Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Ocean temperatures hit record high as rate of heating accelerates
- Australia's massive fires could become routine, climate scientists warn
- Revealed: US listed climate activist group as ‘extremists’ alongside mass killers
- Flybe: UK air passenger duty cut considered to save airline
- Climate crisis likely to increase violent deaths of young people – report
- Pictures of the world on fire won’t shock us for much longer
- The Times view on zero-emission cars: Electric Avenue
- Shifts in national land use and food production in Great Britain after a climate tipping point
- Emissions in the stream: estimating the greenhouse gas impacts of an oil and gas boom
- Climate change and the opportunity cost of conflict
There is extensive worldwide coverage of a new study finding ocean temperatures hit a record high in 2019. The Guardian, which carries the story on its front page, reports the analysis also finds that the past five years were the top five warmest years recorded in the ocean and that the past 10 years are also the Top 10 years on record. “The world’s oceans are the clearest measure of the climate emergency because they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activities,” the Guardian says. The Daily Telegraph reports that the study shows that, last year, the global average ocean temperature was about 0.075C above the 1981-2010 average. The study also shows that ocean temperatures are rising at an accelerating rate, the Times adds. The analysis finds temperatures have risen risen four and a half times faster since 1987 than from 1955 to 1986, the Times reports. “Ocean heating” contributes to rising sea levels through thermal expansion. Rising heat increases evaporation and the extra moisture in the atmosphere causes heavier rainfall,“ it says. The study follows an announcement last week that surface air temperatures in 2019 were the second hottest on record, the New York Times notes. The Guardian also carries an explainer on why this new finding matters. The study, which is published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, is also covered by, among others, the Independent and MailOnline.
Many publications report on a new quick-fire scientific review finding that climate change has increased “wildfire risk” across many world regions, suggesting blazes akin to Australia’s current bushfires could happen more often as the world warms. The review, which draws on 57 scientific studies published since 2013, finds climate change has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of “fire weather” – periods with a high fire risk due to some combination of hotter temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall and strong winds, Reuters reports. “The effects had not only been observed in Australia, but from the western United States and Canada, to southern Europe, Scandinavia, the Amazon and Siberia, the review found,” Reuters says. BBC News adds that, according to the review, “the signal of human-induced warming has become clearer in different parts of the world with the passage of time”. “Overall, the 57 papers reviewed clearly show human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire,” Dr Matthew Jones, from the University of East Anglia and the lead author of the review, told a press briefing, according to BBC News. “This has been seen in many regions, including the western US and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia. Human-induced warming is also increasing fire risks in other regions, including Siberia and Australia.” The Guardian carries comments from Prof Richard Betts, professor of geography at Exeter University and one of the review authors, who told a press briefing that Australia’s fires were “a clear sign of what is to come”. According to the Guardian, Betts said: “We are seeing a sign of what would be normal conditions in a 3C world. It tells us what the future world might look like. This really brings home what climate change means.”
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that the government of Victoria has announced a two-year inquiry into the bushfires. This will take place ahead of a possible federal royal commission into the fires, the Guardian says. Meanwhile, Reuters reports Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has seen his approval rating “go up in flames” in light of his perceived inaction over the bushfires. According to a Newspoll survey, public support for Morrison has dropped to its lowest level on record, Reuters says. “Morrison has come under attack for being slow to respond to the crisis, even taking a family holiday to Hawaii while fires were burning. He acknowledged during a television interview on Sunday that he had made some mistakes,” it adds. The Guardian reports that MPs in Australia’s coalition government are now split over Morrison’s pledge to “evolve” climate change policy. Morrison said that he wanted to reduce emissions “even further” than current commitments, which has received support from Liberal MPs but pushback from Conservatives, the Guardian says. A second Guardian story, however, carries more recent comments from Morrison saying that he will focus on more “practical” measures to address the effects of climate change rather than strengthening emissions reductions. Meanwhile, BBC News reports that the smoke from the bushfires will soon complete a full circuit around the globe and back to Australia. Elsewhere, another Guardian story looks at some of the species most impacted by the fires, while a story in the Washington Post examines the “sci-fi weather” brought about by the bushfires. And the Sydney Morning Herald reports on how business group lobbyists who have opposed action on climate change are now coming under pressure.
A group of US climate activists have been listed as “extremists” alongside white nationalists and mass killers in internal documents of the US federal government’s Department of Homeland Security, according to an exclusive story in the Guardian. The group of five activists had been engaged in non-violent civil disobedience targeting the oil industry, the Guardian says. The documents were obtained via freedom of information requests by the non-profit Property of the People, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, a second Guardian story reports that the UK’s home secretary Priti Patel has defended the decision of anti-terrorist police to put Extinction Rebellion, an environmental protest group, on a list of extremist ideologies. According to the Guardian, Patel told LBC radio that she accepted that XR were not a terrorist group but added that such police assessment had to be “based in terms of risk to the public, security risks, security threats”. In the Times, freelance writer Jawad Iqbal calls Patel’s defence of the listing “wrong”. In the Conversation, researcher and activist Dr Marc Hudson writes that the UK police terror listing serves as a “wake-up call for how the state treats environmental activism”. An editorial in the Guardian says policing protests is “not a job for counter terrorism”.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that a Swiss judge has found in favour of climate change protesters who occupied a Swiss bank to demand an end to the funding of fossil fuel projects. The judge ruled that the protesters were not guilty of trespassing when they occupied the bank and said that the imminent danger posed by climate change meant that their actions were “justified and proportional”, according to Reuters.
