Fighting Climate Fire with Gasoline Starts on Day 1

A roundup of items from Common Dreams climate desk that should be of interest to any person interested in leaving a planet conducive to human habitation for future generations to enjoy.
2014 Was Hottest Year Ever Recorded.  Then It Was 2015.
Now It’s 2016.

by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams staff writer

For the third year in a row, the world experienced its warmest year on the books, global scientists have determined.

The new assessments come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the UK’s Met Office, as well as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which relies in part on data from those agencies. The findings also back up the declaration made earlier this month by the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). “We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

NOAA’s calculations put the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces at 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average, while NASA puts the globally-averaged temperatures for the year at 1.78°F (0.99°C) warmer than the mid-20th century average.

NOAA produced the visualization [above] showing annual temperatures since 1880 compared to the 20th-century average, and the graphic below it:

Meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, citing data from climatologist Maximiliano Herrera, also note:

From January through December 31, 2016, a total of 22 nations or territories tied or set all-time records for their hottest temperature in recorded history. This breaks the record of eighteen all-time heat records in 2010 for the greatest number of such records set in one year. Just one nation or territory—Hong Kong—set an all-time cold temperature record in 2016.
NOAA also lists as highlights of its global assessment for the year:

  • During 2016, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.57°F (1.43°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record of 2015 by 0.18°F (0.10°C). 
  • During 2016, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.35°F (0.75°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record of last year by 0.02°F (0.01°C).
  • Recent trends in the decline of Arctic polar sea ice extent continued in 2016. When averaging daily data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and noting that there was an unanticipated sensor transition during the year, the estimated average annual sea ice extent in the Arctic was approximately 3.92 million square miles, the smallest annual average in the record.
  • The annual Antarctic sea ice extent was the second smallest on record, behind 1986, at 4.31 million square miles. Both the November and December 2016 extents were record small.

Reacting to the record warmth, David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University, told the Washington Post: “We are heading into a new unknown. It’s like driving on a new road, at night, at speed, without headlights, and looking only through the rearview mirror. Hope we don’t meet Thelma and Louise along the way.

For climate advocacy group 350.org, the findings from the agencies further ground its call to keep fossil fuels in the ground—a call whose urgency is made more clear by the incoming Trump administration, which, as Common Dreams wrote, “has given signs that it will go full-speed ahead at driving further climate change. Among other things, Donald Trump has chosen climate change skeptic and “fossil fuel industry puppet” Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, while the president-elect himself falsely declared last month that “nobody really knows” if climate change is real, and has also threatened to cancel the Paris climate deal.”

And as Astrid Caldas, climate scientist with the Climate and Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, writes Wednesday, “many of the Cabinet nominees in the new administration insist that yeah, there may be warming, but we don’t know the actual role of human emissions, and/or we cannot tell what is going to happen. Those are absurd statements.” She adds:

To deny scientific facts and data to make a misleading point meant to cater to one’s interests will NOT change the facts or the data—and yet, we are seeing it every day at the nominations hearings, especially when it relates to climate (not to mention for the past decade or longer). To say that “we don’t know what will happen” is an actual lie. We DO know what will happen, temperatures will keep going up. What we don’t know is the pace and magnitude of global warming—because it depends on the actual amount of emissions dumped in the atmosphere, an obviously unknown fact which depends on our energy choices, which in turn depend on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, on the fulfillment of each nation’s pledges, the successful transition to renewable energy, and the timeline of all these actions.

“2016 was the year climate change took hold of the world more clearly than ever, with serious humanitarian and environmental consequences. No part of the world can now avoid the fact that climate change is striking harder and faster than many scientists predicted, and that its impacts are taking a higher toll on the most vulnerable communities,” said 350.org Climate Impacts Program coordinator Aaron Packard. “As important as marking that the record is yet again broken, we need to loudly mark what needs to be done to hold back such destruction: we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. To make that clear, that means no new oil, coal, or gas projects.”

“Decades of progress from scientists and engineers has made renewable energy the cheapest and cleanest source of energy in the world, creating the technological momentum that is matched by the millions of people in all parts of the world demanding climate action,” Packard continued. “Elected representatives must heed this momentum—it won’t cost the earth to keep fossil fuels in the ground, but it will cost the earth if they are dug up.”

Head in Sand Bigly
 
On Day One, Trump’s WhiteHouse.gov Scrubs Every Mention of Combating Climate Change
by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams staff writer

Soon after Donald Trump took his oath as the 45the President of the United States, the new White House web page for his administration went up. Among the key differences from the previous administration’s—the lack of any reference to the threat of climate change.

While climate change was listed as a top issue on the Obama White House official site, the new page now lists ‘America First Energy Plan’ as among the top six issues.

The new page states: “For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule” That is the only use of “climate” on the page.

