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15 August 2017. Alaska Towns At Risk from Rising Seas Sound Alarm

By Oliver Milman, The Guardian

The U.S. government’s withdrawal from dealing with, or even acknowledging, climate change may have provoked widespread opprobrium, but for Alaskan communities at risk of toppling into the sea, the risks are rather more personal.

The Trump administration has moved to dismantle climate adaptation programs including the Denali Commission, an Anchorage-based agency that is crafting a plan to safeguard or relocate dozens of towns at risk from rising sea levels, storms and the winnowing away of sea ice.

Federal assistance for these towns has been ponderous but could now grind to a halt, with even those working on the issue seemingly targeted by the administration. In July, Joel Clement, an interior department official who worked with Alaskan communities on climate adaptation, claimed he had been moved to a completely unrelated position because of the administration’s ideological hostility to the issue.

Shismaref, a village in Alaska that voted to relocate to the mainland in the face of sea level rise.
Credit: Bering Land Bridge National Park/flickr

“We were getting down to the brass tacks of relocation [of towns at risk] and now work has just stopped,” Clement told the Guardian. He has lodged an official complaint over his reassignment.“Without federal coordination from Washington D.C., there isn’t much hope. This will take millions of dollars and will take years, and these people don’t have years. I think it’s clear I was moved because of my climate work. It feels like a complete abdication of responsibility on climate change.”

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 31 Alaskan communities face “imminent” existential threats from coastline erosion, flooding and other consequences of temperatures that are rising twice as quickly in the state as the global average. A handful — Kivalina, Newtok, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik — are considered in particularly perilous positions and will need to be moved.

“It was clear from the start of the Trump administration that there was no interest in helping Alaskan communities, particularly coastal communities, adapt to climate change,” said Victoria Hermann, president of the Arctic Institute.

“There’s now no liaison from Washington on the issue. The biggest loss has been momentum. It feels like the Obama administration was kickstarting something useful but now it has dropped dead.”

Shishmaref, like Shaktoolik and Kivalina, is a town with several hundred inhabitants located on a barrier island. Last August, Shishmaref residents voted to relocate to the mainland but, in common with other Alaskan towns, there is no clear source of funding to do this. Meanwhile, Newtok, which sits on the banks of a river and is losing about 70 ft of land a year to erosion, appealed in January for disaster funding to relocate.

The coastal communities are threatened by a confluence of conditions that are making life difficult even for the flinty residents, who are used to dealing with an inhospitable, remote environment.

As the coastal buffer of sea ice retreats, towns are more vulnerable to storms and coastline erosion. Many key structures are built on permafrost, which is also melting, causing the buildings to subside or even crumple completely. And a succession of mild years — 2016 was nearly 6F warmer than the long-term average — is disrupting the patterns of wildlife in an environment where people rely upon the animals they catch for sustenance.

“People are coping with the loss of their history, places where they could reliably hunt and gather food, their burial sites,” said Mike Brubaker, of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “It causes a lot of distress. Before you see the physical impacts of climate change, you see the mental impacts.”

The Leo Network, which Brubaker is involved with, has documented a number of recent unusual events linked to climate change, including the sighting of baby squid far outside their normal range by a group of Alaskan school children, altered salmon migration patterns and a lake near the peninsula town of Port Heiden that is on the brink of overflowing due to erosion.

Kivalina, an Alaskan village facing coastal erosion.
Credit: ShoreZone/flickr

These environmental shifts are placing strain on the viability of several towns that have found both the state and federal government unwilling to fully commit to the cost of moving them — in Shishmaref’s case, it will take $180m to relocate a town of 600 people to safer ground.

The Denali Commission is working on a strategy to save the towns once disaster finally hits and has already helped fund upgrades to vulnerable infrastructure. But the agency has been earmarked by the White House for elimination, which would further complicate communities’ years-long quest for relocation.

“We have communities here at threat and my peers in D.C. know this and are asking how they can help,” said Joel Neimeyer, federal co-chair of the commission, who said work would continue at the agency until Congress decided on its future. “At the moment there isn’t a mechanism to fund an entire village location. It’s done in dribs and drabs. We don’t know yet if Congress wants to fund a village relocation.

“This is about how to put a blueprint in place to fund [re]location when disaster hits. If Hurricane Katrina was going to hit you and you had a year to prepare, could you come up with a plan that would shorten the pain and suffering? I believe the answer is yes.”

Port Heiden has already gone through the process of relocation, moving to higher ground to escape a rapidly eroding shoreline. The last resident of the “old” Port Heiden moved away a decade ago and now all but four of the original structures have washed away.

The threat hasn’t completely passed, however. The fuel tankers that supply the town have to sidle alongside a ragged coastline — it’s no longer a port — and use long pipes to dispense their cargo. Further erosion could make this impossible. Port Heiden’s school is also in a vulnerable spot and may have to be relocated.

“I thought at one time it wouldn’t be a problem for us, but we are real flat,” said Scott Anderson, a former commercial fisherman who moved to Port Heiden in 1994. “The change has been rapid. It’s a lot wetter. The caribou have gone away. There used to be a dog and sled team but you don’t see that anymore because it’s rare to have a winter where everything freezes up.

“I imagine these things go in cycles but it concerns the locals. People in Port Heiden definitely think climate change is a real and serious threat.”

Reprinted with permission from The Guardian.

11 August 2017. New Findings Show How Climate Change Is Influencing India’s Farmer Suicides

A suicide epidemic among India’s farmers has shaken the country and contributed to a doubling of the nation’s suicide rate since 1980.

It’s a widespread and intensely personal issue, one that has been difficult to tease out the root source. Debt, mental health, lack of social services, weather vagaries and even media coverage have all been put forward as part of the problem. Now, recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that climate change could also be playing a role.

An Indian farmer plows his field.
Credit: Kannan Muthuraman/flickr

The findings attribute more than 59,000 suicides in India to rising temperatures since 1980. With the world expected to warm further, the results suggest that adaptation could play a key role in helping farmers.

“Suicide is a heartbreaking indicator of human hardship, and I felt that if this phenomenon were in fact affected by a changing climate, it would be essential to quantify its effect and consider this relationship as we build climate policy for the future,” Tamma Carleton, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley who authored the new study, said.

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Agriculture makes up 14 percent of India’s GDP, but employs 230 million people or 32 percent of the rural population. Roughly two-thirds of those farmers have poor access to irrigation and rely on rainfed agriculture, itself a crapshoot tied to the Indian monsoon. That leaves them vulnerable to not just drought but other climate shocks like rising temperatures.

“These farmers and agricultural workers face extremely stressful and difficult conditions,” Carleton said. “In this risky environment where families are very poor, any additional shock can lead to extreme economic destitution, and some individuals may cope with that hardship by committing suicide. I find that the climate, and temperature in particular, causes crop losses while also elevating the risk of suicide.”

The study shows that there’s a strong link between high temperatures in the growing season and suicide rates. Carleton found that degree days above 68°F (20°C) was a key threshold for suicide rates in India. By looking at the increase in degree days above 68°F since 1980, she was able to tease out how many additional suicides across India have likely been due to rising temperatures. Her results show the additional heat is responsible for 59,300 suicides since 1980, accounting for about 7 percent of the overall increase.

Rising temperatures essentially act as a threat multiplier, similar to how the military views climate change. Rather than directly causing suicides just because it’s hot out, Carleton’s work suggests that hotter weather can have knock-on effects like reducing crop yields and increasing financial hardship.

A graph shows the total number of deaths annually that can be attributed to warming trends, using the estimated marginal effects of degree days on suicide rates according to new research.
Credit: Carleton, 2017

Future warming will only further increase these risks. A World Bank report suggests that India may have to double its grain imports in order to cope with a 3.6°F (2°C) warming that could reduce yields 12 percent even as the population swells. With 7.2°F (4°C) of warming, agricultural production could be severely curtailed in parts of south India, the region Carleton’s research shows has had the biggest uptick in suicides in response to hot weather.

