Will today be wet or dry? Yes.

Bernadete Woods Placky, meterologist and director of Climate Central’s Climate Matters program, answers the question.

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April Climate Change News

“The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions.”

– Mary Heglar,
Climate writer and co-host of Hot Take podcast

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April 2022 Quarterly Newsletter

Nearly 1,000 students, parents, and faculty – C-Change’s largest audience ever – attended a Primer presentation in February.

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March Climate Change News

“We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas. We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.”

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Does Covid-19 Have Any Tie to Climate Change?

Dr. Joan Schiller, a medical oncologist who is internationally recognized for her work in lung cancer clinical research and a member of the C-Change team, responds:

This is not a “yes or no” question, but I am comfortable saying “probably.” Just as it is usually incorrect to point to one severe weather event (hurricane, flood, drought) and say it was caused by climate change, it is wrong to point to one disruptive health event and say it was caused by climate change. We do know, however, that climate change often makes extreme weather and disruptive health events more likely to happen and more severe

Pandemics are going to become more common as the earth heats up. Many pandemics are caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites carried by vectors, usually an insect, which spreads the disease when it bites an animal or person. The problem is that as the earth heats up, vectors’ geographical range becomes larger and their metabolism increases, causing them to become more active and their breeding season to lengthen. This will make common vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, more common. For example, it is estimated that the incidence of Lyme disease has doubled in the U.S. between 2000 and 2019.

Climate change also will cause the introduction of some infectious diseases into areas where the disease did not previously exist. West Nile, Zika Dengue fever and malaria, for example, (all carried by mosquitoes) were rarely seen in the United States until recently.

We might even see diseases that haven’t been seen by humans for tens of thousands of years as the Arctic permafrost melts, potentially releasing frozen bacteria and viruses.

In the case of COVID-19, scientists think the virus was probably carried by bats (not insects) and that climate change expanded the range and number of the bats before “spilling over” to humans.

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What a Warm Pepsi and Oceans Have in Common

You’ve got questions, and we have answers. No question is too simple or complex for our panel of science advisors, who stand ready to field your questions about climate change. 

This week, Nadir Jevanjee answers a question we received about CO2 emissions. Nadir is a Research Physical Scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Read other Q&A here, and don’t be shy about asking your questions here.

The C-Change Conversations Team

Question: There is evidence that as the oceans warm they release CO2. If CO2 is a major cause of global warming then this represents a positive feedback cycle. If that is the case then why, in the past (over millions of years), have there been times of higher global temperatures and higher CO2 levels that have not resulted in an ever increasing global temperature?  What turned off the ‘switch’ in the past?  If anthropogenic CO2 is about 5% of all CO2 emissions and if CO2 is about 5% of all greenhouse gases (GHG) – water vapor being 95% – then anthropogenic CO2 represents about 0.25% of total GHG.  How is it that elimination of such a small fraction of GHG will reverse global temperature changes.

Answer: Sounds like there are two separate questions here. The first is about a ‘carbon-climate feedback,’ in which increasing temperatures drive CO2 out of the ocean, which should then contribute to further warming. This is indeed a positive feedback, as the questioner points out, but positive feedbacks do not always amplify forever; in most cases, actually, the amplification peters out. This means at some point in the future, ocean temperatures will stabilize at a new equilibrium, but at a much warmer point than today. Unfortunately, it will not happen soon enough to prevent temperature increases that are inhospitable to our species.

As for anthropogenic CO2 being a small fraction of CO2 emissions and all GHGs – that probably stems from a confusion between gross and net fluxes of carbon into the atmosphere. As can be seen in Fig. 3 here, there are vast exchanges of carbon between the atmosphere and both the oceans and land biosphere (the gross fluxes), but in a preindustrial climate these net out to zero (zero net flux). Put more simply, the greenhouse gases emitted by the land and ocean get reabsorbed, keeping earth’s natural reservoirs in balance.

This is important. Before humankind started using fossil fuels, GHG levels stayed relatively stable for 10,000 years and helped set and maintain the earth’s temperature at a level that enabled our species to thrive and grow. The GHG that we are adding by burning fossil fuels, while seeming small in the overall picture (gross fluxes), is enough to upset that balance. Small amounts of greenhouse gasses play an outsized role in impacting our climate – they comprise less than .04% of our atmosphere yet prevent our planet from being a frozen uninhabitable wasteland – so adding to them even a relatively small amount has already led to big changes in climate systems.

Also, it is important to remember that climate, like the human body, is impacted by many influences. For example, as the questioner points out, warmer oceans (all else being equal) hold less CO2, just as warm soda goes flat much faster. Yet, the ocean CO2 levels are rising, despite the ocean’s warmer temperatures. This is because the dominant influence on oceanic CO2 levels is the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which must be in balance with the CO2 in the ocean. As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, there is more CO2 entering the ocean from the atmosphere than exiting it, so the oceanic CO2 levels must rise until a new balance is achieved.

Good references for these topics are “The Global Carbon Cycle” by David Archer, and “The Physics of Climate Change” by Lawrence Krauss.

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Pleneau Bay in the Lamaire Channel - Antarctica

Despite What WSJ Opinion Writer Says, Ice Loss is a Problem

“…there are many reasons to remain concerned about sea level rise due to the shrinking Greenland ice sheet.”

