In climate-related news:
From NBC News: “Carbon dioxide hits a level not seen for 3 million years. Here's what that means for climate change — and humanity.”
In the latest bit of bad news for a planet beset by climate change, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has climbed to a level last seen more than 3 million years ago — before humans even appeared on the rocky ball we call home.
On Saturday, sensors at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii indicated that concentrations of the greenhouse gas — a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels — had reached 415 parts per million (ppm), meaning that for every 1 million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, 415 were of carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun, and higher levels are associated with higher global temperatures and other effects of climate change, such as rising seas and unusual weather patterns.
The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen an average of 2.5 ppm per year over the past decade, reaching 400 ppm in 2013 — and the level appears likely to go higher from here.
“We’re racing toward a state very different from the kind humans evolved in and that civilization developed in,” said Ralph Keeling, a geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.
The last time levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide were this high came during the Pliocene Epoch, which extended from about 5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago. During that period, average sea levels were about 50 feet higher than they are today and forests grew as far north as the Arctic, said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University. “Earth was a very different place,” he said. “You would hardly recognize the land surface, and my gosh, we don’t want to go there.”
From Deutsche Welle: “Climate change: UN chief Guterres decries 'fading' global efforts.”
Arriving in Auckland Sunday, Guterres said the world was "not on track" to confine the rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as agreed in the 2015 Paris agreement.
"The paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political will seems to be fading," said the UN secretary general.
"Climate change is running faster than what we are … the last four years have been the hottest registered," he said, adding that political inadequacy was evident “everywhere."
From New York Magazine: “Los Angeles Fire Season Is Beginning Again. And It Will Never End.”
You could see the smoke from space. The plume from last November’s Woolsey fire swept out toward Catalina and into the Pacific beyond by the same Santa Ana winds that had carried the flames all the way down the Malibu mountainside to the beach. The aftermath was eerie, the sunsets gorgeous, toxic ash falling from the sky in heavy lumps. Horses and alpacas and a giraffe wandered the sand, having fled flames that tore through local stables and ranches and a vineyard’s private zoo. The burn scar on the land, when the smoke cleared, stretched 152 square miles through Point Dume and Malibu and up to Calabasas and Westlake Village: 96,000 densely populated acres burned, 300,000 people evacuated from 100,000 homes, a city of 10 million terrorized in ways both familiar and unprecedented.
In the mythology of Los Angeles, fires are an eternal feature of the landscape — more permanent than any human settlement and an intimation that the city and its people remain rugged, no matter how comfortably plastic and protected life in its wealthy canyon sprawl might seem. But in a time of environmental panic, last year’s fires played more like a portent of something new, even an End of Days. The same resident of Inglewood or West Hollywood or Culver City who might once have looked up from his driveway to see the same smoke plume suspended above the city’s flatlands or driven past the same flickering flames along the 405 and thought, California, now sees them and thinks, Climate change.
Los Angeles can seem, in this way, ahead of its time, a sort of preview of what the rest of the country is only peeking at through stretched fingers — communities across the city contemplating what is to come and wondering just how comfortable, or even manageable, life under those conditions could possibly be. The Woolsey fire was twice as big as anything that had burned through Malibu before, yet it represented only a tiny part of the worst fire year in the history of the state — only 5 percent of the acres that burned.
From ThinkProgress: “Deadly flooding is rocking Texas. Scientists say this is our future under climate change.”
Communities across East Texas and the wider region are reeling after an onslaught of rain and flash flooding left Houston and other cities underwater this week. The heavy rain comes only weeks after the United States closed out the wettest 12 months on record, a period that has also seen much of the Midwest devastated by flooding.
Some Houston schools were closed Friday while the city’s fire department fielded more than 75 calls related to water issues across the area. Around 21 million people can expect possible flooding this weekend, including residents in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
The region-wide deluge is unusual, even though the Texas coast is prone to flooding, particularly in cities like Houston. The fourth-largest city in the country has struggled as rain becomes a more persistent issue, and one that Houston’s drainage infrastructure is not equipped to handle. The city is also still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, which hit in 2017, killing dozens of people and causing billions of dollars in damage.
But across the country, trends indicate that flooding is becoming the new normal. On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the amount of U.S. land experiencing drought has dropped to its lowest levels in decades. That dive has come hand-in-hand with a major uptick in saturation — from May 2018 to April 2019, the country saw its wettest year on record.
From Nola.com: “Attention Louisiana climate deniers: Insurers say climate change now biggest risk.”
History is full of moments when communities facing an existential challenge have two fates.