BBC News reports that the UK government is considering cutting air passenger duty on all domestic flights as part of a plan to save regional airline Flybe from shut down. The UK chancellor Sajid Javid is to meet later with the business and transport departments to discuss lowering the levy, according to the BBC’s business editor Simon Jack. On the proposed cut to air passenger duty, Jack says: “It allows the government a chance to help Flybe while delivering on its promise to improve regional connectivity. But it comes at a cost to the public finances and may be criticised for making it harder to deliver on promises to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.” Sky News reported that the possible deal could see Flybe defer a payment of more than £100m for three years.
New research suggests that rising global temperatures will lead to an increase in “deaths from road crashes, violence, suicides and drowning”, reports the Guardian, The study – published in Nature Medicine – uses data on six million injury-related deaths in the US over 1980-2017 to estimate the impact of 1.5C and 2C of warming. The Guardian explains: “People tend to go outside more and drink more alcohol on hotter days, while higher temperatures are known to increase rates of violence and suicide. The analysis did show a small reduction in the number of deaths related to falls among elderly people, probably because there is less ice in winter.” The study projects that a “future year that is anomalously hot by 1.5C” would lead to around 1,600 additional deaths from injuries each year, says the New Scientist, noting that the “number climbs to 2,135” for 2C. “Transportation-related deaths increased the most under those scenarios, followed by suicides,” says CNN, noting that: “Among the additional injury deaths, 84% were in males and 16% were in females.” The Verge adds: “The study found that young men between the ages of 15 to 34 would make up a majority of deaths, and that California, Texas, and Florida would be the most affected.” MailOnline includes the following quote from lead author Robbie Parks: “Our work highlights how deaths from injuries…currently rise with warm temperature, and could also worsen by rising temperatures resulting from climate change, unless countered by social and health system infrastructure that mitigate these impacts.” [Note: Scientists have informed Carbon Brief that there are some methodological issues with the study and that the results should be taken with caution.]
Writing in the Guardian, Dublin-based writer Mark O’Connell reflects on how the extraordinary photographs of people suffering in Australia’s bushfires “are already hardening hearts”. He writes: “It’s not the melting of the ice-caps or the burning of the forests that seem to me to be the real apocalyptic scenario, but rather the slow atrophying of our moral imaginations; not the inferno itself, but the indifference of those of us who are not yet on fire. In this sense above all we are in danger, and we need to act immediately to survive.” Elsewhere, the Financial Times’s chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman writes that climate change means that Australia is “no longer the lucky country”. He says: “The fires could rage in Australia for a couple more months. But the greater fears must be longer term. Average temperatures in Australia are rising, with successive summers setting new records. Last year was the hottest and driest in the country’s recorded history, with rainfall 40 per cent below average. Australians, who used to look forward to the summer, are beginning to dread it.”
Elsewhere in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Combet, chairman of investments firm Industry Super, says Australia “needs to punch above its weight on carbon emissions”. “If you respect the scientific evidence explaining global warming and climate change, you have a responsibility to act on that evidence by supporting policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. In the Guardian, economics writer Greg Jericho says that the Australian government has been forced to talk about climate change, but is taking “a subtle – sinister – approach”. He says: “ Right now columnists and journalists are writing articles expressing belief that maybe Morrison is about to shift the government’s climate change policy. Perhaps he will, but I have seen Charlie Brown try to kick this football before and I remain unpersuaded.” Meanwhile, the New York Times has produced a podcast exploring why Australia’s bushfires are so extreme.
An editorial in the Times argues that the UK economy and environment “require big investment” in zero-emission cars. The editorial reads: “Times have changed. As we are highlighting in a six-part series in our Business section this week, the coming year may mark a watershed for the car industry as the switch to electric vehicles gathers pace. At the end of last year, 19 battery electric plug-in cars were available in car showrooms across the country. That number is set to more than double in 2020.”
A shutdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) would likely lead to the “widespread cessation of arable farming” in Great Britain, a new study suggests. The researchers develop a “methodology to analyse the impacts of a climate tipping point on land use and economic outcomes for agriculture”. The findings show that the “economic and land-use impacts of such a tipping point are likely to include widespread cessation of arable farming with losses of agricultural output that are an order of magnitude larger than the impacts of climate change without an AMOC collapse”.
A new study estimates the likely greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the “large and rapid buildout of oil and gas infrastructure” that has been stimulated in the Gulf and Southwest regions of the US under the “Shale Revolution”. Using data from emissions permits, emissions factors, and facility capacities, the researchers estimate expected GHG emissions at the facility level for facilities that have recently been constructed or are soon to be constructed. The study estimates that the total annual emissions impact of the infrastructure could reach 541m tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This is “more than 8% of total US GHG emissions in 2017 and roughly equivalent to the emissions of 131 coal-fired power plants”, the authors note.
A new paper “advises caution in using empirical associations between short-run climate anomalies and conflicts to predict the effect of sustained shifts in climate regimes”. The researchers take a “seminal microeconomic model of opportunity costs” and extend it “by considering realistic changes in the distribution of climate-dependent agricultural income”. The findings suggest that “while fighting preferentially occurs during climate anomalies, more frequent anomalies may not yield more conflicts”. The authors conclude: “By shifting the entire distribution of rainfall, climate change effectively redefines the very notion of climate anomaly. Adaptation to this new normal can have a dominant, and often counterintuitive, effect on conflict probability.”
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