected by the state school board, and a last-ditch effort to swap in educational guidelines from a religious college wasn't even given serious consideration.

As we noted in our earlier coverage, Douglas has in the past suggested that schools teach intelligent design, which is the idea that life arose and diversified due to the intervention of an intelligent agent rather than evolution. It's an idea that was generated for religious purposes, and its teaching has been ruled an imposition of religion by the courts. She has also misunderstood the status of a scientific theory in suggesting that it reflected the idea that our knowledge of evolution is uncertain. These beliefs seem to have motivated her intervention into the science standards.

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Posted in climate change, evolution, Policy, science, science education, Science standards | Comments (0)

Collapse of ancient city’s water system may have led to its demise

October 20th, 2018
The Cambodian city of Angkor was once the largest in the world until vast swathes of the population decamped in the 15th century. Its famous temple, Angkor Wat (above), survived.

Enlarge / The Cambodian city of Angkor was once the largest in the world until vast swathes of the population decamped in the 15th century. Its famous temple, Angkor Wat (above), survived. (credit: Stefan Irvine/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The Cambodian city of Angkor was once the largest in the world... then the vast majority of its inhabitants suddenly decamped in the 15th century to a region near the modern city of Phnom Penh. Historians have put forth several theories about why this mass exodus occurred. A new paper in Science Advances argues that one major contributing factor was an overloaded water distribution system, exacerbated by extreme swings in the climate.

Angkor dates back to around 802 CE. Its vast network of canals, moats, embankments, and reservoirs developed over the next 600 years, helping distribute vital water resources for such uses as irrigation and to help control occasional flooding. By the end of the 11th century, the system bore all the features of a complex network, with thousands of interconnected individual components heavily dependent on each other.

Such a configuration, hovering at or near the so-called critical point, is ideal for the effective flow of resources, whether we're talking about water, electricity (power grids), traffic, the spread of disease, or information (the stock market and the Internet). The tradeoff is that it can become much more sensitive to even tiny perturbations—so much so that a small outage in one part of the network can trigger a sudden network-wide cascading failure.

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Posted in ancient infrastructure, angkor wat, Archaeology, climate change, complex networks, Greater Angkor Project, phase transitions, Physics, science, tipping points | Comments (0)

Analysis of 187 documents concludes Exxon “misled the public” on climate change

August 24th, 2017

Enlarge / Oil processing towers and gas processing infrastructure stand at the Exxon Mobil Corp. (credit: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A review of 187 ExxonMobil documents, published by two Harvard researchers on Wednesday, has found that the company ”misled the public” on climate change.

The documents included internal papers published by journalists at InsideClimate News as well as 50 “peer-reviewed articles on climate research and related policy analysis” written by ExxonMobil researchers. The oil and gas company made the internal papers public and challenged anyone to “read all of these documents and make up your own mind,” accusing journalists of cherry-picking data.

Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, from Harvard’s Department of the History of Science, took up that challenge, comparing the information in the documents cited by ExxonMobil against the information conveyed in the publicly-available advertorial columns published by the company on anthropogenic (or human-caused) climate change in the New York Times. They found that “83 percent of peer-reviewed papers and 80 percent of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12 percent of advertorials do so, with 81 percent instead expressing doubt.”

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Posted in Biz & IT, climate change, exxon, science | Comments (0)

Health benefits of wind and solar offset all subsidies

August 17th, 2017

Enlarge

Wind and solar energy are obviously essential in reducing carbon emissions, but they also have a remarkable side effect: saving lives. As they edge out fossil fuels, renewables are reducing not just carbon emissions, but also other air pollutants. And the result is an improvement in air quality, with a corresponding drop in premature deaths.

A paper in Nature Energy this week dives into the weeds by trying to estimate the economic benefits of wind and solar power across the whole of the US. Berkeley environmental engineer Dev Millstein and his colleagues estimate that between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted because of air quality benefits over the last decade or so, creating a total economic benefit between $30 billion and $113 billion. The benefits from wind work out to be more than 7¢ per kilowatt-hour, which is more than unsubsidized wind energy generally costs.

Death is in the air

Poor air quality is a tricky beast in public health, since it’s not obvious when someone dies as a result of air pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution leads to around 7 million premature deaths globally each year—people dying earlier than they otherwise would have from heightened incidence of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.

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Posted in climate change, public health, renewable energy, science | Comments (0)

Health benefits of wind and solar offset all subsidies

August 17th, 2017

Enlarge

Wind and solar energy are obviously essential in reducing carbon emissions, but they also have a remarkable side effect: saving lives. As they edge out fossil fuels, renewables are reducing not just carbon emissions, but also other air pollutants. And the result is an improvement in air quality, with a corresponding drop in premature deaths.

A paper in Nature Energy this week dives into the weeds by trying to estimate the economic benefits of wind and solar power across the whole of the US. Berkeley environmental engineer Dev Millstein and his colleagues estimate that between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted because of air quality benefits over the last decade or so, creating a total economic benefit between $30 billion and $113 billion. The benefits from wind work out to be more than 7¢ per kilowatt-hour, which is more than unsubsidized wind energy generally costs.

Death is in the air

Poor air quality is a tricky beast in public health, since it’s not obvious when someone dies as a result of air pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution leads to around 7 million premature deaths globally each year—people dying earlier than they otherwise would have from heightened incidence of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.

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Posted in climate change, public health, renewable energy, science | Comments (0)

We know Vikings as infamous raiders—was that merely a response to climate change?

August 6th, 2017

Enlarge / Clouds hover above the surrounding geothermal waters at the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, Iceland in 2008. (credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Beneath their still surfaces, the lakes of some Arctic islands may hide the story of the rise and fall of Viking chiefdom.

Historians still aren’t sure exactly what led to the centuries of Viking raiding and expansion, a period politely known as the Scandinavian Diaspora that ran from the late eighth century to the mid-11th. Population pressures and political rivalries probably played a role, but changing climate around the North Atlantic may also have given the Scandinavians a push.

So far, paleoclimate researchers have mostly focused on warmer climates in the Vikings’ destinations, like Iceland, which might have drawn people to settle there. But those who set sail may have been facing trouble with the crops back home thanks to changing temperatures. A team of researchers hope to find some answers in a new series of sediment cores from ancient lakebeds in a remote Norwegian island chain.

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Posted in climate change, Features, science, vikings | Comments (0)

Germany’s Bundesrat votes to ban the internal combustion engine by 2030

October 10th, 2016

(credit: Toni Almodóvar Escuder @ Flickr)

Is the tide turning for the internal combustion engine? In Germany, things are starting to look that way. This is the country that invented the technology, but late last week, the Bundesrat (the federal council of all 16 German states) voted to ban gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2030.

It’s a strong statement in a nation where the auto industry is one of the largest sectors of the economy; Germany produces more automobiles than any other country in Europe and is the third largest in the world. The resolution passed by the Bundesrat calls on the European Commission (the executive arm of the European Union) to “evaluate the recent tax and contribution practices of Member States on their effectiveness in promoting zero-emission mobility,” which many are taking to mean an end to the lower levels of tax currently levied on diesel fuel across Europe.

Europe bet big on diesel, something that now seems increasingly misguided with continuing revelations about companies cheating their emissions tests and the growing awareness of the health implications of diesel particulates.

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Posted in Cars Technica, climate change, diesel, gasoline, internal combustion engine | Comments (0)