They are saved by courageous leaders who ignore personal risks to show the way. Or they become examples of disastrous, life-ending choices.
Climate change has clearly placed Louisiana at one of those crisis points. But, so far, we have chosen that second course and are barreling toward disaster just a few decades away.
The evidence of this failure was captured in two headlines from last week’s news:
That [last] chilling headline is the one community leaders and policy makers have been dreading for some time. And these quotes from that story won’t make them feel any better:
"Climate change took the biggest jump this year of I believe any risk that I can remember, seeing it jump from 7 percent up to 22 percent," said, Max Rudolph, fellow of the Society of Actuaries and author of the report.
Rudolph added that it's becoming harder for risk managers to avoid thinking about climate change. He pointed to major hurricanes in 2017 and the longer, more intense wildfire seasons we're seeing in the west.
"My personal opinion is that this is a case of the risk managers catching up to the actual risk that is out there," he explained.
Risk, of course, is the major factor that determines insurance rates.
And insurance rates can go a long way to determining how affordable an area is to live and work in. And that, in turn, can determine why businesses decide to move into an area — or leave it for a safer, more affordable location.
From the Seattle Times: “May heat shrinks Washington snowpack, raising risk for tight water flows for fish and farmers.”
The Pacific Northwest is again experiencing surging spring heat that shattered temperatures this past week and prompted red-flag warnings for fire risks in lowland portions of Southwest Washington.
Last year, intense May warmth brought a sudden melt of a big mountain snowpack, causing flooding in north central and northeast Washington as the Okanogan River reached its highest flood stage in four decades.
This year, the statewide snowpack, as of Friday, averaged only 58 percent of the median amount for that date. So instead of being concerned about high water, state officials are preparing for summer drought, which can raise the potential for wildfires, reduce irrigation flows to farmers and make life difficult for salmon that depend on cool water to survive.
“When you look at some of the snowpacks in some of the basins, it looks like they are doing a swan dive off a cliff,” said Jeff Marti, a state Ecology Department official who noted that Gov. Jay Inslee already has issued drought-emergency declarations in the Okanogan, Methow and upper Yakima watersheds, because low snowpacks are expected to crimp water supplies.
In business-as-usual news:
From Grist: “The plastic industry is on track to produce as many emissions as 600 coal-fired power plants.”
When you think about plastic, what comes to mind? Microplastics at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, whales dying with truckloads of garbage in their bellies, that zero-waste Instagram influencer you follow?
A new report shows it’s high time to think more about the fossil fuels that go into making those plastic products. The global plastic industry is on track to produce enough emissions to put the world on track for a catastrophic warming scenario, according to the Center for International Environmental Law analysis. In other words, straws aren’t just bad for unsuspecting turtles; plastic is a major contributor to climate change.
If the plastic industry is allowed to expand production unimpeded, here’s what we’re looking at: By 2030, global emissions from that sector could produce the emissions equivalent of more than 295 (500-megawatt) coal plants. By 2050, emissions could exceed the equivalent of 615 coal plants.
That year, the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from production of single-use plastics like bags and straws could compose between 10 and 13 percent of the whole remainder of our carbon budget. That is, the amount of CO2 we’re allowed to emit if we want to keep emissions below the threshold scientists say is necessary to ensure a liveable planet. By 2100, even conservative estimates pin emissions from plastics composing more than half of the carbon budget.
So, congrats on ordering that metal straw from Amazon! But the report shows that the plastics industry is still planning on a major expansion in production.
Here are a few more takeaways from the report, which looked at the emissions produced by the plastics industry starting in 2015 and projected what emissions from that sector could look like through the end of the century:
- Of the three ways to get rid of plastics — recycling, landfilling, or incinerating — incinerating is the most energy intensive. In 2015, emissions from incinerating plastic in the United States were estimated to be around 5.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
- This year, production and incineration of plastic products will make as many emissions as 189 coal power plants — 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases.
- Plastics that wind up in the ocean could even fuck with the ocean’s ability to do what it has historically done a superb job at: sequestering carbon. That’s because the phytoplankton and lil ocean critters that help capture the CO2 at the surface of the ocean and drag it under are being compromised by — you guessed it — microplastic.
But it doesn’t look like the industry is going to slow its roll on refining oil for plastics anytime soon. In 2015, 24 ethylene facilities in the U.S. produced the emissions equivalent of 3.8 million cars. There are 300 more petrochemical facilities underway in the U.S. Two of those, one being built by ExxonMobil and another by Shell, could produce emissions equivalent to 800,000 new cars on the road per year.
