The Only Four-Letter Words on Climate Change that Matter

There has been a sea change in the climate conversation recently. It feels like the issue has moved from one of public apathy to one that people – from politicians to members of the mainstream media – are actively discussing. For some folks, however, climate change remains an inconvenient topic.

The very phrase can elicit a heated response laced with expletives, especially from those who still deny the problem even exists. Seeing this happen repeatedly, I decided to start using a selection of a few four-letter words of my own to try to shape constructive conversations around this critical issue that affects us all.

The first is the “F-word”…. FACT.

In this era of “alternative facts” and misinformation campaigns, many people are unsure or unaware of the consensus among climate scientists on this subject. But the fact is hundreds of articles published in peer-reviewed journals show that 97% of the world’s climate scientists agree that climate change is real, human-caused, and happening now.

The second word is LOVE.

Discussing the reality of climate change in terms of something people care about tends to get their attention and elicit an emotional response. One of the beautiful things about love is that it can take many forms, with familial love being one of the strongest types. People love their families and value their health and well-being. They also tend to treasure particular places – anywhere from their hometown to a favorite vacation spot. To borrow a line from the famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau: “People protect what they love.”

Today, almost everything we love is feeling the effects of climate change. Stronger storms, rising sea levels, and expansive wildfires are posing serious risks to both human life and property. Furthermore, warming temperatures are exacerbating a variety of human health concerns as disease-carrying insects expand their territory and live longer.

From love springs HOPE.

As behavioral psychology tells us, emotion is the main driver behind most of our decisions. When people see their loved ones or the places they care about being negatively impacted, they want to take action.  This fundamental element of human nature injects a healthy dose of optimism into our climate challenge.

If we look, we will see that there are signs of hope all around us. First, there is the Paris Agreement. While the non-binding commitments of its signers are currently not enough to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C, the fact that it exists is a sign that governments around the world recognize climate change as a problem. Second, there is a huge grassroots movement of everyday people, from students to senior citizens, calling attention to the issue in their communities across the country and around the world. Then, there are the economic signals. The costs of renewables, for example, are falling dramatically.  According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, almost all green energy sources can now compete with traditional fossil fuels. Furthermore, a study by Carbon Tracker, a financial think tank, found that more than 40% of the world’s coal plants are already running at a loss. This is in line with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting that solar installer and wind technician will be two of the fastest-growing occupations through 2029.

While hope is about the possibility of change, it is not a PLAN.

 Individual actions, such as switching to LED light bulbs, are important first steps in addressing climate change. But the scale of the problem is massive and the solution must be as well. As such, the conversation needs to move from “what can I do?” to “what can we do?”

Society, as a whole, needs to take substantial steps toward building a sustainable future. Thoughts on how to achieve this have been laid out in various versions of the so-called Green New Deal over the years. From the original plan put forward by Thomas Friedman in his 2008 book, Hot Flat and Crowded, to the latest expanded version released in 2019 by members of Congress, the ideas are there. We just need to focus on the ones that will have the biggest impact on the problem at hand and put them into action.

Planning is essential, because TIME is of the essence.

As scientists have been telling us for years, a certain amount of climate change is irreversible given the amount of carbon dioxide we have already added to the atmosphere and oceans. But, it is not too late to avoid additional warming and worsening impacts if we act now.

As the old proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

That is why we all need to VOTE.

Any meaningful, large-scale action in the US has to come from the federal government level. While not every elected official is in tune with the realities of human-caused climate change, they all understand the power of an active social movement and a vocal electorate.

The lack of political will has been one of the largest impediments to government action on climate change to date. But, if we can move beyond the partisan rhetoric to talk plainly about the facts in terms of love and hope, we can all begin to plan for our collective future through the extraordinary power of the vote.

With that said, be mindful of what those in elected office and those who seek to be there are saying and, more importantly, doing about climate change. We get to judge their actions today, but history will ultimately judge ours.

More 4-letter words should be used when talking about climate change. Image credit: MF

How Trees Help Fight Climate Change

The beauty of trees has been celebrated in countless poems and images over the years. But, they are much more than aesthetic figures in the landscape. They are an essential part of the global ecosystem and play an important role in mitigating climate change.

Trees are natural carbon sinks. They absorb and store carbon dioxide, and release oxygen via photosynthesis. Through this process, forests offset 10% to 20% of American greenhouse gas emissions every year, according to the US Forest Service. Moreover, they absorb other air pollutants and particulate matter produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists say trees remove over 35 billion pounds of pollution annually in the US, directly benefiting human health.

Trees also provide shade. In cities, this helps reduce the urban heat island effect.  More specifically, according to studies by the US Forest Service Center for Urban Research, neighborhoods with well-shaded streets can be 6-10°F cooler than communities without trees. This natural cooling benefit, in turn, lessens the need to run energy-consuming air conditioners during the warm summer months.

With rising temperatures leading to more heavy rain events, trees also help mitigate the impacts of flooding and landslides. Their root systems catch rainwater and reduce soil erosion. Climate Central, a non-profit environmental news organization, says trees help prevent nearly 400 billion gallons of runoff every year in the contiguous US.

