“Election Results Make U.S. Congress Action on Climate Change Even Less Likely” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

A Republican-held Congress could spell bigger trouble for President Obama’s push for new climate policy. Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Obama’s climate efforts, namely because McConnell represents a state where a majority of its jobs begin and end with coal. McConnell has sullied Obama’s efforts to curb climate change by dubbing new climate policy a “war on coal.” A quarter of Kentucky’s counties continue to mine coal. Coal is a low-cost source of energy, which, according to McConnell, powers 90 percent of the state’s electricity.

Republicans argue two points when it comes to climate change: one, that scientists are wrong in their contention that humans are largely to blame for climate change; and two, jobs are more important than the effects of climate change. Moreover, some Senate Democrats haven’t backed Obama’s policy; the resistance from both parties has caused Obama to employ executive action to introduce new emissions regulations for power plants. The EPA has announced those regulations, which instruct states to create their own plans for restraining power plants emissions.

According to the Obama Administration’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, humans have had a large influence on the changing climate, and power plants are the “single-largest concentrated source of emissions, accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” Two-thirds of the US’s electricity comes from fossil fuels, and 39 percent of that comes from coal-burning power plants.

In addition to the Obama Administration, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also cautioned that permanent effects could result from climate change, including surface warming, polar ice cap melting, sea levels rising, and severe heat waves.

McConnell’s plan is to stall any new climate legislation in the Senate, whether it’s new restrictions on limiting the impacts of climate change, or regulations devised by Obama. McConnell has also assured that he will not hesitate to cut the EPA’s budget.

Almost all of the McConnell’s more than twenty fellow Republicans who are looking to run for the White House in 2016 — Senator Rand Paul (KY), Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), Senator Marc Rubio (FL), Senator Ted Cruz (TX), and Governor Rick Perry (TX) just to name a few — all doubt scientists’ findings that climate change is a result of human action. Conversely, Hillary Clinton’s beliefs fall more in line with Obama, which is to be expected.

According to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans believe that the Earth has warmed during the last few decades; 40 percent of those polled believe that it’s human caused. The question of jobs remains a huge issue in Kentucky and across the US. Republicans — who traditionally favor less government involvement — rely on the fear that increased governmental regulation means a drop in job growth.

Of course, McConnell’s coined phraseology ‘war on coal’ carries weight with his constituents. Last year, coal production dropped in eastern Kentucky, seeing its lowest production output since 1962. McConnell associates the fall in Kentucky’s coal production to the US’s explosion in natural gas generation, as well as less costly mining in states like Wyoming. Kentuckians and McConnell are currently concentrating on job loss and growth, and not on how to protect the environment from its own inhabitants.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 5, 2014

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“The Global Warming Statistical Meltdown” – Wall Street Journal, 9 October 2014

For months, climate reports have been warning us that we must prevent the world from warming by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change. However, what policy makers and world leaders have failed to mention is that the world is less delicate than we think: CO2 emissions might not be so damaging to our climate.

As stated in the international treaty, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the earth’s surface temperatures have increased by almost 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1850-1900, which means we only have a margin of 1.2 degrees Celsius before we reach the 2 degree cap.

Estimations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)‘s latest 2013 report were calculated using positive and negative models. If there is a massive drop in emissions, then the Earth might not reach the 2 degree mark; however, if coal-use and population growth both skyrocket, then we might meet the mark by 2040.

However, these estimates aren’t based on real-world models, and don’t take into account the sensitivity of our climate. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Climate sensitivity is defined as the global surface warming that occurs when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles.” If the climate is overly sensitive, then rising emissions will indeed push the world to the UN’s “dangerous” warming levels; if the climate isn’t overly sensitive, then emissions won’t have such a devastating impact on our environment, and it will take us longer to reach those ‘dangerous’ levels.

Climate reports using an observation-based energy-balance approach and global climate models have had different findings — even the IPCC’s report admitted the distinctions in the two models. With observation-based models, climate sensitivity projections are substantially less than global climate models’ projections. Observation-based energy balance models also take climate change’s 1998 hiatus into account, where we didn’t see a drastic rise in the Earth’s temperature.

The warming hiatus wasn’t considered in the IPCC’s 2007 report, which predicated that the world would warm by 0.2 degrees Celsius every 10 years in the beginning of the 21st century. With that in mind, can we trust climate reports that employ global climate models, rather than observation-based models? Why, then, are we on the fast track to implement policy that slashes emissions when we have room to explore economical ways to gradually lower our emissions? What’s the rush?

Climate sensitivity is something the public doesn’t often hear about, but is a fundamental aspect of the climate policy debate. Reports that take an observation-based approach show that human’s impact on our climate won’t cause the Earth to warm by 2 degrees, even by the end of the 21st century. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate our climate policies.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

October 15, 2014

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“Climate panel: Time to act is now” – Politico, 31 March 2014

In March, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report that urged the world to come to a consensus on a new global climate agreement. The effects of climate change are worsening and will continue to endanger crop yields, the lives of poorer populations, low-lying lands, aggravate droughts and even provoke wars.

The US and the rest of the world must agree on a global climate agreement by the end of 2015, which would become enforced in 2020. For the agreement to have any impact, both the US and the world’s biggest polluters—such as India and China—must cooperate on the agreement’s terms.

The US, however, is still up in arms about its climate policy. To combat the climate skeptics, Obama has begun pushing his climate policy—like regulations on new power plants and limiting international coal use—through executive branch actions. Climate skeptics are fighting Obama’s executive orders in the House and the courts, justifying that the world isn’t actually warming and the US can’t enforce such harsh regulations when major polluters aren’t following suit.

The report details how the poor and other marginalized groups of people will bear the brunt of climate change impacts through employment, lowered crop yields and soaring food prices. There are also other risks, such as:

  • Agriculture: Wheat and corn have weathered the worst effects of climate change. Food accessibility and food prices could also be affected.
  • Global security: Low crop yields and high sea levels will lead to displacement, and will increase and cause new security worries.
  • Human health: Human health will worsen due to extreme heat waves, wildfires, bad nutrition and diseases spread through water and food.
  • Water: Water levels will plummet as greenhouse gases increase. Some areas will have lower sea levels and some, like low-lying areas and islands, will experience floodings.

A report on methods to counteract climate change will be published in April in Berlin. A final report with all the information will be released in Copenhagen in October.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 2, 2014

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“Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies” – New York Times, 1 November 2013

According to a UN report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the effects of climate change are now expected to reach the global food supply: during each decade, our supply is anticipated to decline by 2%, while food prices increase. This comes at a time when food demand is also expected to skyrocket — 14% each decade.

The panel’s 2013 report is far harsher than its previous report, from 2007; the 2013 report includes recent research on how vulnerable crops are to heat waves and droughts, as well as more warnings of the necessity to lower global GHG emissions. However, the panel found that carbon dioxide emissions have the added affect of boosting food production — the gas apparently performs as a type of plant fertilizer.

The panel found that the effects of climate change and global warming will hit tropical regions’ food supplies the worst, due to greater poverty rates and tremendous heat waves. Not being able to satisfy global food demand might force us to cultivate more farm land for production purposes — i.e., deforestation, which would speed up the effects of climate change by releasing significant quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sweeping climate policy reforms, like the Obama Administration’s, though helpful, come a little late: the report finds that such actions might not be drastic enough to slow down the effects of climate change; advantages from steps, like curbing emissions, will generally be seen late in the 21st century.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 20, 2013

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