Outside researchers called the results a provocative addition to the discussion while also saying they’re in need of refinement.

“The notion that (climate change) will increase the rates of self-harm in India is likely correct,” Andrew Paul Gutierrez, a retired researcher who has studied farmer suicides extensively, said. “Climate change will affect crops production and may increase economic distress, and hence it is not unexpected that suicides would increase, especially in a society like India with its webbed nuance of social ecological, and economic factors of Indian agricultural society . . . but the situation is considerably more nuanced than climate warming.”

Gutierrez’s work has pointed to seven factors that influence farmer suicides in India. Chief among them is the arrival of Bt cotton, a genetically modified cotton, in India in 2002.The cotton costs more and requires different pesticides that increased the risk of farmers falling into bankruptcy.

While Bt cotton isn’t necessarily the main driver of farmer suicides, Gutierrez said the new study’s focus on temperature misses some of these important economics and social factors.

Anoop Sadanandan, a social scientist at Syracuse, called the findings “striking.” He noted, though, that the findings cover suicides across India and not just farmers, who account for for roughly 10 percent of all suicides in India.

“One has to be very careful when drawing conclusions,” he said. “It is plausible that the lower crop yields affect not merely the people directly engaged in the farm sector, but also the wider Indian population.”

Despite the criticism, he said the study showed a new pathway for research into the nuances of suicide not just among farmers but the population as a whole in India.

Carleton herself is well aware of the limitations of her approach. She said the study isn’t meant to be a panacea or suggest climate adaptation is the only way to address India’s farmer suicides.

“Suicide is an incredibly complex phenomenon, and any individual suicide is likely to have many causes,” she said. “This study shows that climate events elevate the risk of suicide in India, acting as a threat multiplier to all existing suicide drivers. This means that addressing climate change impacts is by no means the only focus one should have when seeking to reduce the number of suicides.”

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10 August 2017. These Are the Crazy Climate Records from 2016 You Haven’t Heard Much About

By now, we’ve all heard that 2016 was the hottest year on record, and that heat-trapping greenhouse gases hit their highest concentration ever, surpassing 400 parts per million for the first time in nearly 1 million years.

Global surface temperature in 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

But there are other climate change-related records that have flown more under the radar. Several of those records were highlighted Thursday in the annual State of the Climate report, released in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society:

For example, during August, ice-free areas of the Barents Sea (north of Norway and Russia) were up to 20°F (11°C) above average, a figure that stunned climate scientists.

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The Chukchi Sea off Alaska and the waters to the west of Greenland were 13°F to 14°F above average. Those warm waters were linked to the smallest annual winter peak in sea ice levels and the second lowest annual minimum.

The average land surface temperature for the Arctic was 3.6°F (2.0°C) above the 1981-2010 average — a 6.3°F (3.5°C) rise in temperatures since 1900. Record-high temperatures were measured below the surface of the permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, across the North Slope of Alaska.

Glacier mass balance — the difference between ice lost through melting and ice gained through new snowfall — each year since 1980 (blue bars) for the 44 glaciers in the World Glacier Monitoring Service's reference network. The orange lines shows the running total ice mass loss between 1980–2015. These glaciers have lost the equivalent of cutting a 70-foot thick slice off the top of the average glacier.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

“2016 was a year in the Arctic like we’ve never seen before,” Jeremy Mathis, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Arctic research program and an author of the report, said.

The rate of warming in the Arctic, which is happening at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, has major impacts on local ecosystems, but also further drives the warming of the planet, as the sea ice that would reflect the sun’s rays back to space is lost.

And for the 37th consecutive year, alpine glaciers retreated across the globe. These glaciers are a major source of water for local communities, and their loss has led to concerns about water security, particularly in places like Southeast Asia.

Global surface temperature in 2016 compared to the 1981-2010 average.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

Global sea level was also the highest on record — and sea surface temperatures globally were also record-high — with a sea level 3.25 inches higher than they were in 1993, the beginning of the record. The year marked six consecutive years of global sea levels being higher than the year before. Over the long term, sea level rise is driven by the warming of the oceans (as water expands as it heats up) and the addition of water from melting polar ice.

On a more local level, the year, which was the second hottest on record for the U.S., was the 20th consecutive warmer-than-normal year for the country — a mark of the impact that long-term warming is having.

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10 August 2017. Climate Change Has Influenced Timing of Europe’s Floods

From the heavy rains that sent the Seine into the streets of Paris last year to a parade of storms that left southern England waterlogged during the winter of 2013-2014, there have been startling examples in recent years of the heavy toll that flooding can levy in both human and economic terms.

An August 2005 flood tearing through Tirol, Austria.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: ASI/Land Tirol/BH Landeck

Such events also lead to questions about the role climate change is playing in altering these threats. A new study detailed Thursday in the journal Science finds that the timing of such floods has changed over the past 50 years across Europe because of changes in the climate, the first time a clear climate signal has been found in flooding on a Europe-wide scale.

The changes, though, aren’t uniform. Instead, they are a patchwork of regions where floods are coming earlier or later because of the interplay with other factors like the timing of snowmelt or the types of soil in a region.

It’s not clear that all of the trends will continue into the future, but the study does make clear that there is a need to understand the role climate plays in floods in order for societies to adapt, experts say.

“It’s a reminder that we are already in a changed climate and it’s having real impacts on our societies and even on our safety in some cases,” Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, said.

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Understanding how climate change might influence flooding has been a tricky endeavor because so many other factors, like urbanization, deforestation or the dredging of rivers, also impact how often floods occur and how big they are, muddying the picture.

“It’s been very difficult to disentangle” those various threads, said van Aalst, who wasn’t involved with the new study.

So a group of researchers from all over Europe turned to looking at the timing of flooding, as the seasonal nature of them is tied much more closely to climate than to any other interfering factors.

They pooled data from more than 4,000 flood gauges from 38 European countries and looked at how the date of the highest flood peak of the year had changed since 1960.

“The overall result is that yes, climate change has impacted flood timing” in Europe, lead author Günter Blöschl of Vienna University of Technology, said. “But it did so in very different ways in different parts of Europe.”

In northeastern Europe floods are happening about a month earlier than they were 50 years ago, while along the North Atlantic Coast from Portugal to England they are happening at least two weeks earlier. Along the North Sea and in Scotland, however, they are happening two weeks later.

The opposing shifts, even in neighboring regions like England and Scotland, have to do with the factors that influence floods in different seasons. Sweden, for example, sees its biggest floods in the spring when winter snows melt. As temperatures are warming, that snowmelt is happening earlier and earlier.

Across Europe, regions experienced different shifts in the timing of floods, ranging 13 days earlier per decade to 9 days later per decade. Over the past 50-year period, this translates into total shifts of 65 earlier insome regions and 45 days later in others, respectively.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: G. Blöschl et al., Science (2017)

In the UK and western Europe more generally, though, floods are driven by winter rainstorms. There, changes both in pressure patterns over the northern Atlantic and in soil types — which determines how quickly the ground becomes saturated — are driving the changes in flood timing.

It’s not clear if all of the trends seen over the past 50 years will continue. The trends driven by earlier snowmelt are likely to as they are “are very much in line with the projections of future climate” from climate models, study co-author Berit Arheimer of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said. “We see the climate change very clearly here.”

But it is less clear what the role of climate change might be in the changing Atlantic pressure patterns, and so whether the flooding trends tied to them will continue.

Overall the study shows that flooding on a continent-wide scale is sensitive to climate in a way researchers haven’t been able to before, which has implications for “how we adapt to this uncertainty of flood timing in the future,” Louise Slater, a hydrologist at Loughborough University in the U.K., said. Some ecosystems and societies are well-adapted to the historical timing of flooding. Slater, who wasn’t involved with the study, wrote a commentary on it in Science.