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February Curated Climate News

As we review the news of the last month, we’d like to shine a light on something that is too often ignored by the prognosticators…

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Princeton Magazine Features C-Change Conversations

“They appear to be an unlikely group to advocate for and educate on climate change. They are not scientists, but they understand the science.”’

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Mountain clouds over beautiful snow-capped peaks of mountains an

January 2022 Climate Change News

Dear Friends,

In January the biggest front-page, top-of-the-hour news of the natural world was the undersea volcano eruption near the Tongan islands and the subsequent tsunamis, falling ash, and devastation. Unlike some past eruptions, this one does not appear to have sent enough reflective material into the upper atmosphere to cool the planet and give us even a short reprieve from rising temperatures.

As for man-made news, tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and their allies are erupting as well. Not that he’s asking us, but perhaps President Vladimir Putin might do well to focus on the threats coming from the northeastern part of his country, not neighbors to the west. We aren’t foreign policy experts, but what is happening to his country’s permafrost could be far more unsettling – over the long term – to the country’s economy and stability than the sovereignty of Ukraine.

While not as visually arresting as an explosion in the South Pacific or the amassing of armed forces, the thawing permafrost is very bad news. Two-thirds of Russia’s landmass is considered permafrost – land that never thaws even in the summer – but climate change is causing it to thaw rapidly. This makes the ground soften and buckle, threatening critical infrastructure like roads, cities, and oil and gas pipelines across Siberia. And to top it off, vast stores of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane – that used to be frozen in the ground – are being released, joining man-made emissions in the atmosphere.

Eruptions, conflict, and a 24/7 news cycle make it easy to get distracted, and depressed. But we need to keep our focus on the long term trends as well: not only the slow-rolling threat of our warming planet but also the growing supply of creative and sustained solutions.

Like crocuses poking through the snow, climate and energy innovations are coming. We remain determined and hopeful, and know that you will too.


The C-Change Conversations Team

Notable Quote

“Every company and every industry will be transformed by the transition to a net zero world. The question is, will you lead, or will you be led?”

-Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO, Blackrock in his annual letter to investors 

News of Concern

2021 clocked in as the sixth warmest year ever measured according to three reliable monitors of atmospheric temperatures (NOAA, NASA, and Berkeley Earth). That might sound like improvement – we missed the top five, after all. But scientists tell us there’s no good news here. To the contrary, the sixth hottest year ever was replete with a slew of countervailing record-setting events we’d rather not have seen.

For starters, ocean temperatures broke all time heat records for the third year in a row with grim consequences for today and tomorrow. Marine heat waves threaten ocean species, contribute to sea-level rise, and fuel stronger hurricanes and other extreme weather events. 

Indeed, heavy weather was a hallmark of last year and 2021 witnessed a relentless series of climate disasters all across the globe. From last June’s asphalt-melting heat wave in America’s Pacific Northwest to triple digit temperatures in the Arctic, some two billion people experienced unprecedented local temperatures.

The financial pain of these and other records is being felt right here, right now. Last year ranked number two for the U.S. in the number of billion dollar climate disasters we endured.

In light of all this, it’s distressing to see that our CO2 emissions reversed years of incremental decline to surge back in 2021 toward pre-pandemic levels. A report by the Rhodium Group says the cause was freight transportation (primarily on roads) and coal-fired power generation, which jumped 17 per cent – the first increase in coal-fired power generation since 2014.

News of Hope

January, however, brought other cyclical reports, too – notably the annual letter to investors from BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. The influential money manager has focused on climate change for quite some time. But this year he made one of the strongest free-market cases to date for private sector leadership in addressing rising global temperatures. His letter stressed that long-term returns rather than politics motivate his company’s investment agenda and asked others to consider the costs of lagging behind. “As your industry gets transformed by the energy transition,“ he wrote, “will you go the way of the dodo, or will you be a phoenix?”

It’s increasingly clear that Fink represents an emergent consensus among the most future-focused finance and insurance industry planners. In November we told you about the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero – a coalition of 450 financial institutions from 45 countries that are mobilizing assets to fight climate change. In January, a new consortium of 19 large banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Royal Bank of Canada, announced it is developing consistent frameworks and standards for climate risk management.

Other sectors are feeling the heat, too – though from more defensive postures. Public relations and advertising firms that have helped spread climate disinformation faced calls in an open letter from 450 scientists this month to drop their fossil fuel clients and stop greenwashing their businesses.

On the technology front, we’re intrigued with thinking about electric vehicles in a whole new light. A story in Vox reminds us that EVs are really just large batteries with wheels that can be used “to help prevent blackouts, stabilize the grid, and make solar and wind more reliable sources of energy.”

And one last bit of hopeful – and fun – news: designers around the world are creating windows, shingles, lampshades, tables, jackets, and even purses that can convert the sun’s energy into electricity. The world’s first Solar Biennale will showcase these and other recent inventions in Rotterdam, Netherlands this fall.

Solar energy! It’s not just for panels any more.

Test Your Climate Knowledge

Speaking of the sun, here’s a way to “warm up” no matter where you live. Take this 9-question quiz from our trusted friends at NASA.

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