So, as the saying goes “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Credit: Climate Central

Earth Day 2020: Celebrating 50 Years of Environmental Awareness and Action

Every day is Earth Day, as the saying goes. But, today marks the official celebration and fiftieth anniversay of the original event that launcehd the modern environamental movement.

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.

Half a century later, Earth Day is now considered a global holiday celebrated with rallies and events in nearly 200 countries. These ongoing efforts to raise environmental awareness and call for govenment action have been more important than ever in recent years as the world faces the challenges of climate change. This year, however, the Coronaviurs Pandemic has moved these gatherings online.

This planet-scale public health emergency has shown how interconnected our modern world is. It has also highlighted the vital role governments must play in dealing with a crisis of such size and breadth.

Similarly, the scale of the problems presented by our changing climate are massive and require a huge government level response. That said, 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

Earthrise.  Credit: William Anders/NASA

March 2020: Planet’s Second Warmest March on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with March 2020 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 56.99°F. That is 2.09°F above the 20th-century average. March was also the 423rd 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 most of Asia, southern South America, and the eastern half of the contiguous US. As a whole, the lower forty-eight states posted their tenth warmest March on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, March tied February 2020 for the highest temperature departure from average for any month during ENSO neutral conditions. That means neither El Niño nor La Niña was present in the Pacific to influence temperatures.

Year to date, the first three months of 2020 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2020 will finish among the top five warmest years ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Spring is Heating Up Across the US

Spring is a transitional season. It is generally a time when the chill of winter fades away and warmer conditions gradually return. But, as our climate changes, the season is heating up.

According to Climate Central, a non-profit news organization, spring temperatures across the contigous US have increased an average of 2°F over the past fifty years. The western part of the country has seen the largest seasonal upswing. Since 1970, Reno, NV has warmed 7.2°F and El Paso, TX has seen a rise of more than 5°F.

These warmer temperatures may feel like a boon 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 thrive longer.

Wildlife is also feeling the effects of a warming spring. The phenology, or timing, of important seasonal events like hibernation, migration, and pollination are being skewed from their once well-synced patterns.

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

Credit: Climate Central

World Meteorological Day Focuses on Water and Climate Change

Today is World Meteorological Day, which commemorates the establishment of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1950.  Each year, the agency celebrates with a different theme. This year, it is focused on water and climate change.

“We feel the effects of climate change mostly through water: more floods, more droughts, more pollution. Just like viruses, these climate and water-related shocks respect no natural boundaries,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General.

Given the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the WMO has postponed all in-person ceremonies and activities related to their 70th anniversay.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the issues of water and climate in this short video or by visiting the WMO website.

Credit: WMO

Earth Posts 2nd Warmest February and 2nd Warmest Dec-Feb Season on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. February 2020 marked not only the second warmest February, but also closed out the planet’s second 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 55.91°F, which is 2.11°F above the 20th-century average. This February also marked the 422nd 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.

It is also important to note that the ten warmest Februarys have all occured since 1998.

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 2.02°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record.

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

Coming on the heels of 2019, Earth’s second warmest year on record, these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

In fact, February’s temperature marked the highest departure from average for any month during ENSO neutral conditions. That means neither El Niño nor La Niña was present in the Pacific to influence temperatures.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Cold Snaps are Getting Shorter

Winter is the fastest warming season in the United States. In the northeast, it has warmed three times faster than summer. That said, cold snaps – periods of unusually chilly weather – are still happening, but less often.

According to a study by Climate Central, the frequency and duration of these frosty events in the contiguous US  have been declining as the overall climate warms. Looking at data from cities across the country, the non-profit news organization found that some places, such as Las Vegas, NV, have lost cold days faster than others. Here in New York City, the average reduction was 5 days since 1970.

Credit: Climate Central

January 2020: Earth’s Warmest January on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with January 2020 marking the warmest January ever recorded on this planet. The previous record was set in 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 55.65°F. That is 2.05°F above the 20th-century average. January 2020 also marked the 421st 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.

It is also important to note that the ten warmest Januaries on record have all occurred since 2002 with the four warmest taking place since 2016.

While heat dominated most of the planet this January, some places were particularly warm, including Russia, Scandinavia, eastern Canada, Central Europe, and a large part of eastern Australia. The contiguous US was also above average for the month, posting its fifth warmest January on record.

Coming on the heels of 2019 – Earth’s second warmest year on record – these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, January’s temperature marked the highest departure from average for any month during ENSO neutral conditions. That means neither El Niño nor La Niña was present in the Pacific to influence temperatures.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Winter is Warming Across the US

Winter is the coldest part of the year. But for most of the United States, it is the fastest warming season.

Across the contiguous United States, winter temperatures have increased an average of nearly 3°F over the past fifty years, according to Climate Central. The northern part of the country has seen the largest seasonal increase led by Burlington, VT with 6.8°F of warming since 1970.

Warmer winters may feel like a positive thing for some people, but they do not come without consequences. Periods of consistently cold temperatures help limit pest populations such as mosquitos and other pesky bugs. They also play an important role in plant development, especially for fruit trees that need a period of dormancy. Moreover, warmer winters threaten the livelihood of communities that depend on winter tourism, particularly ski resorts.

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

Credit: Climate Central