“A lot of how we are impacted by this depends on how we adapt, or even more generally how we manage these risks,” van Aalst said. In his native Netherlands, for example, officials are moving away from dealing with the duel threat of ocean and river flooding by simply building stronger and higher flood defenses to actually setting aside land that can absorb waters during floods.

Looking at floods as a long-term, perennial threat instead of as one-off disasters  “has been a growing theme in many countries in Europe and there has been a growing investment,” van Aalst said.

And having this Europe-wide data in hand will also help climate scientists and hydrologists better predict how floods will change there in the future, Slater said.

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9 August 2017. Court Scuttles Rule Cutting Potent Greenhouse Gas

One of the most powerful climate pollutants on earth, hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, account for a small portion of U.S. climate pollution, but scientists say it’s important for countries to urgently cut them just because they’re so potent — and growing.

Efforts to cut HFCs became more difficult both in the U.S. and globally on Tuesday, when a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has overstepped its authority in regulating HFCs under the Clean Air Act.

As the world warms, the use of air conditioning is increasing and many of those units use HFCs, a coolant harmful to the climate. Credit: Matthew Klein/flickr

The ruling leaves the U.S. without an immediate legal mechanism to control HFCs, which amount to about 3 percent of U.S. climate pollution.

Though that’s a small part of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, they’re between about 1,000 to 12,000 times as potent as carbon dioxide, depending on the specific chemicals used to make HFCs.

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That means that just one kilogram of an HFC is the equivalent of 1.7 tons of carbon dioxide pollution, said Paul Blowers, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Arizona.

HFCs lurk in the leaky refrigerator cases of grocery stores and air conditioners across the globe. Each of those refrigerator cases leaks about 10 percent of its HFCs each year. The EPA expects HFC pollution to triple in the U.S. in the coming decades, and it could grow dramatically here and abroad as more nations adopt air conditioning as the climate warms.

Blowers said HFC emissions are easier to cut than carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes and other forms of climate pollution because it’s easier to regulate tens of thousands of grocery store refrigerator cases than hundreds of millions of cars on the road.

The ruling, by a three-judge panel, said the EPA was out of bounds when it approved a federal rule in 2015 requiring companies to replace HFCs with another gas as a way to cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The ruling affects an international treaty signed by negotiators from the U.S. and 169 other nations in Kigali, Rwanda, last year to help phase out HFCs globally. The agreement, which must be ratified by the U.S. Senate, amended the 1987 Montreal Protocol to include a ban on HFCs globally. The Montreal Protocol is the international treaty banning chemicals that deplete the ozone layer.

Using the Clean Air Act to comply with the protocol, the EPA chose HFCs to replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, in aerosol cans and refrigerators — the main cause of the ozone hole. Without recognizing the climate impact, the agency declared that HFCs do not harm the ozone layer and are a safe replacement for CFCs.

“As we’ve moved away from ozone destroyers, we’ve moved toward climate destroyers,” said Michael Wara, a climate and energy law professor at Stanford University unaffiliated with the case.

Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, help cool grocery refrigerator cases. They're also a powerful climate pollutant that leak into the atmosphere. Credit: Open Grid Scheduler/flickr

The Obama administration tried to fix that problem by helping to negotiate the Kigali agreement and requiring companies in the U.S. to phase out HFCs as part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Without the ban, the EPA estimated that HFC pollution would triple by 2030.

The regulation was seen as a way to accomplish the goals of the Kigali agreement without requiring it to be ratified by the Senate, which is unlikely to do so under GOP control, Wara said.

But after the new rule took effect in 2015, two foreign HFC manufacturers operating in the U.S., Mexichem Fluor and Arkema of France, sued the EPA.

The companies said the agency had no authority to use the rule banning chemicals harmful to the ozone layer to also ban chemicals that don’t affect the ozone layer, including HFCs. Mexichem declined to comment. Arkema did not respond to requests for comment.

Major U.S.-based HFC manufacturers support the EPA’s regulation and one of them, Honeywell, intervened in the case along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

Honeywell said in 2014 that the Obama administration’s efforts to cut HFC pollution would help the company slash its most potent HFCs by 50 percent by 2020. The company planned to spend $880 million on research and development to replace its HFCs.

“Phasing down the use of HFCs is a critical step that the world is taking to encourage the adoption of technologies that radically reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of refrigerants, aerosols, solvents and blowing agents,” Honeywell said in a statement. “We believe the EPA’s regulation was well-supported by the law and was in the best interests of the public, industry and the environment. We are closely reviewing the decision and are likely to pursue an appeal”

In February, the Trump administration defended the EPA’s HFC rule in court — a rare example of Trump’s EPA, which is on record as questioning the legitimacy of established climate science, defending an Obama-era climate regulation.

An air conditioning unit in San Francisco. Credit: heather_mcnabb/flickr

The ruling calls into question the U.S. ability to control HFCs without congressional action — something unlikely to happen because Trump opposes new regulations and Republicans are not inclined to create new ones, Wara said.

Wara said the court’s decision could be appealed in two ways. The federal government or another intervener in the case, such as NRDC, could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Or, they could ask the full panel of 11 D.C. Circuit Court judges to review the ruling, he said.

Lissa Lynch, an NRDC staff attorney, said the organization is assessing its appeal options, including seeking a rehearing of the case before the full appeals court or urging the EPA to pursue new HFC regulations.

“We’re hopeful that EPA will do the sensible thing and fight for this important rule,” Lynch said.

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8 August 2017. July Was Record Hot for Parts of Alaska and the West

The northernmost city in the United States just had its hottest July on record, as other spots in Alaska had their hottest month overall. Heat records also fell in a few western cities, as well as the fearsomely hot Death Valley, where July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth.

Those hotspots stood out in what was the 10th hottest July on record for the Lower 48 states, topping off the second hottest year-to-date for the country by a hair, according to data released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Three states are having their hottest year on record more than halfway through the year, while several more are running in second or third place.

Monthly records for temperature and precipitation set in July in Alaska.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

While weather patterns have a big impact on monthly temperatures — as the cooler weather of early August shows — the overall warming of the planet is tipping the odds in favor of record heat. In fact, July had four times as many daily record highs as record lows, according to meteorologist Guy Walton, who keeps track of such streaks using NOAA’s data.

The record heat in Alaska fell along the North Slope, which lies above the Arctic Circle, and the central interior of the state.

For the North Slope, “a fair chunk” of the heat could be attributed “to the very early loss of sea ice” that normally clings to the coast until August and keeps temperatures lower, Rick Thoman, climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service’s Alaska region, said. “There’s basically now no sea ice left within 200 miles of Alaska.”

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That early loss of sea ice was followed by storms that pulled up warmer air from the South, pushing the average July temperature in Utqiaġvik (Barrow) to 46°F. While that may not sound like summer weather to the rest of the country, it is 5°F above the long-term average for a city perched at the same latitude as the middle of the Greenland ice sheet.

In the interior of the state, there weren’t any significant heat waves during the month, but there also weren’t any cool days because of a lack of of cloudy, rainy weather, Thoman said. Instead, the month saw “this grinding, day-after-day” warmth.

Bettles, Tanana and McGrath all had not only their warmest July, but also their warmest month on record. The first two towns had average temperatures about 5°F above normal, while McGrath’s was 3.7°F above normal. Fairbanks had its fourth warmest July on record. The state overall had its third warmest July.

The North Slope will continue to be warm for the next few months as the sea ice will be gone until it begins to refreeze in the fall, Thoman said.

In the Lower 48, Bakersfield, Calif., Reno and Salt Lake City also had their hottest July on record thanks to high-pressure ridges that helped temperatures soar and break several daily heat records across the region. The hot, dry weather also helped fuel wildfires that erupted and spread rapidly across the region.

