Why Earth Day Matters

Every day is Earth Day, as the saying goes. But, today marks the official celebration.

The first Earth Day – spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin – was held on April 22, 1970.  An estimated 20 million people attended rallies across the US to protest against rampant industrial pollution and the deterioration of the nation’s natural environment. Raising public awareness and shifting the political tide, these events helped put environmental issues on the national agenda. They helped lead the government to create the EPA and the pass of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today, forty-nine years after the original, Earth Day is celebrated in nearly 200 countries around the world. Some communities have even expanded the celebration into a series of events for Earth Week or Earth Month. These continuing efforts to raise environmental awareness are more important than ever as we face the global challenges of climate change.

The scale of the problems presented by our changing climate are massive and require a government level response. But, individual actions also add up and can collectively put pressure on elected officials to respond to the issue.  To learn more about the personal actions you can take to protect the environment, visit: https://www.earthday.org/take-action

Image Credit: William Anders/NASA

March 2019: Earth’s Second Warmest March on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with March 2019 marking the second warmest March ever recorded on this planet. Only March 2016 was warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.81°F. That is 1.91°F above the 20th-century average. March was also the 411th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet in March, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, northwestern Canada, as well as  large parts of Europe and Asia. These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

For many people in the contiguous US, especially in the northern and central parts of the country, this March was relatively cold. To put this disparity into context, consider that the United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail  also highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather conditions that are happening in any one part of the world.

Year to date, the first three months of 2019 were the third warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

March 2019 was the planet’s second warmest March on record. Credit: NOAA

 

Climate Change is Making Allergy Season Longer

Spring is a season of rebirth. As temperatures warm, plants awaken from winter dormancy, generate pollen, and produce beautiful blooms. For allergy sufferers, however, the season can be a double-edged sword. With climate change extending the growing season, the outlook for people with seasonal allergies is less than rosy.

Across the US, the growing season – the period between the last and first freezes of the year – has lengthened by an average of two weeks since the 1970s, according to Climate Central. That means pollen allergies are staring earlier in the spring and lasting longer into the autumn. Tree pollen comes out in the spring, grass pollen strikes in the summer, and weed pollen is prevalent in the fall.

If global warming continues unchecked, studies show the growing season, and therefore the allergy season, expanding even further.

These changes to the growing season, like other climate change impacts, vary from region to region. The largest increase has been noted in the western states, according to the National Climate Assessment. Here in NYC, the growing season has increased an average of 21 days between 1970 and 2018.

Rising temperatures, however, are not the only factor for worsening allergy conditions. The carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air that causes the atmosphere to warm also plays a more direct role. When plants, particularly ragweed, are exposed to higher levels of CO2, they produce more pollen. Therefore, as concentrations of atmospheric CO2 continue to increase, pollen production will intensify.

Earth Posts 5th Warmest February and 4th Warmest Dec-Feb Season on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. February 2019 marked not only the fifth warmest February, but also closed out the planet’s fourth warmest December – February season on record.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for February – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.32°F, which is 1.42°F above the 20th-century average. This February also marked the 410th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

The three-month period of December, January, and February – meteorological winter in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.51°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the fourth warmest such period on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this season, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, Europe, Australia, and parts of Russia and Asia. Here in the contiguous US, this winter ranked among the warmest third of the nation’s 125-year period of record.

Coming on the heels of 2018 – the Earth’s fourth warmest year on record – these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

“Encounter 2019”: An Art and Science Exhibition on Climate Change

Art and science are coming together in Durham, England to help expand the public conversation on climate change. In a group exhibition titled Encounter 2019 at Ustinov College at Durham University, artworks of various mediums along with scientific research posters explore the diverse impacts of this pressing issue.

Curated by Miyoko Yamashita McGregor, the overall theme of the show investigates the interaction between climate change, nature, and society. It features the work of over 30 contributors, including several scientists who presented aspects of their research as artwork. Two examples from this category are The Heat is Piling Up and A Story of Climate Change. Both are artful and engaging displays of scientific data.

The Heat is Piling Up, by Professor Glenn McGregor, Principal of Ustinov College, and Professor Camila Caiado, is a colorful column of stripes that shows how the average temperature in Durham has been increasing since record keeping began there in 1850. (Image far left)

A Story of Climate Change by Professor Dave Roberts is a digital x-ray image of a sediment core collected from the Hebridean Continental Shelf. It was taken as part of the NERC Britice-Chrono project, which is attempting to reconstruct a picture of the advance and retreat of the British-Irish Ice Sheet during the last glacial cycle. (Image near left).

Honored to be included in the exhibition, several pieces from my Under Glass series and my ongoing project, American Glaciers: Going, Going, Gone are also on display.

Encounter 2019 is the second of three Encounter exhibits planned by the University. It will be on view from March 2 – 14, 2019 at Ustinov College, Sheraton Park, Durham University, Durham DH1 4FL, UK.

Icebergs break off from Portage Glacier, AK. Credit: Melissa Fleming

January 2019: Earth’s Third Warmest January on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with January 2019 tying 2007 as the third warmest January ever recorded on this planet. Only January 2016 and 2017 were warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.18°F. That is 1.58°F above the 20th-century average. January was also the 409th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet this January, some places were particularly warm, including large parts of Asia and Australia. The contiguous US was also above average for the month, ranking among the warmest third of the period of record.

