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It’s a Moment of Reckoning For How We Use the Planet to Halt Climate Change, Warns U.N. Report  

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Aerial view of the Transamazonica Road (BR-230) near Medicilandia, Para State, Brazil on March 13, 2019. – According to the NGO Imazon, deforestation in the Amazonia increased in a 54% in January, 2019 -the first month of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s term- compared to the same month of 2018. MAURO PIMENTEL—AFP/Getty Images

The human relationship with the land we live on has evolved over the hundreds of thousands of years humans have roamed the planet, but no period has seen as dramatic change as the last century when humans used land in new ways to extract wealth and build a modern economy.

Now, a landmark new U.N. report warns, humans face a moment of reckoning on how we use the planet’s land: human practices like deforestation threaten to undermine the role nature has played soaking up carbon dioxide emissions for more than a century. At the same time, climate change could threaten our ability to use the land, risking food security and vulnerable communities at risk of extreme weather.

“As we’ve continued to pour more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the Earth’s system has responded and it’s continued to absorb more and more,” says Louis Verchot, a lead study author and scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. But “this additional gift from nature is limited. It’s not going to continue forever.”

Today, emissions from land use — think of practices like agriculture and logging — cause nearly a quarter of human induced greenhouse emissions, according to the report, authored by scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N. climate science body.

Still, land elsewhere on the planet has balanced the effects of those emissions. In recent years, forests, wetlands and other land systems have soaked up 11.2 gigatonnes more carbon dioxide than they have emitted on an annual basis. That’s a greater quantity of carbon dioxide than released by the world’s coal-fired power plants in a given year. But a slew of human practices including deforestation, soil degradation and the destruction of land-based ecosystems threaten to halt that trend, potentially driving land to release more carbon dioxide than it absorbs.

Climate advocates billed the report as a wakeup call. Much of the attention around addressing climate change has focused on shifting the global energy system, but to keep warming at bay will require nature-based solutions that consider how humans use land, climate scientists say.

The report — at more than 1,300 pages in length — lays out a number of opportunties to use land to reverse the trend. And many of the solutions are already at hand, if governments have the wherewithal to implement them. “We don’t have to wait for some sort of new technological innovation,” says study author Pamela McElwee, an associate professor of human ecology at Rutgers University. “But what some of these solutions do require is attention, financial support, enabling environments.”

Significantly reducing deforestation while increasing the rates of restoring forests ranks among the most urgent solutions in order to retain any hope of keeping temperatures from rising to catastrophic levels by the end of the century. Reducing deforestation alone can stop annual emissions equivalent to twice those of India’s, scientists found.

The report also highlights how emissions from agriculture contribute significantly to climate change, and the opportunity to address it by rethinking diets. As global demand for food has grown, food producers have converted forests into agricultural land, leading to a release of carbon dioxide stored in trees. At the same time, more than a quarter of food goes to waste, according to the report.

With those trends in mind, scientists say a shift away from eating meat toward plant-based diets could yield big dividends in the fight against climate change. Reduced meat consumption means lower emissions from livestock and the fertilizer needed to sustain them but also provides an opportunity to reforest land that farmers would have otherwise used for grazing. Rethinking the human diet across the globe could drive emissions reductions of up to 8 gigatonnes annually, according to the report, greater than an entire year of emissions in the U.S.

But, while these changes are technically feasible, there are a number of barriers to adoption. To achieve the greatest emissions reductions by shifting diets would require most of the world to go vegan, for instance, requiring a fight against entrenched agricultural interests and cultural preferences.

And despite year’s of research underscoring the threat of deforestation the practice has worsened in some of the most critical areas. In recent years, deforestation has accelerated in the Amazon rain forest in both Brazil and Colombia, with a recent report from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research showing that the practice had increased 40% in the previous two months compared with the same period the year prior.