Miami was also record hot for not just July but for any month, fueled both by the number of days above 90°F (every day of the month but the last was that hot or hotter) and the fact that temperatures stayed extremely warm overnight.

Death Valley, already known for its ferocious heat, took it to another level in July, with an average for the month of 107.4°F, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reported. Overnight lows were again a major factor, as they didn’t fall below 89°F on any night during the month there.

Three nights actually had a low temperature between 102°F and 103°F. Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist at the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks, found this was the hottest month recorded at any station in Global Historical Climatology Network database kept by NOAA.

The heat out West pushed the temperature for the month for the contiguous U.S. to 2.1°F above the 20th century average of 73.6°F. That temperature kept 2017 just barely in second place for the year to date, with a temperature 3.2°F above the average of 51.3°F for that period.

How year-to-date temperatures in states across the contiguous U.S. ranked through July 2017.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

The cool start to August east of the Rockies, and the suggestion that that pattern will continue for much of the month, could knock 2017 down to third place, Jake Crouch, a climatologist with the National Centers for Environmental Information, said.

At the state level, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida are all having their warmest year to date. In April, a swath of 14 states from the mid-Atlantic to Texas was on record pace, but cooler temperatures in May knocked several out of the running, though they are still having their second or third warmest year on record so far.

While weather patterns played a clear role in boosting temperatures in many parts of the country, the overall rise in average temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions has made record heat more and more likely and record cold increasingly rare.

Every month since December 2014 has had more record highs than lows, according to Walton.

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8 August 2017. Disaster and Neglect in Louisiana

A year after the worst rainstorm in a rainy state’s history killed 13 and damaged nearly 100,000 homes, the federal government has provided less than half of what Louisiana says it needs to recover.

Adding to the rebuilding woes, FEMA rejected a $16 million request to fund counseling services beyond Aug. 25, even as the state’s residents report widespread mental health impacts.

In Climate Central’s latest multimedia feature story, Disaster and Neglect in Louisiana, John Upton reports that the torrential rain that fell over the state a year ago had a clear connection to climate change, which could make poor Southern states poorer still.

Read the story
 

7 August 2017. Massachusetts May Overlook Climate Impacts of Biofuels

Massachusetts is considering a plan that would classify wood pellets and other tree products as sources of renewable energy, allowing the logging industry to contribute to the state’s climate goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

However, research shows that burning biomass for energy can actually make climate change worse by boosting carbon emissions, not reducing them — facts critics are using to oppose the plan.

Wood pellets used for biomass electricity generation.
Credit: USDA/flickr

The plan is part of proposed new rules updating the state’s standards for alternative energy, which are expected to be finalized in the coming months. If approved, the updated standards would subsidize biomass fuel and add it to the energy sources that contribute to a requirement for at least 5 percent of the state’s electricity to come from certain renewables by 2020.

Massachusetts is among the Northeast’s leaders in developing renewable and clean energy. In July, a new offshore wind farm — among the first in the U.S. — was proposed for the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. It will be combined with large batteries to help meet a state mandate for the development of renewables.

But as the state continues its climate strategy to cut emissions from its power plants, it is being influenced by the logging industry, which wants biomass to be considered clean, renewable energy, according to the Boston Globe.

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On its website, the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, one of the chief proponents of the biomass rules, says burning wood for electricity is carbon neutral because emissions are offset as trees used for fuel are replaced by new growth.

But a Climate Central analysis found in 2015 that switching to wood from coal increased carbon dioxide emissions at the Drax power station in rural England by 15 to 20 percent for each megawatt produced. Cutting trees for fuel also reduces the amount of carbon dioxide pollution that forests absorb.

It can take decades to replace trees chopped into wood pellets, research shows. Some hardwood forests can take up to 70 years to soak up as much carbon dioxide as they spew into the atmosphere after being chopped down.

Separately, a University of Michigan study found last year that biofuels are worse for the climate than gasoline.

A coalition of 14 groups, including the American Lung Association, the Environmental League of Massachusetts and the Partnership for Policy Integrity, is pointing to that science as ammunition to oppose the plan.

A biomass power plant in New Hampshire.
Credit: PSNH/flickr

“The draft regulations will allow increased greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts for decades, and DOER (the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources) has failed to conduct a life-cycle analysis of the climate change impacts resulting from incentivizing more biomass combustion,” the group said in comments submitted to state officials Monday.

The department did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, said the coalition opposes expanded use of wood biofuel in the state because it emits more carbon dioxide than fossil fuel and contributes to air pollution.

Biomass harvesting from forests also reduces soil nutrients and soil carbon, making it more difficult for forests to grow back and offset the climate pollution from burning wood pellets for energy, she said.

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7 August 2017. There’s a Wildfire Burning in West Greenland Right Now

It’s not just the American West and British Columbia burning up. A fire has sparked in western Greenland, an odd occurrence for an island known more for ice than fire.

A series of blazes is burning roughly in the vicinity of Kangerlussuaq, a small town that serves as a basecamp for researchers in the summer to access Greenland’s ice sheet and western glaciers. The largest fire has burned roughly 3,000 acres and sent smoke spiraling a mile into the sky, prompting hunting and hiking closures in the area, according to local news reports.

The Sentinel-2 satellite captured a wildfire burning in western Greenland.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Pierre Markuse/flickr

There’s no denying that it’s weird to be talking about wildfires in Greenland because ice covers the majority of the island. Forests are basically nonexistent and this fire appears to be burning through grasses, willows and other low-slung vegetation on the tundra that makes up the majority of the land not covered by ice.

Data for Greenland fires is hard to come by, but there is some context for fires in other parts of the northern tier of the world. The boreal forest sprawls across Canada, Russia, Alaska and northern Europe, and provides a longer-term record for researchers to dig into. That record shows that the boreal forest is burning at a rate unprecedented in the past 10,000 years.

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Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing expert at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said there is evidence of fires burning in Greenland over the past 17 years of MODIS satellite records kept by NASA. But because of how NASA’s algorithms interpret the satellite data, there’s low confidence that every fire on the map actually occurred.

Jason Box, an ice sheet researcher with the Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland, said he observed a lightning-sparked fire in the late 1990s, but that otherwise, fires are rare. Looking at the MODIS record, he said one of the only other high confidence fires was actually a trash burn in 2013, though other satellites show evidence of others fires

Box also noted that temperatures in the area rose in late July just before the fire was first observed, spiking to above 53°F (12°C) on July 27. While not exactly balmy, the temperature rise may have helped the blazes to spread.

According to La Croix, a French newspaper, there’s no precedent for a fire this size in the European Union’s forest fire system. Looking beyond the satellite record for context specific to Greenland is all but impossible as there are basically no records to refer to.

“There does not appear to be a reliable long-term record of observed wildfires in Greenland,” researchers with the Danish Meteorological Institute’s Greenland monitoring program tweeted.

Ultimately, it’s not the burning of Greenland’s tundra that’s the biggest climate change concern. It’s the island’s massive store of ice that if melted, would be enough to raise sea levels 20 feet.

The ice has been melting at a quickening pace since 2000, partly due to wildfires in other parts of the world. The uptick in boreal forest fires has kicked up more ash in the atmosphere where prevailing winds have steered it toward the ice sheet.

The dark ash traps more energy from the sun, which has warmed the ice sheet and caused more widespread melting. Soot from massive wildfires in Siberia caused 95 percent of the Greenland ice sheet surface to melt in 2012, a phenomenon that could become a yearly occurrence by 2100 as the planet warms and northern forest fires become more common.

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5 August 2017. Planet Has Just 5 Percent Chance to Reach Paris Goal

By Oliver Milman, The Guardian

There is only a 5 percent chance that the Earth will avoid warming by at least 2°C come the end of the century, according to new research that paints a sobering picture of the international effort to stem dangerous climate change. Global trends in the economy, emissions and population growth make it extremely unlikely that the planet will remain below the 2°C threshold set out in the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the study states.

