Talking About Art and Environmental Policy at AGU

The 100th Annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) is taking place this week in San Francisco, CA. Marking its centennial, the conference, which is the largest gathering of earth and space scientists in the world, aims to “celebrate the past and inspire the future”.

Thrilled to be a part of it, I will be giving a presentation titled The Power of Perception: Art’s Influence on US Environmental Policy Past and Present. It 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 policymakers 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.

While environmental concerns have changed over the years, so too has technology and the way we relate to images. As such, this presentation also poses questions about what form of art will reach the most people and motivate them to speak up on climate change today.

Credit: AGU

October 2019: Earth’s Second Warmest October on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with October 2019 marking the second warmest October ever recorded on this planet. Only October 2015 was warmer.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.86°F. That is 1.76°F above the 20th-century average. October also marked the 418th 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.

Furthermore, the ten warmest Octobers have all occurred since 2003, with the last five Octobers being the five warmest on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this October, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, northern Canada, eastern Europe, northern Russia, the Middle East, and western Australia. These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

For many people in the northern and central parts of the contiguous US, however, this October was unusually 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 ten months of 2019 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish among the top five warmest years on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

How Climate Change is Impacting Fall Foliage

Colorful foliage is the hallmark of autumn, especially in the northeastern United States. As the season heats up, however, this familiar natural phenomenon is reflecting the impacts of our changing climate.

While decreasing sunlight hours is a key factor that signals the annual color change, the timing and duration of the displays are largely dependent on temperature and precipitation. Dry, sunny days and cool nights are the ideal conditions for beautiful fall foliage. But, as our climate changes, warmer and wetter conditions are becoming more common across the region.

In general, this means autumn colors are expected to peak later and disappear sooner. While there will still be variability from year to year, the fall foliage season, overall, is expected to get shorter. Furthermore, with the increasing probability of extreme weather events, such as heavy rainstorms, leaves could be swept from trees effectively ending the leaf-peeping season in a single day.

More than just an aesthetic detail, these changes are sure to have an impact on the multi-billion-dollar a year ecotourism industry in several states.

Credit: Climate Central

September 2019: Earth’s Warmest September on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. September 2019 tied September 2015 as the warmest September ever recorded on this planet.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.71°F. That is 1.71°F above the 20th-century average. September also marked the 417th 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.

Furthermore, the ten warmest Septembers have all occurred since 2005, with the last five years being the five warmest on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this September, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, the southeastern United States, and large parts of Asia and Canada. For the contiguous US as a whole, the month tied September 2015 as the second warmest September on record.

With ENSO neutral conditions prevailing in the Pacific, these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. As greenhouse gases continue to spew into the atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to continue to rise.

Year to date, the first nine months of 2019 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish among the top five warmest years on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

September 2019 was Earth’s warmest September on record. Credit: NOAA

Autumn is Heating Up Across the US

Autumn is a transitional season. It is generally a time when the heat of summer fades away and the chill of winter gradually returns. But, as our climate changes, the season is heating up.

Across the contiguous United States, autumn temperatures have increased an average of 2.5°F over the past fifty years, according to Climate Central. The western part of the country has seen the fastest seasonal increase, with Reno, NV warming 7.7°F.  Las Vegas, NV, and El Paso, TX have each seen a rise of more than 5°F since 1970.

These warmer temperatures may feel like a summer bonus for some, but they also bring a number of negative impacts. Less frost-free days means the allergy season is extended and disease-carrying pests like mosquitos and ticks are able to live and thrive longer. Warmer temperatures also drive up energy bills, as people with air conditioning units use them longer into the season. This in turn, if they are powered by fossil fuels, adds even more heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Wildlife is also feeling the effects of a warming fall. The timing of when fruits ripen, for example, is being skewed from its “normal schedule”. In turn, this is impacting the once well-synced patterns of animal behaviors such as bird migration and hibernation.

Looking ahead, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, so too will the temperature and its associated impacts.

Credit: Climate Central

Climate Week NYC Focuses on “A Race We Can Win”

Climate Week NYC begins on Monday. This annual event is taking place alongside the UN Climate Action Summit, the theme of which is “A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win.”

