Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Polar vortex freezes US Midwest with snow, dangerously cold air
- Gas find in North Sea hailed as 'biggest in a decade'
- Climate change pushing eels in Europe towards extinction, study shows
- Major expedition targets Thwaites Glacier
- Gone in a generation: Across America, climate change is already disrupting lives
- Green New Deal: Why democrats will struggle to pass it
- Differences in the impact of heat waves according to urban and peri-urban factors in Madrid
A blast of Arctic air has brought dangerously cold conditions to a wide swath of the US, reports Reuters, stretching from the Dakotas to Maine and as far south as Alabama and Georgia. Chicago could see new record low temperatures this week, says the Hill, which could make it as cold as the Antarctic, Mount Everest or Siberia. BuzzFeed News says cities in the Midwest “are basically shutting down” because of the extreme cold. The brutal cold weather has been caused by disruption to the polar vortex – a stream of cold air that spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current has temporarily broken down and is now pushing south into the US. Reuters, Vox, CNBC all carry explainers on the polar vortex and why it can bring bouts of very cold weather in the mid-latitudes. And climate scientist Prof Jennifer Francis has a piece in the Conversation about the role that climate change might be playing in these events. (Last year, Carbon Brief published an explainer about the polar vortex during the “Beast from the East” that hit the UK.) The New York Times notes that while the US freezes, wildfires are raging in Australia’s record-breaking heat. “This is the age of weather extremes,” the article says.
In related news, there is continuing reaction to President Trump’s tweet asking, “What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]”. The Hill reports that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) responded with its own tweet that “winter storms don’t prove that global warming isn’t happening”. The Associated Press has a factcheck on “why global warming hasn’t gone away despite the cold”. Vox presents a map of average global temperature rise that “proves Trump wrong”, while Quartz explains what Trump’s tweet “gets wrong about climate change”. Similarly, Time explains why Trump’s tweet “doesn’t make sense”. CNN pulls no punches in its article with the headline: “Debunking the utter idiocy of Donald Trump’s global warming tweet.” And the Washington Post speaks to scientists about how a warming Arctic could make such extreme cold events in the mid-latitudes more likely.
Also in the US, new analysis maps the potential economic impact of climate change across the 50 US states. The research, by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, has found states such as Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas would likely be worst hit, reports the Hill. The findings present “a great irony”, says CNN, because worst-hit will be “Republican-leaning areas of the country that are almost uniformly resisting new efforts to combat [climate change]”. The authors of the analysis say the data offers a political opportunity to push for climate policies — if advocates can get the message right, says Axios.
A significant gas discovery in the central North Sea is being described as the biggest find in more than a decade, reports BBC News. The Chinese state-owned company CNOOC says the gas discovery in its Glengorm project, east of Aberdeen, is equivalent to 250m barrels of oil. CNOOC owns a 50% stake in the project, notes the Scotsman, while Total and ENI own 25% each. The consortium tried and failed to drill for gas at the same field twice in 2017, notes the Daily Telegraph. CNOOC says it intends to use existing platforms and infrastructure nearby to extract the gas, reports the Guardian, and the Glengorm prospect demonstrated its “capacity to create value in a mature environment”. However, environmental groups say the finding is bad news for the climate, reports the Press Association via AOL. Caroline Rance, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland, has told PA that “we’ve known for years that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground if we’re to tackle climate change”, adding: “It’s a disgrace that oil and gas exploration is still going ahead in the seas off Scotland.”
Climate change is likely to push Europe’s critically endangered eels even closer to extinction, a new study warns. Numbers of the once-abundant fish have dropped by more than 90% since the early 1980s due to a combination of overfishing, pollution and damming of rivers. The new study finds that fewer young eels survive in warmer conditions, while acidifying waters appear to dampen the eels’ urge to migrate towards freshwater. These near-future conditions could soon trigger unexpected and unwelcome changes in eel populations, the authors say.
BBC News reports on the start of a new expedition to the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica. The huge ice stream in West Antarctica is currently melting, and scientists want to understand its likely future contribution to sea level rise. The 52-day research cruise aboard the US icebreaker Nathaniel B Palmer is just one part of a five-year, joint US-UK research programme to investigate the glacier. Scientists on the trip hope to gather more data on the behaviour of Thwaites so “computer modellers can then better predict how its mass will respond to a warming world”, says the article. Last year, Carbon Brief published a video interview with one of the scientists now studying the Thwaites glacier.
In an immersive, interactive article, the Washington Post’s Zoeann Murphy and Chris Mooney delve into a series of stories about how people in the US are already being affected by climate change. The article looks at four “f”s in turn: forests, floods, fires and fisheries”. In the last of these, for example, the Post reports on how the legacy of lobster fishing has changed in a decade for three family fisheries, as warmer seas bring a bust to Rhode Island and, for now, a boom to Maine.
Atlantic staff writer Robinson Meyer explains why the “task is enormous, and the path is narrow” to the passing of the Green New Deal through US congress. The deal comprises a package of policies aiming to slash carbon emissions while renewing the US manufacturing sector, says Meyer. “Yet for every imaginative proposal or boisterous protest, there is an unavoidable truth: Passing a Green New Deal is going to be really, really, really hard,” he notes. Meyer describes one path that Democrats must walk to turn any ambitious climate policy into law. The steps include a Democrat candidate winning the White House in 2020, and the party retaining control of the House of Representatives and taking control of the Senate in the same year. Carbon Brief also has an explainer on the deal.
The number of people dying from heatwaves is higher in the city centre than in suburban areas, according to a study undertaken in Madrid. For the study, the researchers analysed data of daily mortality and minimum and maximum daily temperatures between 2000 and 2009 in five geographical areas of the Madrid region. “Attributable mortality proved to be highest in the central area with 85 heat wave-related deaths per annum,” the authors say.
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