The Paris accord, signed by 195 countries, commits to holding the average global temperature to “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels and sets a more aspirational goal to limit warming to 1.5°C. This latter target is barely plausible, the new research finds, with just a 1 percent chance that temperatures will rise by less than 1.5°C.

Earth's horizon.
Credit: NASA Goddard/flickr

“We’re closer to the margin than we think,” said Adrian Raftery, a University of Washington academic who led the research, published in Nature Climate Change. “If we want to avoid 2°C, we have very little time left. The public should be very concerned.”

Governments settled on the 2°C threshold partly through political expediency but also because scientists have warned of severe consequences from sea level rise, drought, heatwaves and social unrest should the temperature rise beyond this.

Such risks have been underscored by a separate study, also released on Monday, that shows unabated climate change will cause around 60,000 deaths globally in 2030 and 260,000 deaths by 2100. The study, by the University of North Carolina, found that rising temperatures will exacerbate air pollutants that will particularly threaten those with existing conditions.

According to the University of Washington study, there is a 90 percent likelihood that temperatures will rise between 2°C and 4.9C by 2100. This would put the world in the mid-range warming scenarios mapped out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It negates the most optimistic outcome as well as the worst case, which would see temperatures climb nearly 6°C beyond the pre-industrial era.

Rather than look at how greenhouse gases will influence temperature, the new research analyzed the past 50 years of trends in world population, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and carbon intensity, which is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each dollar of economic activity.

After building a statistical model covering a range of emissions scenarios, the researchers found that carbon intensity will be a crucial factor in future warming. Technological advances are expected to cut global carbon intensity by 90 percent over the course of the century, with sharp declines in China and India — two newly voracious consumers of energy. However, this decline still will not be steep enough to avoid breaching the 2°C limit.

The world’s population is expected to grow to about 11 billion people by 2100, but the research found that this will have a relatively small impact upon temperatures as much of this growth will take place in sub-Saharan Africa, which is a minor contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.

It has long been acknowledged that emissions cuts promised under the the Paris agreement would not be sufficient to avoid 2°C warming. However, it is hoped that periodic reviews of commitments will result in more severe reductions.

Donald Trump’s pledge to remove the US, the world’s second-largest emitter, from the accord has cast a large shadow over these ambitions.

“Even if the 2°C target isn’t met, action is very important,” said Raftery. “The more the temperature increases, the worse the impacts will be. 

“We would warn against any tendency to use our results to say that we won’t avoid 2°C, and so it’s too late to do anything. On the contrary, avoiding the higher temperature increases that our model envisages is even more important, and also requires urgent action.”

Raftery acknowledged that a breakthrough technology could “dramatically” change the outlook but noted that major advances of the past 50 years, such as the computer, robotics, hybrid cars, the internet and electronic fuel injection, have improved carbon efficiency steadily at around 2 percent a year, rather than in huge jumps.

Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the study, said the research’s conclusions were “reasonable” but said it was difficult to assign a precise probability to future temperature rises.

“I agree that staying below 2°C and 1.5°C are unlikely and very, very unlikely, respectively,” he said. “But this research gives a false sense of rigor. Tomorrow someone could invent a carbon-free energy source that everyone adopts.

“If you look at technology adoption and action taken on the ozone layer and acid rain, it’s clear these things can change faster than people predict.”

Dessler said the falling cost of renewable energy would be a major factor in reducing emissions but further impetus would be needed through new actions such as a price on carbon.

“It’s like you’re driving and about to collide with the car in front of you,” he said. “You want to hit the brakes as fast as you can. The later you wait, the more painful it’s going to be.”

John Sterman, an academic at the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, said the research was an “urgent call to action”. MIT research has shown that emissions cuts in the Paris agreement would stave off around 1C of temperature increase by 2100 — findings misrepresented by Trump when he announced the US departure from the pact.

Sterman said the US must “dramatically speed the deployment of renewable energy and especially energy efficiency. Fortunately, renewables, storage and other technologies are already cheaper than fossil energy in many places and costs are falling fast.

“More aggressive policies are urgently needed, but this study should not be taken as evidence that nothing can be done.”

Reprinted from The Guardian with permission.

4 August 2017. This is British Columbia’s Second-Worst Wildfire Season. It’s Far From Over

Poor air quality, blood-red sunsets and mountains swallowed by smoke are just a handful of the impacts of wildfires roaring in British Columbia.

The fires kicked up in early July but have spread in recent days as hot, dry and windy weather has fanned the flames and sent smoke streaming across the border into Washington and Oregon. Wildfires have burned through 1.2 million acres of forest and grassland as of Wednesday, making this the second-worst wildfire year on record for British Columbia. And with the whole month of August to go — typically the worst month for wildfires in the province — it’s likely this year will continue its assault on the record books.

Massive smoke plumes has stretched from British Columbia to Oregon as wildfires rage.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The blazes in British Columbia are the latest in a fiery game of ring-around-the-rosy happening in the northern stretches of the world's forests. With each passing year, destructive fires are destroying more and more forests of spruce, fir, larch and other trees that spread across Russia, Canada and Alaska and northern Europe.

The unprecedented burn is a symptom of rising temperatures in a region that has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world. And because those forests contain some of the largest forest stores of carbon on the planet, sending them up in smoke will only increase the impacts of climate change.

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Earlier this year, boreal forests in Siberia were a hot spot for fire activity. But now it’s the British Columbia montane forest's turn to burn. Lightning kickstarted 140 fires in early July, according to Mike Flannigan, a wildfire expert at the University of Alberta.

“Any fire management organization is pretty good with dealing with 5 to 10 fires, but you can't deal with 140 fires starting in one day,” he said. “It's been hot and dry ever since and occasionally windy.”

Those winds, in particular, have whipped flames across meadows and over mountain ridges making it difficult for firefighters to control an ever-expanding series of blazes. Through Wednesday, the province has seen 868 wildfires this year including 123 active fires.

Firefighters monitor a wildfire in British Columbia in mid-July.
Credit: Province of British Columbia/flickr

The 1.2 million acres burned is four times greater than the average acreage burned annually over the past 10 years. This year has a long way to go to beat the record-setting year of 1958 when wildfires burned 2.1 million acres, but with fire danger forecast to be extreme over the coming days and August typically the most fire-laden month in British Columbia, the season is far from over.

A wet winter primed the forests for this summer’s fires. The extra precipitation helped spur tree and underbrush growth, which has provided more fuel.

Flannigan said an atmospheric ridge of high pressure has camped out over British Columbia since May, essentially locking warm and dry conditions into place. The early July lightning storm was the match that set fire to the forests.

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek told reporters that the fire conditions in July were “unprecedented” and that 2017 has been extraordinary “in many ways in terms of the aggressive fire weather we’ve seen.”

Heavy smoke from wildfires across the province is starting to drift towards coastal B.C. on Aug. 1.
Credit: BC Wildfire Service

Those extraordinary conditions in British Columbia are becoming more common, particularly in the boreal forest as the world warms. Massive fires have created headlines and caused widespread damage from Siberia to Alaska to the Northwest Territories to Alberta recently, all part of a trend of increased fire activity unheard of in the boreal forest over the past 10,000 years.

This (fire outbreak) is consistent with climate change,” Flannigan said, noting that he and fellow researchers have seen the writing on the wall for more than a decade. “In a 2004 paper we categorically stated that the increase in area burned in Canada is a direct result of human caused climate change. Individual events get a little more tricky to connect, but the area burned has doubled in Canada since the 1970s as a result of warming temperatures.”

Flannigan said Canada could see another 5.4°F (3°C) increase in temperatures by the century’s end. In a cruel twist, the massive fires currently spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will contribute to that rise. As temperatures increase, large wildfires will likely become more common still, further reinforcing climate change. The peat that sits under the forests could also burn, creating another dangerous climate feedback loop.