The new IPCC report comes less than a year after the body’s 2018 report on the dire effects of 1.5°C of warming, which warned that climate change will bring catastrophic levels at even that level of warming. In its wake, students walked out of school across the globe, some governments committed to reducing their emissions and activists in the U.S rallied for a Green New Deal, all citing the report’s impact.

Much like last year’s, the new IPCC report highlights a number of shocking risks. The surface temperature on land has already warmed more than 1.5°C since the beginning of the industrial era, and continued warming threatens to cause a slew of extreme weather events while threatening food security and other essentials required for human life. Whether this report can inspire a similar wave of action remains to be seen.

By Justin Worland

Source: It’s a Moment of Reckoning For How We Use the Planet to Halt Climate Change, Warns U.N. Report  

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Scientists Predict Climate Change Will Make Dangerous Heat Waves Far More Common

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People all across the U.S. have been sweating through heat waves this summer, and new research suggests they should get used to it.

Over the next century, climate change will likely make extreme heat conditions—and their concordant health risks—much more frequent in nearly every part of the U.S., according to a paper published in the journal Environmental Research Communications. By the end of the century, it says, parts of the Gulf Coast states could experience more than 120 days per year that feel like they top 100°F.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit that uses science to address large-scale problems such as climate change and sustainability. The study was also funded in part by UCS, and in part by a number of other foundations that support environmental protection work. The UCS researchers used historical temperature and humidity data and a range of different climate projection models to calculate the number of days expected to meet National Weather Service thresholds for potentially dangerous heat moving forward.

The National Weather Service uses a measure called “maximum heat index“—which takes into account both air temperature and humidity to calculate how hot it truly feels outside—to warn people of extreme heat. The group typically issues a “heat advisory” when a maximum heat index is expected to hit at least 100°F for two or more days, and an “excessive heat warning” when it will hit at least 105°F for two or more days. At these levels, prolonged heat exposure can lead to health risks including dehydration, worsening of chronic conditions, and heat stroke, especially for children and the elderly.

While the hottest parts of the U.S. already experience plenty of Heat Index 100 (HI100) days per year, they’re infrequent or virtually non-existent in cooler regions; Heat Index 105 (HI105) days are even more rare. But according to the study’s projections, that won’t be the case for long.

Even under relatively conservative modeling conditions, the country-wide number of HI100 days could double, and the number of HI105 days could triple, by the middle of this century, the paper says. While the Southeast and Southern Plains regions look likely to bear the brunt of this heat, only high-altitude areas in the Western U.S. would dodge these heat waves completely

If the U.S. doesn’t make substantive progress toward reducing drivers of climate change, such as greenhouse-gas emissions, heat waves will be a near-constant part of life in many parts of the country by the end of the 21st century, the paper predicts. HI100 days could quadruple nationwide and HI105 days could increase eight-fold, the authors write.

That means parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida could experience up to 120 HI100 days per year, and southern parts of Texas and Florida could deal with up to 150 HI105 days per year, the authors caution. Even states in the Pacific Northwest and Northern New England could see up to 10 HI105 days per year. (See how your area is expected to fare here.)

While state- and federal-level policies meant to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are key to curbing the effects of climate change, there are also changes individuals can make. Cutting back on food waste and choosing sustainable food sources can make a large impact in the U.S., as can walking, biking or taking public transportation instead of driving whenever possible.

By Jamie Ducharme

Source: https://time.com/

 

Could the ‘Mangrove Effect’ Save Coasts From Sea Level Rise – Olivia Rosane

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When it comes to climate change and sea level rise, the news has been generally bad for communities on the U.S. Southeast coast. Florida is set to lose more than 10 percent of its homes by 2100, and five southern states have already lost $7.4 billion in home values.But one study conducted by biologists at Villanova University offered some hope for the beleaguered region: warmer temperatures encourage the growth of mangroves, which have more complex roots than other wetland plants and can help build soil and protect coasts from storms like hurricanes……

Read more: https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-level-rise-mangroves-2600494538.html

 

 

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Climate Change is Helping Crank Up The Temperatures of California’s Heat Waves – Bettina Boxall

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California suffered through its hottest July on record, while August has pushed sea-surface temperatures off the San Diego coast to all-time highs.

