Climate change: Paris Accord Depends on Innovation

by Judy Ferro

“The 12th of December, 2015, will remain a great date for the planet,” said French President Francois Hollande.

“This is a turning point in the human enterprise, where the great transformation towards sustainability begins,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, an adviser to the German government and the Pope.

“History will remember this day,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Delegates wept and embraced while thousands protested in the streets.

Yet, I think plans for the holidays, the Bowl Games, even the next confrontation of presidential candidates, captured the attention of more Idahoans than the Paris Accord on Climate Change.

Today posed the major question, “What does the new deal really mean for the future of the earth?” The journal followed with a pessimistic answer. “The great ice sheets remain imperiled, the oceans are still rising, forests and reefs are under stress, people are dying in their tens of thousands in heat waves and floods, and the ­agriculture system that feeds 7 billion ­human ­beings is still at risk.”

So what did the Paris Accord accomplish?

Nearly 200 nations agreed on the goal of keeping future global warming under one degree Centigrade. All but eight submitted plans for reductions in their own countries. All agreed to revise their plans and adopt stricter cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

That is about all governments can do at this point.

Inventors, investors and industry must develop new emission-cutting technologies before anyone can develop plans that can possibly keep the ice sheets from melting.

The advances of the last decade in wind and solar could eventually replace fossil fuels in production of electricity. Current predictions by the International Energy Agency are that solar will produce 27% of the electricity needed by 2050 and wind power, 18%.

Half of our air pollution, however, comes from transportation. Automobiles have become more efficient through the years. We haven’t had the breakthroughs, however, that would make electric cars practical for long distances and rugged terrain. Hybrids are merely a step in the right direction.

And we have yet to see plans for airplanes, ships, trucks, tanks, etc. powered by anything but fossil fuels.

Scientists are, however, looking at another way to control climate change: increasing the Earth’s ability to sequester or convert carbon dioxide. Planting trees is one option. Others being developed will be far more expensive.

Where are the climate deniers in Congress and the rest of the United States in all this? Out of the picture. Nearly 200 nations have ignored them to say that climate change is real and must be controlled.

Predictions are that even if we are successful in holding global warming to one degree C., rising waters will destroy the homes of 280 million people. If the global temperature rises enough more that the ice sheets melt, the ocean could rise 18 feet.

Congress does not need to agree to the Paris Accord. The United States has pledged to do no more than already pledged in an earlier climate pact with China. At one point the Accord had included language saying that wealthier nations “shall” help poorer nations deal with the climate change caused by their industry and vehicles. United States delegates managed to get that language changed to “should” help poorer nations.

No, it will not be our Congress that decides if the United States is a leader in the fight to prevent worsening climate catastrophes. The challenge is now in the hands of our scientists, engineers, innovators and industry leaders.

Environment: Tough month for the Earth

by Judy Ferro

This has been a tough month for our planet.

Forest and range fires are plaguing Idaho. Canyon, Ada, and Owyhee counties sit under a blanket of smoke as ash rains on sidewalks, cars, and pools. As I write, the blaze has devoured a 10-mile-wide swath of BLM land over 30 miles in length.   Several families are relying on limited power from an Idaho Power generator because the fire has destroyed power polls.

South of Lewiston, the Lawyer Complex, the result of 21 separate fires, has burned over 6 square miles, forcing the evacuations near Kamiah, the seat of Lewis County.

In central Idaho, a 500-acre fire in heavy timber threatens vacation homes north of Crouch.

Nationwide, fires have ravaged 35% more land than the 10-year-average.

Yet, fires are just one consequence of extreme heat this summer.

Areas with no—or less reliable—air conditioning have seen thousands die from the heat. This month has seen new record high temperatures in cities from India to Egypt, in Japan, and in much of Europe. Karachi, Pakistan, had highs over 100 F for six weeks with the temperature reaching 124 F at one point. Iraq’s major cities have also have suffered from temperatures over 120 F.

In Tokyo, 47,000 have been hospitalized from heat stroke.

