Planet Posts Third Warmest May and Second Warmest Spring Period on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with May 2017 marking not only the third warmest May on record but also closing out the planet’s second warmest March to May period, known as meteorological spring 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 May – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.09°F, which is 1.49°F above the 20th-century average. Only May 2015 and 2016 were warmer.

This May also marked the 389th 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 March, April, and May was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.66°F above the 20th century average of 56.7°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record, trailing only the 2016 season.

While heat dominated most of the planet this spring, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe and North America. Here in the contiguous US, it was our eighth warmest spring on record.

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

Year to date, the first five months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Globally, March 2017 to May 2017 was the second warmest such period on record. Credit: NOAA

New Climate Change Documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”

On Tuesday night, I attended a special early screening of Al Gore’s new documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. 

Credit: Paramount

Nearly a decade after the Academy Award-winning An Inconvenient Truth first hit theaters, this film focuses on the former US Vice President’s continuing mission to combat human-caused climate change. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, it discusses both the wide spectrum of ongoing problems caused by global warming as well as the actions being taken to tackle this critical issue, including the landmark Paris Agreement.

While progress has been made, Mr. Gore says, “it’s still not enough.” When you add that fact to the Trump Administration’s recent rollback of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris Accord, the film’s call to action – “Fight like your world depends on it” – feels more pertinent than ever.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power opens in theaters later this summer.

President Trump Withdraws US from Paris Climate Agreement

At a special ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, President Trump announced he is withdrawing the United States from the non-binding, international climate agreement known as the Paris Accord.

More than 20 years in the making, the 2015 Paris Accord marked the first truly global deal to address the issue of climate change. With the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

These essentially spell out how much CO2 a country plans to cut based on its own domestic situation. While the current collection of NDCs would only reduce emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal, the agreement legally obligates countries to reconvene every five years to report on their progress and present updated plans detailing how they will deepen their cuts.

As a leading voice in negotiating this historic agreement, the US pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 26% – 28% below its 2005 levels by 2025. To meet this obligation, the Obama administration introduced the Clean Power Plan (CPP) via executive order. Developed under the umbrella of the Clean Air Act, this set of EPA regulations aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. However, it was nullified by a new executive order from President Trump in March.

Mr. Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, said the Paris Accord is a “bad deal” that is costing America jobs. But, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data, coal mining jobs in the US have been declining for decades largely because of automation and the availability of cheap natural gas.  Moreover, the US Department of Energy reports that the number of coal jobs in the US is less than 75,000 while there are nearly 650,000 people employed in renewable energy.

In announcing his withdrawal from the accord, the President kept a campaign promise and likely pleased his supporters. However, it is not that easy to pull out. The agreement was written to ensure that parties could not begin the withdrawal process until fours years after the accord officially went into effect. Consequently, the US cannot truly withdraw until November 4, 2020. That is one day after the next presidential election.

Therefore, the role that the US will ultimately play in global climate action lies with the voters, 71% of whom support the Paris Accord. Until then, thirty-seven states and four hundred local governments across the US, as well as more than a thousand businesses have pledged to continue to work toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Credit: Bloomberg

April 2017: Earth’s Second Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with April 2017 marking the second warmest April ever recorded on this planet. Only April 2016 was warmer.

According to the state of the climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.32°F. That is a staggering 1.62°F above the 20th-century average. April was also the 388th 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 April, some places were particularly warm, including Asia, Alaska, and the eastern United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was the 11th warmest April on NOAA’s books.

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

Year to date, the first four months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

April 2017 was Earth’s second warmest April on Record. Credit: NOAA

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 led to the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

This year, with the rise of “alternative facts” and the Trump Administration’s rollback of US climate change policies, the date is more significant than ever.  In the spirit of the original event, concerned citizens across the US are gathering for marches in support of science and fact-based environmental policies.

Blue Marble 2012. Credit: NASA

 

March 2017: Earth’s Second Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with March 2017 marking the second warmest March ever recorded on this planet. Only March 2016 was warmer.

According to the state of the climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.79°F. That is a whopping 1.89°F above the 20th-century average. March was also the 387th 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 the United States, Europe, and Russia. For the contiguous US, despite the cool conditions in the northeast, it was the 9th warmest March on NOAA’s books.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, March 2017 marked the first time a monthly temperature departure from average surpassed 1.8°F (1.0°C) in the absence of an El Niño event.

Year to date, the first quarter of 2017 was the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

April Marches

April is famous for its showers, but this year it will be known for marches. After the rise of “alternative facts” and the Trump Administration’s rollback of US climate change policies, many concerned citizens will be making their voices heard at rallies this month in support of science and climate action.