Are these punishing summer heat waves the consequences of global warming or the result of familiar weather patterns?

The answer, scientists say, is both.

 

Climate change is amplifying natural variations in the weather. So when California roasts under a stubborn high-pressure system, the thermometer climbs higher than it would in the past.

“What we’re seeing now is the atmosphere doing what it has always done. But it’s doing it in a warmer world, so the heat waves occurring today are hotter,” said Park Williams, an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “We can expect that to continue.”

 

Though a weak to moderate El Niño, marked by warming ocean temperatures, may develop this fall and winter, scientists say it’s not at play now.

Art Miller, a research oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, pointed to the high-pressure system as the immediate cause of the record-shattering sea surface temperatures recorded this month off Scripps Pier, where researchers have been taking daily temperature measurements since 1916.

On Aug. 1, a thermometer plunged into a bucket of sea water hit 78.6 degrees, breaking a 1931 record. On Aug. 9, the water temperature was 79.5 degrees.

The massive high-pressure dome hanging around the West shut down the northerly winds that typically cause an upwelling of colder, deeper sea water off the Southern California coast, Miller said. The layer of warm water is relatively thin, 30 to 60 feet deep, and peters out along the Central Coast. North of Santa Barbara, surface waters are actually cooler than normal.

 

Underlying the regional conditions is the past century’s roughly 1.8-degree increase in global ocean temperatures. “This is the type of activity we expect to occur when you run together natural variations in the system with a long-term trend” of warming, Miller said, referring to the record-busting at Scripps Pier. “I’m not surprised.”

Global warming is expressed “in fits and spurts,” Williams said. From 1999 to 2014, the planet’s oceans stored much of the extra warmth generated by heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Global air temperatures were relatively stable. Then in 2015-16, strong El Niño conditions unleashed that extra heat. The planet is feeling the effects.

 

“We’re in one of those hot clusters of years,” Williams said. It could be followed by a period of stable temperatures that in turn is trailed by another period of rapid warming. “In a few years we’ll be used to the type of heat waves we’re seeing this year” only to be shocked when continued climate change makes them even hotter, Williams predicted.

A surfer gets a tube ride in Newport Beach in early July, where temperatures topped out at 103 degrees on July 6.

On July 6, all-time temperature records were set at UCLA (111), Burbank and Santa Ana (114), and Van Nuys (117). Chino hit 120 degrees. Scorching temperatures in Northern California helped fuel raging wildfires, including the Mendocino Complex, which has seared its way into the record books as the largest wildfire in the state’s modern history.

 

“This is not all about climate change. But climate change is having an influence and exacerbating the conditions,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Some climate scientists have suggested that global warming is promoting atmospheric changes that favor the formation of the kind of persistent high-pressure system that has driven up temperatures this summer.

But Williams said climate change models have yet to confirm that. Researchers have also failed to detect a global trend of more prolonged ridging patterns, he added. “I personally don’t think the current ridge is a function of climate change,” Williams said. “The atmosphere has a mind of its own.”

The federal Climate Prediction Center last week forecast a 60% chance of El Niño developing this fall and a 70% chance by winter. El Niño is characterized by warming surface waters in the east-central tropical Pacific and often warmer-than-average air temperatures in the West. But across most of the Pacific, the temperature of equatorial surface waters is near average, according to the climate center’s Aug. 13 report.

 

“There is little indication El Niño will be more than weak or modest,” said Nick Bond, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington. El Niño can deliver a wet winter to Southern California, but Bond said this year’s would probably be too meek to do that.

 

The climate center’s three-month forecast predicts above-average temperatures for most of the country, including California. The Southland has gotten a break from blistering temperatures this week, but a high-pressure ridge is expected to return. “It looks like August is going to be a hot month,” Bond said.

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