There’s not much good news to write about today, as a bubble of cold air from the Arctic moves into central North America. Brace yourself for some record-breaking cold if you (like me) live in that region. But that’s not the worst of it by a long shot; unfortunately this could mean that warmer southern air will make its way to the Arctic, further accelerating record ice melts this year. As Bill McKibbon explained in The Arctic Ice Crisis published yesterday in Rolling Stone:
There’s no place on Earth that’s changing faster – and no place where that change matters more – than Greenland. Late last month, NASA reported that ice all across the vast glacial interior of the world’s largest island was melting – a “freak event” that hadn’t occurred for at least 150 years. The alarming discovery briefly focused the media’s attention on a place that rarely makes headlines. RAPID ICE MELT BAFFLES SCIENTISTS, The Wall Street Journal declared.
In fact, scientists weren’t baffled at all – a paper published just weeks before had predicted that an abrupt, islandwide melt was imminent. The rapid loss of ice is only the latest in a chain of events that have upended conventional understanding of how the Earth’s “cryosphere” – its frozen places – behave. Taken together, the events offer new insight into how fast the world’s seas are likely to rise as a result of global warming – and hence, the fate of major cities like New York and Miami and Mumbai. Click here to read the full article in Rolling Stone.
Under the heading of “cautious optimism” comes the news that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are at a 20-year low. This is credited, in large part, because of the boom in fracking to access natural gas reserves:
In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.
Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said the shift away from coal is reason for “cautious optimism” about potential ways to deal with climate change. He said it demonstrates that “ultimately people follow their wallets” on global warming. Click here to read full article.
Fracking extracts its own price on the environment and human health (just ask those folks in Montana whose tap water now can be lit on fire), so it seems like a dubious savior. And methane’s heat-trapping properties are exponentially higher than CO2’s, although it dissipates from the atmosphere much more quickly. So can we really count on natural gas to get us out of the fix we’re in?
On that note of caution, I’m moving into my weekend. I’m spending some time tomorrow at a local NDP riding association’s AGM, talking about climate change generally, and carbon fee and dividend specifically. Wish me luck, as I am neither an economist nor a politician!