This is ‘Not Doomed Yet,’ The Atlantic’s weekly newsletter about global warming. It lives here in the science section; you can also get it in your inbox:
The atmosphere is filling with greenhouse gases. For the week beginning on January 3, 2016, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured atmospheric CO2 at 402.10 parts per million. One year ago, it measured 399.87 ppm. Ten years ago, there were 381.18 ppm at this time of year.
Renewable energy costs are plunging faster than anyone anticipated. I’d never seen this particular explanation for falling solar-power costs before: In the past decade, many important photovoltaic patents expired, as they had first been granted in the 1970s.
Solar surged past wind and hydropower to become California’s number-one renewable energy source in 2015, producing 6.7 percent of the state’s power. That’s from this good, policy-dense op-ed on California renewable energy—there are a few good “call your state rep and ask for this policy change” moments—that uses statistics from CAISO, the local authority that manages the state’s electrical grid.
By the way, even if you’re one of the 99.5 percent of humans who don’t live in California, CAISO’s site has interesting data on what a grid in 2016 looks like. Watch solar ramp up this morning—it’s the yellow line:
The U.S. greenhouse-gas regulations start ambling down the long road to implementation. 27 states are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate-change regulation. 18 states and the District of Columbia are supporting the federal government in court. “Four states—Idaho, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Tennessee—have not taken sides,” according to Environment and Energy Publishing.
California and Pennsylvania will likely submit full plans for compliance by the end of the year.
Alabama, one of 27 states suing the EPA, will wait until late spring to determine a compliance plan. If the court has not issued a stay for the regulations by then, Alabama will fast track the creation of a plan.
And North Carolina, another litigant, is developing two plans: an inadequate plan that it will submit to the federal government in order to force a faster court battle, and a second, which actually complies with the regulation.
Montana was worried it would have to shut down two 1970s-era coal plants due to the EPA regulations, and was ready to fight to keep them open, but now the utility company that’s publicly controlled by Washington state—and which owns half of the plants—may shut them down anyway.
China is planning a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions. The country plans to increase solar and wind power by 21 percent in 2016. It also plans to build 40 nuclear power plants by 2020. China currently has 30 nuclear plants in operation and 22 under construction.
It’s been three weeks since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Paris Agreement.
Paris was supposed to precipitate a great reinvestment of capital from fossil-fuels to renewable energy. In the green-energy trade press, news demonstrating that reinvestment is starting to trickle in. India, e.g., got a $1.5 billion loan to outfit households with rooftop solar. Morocco, still completing a 350-megawatt solar plant, asked for companies to start floating bids for an additional, 400-megawatt plant.
The logistics industry considers Paris. “While there are benefits of the Paris Agreement there are clearly supply-chain implications that industry stakeholders need to be aware of.”
Meanwhile, in America: “Rather than articulating a plan for how to defeat [the Paris agreement] over the coming months, GOP lawmakers hint at a much more passive strategy in which a Republican president is elected, walks away from the agreement and never looks back.”
This week in the Earth system
Eastern and southern Africa, as well as Haiti and Papua New Guinea are all facing extreme food insecurity in the first six months of 2016, due in part to El Niño. Some parts of Ethiopia are already in the emergency stage of international famine alerts. Oxfam says the super El Niño will put “the world’s humanitarian system under an unprecedented level of strain in 2016.”
The U.S. average temperature for December 2015 was six degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century norm. In central New Jersey, where I spent the holidays, the month was more than 15 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than usual. 2015 was the second hottest year on record in the United States, and the country experienced ten climate-related disasters that cost more than $1 billion.
Western Europe also saw its warmest December on record. The UK and France saw average temperatures for the month about 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4 degrees Celsius, above long-term averages. Germany’s average was 9.3 degrees Fahrenheit (5.2 degrees Celsius) hotter than usual.
Tens of thousands of tons of methane have escaped into the atmosphere due to a gas leak at an industrial storage facility in Los Angeles. The leak, which began in late October and will take at least two more months to fix, will increase California’s annual emissions by 25 percent. People living near the leak report ongoing symptoms including headaches, nausea, and nose bleeds, and at least 700 people have sought temporary housing. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last week.
In the final days of 2015, an enormous, El Niño-addled low front traveled from the south-central United States to the North Pole, spewing unusual and dangerous weather in its path. Through the southern U.S., it killed more than 40 people through tornados and storm damage. Then, traveling across the Jet Stream, it raised the North Pole above freezing, though the sun had not shown over the region since September. And residents of Iceland’s eastern region said it was the worst weather they could remember: One said he has “never seen the sea reach as far inland as to the house where I grew up.”
A researcher found that farmers in a western Australian town were suffering from a SAD-like disorder as a result of an ongoing, climate change-addled drought in the region. “Mr.Ellis said the concern was manifesting itself in anxious behaviors with some farmers telling him they checked weather forecasts on their phones up to 30 times a day.”
If you live in southwestern Virginia, what you call a hellbender salamander is essentially determined by what watershed you live in.