The uptick in fires has taxed limited resources in Canada and across the border in the U.S., and it has increased the risk to firefighters on the frontlines battling blazes. New research Flannigan has had accepted to Environmental Research Letters shows that crown fires, the most intense type of forest fire, could increase in likelihood and intensity as temperatures rise to the point where fires could become unmanageable due to safety concerns.

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4 August 2017. Global Warming Is Fueling Arizona’s Monstrous Monsoons

Summer in Arizona and throughout the Southwest is monsoon season, which means a daily pattern of afternoon thunderstorms, flash floods, dramatic dust clouds and spectacular displays of lightning over the desert.

As the climate changes, Arizona’s monsoon rainfall is becoming more intense even as daily average rainfall in parts of the state has decreased, according to a new study. Increasingly, extreme storms threaten the region with more severe floods and giant dust storms called haboobs.

A haboob dust storm rolls over suburban Phoenix in 2012.
Credit: Jasper Nance/flickr

Every summer, rivers of moisture in the lower troposphere — the monsoonal flow — stream into the Southwest from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California. Nearly every day in midsummer, the sun heats the mountains and the deserts, creating convection. The rising warm air allows thunderclouds to build during the day before exploding into dramatic electrical storms in the afternoon and evening.

But today’s monsoons aren’t like the ones travelers on Route 66 would have driven through 60 years ago.

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“During the monsoons, precipitation is coming in more extreme events,” said study co-author Christopher Castro, an associate professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “What we find is because atmospheric water vapor has increased, especially downwind of the mountain ranges, as these storms grow and organize, they’re larger and more intense than they used to be.”

Extreme weather, including more intense rain, snow and flooding, is becoming more frequent as the climate changes because the warmer air in the lower atmosphere is able to hold more moisture. Since the 1950s, extreme events have increased in every region of the U.S.

This summer, southern Arizona experienced its hottest June and wettest July on record. In June, Tucson recorded its first triple-digit daily average temperature. In the days following soaring triple-digit heat in July, monsoonal moisture pounded the Tucson metro area with intense rainfall and flash floods, shattering a daily rainfall record in a single hour on July 15, according to the National Weather Service.

This summer’s weather in Arizona is part of a pattern of increasingly ferocious monsoons that has been shaping up for decades, Castro said.

The new study was published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. Using more detailed and localized precipitation information than is standard for weather data, Castro’s team compared monsoon rainfall throughout the Southwest from two periods — 1950 to 1970 and 1991 to 2010. The team found that Phoenix and many of the state’s low deserts saw rain falling in much more intense bursts. This happened even as the daily average rainfall across most of Arizona decreased by as much as 30 percent in some places.

Storms in southern and southwest Arizona lasted longer with heavier rainfall and more downdraft winds, creating larger haboobs, in the later decades compared to the mid-20th Century.

A monsoon thunderstorm near Tucson, Ariz., in 2016.
Credit: Elaine Malott/flickr

The most infamous haboob rolled over Phoenix like a tsunami of dust in July 2011, just outside of the scope of the study, Castro said.

“This is happening even as the total monsoon precipitation is declining. This is not good news,” said Richard Seager, a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, who is unaffiliated with the study. “Heavy precipitation events increase flood risk and also soil erosion. However, this is occurring at the same time that ecosystems, including rangelands, will be stressed by overall reduced water availability during the summer season.”

Seager said it’s an example of how global warming changes a region’s hydrology in a way that stresses people, communities and ecosystems.

David Gutzler, a climatologist at the University of New Mexico who is unaffiliated with the study, said the research shows that climate change is leading to more intense storms — exactly what scientists expect to see as the atmosphere warms.

“Determining changes in extreme events is devilishly difficult using standard weather data, which don’t reliably capture the most intense rainfall,” Gutzler said. “This study examines simulated rainfall intensity across the Southwest using a very high resolution model of the sort that really didn’t exist a decade ago.”

The study’s detail should help authorities throughout the Southwest plan for more flooding, he said.

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3 August 2017. Cities Are Already Suffering From Summer Heat. Climate Change Will Make It Worse

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Tina Johnson has a sense of place. She’s a fourth-generation New Yorker who lives in the same apartment in West Harlem’s Grant housing development that her grandparents lived in. She calls that apartment her anchor and the nine buildings that make up the development towering above 125th Street — home to roughly 4,400 residents spread across nine high rises — a small town.

“I have fond memories (of here) and this sense of belonging I want my children to have,” she said.

To keep that sense of place is going to take some work, though. Changes outside that “small town” nestled in a city of 8 million will only compound the stresses altering West Harlem.

Air conditioning in Midtown Manhattan keeps buildings cool but releases heat into the surrounding air, which wind pushes north towards underserved communities like Harlem and the South Bronx.
Credit: Jeffrey Swanson

A mix of poverty, a lack of services and aging infrastructure already make West Harlem one of the most vulnerable communities in Manhattan.

Climate change is putting further stress on Johnson and the 110,000 people that call the neighborhood home. And the biggest threat is rising temperatures.

As carbon pollution turns up the planetary heat, the impact is clearest on what’s happening to extremely hot days: They’re becoming more common and more intense.

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New York has averaged 3 days above 95°F over the past 20 years. If carbon pollution continues on its current trend, by 2075 that number is likely to increase to 31 according to a new Climate Central analysis.

Myriad cities across the country will be far worse off, though. Atlanta is projected to see 69 days above 95°F, Boise could spend 80 days above that threshold while Dallas is on track to have 140 days above 95°F. Then there’s Phoenix, where residents could have to contend with more than half of the year above 95°F (163 days in case you’re wondering).

Many small towns will suffer even more. Alva, Fla., (population 2,182) could see 142 days above 95°F while Salton City, Calif., (population 3,763) could have to cope with a mind-bending 203 days where the mercury tops out at 95°F or higher.

The biggest factor in the number of future hot days is how fast the world reins in carbon pollution today. However, even if emissions are dramatically cut, every place across the U.S. will face more hot weather.

But extreme heat is hardly some far-off problem for 2100. It’s already taking a toll on people and influencing the decisions they make.

For Johnson, living in public housing means paying a surcharge of $18 per month to keep air conditioning in her apartment. Her grandparents didn’t believe in getting an air conditioner both because of the cost and a “tough it out” attitude. Johnson herself used to tease her kids when they complained it was too hot, but she finally relented, especially as warm weather has become more common in New York.

“When I was growing up here, I knew the summer was going to be hot,” she said. “There might be some hot days, but there was a regular pattern of it getting really hot the first weeks of August and then summer would start to peter out. Now it’s harder to predict the weather.”

But because of New York City Housing Authority rules and antiquated wiring, she can only have two air conditioners in her apartment. In hot months, that effectively turns her three-bedroom apartment into a two-room apartment.

Johnson spends her summers sleeping in the living room with her two sons. Her 20-year-old daughter gets a small portable unit to herself and a series of fans to stay cool, but family tensions tend to bubble up more in the summer without enough space for everyone.

Access to adequate air conditioning isn’t just about maintaining family relationships, though. Staying cool can be a matter of life and death. In New York, that heat sends 450 people to the emergency room and kills 121 people directly or indirectly on average each year. A study published last year by Columbia University researchers showed that the city could see 3,331 heat-related deaths by 2080.

It will take more than air conditioning to make West Harlem a safe, habitable neighborhood if carbon pollution continues to rise.

Cutting carbon pollution will help mitigate some of the heat stress, but cities and towns across the country will have to act soon to protect citizens and the infrastructure and services upon which they rely.

New York just unveiled a $100 million plan to kickstart that preparation. It focuses on the most vulnerable areas like Harlem, the South Bronx and other underserved neighborhoods.

