June 2017: Earth’s Third Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with June 2017 marking the third warmest June ever recorded on this planet. Only June 2015 and 2016 were 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 61.38°F. That is 1.48°F above the 20th-century average. June was also the 390th 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 June, some places were particularly warm, including Europe, Central Asia, and the southwestern United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was the 20th warmest June 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 June, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña to influence global weather patterns.

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

June 2017 was Earth’s 3rd Warmest June on Record. Credit: NOAA

Talking Climate Change with Climate Mama ED Harriet Shugarman

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 Harriet Shugarman, the Founder and Executive Director of Climate Mama.

Melissa Fleming: Tell us about yourself. How did you get involved with climate change? What motivated you?

“Climate Mama”, Harriet Shugarman. Source: ClimateMama.

Harriet Shugarman: Most days it seems that working on climate has been a part of my life forever. I worked in and around climate change policy at the international level way back in the early 1990’s for the International Monetary Fund at the United Nations. Part of our job was to participate in drafting the first Earth Summit documents for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. Then, for the next 10 years or so, I attended meetings at the UN headquarters in New York and around the world that looked at how the international community could expand and define its role on climate change impacts and policy.

But, I wasn’t emotionally attached to the issue yet and these meetings seemed so far away from how they would actually impact people and their communities around the world. My motivation and my passion for personally getting involved were first ignited in the spring of 2007 when I trained with former Vice President Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project, to become a Climate Reality Leader. For me, this was the transformational moment when I knew that working on climate change would become the primary focus of my life moving forward. I had two young children and my eyes were opened to the fact that their future really was in our collective hands and that this issue must be my focus. It has become my life’s work.

MF: You started an organization called Climate Mama. Tell us about it.

HS: A few years after my Climate Reality training I decided I would jump in with both feet and I founded ClimateMama in late 2009. As a mom, I realized that many of the parents I was meeting and speaking with in the playground, in my community, my house of worship, and at my children’s school had no idea how urgent the climate crisis actually was.  Having left the big stage at the UN, and being engaged in my community, I could see ways that those international agreements could and should be enacted at a local level.

Even when the parents I was meeting did have an inkling to the climate crisis we faced, they seemed frozen, not able to speak to their children about it, or really grasp how they could be involved in climate solutions. ClimateMama began as an online place for parents to learn more about the climate crisis and what we all can do about it. We showcased climate parents so that others could learn from them and see how each of us could be empowered to take action.

As time has evolved, and my personal interests and actions have taken a more activist tone, we have become more active on the ground, resisting fossil fuel infrastructure and connecting the dots between fossil fuels and our children’s health.

MF: Why did you choose to focus on “Mamas and Papas”?

HS: Becoming a parent changed me forever. The realization that our children’s future will be increasingly difficult and in fact is directly threatened because of our lack of action today, is something that parents should and must become emotionally connected to. I felt and still feel that empowering parents to take action is a critical part of our success. Regardless of where you live or your political or religious persuasion, as a parent, our hopes for our children remain similar. We want them to live healthy, happy, and productive lives. If we can fully understand that climate change threatens every part of those dreams for our children, then there is hope that parents can and will be spurred on to solve the climate crisis.

MF: What have you found to be the biggest challenges in communicating climate change?

HS: To me, the biggest challenges seem to be around helping people understand the urgency and seriousness of the crisis before us, without creating a sense of paralyzing fear and helplessness. I think that all of us in the climate communication world deal with this issue on a regular basis. We need to help empower and promote the opportunities because climate change does pose endless opportunities to take action, create change, and build hope.

Climate change is the most complicated issue that the human race has or will face, and as such, there is an endless myriad of fixes. I wish there was a “silver bullet” or even a “top three”, but there isn’t. So, we need to turn the discussion around and help each of us understand that we must be part of the solution in any way that we can. This isn’t to say that we don’t need big solutions. We do. We need them now and we need to support, elect, and promote those people working on and creating them. In “UN speak”, we say that we each have “common but differentiated abilities and responsibilities.” Those of us that can “go big” must.

MF: Climate change is a politically charged topic these days.  Do you ever have to deal with climate skeptics?  If so, how do you handle it and what advice would you give to others who do?

HS: When faced with climate skeptics or outright deniers, I would say that – it depends. Some people have dug in so deep, there is no changing their minds. You can either politely “agree to disagree” or just choose to ignore them, but this can be hard if they are a good friend or in your immediate family.

That said, this group of deniers is small but very vocal. We need to marginalize their voices and get the truth out.  In this age of “alternative facts”, we need to make sure that at every opportunity we share facts and reality. If you have time, send people peer- reviewed studies and factually based information. Especially with friends and family, I would recommend starting from a position of love and mutual respect – not from a combative place. Find common ground (for me this is our children ) and work from there. Make it personal and emotional. We each intuitively live, see and feel climate change all around us. Help people make those connections, and then follow up with the plethora of facts.

The reality is that the material that skeptics use to back up their so-called “facts” all come from the same 5-10 sources and the same small number of so-called “experts.” There aren’t a plethora of “alternative facts” on climate change, the reality of its causes and effects are clear and there are thousands and thousands of fact based, scientific data to back this up, as well as real world examples that mother nature is showing us every day.