The March for Science will be held on Earth Day, April 22, and the Peoples Climate March will take place the following week on April 29. The main events for both will be in Washington, DC, but satellite marches will be held in many cities across the US and around the world.

For more information, look at the links below:

Credit: March for Science and Peoples Climate Movement

Talking Climate Change with Artist Carolyn Monastra

Talking Climate Change is an interview series focused on the variety of people addressing the issue of our changing climate. Participants run the gamut of professions, from scientists to artists, and together we discuss the subject from a multitude of perspectives. For this installment, I spoke with Carolyn Monastra, a New York City-based artist.

Melissa Fleming: As an artist, how did you get involved with climate change? What motivated you?

Carolyn Monastra: I’ve been a practicing artist as well as an activist and environmentalist for a couple decades, but I never married the three until recently. In 2009, I was on a residency in Iceland and was both mesmerized and haunted by the beauty of the melting glaciers and calving icebergs that I was photographing. I was already aware of the basic concerns about climate change but in 2010, when I heard activist Bill McKibben interviewed on the radio, a light bulb switched on and I realized I needed to use my photography to document this critical issue.

MF: You have a project called The Witness Tree. Tell us about that.

CM: Without knowing it, those photos in Iceland were really the beginning of The Witness Tree. I knew it would be ambitious, but I felt compelled to tell the global story of climate change. In the United States, many do not experience the effects firsthand nor recognize the way that others, especially those in more developing nations, are being impacted. I wanted to use this project to connect the climate dots around the world.

At first, I had planned to document just the impacts on the land but then realized that the lives of people (and wildlife too) are inextricably linked to the land. I used a 2011-12 sabbatical from teaching (at Nassau Community College) to travel continuously for nine months around the world targeting people and places affected by climate change. Most of the work was made during that year, but I have continued to photograph in the Northeast and whenever I travel to someplace new. On the project website, I have over 200 pictures broken up into nine portfolios or “chapters” with each one focusing on a different issue or aspect of climate change.

MF: As you said, images from this project were taken all over the world. How did you choose your locations and the stories you tell? What role did science play?

CM: I spent a full year doing research by reading books by McKibben, James Hansen, Elizabeth Kolbert, and others in the field. I also created a “Google alert” for climate change articles and attended presentations and meetings. Based on my findings, I kept a running list of climate issues and the places I hoped to visit. At some point, I put up a world map in my kitchen and started marking it with color-coded post-its. I knew I wanted to photograph on every continent and that traveling to Antarctica would be the most difficult and expensive to visit. But since it is warming faster at the poles than anywhere else, I felt committed to including it in the project. When I bought my around-the-world ticket, I had to create an itinerary; so some of the locations came down to where the airlines I was flying could take me. For example, I had wanted to photograph the effects of sea level rise in Bangladesh, but it was going to take some extra flights to get me there. Instead, I ended up photographing in a small village in Thailand that is also being inundated by rising seas.

The Viedma Glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields of Argentina has retreated more than 1 km since the 1930’s. At its current rate of retreat, scientists predict it could disappear within sixty years. ©Carolyn Monastra

It is important to me to understand the science of climate change as best as I can as a layperson. I hate when people (especially politicians) say, “Well, I’m not a scientist,” as an excuse for not acknowledging that climate change is real or in admitting our role in it. I am not a scientist either, but I know how to read and ask questions and make informed decisions about topics that concern me. I like Senator Al Franken’s retort to this cop-out: “I’m not a doctor, but I have to make health care decisions.” When extreme storms and floods start decimating people’s homes, it won’t matter whether or not we are scientists.

MF: What did you learn from this project? Did anything surprise you?

CM: I have learned a lot about the measurable impacts and the not-so-visible impacts of climate change, but what surprised me most, or rather what I was pleased to discover, is that one really can rely on the kindness of strangers. I mostly traveled alone, and nearly everywhere I went, when people learned what I was doing, they had a personal anecdote to tell, or a suggestion of a place to visit, or someone to meet. I could not have done this project without the help of so many “strangers” – many of whom I now consider friends. That said, one thing I suspected that sadly has been confirmed, is that we do indeed have more climate denial in the U.S. than anywhere else, especially now with the current administration. I had a recent experience where a NASA scientist canceled our intended interview after being told by his “current employer” that he was not allowed to discuss his work. I fear that without an active public discourse and climate-change curbing policies, the U.S. carbon footprint will balloon and lead to disastrous results down the road.

MF: How is talking about climate change via art different than talking about it via data and statistics?

CM: In 2012, I was selected by the Climate Reality Project to become one of their “Climate Leaders” and was trained to give slideshows based on Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth model. I used their “deck” of slides (a blend of news photos and charts and graphs) for my first few presentations. As time went on, I transitioned to using my Witness Tree photos and kept a few of the more eye-opening statistical slides. I found my audiences, especially students, responded more to the personal nature of my artistic images and stories.