“We know we can’t do business as usual dealing with heat impacts,” Kizzy Charles-Guzman, the deputy director of the New York Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency, said. “We need to prepare now.”

There’s a layer of urgency for cities like New York. Summer days in the city are up to 14°F hotter than rural areas due to the urban heat island effect, a byproduct of all the pavement in cities trapping more heat than the trees and fields. But there are heat islands within heat islands. Where Johnson lives in Harlem is one of them, underscoring that climate adaptation is as much a social justice issue as one of engineering and infrastructure (it’s also a problem playing out throughout the world).

In Midtown Manhattan, air conditioners keep office buildings cool but they release heat into the surrounding air. Breezes from the south whisk that air into Harlem and the South Bronx, intensifying the heat island effect there.

Thermal imagery shows where heat islands exist within the larger heat island of New York. The black box shows where West Harlem is, including the hot spots within the neighborhood shown in red.
Credit: The City of New York

For Johnson and thousands of others suffering with limited or no air conditioning, it’s adding injury to insult. A constellation of groups including WNYC public radio and WE ACT, a local environmental justice nonprofit, put together a pioneering study dubbed the Harlem Heat Project last summer. They put thermometers in 30 Harlem residents’ apartments and found that the temperature indoors frequently exceeded the ambient air temperature outdoors, particularly at night.

Building walls throbbed with heat they had absorbed throughout the day, radiating into homes and making sleeping and recovery from the day’s heat near impossible. That puts particular stress on elderly, the young and the infirm. Those conditions are also partly why Johnson, who has lupus and can’t spend much time outdoors, decided to install air conditioning.

“The communities that will be hardest hit by climate change are already the most vulnerable to environmental pollution and inequity,” Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT, said. “Heat exacerbates asthma, other respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease.”

“It puts stress on the family and the house,” Johnson said.

To help ease some of the heat, New York’s $100 million plan will cover a host of initiatives, from planting trees and painting roofs white to cut the heat island effect, to connecting neighbors so that the elderly aren’t forgotten when the mercury skyrockets.

The latter idea holds particular promise as it’s a low-cost program that could achieve major results. Charles-Guzman, the deputy director at the New York Mayor's Office, said what happened in the wake of Sandy is a textbook example.

“The neighborhoods where everybody knew each other, those neighborhoods did better (with recovery),” she said. “Not everyone wants a city worker knocking on their door. There’s low trust in government. We’re trying to capitalize on social ties people have with their neighbors.”

It’s tempting to peg New York as an outlier. After all, it’s a massive city with a vibrant economy in a deep blue state. But adapting to extreme heat is hardly the purview of rich, liberal cities.

Across the country, cities and towns of all shapes, sizes and political persuasions are reckoning with increasingly hot weather.

In Las Cruces, N.M., a city of 120,000 that sits in the shadows of the Organ Mountains, city planners are preparing residents for the even hotter future that climate change will bring.

At the town’s core is a clutch of low-slung adobe buildings punctuated by acres of parking lots that shimmer in the summer heat. Houses on the fringe of downtown blend with the desert dust and dead lawns that make up their front yards. Beyond that, the city tapers into the desert scattered with ocotillo, yucca and sagebrush.

The harsh landscape is a product of the sweltering, dry conditions that overtake the southern tier of New Mexico each summer. Even though it’s less dense than New York, trees cover just 4.5 percent of Las Cruces. On days when the temperature tops out above 108°F as it did earlier this summer, that translates to an intense heat island and very little shade for those braving the outdoors. The city is projected to see 64 days above 105°F by 2100, up from just a single day in an average year.

Like New York, Las Cruces is considering how to improve neighborhood awareness as a means to battle more extreme heat. But rather than focusing solely on checking in on neighbors when summer temperatures are at their hottest, city planner Lisa LaRocque said she has a vision to get neighbors helping each other with home repairs that can help keep things cool indoors.

“One of our goals is social cohesion and having neighbors help each other and know each other and create that bonding that might not otherwise occur,” she said. “(One idea is) if we are doing some of the low-hanging fruit of improving energy efficiency, we would do it as a neighborhood cooperative situation where I help you with x and someone else helps me with y.”

About 450 miles to the west of Las Cruces, city planners in San Angelo, Texas, have already glimpsed their future and are weighing how to respond. The city of 100,000 had 100 days above 100°F in 2011, an outlandishly hot year for the city. But that outlandishly hot summer could be routine if carbon pollution isn’t curbed. San Angelo is projected to have 110 days above 100°F by 2100. That’s the equivalent of running from the beginning of May through the end of September with daily temperatures near triple digits (to make matters worse, 39 of those days are projected to top out at 110°F or higher).

That makes the job of city planners in cities like San Angelo that much more important. When AJ Fawver, a city planner, convened a series of meetings to discuss how extreme weather affected basic city functions, managers were skeptical about why they were in the room together.

“Initially there was a feeling it only affects certain types of people,” Fawver said. “But really it affects everyone. You could see that as we went around the room” she said, rattling off how firefighters, road crews, utility workers and even the human resources department found they shared more heat-related woes than they first thought.

Weighing the impacts heat is already having on San Angelo makes the climate projections of what comes next all the more sobering. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe made the three-hour trip down from Texas Tech to talk with the group about what the future holds if carbon pollution isn’t curtailed. The findings painted a picture of relentless heat that will change the way the city functions and people live their daily lives.

“That was a reality check,” Fawver said. “People started thinking about their children and grandchildren and remembering how dreadful that summer was. Then it really hit home.”

San Angelo hasn’t yet decided how to tackle the hotter future that awaits it. But in a county where climate change isn’t a front-burner topic like it is in New York, the conversation is a major first step.

“The idea of climate change is still very controversial for some folks,” said Fawver, who is now the planning director in Amarillo, Texas. “There are people that just don’t want to have that discussion, people that question the science, a whole host of reasons why people want to avoid a conversation. But generally when we try to avoid a conversation, it’s a conversation that’s imperative to have.”

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3 August 2017. More Hot Days Are Coming With Climate Change. Our Choices Will Decide How Many

Research Report by Climate Central

Summer still has a month to go, but extreme heat has been a major storyline through June and July. Sweltering temperatures have grounded planes, sparked wildfires and set records from coast-to-coast.

These stories are becoming annual rites of passage as the world warms. And the number of hot days is projected to increase in the coming decades.

Climate Central has developed a new web-interactive tool that brings the reality of future heat to hometowns across the U.S.  Simply enter the name of your city, town or hamlet — or any place in the Lower 48 that piques your curiosity — to see how the number of days above summer temperature thresholds will change throughout the rest of the century. The interactive also shows how reducing greenhouse gas emissions can help reduce the heat.

For example, Phoenix has averaged less than one day above 115°F a year over the past 20 years. If the rate of global greenhouse gas emissions continues on its current trajectory, Phoenix may see as many as 60 days above 115°F each year by the end of the century (and a staggering 163 days above 100°F). Moderate emissions cuts bring the number down to about 40.

Or consider Yakima, Wash. Today, Yakima sees no days above 105°F on average. But if emissions continue on their current trajectory, Yakima is projected to experience 24 days — more than three weeks — above 105°F each year, on average, by 2100.

Climate Central’s analysis includes nearly 30,000 cities and towns, from New York City to Lost Springs, Wyo. (population 4). That means you can see what climate change means for summer temperatures anywhere in the Lower 48.

More extreme heat will have serious consequences on society and the infrastructure upon which we rely. In addition to direct health impacts like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, high temperatures exacerbate other conditions like asthma and cardiovascular disease. These health impacts are particularly dangerous to the very old and very young and other vulnerable portions of the population.

Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can also affect transportation and infrastructure. Highways and railroads can buckle, and the lower air density that comes with extreme heat means aircraft must work harder to take off (as we’ve seen this summer). Air conditioning demand also increases during heat waves, stressing the electric power grid and raising cooling costs. That can increase greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, disrupting the climate further. Air conditioners also release powerful greenhouse gases known as chlorofluorocarbons, turning up the heat even more.