Coming on the heels of 2018 – Earth’s fourth warmest year on record – these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, the ten warmest Januaries have all occurred since 2002.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

2018: Fourth Warmest Year on Record for Planet

Its official, 2018 was the fourth warmest year ever recorded on this planet. Only 2015, 2016, and 2017 were warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the year – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.42°F. That is 1.42°F above the 20th-century average.

2018 also marked the 42nd consecutive year with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means every year since 1976 has posted a warmer than average annual temperature.

While heat dominated most of the planet last year, some places were particularly warm. Record heat was measured across much of Europe and the Middle East. Here in the contiguous US, it was the fourteenth warmest year on NOAA’s books. Alaska, however, was even warmer with its second warmest year ever recorded.

The exceptional warmth of 2018 is largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. While El Niño conditions helped influence record heat in the past, 2018 saw the cooling effects of La Niña in the beginning of the year with ENSO neutral conditions prevailing after April.

Looking at the bigger picture, nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, with the last five years ranking as the five warmest on record.  The only year from the 20th century included on the top ten list is 1998, which is tied with 2009 as the planet’s ninth warmest year on record.

As greenhouse gases – the main driver of global warming – continue to spew into the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise and records will likely continue to fall.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

2018 was Earth’s  4th warmest year on record. Credit: NOAA

Speaking About Art, Climate, and Environmental Policy at AMS

The 99th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society is taking place this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Its theme is “Understanding and Building Resilience to Extreme Events by Being Interdisciplinary, International, and Inclusive.”

Thrilled to be a part of it, I will be giving a presentation titled “The Power of Perception: Art, Climate, and the History of US Environmental Policy”. The talk looks at the role art has played in helping to build the political will behind several landmark environmental policies over the years and how it can help with climate change communication today.

From the Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 to the present, images have helped give the public, and the policy makers they elected, a new way to relate to and understand the issues of their time. In many cases, images mobilized public concern that helped drive legislation. The publication of photos of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 in Time Magazine, for example, helped spur the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the EPA in the 1970s.

The talk also highlights the way technology has changed the way we relate to images and the role movies – the art of moving images – can play in reaching a wide and diverse audience.

Credit: AMS

November 2018: Earth’s Fifth Warmest November on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. November 2018 not only tied 2004 and 2016 as the fifth warmest November on record, but it also closed out the planet’s second warmest September to November season – a period known as meteorological autumn in the northern hemisphere.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for November – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.55°F, which is 1.35°F above the 20th-century average. This November also marked the 407th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

Globally, the collective period of September, October, and November was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.44°F above the 20th century average of 57.1°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record. Only 2015 was warmer.

While heat dominated most of the planet during this three-month stretch, some places were particularly warm, including parts of Europe, Scandinavia, Alaska, and eastern Russia. For the contiguous US as a whole, the season was only slightly above average. To put this disparity into context, consider that the mainland United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather that is happening in our own backyards.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in November, which means there was neither a warm El Niño nor a cool La Niña in the Pacific to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first eleven months of 2018 were the fourth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

The UN Climate Change Conference in Poland Keeps the Paris Agreement Moving Ahead

The UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, known as COP 24, concluded on Saturday. After two weeks of tough negotiations, delegates from nearly 200 countries drafted the rules and processes needed to translate the spirit of the historic Paris Agreement into action.

Years in the making, the 2015 Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels and urged countries to pursue an even tighter cap of 1.5°C (2.7°F) if possible. To achieve this goal, almost 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). But when added up, the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, will miss the 2°C goal.  In fact, they would allow for a 3.2°C (5.76°F) rise in our global temperature. This is why the agreement requires countries to reassess their plans every five years once it goes into effect in 2020.

One of the main goals of COP 24 was to create a standardized rulebook for the monitoring and reporting of these independent undertakings.  China – the world’s largest carbon polluter – was pushing for different sets of rules for developed and developing countries. However, in the end, a universal and transparent methodology was agreed upon that subjects all countries to the same level of scrutiny. Every country, regardless of economic status, will have to report their emissions – and the progress made in reducing them – every two years starting in 2024. The deal also calls on countries to deepen their planned emission cuts ahead of 2020.

While the meeting did produce a deal to keep the Paris Agreement alive and moving forward, it was a bumpy road. In fact, the negotiations were almost completely derailed by a debate over climate science of all things.  Many of the delegates wanted to formally endorse the IPCC’s special report on the consequences of 1.5°C (2.7°F) of warming – the more aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement – that came out in October. However, several major oil producing countries, including the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, balked at the idea and pushed to downplay the report’s significance. In the end, a compromise was reached. Instead of a full-fledged endorsement, the conference statement expressed “appreciation and gratitude” for the report’s timely completion.

The question now is, will individual countries make pledges to deepen their emissions cuts and take the necessary steps to make them a reality.

The Paris Agreement, although ratified in record time, is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises.

The Katowice meeting was the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 25) will take place in November 2019 in Chile.

Credit: UN