But if the study was scientifically unusual, it was exceptional as politics. Hansen and his co-authors foresaw sea-level rise of “several meters”—certainly more than six feet—but then they mixed quantitative estimate with political prediction. “There is a possibility, a real danger, that we will hand young people and future generations a climate system that is practically out of their control,” they write in the paper’s conclusion.
Hansen’s study does feel like a change in how researchers communicate climatology: a new tendency toward science mixed with advocacy. Perhaps Hansen, by going so far out, will buy other researchers room to sketch the political consequences of climate change more concisely or guardedly. But watching the two studies enter the public sphere, I was struck by how much more dire the Antarctic scenario seemed. Hansen’s study, though terrifying, was structured as a news event and a provocation. The Antarctic study was quiet, dire science.
The Macro Trends
The atmosphere is filling with greenhouse gases. For the week beginning on March 20, 2016, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured 405.62 carbon-dioxide molecules per million in the atmosphere (ppm).
The year before, the Observatory observed 401.43 ppm the same week. In 2006, atmospheric carbon stood at 382.76 ppm for the final week of March.
Based on previous seasonal trends, atmospheric carbon will continue for another month or so before beginning to fall, as blooming plants in the North Hemisphere pull carbon out of the atmosphere. It’s looking increasingly like November 11, 2015, was the last day of our lifetimes with a daily carbon measurement below 400 ppm.
Renewable energy costs are falling quickly, as oil remains historically cheap. For the first time ever, the United States installed more solar than natural-gas capacity in 2015.
A professor at the University of Victoria proposes that oil remains cheap because Saudi Arabia is, in effect, shorting oil: Seeing that their fossil-fuel reserves exceed the planet’s carbon budget, the Saudis “appear to be positioning themselves for the next best option: gobbling up as much of the earth’s remaining carbon budget for themselves before the bubble bursts. Isn’t it better to sell at a lower price than to receive nothing at all from vast unburnable reserves?”
The Obama administration is trying to implement its first major greenhouse-gas-limiting regulations. The D.C. Circuit has scheduled oral argument on the case for June 2. Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon filed an amicus brief supporting the Clean Power Plan with the court on Friday.
E&E Publishing has a good, state-by-state breakdown of How states are responding individually to the SCOTUS stay.
The Financial Times, citing nonprofit-collected data, say shareholders are forcing a record number of votes on climate-change-related issues, including whether ExxonMobil and Chevron should permit buybacks to avoid stranded assets.