From Oilprice.com: “The Star Permian Basin Sends US Shale Production Up, Up And Away.”
US oil production from the top seven major shale plays is set to reach new record heights in June, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s latest edition of its Drilling Productivity Report.
Production from the top seven plays will increase by 83,000 barrels per day in June from May 2019 levels, with the largest increase seen in the Permian Basin, which is set to increase from 4.117 million barrels of oil per day to 4.173 million barrels per day (+56,000). The second largest increasing region according to the report is the Bakken.
Just as noteworthy, gas production is also set to increase in these seven plays, from 79.720 million cubic feet per day in May to 80.663 million cubic feet per day in June, with the Appalachia region seeing the largest increase, followed by Haynesville and then the Permian.
From Bloomberg: “Climate Changed: Lenders Scolded for Climate Ignorance in ‘Insane’ Florida Real Estate Deals.”
Hurricane Michael killed seven people and caused more than $6 billion in damage in Florida in October, a toll compounded by warmer, higher seas and wetter air, the signs of climate change scientists have long warned about.
But investors have yet to pay any kind of meaningful attention, buying up long-dated debt and financing real estate decades into the future. That kind of market neglect means the Florida economy can be expected to “go to hell,” warned Spencer Glendon, a senior fellow at the Woods Hole Research Center and a former partner and director of investment research at Wellington Management.
“No one should be lending for 30 years in most of Florida,” he said at an investment conference in New York last week. “During that time frame, insurance will disappear and terminal values” -- future resale income -- “will shrink. I tell my parents that it’s fine to rent in Florida, but it’s insane to own or to lend.”
From the Guardian: “BP pushed for Arctic drilling rights after Trump's election.”
BP stepped up its campaign to be allowed to drill for oil in the Arctic sea and an Alaskan wildlife refuge after Donald Trump was elected president, according to documents that detail the British firm’s lobbying efforts.
Documents written by BP and oil industry groups show how the oil “supermajor” seized on the opportunity presented by Trump’s 2016 election victory to expand its offshore business, just seven years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Areas it targeted include the Arctic sea, where experts have warned an oil spill could be an ecological disaster, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), not far from where BP spilled 222,000 gallons of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 2006.
Despite the reputational damage it had suffered after successive spills, BP played a key role in lobbying the government to loosen restrictions on oil drilling, according to documents obtained by Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed and shared with the Guardian.
From CBC: “Keyera green-lights $1.3B Alberta natural gas pipeline.”
Shares in Keyera Corp. rose by as much as nine per cent after it announced it will proceed with a long-anticipated $1.3-billion pipeline to bring natural gas liquids from northwestern Alberta to market.
The Key Access Pipeline System is designed to collect condensate and other petroleum liquids produced with natural gas in the Montney and Duvernay regions and bring it to the liquids processing and storage hub at Fort Saskatchewan, just northeast of Edmonton.
On a conference call on Wednesday, Keyera executives said shippers have signed long-term contracts accounting for about 65 per cent of the initial capacity of the pipeline, which is expected to come on stream in 2022.
The pipeline partners had each been pursuing similar projects with other investors before deciding to work together given their ownership interests in the gas processing plants that will supply much of the initial throughput on the system.
Analyst Nate Heywood of AltaCorp Capital pointed out the line will compete with Pembina Pipeline Corp.'s Peace Pipeline — a $500-million expansion of the latter was approved in January because of rising customer demand.
From the Wall Street Journal: “Australia’s Conservatives Win Surprise Election Victory.”
Australia’s conservative government eked out a surprise victory in Saturday’s national elections after voters in resource-rich districts turned against center-left opponents who had put climate change at the heart of their campaign.
Behind in polls for more than two years, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition appealed to voters in battleground states such as Queensland, struggling at the end of a long mining boom, with a campaign focused on the economy and jobs.
Climate change, a thorny problem that has ripped apart governments, re-emerged as an election issue following a summer of wildfires, drought, floods and extreme temperatures: Voter support for policies aimed at addressing climate change was at the highest level since 2007. But, as in the U.S., divisions grew more stark as the issue gathered steam.
Labor campaigned on a pledge to reduce emissions by 45% from 2005 levels by 2030, after Australia under the conservatives became the first developed nation to abolish a price on carbon in 2014. The party also promised a push on renewable energy and electric vehicles.
While the message appealed to many city voters, voters in resource-rich regions worried Labor’s climate plan would drive up living costs and put coal miners out of work. Mr. Morrison’s government approved a controversial coal mine in northeastern Queensland planned by Indian conglomerate Adani Corp just days before declaring elections.