One study indicates that between 1951 and 1980, extremely hot summers covered just 1% of the Earth’s surface; the average for the last 30 years is 10% and rising.

Pollution, not heat, however, was responsible for a major disaster in Colorado. Employees of a company contracted by the Environmental Protection Agency, working at a mine closed since 1923, breached a berm holding back 3 million gallons of waste water and tailings. An orange sludge containing cadmium, lead, iron, and arsenic, continues to flow from Cement Creek into the Animas River, a tourist destination for fishing and white-water rafting.

Gradually, the polluted mass is moving into waterways serving cities in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation. Loss of drinking water, tourism, and farm crops now threatens the entire region.

It’s hard to imagine a worse water disaster, but one has been building in the North Pacific since May.

High sea surface temperatures are nourishing a record-breaking algal bloom stretching from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to southern California. Predictably, the bloom is laced with toxic species that can devastate sea life and, with it, regional economies.

The deaths of nine Fin whales near Kodiak Island in June are believed related to the bloom. July brought reports of deaths among whales, gulls, and forage fish. The Aleutian Pribiloff Island Association is soliciting samples for testing for algal toxins.

Oregon and Washington have closed their recreational razor clam harvests. Washington has also closed much of its Dungeness crab fishing. California has closed some of the sardine and anchovy harvests.

An algal bloom in Lake Erie is threatening to devastate that region’s economy as it did in 2014.

And the California drought continues to threaten crops and wildlife.

Amazingly, many Americans continue to deny the existence of global warming and to fight attempts to ameliorate it. A recent poll, however, indicates that California’s record-breaking drought has made believers of most residents there. Eighty percent of those polled said they saw global warming as a serious threat. The number was highest—90%–among Blacks and Latinos.

Let’s hope matters don’t have to get worse before U.S. voters realize they can’t continue to elect politicians who refuse to acknowledge, much less fight, what is developing into the greatest problem of this—and perhaps any—century.


Global warming hits hard

by Judy Ferro

This weekend gave a lot of people a chance to be thankful that global warming is a hoax and nothing to take seriously.   A heatwave now and then is one thing, but no one wants 100+ degree weather becoming the norm, particularly when water is in short supply.

On the other hand, people like me who believe that humans are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a damaging rate, found more to fuel their worries.

Thursday’s Idaho Press-Tribune had five items about warming and drought.

An inch-high front-page headline “Heat Wave Danger” introduced an article warning that car interiors could reach temperatures fatal to kids and pets in less than 15 minutes.

Inside we learned that governors of ten western states were meeting to discuss how to deal with drought, including “ways to more efficiently use wastewater, better track soil moisture levels, work with other states and invest in water infrastructure.”

That was followed by an article about the water level in Lake Mead reaching new lows and hundreds of wildfires currently burning in Alaska.

And, in International news, a court in the Netherlands responded to citizens’ appeals to order the government to cut greenhouse emissions by 25%, rather than the 17% in current plans.

Friday’s paper followed up with a front-page assuring us that Idaho Power was prepared for a searing summer, but advised doing laundry after sunset and grilling outside if you must cook.

Inside, three articles on wildfires informed us that larger of two fires near Emmett was controlled after 10,000 acres burned, that Southern California is still battling a week-long 36-square-mile blaze, and that 300 fires in Alaska have burned 945 square miles.

International news informed us that 113 degree temperatures in southern Pakistan, coupled with power outages, had left 980 dead. (India’s recent heat wave had killed 2,200 people.)

On a lighter note, a New Republic article quoted various California conservative leaders who blame the drought on abortion, gay marriage, and immigrants. So warming IS caused by humans, but not by their carbon dioxide by-products?

And many may appreciate the black humor in Shell Oil Company now suffering because it wants global warming, that it claims doesn’t exist, to proceed faster. Ice in the Arctic seas continues to keep two dozen Shell oil-drilling ships anchored.