MF: As someone who has been involved in a number of different climate related marches and demonstrations, have you seen a change in these types of public events over the years?

HS: Good question. Yes and no. Marches and demonstrations in their own right have always been important. They connect people to one another directly and help us all feel part of something big and powerful. But organizers are now realizing that we also need to provide people with tools, ideas, and opportunities to become more engaged once they return to their own communities. This, I see as a change.

MF: Thank you, Harriet!  For more information about Harriet and her work, visit www.climatemamma.com

Climate Mama, Harriet Shugarman, and supporters at The Clean Energy March in Philadelphia, 2016. Source: ClimateMama

Panel Discussion: Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Climate change is a complex scientific subject with a plethora of data-rich reports that detail its causes and diverse impacts. Not everyone, however, responds to facts and figures or charts and graphs. That is why art, which taps into human emotion, can help create new pathways of understanding and raise awareness about this critical issue.

On Thursday, July 13, I will be discussing the intersection of art and climate change as part of a panel at the 24th International Conference of Europeanists in Glasgow, Scotland. Moderated by Julie Reiss of Christie’s Education, the panel is titled “Art and Sustainability in the Anthropocene”. My fellow panelists include Martha Schwendener (New York Times), Weiyi Chang (University of British Columbia), and Patrizia Costantin (Manchester School of Art).

This annual conference is organized by the Council for European Studies (CES), whose mission is to produce and support multidisciplinary research about Europe. They are “particularly committed to supporting research that can play a critical role in understanding and applying the lessons of European history and integration to contemporary problems, including those in the areas of global security, sustainability, environmental stewardship, and democracy.” The theme of year’s event is sustainability and transformation.

Credit: CES

A Brief History of How We Know CO2 Drives Climate Change

The US Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, recently denied that CO2 is the main driver behind our changing climate. Nominated by President Trump, his comments are in line with the Administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. The fact is, however, the scientific fundamentals of the greenhouse effect have been understood since the 1800s.

One of the first scientists to look into the planet’s energy balance was Joseph Fourier, a French physicist, in the 1820s. Given the Earth’s distance from the Sun, he was curious to know why its temperature was not cooler. Fourier felt that something other than incoming solar radiation was keeping the planet warm and hypothesized that the atmosphere was somehow acting like an insulating blanket. Working with the limited technology of the day, however, he was unable to make the detailed measurements needed to carry his idea further.

Decades later, in the 1860s, an Irish scientist named John Tyndall picked up Fourier’s theory. An alpine adventurer, he was interested in glaciers and the then controversial idea of ice ages. Wanting to know more about how they formed, he devised an experiment to see if the Earth’s atmosphere was acting like a thermostat. For this, he built a spectrophotometer – an instrument that measures the amount of heat that gases can absorb. His experiments showed that water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane were all very efficient at trapping heat. This essentially proved Fourier’s idea of a greenhouse effect.

In the 1890s, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish physicist, followed up on Tyndall’s idea of an atmospheric thermostat and ran with it. Ruling out water vapor as too transitory, he focused on carbon dioxide, which tends to linger in the atmosphere for a long time. His calculations showed that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would raise the average global temperature by 5°C (9°F).

To understand if such a large-scale change in atmospheric CO2 was possible, he turned to Arvid Hogbom, a colleague studying the global carbon cycle. This is the natural geochemical process where volcanic eruptions and the chemical weathering of rocks release CO2, while plants and oceans absorb it. Hogbom confirmed that CO2 levels could change dramatically over long periods of time. However, he also noted that industrial processes were releasing a significant amount of CO2 relatively quickly. Using this information, Arrhenius calculated that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, could alter the composition of the atmosphere and increase global temperatures. In the 1890’s, however, fossil fuel use was only a fraction of what it is today and he believed it would take more than 1,000 years for the level of atmospheric CO2 to double.

Jumping ahead to the 1950s, Charles David Keeling, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, found a way to directly monitor levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. He created an instrument called a gas chromatograph and installed it on top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. At an elevation of more than 11,000 feet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is removed from both direct CO2 sources like factories and sinks such as forests that could skew the data. Still in operation today, the information recorded at this station is known as the Keeling Curve. It shows the steady increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere from 1958 to present.

Keeling’s measurements provided solid evidence that CO2 levels were rising and validated the theories of Tyndall and Arrhenius. More recently, scientists were able to extend his curve back in time by analyzing ancient air bubbles trapped in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. This lengthy record shows that pre-industrial CO2 levels in the atmosphere were about 280 ppm. Today, they are over 400ppm – the highest they have been in more than 800,000 years.

Seeing this dramatic rise in CO2 and realizing the impact that a warming climate could have on society, the UN formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. They assess the peer-reviewed research of thousands of scientists from around the world and publish a synthesized view of the current state of the science. The latest IPCC report (AR5 published in sections in 2013/2014) unconditionally states that human activities are the main drivers of modern climate change.

Therefore, while it is the nature of all science to evolve with time and research, it is safe to say that role of CO2 does not require further debate. Today, the impacts of different feedback loops within the climate system are an active area of investigation. Science is following the evidence and moving ahead. Politics needs to catch up.

Scientists have been studying the climate since the 1800s.

As CO2 levels go up, so does the temperature. Credit: Climate Central

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