Future days above 95°F, 100°F, 105°F, 110°F and 115°F in these cities

About Emissions Scenarios

The scenarios are representative of different levels of greenhouse gas emissions and warming and drive the model projections of future temperatures we used in this analysis. They were adopted by the International Panel on Climate Change as part of its fifth assessment report in 2014.

“Continue without emissions cuts”: This scenario assumes that few major changes are made in the amount of greenhouse gases we release, a scenario sometimes referred to as “business as usual.” This corresponds to a future greenhouse gas scenario called RCP 8.5, which has generally followed emissions over the past 10 years. Under RCP 8.5, global temperatures are projected to increase an average of 5.9°F above the 1985-2005 baseline by 2100.

“Moderate emissions cuts”: This corresponds to RCP 4.5, a scenario where annual emissions peak in 2040 and then decrease, stabilizing at roughly half of current levels. This reduction roughly corresponds to what would be needed to achieve the goal enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement of limiting average global warming to 2°C (3.6°F). Specifically, temperatures under RCP4.5 are projected to top out at 4.1°F above the 1985-2005 baseline by 2100. .

“Extreme emissions cuts”: This is a dramatic level of emissions cuts, which in 2017 is probably beyond reach realistically but is still technically possible. This option corresponds to RCP 2.6. Under this scenario, annual emissions peak in 2020, decline sharply to reach zero around 2070, and then would require sustained net negative emissions after that. Negative emissions would require engineered active removal of carbon from the atmosphere at a massive scale, a process that’s likely to be extremely difficult and expensive. Such extreme cuts would provide a good chance of limiting global warming to 2°F compared to the 1985-2005 baseline, well within the bounds set by the Paris Agreement.

Methodology

Data bars represent the average number of days in a year with high temperatures above the selected temperature threshold.

Data for each year in the interactive were calculated as the mean of the preceding 20-year period.

Average maximum daily temperature (Tmax) for 2016 is gridded historical data from Daymet.

Tmax for 2050, 2075 and 2100 is the median of the temperature output from a suite of 21 global climate models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5. These models are bias corrected and spatiotemporally downscaled to provide daily temperature projections at 1/8-degree geographical resolution.

Additional bias correction was done using a “delta method” where we applied the temperature change between the modeled temperature for 2016 and each future period to the gridded-historical Daymet data to arrive at projected Tmax values for 2050, 2075 and 2100.

Climate Central's James Bronzan contributed data analysis for this story.

2 August 2017. Extreme Heat Will Hit India’s Most Vulnerable the Hardest

A flurry of studies in recent months have laid bare the significant threat posed by extreme heat in a warming world. Perhaps nowhere is this threat more apparent than in India and other parts of South Asia, where intense heat waves collide with a large, vulnerable population.

If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t brought under control, global warming will boost heat waves in the region to the limits of what humans can endure on a yearly basis, a new study finds. But if action is taken to curb climate change the threat could be substantially reduced.

Roadside workers battle the heat and humidity in Goa, India.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Ian D. Keating/flickr

The expected future impacts also raise important questions of environmental justice, as the population that will be most impacted by extreme heat has contributed the least to climate change. It also highlights the contradiction between India’s reliance on coal to fuel its economic boom and the impacts its citizens might see.

“Our hope is that this [work] will inform the policy debate,” study author Elfatih Eltahir, of MIT, said.

The study “underscores the need for increased focus on the current and rising risks associated with extreme heat around the world, including understanding impacts on the most vulnerable,” Julie Arrighi, of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, said in an email.

‘Emerging Hotspots’

India, and the rest of South Asia, is no stranger to exceptional heat, particularly in the weeks before the summer monsoon kicks in, bringing cooling rains. Many people in the country of 1 billion lack access to air conditioning and nearly half its labor force works outdoors in agriculture.

Major heat waves in 2010, 2013 and 2015 killed thousands of people; the 2015 event was the fifth deadliest heat wave on record, killing 3,500 people in India and Pakistan.

The overall warming of the planet from the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases has already made such heat waves more common, more intense and longer-lasting in the region, according to a study published in June. The odds of a heat wave killing at least 100 people have doubled since 1960, even with the relatively modest 0.9°F (0.5°C) of warming over that time, the study found.

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As global temperatures continue to rise, that trend will only be exacerbated. The impacts come not only from higher temperatures, but also from humidity, which blocks the body’s natural coping mechanism, sweat.

The authors of the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, used global climate models and high-resolution regional models that better capture details of local weather and geography to look at how warming would impact these factors. They used a measure called wet-bulb temperature, which gives the effective temperature factoring in humidity levels. (It differs from the heat index because wet-bulb temperature takes wind speed and other factors into account.)

It is generally thought that a wet-bulb temperature of 95°F (35°C) is the limit of what even a healthy human can endure over a few hours. Wet-bulb temperatures have rarely exceeded 88°F (31°C) anywhere on Earth, but are starting to bump up to such levels around the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, in South Asia and eastern China.

“These are the emerging hotspots for heatwaves,” Eltahir said.

Pushing the Limit

He and his colleagues previously looked at how heat waves would evolve with warming in the Middle East and found that region will likely be home to the highest wet-bulb temperatures the world will see. (Bandar Mahshahr in Iran hit a wet-bulb temperature of nearly 95°F during a 2015 heat wave, which translates to a heat index of about 163°F (73°C).) But South Asia poses the bigger concern in terms of threats to people, as it is home to one fifth of the world’s population and is an area of deep poverty.

“That combination is what makes, what shapes this acute vulnerability,” Eltahir said.

Eltahir and his colleagues found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory, parts of eastern India and Bangladesh will exceed the 95°F threshold by century’s end and most of South Asia will approach that threshold.

If emissions are substantially curtailed and global temperature rise meets the 2°C (3.6°F) limit agreed to in the Paris accord, no place in South Asia would exceed 95°F, though wet-bulb temperatures over 88°F would be widespread. Such temperatures can still be deadly, especially to already vulnerable populations like the elderly.

How wet-bulb temperatures will increase from historical observations (B) if greenhouse gas emissions are substantiallly cut (C) or if they continue on their current trajectory (D).
Credit: Im, et al./Science Advances

The study found that a heat event that would happen on average once every 25 years today would happen every year if emissions aren’t brought under control and every other year with substantial reductions.

“This paper adds to the fast growing body of information showing how bad climate change is and will be for humanity,” Camilo Mora, a climate scientist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in an email. Mora published a recent study showing that more than half the world’s population will be subject to potentially deadly heat waves even with substantial emissions cuts.

The areas that will see substantial increases in deadly heat in South Asia include urban areas, like Lucknow, a city of 2.9 million in Uttar Pradesh state, as well as the densely populated Indus and Ganges river valleys. Those spots are home to poor populations primarily engaged in agriculture, leaving them exposed to the worst heat of the day.

The findings of the study raise issues of environmental justice, Eltahir said, as these populations experiencing the brunt of global warming have done the least to cause it. The study also points to a contradiction India must face: To date, the country has relied heavily on coal to help fuel its economic expansion, but continued fossil fuel burning will bring harm to its own citizens.

“It brings in that debate at the national level,” instead of leaving it in the realm of more abstract global temperatures, Eltahir said.

Some Indian cities have put in place, or are in the process of instituting, heat health action plans to better prepare and warn residents of the risk of heat waves. Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, has been the poster child for this effort. The city developed a plan after a 2010 heat wave killed 1,300 people. During a 2015 heat wave, there were only 20 heat-related deaths in the city of 7 million.

“Understanding heat wave risks and how various groups such as the most vulnerable are affected by heat waves is critical” to preventing heat-related illnesses and deaths, Arrighi said.