While American leaders maintaining a head-in-the-sand stance chastised Pope Francis, the Vatican released his 65-page encyclical entitled “Care for Our Common Home.”

Much of the Pope’s thesis focuses on the broader problem with our values. Too many of us are caught up in a culture of consumption for consumption’s sake. We fail to honor others, especially the poor, as children of God.  We have little concern for the common good.

When the Pope does address climate change, he is blunt: humans are destroying our earth rather than acting as good stewards of God’s gift.

He calls for a worldwide plan to replace the use of fossil fuels immediately. He dismisses “carbon credits,” supported by many in the U.S., as a way to give the richest companies the right to pollute.

The encyclical says that rich nations can help poorer ones develop solar power for less cost than they could deal with the effects of further global warming. It also asserts that progress must go hand-in-hand with programs to alleviate poverty.

The Pope actually talks of the “common good” like the old-time conservatives who embraced responsibility and civic duty. Today too many call it “socialism.”  It may be the key to humanity’s survival.


Environment: Climate now a hot topic

by Judy Ferro

Weather has been a hot topic this spring.

Fourteen states are suffering from drought. California is fighting to curtail water use and keep the liquid flowing to farms that provide produce for tables across America. About 5,000 residents have no running water in their homes becomes their wells ran dry. Some homeowners joke about “grassicide”—and others weep–as they rip out lush, green lawns that they’ve tended for years.

This year nine of fifteen Idaho river basins hold less than 50% of their normal water; the Owyhee Basin is down to 14%. As a result, farmers in many areas are planting fewer onions and sugar beets, which have been major revenue generators.

Alaska is heating up as never before with May temperatures reaching 86F in Fairbanks and 91F in Eagle. Melting snow created floods that cut off roads, oil fields, and an airport. Now, with most of the snow gone, the darker ground is will absorb more heat as the summer progresses. Similarly, less ice and more open water will lead to further warming of the seas.

Increased evaporation left a lot of water in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, nature an overgenerous share of rain to Texas and Oklahoma. Memorial weekend storms dumped ten inches of rain on some cities in a matter of hours. After cars, and even homes, were swept away, rescuers searched for bodies, as Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared flood damage stretched “from the Red River to the Rio Grande.” He named 46 of the state’s 254 counties as disaster areas.

The first four months of 2015 were the hottest ever recorded for our globe so calamities were not limited to the U.S. A weak monsoon season and overheated air in India produced temperatures of 120 F. Those without air conditioning suffered; the death toll from the heat wave has topped 1,800.

After averaging 4.6 Category 5 storms annually for 25 years, the Earth has already suffered its fifth this year. The height of the storm season is still ahead–July to November.

Climatologists attribute this year’s weather extremes to a combination of a “stuck” Jet Stream driving warm air northward, a strengthening El Nino, and global warming.

`               It’s crazy to me, but, apparently, that’s a very political statement.

Bill Nye, the “science guy,” tweeted–“Billion$$ in damage in Texas & Oklahoma. Still no weather-caster may utter the phrase Climate Change”—and set off an Internet debate.

Pope Francis announced he would present an encyclical on ecology in time for scientists to study it before a November climate change negotiations.  Rick Santorium responded by stating that we’re “better off leaving science to the scientists.”

Strange interchange considering that Santorium, not the Pope, disagrees with the scientists.  The Pope previously taught college chemistry which, perhaps, qualified him as part of the scientific community.

A recent poll by Dan Jones and Associates leaves no doubt that climate change is a hot political issue in Idaho. Responses indicate that 84% of Democrats believe that climate warming is a global crisis and that barely 20% of Republicans do. Political independents are truly in the middle with 50% believing climatic warming is a crisis.

Republicans apparently believe that a worldwide conspiracy of liberals and scientists have brainwashed Democrats. A compliment, really. If we were only as good at convincing others that workers deserve decent wages and that spending on education and infrastructure are wise investments.

Just how bad do the storms, flooding, and heat waves have to get before Republicans listen? Will they ignore extreme weather events until they are the ones suffering?