Stairs and burial vault displaced by Hurricane Isaac floodwaters, Braithwaite, Louisiana, USA, 2012. ©Carolyn Monastra

A musician friend once told me that he thought my pictures were too beautiful to tell the story of something so horrible. I asked him if he would purposely create a piece of atonal music that might appeal to a small audience but push away the general public. I don’t want to gloss over the negative impacts of climate change, but I believe it is possible to use beauty to address the fact that we might lose so much of what is beautiful and necessary in our world.

MF: Tell us more about how you turn your audience from passive viewers into active participants.

CM: After a year or so of giving Witness Tree slideshow presentations where the audience sat in chairs and I stood behind a podium, I wanted to create an audience-engagement activity. I came up with the idea of making a live “Witness Tree” for the Human Impacts Institute’s Creative Climate Awards in 2014. From a tree in a city park, I hung several dozen small Witness Tree prints. On the back of each was a map showing the location where the image was taken, a detailed caption, and some tips on how to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Attendees made postcards for politicians addressing environmental concerns and then were invited to take home one of my photos in exchange for hanging their postcard on the tree. At the end of the event, I mailed the postcards off to the politicians. I believe events like this give people a sense of agency and encourage them to use their own creative skills to address issues that matter to them.

MF: Thank you, Carolyn!  For more images and information about Carolyn’s work, go to thewitnesstree.org. To see a video of her interactive Witness Tree event, go to https://vimeo.com/119784247.

Portrait of Carolyn Monastra in a region of eastern Inner Mongolia that used to be pastureland but has turned into a desert due to the effects of deforestation, overgrazing and climate change. Photo Credit: Jiehao Su.

President Trump’s Executive Order Rolls Back US Climate Policies

With the stroke of a pen at a signing ceremony inside EPA headquarters on Tuesday, President Trump issued an executive order that rolls back his predecessor’s efforts to protect the environment and combat climate change.

The main target of this sweeping directive is the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Developed under the umbrella of the Clean Air Act by an executive order from President Obama, this set of EPA regulations aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. More specifically, its goal was to cut emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.  It also sought to replace the coal-fired plants with a mix of natural gas, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Now, with this new Trump order in place, the EPA will have to begin the process of re-writing and withdrawing these policies.

Other key points of this omnibus executive order include: nullifying rules on methane emissions from oil and gas operations, lifting the moratorium on coal leases on federal lands, and scrapping the requirement for government agencies to consider the climate impact of policy decisions – the so-called “social cost of carbon”.

Just before signing the document, President Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, said, “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.” According to Federal Reserve Economic Data, however, coal mining jobs have been declining for decades largely because of automation and the availability of cheap natural gas.  Moreover, the US Department of Energy reports that the number of coal jobs in the US is less than 75,000 while there are nearly 650,000 people employed in renewable energy.

Given the variety of items included in this presidential order, its full implementation is expected to play out over two very different time scales. Policies about coal leases and the social cost of carbon, for example, are expected to go into effect straight away. However, it will likely take years for the EPA to fully revise or withdraw all the Obama-era climate regulations. There will also certainly be a plethora of legal challenges from environmental groups and states, which will slow the process. New York and California have already declared their intentions to fight any effort to lift greenhouse gas regulations.

On the international front, the order did not say whether the US will remain a formal party to the Paris Agreement – the global pact signed in 2015 to combat climate change.  But in gutting the CPP, the Trump Administration has sent a clear message that it has no intention of following through on the greenhouse gas reduction pledges made by the US as part of the non-binding accord.

Executive orders give presidents the opportunity to promote their policy priorities in lieu of Congressional action. However, as seen on Tuesday, they are fragile things that can be easily undone by the next occupant of the Oval Office. In the end, this type of waffling back and forth on environmental policy generates a number of problems, both domestically and internationally. It creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that makes planning for long-term projects, like energy infrastructure and global agreements, extremely difficult.

Smoke billows from a coal-fired power plant near Farmington, NM. Credit: DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

Earth Posts Second Warmest February and Winter on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with February 2017 marking not only the second warmest February on record but also closing out the planet’s second warmest meteorological winter.

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 55.66°F, which is 1.76°F above the 20th-century average. Only February 2016 was warmer.

This February also marked the 386th 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 1.60°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the second warmest winter on record, trailing only the 2015-16 season.

While heat dominated most of the planet this winter, some places were particularly warm, including much of North America and Asia. Here in the contiguous US, it was our sixth warmest winter on record.

Coming on the heels of a five-month long La Niña event, which had a modest cooling effect, these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Winter 2016-17 was Earth’s 2nd warmest winter season on record. Credit: NOAA