Organized by The Climate Group, the week-long event brings together leaders from a variety of sectors, including government, business, and non-profit organizations, to discuss solutions to climate change. Their overall goal is to accelerate climate action and limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Public events to raise awareness and support of the summit’s mission are scheduled all around the city. They range in style from panel discussions and seminars to concerts and exhibitions. One early event taking place this Saturday is the “Our Future Festival”, which has been organized by the NYC Chapter of the Climate Reality Project.  For the full program of events, go to the Climate Week website.

Credit: The Climate Group

Earth Posts 2nd Warmest August and 2nd Warmest June-August Season on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. August 2019 marked not only Earth’s second warmest August, but also closed out the planet’s second warmest June-August 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 August – over both land and sea surfaces – was 61.76°F, which is 1.66°F above the 20th-century average. This August also marked the 416th 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 June, July, and August – meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.67°F above the 20th century average of 60.1°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record. It is also important to note that nine of the ten warmest June-August periods have all occurred since 2009.

While heat dominated most of the planet this August, some places were particularly warm, including Europe, Africa, and parts of Hawaii and Alaska. For the contiguous US as a whole, August 2019 tied August 1955 as the 13th warmest on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. As greenhouse gases continue to spew into the atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to continue to rise.

Year to date, the first eight months of 2019 were the third warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish among the top five warmest years ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Climate Indicator: Record Highs Outpacing Record Lows

There are a variety of indicators that show our climate is changing, including increasing average temperatures, melting glaciers, and sea-level rise. Nevertheless, it is extreme events, such as record heat, that usally garner the most attention.

Around the globe, the number of record high temperatures are out-numbering record low temperatures. In the US, according to an analysis by the AP, record warm days have out-paced record cold days by a ratio of 2:1 since 1999. This is a clear sign of our climate is shifting to a “new normal”.

In a stable climate, record highs and lows would be more balanced, with the ratio being closer to 1:1.

While climate change is a global phenomenon, we can see it playing out at a local scale. Here in New York City, we still get the occasional cold snap in winter, but the record highs have been outpacing the record lows for decades.

Credit: Climate Central

July 2019: Earth’s Warmest Month on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with July 2019 marking not only the warmest July on record, but also the warmest month ever recorded for the entire planet. The previous record was set just three years ago in July 2016.

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 62.11°F. That is 1.71°F above the 20th-century average. Since July is the Earth’s warmest month of the year climatologically, the July 2019 global temperature is now the highest temperature for any month on record.

July 2019 also marked the 415th 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. Furthermore, nine of the ten warmest Julys have occurred since 2005, with the last five years producing the five warmest Julys on record. July 1998 is the only year from the last century on the top ten list.

While heat dominated most of the planet this July, some places were particularly warm, including Europe as well as parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia. In the United States, Alaska posted its warmest month ever recorded. For the contiguous US, the month tied July 1917 as the 27th warmest July on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. As greenhouse gases continue to spew into the atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to continue to rise.

Year to date, the first seven months of 2019 tied 2017 as the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish among the top five warmest years on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

July 2019 was the warmest month ever recorded on this planet. Credit: NOAA

Summer Nights are Getting Warmer Across the US

Summer is the time of year when warm temperatures are expected. As our climate changes, however, the season is getting even hotter, especially at night.

Since 2010, according to NOAA, there have been 34% more record-warm low temperatures set than record-warm high temperatures. Nationally, summertime lows have increased an average of 1.8°F since 1895, according to an analysis by Climate Central, a nonprofit science news organization. The southwestern part of the country has seen the greatest warming, with Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada showing an increase of 16.9°F and 9.1°F respectively. Not far behind are El Paso, Texas at 7.7°F and Salt Lake City, Utah at 6.6°F.

In addition to climate change, land use issues also play a role in our warming nights. Paved surfaces hold more heat than vegetated ones, so cities tend to be hotter than rural areas, particularly during the overnight hours. This is known as the urban heat island effect.

When temperatures do not significantly cool off at night, people do not get a chance to recover from the heat of the day. This can cause serious health concerns, especially for young children, the sick, and the elderly. Warmer nights also drive up energy bills, as people with air conditioning units use them more. This in turn, if they are powered by fossil fuels, adds even more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Credit: Climate Central