Screenshot from the new Trump administration’s White House siteThe Climate Action Plan refers to Obama-era climate regulations, and the Waters of the U.S. rule, as the Washington Post explains, “is an EPA action to protect not only the nation’s largest waterways but smaller tributaries that critics think should fall under the jurisdiction of states rather than the federal government,” a rollback of which could “end up benefiting some Trump-related businesses.”
The “energy plan” page adds that the new administration “will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution” and is “committed to clean coal technology,” referring to carbon capture and storage—a costly technological process that has so far proven a failure

The page adds: “President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water”—though it stands to be “every polluter’s ally” if Trump’s pick to head the agency, Scott Pruitt, is confirmed.

The Obama White House site, in contrast, listed climate change as a top issue, stating: “President Obama believes that no challenge poses a greater threat to our children, our planet, and future generations than climate change.”

Addressing that magnitude, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said, “Minutes after he was sworn in, any illusion that Trump would act in the best interests of families in this country as President were wiped away by a statement of priorities that constitute an historic mistake on one of the key crises facing our planet and an assault on public health.”

Rather than a plan, Brune said it’s a “polluter wishlist that will make our air and water dirtier, our climate and international relations more unstable, and our kids sicker.”

At the same time, the pledges for more fossil fuel extraction are not at all surprising, said 350.org executive director May Boeve. “Trump’s energy plan is par for the course of the President’s climate denial, but it’s nonetheless alarming for the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
“Fulfilling this plan would not only set back years of progress we’ve made towards protecting the climate, but would undoubtedly worsen the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, from rising sea levels to extreme weather. This is not a plan for a brighter future—it’s a direct obstacle to a livable future, and we will do everything we can to resist it,” she said.

As New York magazine notes, also missing from the new White House site are sections on LGBTQ equality, civil rights, and healthcare.
 
Trump vs. The Planet: Climate in Crosshairs of Executive Pen
by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams staff writer

Given what is known about his cabinet picks and plans for fossil fuel extraction and executive actions, the former reality TV star who became the 45th President of the United States on Friday appears poised to kick off a “deregulatory agenda” and take actions to fast-track climate catastrophe.

Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, predicts the new administration to continue its shock therapy strategy:
A major strategy has been—and will likely continue to be—to institute radical proposals by overwhelming the public with an avalanche of activity and by attempting to distract us with the president’s cult of personality.

And given the corporate cabinet, a climate-denying transition team, and a dearth of debate on appointees, Halpern expects “significant industry influence over the role of science in government decisions.”

Such decisions could be moments away, as it appears Trump is ready to make swift use of his executive pen. Bloomberg reports Friday that his advisers have prepared a short list of energy and environmental policy changes he can take within hours of being sworn in Friday, including steps to limit the role that climate change plays in government decisions.

The list includes nullifying President Barack Obama’s guidelines that federal agencies weigh climate change when approving pipelines, deciding what areas to open for drilling or taking other major actions, two people familiar with Trump’s transition planning say.

Trump also is being counseled to suspend the government’s use of a metric known as the social cost of carbon until it can be reviewed and recalculated, and to rescind a 49-year-old executive order that put the State Department in charge of permitting border-crossing oil pipelines.
Reuters adds:

“He is committed to not just Day 1, but Day 2, Day 3 of enacting an agenda of real change, and I think that you’re going to see that in the days and weeks to come,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday, telling reporters to expect activity on Friday, during the weekend and early next week.

Trump himself laid out after Election Day what he’d do on his first day in office, including allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward; lifting restrictions on fossil fuel production; and canceling “billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs.”

Echoing those promises, billionaire fracking taycoon Harold Hamm told CNBC Thursday that getting rid of the Obama administration’s energy regulations would be a day-one priority, saying, “I think it’ll be immediate.” He added: “[Overregulation] is hurting everybody.”

As the Washington Post wrote, scientists were quick to see the anti-science gauntlet being laid down and quickly mobilized. From its reporting in December:

Petitions and open letters have poured out in the past couple of weeks, including a call by nearly two dozen Nobel laureates that Trump defend “scientific integrity and independence” and a petition by more than 11,000 female scientists demanding that he respect inclusiveness and the scientific process. The efforts underscore how these individuals could be at the front lines of an oncoming political clash.

Also among their efforts was a race to archive government climate data before Jan. 20—a Herculean task Wired delved into on Thursday—and earlier this month outgoing Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced a new “scientific integrity policy” to protect at-risk policies, as Common Dreams wrote.

As Michael Slezak wrote Friday at the Guardian, “regardless of what climate deniers (yes, deniers) like Trump may say about the science, the stark reality is that it is happening now.” “We are no longer fighting to stop climate change, but fighting to stop a runaway catastrophe,” he added.

(These three articles are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License)